I’m familiar with our history.
“News from the United States, that slave states were being added to the union—strengthening the political influence of slaveholders and deepening the country’s sectional divide—led the Frenchman to worry that America’s failure, at this crucial juncture, might doom the liberal democratic experiment everywhere.”
Yeah, what a terrible thing that new Southern states like Texas, Arkansas and Florida were being added to the Union, as had been the case since the Constitution was ratified and Kentucky was admitted to the Union by the Founders. Obviously, the Western territories belonged exclusively to virtuous Yankees who opposed the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War.
“Things got worse before they got better. And Tocqueville was right: the Union faced no greater challenge than the evil of slavery. It took a civil war and the collective effort and sacrifice of an untold number to move the country beyond the compromises brokered with the slave states in 1787, a terrible minimum price to pay for a single union.”
In other words, it took a civil war to overthrow the White Republic, Constitution and the voluntary union of sovereign states that had been established by the Founders and to establish the consolidated despotism in Washington and the corporate oligarchy that lords over it which we live under today. We jettisoned the American Founding in order to replace it with a new one that was forced on the country at gunpoint by the Radical Republicans during the Reconstruction era.
“But it is hard to imagine that Abraham Lincoln, anti-slavery activists, or civil rights reformers could have been successful in the long effort to end slavery and segregation if not for the powerful aspirational language woven by Jefferson into the country’s DNA. …”
They misrepresented Jefferson long after he was dead.
In Jefferson’s lifetime, there was a push in Virginia to colonize free blacks in Africa and to tighten up slavery by prohibiting free negroes from owning firearms (1832), preaching (1832), consuming alcohol (1832), to even live in the state (1831) or vote (1850). The Virginia state legislature repeatedly appropriated money to get rid of them. Not only was miscegenation illegal in Virginia until the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967, but White women were banished from Virginia for engaging in it.
“First: Don’t let anyone tell you Thomas Jefferson didn’t mean to include African Americans when he wrote “all men are created equal.” His original draft included among justifications for independence King George’s use of his veto to encourage the trans-Atlantic slave trade, or as Jefferson refers to it, “this execrable commerce.” In what would have been the strongest language in the Declaration, he calls slavery a “cruel war against human nature itself,” and acknowledges the violation of “its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people” carried “into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.”
Thomas Jefferson believed slavery was a curse and his solution to the problem was always gradual emancipation followed by colonization. He absolutely did not believe in racial equality.
“Delegates from Georgia and South Carolina objected to including the language in the final draft—because they knew exactly what it meant. And while it’s true that the Constitution prohibited the abolition of the slave trade for 20 years, Congress did act to end the “execrable commerce” in 1807—in a law, signed by President Jefferson, that took effect January 1, 1808, the first day it was constitutionally permissible for the Congress to do so. Similarly, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery in, and thus the admission of new slaves from, the Western territory. On balance, then, as Lincoln argued in his “Cooper Union Address,” the Framers had good reason to think they had put slavery on the road to extinction.”
Yes, the Founding Fathers of the Deep South (South Carolina and Georgia) were adamant that they would not ratify the Constitution unless it secured slavery and they got their way at the Constitutional Convention. Blacks were counted in the Census under the three-fifths ratio and the Constitution provided for the capture and return of runaway slaves.
Slavery was not “put on a road to extinction” because of the end of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade or the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The slave trade was unnecessary because American slaves were the most fecund population on earth. In Jefferson’s lifetime, Alabama and Mississippi were carved out of the Mississippi Territory, the Louisiana Purchase added Louisiana and Missouri to the United States and Kentucky and Tennessee were admitted to the Union as slave states. The sectional balance of power was only tipped decades later when California became a free state.
“Second: Not without justice, history has not been altogether kind to Jefferson’s legacy. A slave holder himself who, due to his profligate habits, could not have manumitted his slaves if he wanted to, Jefferson nonetheless hoped the United States would one day abolish the institution. In 1820, he wrote to John Holmes on the subject of the Missouri Compromise. In the letter, he calls slavery a “heavy reproach,” pointedly rejects characterizing human beings as “property,” acknowledges that “justice” requires freeing the slaves, and expresses hope for a “general emancipation” over time.
But the main point of the melancholic letter is to criticize a law he believed would deepen sectional hatreds and, in his judgment, make emancipation harder to achieve. He calls the law “the [death] knell of the Union,” an “act of suicide. . . and of treason against the hopes of the world,” ending the missive by expressing profound disappointment in the political class that succeeded the Founding generation: “I regret that I am now to die in the belief, that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be, that I live not to weep over it.”
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison opposed the Missouri Compromise because it stigmatized slaveholders. Chief Justice Roger Taney struck down the Missouri Compromise and affirmed that only White people could be American citizens in the Dred Scott decision in 1857. Lincoln was outraged by the Dred Scott decision for getting rid of the “sacred” Missouri Compromise and disingenuously tried to attribute his position to Jefferson and Madison.
“Third: As Providence would have it, a most worthy son did come along to realize the promise built into the Founders’ experiment. Abraham Lincoln believed that the “plain unmistakable language of the Declaration” was designed to guide later efforts to restrict and ultimately to end slavery. In an 1857 speech criticizing the Dred Scott decision, he rejects Chief Justice Taney’s argument that Jefferson could not have intended “all men” to include the descendants of slaves because “they had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order.”
Clearly, Thomas Jefferson did not believe in racial equality as he had advocated the colonization and removal of blacks to Africa since the time he wrote the Notes on the States of Virginia. Black citizenship with the exception of Connecticut was a New England custom.
“It is in this context, three years before he was elected president, that Lincoln most beautifully articulated the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. He points out that the soaring universal language of the Declaration was not necessary to achieve its immediate object.”
