Few things make me realize the person I’m about to have a political discussion with is either an idiot or being completely disingenuous more than when they whip out the “Democrats formed the KKK and Republicans freed the slaves” statement — as if that’s their trump card and they’re playing it up front so that anything else they’re about to say can then go without challenge. Let’s be fair, there’s a number of different arguments you could use to justify why you think one party is better than another, and some are better than others. Using the premise of “Democrats formed the KKK and Republicans freed the slaves” just shows that you probably took all of your talking points from some lunatic conservative webpage, and you slept through every single American history class you ever attended.
I’m a Southerner. I’ve been one my whole life and I’m not making apologies for it, as demonstrated in this article which ruffled a lot of liberal feathers. However, I am also a Civil War buff and whenever some guy with the Stars and Bars sticker on the back of his truck starts with the previously mentioned statement, I can’t help but ask them the following: If that statement is true, why do they vote Republican? Because if you know anything about the aftermath of the Civil War and the utter devastation of the Southern economy, you’d also know that Republicans were no friends of anyone who sided with or sympathized with the Confederacy. It is true that for over 100 years after the war, Southern Democrats were usually on the completely wrong side of the argument when it came to racial equality — but then again, it wasn’t like you saw many Northern Republicans eager to help Dr. King’s dream come true either.
The Civil War didn’t just free the slaves. It created an environment in which they were free, but also second class citizens — and it wasn’t just in the South either. Once Reconstruction was over and federal troops were removed, the Jim Crow era was quickly ushered in. The Republican Party was happy to end slavery, but it really did nothing after the war other than to create an atmosphere of racial resentment by leaving an economy in shambles and cities burnt to the ground.
You see, the whole “Republicans freed the slaves” statement is such a hollow argument. It is pretty incredibly ridiculous to point out a proclamation made by Lincoln or the actions of Nathan Bedford Forrest as proof that one party is better than another based off political positions of 150, or even 50 years ago. But that’s exactly what you’ll hear repeated ad nauseam from media pundits who figure people who listen to them are too uneducated to know that Lincoln wanted a quick reconciliation between the North and the South after the war, or that the original KKK died out in the 1870s and has been resurrected twice since then.
If you’d really like to debate the issue of the Civil War, it’s an entirely reasonable discussion (and one I would love to go into further one day) to claim that the war wasn’t so much about the morality of slavery, but more about a rivalry between a Northern economy that didn’t want to compete with the cheap labor force that the Southern plantation owners had. However, I think that would fly far over the heads of those who can’t even figure out that “trickle-down” economics is a complete sham. It is completely and utterly frustrating to try to reason with folks who parrot the “Democrats started the KKK” line over and over again like a stuck Johnny Rebel record, even as they sometimes drop the “N” word in casual conversation.
From now on, every time I hear someone talking about how they believe the Republican Party is so wonderful and Democrats are destroying the economy, I’m going to start laying some history on them. If Democrats are racists because a former Confederate general started the KKK and for many years the party opposed desegregation, then the Republicans are responsible for the humiliation of the South after the war. It may not get through their thick skulls when you use their own logic against them, but it will be fun to watch the smoke coming from their ears and the confused look on their faces.
Perhaps one day the South will “rise again,” but it’ll never happen by voting for the very party who crushed them nearly 150 years ago and continues to convince them to vote against their economic self interests today.
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