The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 10

Launching Ad Hominem Attacks and Stoking Racial Tensions

When liberals rant, it’s called free speech; when conservatives rant, it is hate speech.
John Dietrich

If the facts are not on your side, argue the law. If the law is not on your side, argue the facts. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, call your opponent names.
old legal adage

Six years ago, Human Events, a conservative publication, ran an article titled “The Democrat Plantation.” The article began by recalling slavery during the days before the Civil War. At that time, enslaved blacks, many of whom would become the ancestors of black Americans today, lived their lives strictly as directed by their masters. Absolute compliance to guidelines and protocol was expected, and anyone deviating from the requirements faced harsh consequences. Slaves were powerless to change their situations, so many of them became resigned to their fate. Their perspective has been called a “plantation mentality.” It quashed any initiative to move outside the established boundaries for thinking and behavior.

Fast forward a hundred sixty years. An “overwhelming majority of black Americans” today, the article contends, still have a plantation mentality. Expectations regarding one’s political views and how he or she should vote are crystal clear in the black community. Uniformity is required, and anyone who dares to question expectations or to think or act independently is severely punished. The “slave-owner” in the 21st century is none other than the Democrat Party—the party that claims to be blacks’ advocate and defender!

The spotlight of history exposes much about racism in America today.

The spotlight of history exposes much about racism in America today. We’ve seen this over the last nine weeks in our series of posts upholding the importance of historical accuracy. With only a few exceptions, Democrats have not been champions of blacks or of the principle of true American equality among the races. Instead, Democrats have oppressed blacks through a variety of means, including; Jim Crow laws; segregation; and Ku Klux Klan violence, intimidation, and even murder.

Despite this history, Democrats have enjoyed near monolithic support of blacks for the last fifty-plus years. Several modern myths have contributed to this allegiance. Learn about them here.

Despite the perceptions that teach otherwise, the Democrat Party still is the party holding blacks down. In fact, Democrats continue to buy blacks’ votes to enhance their own power. Beyond this, anyone who speaks against this dependency is accused of racism and called all sorts of names. Such an accusation is racist in and of itself—but black conservatives are especially vilified.1 An excellent example of one such conservative is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thurgood Marshall’s Successor on the Supreme Court

1024px-thurgood-marshall-2At a press conference held on June 28, 1991, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the only black justice to have served on the court, announced that he would retire. On July 1, President George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to be Marshall’s replacement. At the time, Thomas was serving as the Judge of the Unites States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Court.

Wikipedia states, “Civil rights and feminist organizations opposed the appointment based partially on Thomas’s criticism of affirmative action and suspicions that Thomas might not be a supporter of Roe v. Wade.” The conservative website offers this description of the response of Thomas’ opponents (citations and links have been removed).

In a flagrant violation of the rules of the Senate, staff members for a sitting Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee leaked a routine confidential FBI background report to Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio (NPR) which contained a vicious defamatory smear intended to mar Thomas for life. The accusation was known to be false, and was concocted to publicly intimidate an African-American Republican from accepting an appointment to the nation’s High Court, and derail his nomination. None of the allegations could be substantiated. The deliberate falsehoods did however persuade former Ku Klux Klan Democratic Senator Robert to change his vote from “yes” for confirmation to “no”.

From May 6, 1982 to March 12, 1990, Thomas had served as the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and before that at the Department of Education. A black lawyer by the name of Anita Hill had worked for Thomas in both settings. Testifying at Thomas’ hearings, Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment. He forcefully denied her claims, declaring,

ThomaseeocThis is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.

In the end, Thomas was confirmed narrowly by the Senate on October 15, 1991. The vote was of 52-48. The breakdown was as follows. Of 43 Republicans, 41 voted for confirmation and 2 voted against; and of 57 Democrats, 11 voted for confirmation and 46 voted against.

Democrats claim to be champions of diversity, but here’s the truth. They want racial diversity only if it doesn’t upset their own liberal, ideological, and often unconstitutional agenda. Conservative blacks are a particular threat to that agenda. Indeed, when their policies are opposed, Democrats are all too willing to resort to ad hominem attacks and racism to get their way. Here’s an example. In early 2014, after America had elected and reelected its first black president, President Barak Obama blamed a downward trend in his approval rating on—you guessed it—racism! It should be no surprise, therefore, that as a black conservative sitting on the US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas is a prime target of progressives’ wrath.

Progressives want racial diversity only if it doesn’t upset their own liberal, ideological, and often unconstitutional agenda. Conservative blacks are a particular threat to that agenda. Indeed, when their policies are opposed, Democrats are all too willing to resort to ad hominem attacks and racism to get their way. 

Clarence Thomas: A Principled Conservative

In June of 2013, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas. Reporter Robby Soave writes thatthe Court vacated and remanded a lower court ruling because Texas had failed to demonstrate that affirmative action was necessary to achieve a diverse student body—a requirement of the Grutter v. Bollinger decision in 2003. It was a win for foes of affirmative action—albeit one that won’t actually end the practice.”

Clarence Thomas concurred with the decision but went on to blast affirmative action in the first place. Among other things, he made the case it hurts minorities, the very people it purports to help. Thomas wrote,

  • The University admits minorities who otherwise would have attended less selective colleges where they would have been more evenly matched. But, as a result of the mismatching, many blacks and Hispanics who likely would have excelled at less elite schools are placed in a position where under-performance is all but inevitable because they are less academically prepared than the white and Asian students with whom they must compete.
  • Setting aside the damage wreaked upon the self-confidence of these over-matched students, there is no evidence that they learn more at the University than they would have learned at other schools for which they were better prepared. Indeed, they may learn less.

For additional statements from Thomas’ opinion, go here.

Thomas’ opinion in a similar case the following year was entirely consistent with all he wrote in Fisher v. University of Texas. A case named Schuette v. BAMN asked the court to answer this question: “Could Michigan voters have violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by amending their own constitution to prohibit race-based preferences?” Voters passed the ballot initiative (Proposition 2) on November 7, 2006, 58 percent to 42 percent. In their decision, which was released on April 22, 2014, the court upheld the law; a majority of justices effectively said no, Michigan voters hadn’t violated the 14th Amendment. Justice Elana Kagan had recused herself. Of the remaining 8 justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. That left Breyer, Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Scaila, and Thomas. Ken Klukowski reported on the decision for Breitbart News:

The Supreme Court in Schuette upheld this provision today. There was no majority opinion for the Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the lead opinion for the plurality, which will be the one carrying the force of law for the nation. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.…

Justice Antonin Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the Court’s judgment upholding Proposition 2, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Scalia and Thomas, however, would have gone further than Kennedy, Roberts, and Alito. Justice Stephen Breyer, who consistently votes left of center, voted in this instance to uphold the provision, but his reasoning was different from that of the other justices.


Attacking Thomas Rather than Arguing Against His Ideas

Of course, liberals didn’t like the decision. Revealingly, they unleashed their fiercest wrath against Clarence Thomas. Here are examples of some of their tweets. A favorite epithet of the left in situations like this is “Uncle Tom.”

  • Since Clarence Thomas is against affirmative action, he should give up the black seat on the Court. He’s only there bc T Marshall was before
  • SCOTUS decision today shows it’s 5/9ths racist. And yes, Clarence Thomas hates his own race
  • Clarence Thomas is, for lack of a better word, a tom. No, actually, that’s the perfect word.
  • Clarence Thomas really is the universe’s equal and opposite reaction to MLK
  • Clearance Thomas is so bad. Calling some one his name is the same as calling someone an Uncle Tom.
  • Clarence Thomas please retire from the Supreme Court. You are the worst negro in history. described the situation this way: “Within a few hours, Twitter erupted with the usual slurs directed at black conservatives who don’t follow the left’s prescribed agenda.” (Note the word “usual” in the previous sentence; it indicates that with this kind of scenario, we can expect a bombardment of slurs from the liberals.)

As students of history, we need to realize that standing among the “black conservatives who don’t follow the left’s prescribed agenda” would have been slave-turned-statesman Frederick Douglass. He once wrote, “No class or color should be the exclusive rulers of the country. If there is such a ruling class there must of course be a subject class, and when this condition is once established this government by the people, of the people, and for the people will have already perished from the earth.” Both Frederick Douglass and Clarence Thomas are in great company!

No class or color should be the exclusive rulers of the country. If there is such a ruling class there must of course be a subject class, and when this condition is once established this government by the people, of the people, and for the people will have already perished from the earth.
Frederick Douglass


Clearly it isn’t just black conservatives who earn the wrath of the left, but all conservatives—especially articulate ones. Quite often, though, black conservatives are extremely eloquent, and this may be part of the reason they irritate liberals so thoroughly.

In part because black conservatives often are extremely eloquent, they irritate liberals thoroughly.

As Ben Shapiro has said,

The Left paints everybody who disagrees with them as a vicious racist, sexist, bigot, homophobe, bad people. We are all bad people. That’s why you see, for example, in the last election cycle, Mitt Romney sort of made the case about Barack Obama, that Barack Obama was a good guy and a decent fellow who was not very good at being President, and Barack Obama basically made the case about Romney that he was scum of the earth. And that’s how the left wins elections, because they can’t win on their own competence. What they do win on is by claiming that anybody who opposes them is just a bad person on a fundamental level.

Along these lines, consider Hillary Clinton’s recent “basket of deplorables” remark about “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters. Clinton described them as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” She found herself having to backtrack, but her having said what she said in the first place vividly illustrates our point. Moreover, an apology does not erase the impact of the message on Hillary’s intended audience.

Mrs. Clinton’s remarks do not represent an isolated case. has compiled a list of examples of liberal hate speech (also go here and here). Especially when this kind of rhetoric is used against blacks, it’s racist. Can you imagine the reaction of the leftist media and their cohorts if Republicans were to talk about liberal personalities in this manner?

The following video is very instructive regarding the hatred liberals throw at black conservatives, as well as the courage these freedom-loving Americans demonstrate as they swim upstream against today’s politically correct culture.

“Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste”

Meanwhile, in America’s cities, racial tension and violence continue to mount. As I type these words on Friday, September 23, 2016, Charlotte, North Carolina has seen rioting and violence for several days. Keith Lamont Scott, an armed black man, was shot and killed by a black police officer. The Police Chief in Charlotte, Kerr Putney—who also is black—described the incident: “Scott exited his vehicle armed with a handgun as officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers.” The protests started out as peaceful, but they didn’t remain that way. Evidence indicates that individuals from outside the city arrived and incited greater anger, causing behavior to turn violent. These instigators apparently have ties to the protests occurring in Ferguson, Missouri, last year. On a video posted on Facebook, a woman claiming that Scott was her father said he wasn’t holding a gun, but a book. If it’s a book, it sure looks like a gun! You can see a photo of it on this page.

loretta_lynch_official_portraitAs usual, the Obama administration is all too anxious to intervene in a local matter. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the rioters, “We hear your voices and we feel your pain.” Also, Vanita Gupta, who oversees the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, “has said that the real reason for riots lies in slavery and Jim Crow.” Is it any wonder that racial tensions have increased under America’s first black president? One is tempted to suspect that President Obama wants to stir things up, and that he and members of his administration will keep pouring gasoline on the fire. A student of Saul Alinsky, the president is following Alinsky’s teaching to never let a serious crisis go to waste.

Tellingly, a black Dallas police officer filed a lawsuit on September 16 against Black Lives Matter. The lawsuit “alleges the group is inciting a race war.” Included in the list of defendants are Black Lives Matter, Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, George Soros, Al Sharpton, and Louis Farrakhan.

Know History and Share It, and Rally Behind Black Conservatives!

Against the disturbing backdrop of violence in our cities, we need to be reminded that history is important—and we need to share the truth about race in America with members of the next generation. Moreover, we need desperately to pray for, support, and encourage the black conservatives among us (also go here).

Thank God for them, their courage, and their leadership! Truly they are modern heroes of today’s American Revolutionary cause—returning the United States of America to its founding principles!

Resources for Digging Deeper:


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.


1In our posts for last week and this week—the final two posts in our series on history—we are discussing two important tools the Democrats use to push their agenda. We devoted our discussion last week to Democrats’ powerful appeal to people’s emotions, especially the emotion of compassion. This week we expose the left’s penchant to personally attack their opponents. We should be aware that progressives have far more tools up their sleeves than these two items. These two, however, are especially powerful.

Top image: Blacks picking cotton on a Southern plantation, 1913

Websites are cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.


The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 9

An Opportunity Seized by Progressives—
and a Turning Point for America

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
Thomas Jefferson

Part 8 is available here.

For the last eight weeks, we’ve been discussing several significant events in America’s history and the importance of understanding them in the historical contexts in which they occurred. Was America founded on racist principles? Was the original Constitution of 1787 racist? If not, then why did slavery continue in America for decades beyond the Constitution’s ratification?


Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in the 1770s

These have been some of the questions we have considered and endeavored to answer. Our journey has taken us from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, to the Civil War, to Reconstruction and beyond—all the way into the 20th and 21st centuries.

As we examined history, we saw that the Constitution was not racist.  Yet we did discover that one political party has promoted racism. Before, during, and after the Civil War, Democrats, generally speaking, were indeed racists and sought to implement racist policies. Today the prevailing narrative says that Republicans, not Democrats, are racists, but the fact that the narrative is what it is simply demonstrates that liberals—Democrats—have controlled it and effectively have rewritten history to their own advantage.

Today the prevailing narrative says that Republicans, not Democrats, are racists, but the fact that the narrative is what it is simply demonstrates that liberals—Democrats—have controlled it and effectively have rewritten history to their own advantage.

Just how has it come to pass that most people believe the narrative rather than what history teaches? Actually, with last week’s post, we already have started to answer this question, but this week and next week we’ll seek to answer it in earnest. In these final two installments in our 10-part series, we will highlight two strategies Democrats have adopted in the last 70 years to promote a progressive agenda. Progressives have relied on

1. powerful appeals to people’s emotions and
2. vicious attacks against their opponents.

These approaches largely have worked to further progressives’ aims, and it’s significant that as they have used them, liberals also have employed racism and racist overtones. Their racism isn’t manifested in the same ways it once was, but it is real and destructive nonetheless.

Let’s learn more. To set the stage to consider the first strategy we named—appealing to people’s emotions—we need once again to look back into history.

The First Black Democrat Elected to Congress

arthur_w-1-_mitchellArthur Wergs Mitchell (1883-1968) was the first black Democrat to be elected to Congress. Not coincidently, he was first elected in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression. Mitchell began his political work in the Republican Party but in 1932 switched to the Democrat Party to support the programs of FDR. When he arrived in Congress in 1935, Mitchell declared, “What I am interested in is to help this grand President of ours feed the hungry and clothe the naked and provide work for the idle of every race and creed.”

As it turns out, Roosevelt wasn’t the first president to take steps to involve government in meeting people’s needs. How much do you know about the era of the Great Depression? Go here to take a brief, 2-question test and to learn some important things about American history you probably never heard in school. Also, you can learn more about Arthur W. Mitchell here.

