On the Right Side of History

History is filled with courageous battles, tales of valor and heroism, but what about our country’s political history? What do we know about our past senators and congressmen, and the challenges they had to overcome to make our country great (again)? What we do know, and what we are sharing with you today, is The Right Side of History—a series of events that continues to be added on to each day, by the valiant legislative and political efforts of the members of the Republican Party.

Our party’s history begins in March of 1854: As the threat of the expansion of slavery plagued the minds of citizens in Ripon, Wisconsin, Alvan E. Bovay—a young lawyer from New York—created a new party, whose primary concern was to eliminate slavery. Bovay attested that the Whigs had lost sight of the common values of the people, and thus, the Republican party was born! Deriving from the phrase “Res Publica”, meaning common good and equality—as well as Thomas Jefferson’s influence—Bovay and a small group of determined citizens proclaimed their allegiance to the newfound Republican Party. Their determination and faith in the original Union resulted in proactive legislation against the expansion of slavery, and the birth of a party whose resolve to spread equality and the common good for all, would begin to permeate our nation’s history for generations to come.

As the Republican Party’s popularity continued to grow, the people’s resentment against slavery and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 grew alongside it. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for previously free-territories to become slave states, which fueled vehement refutation against the bill across all party lines. Steadfast to put an end to this pernicious bill, the first Republican convention in Jackson, Michigan anticipated a moderate turnout but was instead met with overwhelming support from Whigs and Southern Democrats alike. Due to the substantial number of attendees, the meeting was moved “Under the Oaks” to accommodate all those in attendance. This convention celebrated the Republican Party’s birth and support of the common good as Republican candidates flooded the ballots in 1854 and became the majority party for the remainder of the century. Unfortunately, diplomatic action did not resolve the heated conflict of slavery; and our Republican leaders had to overcome yet another challenge.

When the Civil War began in 1861, our first Republican president–Abraham Lincoln–was faced with the dilemma of preserving the Union while attempting not to alienate the other half of the country who wished to preserve slavery. The decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation came after the Union victory at Antietam, which Lincoln then declared that all slaves still residing in labeled rebellious states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free”. However, the Emancipation Proclamation only bore constitutional significance so long as the war raged on. Lincoln and his Republican cohorts came together and concluded that the reason for the war was no longer about preserving the Union, but the concern for freedom and liberty for all—the crux of the Republican party ideology. So, the party constructed the 13th amendment and it was ratified by ¾ of the House on December 18, 1865; proclaiming that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States”. Lincoln’s proclamation was not solely concerned with the abolition of slavery, however; it was a message to those in opposition of the party, that Republicans would not stand for injustice and would always stand on the right side of history.

Although some Republicans bore harsh resentment against the South and their pro-slavery ideology, the majority of Republicans wished to spread equality and liberty across the Union instead of punishing the South for the incurred casualties throughout the Civil War. Thus, all Republicans in congress unanimously passed the 14th amendment in 1866 which declared that “…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. Within 12 years of its creation, the Republican Party abolished slavery, and implemented two constitutional amendments that spread equality and the common good throughout the nation–a brief glimpse into the party’s future capabilities.

Just a short two years after slavery had been abolished per the 14th amendment, Pinckney Pinchback became the first African American to win a Senate seat on the Louisiana State Senate in 1868. Later on, he became the president pro tempore of the state senate, and afterwards he became the acting Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. Unfortunately, the African-American community was disenfranchised at the end of the Reconstruction in 1877, and Pinchback would be the only African American to serve as governor of a U.S. state until 1990. Pinchback’s inauguration was a significant step for the Republican Party to become more inclusive and representative of the ever-changing Union. Once the milestone of slavery had been overcome, the Republican Party began to advocate for the inclusion of women into the male-dominated political realm.

Despite the fact that not all women had the ability to vote, that didn’t stop Jeannette Rankin from being elected as the first woman in Congress in 1917. Jeannette Rankin prophesized “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last”, and she was right! 98 Republican women have served in the House of Representatives since 1917, and 17 have served in the Senate since 1922. Jeanette was famously pacifist and pro-welfare, and was appointed as the head of the Committee on Woman Suffrage, and participated on the Committee on Public Lands. Not only were the republicans becoming racially diverse, but women became key players in the political ballgame as well.

