Republicans celebrate Juneteenth, the end of Slavery

To this day, Republicans owe their sometimes muddled message and inability to campaign effectively against the Democratic Party to their ignorance about the Reconstruction era.  What they think they know is very much the product of history books written by Democrat professors.

Today, all Americans can celebrate 'Juneteenth' —  commemorating  the day in 1865 when slavery finally ended throughout the entire United States, as news of liberation spread to those still  enshackled in Texas.  Sadly, few people know that Juneteenth was a high water mark for African—Americans.  All too soon after that great day, the Democratic Party defeated the Reconstruction policies of the Republican Party, postponing the civil rights movement for nearly a century.

An important fact which most history books ignore is that Abraham Lincoln's 1864 running mate was a Democrat, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee.  And so after Lincoln's assassination, it was a Democrat who would be President of the United States for the first four years after the Civil War.  That first President Johnson did all in his power to prevent blacks from experiencing Lincoln's 'new birth of freedom.'

It was in Texas where slavery finally ended.  On June 19, 1865, U.S. troops commanded by General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston and brought some important news that the Democrats running the state had refused to tell their slaves, that they had been legally freed two years before by the Emancipation Proclamation.  Gordon's famous General Order Number 3 read:

'The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.'

General Gordon then traveled around Texas to inform the African—Americans, still being held as slaves by their masters, that they were in fact free.  Gordon was a zealous advocate for full civil rights for African—Americans.  Too zealous, it turned out, for President Andrew Johnson.  On August 6, 1865, just six weeks after his arrival, President Johnson relieved Gordon from command in Texas.  That same month, Johnson removed from the South all African—Americans serving in the U.S. Army occupation forces.

Any official in the occupying U.S. Army who exerted himself too much in defense of African—Americans was out of a job.  For this reason, Johnson dismissed the conscientious Phil Sheridan, who had sent General Gordon to Galveston, from command in Texas and Louisiana.  Sheridan's replacement was General Winfield Hancock, who then allowed white supremacist thugs a free hand.  So impressed were former rebels with the performance of Hancock that he would receive the support of the Solid South when he became the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in 1880.

President Andrew Johnson campaigned against ratification of the 14th Amendment and vetoed the Republicans' Civil Rights Act of 1866.  It was he who quashed Republican attempts to provide 'forty acres and a mule' to emancipated African—Americans.  Andrew Johnson vetoed a bill to extend voting rights to African—Americans in the District of Columbia, saying he wanted a completely 'white man's government.'  And in Johnson's racist mind, the civil rights hero Frederick Douglass was 'a damned scoundrel.'

Southern Democrats (the former Confederate rebels and President Johnson) exercised almost complete control over the post—Civil War South for two years after Appomattox.  The Democrat state governments set up by the Andrew Johnson administration quickly reduced blacks to near slavery with the infamous 'black codes.'  Not until March 1867, when they attained two—thirds majorities in Congress, were Republicans able to override Johnson's vetoes and enact their Reconstruction policies, beginning with the Reconstruction Act of 1867.  Unfortunately, the two—year delay before the onset of Republican Reconstruction had enabled the Democrats to strengthen their grip on power and on African—Americans in the South.

As soon as they were back in power in the southern states, Democrats closed down most of the public school systems that Republican administrations had established for blacks as well as poor whites.  Democrat—oriented terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia denied African—Americans their right to vote.  In the South, where dozens of African—American had held elective office while Republicans were in power at the state level, the restoration of Democrat rule excluded African—Americans from politics. 

Though tragic for the region as a whole, the triumph of the Democratic Party in the post—Civil War South proved especially devastating for African—Americans, who though legally free, found themselves once again ruled by the same class of white southern Democrats who had been their slave masters just a few years before. 

The way for the Republican Party to retake the policy initiative is to embrace its heritage of civil rights achievement, undistorted by all those histories written by Democrat professors.

Michael Zak's article is adapted from his book Back to Basics for the Republican Party, a history of the GOP from the civil rights perspective. See his website  for more information. Email Michael Zak.