What I am interested in is to help this grand President of ours feed the hungry and clothe the naked and provide work for the idle of every race and creed.
—Democrat Congressman Arthur W. Mitchell, conveying His desire to assist FDR in passing his proposals—

Mitchell’s statement sounds compassionate, noble, and honorable. Who could argue with it? I will! Before speaking against it, though, I must highlight the era in which Mitchell spoke. The Great Depression was taking a heavy toll on the American people. The average unemployment rate in 1935 was 20.1 percent. People had needs—and those needs were real. We must not minimize their desperate situations.

Government—Not an Effective or Efficient Provider

Even so, I am compelled to point out that it isn’t the primary job of the president, nor is it the main task of the government, to “feed the hungry and clothe the naked and provide work for the idle of every race and creed.” What is government’s job? Scripture is clear, but we don’t even need Scripture to understand that government is not equipped or suited to efficiently meet the material and physical needs of its people.

Thus, today, at minimum, government programs that “help” people in need must be reformed. Needy recipients must be encouraged to demonstrate responsibility and to work wherever and whenever possible—even though offering them handouts is tempting from an emotional point of view. Reforms were implemented in 1996, but President Obama gutted them in 2012. Reforms need to be reinitiated.1

Returning to our main point, we must not allow emotions alone to guide us when making decisions that affect so many. It is logical to assume this is one reason Thomas Jefferson warned against ignorance, or a lack of knowledge and understanding (see his statement at the top of this article). Government can’t help the poor without taking resources from others, and we need to use our heads to analyze, not just the impact government programs have on the poor, but also the impact they have on the country itself, and particularly on those who pay for such programs through higher taxes.

arlie-j-hoover-webThe point here is that emotions are a terrible guide. We have quoted the late Dr. A. J. Hoover in previous posts on other subjects (here and here). In a book exposing the weaknesses of various kinds of faulty arguments, Professor Hoover says, “Clear thinking involves many things, but one of the most important things it involves is learning to control your emotions.”2 Hear him elaborate on this idea. Especially today, these statements offer much needed wisdom.

Sometimes even the noble emotions like love, honor, courage, and kindness need to be carefully watched. You commit the fallacy of argumentum ad misericordiam (“argument to pity”) when you make an illicit appeal to the emotion of pity.

This technique of persuasion has long been a familiar practice of lawyers in the courtroom. It is usually employed by the attorney for the defense who ignores the facts of the case and plays on the heartstrings of the jury. For example, he may bring into the courtroom the bedraggled wife of the defendant, followed by his seven pathetic, ragged children. He need not speak any words, for this “body language” says to the jury: “If you send my client to prison, you will make a widow of this poor woman and orphans of all these innocent children. What have these poor human beings done to deserve all this?”

Naturally, the prosecuting attorney will want to remind the jury that there is no necessary, logical connection between the deplorable state of the man’s family and his guilt or the requirements of the law. The jury should not be blinded by the noble emotion of pity in such a case.3

We’ve also previously noted this about government.

Government is inefficient, costly, and has an intoxicating effect on leaders and the public. Government may look like a benefactor, but it can offer only those resources it has taken from citizens and businesses through taxes and regulations. Despite appearances, government is not compassion, but force. Government’s good intentions often have very bad unintended consequences.

And this

The following quote frequently is attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, although no evidence exists in his writings it ever originated with him. Nevertheless, whoever said it was absolutely correct. We need to heed this warning and understand its implications.

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

• From bondage to spiritual faith;
• From spiritual faith to great courage;
• From courage to liberty;
• From liberty to abundance;
• From abundance to selfishness;
• From selfishness to complacency;
• From complacency to apathy;
• From apathy to dependence;
• From dependence back into bondage.

When the people of a nation believe they have a right to government “benefits,” they become intoxicated with everything the government is willing to offer. In turn, those in authority become intoxicated with the power they gain as an increasing number of people become dependent upon them. The more government “gives,” the more beholden recipients become. This is how a nation that began with liberty can be led into tyranny.

The early stages of this process, however, don’t look at all like a journey into tyranny. They may not look that way years or even decades later. Eventually, though, “the chickens will come home to roost.”

When the people of a free nation begin to look to the government to meet their needs, the journey on which they’ve started won’t appear to have tyranny as its destination. The road may not look like a path to tyranny and oppression years or even decades later. Then, when it’s too late, some of the people—certainly not all—will realize they’ve traded freedom for security and now live in bondage to the government.

FDR’s policies often are viewed favorably because of the many ways they seemed to help those in need. In other words, his programs were “compassionate.” Roosevelt was then, and is now, a hero to many. Economist Robert Higgs writes, “Roosevelt, it is said repeatedly, restored hope to the American people when they had fallen into despair because of the seemingly endless depression, and his policies ‘saved capitalism’ by mitigating its intrinsic cruelties and inequalities.”

But wait! Higgs goes on to contend this perception doesn’t fit the facts.

This view of Roosevelt and the New Deal amounts to a myth compounded of ideological predisposition and historical misunderstanding. In a 1936 book called The Menace of Roosevelt and His Policies, Howard E. Kershner came closer to the truth when he wrote that Roosevelt

took charge of our government when it was comparatively simple, and for the most part confined to the essential functions of government, and transformed it into a highly complex, bungling agency for throttling business and bedeviling the private lives of free people. It is no exaggeration to say that he took the government when it was a small racket and made a large racket out of it.4

As this statement illustrates, not everyone admired FDR during the 1930s.…The irony is that even if Roosevelt did help to lift the spirits of the American people in the depths of the depression—an uplift for which no compelling documentation exists—this achievement only led the public to labor under an illusion. After all, the root cause of the prevailing malaise was the continuation of the depression. Had the masses understood that the New Deal was only prolonging the depression, they would have had good reason to reject it and its vaunted leader.

headshot-bennettYet the masses, in fact, did not understand. In his three-volume work on American History—America: The Last Best Hope—William J. Bennett states that the congressional Democrats who had been elected to office in 1932 on Roosevelt’s coattails were all too eager to pass his policies, and pass them they did. Bennett quotes this paragraph from Samuel Eliot Morison as part of his explanation of the shift of political allegiances occurring against the backdrop of the Great Depression.

A feature of the WPA [Works Progress Administration] which caught the public eye and became nicknamed “boondoggling,” was the setting up of projects to employ artists, musicians, writers and other “white collar” workers. Post offices and other public buildings were decorated with murals; regional and state guides were written; libraries in municipal and state buildings were catalogued by out-of-work librarians, and indigent graduate students were employed to inventory archives and copy old shipping lists, to the subsequent profit of American historians. The federal theater at its peak employed over 15,000 actors and other workers, at an average wage of $20 a week. Under the direction of John Houseman, Orson Welles, and others, new plays were written and produced, and the classics revived.5

Bennett then writes,

iuHere, in a nutshell, we see the origins of many of today’s political alignments. Hollywood, academia, the press, libraries, the public universities—all are inhabited by tens of thousands of people who could trace the existence of their jobs or their institutions to a federal program begun under FDR. By bringing into government a “Brian Trust,” FDR assured the allegiance of what we today call the “knowledge class” to the Democratic Party. One thing can always be assured: If you take from Peter to pay Paul, you can generally rely on the vote of Paul.6

A history website  agrees that the 1932 election brought together a new coalition in support of Democrats. It also included blacks, the country’s other minority populations, and organized labor (see also the last paragraph on the 1936 election in this article). For decades beyond, Democrats would depend on this coalition for many of its wins. Robert Higgs, whom we cited earlier, says bluntly that “the New Deal served as a massive vote-buying scheme.”

The Snowball Effect

Lyndon_B._Johnson,_photo_portrait,_leaning_on_chair,_color_croppedWe see this dependency not just in the Roosevelt era, but particularly during and since the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with building a coalition to support a cause, to use taxpayer money to strengthen a political party’s power—and to make constituents dependent on that money in the process—are actions that are especially unethical and wrong. It’s apparent that President Johnson was quite pleased at the prospect of bribing and manipulating voters—especially black voters—to increase his own party’s power.

If you don’t remember or haven’t heard what Johnson said privately about civil rights legislation when he was a senator and about his “Great Society” programs when he was president, you need to know. Go here to read these statements. Also recall the apparently deliberate misrepresentations of so-called black leaders with regard to the Three-Fifths Compromise. In each of these situations, the goal is the same—more power.

The unethical nature of creating dependency for votes is only one problem with government “entitlement” programs. Another big problem is that the stated goals of these efforts never are realized. In fact, since the welfare system was set up, things have worsened for those the system was supposed to help. African American economist and political commentator Walter Williams has rightly declared, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do, what Jim Crow couldn’t do, what the harshest racism couldn’t do. And that is to destroy the black family.”

The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do, what Jim Crow couldn’t do, what the harshest racism couldn’t do. And that is to destroy the black family.
Walter E. Williams

Yet another huge problem with wealth transfer programs—not just welfare but Social Security and other such programs, is the inability of taxpayers to sustain them as the number of recipients continues to increase. In other words, there’s a snowball effect. In a National Review article, journalist Michael Tanner asks, “How long can a shrinking number of taxpayers support a growing number of beneficiaries?” It’s a great question.


poster from the late 1930s or early 1940s marketing the “benefits” of Social Security

Advocates of government intervention to meet people’s needs focus on compassion and whether or not the action or the program makes them feel good. Bill Voegeli, the Senior Editor at the Claremont Institute, explains this important dynamic in progressives’ approach to government in this PragerU video.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line. Even though Arthur W. Mitchell, the first black Democrat, was elected and reelected to Congress by narrow margins, his wins reflected the beginning of a change in Americans’ perception about the role of government in people’s private lives. Even more importantly, Mitchell’s electoral contests—as well as Roosevelt’s landslide wins in 1932 and 1936 and his decisive wins in 1940 and 1944—reflected the beginning of a change in the nation’s perspective on rights. The ignorance Thomas Jefferson feared can, to a large extent, be effectively countered when citizens understand the Founders’ views on rights and why that perspective squares with reality.

FDR’s election and his subsequent reelections, as well as Arthur W. Mitchell’s election and reelections to Congress, reflect that the country was beginning to change its perspective on rights. It is critical for us to understand the Founders’ views on rights as well as the new perspective on rights the country was beginning to embrace. Why? The country has fully embraced the revisionist view today, and we need to combat this misinformation with the truth. America’s Founders got it right!

A quick review: To secure rights like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, government needs to stay out of the way and allow people to exercise those rights; but to secure rights like the “right” to food and shelter, government has to take wealth from its citizens and redistribute it so it can meet those needs.

Aren’t you concerned about hunger and housing? someone will ask. Of course we are! We’re simply are saying it isn’t government’s primary role to meet these and similar needs. Please read and review our series on Americans’ posture with regard to rights. This is critical information.

Misinformed and Misled: An Eight-Part Series on America’s Distorted Perspective on Rights

In the 1930s, the 1960s, and beyond, progressives saw a golden opportunity for themselves. Unfortunately, they took advantage of it; and quite frankly, in doing so, they have exploited Americans who already were at an economic disadvantage. Moreover, it is not coincidental that to effectively promote the entitlement mentality that strengthens their power, Democrats have had to misrepresent history, including the Founders’ views on race, and liberty, and rights.

To effectively promote the entitlement mentality that strengthens their power, Democrats have had to misrepresent history, including the Founders’ views on race, liberty, and rights.

Republicans and other concerned citizens need to call them out, but they know there’s a risk in doing so. They’ll be called racists and practically every other pejorative name in the book.

Next week, we’ll explore this tactic, another manipulative strategy in progressives’ playbook.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.


Top image: A line of unemployed men waiting outside a soup kitchen opened by Al Capone in Chicago, 1931



1As an aside, the Bible upholds both hard work and Christian generosity as means to meet the needs of individuals who are unable to work to provide for themselves and their families. When government took over the job of helping the poor, the church stepped away from it. The church should reassert itself in this area.

2A. J. Hoover, Don’t You Believe It! Poking Holes in Faulty Logic, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982), 67.


4The statements from Howard E. Kirshner’s book, The Menace of Roosevelt and His Policies, are quoted by Richard M. Ebeling in “Monetary Central Planning and the State, Part XIV: The New Deal and Its Critics,” Freedom Daily, February 1998, p. 15.

5Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Volume Three, 306.

6William J. Bennett, America: the Last Best Hope, Volume II: From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom, 1914-1989, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 114.





The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 8

Don’t Be Fooled!

Before lecturing Republicans, Democrats should mop up their side of the political spectrum [with regard to the issue of race].
—Journalist Deroy Murdock (who, by the way, is black)—

Note: In Part 6, we began to record some historical facts Democrats have hidden from the public or effectively encouraged the public to ignore. We added to the list in Part 7, and this week, in Part 8, we complete it. The list contains 33 items. It isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it is thorough and very informative. It’s available on a single page here.

The second Sunday after a congregation had welcomed a new pastor into its midst, churchgoers noticed he preached the very same sermon he’d given a week earlier. The next week, he preached the same sermon yet again. When his people asked him why he was doing this, the pastor replied, “When you begin to apply the principles in this sermon, I’ll be happy to move on to the next one.”

As we continue adding items to our list of historical truths Democrats conveniently overlook, some may feel we are being repetitious, even though we’ve been adding new items every week. Unlike the new preacher who kept preaching the same sermon, I believe you’re getting it. Democrats, generally speaking, have rewritten history and are overlooking their own racist past. There are exceptions, but overall, Democrats have a history that upholds racism.

The eleventh item on our list (see last week’s post) highlighted Republican attempts to make lynching a federal crime in 1922, 1923, and 1924—and Democrat efforts to thwart them. Southern Democrats in the US Senate successfully filibustered the bill. Looking back a few years may shed some light on why these Democrats’ efforts could succeed.

Historical Truths Democrats Have Successfully Concealed

Twelfth, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921, was a Democrat who promoted and adopted racist policies and who glorified the Ku Klux Klan. Under Wilson, the federal government resegregated numerous agencies in the US government. Yes, resegregated. Integration had taken place during Reconstruction decades before Wilson took office. Wilson “brought with him an administration loaded with loaded with white supremacists who segregated offices and removed black men from political appointments.” In 1914 President Wilson defended these policies, saying this:

Segregation is not humiliating but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen. If your organization goes out and tells the colored people of the country that it is a humiliation, they will so regard it, but if you do not tell them so, and regard it rather as a benefit, they will regard it the same. The only harm that will come will be if you cause them to think it is a humiliation… If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman. Your manner offends me…

Of course, Wilson’s policies affected people on a personal level. One man affected was John Abraham Davis. John Davis was a hard worker and excelled in school. Not long after graduating from high school in 1882 he landed a job at the Government Printing Office in Washington, DC. His job became his career. John was rewarded for his hard work with promotions and pay increases, and by 1908 he had a very respectable income as well as a home in the nation’s capital and a farm in a nearby state. Everything changed for John after Wilson took office. He was demoted, then sent from one department to another to do jobs that required little skill or experience. In the end he wound up delivering messages in the War Department, but that job paid only about half of what he had been earning in 1908. John was forced to sell the farm, and by 1917 his spirit had been crushed. He’d live for eleven more years but could not recover from the humiliation and economic ruin Wilson’s racist policies had brought upon him. Not surprisingly, other black men in government jobs had similar experiences.

