The Party of Lincoln.
This seems to be the moniker of the Republican Party, flowing easy from those who are from the Bible Belt states. I’d like to investigate this notion; it is a known fact that these Bible-Belt states — the Deep South — were Confederate States, which means that the people there viewed Lincoln in the same vein as George Washington viewed the Royal Crown of England. Thus, the notion of modern day Republicans idolizing Lincoln makes no sense, especially when there’s numerous Jefferson Davis and other Confederate identities are heralded as heroes of the South.
Electoral Map data illustrates the political party selection of regions of the United States. The way presidential elections are set up, in layman’s terms each state is worth a certain amount of points (Electoral College). When a presidential candidate gets a majority of a state, he gets all the points a state is worth. The amount of points a state is worth is based on population numbers. I’m using electoral map data to investigate a couple of things:  Who exactly was the “Party of Lincoln” and,  where and when did the ideology swap occur between the two main political parties of the United States, Republican and Democrat. While one can easily view this data here and there, I’m going to make this easy as possible by illustrating the electoral map data right here.
The Party of Breckridge?
This is the election of 1860, where Lincoln (Republican) defeated John Breckinridge (Democrat). Here, it doesn’t seem like our Southern States–our modern day Republican solid reds–voted for Lincoln here. So this brings us to my question: Are our modern day “Bible Belt” conservative Southerners the “Party of Lincoln”? The answer looks like a resounding NO. Today’s Republican strongholds did NOT vote in favor of Lincoln on the day he was elected. So in essence, the regions that are fiercely Republican today were not Republican in the time of Lincoln. Technically any Republican today chanting they are “the Party of Lincoln”, who is from the blue states of the 1860 presidential election, is engaging in historical negationism. That day, our Deep South was “the party of Breckinridge.” A bit on Breckinridge: he was a man who supported American Slavery & joined the Confederacy in the Civil War making him a traitor to the United States (and a possible modern Southern hero, I’m sure his statue is somewhere). Most importantly is that he served as the Confederate Party’s Secretary of War after being defeated BY Lincoln. So how can a region claim to be the party of Lincoln but at the same time wish to fight him? It doesn’t make sense, unless you realize that Lincoln was the liberal and the Confederates were the conservatives, based on the region from which they came.
In the following electoral maps, this brief history lesson is going to prove that the Deep South was once strongly blue, cementing Democrats as the conservative party of America until the 1960’s.
The year of 1864 was the year of Lincoln’s re-election during times of crisis; the United States became fractured as the Deep South decided to, simply put, leave the Union. This region declared itself as the Confederate States of America, with its characters associated with their cause identified as “Confederates”, respectively. So in less than ten years time, to the claim of our Deep South being the “party of Lincoln”, the facts get more troubling.
- If our modern day South were the party of Lincoln, why did they feel the need to break from his United States?
- If they were the party of Lincoln, wouldn’t it make sense, to, *ahem*, STAY within the union of the UNITED States of America that boasts Lincoln as it’s executive leadership and Commander-in-Chief?
Scholastic findings indicate that Lincoln was vehemently demonized by the American Deep South at the time of the Civil War, and the Southern resentment of Lincoln existed until Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon found the means to secure the Southern vote via Southern Strategy.
Across much of the South, of course, Lincoln was hated, even in death. Though Robert E. Lee and many Southerners expressed regret over the murder, others saw it as an act of Providence, and cast John Wilkes Booth as the bold slayer of an American tyrant. “All honor to J. Wilkes Booth,” wrote Southern diarist Kate Stone (referring as well to the simultaneous, though not fatal, attack on Secretary of State William Seward): “What torrents of blood Lincoln has caused to flow, and how Seward has aided him in his bloody work. I cannot be sorry for their fate. They deserve it. They have reaped their just reward.” ~ Smithsonian Museum
If our South was the party of Lincoln, then what was all the fighting about? It’s also interesting to note the lack of Democrats in the election of 1864. Based on the data given, it would be a fair assessment to state that at the time, our Democrats were the Confederate Party; Confederates and Democrats were one in the same. As our modern day Confederate enthusiasts are largely Republican, this indicates that there was a political ideology swap somewhere.