This was all explained in the Lincoln Catechism:
II. What are the Ten Commandments?
Thou shalt have no other God but the negro.
Thou shalt make an image of a negro, and place it on the Capitol as the type of the new American man.
Thou shalt swear that the negro shall be the equal of the white man.
Thou shalt fight thy battles on the Sabbath day, and thy generals, and thy captains, and thy privates, and thy servants, shall do all manner of murders, and thefts as on the other six days.
Thou shalt not honor or obey thy father nor thy mother if they are Copperheads; but thou shall serve, honor, and obey Abraham Lincoln.
Thou shalt commit murder – of slaveholders.
Thou mayest commit adultery – with the contrabands.
Thou shalt steal – everything that belongeth to a slaveholder.
Thou shalt bear false witness – against all slaveholders.
Thou shalt covet the slaveholders man-servant and his maid-servant, and shalt steal his ox and his ass, and everything that belongeth to him.
For on these commandments hang all the law and honor of loyal leaguers.
X. Have the loyal leaguers a prayer?
XI. Repeat it.
Father Abraham, who art in Washington, of glorious memory – since the date of thy proclamation to free negroes.
Thy kingdom come, and overthrow the republic; they will be done, and the laws perish.
Give us this day our daily supply of greenbacks.
Forgive us our plunders, but destroy the Copperheads.
Lead us into fat pastures; but deliver us from the eye of detectives; and make us the equal of the negro; for such shall be our kingdom, and the glory of thy administration.
“Americans could have claimed independence on the basis of their rights as English colonists to representation. For Lincoln, the Framers’ purpose was lofty, obvious, and undeniable.”
For the record, they actually did base American rights on the colonial charters, the British Constitution and their own traditions. Some of the Founders also believed in natural rights while others like John Rutledge of South Carolina and James Duane of New York did not.
“They “meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”
They did no such thing.
While this is true of New England’s history, the exact opposite is true of the South which became more conservative over time. This is why the Dred Scott decision was celebrated in the South, but was considered outrageous in New England. No one else in this country believed in taking liberal abstractions to ever greater extremes.
“Lincoln would rise to national prominence the next year arguing that Congress has the power, and indeed the responsibility, to prevent new states from entering into the union as slave states.”
Jefferson and Madison had both rejected this argument during the controversy over the admission of Missouri.
“As Harry Jaffa reminded us, Lincoln understood that public ambivalence to the expansion of an evil institution would destroy the American spirit by eroding Americans’ commitment to the Declaration’s truths. After seven debates, reprinted in newspapers around the country, he lost the Illinois Senate seat to Stephen Douglas. But the Lincoln-Douglas debates made Lincoln a viable candidate for the Republican presidential nomination two years later. …”
Why did Lincoln lose to Stephen Douglas?
The Little Giant convinced Illinois voters that Lincoln wanted to abolish slavery in order to flood the North with free negroes.
“Three years after that, with the country embroiled in a terrible civil war, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and, at Gettysburg later the same year, he gave the most famous speech in American history. Reminding those assembled that “our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Lincoln called for a “new birth of freedom” so that “these dead shall not have died in vain.” Underline that point in red: The most famous speech in American history is about honoring those who died in the Civil War by fulfilling the promise of the Declaration. …”
Lincoln destroyed the Constitution and the Union of the Founding Fathers and replaced it with one in which the states are vassals of Washington. True Conservatives praise Lincoln to this day while griping about all the negative consequences that have inevitably flowed from his war.
“Fourth: In his immortal 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., allied himself with Jefferson and Lincoln—“extremists” in the cause of justice. He articulated a Lincolnian understanding of the country’s principles and, in asking his countrymen to live up to them, he reminded Americans that even “before the pen of Jefferson scratched across the pages of history the majestic word of the Declaration of Independence, we were here.” He was optimistic that his great movement would finally succeed, centuries after the first Africans were brought to the colonies in chains and more than one hundred years after Lincoln, because he was asking Americans to live up to principles they believe in: “We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”
MLK was correct to align himself with the memory of Lincoln in calling on the federal government to crush the Southern states in pursuit of some abstract notion of liberty and equality, but certainly not of Jefferson. The Confederacy through the Old Republicans like Nathaniel Macon and John Randolph and the doctrine of state sovereignty were the true heirs of Jefferson.
“The same year, John F. Kennedy gave one of the most courageous presidential speeches of the 20th century. Referencing the events in Birmingham, Alabama, and the deployment of the National Guard to make possible the admission of two qualified African American to the University of Alabama, he asked “every American” to “stop and examine his conscience.” How is it that a Democratic president, at a time the party’s Congressional delegation was still dominated by segregationists, had the fortitude to admit, “We face. . . a moral crisis as a country and as a people?”
Simple: JFK understood the country’s principles, he knew they were good and right, and he believed the time had come “for this Nation to fulfill its promise.”
The Lincoln-JFK-MLK understanding of this “country’s principles” and this nation rising to “fulfill its promise” is a consolidated despotism that uses military force to impose fads on its own citizens. It also has no problem treating foreigners even worse. Among other victims, it has followed the example set by Lincoln in killing millions of Germans, Iraqis and Vietnamese in the name of “democracy.”
“Simple: JFK understood the country’s principles, he knew they were good and right, and he believed the time had come “for this Nation to fulfill its promise.” When he asked Americans to live up to that foundational promise, he pulled no punches: “One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. . . We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?”
It is hard to imagine a president from either party making as principled a speech today. It’s not hard to guess why
No, I can easily imagine President Kamala Harris or President Corey Booker invoking Lincoln’s memory to justify reparations for slavery or some other unconstitutional power grab and dramatic curtailment of the rights and liberties of White citizens in the name of fighting “racism.”