Moreover, Woodrow Wilson spoke glowingly of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1901 in his book, A History of the American People, Volume IX, Wilson wrote, “Those who loved mastery and adventure directed the work of the Ku Klux.” He also wrote, “The white men of the South were aroused by the mere instinct of self-preservation to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes and conducted in the interest of adventurers.” The quote inspired this frame in the racist movie The Birth of a Nation, a silent movie directed by by D. W. Griffith and released in 1915. The film was successful and was a factor leading to a resurgence of the Klan, which also took place in 1915.


On another issue, Wilson is seen today as a leader promoting women’s suffrage. Not so fast! He and other Democrats actually had no choice but to go along with passage of the Nineteenth Amendment after landslide wins for Republicans in Congress in the election of 1918. On May 21, 1919, the Nineteenth Amendment passed the House of Representatives. The vote was 304-89. Ninety-one percent of Republicans but just 59 percent of Democrats voted for it. The Senate passed the amendment on June 4 of the same year by a vote of 56-25. Eighty-two percent of Republicans but just 41 percent of Democrats voted for it. On to the states it went, and Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 26, 1920. Tom Wrutz writes, “Of the 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment, 26 were Republican states [states with Republican legislatures].”


Suffragist demonstration in 1913 in Washington, DC

Thirteenth, the Democrat Convention in 1924 was called Klanbake because of the controversy that swirled around it involving the Ku Klux Klan. No political convention in US history has lasted as long as did this one. From June 24 to July 9, 1924, delegates cast a total of 103 ballots before officially nominating John W. Davis and Charles W. Bryan to run for president and vice-president, respectively. They would be defeated by Calvin Coolidge and Charles G. Dawes in November.


1924 Democrat Convention

Going into the convention, observers probably would have put their money on either Al Smith of New York or William Gibbs McAdoo, who had served as the Secretary of the Treasury in the Wilson administration and who would go on to serve as a Democrat US Senator from California. Davis became the compromise candidate.

Not all Democrats supported the revived KKK, and some wanted the party’s platform to condemn Klan for its violent activities. A plank was proposed. Pro-Klan delegates opposed Al Smith’s candidacy (Smith was a Catholic) and supported the candidacy of his chief opponent, William McAdoo (a Protestant). The convention was deeply divided. Writing about the proceedings, Randy Dotinga seasons his report with quotes from Robert K. Murray, a historian.

The vicious KKK debate finally ended in a chaotic two-hour vote that produced the most “prolonged pandemonium in an American political gathering.”

“The delegates engaged in fist fights, arguments, name calling, wrestling matches, and brawls, while the galleries howled and stomped their feet.” The fighting veered toward a riot that was only averted when 1,000 NYC cops hurried to the scene.

1924-dems202_zpsyoyhzzomDebate over adopting the anti-Klan plank was fierce. In the end, the plank was rejected by a vote of 546.15 to 542.85. In Celebration, “tens of thousands of hooded Klansmen rallied in a field in New Jersey, across the river from New York City. This event…was also attended by hundreds of Klan delegates to the convention, who burned crosses, urged violence and intimidation against African Americans and Catholics, and attacked effigies of Smith.”


Fourteenth, Democrat Hugo Black, who was a US Senator from Alabama from 1927 to 1937, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. After being elected to his seat in the Senate in 1926, Black spoke to a KKK gathering and thanked them for their support:

This passport which you have given me is a symbol to me of the passport which you have given me before. I do not feel that it would be out of place to state to you her on this occasion that I know that without the support of the members of this organization I would not have been called, even by my enemies, the “Junior Senator from Alabama.”

As a US Senator, Black strongly opposed anti-lynching legislation, even when the sponsors of the bill also were Democrats.

In 1935 Black led a filibuster of the Wagner-Costigan anti-lynching bill. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that when a motion to end the fillibuster was defeated “[t]he southerners- headed by Tom Connally of Texas and Hugo Black of Alabama—grinned at each other and shook hands.”


Fifteenth, Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Hugo Black to the Supreme Court in 1937. He was an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court from August 19, 1937 until just September 17, 1971, just days before his death. Shortly after Black became an Associate Justice, reporter Ray Sprigle of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote a story disclosing Black’s involvement in the KKK. The report caused quite a stir, and Sprigle won a Pulitzer Prize for his work. As a Supreme Court Justice, Black “went on to reintroduce America to the long-dormant phrase ‘separation of church and state, twisting its meaning. Black also wrote the majority opinion that deemed internment camps in the United States constitutional in 1944.”


Sixteenth, in 1938, during a filibuster of the Wagner-Van Nuys anti-lynching bill—a bill, by the way, bearing the names of two Democrat senators, Robert Wagner and Frederick Van Nuys— Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, also a Democrat, declared,

If you succeed in the passage of this bill, you will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.

Seventeenth, in 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed James Byrmes to the US Supreme Court. Byrmes was a segregationist who in 1919 said, “This is a white man’s country, and will always remain a white man’s country.”

Eighteenth, FDR committed racist acts and failed to defend races who were vulnerable.

  • In 1942, internment camps were established by Executive Order 9066 to house American citizens descended from Japanese and Japanese expatriates.
  • Jesse Owens had defied the propaganda of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany by winning four gold medals on German soil, at the Berlin Olympics of 1936. After the games, FDR invited only the white athletes to meet with him. Of course, Owens received no such invitation.

FDR invited only white athletes to meet with him following the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

  • While Roosevelt was critical of lynching, he would not support a federal anti-lynching law. He said Southern Democrats, especially Senators, would retaliate by blocking other bills Roosevelt supported that were essential for the country’s survival: “If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, they will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can’t take that risk.”
  • FDR also has been accused of not doing enough to help the Jews during the Holocaust and World War 2.

Ninteenth, evangelist Billy Graham led a crusade in Jackson, Mississippi in 1952. Graham’s policy was clear regarding race—members of all races would be welcome at his events. Mississippi Democrat Governor Hugh White didn’t like the policy and asked Graham to schedule different services for white and black audiences. Graham refused, although he did, at the Jackson Crusade, allow segregated seating. Several months later, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Graham vehemently resisted the call for segregated seating. In Jackson, Graham proclaimed, “There is no scriptural basis for segregation. It may be there are places where such is desirable to both races, but certainly not in the church. The ground at the foot of the cross is level.…[I]t touches my heart when I see whites stand shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross.”


Billy Graham in 1966

Twentieth, In 1956, a document was drafted in the US Congress called “The Declaration of Constitutional Principles” or simply the “Southern Manifesto.” In it, 101 political leaders expressed their opposition to racial integration in public facilities and venues, including schools. Ninety-nine of the leaders were Democrats and two were Republicans. One signatory to the document was J. William Fulbright, Senator from Arkansas and eventual mentor to Bill Clinton. Fulbright has been described as a racist, a “notorious segregationist,” pro-communist, and anti-Semitic. Recently, “the famous Fulbright fellowship…[was] renamed…the “J. William Fulbright–Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellowship.”

Former Democrat Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright has been described as a racist, a “notorious segregationist,” pro-communist, and anti-Semitic. Recently, “the famous Fulbright fellowship…[was] renamed…the “J. William Fulbright–Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellowship.”

Twenty-first, Bruce Bartlett, author of Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past,” explains that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower repeated his call for civil rights legislation in his 1957 State of the Union address. Previously, the legislation had passed in the House but had died in the Senate because of opposition from Southern Democrats. Lyndon B. Johnson was the Senate’s Majority Leader. Opponents of the legislation were looking to him to oppose it, just as he had in the past. (While a congressman, Johnson had called President Harry Truman’s civil rights initiative “a farce and a sham—an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty. I am opposed to that program. I have voted against the so-called poll tax repeal bill…I have voted against the so-called anti-lynching bill.”) Johnson, however, wanted to become president. Bartlett continues,

After dragging his feet on the civil rights bill throughout much of 1957, Johnson finally came to the conclusion that the tide had turned in favor of civil rights and he needed to be on the right side of the issue if he hoped to become president.…

At the same time, the Senate’s master tactician and principal opponent of the civil rights bill, Democrat Richard B. Russell of Georgia, saw the same handwriting on the wall but came to a different conclusion. He realized that the support was no longer there for an old-fashioned Democrat filibuster.…So Russell adopted a different strategy this time of trying to amend the civil rights bill so as to minimize its impact. Behind the scenes, Johnson went along with Russell’s strategy of not killing the civil rights bill, but trying to neuter it as much as possible.…

Eisenhower was disappointed at not being able to produce a better piece of legislation. “I wanted a much stronger civil rights bill in ’57 than I could get,” he later lamented. “But the Democrats…wouldn’t let me have it.”

Johnson explained his approach this way:

senator_lyndon_johnsonThese Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.

Forgive the language—I’m just reporting what was said. On Air Force One, President Johnson was speaking to two like-minded governors and explaining some of the benefits Democrats would reap from his “Great Society” programs. Johnson said, “I’ll have those niggars voting Democrat for the next 200 years.”

Twenty-second, In 1958, Billy Graham planned a rally on the steps of South Carolina’s capitol building. South Carolina Democrat Governor George Timmerman objected and successfully nixed the plans to hold the rally at the capitol. Graham was viewed as an “integrationist.” In fact, the KKK had listed Billy Graham as one of their targets in 1957. Governor Timmerman said, “There is, in fact, no reason to select the State House unless the real purpose is to capitalize, for propaganda, purposes, on the appearance of a widely known advocate of desegregation. It is Graham’s endorsement of desegregation that has brought him front-page acclaim.” Brig. General Christian H. Clark helped make Fort Jackson, which was a federal venue, available, and the rally was held there. As many as 60,000 people of different races attended, and the meeting was “described at the time as the largest turnout for a non-sporting event in state history.”

Twenty-third, in 1962 George C. Wallace, then a Democrat, was elected Governor of Alabama. He was inaugurated on January 14, 1963.

In his inauguration speech he proclaimed, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

Twenty-fourth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963
The top image is a photo of the crowd attending that event.

Twenty-fifth, Contrary to the assumptions of many today, Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • In the House of Representatives, 80 percent of Republicans voted for the measure, while just 61 percent of Democrats voted for it.
  • In the Senate, Republicans were at last able to end a filibuster brought by Democrats. Eighty-two percent of Republicans supported cloture along with just 66 percent of Democrats.
  • In the vote on the legislation itself, 82 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats gave their support. 

Twenty-sixth, Surprise, surprise! The Voting Rights Act of 1965 also became law largely because of Republicans.

  • Ninety-four percent of Republicans in the US Senate supported the Voting Rights Act, contrasted to 73 percent of Democrats.
  • When the Senate voted on the final version of the bill from the House, one lone Republican Senator opposed it, along with 17 Democrats.
  • In the House of Representatives, 82 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of Democrats voted for the legislation. 

everettdirksenRepublican Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen was a co-author of the legislation, and he strategized against opposition brought by Democrats. He said, “There has to be a real remedy. There has to be something durable and worthwhile. This cannot go on forever, this denial of the right to vote by ruses and devices and tests and whatever the mind can contrive to either make it very difficult or to make it impossible to vote.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law largely because of the work of Republicans.

Twenty-seventh, Lester Maddox was elected governor of Georgia in 1970 and was a Democrat at the time. An ardent segregationist, Maddox once said, “That’s part of American greatness, is discrimination. Yes, sir. Inequality, I think, breeds freedom and gives a man opportunity.”

bill_clinton_1978Twenty-eighth, In 1989, the NAACP sued three state officials, including then-Arkansas Democrat Governor Bill Clinton, under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a federal statute. According to the Arkansas Gazette on December 6, 1989, “Plaintiffs offered plenty of proof of monolithic voting along racial lines, intimidation of black voters and candidates and other official acts that made voting harder for blacks.” The paper also said that “the evidence at the trial was indeed overwhelming that the Voting Rights Act had been violated.” The court ordered the redrawing of electoral districts to enhance the strength of votes from the black community.

Writing at, Deroy Murdock reports,

During his 12-year tenure, Governor Clinton never approved a state civil-rights law. However, he did issue birthday proclamations honoring Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. He also signed Act 116 in 1987. That statute reconfirmed that the star directly above the word “Arkansas” in the state flag “is to commemorate the Confederate States of America.” Arkansas also observed Confederate Flag Day every year Clinton served. The governor’s silence was consent.



Also, examples of merchandise from Bill Clinton’s presidential run in 1992 have appeared that reflect Confederate sympathies.


Twenty-ninth, As a presidential candidate in 2000, Al Gore declared to the NAACP that his father was voted out of office after voting for the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The Senior Gore, however, opposed the Civil Rights Act and voted against it. In 1970, Gore, Sr. lost to Republican Bill Brock in a contest that centered on the Supreme Court, the war in Viet Nam, and prayer in public schools. Also in 2000, Gore claimed to have worked to increase diversity among those who followed him every day, including the Secret Service; but blacks in the Secret Service were suing Gore because they “were not being promoted to positions guarding the Vice-President.”

robert_byrd_official_portraitThirtieth, in a National Review article titled “Whitewashing the Democratic Party’s History,” Mona Charen writes, “As recently as 2010, the Senate’s president pro tempore was former Ku Klux Klan Exalted Cyclops Robert Byrd (D., W.Va.).” Go here to learn more about this KKK role.

During World War 2, Byrd wrote, “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side. … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.” Go here to view a brief timeline of Byrd’s actions with regard to race relations.

Thirty-first, Barak Obama has increased racial tensions in this country since becoming president. One glaring manifestation of this truth that if you’re opposed to his policies, you’re accused of racism. Check out articles herehere, here, and here.

This president is the most racist president there has ever been in America. He is purposely trying to use race to divide Americans.
Ben Stein, speaking of President Barak Obama—

070731-N-0696M-156 WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 31, 2007) - As Senator Hillary Clinton listens, Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Mullen responds to a question during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee for appointment to Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Hart Senate Office Building, July 31, 2007. Mullen was joined by Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. James E. Cartwright for his appointment to Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley (RELEASED)

Thirty-second and finally, Hillary Clinton apparently has garnered support from people willing to embrace the Confederate flag (also go here). While a candidate can’t control who supports him or her, the candidate can disavow attitudes of prominent supporters with whom he or she disagrees.

Hillary Clinton does not have the best track record with regard to race, especially when one considers her husband’s policies when he was Governor of Arkansas. Yet she has been quick to accuse Republicans of racism.


In fact, accusations of racism among Republicans has become a Democrat mantra.

You see, Democrats don’t just rewrite the past, they misrepresent the present, too.

Part 9 is available here.


Copyright © 2016 B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 7

Forgetting Flaws and Fabricating Fantasies: The Democrats’ Revisionist History

I am not a fan of the Republican Party. I’m not here as a Republican shill. I don’t like them. I’m not a member of the Republican Party. They’ve lost their way. But let’s get history right.
—Glenn Beck1

A condensed version of this article is available here.
Part 6 is available here.

