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As his Whig Party crumbled in the middle of the fight over slavery and free territories, Abraham Lincoln had a major hand in founding the Republican Party, a northern faction that was the chief rival to the Southern-based Democrats.
Clearly, times have changed. And now, says Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner, the GOP would not be recognizable to the 16th president, or a party to which he would belong.
“The Republican Party today has turned into a group of people who don’t actually believe that government is a good thing,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter this week. “You can’t have any connection to Abraham Lincoln if you think that. Lincoln was a lawyer who had a profound belief in the conviction that government was a great blessing for humanity, and he certainly wouldn’t have read Ayn Rand. He wouldn’t have had any interest.”
Instead, Kushner surmises, the man often called the Father of the Republican Party would be a Democrat.
“Oh, there’s no question,” Kushner asserts. “He was a progressive, centrist candidate who believed in government, taxation, created the federal income tax, created the federal bank, created the draft, believed in a strong federal government and believed in equality, believed that the government had a role to play in protecting in minorities from the majority and tyranny.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who wrote Team of Rivals, on which director Steven Spielberg‘s film is partly based, also cites the parties’ flipped stances on government’s role in the economy and people’s lives.
“The Republican Party and the Whig Party, of which Lincoln was a member, believed that government had a role in helping to move the country forward through building dams and dredging rivers and making harbors better, and the transcontinental railroad, much like what we call stimulus today,” she tells THR. “He also believed government had a role in helping people rise to the level of their talent in their discipline, that sort of equal-opportunity role, in that sense he might find the principles of the Democrats congenial.
“But on the other hand,” she adds, “Republicans are right to feel honored that their party was founded on a principle that was critical to saving our country, so I can see why they can own him as well.”
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