Now would be the time to address the topic of the Klu Klux Klan. It is a common talking point of GOP/Conservatives to state that “the KKK were Democrats”. Usually, this talking point arrives in a form that conflates the KKK to an “arm” of the Democratic Party; this is spoken as if the KKK now,an American terrorist group that was born out of sore losers from the Civil War (that’s the South, sorry), completely functions and votes as Democrat today. This is astronomically false. While our modern day Republicans love to claim that Democrats were KKK, it would be more accurate to claim that the KKK founders were Democrat. It would be even more precise to state that the KKK was a REGIONAL IDENTITY, not a political party one. In short, the claim that the KKK were Democrats, as if modern day KKK members are registered as members of the Democratic Party is another instance of historical negationism.
Becoming a Modern Nation
This is the election of William McKinley, Republican. This illustrates the liberal and conservative strongholds in the year of 1900. Conservative are blue, Liberals are red. This will be maintained for roughly sixty years after McKinley.
Here is the election of Warren G. Harding, Democrat. With all 48 states in the Continental U.S. voting, this is a better illustration of the political ideologies of America in the past. The Deep South will remain blue until post-Civil Rights era.
The Ideology Swap: The Southern Strategy
In the elections of 1960 and 1964, interesting things happened. Kennedy, a socially liberal Democrat, won against Republican Richard Nixon. Kennedy won either the upper East Coast, by home field advantage (hailing from Massachusetts) or his socially liberal look. Being of Irish descent, on top of being a Catholic Christian, John F. Kennedy was a very liberal, radial idea by himself. He maintained most of the then-Democratic stronghold of the Bible Belt by virtue of being a Democrat. With a very conservative-looking vice-presidential candidate from Texas, Kennedy secured the Deep South in 1960, soundly defeating Richard Nixon with a score of 303 to 219.
Lyndon Baines Johnson — JFK’s Vice President — went to secure the election of 1964. LBJ as he came to be called demolished Barry Goldwater 486 to 52. Wow. Talk about a landslide. What happened?
Kennedy and his administration became associated with the Civil Rights movement when Martin Luther King got a phone call from Robert Kennedy (D), the 64th U.S. Attorney General. John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; this made way for LBJ to sign the Civil Rights Bill into law. This act destroyed the Democrat’s standing in the Deep South; to be frank racism guides a TON of policy in the United States then and now, and this act made the Deep South feel abandoned by their political party. Republican strategist at the time sought a means to capitalize on this act. The Republicans then engaged in what is called the Southern Strategy, which meant picking up the Deep South as a legitimate voting bloc. That meant matching or sharing their sentiment on things regarding racism, sexism, and other social issues. This is the precise reason why Barry Goldwater (R) campaigned almost explicitly on segregation and bigotry towards non-whites. In his robust triggering of white’s fears of non-whites, integration and the like, Barry Goldwater became the man responsible for enabling the South to do the unthinkable: Vote for the “Party of Lincoln”, the party they once so vilified as the harbinger of their loss of wealth (read: Slaves) and destruction in the Civil War. Barry Goldwater — the make of our modern conservative — unlocked it.
Barry Goldwater gained only Arizona and the Deep South. In Arizona he had home-field advantage; he’s from there. The bigger takeaway was his taking of the Deep South, which voted for him based on their extreme opposition of the Civil Rights Act that LBJ signed into law.
Electoral Map: Modern Day
The last two are our current Electoral Maps as of the date of publishing this column, reflecting what our states came to be. The South is deeply Republican, but it didn’t used to be so. As far as being the Party of Lincoln, it took a lot (actually, just racial animus against blacks) to propel the Deep South into the hands of the GOP. In short, history matters. Taking a brief look at electoral map history will defuse a lot of myths and historical revisions. Will the masses of politically inclined Americans actually look into to this information? I have my doubts; political ideology in America these days tell folk to run away from facts, reason and logic, because facts don’t “feel good”. But sometimes…it feels good to be with the right information.