the elephant in the house

On July 6, 1854, the Republican Party had it’s first official meeting in Jackson, MI. If those Republicans could see the party of today, I wonder what they would think? Not only is today’s party a far cry from the party that Lincoln belonged to, it’s a far cry from what it was when I was born. The party was founded partially on the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, a man whom most modern day Republicans would probably classify as the closest thing to a liberal a slave-owner could be, what with his not believing Jesus was the Messiah and all that. Hell, the slogan of the first Republican candidate for president was Free Soil, Free Labor (as in the non-slave kind), Free Speech, Free Men. Can you just see Rush Limbaugh’s eyes roll into the back of his head at the very idea of the U.S. Government giving away free land? Early Republicans were very much opposed to “sinful” living, including owning slaves, but also drinking and polygamy.  Like Karl Rove, the early party members used churches for networking purposes, though in those days Republicans were primarily Quakers, tight-lipped New England Yankees, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Scandinavian Lutherans. The Democratic Party held sway over the Roman Catholics, the Episcopalians, and the German Lutherans. My first thought there is that these religions/ethnic groups have a cultural history of imbibing, and while one doesn’t want to stereotype, it turns out there’s more to this than I originally thought. For over 50 years (1860-1912) the Republicans used alcohol (and the fear of the Pope) as their main weapon against the Democrats. They were fighting “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion”,  meaning drinkers/bar owners, Catholics (in particular the Irish), and the rebels who seceded from the Union during the Civil War.  Of course as the Democrats moved toward a more progressive party line, working for civil rights, the two parties flipped in many ways, and the Republicans for the most part now hold firm in the South.  I still find it astonishing that the Republican Party was the original champion of the ERA – beginning in 1948. They introduced legislation every year until 1980 – even Nixon was a fan. But in 1980 everything began to change, in ways broader and deeper than we could have ever predicted.

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