Vermont Democratic Party Chair Bruce Olsson published a commentary recently proclaiming yet again that Republicans are racist. This is particularly rich since the Democratic Party is the oldest and most enduring racist political party in history, and its racism continues to this day.
The Democratic Party was founded in 1828. Its first national party platform, ratified during the 1840 presidential election, stated “that all efforts by abolitionists or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery … are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences, and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people … and ought not to be countenanced by any friend to our political institutions.”
The message was clear: The Democratic Party did not consider Black Americans to be people deserving of happiness.
That same language was in every national Democratic Party platform for the next 16 years.
Democratic Party leaders acted on their racist principles, committing high treason against their country and their fellow Americans between 1860 and 1864 in order to preserve the system of Black human bondage.
In 1868, the Democratic Party platform urged amnesty for the traitors who, during the Civil War, killed hundreds of thousands of Americans for the purpose of preserving slavery. The platform also called for “the abolition of the Freedmen’s Bureau; and all political instrumentalities designed to secure Negro supremacy.”
In 1904, 76 years after its founding, the Democratic Party’s platform complained about the Republican platform: “The race question has brought countless woes to this country. The calm wisdom of the American people should see to it that it brings no more. To revive the dead and hateful race and sectional animosities in any part of our common country means confusion, distraction of business, and the reopening of wounds now happily healed. We therefore deprecate and condemn the Bourbon-like selfish and narrow spirit of the recent Republican convention at Chicago which sought to kindle anew the embers of racial and sectional strife, and we appeal from it to the sober common sense and patriotic spirit of the American people.”
The Republican Party’s hateful rhetoric in their party platform that the Democrats condemned? Here it is: “We demand equal justice for all men, without regard to race or color; we declare once more, and without reservation, for the enforcement in letter and spirit of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution which were designed for the protection and advancement of the Negro, and we condemn all devices that have for their real aim his disfranchisement for reasons of color alone, as unfair, un-American and repugnant to the supreme law of the land.”
Throughout most of the 20th century, Democrats condoned or excused policies of apartheid and disenfranchisement of Black Americans. Senate Democrats successfully filibustered a Republican-led anti-lynching bill in 1934, and a Republican-led effort to ban the poll tax in 1940. At the time, the poll tax was so effective in the American South that only 3 percent of Black Americans were registered to vote there.
Elected Democrats fought tooth and nail against anti-racist legislation, filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and engaging in so-called “massive resistance” against school integration into the early 1970s. A century and a half of racist policies vigorously supported by Democratic Party leaders. No other political party in history comes close.
Olsson’s commentary included the perennial claim that Republican President Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy — an effort to bring two-party rule to the South in the 1960s — was racist. I lived in Tidewater Virginia in the late 1960s. Coming from New England, I was shocked at the abject poverty of Black American families and the rigid segregation of virtually all the institutions there, despite the heavy federal military presence. The South was truly, as one historian put it, a Third World country in a First World nation.
Since the successful Republican Southern strategy, the South is no longer a Third World country, but a First World economic powerhouse. And today, the South is more integrated than the northern cities run by Democratic machines. Some racist strategy.
The Democratic Party has never shed its racist past. Today the party fights vigorously against school choice and voter ID laws, both overwhelmingly supported by minority communities. Its leaders support abandoning crime-ridden Black communities by its defund the police movement. It zealously supports expensive and unreliable renewable energy, which hurts the poor and minorities, and its environmental land use policies are the equivalent of yesterday’s restrictive covenants that redlined minorities.
The Democrats’ latest racist push is critical race theory, which denigrates the courage, sacrifice and enormous achievements of Black Americans, while pushing for resegregation through so-called affinity groups.
As they say, a tiger doesn’t change its stripes.
It’s time for a racial reckoning. Democrats insist on apologies and accountability from the rest of us. Democrats must take their own advice and own up to their own endemic racism. Then perhaps real racial healing can take place.
Deb Bucknam is vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party.