The Democrats of the past and the Republicans of the present Skip to content

The Democrats of the past and the Republicans of the present

Most insider-written institutional histories tend to be more hagiography than history. Kenny Fogle’s History of the Kentucky Democratic Party isn’t.

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Most insider-written institutional histories tend to be more hagiography than history. Kenny Fogle’s History of the Kentucky Democratic Party isn’t.

"This is our family, warts and all," wrote Fogle, the Kentucky Democratic Party’s deputy political director.

The Democrats of the past

From its founding in the 1820s to the 1960s, the Democratic Party, mostly rooted in the South, was the white man’s party.

Democrats led the secession movement and played an outsized role in founding the Confederacy on the twin pillars of slavery and white supremacy. After Confederate defeat in the Civil War, Southern legislatures passed Jim Crow laws segregating Blacks and denying them the vote.

“We weren’t always the good guys,” Fogle admitted. The subtitle of his book reflects his candid confession: “Two Centuries of Slow Progress to Progressivism.”

His book spans Kentucky history from pre-history to the present. It features brief sketches of famous — and not so famous — Kentuckians, men and women, Democrats and others.

The author doesn’t pull punches, “To say all Democrats were pure of heart would be a tremendous lie and to say that the early history of the Democratic party was defensible under any standards is also beyond reason,” he acknowledged in the preface. “But evolve it did, and today’s Democratic party, while not perfect, has progressed in both humanity and inclusion.”

The book is not just dead white guy history either. “One very glaring omission of our history books is the absence of credits for women and minorities,” he wrote.

Fogle included a brief biography of former state Sen. Georgia Davis Powers, a Louisville Democrat. Elected in 1967, Powers was the first woman and first African American to serve in the legislature’s upper chamber. She retired in 1988.

Fogle asked Powers why she was “a Democrat with all our racist and nationalistic history.” She replied that the party “was making progress, and with gentle and subtle influence by her and others, she was determined to create a better political party.”

The Republicans of the present

Meanwhile, the GOP still claims kinship to the party of "Lincoln and Liberty," the party that led the Union to victory in the Civil War and championed constitutional amendments that abolished slavery, made Blacks citizens, and put the ballot into African American hands.

The party turned away from the Great Emancipator long before Trump turned the GOP into the party of white grievance politics. Under President Richard Nixon in the late 60s and early 70s, the party abandoned its historic commitment to federal civil rights activism to win over white Southern Democrats furious with their ancestral party for sponsoring landmark civil rights bills in Congress that overturned Jim Crow laws. President Ronald Reagan took the Southern Strategy nationwide, pandering to whites with racially coded terms like “welfare queen.”

Two months before Trump announced his bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2015, Harold Meyerson wrote in The Washington Post that “fueled by the mega-donations of the mega-rich, today’s Republican Party is not just far from being the party of Lincoln: It’s really the party of Jefferson Davis. It suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum South opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all white. It is the lineal descendant of Lee's army, and the descendants of Grant's have yet to subdue it.”

“Republicans are fixated on the idea that their party is connected to the party of President Lincoln, whose party also bore the name Republican,” wrote Peter Balakian in Literary Hub online as the 2020 election drew near. “... Today’s Republicans, with their passion for states’ rights, their protection of the white supremacist segments of American society, their aversion to ethical federal pro action, have more ideological connections with the slaveholding southern Democrats of the 1860s than they do with Lincoln’s party.”

The descent of the party of “Lincoln and Liberty” into the party of Trump and hate is one of the greatest tragedies in American history.

Fogle’s book shows that today’s Democrats are willing to face up to their past.

It’s a shame that today’s Republicans won’t face up to their present.


You can purchase the book at Amazon. For more information, you can contact Mr. Fogle at

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY