- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Especially during February, Black History Month, the Republican Party should take great pride in its heritage of civil rights achievement.

While celebrating the birth this month of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, Republicans should also honor a friend and adviser to the “Great Emancipator,” Frederick Douglass. Douglass, who would celebrate his birthday on Feb. 14, had a favorite saying: “The Republican Party is the ship; all else is the sea.”

The 13th Amendment banning slavery, the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection of the laws and the 15th Amendment according black Americans the right to vote — all three were accomplished by the Republican Party despite fierce opposition from the Democrats. In the words of Mary Church Terrell, a black Republican who co-founded the NAACP: “Every right that has been bestowed upon blacks was initiated by the Republican Party.”

The author of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren, had been a Republican governor of California and the party’s 1948 vice presidential nominee. Three years later, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, who had appointed Warren to the Supreme Court, sent federal troops to Little Rock, Ark., to overcome opposition by the Democratic governor to a court order desegregating the public schools. It was a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who, as Eisenhower’s attorney general, wrote the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Republican lawmakers supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act much more than did the Democrats.

Today, Republicans across the country celebrate — or should celebrate — the 150th anniversary of the Republican National Committee, which was established on Feb. 23, 1856.

Two years before, anti-slavery activists had established the Grand Old Party to stop the pro-slavery agenda of the Democratic Party. On March 20, 1854, several dozen men and women in Ripon, Wis., called for a new political party, to be called the Republican Party. A few months later, on July 6, a convention of 10,000 anti-slavery activists at Jackson, Mich., organized the first state Republican Party. Among the leaders of that meeting was a former mayor of Detroit, Zachariah Chandler, who had protected slaves escaping north in the underground railroad. Chandler would later serve in the Senate and as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Any muffler shop in America would celebrate its 10th anniversary, but two years ago, the Republican Party neglected to celebrate its 150th anniversary. Just think of the magnificent party-building and fund-raising and outreach opportunities that just slipped away. How can Republican leaders expect voters to place confidence in them when they lack confidence in their own heritage? Two years after being founded at the state level, Republicans came together for the first time as a national party at an organizational meeting in Pittsburgh on Feb. 22, 1856. The next day — Feb. 23 — the delegates established the Republican National Committee and elected New York’s national committeeman, Edwin Morgan, to be the first chairman of the RNC. Morgan, who had been governor, would later serve in the Senate, where he helped pass several major civil rights laws.

The RNC’s first mission was to organize the first Republican National Convention, held in Philadelphia on June 17, 1856. The first presidential nominee, a Georgia-born military hero and former senator from California, John C. Fremont, lost the election to the pro-slavery Democrat, James Buchanan. In 1860, Republicans would win with their second presidential nominee, Lincoln.

While campaigning for the Senate against Stephen Douglas, a Democrat who owned a slave plantation, Lincoln had summed up our Party’s differences with the Democrats: “The Republican Party, on the contrary [to the Democrats], holds that this government was instituted to secure the blessings of freedom, and that slavery is an unqualified evil… [Republicans] will oppose in all its length and breadth the modern Democratic idea that slavery is as good as freedom.”

Every year on April 16, the District of Columbia celebrates “Emancipation Day,” when Lincoln signed a law granting freedom to all slaves in the nation’s capital. What no one ever mentions is the fact that the law was a Republican initiative, passed despite unanimous Democratic opposition. Just a year later, one of the 3,000 slaves emancipated by this law, Phillip Reid, was the craftsman who forged the statue “Freedom,” which sits atop the dome of the U.S. Capitol.

The Republican Party should stop throwing away political capital, because the more we Republicans know about the history of our party, the more the Democrats will worry about the future of theirs.

Michael Zak is executive director of the Lincoln-Reagan Freedom Foundation, former policy analyst for the House Republican Policy Committee and author of the book “Back to Basics for the Republican Party.”

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