The call for reparations attracts more supporters every day. Even Disney has joined the cause, weaving the issue of monetary payments to the descendants of slaves into a storyline on the “The Proud Family” series on the company’s streaming service. But what generated the most controversy was one episode in which the show’s protagonists perform a song entitled “Slaves Built This Country” after they discover the founder of their town was a slaveholder.
Setting their frustrations over racial injustice and hardship to music, the cartoon children sing that slaves “made your families rich from the southern plantation, to the northern bankers, to the New England ship owners, the Founding Fathers, former presidents, current senators.” Catchy though the song may be, the children leave out one prominent beneficiary of slavery, one in the best position to provide the reparations called for: the Democratic Party.
One may argue for or against reparations on many different grounds. At its heart, supporters for reparations say that freed slaves never received any kind of compensation for their hardship from their owners. Thus, the descendants of slaveowners owe financial restitution to the descendants of their slaves, which would alleviate income inequality and atone for slavery, America’s “original sin.” Opponents of reparations argue one group of people, who did not commit the original wrong, should not be forced to make restitution to a group who indirectly received the wrong. From this angle, reparations seem more like “legal plunder,” a term coined by the French economist Frédéric Bastiat. Such an act “takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong.”
But if the supporters of reparations are right and that some restitution must be made, it becomes obvious who should do it: the Democratic Party. Indeed, it is an objective fact that the Democratic Party is intimately tied to slavery and segregation. The Democratic Party was founded by Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, himself a slaveowner, and Martin Van Buren, a New Yorker who owned at least one slave and exploited enslaved labor. More importantly, Van Buren’s plan gained the support of southern politicians for his policies in exchange for his support of the “peculiar institution” of plantation slavery. Such politicians became so numerous they had a name: doughfaces, since their characters lacked all substance.
This pattern continued through the end of the Civil War and the early 20th century. After the Civil War, Democratic politicians in the southern U.S. supported segregationalist policies that brutally infringed upon the rights and dignity of African-Americans.
As a result of this history, the Democratic Party should provide reparations, not the descendants of one class deemed politically expendable. Still, you may say, “that was the Democratic Party of the mid-19th century. So much has changed since then that the current officeholders and politicians could not possibly bear any blame for what their forebears did.” This is true, but it is also true of the American people.
Today, the American people are not directly responsible for slavery, segregation, Indian removal (also Van Buren), and a host of other injustices for which prominent Democrats ask for reparations. Moreover, the American people are being forced to pay for more spending programs, up to and including reparations. How is it any fairer to ask the American people to accept another raise in their taxes to fix a problem the progenitors of the Democratic Party started? Shouldn’t that be at least acknowledged?
They acknowledge institutionalized racism, but they entirely ignore the fact that they were the ones who institutionalized it. The Democratic Party, as a private institution, is in the best position to provide reparations for the evils of slavery and segregation they did so much to perpetuate. If the Democratic Party admitted its wrongdoing and offered financial compensation to the descendants of slaves, it would immediately remove reparations as a possible unwise and unreasonable expansion of government. Moreover, the Democratic Party, with its expansive network of donors and connections that includes local community and civic leaders, could far more effectively handle the distribution of reparations itself.
If the Democratic Party really wants to move the country past the legacies of slavery and segregation, it should acknowledge its role in promoting them. If there are any groups in the U.S. that should provide material assistance to black Americans to make amends for the injustices committed against them, it should be the institutions that committed those injustices. The Democrats, the self-proclaimed “party of the people,” and not the people of the United States themselves, should bear that cultural and financial responsibility.