Conservative values historically align with civil rights

Evidence suggests Republicans have favored equal treatment, supported minority interests



Many Republican presidents including Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower fought for civil rights and equal protection under the law.

SAAD NABIL ALI, Evergreen columnist

Conservatism has always championed civil rights and equal protection under the law. American conservatism has received all sorts of flack following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, leading to many incorrect associations with the ideology.

Conservatism is not President Donald Trump, who was affiliated with the Democratic Party between 2001 and 2009.

It’s not the alt-right, which by definition has an alternative agenda to the traditional American right.

Conservatism is not similar to the European right, where nationalism and economic redistribution is what fundamentally distinguishes the political right from the left.

It doesn’t try to conserve racist institutions or a male patriarchy.

The two main political parties were constructed with a common vision in mind, but an ultimately different view on how to achieve their goals.

“We basically look to government to protect us from a variety of harm and that’s not specific to any ideology,” said Michael Salamone, judicial process professor at WSU. “We can disagree on what those harms are and disagree on what those solutions are but both left and right look to that to a certain degree.”

As a proud black conservative, I wanted to go through American history to set the record straight about conservative values and goals once and for all.

With regard to the conservative principles of our founding, American conservatism is the ideology that has aspired to promote our constitutional republic, capitalism and individualism.

It produced the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who embodied the conviction necessary to fight Democrats in the north and south who wanted slavery to persist.

Following the Civil War, all or the overwhelming majority of Republicans voted for the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments in the House and Senate at a time when they received nearly unilateral Democratic opposition.

These amendments abolished slavery and afforded equal protection under the law and the right to vote to former slaves.

A Republican-run Congress also passed the Ku Klux Act, which outlawed the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan in 1871.

Rutherford B. Hayes, America’s 19th president and a Republican, left a far greater legacy despite being known for removing troops in the south during the Reconstruction era while in office.

He appointed the former Democrat and then-Republican John Marshall Harlan, who became the only Supreme Court justice to strongly dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, a landmark Supreme Court case that made state-imposed segregation constitutional.

After his presidency, Hayes was also the first president of the National Prison Reform Association, vocalizing prison policy reform around the country.

African-Americans voted consistently for the Republican Party from the time of Lincoln well into the 1930s.

The economic struggle of the Great Depression, coupled with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal benefits, ultimately rallied black support to the political left.

Minorities may have continued voting for Democrats in larger numbers for economic relief, but the Republican Party continued championing conservative values of equal protection under the law and formal equality.

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 to protect and escort black children to a formerly segregated school after the governor attempted to deny black students access.

Although Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson is often credited with passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which marked the era in which the political platforms supposedly switched sides, historical evidence suggests that his hand may have been forced by Republican legislators at the time.

Proportionally, more Republicans voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed despite Robert C. Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, attempting to obstruct the vote by filibustering for 14 hours straight.

Johnson’s early career as an outspoken segregationist also gives credence to the idea that the passing of the Civil Rights Act was not by Democratic design.

Republican President Richard Nixon, even when conceding all of his political flaws, was not the racist everyone made him out to be.

Despite numerous controversies Nixon engaged in with the so-called Southern strategy, which was coded language used during campaigning to appeal to racist voters in the South, there is simply no definitive evidence to suggest such a claim.

“No one has ever given a single example of an explicitly racist pitch by Nixon during his long career,” according to The Hill.

Kevin Phillips, strategist for Nixon’s campaign and author of ‘The Emerging Republican Majority,’ has frequently been cited as evidence of Nixon’s coded language. Phillips’ book, however, suggests something else entirely.

“Nixon’s focus, Phillips writes, was on the non-racist, upwardly-mobile, largely urban voters of the Outer or Peripheral South. Nixon won these voters and he lost the Deep South, which went to Democratic segregationist George Wallace,” according to The Hill.

Phillips explained to The New York Times that the reasoning behind such a strategy was specifically aimed to appeal to non-racists in the south.

“My argument was this: Your outer Southerners … have always had different interests than the Negrophobe plantation owners of the Black Belt. This is a less extreme conservative group,” Phillips told The New York Times. “It adheres with other Republican constituencies across the country and can be appealed to without fragmenting the coalition.”

The evidence does not lie, nor do alternative theories hold any truth if we look to history holistically.

Part of being a conservative doesn’t mean you have an obligation to vote for the Republican Party all the time but, rather, that you’re willing to consistently perpetuate values that made the Republican Party great and disavow actions it fought against.

I’m proud to call myself a conservative because I know that when the country was most transparent on issues of race and a state’s right to choose segregation, conservatism and the Republican Party stood on the right side of the debate.