To this day, Republicans owe their sometimes muddled message and inability to campaign effectively against the Democratic Party to their ignorance about the Reconstruction era.  What they think they know is very much the product of history books written by Democrat professors.

Today, all Americans can celebrate 'Juneteenth' —  commemorating  the day in 1865 when slavery finally ended throughout the entire United States, as news of liberation spread to those still  enshackled in Texas.  Sadly, few people know that Juneteenth was a high water mark for African—Americans.  All too soon after that great day, the Democratic Party defeated the Reconstruction policies of the Republican Party, postponing the civil rights movement for nearly a century.

An important fact which most history books ignore is that Abraham Lincoln's 1864 running mate was a Democrat, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee.  And so after Lincoln's assassination, it was a Democrat who would be President of the United States for the first four years after the Civil War.  That first President Johnson did all in his power to prevent blacks from experiencing Lincoln's 'new birth of freedom.'

It was in Texas where slavery finally ended.  On June 19, 1865, U.S. troops commanded by General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston and brought some important news that the Democrats running the state had refused to tell their slaves, that they had been legally freed two years before by the Emancipation Proclamation.  Gordon's famous General Order Number 3 read:

'The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.'

General Gordon then traveled around Texas to inform the African—Americans, still being held as slaves by their masters, that they were in fact free.  Gordon was a zealous advocate for full civil rights for African—Americans.  Too zealous, it turned out, for President Andrew Johnson.  On August 6, 1865, just six weeks after his arrival, President Johnson relieved Gordon from command in Texas.  That same month, Johnson removed from the South all African—Americans serving in the U.S. Army occupation forces.

Any official in the occupying U.S. Army who exerted himself too much in defense of African—Americans was out of a job.  For this reason, Johnson dismissed the conscientious Phil Sheridan, who had sent General Gordon to Galveston, from command in Texas and Louisiana.  Sheridan's replacement was General Winfield Hancock, who then allowed white supremacist thugs a free hand.  So impressed were former rebels with the performance of Hancock that he would receive the support of the Solid South when he became the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in 1880.

President Andrew Johnson campaigned against ratification of the 14th Amendment and vetoed the Republicans' Civil Rights Act of 1866.  It was he who quashed Republican attempts to provide 'forty acres and a mule' to emancipated African—Americans.  Andrew Johnson vetoed a bill to extend voting rights to African—Americans in the District of Columbia, saying he wanted a completely 'white man's government.'  And in Johnson's racist mind, the civil rights hero Frederick Douglass was 'a damned scoundrel.'

Southern Democrats (the former Confederate rebels and President Johnson) exercised almost complete control over the post—Civil War South for two years after Appomattox.  The Democrat state governments set up by the Andrew Johnson administration quickly reduced blacks to near slavery with the infamous 'black codes.'  Not until March 1867, when they attained two—thirds majorities in Congress, were Republicans able to override Johnson's vetoes and enact their Reconstruction policies, beginning with the Reconstruction Act of 1867.  Unfortunately, the two—year delay before the onset of Republican Reconstruction had enabled the Democrats to strengthen their grip on power and on African—Americans in the South.

As soon as they were back in power in the southern states, Democrats closed down most of the public school systems that Republican administrations had established for blacks as well as poor whites.  Democrat—oriented terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia denied African—Americans their right to vote.  In the South, where dozens of African—American had held elective office while Republicans were in power at the state level, the restoration of Democrat rule excluded African—Americans from politics. 

Though tragic for the region as a whole, the triumph of the Democratic Party in the post—Civil War South proved especially devastating for African—Americans, who though legally free, found themselves once again ruled by the same class of white southern Democrats who had been their slave masters just a few years before. 

The way for the Republican Party to retake the policy initiative is to embrace its heritage of civil rights achievement, undistorted by all those histories written by Democrat professors.

Michael Zak's article is adapted from his book Back to Basics for the Republican Party, a history of the GOP from the civil rights perspective. See his website  for more information. Email Michael Zak.