Is a college education everything it’s cracked up to be? Increasingly, conservatives are compelled to say no. While education can be defined concisely as a quest for truth, college students in the United States today, generally speaking, aren’t acquiring truth. They’re being indoctrinated, and not by accident.


Woodrow Wilson in 1902, President of Princeton University

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was president of Princeton University (1902-1910) before becoming governor of New Jersey (1911-1913) and president of the United States (1913-1921).2 Wilson has been called a “progressive reformer”3 and even the “Godfather of Liberalism.”4 Ironically, it was in a speech about the Young Men’s Christian Association that Wilson made this significant statement: “I have often said that the use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.”5

Dennis Prager indicates that what Wilson said hasn’t been forgotten. On the contrary, it is being consistently applied in higher education today.

In 1996, in his commencement address to the graduating seniors of Dartmouth College, the then president of the college, James O. Freedman, cited the Wilson quote favorably. And in 2002, in another commencement address, Freedman said that “the purpose of a college education is to question your father’s values.”6

The context for Prager’s insights is an article titled “What Kids Now Learn in College.”7 It can’t be good, given the admission made by Freedman.8 The truth is that warning signs about higher education are everywhere for Christian parents and others who hold to traditional moral values, and they have been for some time.9 Hopefully in the near future, I will be able to write an article about some of these signs for Word Foundations readers. For now, I want to highlight five of the 27 items Prager says parents are paying $20,000 to $50,000 annually per child for their children to learn.

  • The South votes Republican because it is still racist, and the Republican Party caters to racists.
  • Whites can be racist; non-whites cannot be (because whites have power, and the powerless cannot be racist).
  • Blacks are victims of whites.
  • The American Founders were sexist, racist slaveholders whose primary concern was preserving their wealthy status.
  • The Constitution says what progressives think it should say.10

Appropriately, Dennis Prager concludes his article with this piercing question: “Still want to go into years of debt?” Keep in mind we’ve listed here only a few of Prager’s observations!11 Also keep in mind that it isn’t just institutions of higher education indoctrinating children, but the broader culture as well.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been discussing the importance of having an accurate understanding of history in general, and of black history in particular.12 Last week we began making a list13 of historical truths that surprise and enlighten modern readers because they hardly ever are highlighted. Why do we only hear select portions of black history? The simple answer is that progressives and Democrats have revised history to their own advantage.

No longer will we ignore previously hidden historical truths or the lessons they teach! In Part 6 we had the privilege of discovering the contributions blacks made to the cause of liberty in the American Revolution and during Reconstruction.14 Our journey was prompted by these, the first two items on our list.

Historical Truths Democrats Have Successfully Concealed

First, many black soldiers fought alongside whites in the Revolutionary War.15 Their contributions to the cause of liberty and American independence truly were incalculable.

Second, all of the first black Members of Congress were Republicans.16 They courageously faced threats and fierce opposition from those who never wanted to free the slaves in the first place, many of whom were Democrats.

We now will add nine more items to the list. As you read, please remember that our primary goal isn’t to be pro-Republican or even anti-Democrat, but to learn the truth about history. We simply want to ask, “What happened?” Are you ready?

Third, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially ended slavery in the United States. The US Senate passed it on April 8, 1864, and the US House of Representatives passed it on January 31, 1865.17 One hundred eighteen out of 118 Republicans—100 percent—voted for the amendment, but a mere 19 of 82 Democrats—23 percent—voted for it.18,19 “Among Democrats, 63 percent of senators and 78 percent of House members voted: ‘No.’”20

Fourth, the 14th Amendment specifies that all Americans will have equal protection under the law. “In 1866 94 percent of GOP senators and 96 percent of GOP House members approved” the measure. Every single Democrat in Congress voted no.21

Fifth, the 15th Amendment guarantees the right to vote for every American, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”22 At the time Congress passed it, there were a total of 56 congressional Democrats, and not one of them voted for it.23 The 15th Amendment would go on to be ratified on February 3, 1870.24

Sixth, the Democrat platform of 1860 “continued to campaign for immigrant rights and slavery. The 1864 platform denounced the Civil War and called for negotiations with the Confederacy. The 1868 platform denounced ‘negro supremacy’.”25  Blacks haven’t been the exclusive targets of Democrat racism, however. Democrat Party platforms from the last thirty years of the 19th century, as well as the 1900 platform, show that Asians, the Chinese, “the Mongolian race,” “servile races,” and the Japanese have been targets as well.26 During this time, Democrats didn’t abandon racism toward blacks, either; their 1892 platform decried blacks’ voting rights. 27

Seventh, Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan (KKK):

The KKK was founded in Tennessee immediately after the end of the Civil War as a sort of social club for former Confederate Soldiers whose influence quickly spread through the decimated Southern states.  As Columbia professor Eric Foner wrote in his A Short History of Reconstruction, in its early days, the group was loosely bound by one main principle: launching a reign of terror against Republican leaders black and white.

Racism was, of course, a guiding principle, but not quite as guiding as the hatred of the Republicans, the party of Lincoln, the Yankees who[m] early Klansmen believed destroyed their homeland through what they termed a “war of northern aggression.”28

According to Larry Elder,

In 1872 congressional investigations, Democrats admitted beginning the Klan as an effort to stop the spread of the Republican Party and to re-establish Democratic control in Southern states. As PBS’ “American Experience” notes, “In outright defiance of the Republican-led federal government, Southern Democrats formed organizations that violently intimidated blacks and Republicans who tried to win political power. The most prominent of these, the Ku Klux Klan, was formed in Pulaski, Tenn., in 1865.” Blacks, who were all Republican at that time, became the primary targets of violence.29


“A political cartoon depicting the KKK and the Democratic Party as continuations of the Confederacy”

Eighth, the election of 1876 sent Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to the White House, but only after a compromise was reached that gave him just enough electoral votes to be elected.



The results of the election were mired in controversy, although Democrat Samuel J. Tiden had, without question, won the popular vote.30 According to the website Digital History,



At a meeting in February 1877 at Washington, D.C.’s Wormley Hotel (which was operated by an African American), Democratic leaders accepted Hayes’s election in exchange for Republican promises to withdraw federal troops from the South, provide federal funding for internal improvements in the South, and name a prominent Southerner to the president’s cabinet. When the federal troops were withdrawn, the Republican governments in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina collapsed, bringing Reconstruction to a formal end.

Under the so-called Compromise of 1877, the national government would no longer intervene in southern affairs. This would permit the imposition of racial segregation and the disfranchisement of black voters.31

When the federal troops were withdrawn from the South, the Republican governments in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina collapsed, bringing Reconstruction to a formal end. Under the so-called Compromise of 1877, the national government would no longer intervene in southern affairs. This would permit the imposition of racial segregation and the disfranchisement of black voters.
Digital History


the presidential election of 1880 is notable for several reasons. First, it was the first presidential election that took place following Reconstruction. Second, the Democrats nominated Winfield Scott Hancock, who had been a Union general during the Civil War. He’d emerged a war hero, but significantly, “Hancock was a Democrat who fought to preserve the Union but not to end slavery or see Black Americans protected by the United States Constitution.”32



It was a very shrewd move on the part of Democrats. Recognizing this, Republicans distributed a handbill that highlighted the stark differences between the two parties—and that effectively laid out reasons not to vote for the Democratic ticket.


For a larger copy of this image, click here.

While today some of the language used in the flyer would be considered inappropriate, the points it conveyed resonated with the public.33 In the end, the popular vote was very close, even though the vote in the electoral college was not.34 James A. Garfield was elected.



Tenth, Democrats in the South after the Civil War no longer had the institution of slavery to bring blacks down, so they found other ways. “Jim Crow laws” were widely used for this purpose. Jim Crow was a character created by Thomas “Daddy” Rice. In the 1830s, Rice wrote and performed for audiences in blackface and spoke in a black dialect.35 The name Jim Crow caught on, and by the late 1830s it had become a negative term people used to refer to a black man.36  We’ve noted that during Reconstruction (a period lasting from 1855-1877), federal laws were passed that afforded certain basic civil rights to blacks. However, in

the 1870s, Democrats gradually regained power in the Southern legislatures, having used insurgent paramilitary groups, such as the White League and Red Shirts, to disrupt Republican organizing, run Republican officeholders out of town, and intimidate blacks to suppress their voting. Extensive voter fraud was also used. Gubernatorial elections were close and had been disputed in Louisiana for years, with increasing violence against blacks during campaigns from 1868 onward. In 1877, a national Democratic Party compromise to gain Southern support in the presidential election [an event we highlighted in our eighth point on this list] resulted in the government’s withdrawing the last of the federal troops from the South. White Democrats had regained political power in every Southern state. These Southern, white, Democratic Redeemer governments legislated Jim Crow laws, officially segregating black people from the white population.37


—Not Just in the South—
Democrats running for office in Ohio in 1867
Go here for more information.

Go here and here to read some examples of Jim Crow laws and to learn about the segregation and oppression they engendered. Jim Crow laws were enacted not just during the 19th century in the years following the Civil War, but also well into the 20th century.

Eleventh, the Ku Klux Klan continued its campaign of intimidation, and no tactic in the KKK’s arsenal was more effective than lynching.38 You can understand why. If you can stomach it, take a few moments to watch this presentation on lynching.39 Among other things, it’s important for us to know these facts.

• Between 1886 and 1968 there were 4,743 lynchings recorded.
• There were 3,446 blacks lynched out of the 4,743 lynchings. That calls [counts] for 72.7% of [the] lynchings.
• Whites accounted for the extra 27.3%.40 

These are just the lynchings that were recorded! In 1922, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill authored by Missouri Republican Representative Leonidas Dyer that would have made lynching a federal crime. President Warren G. Harding supported the bill, but senate Democrats from southern states filibustered it, thereby blocking its passage.41 They filibustered it again in 1923 and 1924.42

In 1922, 1923, and 1924, Senate Democrats from southern states filibustered a bill authored by Missouri Republican Representative Leonidas Dyer that would have made lynching a federal crime.


This last item took place in the early 20th century, and there’s a good bit more to cover. We’ll complete this list next week by highlighting several 20th-century events, personalities, and attitudes. This will by no means become an exhaustive list, but I believe it will become—and already is—an informative one.

Elbert Lee Guillory is a former Louisiana state senator. In 2013, Guillory switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. As you hear him explain why, you’ll be reminded of the historical discoveries we’ve made this week and get a foretaste of next week’s discussion.

Before concluding, I feel compelled to underscore the following three items.

First, let’s reiterate. We’re diving into history and trying to learn from what it teaches us. We’re simply trying to uncover what happened. We do this because so many of these important historical facts never are discussed. They should not remain hidden in America’s past, because they hold too many lessons for Americans today.

Second, while this written presentation, in a sense, airs Democrats’ “dirty laundry” with regard to racism, we would never try to make the case that Republicans have a perfect record in this area. Yet their record doesn’t have to be perfect to be a far cry from what the Democrats claim.

Third, in recent years Republicans have developed an unfortunate and disappointing track record of campaigning on conservative principles and then, once elected, acquiescing to Democrat pressure without a fight. Voters who put these Republicans in office are rightly angry over this. This is relevant to our discussion because it is clear to many that Democrats still use intimidation and misinformation as vicious weapons. They have enthusiastic allies in the mainstream media, as well. Republicans need to stand up to Democrats unwaveringly and fight for the principles they ran on when they campaigned for office—the way they used to do when they fought against slavery and fought for equality for all Americans! Can you imagine Republicans of the era of history we’ve been highlighting calling their party a “big tent” that welcomes pro-slavery adherents into its ranks? Can you imagine their saying, “Well, I’m personally opposed to slavery, but I believe every person has a right to choose whether or not to become a slaveowner”? This sounds ridiculous because it is! Republicans, rediscover your roots and stand once again on solid ground! Your constituents long for you to do these things!

Can you imagine Republicans of the era of history we’ve been highlighting calling their party a “big tent” that welcomes pro-slavery adherents into its ranks? Can you imagine their saying, “Well, I’m personally opposed to slavery, but I believe every person has a right to choose whether or not to become a slaveowner”?


Churchill_portrait_NYP_45063Until next week, remember this insightful quote from Winston S. Churchill: “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”43 Let’s make sure we look back, and that we do so with clarity of vision.

These posts are offered, hopefully, as means to these ends.

Part 8 is available here.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Top image: The First Vote: African Americans vote for the first time, as depicted in 1867 on the cover of Harper’s magazine. Engraving by Alfred R. Waud.


























25 Minor grammatical changes were made for clarity.













38David Barton, Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black and White, (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 2004), 115.








The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 6

Affirming the Priceless Contributions of Black Americans to the Cause of Liberty During the Eras of the American Revolution and Reconstruction

Historical records show that 5,000 blacks fought for American Independence. Even without the certainty of their futures, they understood that the risk of dying for freedom was better than the guarantee of living under oppression. Now, if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard about these black heroes, it hasn’t been by accident. After the Civil War, the losers, the Democrats, were allowed to re-write the history books. They knew that the best way to isolate blacks was to remove them from history. But we conservatives are getting wiser and we are making some noise.
Amy Reid

Part 5 is available here.

The article cited above is titled “Black Revolutionary War Heroes.” In it, writer and speaker Amy Reid cites some tremendous examples of African American contributions to American Independence and freedom. Specifically, she mentions Crispus Attucks, Peter Salem, Wentworth Cheswell, James Armistead (pictured above with Marquis de Lafayette), Prince Eastabrook, Prince Whipple, and Oliver Cromwell. To this list we can add the name of Salem Poor.


Postage Stamp, 1975

The phrase “Gallant Soldier” on the stamp honoring Poor didn’t come from a 20th century assessment of his actions on the battlefield. Rather, it came from fourteen white officers who saw Poor in action at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. Several months later, in December, they submitted a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts requesting official recognition of his service. They affirmed Poor had acted “like an Experienced officer, as Well as an Excellent Soldier” and went on to say that it would have been “Tedious” to explain the details of Poor’s military skill, so “We Would Only beg leave to say in the Person of this Negro Centers a Brave & gallant Soldier.”

Amy Reid’s very powerful observation bears repeating: “Now, if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard about these black heroes, it hasn’t been by accident. After the Civil War, the losers, the Democrats, were allowed to rewrite the history books. They knew that the best way to isolate blacks was to remove them from history.”

The Democrats have been allowed to revise history.

This week we begin exploring some of the events from history that Democrats have edited to their advantage. Please know that this article isn’t primarily pro-Republican, or even anti-Democrat. Rather, it is an effort to get to the truth about history.

This article—indeed, all the articles in this series—aren’t primarily pro-Republican, or even anti-Democrat. Rather, they represent concerted efforts to uncover what really happened in history.

When we learn the truth, we find lessons for Democrats and Republicans alike. Democrats need to own up to the the truth. Republicans need to rediscover their roots and once again uphold the founding principles of the Republican party—not just during campaigns to get elected, but especially after they get in office, with their actions.

This week we will examine two important historical truths that Democrats have successfully concealed, and in our next post we will add several more. Get ready for an eye-opening journey. For additional information on each topic, click on the links provided.

