Thoughts on Judaism

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Anti-Slavery founding Fathers?

I'll take the account, since it holds no punches, and it covers the main points that others bring up.

"Is there a history tutor in the house? 'Cause Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, needs one bad. The Tea Party fave said that "the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States....Men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country."

True, J.Q. Adams didn't rest before slavery ended...he died. Or maybe he was just taking a dirt nap.

As for a few other points from the rest of Bachmann's Bizarro U.S. History Class, Thomas Jefferson -- who wrote that all men are created equal -- owned slaves. And perhaps did more than own them. George "Father of the Country" Washington owned human property, too.

Oh, yeah, and that Constitution that Bachmann waves around, it established that a slave counted as 3/5ths of a human being. The provision was inserted into the document as a political compromise -- except it compromised human dignity."

I do no usually involve my blog in politics, but my sense of history is a little miffed about this. I want to make this perfectly clear. Rep. Bachmann was 100% CORRECT in her statements here. The proofs against what she said seem damning, but they show a remarkable lack of real historical knowledge and logic on the part of those who propose them. (And for the record, I generally support the original tea party concept of limiting taxation, but I am not a supporter of the tea party in its current iteration, nor do I have a particular interest in Rep. Bachmann's agenda.)

Point one: The founders did not rest until slavery was extinguished.

Did the founders rest until slavery was extinguished? No. In fact, four score and seven years later, the matter came to an unthinkable war between the states, and the government prosecuted that war vigorously, against huge existential threats to the US. An though one may argue that war did not start to end slavery, it certainly was that to many people, the war to free the slaves, by the end. No, they did not rest and did not give in until slavery was abolished.

Bachmann pointed to John "Quincy" Adams, Jr., a man whose unassailable abolition creds include devoting pro bono services to a slave revolt AFTER he had been president, and both he and Adams Sr., a founder by any definition were stark anti-slavery stompers. But were there others? Perhaps, she might have found better examples. Dr. Benjamin Franklin, founder of PA Society for the Abolition of Slavery, comes to mind. Anyway, all she said was that Adams would not rest until slavery was abolished, not that he completed that task. He died trying. Her statement is correct.

Point two: Many founders were slaveholders.

Didn't Jefferson, Madison, all the Virginian presidents in fact own slaves, even the revered George Washington? Of course they did. And they, as well as Mason, Wythe and many others OPPOSED (you read right, OPPOSED) slavery on moral grounds and worked toward its abolition. While later Calvinists promoted an increasingly radical, "not one more minute" solution for slavery, many professional politicians saw this as no gift to the uneducated slaves and a society that might get a dangerous open revolt were they to accept. They advocated liberalizing slavery and moving toward ultimate integration or returning the slaves to Africa, and slave welfare was a concern. There is a reason that Liberia's capital is called MONROVIA after slave-holding president Monroe. Jefferson called slavery "iniquity" and suggested that it be abolished in the Declaration. He very nearly lost the Carolinas and sacrificed abolition to get independence. Freeing slaves was against the law, owing to fears of mass insurrection, but nonetheless, Washington freed his slaves in his will. He had been the chief executive officer of the laws of the US. Jefferson intended to free his slaves in his will, but his creditors were able to foil it. He likely de-facto married Sally Hemmings, though it was illegal, even as he served as president. Most accounts have it that he loved her all of his life, and fought off his daughters in favoring her. Many plans were proposed to moderate and ultimately phase out slavery, though they were shot down by the desperate advocates until war was necessary to remove it. Even into the time of the civil war, in Virginia, slavery was not very popular in intellectual or educated circles, even among land owners. CSA General James Longstreet famously suggested that they should have made clear that this was not issue by freeing the slaves before attacking Fort Sumter. The only real fans that slavery had were majorities in North and South Carolina, and president Jackson (who came from Tennessee, then part of North Carolina), who came up as populist, rather than a professional or intellectual. Bottom line: the founders and most of the educated gentry opposed slavery vigorously on moral grounds, and even slaveholders wanted it abolished, albeit gradually.

Point three: The constitution considers salves to be 3/5ths of a person.

But didn't the Jefferson - Madison constitution count a slave as 3/5ths of a human being? No, of course not. It counted a slave as 3/5ths of a census tick. The purpose was solely to get ratification in plantation states by allowing slaves to count for census, and thus for Congressional representation. At one time, slaves may have been 35% of the population in those states. It was not a statement of their humanity. The slavery advocates wanted them counted as a full human being, and the abolitionists wanted them not to count at all. Ipcha mistabra as we say in the Talmud. Why did the writer of article even bring this up. Was he saying that the constitution was not worth defending? Is that the position he expects Rep. Bachmann to hold? What about President Obama who swore to defend that Constitution, and whose position depends on that paper she waved around?

You do not like Bachmann's "Bizarro" history class, or suggest as did Seth Myers on Saturday Night Live that she was "looking off to the right of the blackboard" during history class? I'd suggest you take a refresher. She passes history based on the facts she presented, albeit too briefly to be thorough. And the writer of the article in, SNL and dozens of others, do pay attention this time.


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