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Bush should get back to Republican roots

by Jacques Etchegoyhen

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the beginning of a new presidency. For the first time in my life, I listened intently to the inaugural address. A daunting task it must be, to outline in 13 minutes what one hopes to accomplish in the next four years.

Though President Bush is not as skilled an orator as his predecessor, I’m reminded of the old Irish adage, “Talk is of but little help in rowing the boat.” I did find the substantive parts of the speech and its tone of “inclusion” very refreshing.

As a student of history, I felt as though it was a speech that could have been given by the first Republican candidate for president, John C. Fremont.

In fact, when Fremont ran in 1856 the Republican Party was dubbed, “Poor Man’s Party,” “Black Republicans” and worse. The party platform initiated a campaign for “free speech, free thought, free soil, free men.” The party platform committee even debated including the right to vote for women, but decided the country was not quite ready for that just yet, much to the chagrin of Jessie Benton Fremont. Her father, Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, said of the new party, “A motley mixture of malcontents who want to include the poor and no real desire in any of them to save the Union.” I would like to have seen his face during Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address!

Needless to say, Sen. Benton nearly disowned his daughter and son-in-law.

The senator even orchestrated a three-day meeting in New York, in which the Democratic Party offered its nomination to Fremont if he agreed to two conditions: the endorsement of the Kansas-Nebraska act and the fugitive slave law. He flatly refused the proposition. Had Fremont accepted he almost certainly would have become president, and ended the stream of letters from friends and family essentially accusing him and Jessie of treason.

The campaign was ruthless, Jessie calling it her husband’s “trial by mud.”

Remember that Fremont had been court-martialed a mere eight years earlier, and was a resident of a state only very recently added to the union: California. Fremont lost the election in a fairly close, three-way race, beating Millard Fillmore but losing to James Buchanan. This proved to be the end of the Whig, and just the beginning of the Republican Party.

Fremont’s most ardent supporter, Abraham Lincoln, would catapult the party forward just four years later. Lincoln would also “cleanse” Fremont’s service record, appointing him Major General of the Western Division at the start of the Civil War.

Fremont would never run for public office again, but he had been instrumental in incubating a party that would literally free millions of humans, and begin genuine implementation of that famous Jefferson line that “all men are created equal.” Jessie Benton Fremont’s insistence that her husband advocate for a woman’s right to vote at the first Republican Convention in 1856 cemented a cause that would, unfortunately, take more than 50 years to put into effect.

I urge our new President to examine the roots of our party, as that history will assure him that his inaugural speech is on exactly the right track, and give him the strength to not leave his words as just rhetoric. We’ve already had too many years of talk. We are hungry for action.

Jacques Etchegoyhen represents Douglas County Commission District 2.