Historical Truths Democrats Have Successfully Concealed

  1. Many black soldiers fought alongside whites in the Revolutionary War. Their contributions to the cause of liberty and American independence truly were incalculable.
  2. All of the first black Members of Congress were Republicans. They courageously faced threats and fierce opposition from those who never wanted to free the slaves in the first place, many of whom were Democrats.

Dive in and digest these historical facts between now and next week, when we’ll add several more amazing items to the list.

Part 7 is available here.

Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 5

How Black Political Leaders Misrepresent History to Exploit Their Own People

Here’s my hypothesis about people who use slavery to trash the Founders: They have contempt for our constitutional guarantees of liberty. Slavery is merely a convenient moral posturing tool as they try to reduce respect for our Constitution.
Walter E. Williams

This article is available in an expanded version here.
Part 4 is available here.

We concluded part 3 of this series two weeks ago with this You Tube video. At the outset of his presentation, host Dan Willoughby offers this intriguing analogy. A headline reads, “Man Pushes Old Woman to the Ground,” and from the story we learn that the mayor gives him a medal! What’s happened? When we dig to find out, we learn the man pushed the woman out of the way of an oncoming bus and saved her life. Things weren’t as they initially appeared.

With this illustration in mind, consider this excerpt from a news article we cited in last week’s post. The following is from an article by S. Davis and appearing on August 4, 2016.

In addition to blacks being owned in this land of the free they had the glory of being counted as three-fifths of a person in the U.S. Constitution of 1787 (Article I, section 2). Over time the clause has been misinterpreted to mean that blacks were counted as three-fifths of a person or three-fifths of a complete citizen of the country—although I clearly see why anyone could make that argument. I won’t even dispute them. The clause was written to count enslaved blacks as three-fifths of their white counterparts for direct representation in Congress. Even with the correct explanation of the clause a simple question of, “Why aren’t all lives equal on a one-to-one basis?” can easily be posed. This is another instance of black lives being devalued.

Let’s take this same approach to the Three-Fifths Compromise (explained here) and apply it to the story cited in the video. Taking this approach, one might describe the news story this way.

A man pushed an elderly woman to the ground and received praise and recognition from the mayor’s office for doing so. When hearing about the incident, many people have misunderstood why the man tackled the woman—even when they hear he was pushing her out of the way of an oncoming bus. The man saved the woman’s life, but I still understand why they think this guy acted aggressively against her. I won’t even try to tell them they’re wrong. Even when you know the man saved the woman’s life, you still can ask the question, “Why in the world would this man be so abusive to a helpless old woman?” Here we have yet another example of a man roughing up a helpless senior adult and getting away with it!

I mean no disrespect to Mr. Davis, and there are clear differences between these two situations. However, in significant and relevant ways, the above description of the rescue parallels his description of the Three-Fifths Compromise. The two descriptions contrast sharply in part because in what was said about the Constitution, further explanation is needed to highlight the positive outcome—preserving the Union under the Constitution’s provisions eventually would be of great benefit to the slaves. With the rescue, there was an immediate and obvious happy ending. The negative outcome of the Three-Fifths Compromise—the continuation of slavery—is obvious; but the harsh reality was that slavery was going to continue whether compromise was reached or not.

To his credit, Mr. Davis acknowledged that the counting of slaves was for representation purposes, as did several of the writers we cited last week. Yet, even with this basic information, people don’t know all they need to know to understand that counting slaves fully would have been to the slaves’ disadvantage, and not counting them at all would have been to their advantage. Recall that a full count would translate into more advocates for slavery in the House of Representatives and not numbering them would mean fewer.

Leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Jeremiah Wright, and Barak Obama have misrepresented and criticized the US Constitution.


Jesse Jackson in 1983

It doesn’t take an expert in human relations to see that some leaders intentionally are fueling anger and resentment in the black community for their own personal gain.

It doesn’t take an expert in human relations to see that some leaders intentionally are fueling anger and resentment in the black community for their own personal gain.

Imagine a black leader declaring to his or her African-American audience something like this: “You never have been able to get a fair shake in this country, because when the Constitution was drafted at the dawn of America’s existence, each of your ancestors was considered only three-fifths of a human being! The Liberty Bell didn’t ring out for you! It rang out only for white folks!”

Racism can and sometimes does exist among whites, of course, and it should be condemned by blacks and whites alike. There is a difference, however, between appropriate condemnations of racism and the rhetoric in which some black leaders engage. Black leaders are guilty of racism when they stir up resentment among blacks toward whites because of the egregious sin of slavery. No one in the audiences of these leaders ever was an American slave. This doesn’t excuse racist acts of any kind committed against blacks today or earlier. Some of these have truly been brutal and inhuman. Still, the issue of slavery has been settled. The very country Jesse Jackson and others malign ended slavery permanently within its borders with a bloody civil war. Yet they continue to mislead their people.

In this environment, we need to make sure we know and can present the truth about what happened when America was founded and in the years that followed.

Join me next week for an eye-opening journey into the past.

Part 6 is available here.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Top image: The Bellman Informed of the Passage of the Declaration of Independence, an image initially appearing on the front page of Graham’s Magazine in June of 1854

The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 4

The Pervasive Myth of Maniacal Racism Among America’s Founders

If I assume the “truth” to be negotiable based on whether or not it serves my agenda, then my agenda has become my “truth.” And the “truth” of the matter is, when I do this I’ve chosen to take a treacherous path through some very deep woods where neither path nor woods exist.
Craig D. Lounsbrough

History as well as life itself is complicated—neither life nor history is an enterprise for those who seek simplicity and consistency.
Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Part 3 is available here.

In early 2013, Dr. James Wagner, president of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote an article in the university’s magazine about compromise. In it, he cited the Three-Fifths Compromise at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 as a positive example.

One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress. Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population, which would have given the South greater influence over national policy. Northern delegates argued that slaves should not be counted at all, because they had no vote. As the price for achieving the ultimate aim of the Constitution—“to form a more perfect union”—the two sides compromised on this immediate issue of how to count slaves in the new nation. Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together.

Some might suggest that the constitutional compromise reached for the lowest common denominator—for the barest minimum value on which both sides could agree. I rather think something different happened. Both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union. They set their sights higher, not lower, in order to identify their common goal and keep moving toward it.

A furor erupted. At minimum, President Wagner, unwisely, had praised the Three-Fifths Compromise without sufficiently clarifying or qualifying his statements (even though he offered a more thorough explanation of the background of the compromise than usually is given). Wagner also made a mistake when he used the phrase “to form a more perfect union” as he discussed the decision that gave Southern slave states more political clout than the North initially said they should have. This left a negative impression as well. All of this notwithstanding, history records that the Three-Fifths Compromise was indeed a compromise. Because of it, Southern states’ influence in the House of Representatives was less than their delegates originally wanted.

President Wagner apologized. An update posted Sunday, February 24, 2013 on Emory Magazine’s website carried his statement:

A number of people have raised questions regarding part of my essay in the most recent issue of Emory Magazine.  Certainly, I do not consider slavery anything but heinous, repulsive, repugnant, and inhuman. I should have stated that fact clearly in my essay. I am sorry for the hurt caused by not communicating more clearly my own beliefs. To those hurt or confused by my clumsiness and insensitivity, please forgive me.

On February 23—the day prior—Emory history professor Leslie Harris appeared on NPR News, Weekend Edition, to discuss the issue. Dr. Harris’ full title is associate professor of history and African American Studies. President Wagner already had apologized at this point, but the controversy still was raging. Don Gonyea, the host, interviewed Harris. When he asked Dr. Harris about her reaction when she initially read the president’s article, Harris said,

My first response was that it was a misreading of the three-fifths compromise and of what a successful compromise could be. In addition to the sort of strict historical interpretation of that compromise, the way that popular culture, and particularly African-Americans- see that compromise is that it is a way of counting African-Americans as three-fifths of a person, three-fifths of a human being. So, I knew that even if the historical interpretation of popular culture was wrong, it would strike a very bad chord among African-Americans and among others. I mean, I want to emphasize that this is something that is not an idea that’s simply bound by race. But I knew that in terms of African-Americans, it would be particularly striking that he use that as an example of compromise.

With all due respect to Dr. Harris, she did very little in the interview to help people understand what the Three-Fifths Compromise, and the Three-Fifths Clause, actually did. Here is a history professor who was given a ripe opportunity to open people’s eyes about a widely misunderstood historical matter, yet she bypassed that favorable moment to reinforce perspectives formed largely by emotional impressions shaped in a 21st-century American culture. “Clear thinking,” writes A. J. Hoover, “involves many things, but one of the most important things it involves is learning to control your emotions.”1

This is not to say that President Wagner’s article warranted no criticism. Even so, Dr. Harris could have offered appropriate, constructive criticism while also explaining some of the realities of the world of 1787 and some of the tough challenges confronting the new nation.

I suspect Dr. Harris responded as she did because, apparently, she sees the Three-Fifths Compromise as increasing the South’s power to officially strengthen and maintain slavery. A few moments earlier in the interview, Dr. Harris had said, “[B]y keeping slavery in the Constitution, by protecting slavery through the three-fifths compromise, in fact, we held onto slavery, which ultimately led us into civil war with the bloodiest loss of life.”

This ignores several important and undeniable realities.

  • First, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had not gathered in Philadelphia to deal with the issue of slavery, but to create a document that would serve as a foundation for the new nation’s government.
  • Second, if delegates from the North had told their Southern counterparts, “We will eliminate slavery in the new nation, and on this issue we will not compromise,” Southern states would have formed their own country with a government that fully sanctioned the practice.
  • Third, it would have been to the slaves’ advantage not to be counted in the census at all (as the North wanted), and to their disadvantage to be fully counted (as the South wanted). Why? Because the larger the population count in a state, the more representatives that state would have in the House of Representatives. Southern delegates were all too eager to fully count slaves, who would not be allowed to vote, to boost the pro-slavery forces in the House.
  • Finally, the Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise; neither the North nor the South got all it wanted. Specifically, from the perspective of Southern state delegates, the South got fewer representatives than it would have had slaves been numbered one for one. Remember that Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), an African-American whom we studied last week, was born into slavery. He experienced it firsthand. He escaped from bondage and eventually became a national leader and statesman. He also became a staunch defender of the US Constitution. Douglass said of the Three-Fifths Clause, “It is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation. A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of “two-fifths” of political power to free over slave States…[Thus,] taking it at its worst, it still leans to freedom, not slavery; for, be it remembered that the Constitution nowhere forbids a coloured man to vote.”


It therefore is misleading at best, and an outright lie at worst, to point—directly or indirectly—to the Three-Fifths Compromise as evidence the Framers saw individual slaves or blacks as less than a complete human being. This misconception, even in 2016, is having a devastating effect. As we said in our initial post in this series, “A great deal is at stake here. The belief that the Framers…wanted slavery to continue forever understandably will make it harder for blacks to trust governmental authorities, including police. Yet, if we dig deeper and come to understand many of the relevant historical details, we just might discover truths that can help ease some of today’s racial tensions and conflicts.”

It is misleading at best, and an outright lie at worst, to point—directly or indirectly—to the Three-Fifths Compromise as evidence the Framers saw individual slaves or blacks as less than a complete human being.

Unfortunately, not only does the myth of rabid racism on the part of the Founders persist; it’s also extremely pervasive—especially in the black community. Furthermore, it’s constantly reinforced. For proof, all one needs to do is to conduct an Internet search using the phrase “Black Lives Matter Three-Fifths.” Here is a sampling of the results of such a search, from most recent to earliest. Emphases, reflected in bold face type, have been added.

Warren J. Blumenfeld at The Huffington Post, August 6, 2016

The “founding fathers” of the United States…wrote into the U.S. Constitution the so-called “three-fifths clause” counting enslaved Africans as equivalent to three-fifths of a full human being for census purposes. As we can see, then, black lives certainly did not matter.

S. Davis in an article titled “Black Lives Matter” August 4, 2016

In addition to blacks being owned in this land of the free they had the glory of being counted as three-fifths of a person in the U.S. Constitution of 1787 (Article I, section 2). Over time the clause has been misinterpreted to mean that blacks were counted as three-fifths of a person or three-fifths of a complete citizen of the country—although I clearly see why anyone could make that argument. I won’t even dispute them. The clause was written to count enslaved blacks as three-fifths of their white counterparts for direct representation in Congress. Even with the correct explanation of the clause a simple question of, “Why aren’t all lives equal on a one-to-one basis?” can easily be posed. This is another instance of black lives being devalued.

John Fountain at the Chicago Sun Times, July 22, 2016

All lives matter!

But here in America, “black” life historically has meant less than “white” life—from slavery, to once being deemed by the U.S. Constitution as three-fifths of a person, to Jim Crow. And now, amid the illusion of a post-racial America, comes the declaration: “Black lives matter!”

Kevin Ressler at Lancaster Online, July 19, 2016

In 1776, in the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers of this nation declared that “all men are created equal.”

And they did mean only men because women were seen as property and the Constitution made clear that blacks and other nonwhite persons were valued at three-fifths of a man.

Nat Chioke Williams at Funders for Justice, 2015

One of the most blatant and significant political enshrinements of Black lives mattering less than White lives is found in  Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution, commonly known as the “three-fifths compromise” that defined the value or worth of those in bondage (largely enslaved Blacks) as only three fifths of free people (almost entirely White).

Paul Street at, June 12, 2015

…another unpleasant historical parallel is with the U.S. Constitution’s notorious Three-Fifths Clause (whereby three-fifths of the South’s slaves population counted towards the congressional representation of the Slave states).

James A. Wynn, Jr. at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 4, 2015

Although the word “slave” appeared nowhere in the document, the original Constitution nevertheless accommodated slavery. Indeed, the Constitution based representation in the House of Representatives on the population of “free Persons” and three-fifths “of all other Persons” in each state. In other words, despite the Declaration of Independence’s majestic pronouncement that “all men are created equal,” the original Constitution took a very different view. The 13th Amendment righted that wrong and made clear that black lives do matter, and matter equally.

Todd S. Purdum at Politico, September/October 2015

Civil rights has arguably been the American story, in a country where the Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all men are created equal,” yet the original Constitution counted slaves as three-fifths of a person and denied women the vote. “It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America,” the late writer Molly Ivins once put it.

Patrisse Cullors at The Washington Post, August 18, 2015

Our relationship to this country as Black folks has been playing the role of currency, property and resource. The three-fifths compromise during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention was a political debate focused squarely on determining the worth of our humanity for the purposes of taxation and congressional representation. The intrinsic belief that we were property was not up for discussion, rather [what was was (sic) up for discussion was] how much we as property were worth to White men. Our worth has always been in question in this country.  No presidential candidate has ever centered their agenda around the worth of Black lives. We are committed to redefining our worth as Black people and holding our country’s representatives accountable.

