Historical claims are often the subject of furious debate. What history is remembered, emphasized and included can shape critical aspects of a narrative. Missing information is sometimes more important than the present facts.
“The 14th Amendment, giving full citizenship to freed slaves, passed in 1868 with 94% Republican support in congress. The 15th Amendment, giving freed slaves the right to vote, passed in 1870 with 100% Republican support and 0% Democrat support in congress,” an image shared over 50,000 times on Facebook reads.
The meme, which has been shared elsewhere online, is accurate in its claims but misses critical historical context. Most importantly, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, there were few Democrats in Congress to give support to the constitutional amendments.
Historians are also in broad agreement that the Republican Party during and after the Civil War was in a politically and ideologically unique position in American history, which shaped the norms they followed while governing the country.
The Union’s Republican Congress
The Republican Party, founded in 1854, was established as an explicitly anti-slavery party in response to Southern intransigence on slavery’s expansion.
By 1857, Republicans held 90 of the House of Representatives’ 237 seats, making them the largest opposition party to the Democrats. The party also held 20 seats in the Senate, which was about a third of the Democrat-controlled chamber.
“A core element of the Republican Party were former Whigs, who favored an activist national government and greater centralization of power,” Fergus Bordewich, a historian and the author of “Congress at War: How Republican Reformers Fought the Civil War, Defied Lincoln, Ended Slavery, and Remade America,” told USA TODAY.
“Abolitionists gravitated toward the Republicans but weren’t ascendant at first. Then you had many activists — the temperance movement was especially prominent in the 19th century,” he continued.
While prior to the Civil War, Republicans and their Whig predecessors were the minority parties in a government heavily controlled by Southern Democrats, the South’s secession handed the national government to the young party.
Between 1861 and 1863, for instance, there were only 44 Democrats and 26 Unionists to the Republicans’ 108 members in the House of Representatives. Republicans also dominated the Senate and had elected their first president, Abraham Lincoln.
Continue reading story at: usatoday.com