Not Your Grandma’s Republican Party

(AP Photo)

This is a general view during the opening of the Republican National Convention in the Coliseum in Chicago, Ill., June 8, 1920.

The Republican National Convention released its platform yesterday during the big opening day of its weeklong event—only slightly punctuated by the weather—and to no one’s surprise, it was chock-full of regressive policy ideas that seek to push the United States back a few decades or centuries. But it wasn’t always that way. The Prospect dug through the history books and found the parts of past Republican Party platforms that the current members don’t care to remember—and that we think are pretty great. Below are some of the best ideas the GOP ever promulgated. 

1860: Ending Slavery

“…the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom: That, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that 'no persons should be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law,' it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it.”

This one really stands on its own: Slavery is evil. While eradicating slavery didn't become official Republican policy until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and Republican legislators passed the 13th Amendment after the Civil War, the abolition movement found a home in the Republican Party from the start. However, over the past century and a half, Republicans have moved away from the mores of the Party of Lincoln, pushing strict voter ID laws that especially hurt minorities, and bringing racism on the campaign trail.

1868: Supporting Immigration and Naturalization

“Naturalized citizens are entitled to be protected in all their rights of citizenship, as though they were native-born … [and] foreign immigration, which in the past, has added so much to the wealth, development of resources, and increase of power to this nation—the asylum of the oppressed of all nations—should be fostered and encouraged by a liberal and just policy.”

It’s disappointing to think that this is the party that now can’t stop obsessing over the threat of anchor babies and welfare-gobbling illegal immigrants. As evinced by their postwar platform, the early Republican Party—which in 1868 took the name “National Union Republican Party”—struck a bold and apparently progressive stance on immigration.

Of course, what went unsaid is that this only applied to white people; just eight years later, the GOP’s platform expressed concern over the increasing numbers of “Mongolians” coming to the United States.

1880: A Comprehensive, Secular, and Free Education

“The work of popular education is one left to the care of the several States, but it is the duty of the National Government to aid that work to the extent of its constitutional power … [and we] recommend that the Constitution be so amended as … to forbid the appropriation of public funds to the support of sectarian schools.”

Yep, you read that right. This platform comes from the party whose members today have espoused shuttering the Department of Education and using vouchers to channel public-education funds to religious schools.

1892: A Vigorous Defense of the Right to Vote

“We demand that every citizen of the United States shall be allowed to cast one free and unrestricted ballot in all public elections, and that such ballot shall be counted and returned as cast; that such laws shall be enacted and enforced as will secure to every citizen, be he rich or poor, native or foreign-born, white or black, this sovereign right, guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Until relatively recently, the Republican Party had worked hard to ensure that African Americans saw their civil rights respected. For decades, the party called for an end to poll taxes, and the Eisenhower administration in particular is remembered for tenaciously enforcing desegregation in resisting Southern states. But today, Republicans across the country are waging all-out war on ballot access by way of voter-ID laws. As the Prospect has reported, states from Pennsylvania to Florida could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands by mandating photo ID to vote, a costly requirement that disproportionately affects Democratic-leaning constituencies.

1896: Equal Pay for Women

“The Republican party is mindful of the rights and interests of women, and believes that they should be accorded equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work, and protection to the home.”

Though the Republican Party would ultimately pass the 19th Amendment and even call for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment starting in its 1944 platform, the conservative opponents of expanding women's rights, like Phyllis Schlafly, would push many women away from the GOP. That probably won't be changing anytime soon, either: In 2009, 173 out of 176 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women to sue employers for pay discrimination.

1912: No Corporate Donations

“We favor such additional legislation as may be necessary more effectually to prohibit corporations from contributing funds, directly or indirectly, to campaigns for the nomination or election of the President, the Vice-President, Senators, and Representatives in Congress.”

Prior to reforms during the 1970s, campaigns were even more corrupt and corporate-dominated than 2012’s outside money free-for-all. Campaign-finance regulations and disclosure requirements didn't exist until 1907, and even then they were impossible to enforce. The Republican platform in 1912 toed the line of Teddy Roosevelt, who called for similar legislation ... after being caught promising an ambassadorship to a supporter in 1904 in exchange for $200,000.

1920: An End to Permanent War

“The President clings tenaciously to his autocratic war time powers. His veto of the resolution declaring peace and his refusal to sign the bill repealing war time legislation, no longer necessary, evidenced his determination not to restore to the Nation and to the State the form of government provided for by the Constitution. This usurpation is intolerable and deserves the severest condemnation.”

Between the ceaseless national state of emergency and the repeated passage of contentious surveillance provisions like those in the National Defense Authorization Act and the Patriot Act, it seems like the national-security state has become the new normal. But while the threat of terrorism is real, the government's response has gone far beyond what is necessary—and in cases of warrantless wiretapping, torture, domestic spying, and the targeted killing of Americans, far beyond what is legal—to address the danger terrorism poses. Now as then, with Osama bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda supposedly crippled, Americans deserve their civil liberties back.

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