GOP’s Grand Old History

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

Senior Washington correspondent Michael Barone, who is in a position to know, notes that an interesting thing happened in the history of the two-party system: Republicans and Democrats switched places.

“In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Republicans were the party more inclined to favor activist government,” Barone writes in the November issue of The American Spectator. “They wanted Congress to bar slavery in the territories and to undermine it in the slave states by appointing postmasters who would deliver abolitionist literature to slaves (Democratic postmasters put it in the round file).”

But their activism did not stop at this laudable goal. “They wanted protective tariffs to encourage domestic industry,” Barone claims. “They prosecuted the Civil War, complete with an income tax and printing-press money, and after the war they favored generous pensions for Union Army veterans.”

“Starting with the little-remembered Benjamin Harrison, progenitor of the first billion-dollar budget, they favored spending to build up a two-ocean navy.” Arguably, whether you call it peace through strength or simply a strong defense, this trend too can be seen in today’s GOP but wait, there’s more.

“They passed bills purporting to regulate railroad rates and breaking up monopolies,” Barone asserts. “They established the first national parks and forests, launched federal water reclamation projects, and built federal dams.”

“Progressives like Robert La Follette of Wisconsin and George Norris of Nebraska did not think it anomalous that they remained Republicans during most of their careers.” Now here’s where the time warp flips the current ideological breakdown of the parties on its head.

“The party of Lincoln was not a laissez-faire party,” Barone avers. “The party of Andrew Jackson and Grover Cleveland was.”

“Just about every time it was in power, it lowered tariffs and extolled free trade. Jackson vetoed the re-chartering of the Bank of the United States, and Cleveland vetoed bills providing disaster relief.”

On the surface, though, the parties have remained consistent, at least in their appearance or demographic breakdown. In a way, both always “looked like America,” as former President Clinton once said of his cabinet.

“The core of the Republican party has been people who are considered by others and by themselves as typical Americans—Northern Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians today—though they have never been by themselves a majority of the country.” Barone observes. “The Democratic Party, in contrast, has been a collection of out peoples considered by others and by themselves as not typical Americans—Southern whites and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and gentry liberals today.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.

  • Rebecca

    In your comparison, you are leaving a few things out. The Left went into the Democratic party and took it over. I am sure they also tried with the Republicans, but didn’t have the same luck. From the 1950s on, the Democrats concentrated on bringing minorities into their party, because their philosophy had changed- it became leftist- and was no longer appealing to everyday white Americans. The behind the scenes politics done by the Dems, had no comparable Republican behind closed door kind of stuff. The Dems looked at the corrupt city bosses, and the Communist International, and the unions to get ideas on behind the scenes power. Also, the population of America has changed. According to the DAR, in 1950 75% of the people, if they had wanted to, could trace their ancestors back to the colonies, but by the end of the 1990s, only 25% could. The Dems knew this was going to happen… the unions had been bringing people in for a hundred years…and had demographic plans ready to go…
    The Republican Party is not anywhere near as scheming as the Democrats are. They are rather naïve, and only Ronald Reagan understood what he was dealing with as far as the Left goes…the writings of John Spargo were supposed to have an affect on him. Today, there are admitted communists and socialists in national office who ran on the Democratic ticket….Republicans need to get ahead of it….and find which of the newcomers they can appeal to.