They Wanna Talk History? Let's Talk History

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “took his GOP-blasting rhetoric to a new level” yesterday, according to Fox News. Reid compared Republican opponents of the monstrosity known as “health care reform” to abolition, racial integration, and women’s suffrage opponents:

“Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is, ‘slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.’ If you think you’ve heard these excuses before, you’re right,” Reid said Monday. “When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said ‘slow down, it’s too early, things aren’t bad enough.'”

He continued: “When women spoke up for the right to speak up, they wanted to vote, some insisted they simply, slow down, there will be a better day to do that, today isn’t quite right.

“When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today.”

There are many angles from which to attack Reid’s outlandish remarks. Republicans could, for example, point out that Democrats have consistently gone ape every time abortion has been compared to the Holocaust or President Obama has been compared to Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. Now their Senate Majority Leader is turning around and comparing Republicans to those who opposed abolition, racial integration, and women’s suffrage.

Republicans could also point out that we were told the historic election of a black president meant that we were moving toward a post-racial America. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Democratic Party have increasingly exploited America’s racial divisions and sought to portray their political opponents as racists.

But I think the best way to approach this is to point out the obvious, as the Fox News reporters have and as Michelle Malkin (among others) has. The obvious is that Sen. Reid was right: There were those who opposed abolition, racial integration, and women’s suffrage. And they were Democrats. Yes, the best way to approach Sen. Reid’s idiocy is to give him — and the rest of the country — a refresher lesson in American history and the history of the Democratic Party.

Much more beneath the fold…

Let’s rewind to 1856 and the election of James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States and the last Democrat to hold the office before the outbreak of the Civil War. Maybe Sen. Reid has forgotten that James Buchanan ardently defended the right to own human beings as slaves, and maybe he has forgotten how Democratic President James Buchanan responded to secession:

Following the election of 1860, seven deep South states left the Union, and Buchanan was presented with the final crisis of his administration. In his message to Congress in early December 1860, issued prior to secession, Buchanan showed his sympathy for the South by blaming the sectional crisis on the North’s interference with slavery. He urged northern states to repeal their laws which hampered the return of fugitive slaves. . . .

Once secession began, Buchanan sought to retain the loyalty of the upper South and to avoid a confrontation with the departed states until they found their way back to the Union. He hoped that Congress or the Peace Convention, which assembled in Washington in February 1861, would find a solution to the crisis. He also recommended that a constitutional convention be held to pass amendments protecting slavery in the territories and in slaveholding states. However, nothing came of these compromise efforts.

All emphasis is mine. To briefly recap: When southern states threatened to secede from the Union, Democratic President James Buchanan blamed the northern states for causing the sectional divides and urged those states to make it easier for fugitive slaves to be returned to their masters. It was Democratic President James Buchanan who proposed constitutional amendments to reaffirm the institution of slavery, not only in the southern states but in the territories. It was Democratic President James Buchanan whose sympathy for the south and relative inaction after secession led to the Civil War.

And who led the Union to victory against the secessionist south, while finally securing the abolition of slavery? Oh, that’s right, it was Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States and the first Republican president. Maybe Sen. Reid remembers him from his grade school history lessons.

Fast forward to 1870. The Massachusetts Republican State Convention seated two suffragettes as delegates that year. Two years later, the Republican National Convention expressed openness to women’s suffrage, and in 1878 Republican Sen. A.A. Sargent introduced the 19th Amendment, which would eventually extend suffrage to women. In 1892 women were seated as alternate delegates and a woman spoke before the Republican National Convention both for the first time. The first woman elected to Congress was Montana Republican Jeanette Rankin in 1916. The first woman appointed to the Supreme Court was Sandra Day O’Connor, appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Of course, we know that the 19th Amendment wasn’t ratified until 1920. Why? Well, it might surprise Sen. Reid to learn that Democrats in the Senate that he now leads defeated the 19th Amendment not once, but four times. Despite being introduced in 1878, the 19th Amendment didn’t pass the Senate until some 41 years later when Republicans had regained complete control of Congress.

But maybe Democratic President Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, said it best when he wrote in the April 1905 edition of Ladies’ Home Journal:

Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by man and woman in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence.

We could go on. We could discuss William Jennings Bryan, who is well known for starting the Democratic Party on its march toward socialism but who is lesser known for blocking the Democratic National Convention from adopting a resolution opposing the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. We could point out that the Democratic Party did nothing to reverse its historic opposition to liberty and justice for African Americans until Franklin D. Roosevelt realized they could be politically useful.

We could also point out that the man who tried to use the filibuster to block civil rights was Strom Thurmond, originally a Democrat. We could even point out that while the Democratic Party boasts about electing the first black president, it is quiet about placing a former Klansman — West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd — third in line for the presidency by electing him the president pro tempore of the Senate.

We could point out so much more, but we’ve already made our point. The point is that while Harry Reid may want to lump his political opponents in with the worst figures of American history, the truth is that it was his own party — the Democratic Party — that resisted abolition, resisted racial integration, and resisted women’s suffrage. But we shouldn’t be angry that the Senate Majority Leader has slandered us. We should thank Sen. Reid for giving us the opportunity to give the American people a history lesson on slavery, segregation, sexism, those in the Democratic Party who supported those evils, and those in the Republican Party who resisted them.

Cross-posted to From the Rust Belt.