Julianne Malvenus, NNPA Columnist, at the Westside Gazette, July 30, 2015

Asserting that Black Lives Matter is to rebut the inherent supposition that Black lives do not matter. Black lives have been devalued since the development of our Constitution when it counted enslaved people as three-fifths of a person. To proclaim that Black Lives Matter is to rebut this constitutional flaw. We still live with the legacy of enslavement, when Black folks were other people’s property. Black folks aren’t property now (unless they are the much-exploited convict laborers), but unequal treatment is not just historical—it still happens. That’s why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important.

Posted by David Love at Atlanta Blackstar, July 22, 2015

The Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal” at a time when Africans were held in bondage.  In that seminal document, “all lives mattered” in theory, or at least on paper, but Black lives really did not matter. In practice, the American experiment has been built on the affirmation of white lives, bolstered by the legal system and reinforced in every corner of society, at the expense of Black lives.  The Constitution made us three-fifths of a person, a part of the badge of slavery that rendered us a criminal element in the eyes of white America, by heredity and in perpetuity.

And Black people find themselves in the same predicament today, viewed as less than human.  Due to white supremacy, we are paid less and die younger, and not unlike the days of slavery and Jim Crow, navigate through life under the constant threat of death.  #BlackLivesMatter is a struggle against the violence Black people face, but it also is an attempt to place the Black narrative on the front burner.

Gary Younge at The Guardian, June 1, 2015

As long as there have been black people in America, the issue of how much black lives matter, and why, has always been contested. Under slavery, you could literally count the value of black life in dollars and cents, while black black [sic] slaves were constitutionally quantified as three fifths of a person. Abolition got rid of the institution but did little to change the rationale that underpinned it.

Professor Everett Hoagland, quoted by Michael Gange at The Herald News, February 26, 2015

Those who participated [in the Black Lives Matter rally] also read the names of people who, according to [rally organizer Benjamin] Evans, died at the hands of police since 1975.

As they recited those names, [Everett] Hoagland [professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and New Bedford’s poet laureate emeritus,] added a name that wasn’t on the list: Morris Pina, a New Bedford man who died in a city police cell in 1990. Pina’s family eventually won a wrongful death suit against the New Bedford Police Department after a multi-year fight, Hoagland said.

“It starts systematically in this country way back in the 1780s, with the Constitution, when in the country African-Americans were considered three-fifths of a human being. Their lives don’t matter as fully as privileged white lives,” Hoagland said.

Khalil Coleman, founder and executive director of the Milwaukee-based Changing Lives Through Literature, and history professor Robert Smith University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, at a Black Lives Matter forum on January 30, 2015, as reported by Media Trackers on February 4, 2015


…[T]he reason why black lives don’t matter in America is because still to this day in the United States Constitution there is a three-fifths clause that says that if you are a black life still to this day in 2015 you are still considered to be three-fifths a person by the United States Constitution.

Smith, a history professor, does not correct Coleman’s error about the three-fifths clause’s still being in effect, nor does he provide any information about the historical context of the clause:

And that in fact what makes us particularly unique as a nation is that we have the capability we have the voices and we have the means and we have the constitutional protection to, to stand up and resist and exercise your right and as brother Khalil mentioned the constitution does include the three-fifths clause…

Robert Parry at, January 26, 2013

The Three-Fifths Compromise was included in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution counting African-American slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation in Congress. The infamous provision was rescinded by constitutional amendments that ended slavery after the Civil War, ironically pushed by the Republican Party.

Jesse Jackson, Jr., as a US congressman, on the floor of the US House of Representatives, speaking about the reading of the Constitution in the House and objecting to the exclusion of portions that had been superseded by amendments, including the Three-Fifths Clause, in a video uploaded January 6, 2011

To be fair, we should point out that in several of the examples cited above, the writer or speaker acknowledges that the Three-Fifths Clause dealt with representation and taxation. While accurate, this information alone does not give readers and listeners all the information they need to understand that the clause was in no way about individual worth or that not counting slaves at all would have been even more advantageous to them than counting them as the clause directed.

These examples surely represent the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps these writers, speakers, and leaders are taking their cue from Jesse Jackson, Sr., president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. In 2015 Jackson wrote,

When the Founders wrote the Constitution, Blacks were considered three-fifths human. In a compromise at the constitutional convention, the Constitution was written to allow slave states to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of the census and for elections. Slaves couldn’t vote, but they could increase the population and thus the representation of slave states.

The sentence we’ve emphasized in the quote from Rev. Jackson is more than misleading. It is blatantly false, because race wasn’t mentioned in the Constitution at all.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is another possible source for some of the writers and speakers cited above. Even if he isn’t a source, the theme of racism among the Founders is common ground. Before watching this YouTube video of Farrakhan, be forewarned that it contains inappropriate language. Viewer/listener discretion is advised.

The question arises, Why would black leaders, journalists, educators, and others want to perpetuate the myth that the Three-Fifths Clause proves the Founders saw slaves or blacks as less than human? While some who spread this idea may be ignorant of the truth, surely not everyone is. History professors and black leaders, in particular, have no excuses. What are they thinking? We’ll examine this question to some extent next week, but for now, recall with me these words from Walter Williams, a conservative African-American journalist and columnist. We quoted Williams at the end of part 3 of this series. He observed,

Ignorance of our history, coupled with an inability to think critically, has provided considerable ammunition for those who want to divide us in pursuit of their agenda. Their agenda is to undermine the legitimacy of our Constitution in order to gain greater control over our lives. Their main targets are the nation’s youths. The teaching establishment, at our public schools and colleges, is being used to undermine American values.

Remember, there is a great deal at stake when we seek to interpret these historical events. It’s vital that we get them right!


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Part 5 is available here.


1A. J. Hoover, Don’t You Believe It! Poking Holes in Faulty Logic, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982), 67.

Top image credit: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson working on the Declaration of Independence by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, created in 1900


The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 3

Years After the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in the Throes of the Civil War, America’s Leaders Look to the Founders—and the Constitution—to Guide the Nation out of Slavery

It is often said that the Constitution is “a bundle of compromises,” implying that those who wrote the document abandoned principle in favor of cutting eighteenth-century backroom deals whenever possible to protect their own interests.…But the presence of compromise—often simply splitting the difference—does not necessarily prove the principle was thrown by the wayside.…In some cases, accepting compromise might be the wise course in order to preserve principles that might be fully achieved only with the passage of time. Which is to say that any compromise must be understood in light of the larger principles at issue.
Matthew Spalding1

Part 2 is available here.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is “perhaps the most famous speech ever—and it took two minutes.” Yet many do not know the details about the ceremony at which Lincoln spoke. They are worthy of our consideration today. We begin with background information about the two Civil War battles that led up to that ceremony.

Stonewall_Jackson_by_Routzahn,_1862On July 1–3, 1863, Union and Confederate troops engaged in a conflict that resulted in the highest number of casualties of any of the battles of the American Civil War. Fighting occurred in and near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia against Union troops commanded by Major General George Meade. Lee hoped to capitalize on the success Confederate forces had seen at Chancellorsville, in northern Virginia, on April 30–May 6. That victory had come at the cost of heavy casualties, however. Robert_Edward_LeeOn the Confederate side, 10,746 troops were killed or wounded, and on the Union side, 11,368. Significantly for the South, Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was fatally shot on May 2 by friendly fire at Chancellorsville. Jackson died several days later, on May 10. While Lee was encouraged by the victory at Chancellorsville, Jackson’s death was a severe blow. Lee described the loss as being akin to his losing his right arm.

Following the Battle of Chancellorsville, in the latter part of June, General Lee resolved to go on the offensive, and he led army into south-central Pennsylvania. On Wednesday,

800px-George_G._Meade_StandingJuly 1, the advancing Confederates clashed with the Union’s Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George G. Meade, at the crossroads town of Gettysburg. The next day saw even heavier fighting, as the Confederates attacked the Federals on both left and right. On July 3, Lee ordered an attack by fewer than 15,000 troops on the enemy’s center at Cemetery Ridge. The assault, known as “Pickett’s Charge,” [pictured at the top] managed to pierce the Union lines but eventually failed, at the cost of thousands of rebel casualties, and Lee was forced to withdraw his battered army toward Virginia on July 4.

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the American Civil War. Combined casualties—the dead and wounded on both sides—numbered from 46,000 to 51,000.

Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg

Just over four months after the pivotal battle, in a public ceremony on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg was dedicated. A month earlier, efforts had begun to relocate the bodies of slain soldiers from the battlefield, where they had been buried initially, to the cemetery. David Wills, representing the committee in charge of the ceremony, invited President Lincoln to speak. Wills wrote, “It is the desire, that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the nation, formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.”

Edward_Everett_daguerreotype“The oration” was to be delivered by featured speaker Edward Everett. Well known, eloquent, and very articulate, Everett had served in numerous public leadership positions, including governor of Massachusetts, Minister to Great Britain, a US Representative, a US Senator, and US Secretary of State. Lengthy speeches were typical at dedication ceremonies during this time period, and Everett’s speech on this occasion was no exception. He crafted and delivered from memory an oration “full of beautiful language and logic, that explained the significance and the tragedy of the Battle of Gettysburg, the standoff during the Civil War with the most causalities, often [now] thought of as a turning point.” Everett talked for two hours. You can read his complete speech here. The featured speaker concluded with these words.

Surely I would do no injustice to the other noble achievements of the war, which have reflected such honor on both arms of the service, and have entitled the armies and the navy of the United States, their officers and men, to the warmest thanks and the richest rewards which a grateful people can pay. But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates The Battles of Gettysburg.

After Everett finished speaking, the Baltimore Glee Club sang a hymn. Then President Lincoln rose and spoke very briefly. Delivering what we now know as his “Gettysburg Address,” the president wasted no time in honing in on the purpose for which the nation had been founded “four score and seven years” earlier: The Founders “brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln highlighted a similar theme as he concluded his brief remarks, challenging his hearers “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


Lincoln (highlighted in sepia) at Gettysburg. This is one of two confirmed photos of the president on this occasion.

Among those deeply moved by Lincoln’s remarks was Edward Everett himself. The next day, he wrote to the president and said, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Echoing the Nation’s Founders

In two minutes and with words that we still remember today, Lincoln reunited in Americans’ minds the war effort and the principles upon on the nation had been founded. He reaffirmed “liberty…and…the proposition that all men [—people—] are created equal.” And although the Founders did not use these words in the founding documents, Lincoln upheld their ideal of government “of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.” Eleven months earlier, commensurate with these principles, the president issued the Emancipation Proclamation which, with “a single stroke,…changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslave people in the designated areas of the South from ‘slave’ to ‘free.’”

Meet Frederick Douglass

President Lincoln wasn’t alone in affirming the founding principles of America as the nation moved to end the scourge of slavery, but perhaps no one became a more articulate defender of the US Constitution than  Frederick Douglass.


We present a brief summary of Douglass’ early years here to demonstrate that he knew all about slavery, for he experienced it firsthand. He was no mere observer or bystander. His insights on slavery and racism in relation to the Constitution, therefore, need to be appreciated and heeded in our day. In fact, I believe they need to be rediscovered and showcased for everyone to hear and understand.

Born into Slavery

On a plantation in Talbot County, Maryland, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in February, 1818—we’re uncertain of the exact day—as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. It was rumored that his father was his master, but he was unable to verify the rumor. Young Frederick never knew his mother, for he was separated from her early on, and she died when Frederick was ten. He lived with his maternal grandmother for several years, then at age seven was separated from her.

Frederick was moved several times in during his childhood and finally was sent to Baltimore to serve Hugh and Sophia Auld in that city. Sophia began to teach 12-year old Frederick the alphabet, but Hugh disapproved and eventually convinced his wife slaves ought not to be educated. Fortunately, it was too late! Frederick now knew the alphabet, and he worked to teach himself to read and write. By observing both children and adults and by practicing reading whenever he could, he was able to master these skills. As he read newspapers, books, brochures, the Bible, and other literature, the young man was able to formulate his own perspectives on slavery and other issues. He later said that The Columbian Orator, a textbook for school children published in 1797, heavily influenced his thinking. 

At thirteen, Frederick learned from a white Methodist preacher that God loved him in a personal and life-changing way. Later, Frederick recalled,

He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God; that they were by nature rebels against his government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ.

He also described the change that took place in his own heart.

Though for weeks I was a poor broken-hearted mourner traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.

Still a slave, Frederick was sent to work for William Freeland. On Feeeland’s plantation, Frederick taught his fellow slaves to read the New Testament at weekly Sunday Bible study. The class grew to more than 40. Mr. Freeland did not resist Frederick’s effort, but plantation owners nearby became uneasy and even angry over the idea of educating slaves. They raided Frederick’s class and put an end to the Bible and reading lessons the young slave was giving.

In 1833 Frederick turned 15. He was placed under the authority and in the service of Edward Covey, a man with a reputation of treating slaves harshly. Soon Frederick turned 16, and Mr. Covey was using his “slave-breaking” approach against Frederick with abandon. He routinely whipped and beat the teenager, who almost gave up in despair. Frederick began to resist physically, though, and Covey stopped beating him after Frederick overpowered him in a fight.


On several occasions, Frederick attempted to escape to freedom. He was unsuccessful until September 3, 1838. In less than a full day, he made his way to New York City and freedom. Later he would describe the feelings he had when he arrived on free soil. His statement, a portion of which we present below, showcases his expert communication skills.

My free life began on the third of September, 1838. On the morning of the fourth of that month, after an anxious and most perilous but safe journey, I found myself in the big city of New York, a FREE MAN—one more added to the mighty throng which, like the confused waves of the troubled sea, surged to and fro between the lofty walls of Broadway. Though dazzled with the wonders which met me on every hand, my thoughts could not be much withdrawn from my strange situation. For the moment, the dreams of my youth and the hopes of my manhood were completely fulfilled. The bonds that had held me to “old master” were broken. No man now had a right to call me his slave or assert mastery over me. I was in the rough and tumble of an outdoor world, to take my chance with the rest of its busy number. I have often been asked how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened upon me. If life is more than breath and the “quick round of blood,” I lived more in that one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe. In a letter written to a friend soon after reaching New York, I said: “I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.” Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.

Anna_Murray-DouglassIn 1837, several months before arriving in New York, Frederick had met a free black woman in Baltimore. Anna Murray captivated his heart. He sent for her after obtaining his freedom, and the two were married just days later, on September 15, 1838. Their marriage would last until her death nearly 44 years later. To avoid being caught, the couple initially used the surname Johnson. Soon they would arrive and settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts and would stay for a while with an abolitionist couple named Nathan and Mary Johnson. It was then they began introducing themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Douglass.

Advocate for Liberty

In 1841, Douglass met William Lloyd Garrison and John A. Collins—two prominent abolitionists—at an anti-slavery convention. Collins suggested Douglass become a paid speaker for the anti-slavery cause, and Douglass agreed to do so for three months. He was so well-received by audiences that the arrangement lasted for four years!

In many speeches, Douglass told of his life as a slave. In 1845 he used those presentations as the starting point for an autobiography of his life. In both America and Europe, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave was wildly popular, but many challenged the idea that a former slave could become such an excellent writer—especially without formal training. According to, “Some thought that the text was a clever counterfeit document produced by abolitionists and passed off as Douglass’ writing. In fact, Douglass was so frequently confronted by such skeptics in the North that he had to finally demonstrate his oratory skills in order to prove his intellectual capacity.” summarizes Douglass’ life as an advocate for freedom this way:

Frederick Douglass (1818-95) was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator. Born a slave, Douglass escaped at age 20 and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist. His three autobiographies are considered important works of the slave narrative tradition as well as classics of American autobiography. Douglass’ work as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. For 16 years he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive speaker and writer. In thousands of speeches and editorials, he levied a powerful indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his people, embraced antislavery politics and preached his own brand of American ideals.

Defender of the Constitution

Indeed, Douglass was a powerful force for the cause of freedom and liberty for all. Yet we must understand that his “own brand of American ideals” did not represent a departure from the principles the founders enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. This point is at the heart of this article.

Douglass’ “own brand of American ideals” did not represent a departure from the principles the founders enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. In fact, it affirmed them.

It was widely known that abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison believed the Constitution upheld and sanctioned slavery in the United States: “Calling the Constitution a ‘covenant with death’ and ‘an agreement with Hell,’ he refused to participate in American electoral politics because to do so meant supporting ‘the pro-slavery, war sanctioning Constitution of the United States.’ Instead, under the slogan ‘No Union with Slaveholders,’ the Garrisonians repeatedly argued for a dissolution of the Union.”

Initially Douglass agreed with these abolitionists because of the compromises on slavery the Framers of the Constitution had forged when they met in 1787. Eventually, though, he studied the matter for himself and was compelled to break with the Garrisonians. He concluded the Constitution actually was an anti-slavery document. In his 1855 autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass recalled,

[W]hen I escaped from slavery, into contact with a class of abolitionists regarding the constitution as a slaveholding instrument, and finding their views supported by the united and entire history of every department of the government, it is not strange that I assumed the constitution to be just what their interpretation made it. I was bound, not only by their superior knowledge, to take their opinions as the true ones, in respect to the subject, but also because I had no means of showing their unsoundness. But for the responsibility of conducting a public journal, and the necessity imposed upon me of meeting opposite views from abolitionists in this state, I should in all probability have remained as firm in my disunion views as any other disciple of William Lloyd Garrison.

My new circumstances compelled me to re-think the whole subject, and to study, with some care, not only the just and proper rules of legal interpretation, but the origin, design, nature, rights, powers, and duties of civil government, and also the relations which human beings sustain to it. By such a course of thought and reading, I was conducted to the conclusion that the constitution of the United States—inaugurated “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty”—could not well have been designed at the same time to maintain and perpetuate a system of rapine and murder, like slavery; especially, as not one word can be found in the constitution to authorize such a belief. Then, again, if the declared purposes of an instrument are to govern the meaning of all its parts and details, as they clearly should, the constitution of our country is our warrant for the abolition of slavery in every state in the American Union.

Historian David Barton recounts Douglass’ quest and affirms his conclusions.

As we have seen, Douglass understood a great deal more than the background behind the Three-Fifths Clause; he understood the Constitution as a whole, and he sought to make his findings known to all Americans. Here are a few more of his insights.

  • Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.
  • Abolish slavery tomorrow, and not a sentence or syllable of the Constitution need be altered. It was purposely so framed as to give no claim, no sanction to the claim, of property in man. If in its origin slavery had any relation to the government, it was only as the scaffolding to the magnificent structure, to be removed as soon as the building was completed.
  • The Constitution of the United States knows no distinction between citizens on account of color. Neither does it know any difference between a citizen of a state and a citizen of the United States.
  • Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the constitution is a Glorious Liberty Document!
  • There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.

Frederick Douglass’ Legacy

As this last statement from Frederick Douglass attests, Americans have not always lived up to the principles upon which their country was founded or to the US Constitution. Dr. Martin Luther King said as much at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

What If?

While Dr. King was right to point out that white Americans had failed to treat blacks as their equals, he also was right in echoing Frederick Douglass’ confidence in the Founders of America and in the Constitution they drafted. The principles on which this country was founded and the US Constitution continue to pull us back to our obligation to fulfill the promise to let every individual, regardless of race, live as a free individual in an ordered society. It’s true that a great Civil War should not have had to occur to end slavery; and it’s equally true that blacks should not have had to endure the struggles they faced during the Civil Rights era just to be treated fairly. Yet it is not true that slaves automatically would have been better off if the anti-slavery delegates at the Constitutional Convention had drawn a line in the sand and refused to budge on the issue of slavery. Progressives are wont to imply anti-slavery delegates at the convention ought to be blamed for allowing slavery to continue because they did not give the pro-slavery delegates an ultimatum. Walter Williams writes,


A question that we might ask those academic hustlers who use slavery to attack and criticize the legitimacy of our founding is: Would black Americans, yesteryear and today, have been better off if the Constitution had not been ratified—with the Northern states having gone their way and the Southern states having gone theirs—and, as a consequence, no union had been created? I think not.

It is clear that like Mr. Williams, Frederick Douglass keenly understood that preservation of the Union under the provisions of the Constitution eventually would make slaves infinitely better off. With freedom they were afforded equality and rights, at least as far as the founding documents were concerned. And there was no better place to start than with the founding principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—the supreme law of the land.

Preservation of the Union under the provisions of the Constitution eventually would make slaves infinitely better off. 

This video not only provides a review of our excursion into history in this series thus far; it also helps us understand the harsh realities the Framers knew they would face if the colonies, now independent states, did not remain united.2

I conclude with these additional insights from Walter Williams.

Ignorance of our history, coupled with an inability to think critically, has provided considerable ammunition for those who want to divide us in pursuit of their agenda. Their agenda is to undermine the legitimacy of our Constitution in order to gain greater control over our lives. Their main targets are the nation’s youths. The teaching establishment, at our public schools and colleges, is being used to undermine American values.

To counter this misinformation, we must teach our children and their peers the truth about leaders who understood both the value and the price of authentic liberty.

Men like Frederick Douglass.



Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Part 4 is available here.


1Matthew Spalding, We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future, (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2009), 130.

2I noticed one error in this presentation. At 6 minutes, 50 seconds in, the host of the program, Dan Willoughby, states, “Two provisions were put into the Constitution that might lend a hand to the abolitionists’ cause. First was a clause that would not allow slave importation into the states after a period of 20 years, and the other tied federal taxation to population in the same way representation was linked.” The underlined portion is not entirely correct. While the Slave Trade Clause prohibited Congress from ending the slave trade until 1808 (and permitted it to do so as of January 1 of that year), the clause itself did not end it, nor did it require Congress to end it. On March 2, 1807, Congress passed, and president Jefferson signed into law, a provision to end the trade effective January 1, 1808.

Links to websites are provided for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.





The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 2

Examining the Evidence: Do Racist and Pro-Slavery Elements Exist in the Constitution of 1787?

I do not expect to get near the worth of him; but cannot think of punishing him by transportation merely for coveting that liberty for which we have paid the price of so much blood, and have proclaimed so often to be the right, & worthy the pursuit, of every human being.
James Madison, a Founding Father and a slaveholder, in a letter to his father, obviously troubled about the institution of slavery as he explained he would have to sell the slave who had been accompanying him—

Man is either governed by his own laws—freedom—or the laws of another—slavery. Are you willing to become slaves? Will you give up your freedom, your life and your property without a single struggle? No man has a right to rule over his fellow creatures.
Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and a non-slaveholder

Part 1 is available here.

On May 25, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention began their deliberations. Charged with crafting a governing document for the then 11-year old nation, they knew the task before them would be formidable. They met at the Pennsylvania State House, which later became known as Independence Hall. The Convention lasted from May 25 to September 17, 1787. The delegates from the states talked, shared ideas, argued, debated, compromised, and in the end were able to draft a document that, indeed, would serve as the foundation for governing a stable and free nation for more than two hundred years. The US Constitution is “the oldest written constitution still in use today.”


Much has been written about the compromises forged during those hot months in Philadelphia in 1787. Probably no issue was more contentious than slavery. In the end, the Constitution that emerged permitted it—but did it condone it? This and numerous other related questions are at the heart of this post.

Last time, we considered one of the compromises relating to slavery—the Three-Fifths Clause. This week we’ll give further consideration to this clause and will examine two others. We’ll also discuss other issues relating to slavery in the United States in the late eighteenth century and the delegates’ perspectives on the institution’s future. Fasten your seat belts! Here goes!

The Three-Fifths Clause read

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.

(Read the clause in context here.)


To determine the number of representatives a state would have in the House of Representatives, as well as the amount of money a state would pay in taxes to the federal government, the population of that state (and of every other state) had to be determined. The Three-Fifths Clause established that this number would be derived by adding

  • the total number of free persons in a state, plus
  • the total number servants who performed their duties on a contract basis, plus
  • three-fifths of “all other persons.”

Indians, who were not taxed, were excluded entirely from the count. Nor were their number reflected in a state’s representation in the House.

The phrase “all other persons” was a reference to slaves. The fact that the Three-Fifths Clause mentions other classes of people specifically—free individuals, bondservants, and Indians—and does not explicitly mention slaves “proves the reluctance of the Founders to include slavery in the Constitution.” More on this a bit later.

Delegates from the South wanted to include slaves in their states’ population counts to strengthen their influence in the House of Representatives, but delegates from the North wanted slaves not to be counted at all, to minimize Southern states’ influence in the House. The two sides compromised; each state’s population number included three-fifths of its slaves.


Slaves in 17th-century Virginia working the tobacco crop


The delegates to the Constitutional Convention addressed other issues related to slavery as well. Near the end of the Convention, the Framers dealt with the issue of fugitive slaves, although, again, they avoided using the word “slave” or “slaves” in the resulting provision. States that permitted slavery

wanted other states to return escaped slaves. The Articles of Confederation had not guaranteed this. But when Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance [on July 13 of 1787], it [included] a clause promising that slaves who escaped to the Northwest Territories would be returned to their owners. The delegates placed a similar fugitive slave clause in the Constitution. This was part of a deal with New England states. In exchange for the fugitive slave clause, the New England states got concessions on shipping and trade.


The clause read:

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

(Read the clause in context here.)

The Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Spalding explains,

In Dred Scott v. Sandford [decided on March 6, 1957], Chief Justice Roger B. Taney attempted to use this clause, along with the so-called Slave Trade Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1), as evidence that slaves were not citizens but were to be considered property according to the Constitution. By this clause, Taney argued, “the States pledge themselves to each other to maintain the right of property of the master, by delivering up to him any slave who may have escaped from his service.”

The more generally accepted interpretation, however, is that this clause did not speak to the issue of citizenship at all, but was a necessary accommodation to existing slavery interests in particular states, required for the sake of establishing the Constitution…. This point is underscored by the fact that, although slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment (see the Thirteenth Amendment), not one word of the original text had to be amended or deleted.


Delegates also dealt with the slave trade. Earlier in their deliberations—even before hammering out the Fugitive Slave Clause—the Framers had agreed “that Congress would not be able to prohibit the importation of slaves before 1808,” but that it could levy taxes on such importation. Article I, section 9 carried this provision. Here is the wording.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

(Read the clause in context here.)

You may remember that this 20-year reprieve for the slave trade was mentioned in this quote at the end of last week’s article1: “Sadly, the new nation’s founding document sanctioned slavery: at the insistence of Southern states, the Constitution specifically prohibited Congress from passing any laws that abolished or restricted the slave trade until 1808.”2  Actually, it wasn’t entirely true that Congress had no way to restrict the trade, since the Slave Trade Clause permitted Congress to tax “such Importation” in the amount of up to “ten dollars for each Person.” Taxation certainly can be considered a form of restriction.


Still, putting this point aside for the moment, we are prompted to ask, Does the Constitution’s slave trade provision, as well as the other clauses addressing slavery, really indicate that “the new nation’s founding document sanctioned” it?

Did the Framers of the Constitution and the document they produced really sanction slavery?

It isn’t hard to find articles on the Internet that make the case that they did. Here is a small sampling of quotes.

Despite these perspectives, as we said last week, the fact that slavery continued in America for many years beyond the ratification of the Constitution may not tell the whole story. To find out more, we need to reach beyond a surface understanding of what happened in Philadelphia in 1787.


The founders were born into a world where slavery was a part of the fabric of life. The evil of slavery came to America nearly 200 years before the Founders lived, so they cannot be held responsible for introducing it to America. While some of the Founders indeed were slaveholders, not all were, and many—even some of those who owned slaves—were troubled by the injustices of the institution. (Consider the James Madison quote cited at the top.) In fact, a majority opposed it: “It is clear that all but a tiny few of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention morally disapproved of slavery.”3 Some expressed their opposition in more than words; John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin lent their support to the growing effort to end the practice.

John Jay became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He observed that before the American Revolution and the establishment of a stable government for the independent states, very little had been done to pry the institution of slavery from American life.


John Jay

It’s significant that in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included this grievance against King George III.

He [the King] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

This item was replaced in the final draft of the Declaration: “Decades later Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia and Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Still, it reflects a perspective on slavery that was quite evident among numerous delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

Many would call some of the Founders hypocrites for owning slaves, and they might even call all of them hypocrites for upholding the ideals of equality and liberty for everyone without working harder to eliminate the glaring evil around them. While I recognize the tension between belief and practice, I also believe we need to appreciate the Framers’ opposition to slavery in a world where the institution was a part of the normal course of life.

Prying away an institution from the fabric of society and getting rid of it is a process, not an overnight event. The same can be said of certain personal bad habits, as well.

Prying away an institution from the fabric of society and getting rid of it is a process, not an overnight event. (The same can be said of certain bad personal habits, as well.) Moreover, while eliminating slavery and the slave trade was a concern at the Constitutional Convention, it wasn’t the core purpose for which the delegates had gathered. We need to appreciate their efforts to at least forge a Constitution that, on balance, would not hinder anti-slavery efforts—one that even could pave the way for slavery’s demise.


It’s true that the Constitution of 1787 did not immediately terminate slavery in the United States, and it even allowed it to continue for the time being—but did it did not endorse slavery, either. For one thing, “not a word of the Constitution would have to be changed if the states continued to emancipate the slaves on their own.”4

There’s even more evidence along these lines. Let’s take a look. The evidence falls into several different categories, some of which we’ve already discussed. 

(Read the clause in context here.)

Consider these points:

First, any state genuinely interested in increasing its influence in the House of Representatives and in the electoral college could bolster it because of the Three-Fifths Clause. States that freed their slaves would increase their political strength; former slaves—individuals who now were free—would be fully counted.

Second, progressives can write and talk forever about how the Three-Fifths Clause strengthened the South’s representation in the House of Representatives and how it thus enhanced its ability to preserve slavery. One writer says outright, “The three-fifths compromise increased the South’s representation in Congress and the Electoral College.” (Go here for another example).

