According to recent news reports, at least nine of the twenty-five announced candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have called for some sort of “reparations” for African Americans. The intended beneficiaries are the ethnic descendants of those who were enslaved in the United States between 1619, when the first slave ship arrived from Africa, and January 1, 1863, when Republican president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
So, exactly what do the proponents of “reparations” have in mind? If we were to pose that question to all nine of the Democratic candidates, we would likely get at least nine different answers. However, an organization called The Movement for Black Lives has provided an outline of what they have in mind when they demand reparations for slavery and for 160 years of discrimination and race-based oppression.
They tell us: “We demand reparations for past and continuing harms. The government, responsible corporations, and other institutions that have profited off the harm they have inflicted on black people – from colonialism to slavery, through food and housing, redlining, mass incarceration, and surveillance – must repair the harm done.” This includes (paraphrasing):
- Reparations for the systematic denial of high-quality educational opportunities. Free access to community colleges and universities, as well as technical and skilled trades training and retroactive forgiveness of student loans.
- Reparations for the continued discrimination toward and exploitation of minority communities in the form of a guaranteed livable minimum wage.
- Reparations for the wealth extracted from minority communities through racism, slavery, food apartheid, and housing discrimination, with focus on healing ongoing physical and mental trauma.
- Reparations in the form of mandated public school curricula that critically examine the political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism and slavery.
- Funding to support, build, preserve, and restore cultural assets and sacred sites to ensure the honoring of our collective struggles and triumphs.
- Federal/state legislation requiring the government to acknowledge the lasting impact of slavery. Implement a plan to address those impacts, including passage of the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.”
Although a great many blacks have “sugar plums dancing in their heads” as they visualize the postman delivering a healthy government check to their front door every month, there is little likelihood that the reparations dream will ever become a reality. However, just for the sake of argument, if Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, Bernie Sanders, or Cory Booker should ever come to power in our country, bringing with them all of their nightmarish Utopian socialist dreams… including the reparations boondoggle… who would be required to ante into the reparations kitty?
In other words, if only citizens who are direct descendants of former slaves are to be recipients of reparations payments… black Americans such as Barack Obama, who has no slave blood in his veins, would be excluded… is it not reasonable to suggest that those required to contribute to the reparations jackpot should be limited to those who are direct descendants of former slave owners and oppressors? Assuming that some attempt would be made to establish degrees of personal and family culpability by evaluating “the sins of the fathers,” let’s look at the record.
The Democratic Party was founded in 1792 as the Democratic-Republican Party by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and others. Dominated by pro-slavery members, the party won its first major victory during the 1787 Constitutional Convention when delegates agreed to allow the slave states to count each slave as “three-fifths of a person.” And although slaves would not be allowed to vote, their numbers would serve to increase the number of pro-slavery Democrats in Congress, In 1828, the party dropped the “Republican” portion of its name and has been officially the Democratic Party ever since.
So, if my next door neighbor has a long family history of Democratic Party activism, while my family has a flawless record of Republican Party affiliation, including a great-grandfather who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Union Army during the war to end slavery, should my neighbor and I be required to contribute equally to the reparations boondoggle?
On July 6, 1854, the Republican Party was founded out of opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a federal statute that allowed the people of Kansas and Nebraska to decide whether they would be slave states or free states. The Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery in all states north of the 36°30′ parallel, except for the State of Missouri. At their first national convention in 1856, Republicans adopted a definitive platform which contained the assertion, “Congress did not have the right to recognize slavery, but should have an obligation and a right to abolish it.”
Prior to the Civil War, the State of Missouri had just two pockets of strong anti-slavery sentiment… a two or three county rural enclave in east-central Missouri, populated largely by German immigrants, and a similar enclave in the Kansas City area of northwestern Missouri.
My great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather settled in east-central Missouri in 1834, where they later became dedicated Republicans. In the years following the Civil War my great-grandfather served for many years as the Presiding Judge of the St. Charles County Court in east-central Missouri, running as a Republican. With that family history as a predicate, on what basis could I be required to contribute to the reparations kitty?
On January 11, 1864, Republican Senator John B. Henderson, of Missouri, submitted a joint resolution for a 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the purpose of which was to “free all slaves and abolish slavery in the United States and its territories.” The underlying arguments presented by anti-slavery Republicans and pro-slavery Democrats drew a clear distinction between the parties… a distinction that has changed little in the intervening 155 years.
During floor debate on March 19, 1864, one of the principal spokesmen for the Democrats was Congressman Fernando Wood of New York, who argued: “The proposed Amendment to abolish slavery in the states of the Union is unjust, a breach of good faith and utterly irreconcilable… It involves the extermination of all white men of the southern States and the forfeiture of all the land and other property belonging to them. Negroes and military colonists will take the place of the race blotted out of existence.”
Speaking in favor of the joint resolution was Republican James Wilson, of Iowa. In his remarks, he said, “… As immutable as the laws of God stands the declaration, ‘slavery is incompatible with a free government….’ No religion which recognizes God’s eternal attribute of justice and breathes that spirit of love which applies to all men the sublime commandments, ‘whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them’ can ever be allowed free exercise where slavery curses men and defies God.”
It was left to Republicans to correct a constitutional oversight that had allowed slavery to flourish in the United States for nearly 250 years. Their efforts were opposed by Democrats at every turn. So, who were the friends of slavery and who were its enemies? And should the descendants of those who fought and died to end slavery now be required to pay reparations to the descendants of those who were its victims more than 150 years ago?
Beginning in 1865, southern Democrats continued their relentless efforts to re-enslave African Americans by legislating Black Codes. Along with other restrictions, the Codes established where African Americans could live, for whom they could work, the type of work they could perform, which hotels and restaurants they could patronize, where they could sit in theaters and on buses and trains, and which restrooms and drinking fountains they could use.
The Black Codes virtually re-enslaved African Americans until they were ultimately repealed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a statute that is nearly identical, word-for-word, to the Republican-sponsored Civil Rights Act of 1875. The 1875 statute was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883 when Democrats regained a sympathetic majority on the high court.
But the greatest assault on African American freedom has been the Ku Klux Klan, a paramilitary force created by Democrats to murder and intimidate blacks and white Republicans. Although no official statistics on lynching were kept between 1865 and 1882, Tuskegee Institute records show that, between 1882 and 1968, 4,743 people were lynched by Democrat Klansmen. These included 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites… nearly all white Republicans.
Although Democrats can be expected to look only outside their “big tent” for those with deep enough pockets to finance the reparations boondoggle, there is ample evidence that, if blame is to be assessed only on the basis of racist lineage, they need only look inside their own tent. That is where they will find the unbroken blood lines of racial bigotry, oppression, intimidation, and violence that have enslaved and oppressed black Americans for nearly 400 years.
In 2019, with black unemployment at an all-time low, Democrats are understandably concerned that their long hold on the black vote is slowly, but surely, slipping away. The political and economic plantation that Democrats have created for blacks since the 1950s and ‘60s is no longer an insurmountable barrier to political and economic freedom, and Democrats know it. If African Americans should suddenly begin to think for themselves and to shed the bonds of victimhood, the Democratic Party would simply cease to exist. It is the only reason why so many Democrat presidential hopefuls give lip service to the reparations boondoggle.
Paul R. Hollrah is a retired government relations executive and a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College. He currently lives and writes among the hills and lakes of northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country.