D’Souza: The Original Civil Rights Revolution

From Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, pp 101-105.

The Original Civil Rights Revolution

Let’s begin by examining the first civil rights revolution in America – the civil rights revolution of the 1860s. This was a Republican revolution, which is why progressive Democrats ignore it and pretend that the later revolution of the 1950s and 1960s is the only one. Yet of the two civil rights revolutions, the first – the ignored one – is actually more important.

To see why, consider the meaning of the term “civil rights.” What is a “civil right” and why are civil rights important? Civil rights are actually distinguished from natural rights. Imagine if you and I lived in the jungle, removed from society. Philosophers call this the “state of nature.” In the state of nature, we would have natural rights: the right to defend ourselves, or the right to pick fruit from trees and eat it. These are rights that we have by virtue of being human.

Civil rights, by contrast, are rights that we derive from society. They arise out of a social compact whose legitimacy derives from the consent of the people. While blacks were slaves, they had no civil rights. Even when they were emancipated, this merely returned them to freedom, to the state of nature. Humans have natural rights in the state of nature but they do not have civil rights. Civil rights are derived from membership in a society.

The Republicans who controlled both houses of Congress after the Civil War knew this. They also knew that, before conferring civil rights, they had to once and for all abolish slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865.

Republican support for the amendment: 100 percent. Democratic support: 23 percent. Even after the Civil War, only a tiny percentage of Democrats were willing to sign up to permanently end slavery. Most Democrats wanted it to continue.

In the following year, on June 13, 1866, the Republican Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment overturning the Dred Scott decision and granting full citizenship and equal rights under the law to blacks. This amendment prohibited states from abridging the “privileges and immunities” of all citizens, from depriving them of “due process of law” or denying them “equal protection of the law.” The Fourteenth Amendment passed the House and Senate with exclusive Republican support. Not a single Democrat either in the House or the Senate voted for it.

Two years later, in 1868, Congress with the support of newly-elected Republican president Ulysses Grant passed the Fifteenth Amendment granting suffrage to blacks. The right to vote, it said, cannot be “denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

In the Senate, the Fifteenth Amendment passed by a vote of 39 to 13. Every one of the 39 “yes” votes came from Republicans. (Some Republicans like Charles Sumner abstained because they wanted the measure to go even further than it did.) All the 13 “no” votes came from Democrats. In the House, every “yes” vote came from a Republican and every Democrat voted “no.”

It is surely a matter of the greatest significance that the constitutional provisions that made possible the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Bill only entered the Constitution thanks to the Republican Party. Beyond this, the GOP put forward a series of Civil Rights laws to further reinforce black people’s rights to freedom, equality, and social justice.

When Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866—guaranteeing to blacks the rights to make contracts and to have the criminal laws apply equally to whites and blacks—the Democrats struck back. They didn’t have the votes in Congress, but they had a powerful ally in President Andrew Johnson. Johnson vetoed the legislation.

Now this may seem like an odd act for Lincoln’s vice president, but it actually wasn’t. Many people don’t realize that Johnson wasn’t a Republican; he was a Democrat. Historian Kenneth Stampp calls him “the last Jacksonian.” 8 Lincoln put him on the ticket because he was a pro-union Democrat and Lincoln was looking for ways to win the votes of Democrats opposed to secession.

Johnson, however, was both a southern partisan and a Democratic partisan. Once the Civil War ended, he attempted to lead weak-kneed Republicans into a new Democratic coalition based on racism and white privilege. Johnson championed the Democratic mantra of white supremacy, declaring, “This is a country for white men and, by God, as long as I am president, it shall be a government of white men.”

In his 1867 annual message to Congress, Johnson declared that blacks possess “less capacity for government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary, wherever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a consistent tendency to relapse into barbarism.” 9 These are perhaps the most racist words uttered by an American president, and no surprise, they were uttered by a Democrat.

