By Robert Fitzgerald
Where is the Republican Party headed? Will they continue to flourish? – or will we witness their disintegration in the next six to ten years?
Most politicians today would scoff at the mention of the latter question, call it reactionary and write it off as uninformed – “The thought that the ‘Grand Old Party’ could possibly fall out of its prominent role in the United States’ political system – Absurd!”
But is this question really absurd?
Stop a moment and consider history for a moment. Between 1854 and 1856, Abraham Lincoln began to realize that the Whig Party, to which he was loyal, was nearing extinction. Whig leadership was wavering on the slavery issue, unable to come out decisively as the anti-slavery, anti-expansionist party. Those with strong moral convictions against slavery were forced to search for someone and/or some group to represent their cause for the nation.
The Democratic Party had already aligned itself with the South, not only favoring slavery in the states where it already existed but also backing its expansion to the new territories of the nation.
Because the Whigs and the Democrats would not represent anti-slavery, anti-expansionist sentiments, two fledgling parties emerged. One, the American Party, or “Know Nothings,” failed to survive because they did not adopt a platform against the expansion of slavery. The second, the Republican Party, did adopt this platform.
As the Whig Party continued to hold to ambivalent opinions, members began to gravitate toward the Republican Party. The Party proved stable enough to represent the anti-slavery, anti-expansionist movement and won the trust of leaders such as Lincoln. The Whigs came unglued as a result of the strong sentiments surrounding slavery while the Republican Party flourished and brought a hero to the White House in their second attempt.
Today, the Republican Party is failing to recognize the similarities between the issues of slavery and abortion both morally and politically. In doing so, they neglect to understand the very circumstances that brought them into the position of power and influence which they enjoy today. This negligence may prove disastrous.
Current Republican leaders do not seem to realize that their party exists because of its bold stand on a vitally important moral issue. In Lincoln’s day, the issue was slavery; today, that vitally important moral issue is abortion. Currently, within the ranks of the Republican Party there is growing strife and a lack of cohesiveness which is the result of a failure to make a firm stand on abortion.
Republican Party Chairman, Lee Atwater, on a national news broadcast stated: “There are no litmus tests on any issues which would be grounds for repudiating a Republican who believes in our overall philosophy.” In so many words, Atwater’s comment indicates that there is room in the Republican Party for candidates who support abortion.
The Whigs may have said the same thing about their party in relation to slavery. They had no litmus test for their party either, but a large segment of the American people did and the Whigs failed the test.
World Magazine (Jan. 22, 1990) quotes Vice President Daniel Quayle expressing an idea shared by many fence straddling leaders in the “Grand Old Party.” Quayle says that as a whole, the Republicans “are a party of inclusion … the tent is big enough to include pro-life as well as pro-abortion.”
If one looks to history again, it becomes clear that Vice President Quayle’s stance will not survive the test of time. Abraham Lincoln found himself faced with a similar dilemna on the slavery issue. Stephen B. Oates, in his book, With Malice Toward None, comments on and even quotes Lincoln’s beliefs on such an all inclusive party position.
What was involved, Lincoln said, was a struggle for human liberty. In Lincoln’s view, slavery embodied ‘‘the selfishness of man’s nature” and opposition to it embodied man’s love of justice. These two principles are “eternally antagonistic” and when brought together, they would lead inevitably to “shocks, throes, and convulsions.“1
In the same vein, pro-life and pro-abortion stances are “eternally antagonistic” and will cause “shocks, throes, and convulsions” within the Republican Party.
If this philosophy persists, the Republicans, like the Whigs, will find their tent torn asunder. Will the Republican Party learn from history or will they tragically repeat it? Will they take the fire of compromise to their bosom and suppose that they will not be burned?
Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address:
“These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All know that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.”
If their is no drastic turn around; if there is no change of heart and mind on this issue, Republicans in the future may be saying that their demise was because of philosophical and economic issues. However, history may record:
“These UNBORN constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All know that this interest was somehow the cause of …”
As well as the demise of an entire political party.
1 Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None, (Harper and Row, New York, 1977), p.128