Rewriting U.S. History: A Revisionist Republican Perspective

We should now understand the reason Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) cannot get her history straight. She claims the “founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery,” even though southern founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, owned them.

Bachmann also believes that African American children born during slavery were better off than African American children born after the election of the President Obama. Lacking any real historical knowledge of American history and viewing black history through a white racial frame, Bachmann does not understand that black families were broken up and sold like chattel on the auction block. Marriages between a black man and black female were not legal, but took place with the blessings of the slave master. “But the wedding vows they recited promised not ‘until death do us part,’ but ‘until distance’ or, as one black minister bluntly put it, ‘the white man’ – ‘do us part.’”

Revisionist GOPer David Barton and other conservatives want to rewrite the history books by “shifting black history away from the civil rights movement.” Barton wants the Republican Party to receive credit for liberating African Americans from the atrocious treatment at the hands of white racists:

Barton, who was hired by the GOP to do outreach to black churches in the run-up to the 2004 election, has argued elsewhere that African Americans owe their civil rights almost entirely to Republicans.

Barton goes on to argue that Martin Luther King should not be given “credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, ‘Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.’” Are we to accept the position that the majority would have freely given African Americans their civil rights had they not fought for them under the leadership of Martin Luther King? It is understandable why Rep. Allen West (R-FL), an African American Tea Party darling, believes his membership with the Republican Party has given him a one-way ticket off the “21st century plantation.”

But Barton has a point. Only majorities can set the record straight, since they are in power to change laws after minority groups raise a political ruckus for their civil rights they have so long been denied. It is obvious that Barton and other conservatives are trying to rewrite American and black history and to woo African Americans to an unfriendly, racist, and obtuse Party that has ignored their economic, political, and legal woes, which is no more than “propaganda masquerading” as pretentious outreach to carry out their quest among many to destroy the Democratic political base. During his second term as president, former President Bush gave a speech before the NAACP where he

acknowledged that whatever prestige the Republican Party once had with African Americans has been squandered, telling the NAACP on July 20, 2006 that he understands why “many African Americans distrust my political party” and that he considers it “a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historic ties with the African American community. For too long my party wrote off the African American vote, and many African Americans wrote off the Republican Party.


  1. Seattle in Texas

    While there are serious and necessary criticisms of the Republican Party and racism back when President Lincoln was the Commander in Chief of the U.S., it’s a far cry to suggest that the republican party of today (and the last many decades) is the same party. If I lived back then, I probably would have been a republican or republican sympathizer–I clearly would have been anti-democrat. Likewise, it would be ridiculous for someone to suggest that the democratic party of today is the same party to that of the 1800’s throughout LBJ, really. For the sake of space, am deliberately skipping over FDR and President Kennedy–no puns intended. Both parties have morphed, significantly, over time.

    Bachmann clearly demonstrates how far off base she is in her understanding of the metamorphosis of the republican party that has taken place over the last couple of centuries, cognitively and practically speaking. She and the other many republicans (Tea Party in particular) are actually an obscene insult to the republican party of the 1800’s. Republicans back then clearly would not have agreed with the claim: “that African American children born during slavery were better off than African American children born after the election of the President Obama.” had they been able to look into a crystal ball and see that because of them and the role they played in the trajectory of U.S. history, the U.S. would someday have an African American president with legally desegregated communities and institutions. This is not to undermine the racism and despair that continues to plague Black communities in current times, largely due to the latter republican party and the many racist and classist very expensive institutional reforms they’ve put in place since the passing of LBJ that have been designed to specifically target communities of color at the lowest sectors of U.S. society and generally privilege whites.

    I’m curious, if she could go back in time to the Civil War, how inspiring her rhetoric claiming to represent the republican party and its ideals, would be to the Union soldiers and their families? How inspiring she would be to both free and enslaved African Americans? How inspiring she would be to republican supporters and sympathizers more generally? HOW APPEALING SHE WOULD BE TO THE DEMOCRATS back then? Again, while there clearly were problems with the republican party and its relationship with racism and sexism, I would argue it is an insult to suggest the republican party of today is comparable to the republican party of President Lincoln.

    Just sort of my thoughts on the great post.

  2. Blaque Swan

    Is there a stronger term than “revisionism?” Something on the lines of “just lying about the past to fit my lies about the present?” I mean really? Black children were better off during slavery? In what world?

    Or maybe, taxes, ie “white slavery” as many tea-pars put it, is actually a good thing? Maybe, for everyone’s benefit, we should raise taxes? Since children, and here I’m assuming they wouldn’t want to leave any child behind, benefit from growing up as slaves. Now obviously it wouldn’t be fair to “re-enslave” black children, since, you know, we’ve had such a head start. You know, like the poker player with all the chips gained from cheating for 400 years. Certainly, it’d only be right that we give our ill-gotten gain to those who really earned it.

    To Barton’s point that only majorities can expand political rights – perhaps when it comes to why racial disparities remain, he’s answered the question. Right?

    Seriously, if it weren’t for the horrid habit of racially enforcing even the best intended laws, I’d be all in favor of some sort of reading/history/social studies test prior to allowing people to vote. I’m tempted to support some sort of test in spite of the inevitable. I mean come on, the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery? Oh! That’s why Jefferson and Sally Hemmings spent all that time together, him taking her to France and whatnot. Black children better off during slavery, when many didn’t know their parents even when they did live on the same plantation? That, plus the separation, maybe “absentee black fathers” got the right idea and should be commended for their efforts to improve the lives of their children.

    Where do they get this stuff? The stuff Bachmann and Barton are spouting, not my sarcastic asides. Do people really believe this abject nonsense? American education is, and apparently has been for decades, worse off than I thought. But not in terms of getting the facts right. Beginning in 1877, the collective white memory of slavery has been inaccurate. But I had thought that at least people were taught how to think. I see I was wrong.

    • Joe

      Yes, good point. Bachman just did it again, with a statement about Lincoln ‘almost’ being killed at end of Civil War, and etc..l… These various statements by supposed ‘educated’ Americans always make me think of the huge failure in US education. The people making these wild and ignorant statements are mostly ‘college graduates,’ which is chilling for 2011 in an ‘advanced industrialized country.’ One ignorant anti-knowledge, anti-science, anti-history statement after another. Most of these folks are conservative or fundamentalist Christians, and I think that version of Christianity has to take significant responsibility for the dumbing down of the US population. I fear It will be easy for a more openly and aggressive neo-fascist leader to con this bunch.

    • phelonn

      Bachmann’s got 20/20 hindsight vision. Can you imagine how nice it would have been, as children, growing up in slavery! Only Bachmann knows best; I’m feeling nostalgia.

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