Republicans should look back for advice
By Dave Anderson
AFTER THE RACIAL terrorist massacre in Charleston, many Americans
found out about the neo-Confederate movement that inspired Dylann
Neo-Confederates aren’t generally fringe characters like Roof, but
rather some of the most respectable, well-educated and well-off folks
around — professors, clergymen, prominent politicians and community
leaders. The Republican Party in the South is thoroughly enmeshed with
neo-Confederates at the highest level.
To them, the Civil War was the “War of Northern Aggression” and
Abraham Lincoln was a war criminal and dictator.
Last year, religious right broadcaster Kevin Swanson hosted Walter
Kennedy, a neo-Confederate author of books such as Lincoln’s Marxists
and Red Republicans and Lincoln’s Marxists: Marxism in the Civil War.
Kennedy said that “radical socialists and communists” helped establish
the Republican Party and put Lincoln in the White House. He said
Lincoln created “one big, allpowerful indivisible government” that led
an “incessant attack on religious values in America,” He said the
early Republican Party began implementing the Communist Manifesto by
establishing public schools!
Actually, there is some truth to Kennedy’s hyperbolic blatherings.
Historians John Nichols in The ‘S’ Word and Robin Blackburn in
Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln show how Lincoln
was influenced by socialist ideas and how socialists were influential
in the early Republican Party.
In 1861, Lincoln delivered his first State of the Union address
several months after the Civil War had begun. Interestingly, he ended
his address by talking about another division in American society. He
expressed his fears regarding “the effort to place capital on an equal
footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government.”
He concluded: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital
is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had
not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much
the higher consideration.”
In 1864, Lincoln received an “Address” from the London-based
International Workingmen’s Association (IWA). It was drafted by Karl
Marx and congratulated Lincoln on his reelection. Marx said:
“The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of
Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class,
so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They
consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of
Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead
his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an
enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.”
The U.S. Ambassador in London, Charles Francis Adams, felt the letter
was significant and forwarded it to Lincoln. It carried the signatures
of several prominent British trade unionists as well as French
socialists and German social democrats. In response, Adams conveyed
Lincoln’s thanks to the IWA and said the president was encouraged by
the support of Europe’s rising workers’ movements.
Lincoln might have recognized the name Karl Marx when he read the
letter since Marx had been a prolific writer forThe New York Tribune,
which was a prominent Republican newspaper and had the largest
circulation in the country. The paper was anti-slavery and
pro-workers’ rights. Lincoln was a fervent reader of the Tribune as
well as a friend and political colleague of the paper’s founder and
editor, Horace Greeley.
Historian Adam Tuchinsky, in his study of the newspaper, says that the
Tribune spurred one of the first public discussions of socialist ideas
in the U.S. Greeley and his managing editor, Charles Dana, identified
with the utopian socialism of Charles Fourier.
The Tribune covered the failed 1848 democratic uprisings in Germany,
France, Hungary, Denmark and other European nations. In Paris, Dana
reported, “Everyone now is more or less a Socialist.” Dana met Karl
Marx who would end up writing over 500 articles for the Tribune on a
wide variety of topics. Later Dana was hired by Lincoln to be the
Assistant Secretary of War.
Many Germans escaped to America after the defeat of the 1848
revolution. Many of them were radicals. Joseph Weydemeyer, who
maintained a regular correspondence with Marx and Engels, formed a
national network of Kommunisten Klubs to promote what the New York
Times denounced as “Red Republicanism.” He then joined the Republican
About 200,000 Germans volunteered for the Union army. Joseph
Weydemeyer and August Willich, both former members of the Communist
League with Marx, were promoted first to the rank of Colonel and then
History can be strange. The Civil War never quite ended. The
Republican Party fell through the looking glass and came out as the
party of Jefferson Davis. Maybe Republicans should just ask
themselves, “What Would Lincoln Do?”