Reconstruction was the effort made by the United States federal government to reunite the nation after the Civil War. During Reconstruction, the Democratic Party was the more conservative party than the Republicans in regards to Civil Rights for African-Americans.

The Democratic Party’s platform in 1868 stated the Democratic Party’s opposition to equality for African-Americans in American law and culture, stating “It demanding these s measures and reforms we arraign the Radical party for its disregard of right, edand the unparallel oppression that and tyranny which have marked its career. After the most solemn and unanimous pledge to both Houses of Congress to prosecute the war exclusively for the maintenance of the government and the preservation of the Union under the Constitution, it has been repeatedly violated that most sacred pledge, under which alone that rallied that noble volunteer army which carried our flag to victory. Instead of restoring the Union, it has, so far as in its power, dissolved it, and subjected ten States, in times of profound peace, to military despotism and negro supremacy.”

Given the political reality that the Republican Party is the conservative, and the Democratic the more moderate to liberal party in the present day, it is interesting to note that the “Radical” Party being decried in the Democratic Party platform of 1868 was the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party labeled the Republican Party as “Radical” for the “Radical Republican” effort to utilize the power of the United States federal government to enforce Civil Rights legislation in the South to help the formerly enslaved African-Americans integrate into the mainstream of American life and culture.

The Democratic Party considered this to be an abrogation of states’ rights and a massive government overreach of the United States federal government’s Constitutional powers.

The Democratic Party vehemently opposed the “Radical Republican” plan for reuniting the nation and working to integrate the formerly enslaved African-Americans into the mainstream of American culture, views which switched as time went on and the Republican Party became the bastion of conservative political philosophy of small government and the Democratic Party became the bastion of more liberal political philosophy as it is today.

It is tempting to say that this was completely the result of former Confederate States of America military and political leaders working to regain their former political power following the Civil War, and to a certain extent that is true.

However, Northern Democrats backed their efforts as most northerners backed fighting the Civil War to restore the Union, not to free enslaved African-Americans, and were as racist as the proslavery southerners who supported and actually enslaved African-Americans.

When “Radical Republicans” worked to integrate the formerly enslaved African-Americans into the mainstream of American political and cultural life, Northern Democrats joined forces with former Confederate States of America leaders in opposing the reconstruction efforts of “Radical Republicans.”

Both northern and southern Democrats eventually ensured that the Civil Rights gains made by the formerly enslaved African-Americans were nullified, and African-Americans were effectively re-enslaved in not only the South, but in the entire United States as a result of the Democrats’ efforts to shut down the “Radical Republican” plan for Reconstruction.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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