Outraged by Johnson’s words and his veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Republican Congress sought to impeach him. The measure passed the House but fell just short in the Senate—just as a century later there were not enough Senate votes to remove Bill Clinton from office. The GOP was, however, successful in over-riding Johnson’s veto, so that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 became law over the Democratic president’s objection.

Furious at Republican success in passing constitutional amendments and civil rights legislation for blacks, southern Democrats responded with the infamous Black Codes. These were approved through state legislatures and state constitutional conventions held throughout the South in the years following the war. Only whites participated in these sessions. These codes represented a new Democratic form of enslavement; some historians use the term “neo-slavery.”

Fairly typical is the code Democrats adopted in South Carolina. Blacks were permitted to work only in certain professions, thus granting whites a labor monopoly in the remaining ones. White masters could whip young black servants. Blacks could not travel freely; if they did, they ran the risk of being declared “vagrants” in which case they could be arrested and imprisoned. Sheriffs could then assign hard labor or hire them out to white employers to work off their sentence. Black children could be apprenticed to white employers against their will.

In addition, blacks could not vote or serve on juries. Their testimony in court was only considered relevant in cases involving other blacks. Many crimes—such as rebellion, arson, and assaulting a white woman—carried the death penalty for blacks, but not for whites. Blacks were not allowed to sell alcohol or carry a firearm. While blacks could now marry, the code made it clear that “marriage between a white person and a person of color shall be null and void.”


Indignant at what they perceived as a southern Democratic attempt to nullify emancipation, Republicans struck down the Black Codes and began the process of Reconstruction. Reconstruction was aimed at rebuilding the South on a new plane of equality of rights between the races. It wasn’t easy, but essentially Congress was attempting to control the internal affairs of southern states where the local Democratic Party mounted stubborn resistance. Even so, it’s remarkable what the Republicans achieved against daunting odds.

The GOP’s first step in this regard was to establish the Freedman’s Bureau. At one point the bureau considered a reparations bill modeled on one of General Sherman’s field directives. Sherman’s Directive 15 provided blacks with forty acres of land to farm on their own, plus a retired army mule. The bureau began to implement its reparations plan, settling blacks on the plantations that had been taken over by Union troops.

Today we hear occasional demands for black reparations, and those demands usually come from progressive Democrats. I find it interesting that these Democrats never suggest that they pay reparations for what their party did. Rather, they point the finger at Republicans, when Republicans are the ones who historically supported and attempted to enact reparations. In a sense the GOP was trying to compensate blacks for their suffering at the hands of the Democratic Party.

Unable by themselves to thwart the Bureau’s reparations bill, Democrats appealed to President Johnson. Johnson undercut practical efforts at reparations by issuing pardons galore so that former Confederates could recover their property that had been lost during the war. Blacks who had been granted land by Sherman or the Freedman’s Bureau were forced to return it to the former plantation owners.

So the Republican reparations program died an ignominious death. The bureau did, however, open hundreds of schools for blacks. It also provided newly freed blacks with food, health services, and legal protection, and also helped unite the families of former slaves. These measures, although insufficient, showed African Americans that their only political ally in the country was the Republican Party.

The most aggressive move the GOP made under Reconstruction was to appoint military governors throughout the South. These officers had the power to override local authority. Thanks to Republican supervision, more than 1,500 blacks won federal, state, and local offices. A former slave named Blanche K. Bruce became the first black senator from Mississippi to serve a full term. John Langston became the first black congressman from Virginia. Every single one of these blacks was elected as a Republican.

No surprise that these African Americans are ignored in progressive historiography. Rosa Parks is well known to young people simply because she refused to sit in the back of the bus. (Actually this was no spontaneous act. Parks had been put up to it. Her “tired old black woman” story was largely invented to serve the needs of progressive propaganda.)

By contrast, Blanche K. Bruce was the real deal. Born into slavery in Virginia, Bruce was freed by his master and studied at Oberlin College before becoming a successful farmer and landowner. He is the only former slave to have served in the U.S. Senate. His story is vastly more impressive than that of Parks. Progressive historians ignore him because he was not a Democrat.

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