Normally it’s not all that newsworthy when Maine governor Paul LePage says something odd or offensive. It’s sort of who he is. But amidst all sorts of dubious Republican reactions to Representative John Lewis’s announcement that he would boycott Donald Trump’s inauguration, LePage managed to stand out. Here he was this morning on a Maine radio show:
I will just say this: John Lewis ought to look at history. It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple thank-you would suffice.
Let’s do “look at history.” Yes, Lincoln freed slaves in the Confederate States of America via the Emancipation Proclamation. But full emancipation, of course, did not occur until the Thirteenth Amendment — one of those Reconstruction Amendments latter-day “constitutional conservatives” tend to forget about when they praise the infallible work of the Founders — was enacted and ratified. And as German Lopez points out, Grant could not have fought against Jim Crow because Jim Crow was established after the military reconstruction Grant tried to enforce was dismantled. And I would add that military reconstruction was dismantled in order to ensure the election of Hayes, who had himself offered to abandon former slaves in the South to governance by an imaginary bipartisan coalition of benevolent white men.
Even if LePage knew a little more about history, he should have probably avoided telling a living civil-rights icon like Lewis that black folks really owed their civil rights not to their own courage and perseverance, but to the white Republicans of the 19th century.