by Lincoln Institute | May 06, 2021

Racial reconciliation remains America’s largest category of unfinished moral business, but too often, it has been subverted to and corrupted by partisan objectives. The early days of national reconstruction after the civil war showed great promise, but it wasn’t long before that promise was dashed by President Andrew Johnson.

You’ll remember that Johnson acceded to the Presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Partisanship at that time was what prevented the needed national healing, but the partisanship was a bit different than today’s partisanship. Nearly everyone knows that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, but very few know that Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s Vice President, was a Democrat. He was a pro-Union Democrat Senator who was selected by President Lincoln as his running mate in 1864, replacing Hannibal Hamlin from Maine, Lincoln’s largely forgotten first Vice President. Lincoln selected Tennessee’s then-Senator Johnson as an attempt at national unity, since Johnson was the only sitting United States Senator from a Confederate state who did not resign his seat when the Confederacy was formed.

Lincoln was in favor of the national Reconstruction that produced about two thousand African Americans elected to public office in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War, including a dozen Black Republican Members of the US Congress. Johnson’s perversion of this hopeful vision of racial reconciliation was based on white supremacy, while Lincoln’s was based on the recognition of racial equality.

You may remember Lincoln’s support for the only workable proposal for reparations to former slaves, the so-called Forty Acres and a Mule plan. Johnson explicitly reversed and annulled that proclamation, by what we now call an executive order. So, in summary, a Republican president freed the slaves, held the Union together, supported racial equality, supported a workable reparations plan and sought peaceful national reconstruction and healing, while the Democrat who succeeded him as President was a white supremacist who vetoed Congressional bills granting rights to freed former slaves. Congress overrode those vetoes and subsequently impeached Johnson, but the moment in history that had offered the promise of timely postwar racial reconciliation was lost. One can only wonder what would have happened had Lincoln lived to oversee genuine national reunification.

I mention all of all this because much of it is unknown by the average citizen today. Racial reconciliation continues to be subverted to partisanship, although the parties themselves have to some extent reversed roles. Just as the anti-Communist Nixon could credibly reach out to China when the second President Johnson could not, I want to posit for your consideration that only a Republican can lead effective racial reconciliation today.

Democratic party rhetoric about reconciliation is self-servingly political, which undermines its sincerity and moral credibility. Democrats are vicious when a Republican who looks like a leader appears on the scene. And one indeed stepped onto the national stage last week, when South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott gave the official Republican response to President Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress. I encourage all listeners to American Radio Journal to watch or read Senator Scott’s speech in full. It is one of the best examples of moral clarity in modern American politics. It begins with these words: “I won’t waste your time tonight with finger-pointing or partisan bickering. You can get that on TV anytime you want. I want to have an honest conversation about common sense and common ground. About this feeling that our nation is sliding off its shared foundation, and how we move forward together.”

That’s an appeal to unity, an appeal to return to the principles on which our nation was founded, first expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Much like Frederick Douglass, Senator Scott did not attempt to appeal to a binary us vs them, red versus blue, Republican versus Democrat choice, but rather he appealed to our shared ideals. That’s the only basis from which national healing can occur: a reaffirmation of those ideals that we share in common.

A similar appeal was made by then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama in 2004. His speech to the Democratic National Convention more than anything else launched a national political career that brought him to the US Senate and the Presidency. Tim Scott’s speech last week was of a similar quality, and Democrats and their sycophants in the media establishment know it. They have attempted to vilify or ignore Senator Scott in the days since.

One of the most virulent forms of racism in America today is directed against minorities who express conservative views. The hateful use of racist slurs like calling Scott “Uncle Tim” are a perfect example – and the lack of moral outrage from the major media when racism is directed at a conservative Black man is telling. They are hypocrites, and Senator Scott stands above them. May he continue to rise as a national leader.