Blogs > Liberty and Power > Calvin Coolidge: Civil Rights Defender

Feb 16, 2004 3:00 pm


Calvin Coolidge: Civil Rights Defender



In honor of Black History Month, it is important to remember the forgotten legacy of the Republican Party and its contribution to African American civil rights. Most Americans today, including GOP politicians who should know better, assume that Republicans of the past"were on the wrong side of history," yet the black vote did not disappear until 1964, and only then because presidential candidate Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act on libertarian grounds. Significantly, however, MORE Republican members of Congress supported the act than did Democratic members.

In short, this is an historical topic that deserve much greater consideration from U.S. political historians. How did Republican politicians approach the black votes from 1865 to the present? Why have Republican presidents, from Nixon onward been such strong supporters of affirmative action once in office? (See Clint Bolick's critique of GOP hypocrisy on racial preferences:"The Republican Abdication," chap. 8 in __The Affirmative Action Fraud_ (Cato, 1996).

At a recent Liberty Fund conference--put on by an organization that does much to stimulate discussion of diverse topics related to"Liberty and Power" (www.libertyfund.org)--we read essays by Calvin Coolidge defending the civil rights of African Americans and Catholics. Coolidge wrote and published these letters or addresses at the height of the Ku Klux Klan's popularity. Readers may be interested in the excerpts from his letter"Equality of Rights," dated 9 August 1924, and published in Coolidge, _Foundations of the Republic: Speeches and Addresses (1926):

"My dear Sir: Your letter is received, accompanied by a newspaper clipping which discusses the possibility that a colored man may be the Republican nominee for Congress from one of the New York districts...you say:

'It is of some concern whether a Negro is allowed to run for Congress anywhere, at any time, in any party, in this, a white man's country.'

"....I was amazed to receive such a letter. During the war 500,000 colored men and boys were called up under the draft, not one of whom sought to evade it." [As president, I am]"one who feels a responsibility for living up to the traditions and maintaining the principles of the Republican Party. Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color. I have taken my oath to support that Constitution...."

Yours very truly, etc.

Calvin Coolidge

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I'd be interested in more citations to the Republican party and race. There is, of course, Nancy Weiss's _Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR_ (1983) and Robert Burk, _The Eisenhower Administration and Black Civil Rights_ (1984). There is also a fast-growing literature on Nixon and civil rights; see, e.g., Kotlowski, _Nixon's Civil Rights_ (2001) and my own book, which devotes several chapters to his pioneering efforts at affirmative action: _Big Government and Affirmative Action: The Scandalous History of the Small Business Administration_ (2001). On Reagan, the best-researched work I have come across is Nicholas Laham's The Reagan Presidency and The Politics of Race: In Pursuit of Colorblind Justice and Limited Government (Praeger, 1998).


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