The pursuit to increase women’s involvement in politics would not be complete without the actions of the 66th Congress who enacted the 19th amendment. Passing legislation that ensured that all women had the right to vote was no easy task, but easy was not something that the Republican party was founded upon. While the debate over suffrage lasted for decades, the Republican majority congress changed the electorate forever with the passage of the 19th constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, even after the passage of the 14th and 19th amendment, there were still minority groups that did not enjoy many basic rights.

Calvin Coolidge took note of this dilemma  in June of 1924 when he —along with the Republican majority support of the 68th congress—granted citizenship to all Native Americans. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 was proposed by Homer P. Snyder as a token of gratitude for the thousands of Native Americans who had served in the United States military throughout World War I; granting citizenship status to approximately 125,000 Native Americans—when the population of the US was 125 million. Furthermore, the first U.S. senator who identified as a  Hispanic Republican–Octavio Larrazolo, also known as ‘the silver-tongued orator’ for his eloquent rhetoric in both Spanish and English–was the spokesperson of his generation, because he fiercely advocated for Hispanic rights throughout his time in office. Minority groups and women had begun to be recognized, and prominent role models began to emerge; such as Margaret Smith.

For over three decades, Margaret Chase Smith proved herself to be a role model for all women looking to make their impact in national politics. Smith served in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, served on eight congressional committees, and became an expert on military and national security matters. Her knowledge and expertise led to her presidential campaign in 1964—making her the first woman to have her name put up for the party’s nomination. Although only 27 delegates supported her nomination, it was a symbolic achievement and Smith continues to serve as a role model for women politicians everywhere.

While many Republicans were prominent advocates for diversity and inclusion, others were extremely against the legislative changes that were affecting their everyday lives. Chief Justice Earl Warren sat on the bench of the Supreme Court during tumultuous times in history when racial segregation and civil liberties were coming into question. Throughout the case of Brown v Board of Education, Warren remained a strong republican leader who steered the court towards an unanimous 9-0 ruling in favor of desegregating schools. After the Court’s decision, President Eisenhower recognized the necessity for the Civil Rights Act, in hopes to unite Republicans and Democrats on this polarized issue. The bill encouraged African American participation in elections and created a division within the Justice Department whose sole purpose was to monitor and report racial civil rights abuses regarding voting rights. Eisenhower began the process to implement the first Civil Rights legislation in 82 years, but he could not complete the task without the help of Hiram Fong and Everett Dirksen.

Originally, the Act lacked Democratic support and would have to overcome a Democratic filibuster in order to be voted on. Thankfully, Senator Everett Dirksen amicably defeated the Democrat’s 57-day long filibuster and led the House and Senate to a vote. In the final Senate vote, the Act was supported by 82% of Republicans, and opposed by 69% of democrats. While the Democrats may have not been ‘civil’ about the Act, the Republicans were the ones in the ‘right’.

And who could forget, one of the most prominent women republican figures in history, Sandra Day O’Connor. From growing up on a farm in El Paso, Texas to becoming the first woman to attain a seat on the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor was—and will forever remain—a true inspiration. O’Connor served on her state senate and was the first female majority leader in any state senate. Within two years of being appointed to Arizona’s state supreme court, Ronald Reagan nominated her for a US Supreme Court position in 1981—and she received unanimous approval by the senate. O’Connor’s passion for the fight against gender discrimination, empowering women and minorities, and expanding the right to receive an education are the hallmarks of her service as a justice, and align with the core values of the Republican Party: to achieve the common good and equality for all.

As our party’s historical curtain comes to a close, we all must remember the moment President Reagan officially gave the order to tear down the Berlin Wall. In June of 1987, President Ronald Reagan traveled to Germany and spoke to the people of West Berlin, speaking of the power of freedom and the consequences of division within a country. The Berlin Wall marked the division of the entire continent of Europe, and the seclusion of the people beyond it. The threat and fear of war still remained in the hearts and minds of those affected, but the wall remained as a permanent reminder of the economic and personal persecution many had endured. And so, President Reagan announced for the wall to be torn down, and for freedom to no longer be confined and for the people to extend their hearts and minds beyond the forsaken wall.

Being on the right side of history is not always the easy path, and at times, it is the path that is less traveled by, and occasionally you must walk alone. But, fear not, my fellow Republicans. When the time comes for our generation to tell the tales of our political journey, rest assured, we will be right.

Jaedri Wood