Backstory Biernes #8, Friday, June 27th 2015
In this latest edition of Backstory Biernes, which is coming to you a day late, I am going talk about how the term “republican” in the good ole US of A went from meaning “anti-slavery” to meaning “pro-ignorance.” I am not going to pretend to be an expert on this subject, but will merely offer my particular brand of ranting about it. I hope that you enjoy it!
In the 1800s, Abraham Lincoln was a part of the Republican Party. And as a matter of fact, he was the US’ first republican president ever. Now some of you (the clever ones) will be able to make arguments that claim that he was not the first and that he was not even a republican in our modern sense of the word. And you’d be right. But no matter how we interpret the past, Lincoln was a GOPer. Lincoln is not really known for sharing qualities with modern-day republicans by the masses, which includes me. He is probably considered to be one of the “good guys,” more like Obama than the George Bushes. And here, I will not be arguing that any US president was or is one of the “good guys,” no matter what it might seem like I am implying.
So Lincoln, anti-slavery symbol: how did we go from that to Bush: pro-ignorance meathead? I am not going to claim to know exactly how we did this, but I’ll take a stab at it.
Ever since the beginnings of the nation, before the Constitution, before the Unites States of America was the United States of America, the colonial “powers that be” have talked about equality, sovereignty, freedom and states rights. Each group of powerful and influential people had their own interpretations of these principles, and they needed other less-powerful and influential people to support them. So naturally, political parties were established and formalized around particular perspectives. In the colonial days, they were concerned with taking the English monarchy out of the equation. According to the crown, there was no equality, sovereignty, freedom, rights or even states in the colonies, there was just the crown. Positioning themselves around establishing these principles for the people of the colonies, the most powerful of the colonists organized against the monarchy. And in a sense, the first “republicans” were born. And although they did not officially name themselves republicans, that is in fact what they were. They wanted to create a new republic, diametrically opposed to the English monarchy, and were therefore republicans.
The creation of different states from the fabric of the colonies was their first step, and forming a union of these states was the next. There were many perspectives on how to do this, but in the end, republicanism was based on the idea that these different states had to join together to fight the crown. But they had to remain independent. Then and there, the argument about states rights began. Organizing themselves under different parties, the leaders of each state had different ideas regarding how to specifically go about unionizing. There was a clear divide between those who wanted power to be more centralized and those who wanted power to be more localized. This is still being argued today. But the need for a union, a nation, a republic aligned against the foreign English monarchy was clear. And everyone, no matter what they disagreed on, was a republican.
Fast forward to the times preceding the US Civil War. The states have now had several decades to think about their union. The political divide between states-righters and what I am calling “centralists” had become clearer than before. When one part of the nation tried to impose its anti-slavery agenda on others, those others wanted to leave the union. And in true American fashion, the only way to figure it out was to fight it out. That’s where Lincoln enters the picture. The Republican Party, or GOP (Grand Old Party), was established based on the idea that slavery should be abolished. The states that disagreed wanted to create their own separate nation, but ultimately failed. Lincoln became the symbol of the Republican Party’s anti-slavery movement. The republicans won, and the United States remained intact.
With the fight over slavery over*, what were they to do next? The nation, naturally, had to figure out how to go about business, and they did so by putting a bullet in Lincoln’s head. And thus, the first modern-day Republican was introduced to the American psyche. Lincoln’s killer, John Wilkes Booth, is the true first ancestor of the Gippers and George Bushes of the USA–the missing link, if you will.
Booth is known for calling Lincoln a tyrant. It’s a laughable idea. Fighting for equality and freedom makes you a tyrant? Unfortunately, the idea persists to this very day, and it is the new basis of what the Republican Party is all about.
Fast forward to today, and listen to modern-day Republicans talk about how Obama is a dictator and a tyrant for defending the equal rights of low-income and LGBT people. He is called a socialist for wanting to provide people with affordable healthcare. There is still talk in parts of the country about separatism. The confederate flag is still waved around as a twisted symbol of freedom.
For these new republicans, states rights and the petty freedoms of individuals are placed on the highest level. The union that makes them strong is an unholy dictatorship. The nation that grants them their freedom and their rights is tyrannical. To me, that is ignorant. I am not a nationalist, but it is the United part of the United States that makes it a great country–not the States.
In closing, I’d like to say thanks for reading if you got this far. I would like to one day write something about the topics in this piece in a more formal manner, but as you all know, I am a fiction writer. This blog is a way for me to keep my fingers on the keyboard. Sorry that this one was a day late. I like to get these out on Fridays, hence the name Backstory Biernes. This is actually the first time that I have truly missed a StevenCuffari.com deadline.
I would also like to give a shout out to all my LGBT peeps and to all my peeps as a matter of fact. The decision of the Supreme Court on Obergefell v. Hodges for marriage equality is momentous and is proof that a strong central power is important for moving any nation forward. This is a win for all of us.