Conservatives love to tout Abraham Lincoln as one of history's most celebrated Republicans -- especially on Feb. 12, his birthday. But the modern GOP has nothing to do with the party of Lincoln, and the 16th president would probably be horrified by the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Donald Trump.
But in the early 20th century things began to change. The Republican Party became increasingly divided, particularly over the issue of tariffs. Then the Great Depression happened and Republican President Hebert Hoover refused to provide government aid to struggling people. His successor, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on the other hand, provided relief to the poor and put more regulations on the economy through the New Deal. The Democratic Party shifted left. The Republicans inched further right toward opposition to civil rights, anticommunist fear-mongering and -- as National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. put it -- "stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop." Once the GOP of the 1960s began to actively fight racial equality, many of the remaining progressives left the party.
So when the GOP says things like "Happy birthday to a great Republican," it's worth noting a few Lincoln-era Republican policies that today's GOP would have railed against:
Federal Income Tax
In 1862, Lincoln signed into law the Pacific Railroad Acts, which provided federal funding for the western expansion of the railroad. Modern Republicans, on the other hand, fought to a privatize a planned high-speed Amtrak line and last year stalled congressional efforts to fund our nation's highways.
Funding For Public Education
In 1862, Lincoln signed a law giving states land grants which they could sell and use the money to fund old colleges or build new ones. Meanwhile, today's Republicans have voted to cut crucial funding for higher education and blocked efforts to make college more affordable -- such as President Barack Obama's plan to make community colleges free.
Expansion Of Presidential Powers
The Republicans of today often accuse Obama of abusing his presidential power. Using executive action, Obama has green-lit gun control and immigration reforms, as well as implemented paid sick leave for federal employees and a mandate protecting LGBT workers. Guess who else increased the power of the executive branch and ran an increasingly activist federal government? Yep, that's right: Lincoln. In fact, the University of Virginia's Miller Center calls Lincoln "the most activist President in history."
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