(January 24, 2018) J. P. Morgan once said “A man always has two reasons for the things he does—a good one and the real one.” The legendary banker was implying that the “good” reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the true self-serving one.
Consider, for example, the current political debate over youthful illegal immigrants under the rubric of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.) Democrats generally want to set minimal requirements for DACA citizenship. They promote their position with noble-sounding slogans such as, “It’s the right thing to do,” or “It is who we are as Americans,” and etc.
But Republicans mostly believe the Democrats have a second, unspoken, reason. Specifically, since recent immigrant citizens overwhelmingly vote Democratic, the GOP feels that the Democratic Party’s DACA stance is chiefly selfish. Even “no action” on DACA favors the Democrats, they believe, because the number of DACA illegals will eventually grow too large for Congress to resist the group’s demands to make them legal citizens. As a rejoinder to Democratic sloganeering, the GOP replies, “We either have a country or we don’t.”
A similar situation prevailed 150 years ago when the postbellum Republican Party advocated black suffrage. Modern historians commonly attribute the infant GOP’s motive to a push for racial equality. They generally minimize the fact that ex-slaves voted robotically for Republicans. They downplay the point even though freedmen were an especially powerful voting block in the eleven former Confederate states where they represented 40% of the population and carpetbag governments often blocked ex-Confederates from voting or holding office thereby putting the black electorate in control. Republican Ulysses Grant, for example, won only a minority of America’s white popular vote in the 1868 presidential election.
The recent federal government shutdown is causing many Americans to ponder whether the Democratic Party’s stance on DACA is a morally superior position, or merely a selfish one. Presumably, time will reveal our verdict and future historians will report it as the accepted narrative. As students of the Civil War era, the present might also be a good time to consider whether the postbellum Republican Party motives for black suffrage were primarily driven by morality, or self-interest.