Monday, June 18, 2012

My Family Tradtion

There were times, years ago, when I attended political meetings and stood in crowds holding political signs. But I’m too old to do that any longer. But that doesn’t mean that I am excused from participating in the most important election in my long life. I can still type away at my computer, and share what I have learned about government, and the responsibilities of citizenship with others. Hopefully, a few of you in the outer world will find what I write worth spending a few minutes reading from time to time.

So a bit of a bio by way of introducing myself.  All my ancestors came from Ireland, one at a time or in small family groups, beginning before America was America, and ending a century and a half later. These immigrants have been Republicans since Abraham Lincoln founded the party in 1856.

My great grandfather Michael Harshaw was the first in the family to cast a ballot for a GOP candidate. When the party was created, Michael was  a Presbyterian minister in southern Illinois. This was a dangerous place, as many advocates of slavery lived there though it was supposed to be a free state. Some of these men formed a vigilante group, The Knights of the Golden Circle, and rode about in the night attempting to frighten other citizens into turning in escaping slaves. 

Michael was not easily intimidated and continued to run a station on the Underground Railroad.  However, at the time of the first election with Republican candidates on the ballot, the Knights added a new threat. They issued a decree that anyone voting for a Republican would be severely dealt with.

The people of Cutler IL voted in the small local schoolhouse, a place easy for the Knights to control. On election day, they surrounded the school with their members.  At that time, Michael was a tall, strong, red-haired man. He had always done hard manual labor from the peat bogs of Ireland, to the Erie Canal in New York, to the granite quarries of Pittsburg. Though he had become a minister, he still had to run a farm to supply his own food. On voting day, Michael rode his horse to the schoolhouse and found it surrounded by hostile Knights. Michael dismounted, tied his horse to a tree and approached the apparent leader.

With a bit of Irish lilt still remaining in his speech, he addressed the mob. “I am a citizen, and I intend to vote as I wish. It will go poorly with anyone who tries to stop me.”

The Knights recognized their problem and gave way as Michael strode toward the schoolhouse. So Michael became the first person to cast a ballot for the Republican party in that part of Illinois.

The Harshaws weren’t my only link to the Republican Party. My mother’s father, Stewart Gamble, grew up in County Cavan before emigrating to the United States and settling in Minneapolis MN in 1881. There he established a successful business, and quickly joined the Republican Party. The party held its convention in Minneapolis in 1892. I presume Stewart was there, but have no proof.

Stewart did attend two Republican Conventions, one in St. Louis in 1896, where he was an official doorkeeper, and one in Chicago in 1904 where he was an alternate delegate pledged to President Roosevelt. At this time, the Republicans supported such things as women’s rights, meaning the right to vote, and equal pay for women and men.

President Roosevelt added such issues as conservation, and increased power for presidents. He made great use of Presidential Orders. He believed in “the vital importance of the modern regulatory state.”

So it seemed to me part of my DNA that all members of the family were strong supporters of the party down through the succeeding generations.  My parents lived in Maryland, a short distance from Washington DC. Every election day, my father and mother would go to our local school to supervise the voting for the local Republican party. So not surprisingly, I was very proud to cast my first ballot for the Republican candidate for President, General Dwight Eisenhower. I stood for hours along Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington to watch him drive by with President Truman on the way to his inauguration. It was a proud moment in my life.

Today, the Republican Party is controlled by a group of Radical Right Republicans whose view of government has disavowed the ideas of Lincoln and the others who built the party. None of my ancestors would be welcome in this fringe party today. I don’t feel welcome either.  Something is terribly wrong with that.

I firmly believe that the Republican Party of Lincoln is worth saving. I hope this blog will help restore the party, so that we return to the days when two strong political parties competed by presenting good ideas, openly and honestly, and trusted the voters to choose wisely.

This is my plea to citizens this year. Get Involved. Investigate the issues. Vote.

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