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The Republican Party: Making Juneteenth a Reality

Founded solely to end slavery, the Republican Party remains true to its values to this day.

Fisk University Jubilee Singers, Nashville, TN, 1870s

The Story of Juneteenth

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, in which he declared that all “persons held as slaves” in any area “in rebellion against the United States” would be “thenceforward, and forever free.”

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation came into force as Union armies advanced into Confederate territory. However, the Proclamation was suppressed in territories not under control of Union military, leaving hundreds of thousands of persons still enslaved.

The surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, ended the Civil War. Soon, Union troops began the occupation and reconstruction of the Confederacy.

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger of the US Army, who commanded the Union forces in Texas, proclaimed:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore becomes that between employer and hired laborer.“

Since 1865, June 19—“Juneteenth”—has been celebrated by Black Americans. On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday.

Ripon, Wisconsin: Birth of the Anti-Slavery Party

On February 28, 1854, representatives of the “basket of deplorables” of that era—prohibitionists, free-soilers, suffragists, Whigs, and, above all, abolitionists—met in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin. Shocked into action by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of Senator Stephen Douglas (Democrat of Illinois), which threatened to extend slavery into territories where it had been prohibited, they discussed the creation of a new political party dedicated to halting the spread of slavery, and ultimately ending it. The party they created ultimately came to be called the “Republican Party.”

Birthplace of the Republican Party, Ripon, WI

As Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1858:

“The difference between the Republican and the Democratic parties… is, that the former consider slavery a moral, social and political wrong, while the latter do not consider it either a moral, social or political wrong… They [the Republicans] will oppose, in all its length and breadth, the modern Democratic idea that slavery is as good as freedom… ”

Through four dark years of civil war and assassination, the Republican Party remained true to its principles. And in June 1865, it made Juneteenth a reality.

The 13th Amendment & the End of Slavery

The Emancipation Proclamation, which we celebrate on Juneteenth, was only the first step toward ending slavery in the United States. Lincoln’s proclamation did not apply to the slave states that did not rebel against the United States: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. Lincoln did not include those states in the Emancipation Proclamation because he needed their support, or at least their neutrality, in order to continue the war against the Confederacy.

To end slavery throughout the United States, Lincoln proposed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. His amendment states:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Thanks to what one historian called “brilliant finagling,” Lincoln and congressional Republicans overcame the Democratic Party’s opposition to win the two-thirds majority required in the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the states on December 6, 1865. On that day, every enslaved person in the United States became free.

Republicans in Congress passed two more amendments to secure the rights of freedmen: The 14th Amendment guaranteed due process and equal protection of the law to any person in the United States, and was ratified on July 9, 1868. The 15th Amendment barred the states from denying the vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and was ratified on February 3, 1870.

First, the Fight Against Slavery - Now the Fight Against Racism

The end of slavery was just the first round of the fight against racism. It’s not possible to legislate the human heart, but it is possible to end mandated racism in our institutions. Beginning in the 1950s, our nation has made enormous progress in the battle against institutional racism.

However, now, in 2024, institutionalized racism is resurging, and threatens to roll back these advances. This is due to promotion of the grossly misnamed doctrine of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” or “DEI.” This new racism views a human being through the same lens as did the old racism of Jim Crow and segregation: not as an individual, with his or her own strengths, weaknesses, virtues, and flaws, but merely as an instance of the social construct called “race.” In truth, though DEI claims to be anti-racist, by definition it is itself racist. And when schools, corporations, universities, and governmental bodies mandate DEI in hiring, training, or promotion, they are institutionalizing racism.

It is heart-rending to see the advances that our nation has made against racism over the last 70 years being reversed, and racism being once again embedded in the institutions of our nation.

Yet it does not have to be so. In February 1854, members of the “basket of deplorables” of their day assembled in the schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin, and dedicated themselves to the eradicate the cancer of race-based slavery from our nation. Today, with racism resurgent in our nation’s institutions, we of the Republican Party, the proud heirs of the men and women of Ripon, remain committed to the cause of freedom and equality. The fight against racism never ends: as it was 150 years ago, today’s Republican Party stands in the forefront of that fight.



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