Here’s the problem. Their point is valid only if the representation afforded the South by the Three-Fifths Clause is contrasted to what the slave states’ influence would have been had slaves not been numbered in population counts at all, as delegates from the North had wished. The Three-Fifths Compromise saddled the states in the South with a weaker presence in the House of Representatives than they wanted. Gary DeMar writes,

If none of the slaves had been included in the population count for representation, as Northern delegates wanted, the slave states would have had only 41 percent of the seats in the House. If all the slaves had been included, as the pro-slave states wanted, the slave states would have had 50 percent of the seats. By agreeing to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes, the slaveholding states ended up with a minority voting position—47 percent.

For another balanced assessment, go here.

Third, While the phrase “all other Persons” refers to slaves, it is noteworthy that their race is not mentioned. Free blacks—“and there were many, North as well as South”—were considered to be, and were numbered as, “free Persons.” Michael Sabo writes,

Nowhere does the Declaration or the Constitution, for that matter, classify human beings according to the color of their skin.

Far from the principle of equality being a product of racism, it actually struck at the heart of slavery. By making equality the defining principle of the nation, the Founders hoped to put slavery on the course of its ultimate extinction.

While some of the Founders held slaves, they knew that blacks were human beings.

In a rough draft of the Declaration, Jefferson charged King George III with waging “cruel war against human nature itself” by keeping “open a market where men should be bought & sold.” [Earlier we cited the larger quote of which these phrases are a part.] By calling slaves men, Jefferson clearly recognized their humanity.

Not only did the Founders think that blacks were human beings, but they also acknowledged the wrongness of slavery in principle.

The Constitution—and, for that matter, the Declaration of Independence—are not racist documents.

Fourth, the three-fifths formula was not pulled out of thin air. Here’s the background.

It was derived from a mechanism adopted in 1783 to apportion requisitions (the national government’s only revenue source under the Articles of Confederation) among the states. That rule was intended to provide rough equality between the North and the South, and when the idea first appeared at the Convention, no one suggested that another fraction would be more appropriate. 

(Read the clause in context here.)


Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves, painted about 1862

People need to know the background of the final draft of this provision. The clause ensured

the return upon claim of any “Person held to Service or Labour” in one state who had escaped to another state. At the last minute, the phrase “Person legally held to Service or Labour in one state” was amended to read “Person held to Service or Labour in one state, under the Laws thereof.” This revision emphasized that slaves were held according to the laws of individual states and, as the historian Don Fehrenbacher has noted, “made it impossible to infer from the passage that the Constitution itself legally sanctioned slavery.” Indeed, none of these clauses recognized slavery as having any legitimacy from the point of view of federal law.

The wording of the Fugitive Slave Clause was carefully crafted to make it clear that slaveholding states—not the federal government—authorized slavery.

(Read the clause in context here.)

Consider these points.

First, however terrible the 20-year reprieve for the slave trade was, it had a benefit; it established a date when Congress could act to end it. You may know that the Federalist Papers were written by several of America’s Founders to promote the ratification of the Constitution. In Federalist #38 James Madison defended this stipulation with these words: “Is the importation of slaves permitted by the new Constitution for twenty years? By the old [the Articles of Confederation], it is permitted forever.”

Matthew Spalding writes, “Although protection of the slave trade was a major concession demanded by pro-slavery delegates, the final clause was only a temporary exemption from a recognized federal power for the existing states.” Furthermore, while it was true that the provision did not require Congress to pass legislation eliminating the slave trade in 1808 but permitted it to do so, on March 2, 1807, Congress did just that, and President Thomas Jefferson signed it into law. The act took effect on January 1, 1808.

Second, while the constitutional restriction prohibited Congress from eliminating the slave trade for a 20-year period, individual states were free to put an end to the trade, and many already had.

Third, we should note that the final version of this guideline “limits the Congressional prohibition to the existing States thus inviting the future restriction of slavery in the territories. In this regard, it is important to note that the Confederation Congress restricted slavery in the Northwest Territories in exchange for the return of fugitive slaves. The delegates adopt this Ordinance solution as part of Article IV.” This provision read, “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.” See Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 in context.


Consider these points.

First, it is noteworthy

that the words “slave” and “slavery” were kept out of the Constitution. Madison recorded in his notes that the delegates “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.” This seemingly minor distinction of insisting on the use of the word “person” rather than “property” was not a euphemism to hide the hypocrisy of slavery but was of the utmost importance. Madison explained this in Federalist No. 54:


But we must deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the case is, that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property. In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another—the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others—the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property.

Second, it is disingenuous to claim the delegates to the Convention didn’t explicitly mention slaves or slavery in the Constitution because they were trying to preserve the practice. It is equally disingenuous to call this approach “damage control,” as one writer has.

One effect of the refusal of the delegates to explicitly mention slaves was that the Constitution referred to them as “persons,” not even as Negroes or blacks. An essay from the Heritage Foundation about the Three-Fifths Clause observes, “Even though slaves were property under the laws of the Southern states, the Constitution itself acknowledged that they were persons. In addition, by tying both representation and direct taxation to apportionment, the Framers removed any sectional benefit, and thus any proslavery taint, from the special counting rule.”


It is unrealistic to assume that the Southern states would have joined the Union if delegates from Northern states had had refused to compromise and had demanded a total end to slavery in the new nation. Thus, demanding an end to slavery in the year that produced the Declaration would have put an end to the Revolution, and demanding an end to it in the year that gave rise to the Constitution would have derailed efforts to establish a unified nation. It likely would have thwarted efforts to form a nation at all. When the delegates to the Convention adjourned in September, they had reached a consensus on most of the pressing concerns. Despite their differences, they had managed to work together to complete the task they’d gathered to accomplish. No one got everything he wanted, but everyone, on occasion, got something.5 “The framers were highly focused only on Republic building, acting on the assumption that the Union was the highest good, and that ultimately all problems, including slavery, would be resolved if they could keep the country together long enough.”6


Remember too that the delegates, who now had spent months meeting at what we now know as Independence Hall, were well aware that their deliberations were only the first step in a long, difficult process. If they succeeded in offering a proposal to the states, the new nation might be established, but if the train didn’t even leave the station, so to speak, the United States of America was certain to splinter and die.

What would have been the prospects for ending slavery in the South then?

This question is among those we will consider next week.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Part 3 is available here.


1Go here for the entire quote in context.

2The editors of Time, The Making of America, (New York: Time, Inc., 2005), 83.

3William Bennett, America, the Last Best Hope: Volume 1: From the Age of Discovery to a World at War, (Nashville: Nelson, 2006), 123.


5Most of the unquoted statements in this paragraph comprise a paraphrase of statements in Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror, (New York: Sentinel, 2004), 116.


Websites in this article have been cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.

The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 1

Defog Your Rearview Mirror

Understanding the Historical Context Is Essential to Understanding the Historical Event, and Understanding the Event Is Essential to Rightly Interpreting the Present and Navigating the Future

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”
Aldous Huxley Collected Essays

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
George Orwell

On Monday, May 14, 1804, a group of more than thirty volunteers who became known as the Corps of Discovery departed in three boats from Camp Dubois in Indiana Territory for St. Charles, Missouri. There they would join Captain Meriwether Lewis, the leader of the expedition of which they had agreed to be a part. Second-in-command was Second Lieutenant William Clark.


Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

On May 21, the group headed west by following the Missouri River. Their mission was to explore the vast area of land the United States had acquired through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. This investment is considered one of President Thomas Jefferson’s greatest accomplishments.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition ended 28 months after it began—on September 23, 1806, when the men returned to St. Louis. From that city, Lewis, Clark, and their companions had journeyed up the Missouri River, “across the Rocky Mountains, and down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean.” When travel on the water was too dangerous, the explorers carried their boats on land. Sacajawea, a Native American woman they met on their journey, helped them by serving as a guide. During the expedition, the explorers and observers recorded their findings. They kept journals, drew maps, and collected samples of various plants, all of which helped to make the effort a resounding success. Having walked, hiked, ridden horses, and rowed boats, the pioneers traveled about 8,000 miles. The painting at the top was painted by by Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926) and is titled Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition is all the more fascinating because it really happened. Yet suppose I told you that after they’d collected several unusual plant samples, Lewis and Clark sent them back to President Jefferson by Federal Express. Ridiculous? Absolutely! Even so, such an idea is no less ridiculous than some modern interpretations of past events that fail to consider the contexts of those events—the social and cultural climates of the times. It’s too bad the ridiculous nature of many modern interpretations usually is subtle, almost to the point of being undetectable. Were it more blatant, fewer people would be duped.

Many modern interpretations of historical events are just as ridiculous as the suggestion that Lewis and Clark were able, on their expedition, to send plant samples back to President Jefferson by Federal Express.

Quite often, as sloppy historians interpret the past through the lens of modern perspectives on everything from medicine to the economy to social status, they also make a multitude of unwarranted and often condescending judgments. H. L. Mencken, a writer known for his own brand of sensationalism, once said that a historian is “an unsuccessful novelist.” Unfortunately, he was all too accurate. Note as well the quotes showcased at the top of this article. As much as I disagree with Carl Sagan on a host of issues, he was absolutely right about being bamboozled. We need to realize people are bamboozled by sloppy and agenda-driven historians as well as politicians.

When studying history, follow these important guidelines: Learn all you can, not just about what happened, but also about what led up to it. Seek to understand the thinking of the times. Do not blame the people of a past era for not knowing pertinent information we know today, especially information they had no way to learn. Remember that we have hindsight, and they did not. Some even possessed a lot more foresight than we tend to believe. Look beyond surface meanings and consider implications and repercussions. Consider the worldview perspectives of historical subjects. Don’t just observe what people did, but also what they didn’t do. If we will seek to do these things, the lessons we derive from history’s vaults will be far more accurate than they otherwise would.

When studying history, learn all you can, not just about what happened, but also about what led up to it. Seek to understand the thinking of the times. Do not blame the people of a past era for not knowing pertinent information we know today, especially information they had no way to learn. Remember that we have hindsight, and they did not. Some even possessed a lot more foresight than we tend to believe. Look beyond surface meanings and consider implications and repercussions. Consider the worldview perspectives of historical subjects. Don’t just observe what people did, but also what they didn’t do.

In this post and the next (and possibly other posts as well) I want to consider the issue of slavery in the United States—specifically the approach the architects of the US Constitution took in dealing with this divisive and sensitive issue. I do this in part because of the recent escalation of racial tensions and incidents of violence in our country. Did our Founders intend to perpetuate slavery based on race, or did they in fact set the stage for it eventually to be eradicated? Is the Constitution a racist document, or does it reflect the Declaration’s core principles that “all men [persons, human beings] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

Obviously, slavery continued in America for many years after the Constitution took effect, but this fact alone may not tell the entire story. A great deal is at stake here. The belief that the Framers of the Constitution wanted slavery to continue forever understandably will make it harder for blacks to trust governmental authorities, including police. Yet, if we dig deeper and come to understand many of the relevant historical details, we just might discover truths that can help ease some of today’s racial tensions and conflicts.

We alluded to the issues of slavery and its relationship to the Constitution in a previous post but did not have opportunity to explore it in any significant detail. Perhaps no provision in the Constitution as it was originally drafted is more misunderstood than the “Three-Fifths Clause,” which resulted from the “Three-Fifths Compromise.” While it is technically correct to say the Constitution originally authorized counting each slave as three-fifths of a person, this leaves the erroneous impression that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and the Founders of America believed that a slave was less than a human being.

I first want to debunk the myth that the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Cause, in and of itself, is clear evidence that the Constitution’s Framers considered a black man or woman as less than a person. Then we’ll examine the Three-Fifths Clause in some detail, as well as the context in which it was adopted. I believe you’ll find our historical discoveries extremely enlightening. They will bolster your faith in the founding of our country, and in the Constitution as well.

Here’s a portion of what we said earlier about the dawn of the US government under the Constitution (not all original citations have been included here).

After the American Revolution, the thirteen states rejoiced over their independence, but they still were thirteen individual states, each of which, in many ways, acted as an individual country. Previously the war against Great Britain had united these Virginians, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, Marylanders, and the residents of the other states, but now other matters confronted the new nation. How could the states work together? Could they establish a central government that would acknowledge states’ sovereignty, yet unify the states to address the issues that would confront them all?

An attempt was made in the Articles of Confederation. This document was drafted under the authority of the Second Continental Congress, which appointed a committee to begin the work on July 12, 1776. In the latter part of 1777, a document was sent to the states for ratification. All the states had approved it in the early part of 1781. The states now had a new central government, but it wasn’t long before problems arose. The national government was too weak. It had no executive authority and no judiciary. Too high a hurdle had been established for the passage of laws. Furthermore, the states had their own monetary systems, so understandably, buying and selling across state lines became difficult. Without free trade between the states, the national economy was severely hindered.…

Accordingly, the states were asked to send their representatives to Philadelphia in May of 1787. This meeting become the Constitutional Convention. Delegates soon realized they shouldn’t try to fix the Articles of Confederation but needed to replace it altogether. The Convention met from May 25 to September 17, 1787.

According to Article VII of the proposed Constitution, the document would become binding on all thirteen states after it had been ratified by nine. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify on Saturday, June 21, 1788. The remaining states followed, but after New Hampshire’s decisive vote it was “agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789.” Thus, the last two states to ratify, North Carolina and Rhode Island, did so after the Constitution already had taken effect. On November 21, 1789, North Carolina officially embraced the Constitution, and on May 29, 1790, by just two votes, Rhode Island joined the rest of the original colonies, making it unanimous.


Signing of the Constitution by Thomas P. Rossiter (1818-1871)

When the Constitution was being drafted in 1787, however, ratification of the thirteenth of thirteen states was three years and a great many debates away. As they hammered out the details, delegates crafted a Constitution that differed from the Articles of Confederation in a large number of ways. One of these related to the legislative body. Some delegates, principally those from small states, felt each state should have an equal share of lawmakers. Others, mainly those from the larger states, believed that representation in the legislative body should reflect each state’s population. The Articles of Confederation had set up just one legislative body, but the new Constitution established two—the Senate and the House of Representatives. This arrangement affirmed both perspectives. In the Senate, each state, regardless of size, would have two Senators. In the House, the number of representatives from each state would be determined by that state’s population. Thus, in the House, the larger states would have more representatives than the smaller ones. For a bill to become law, it would have to pass both houses of Congress. This truly was was a brilliant approach.

Having agreed to this model, the delegates then had to adopt a formula for determining the number of representatives each state would have in the House. Delegates resolved that each state would get one Representative for every 30,000 people. Even though only men could vote, women and children were counted along with them. But how should slaves be counted? Gary DeMar writes, “The Northern states did not want to count slaves. The Southern states hoped to include slaves in the population statistics in order to acquire additional representation in Congress to advance their political [pro-slavery] position.” In the end, it was agreed that in slave states, a Representative would be added for every 50,000 slaves rather than 30,000. In mathematical terms, this effectively meant that that every five slaves would count as three persons for representation purposes, so each individual slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person. This same count also was used to determine amounts states would pay in taxes as well.

As insensitive and as cruel as this may sound in our day, this was not at all about the worth of a slave as a person. Had the Southern states gotten what they wanted, every slave would have been counted as one individual. This would have resulted in a stronger pro-slavery contingent in the House. Had the Northern states gotten their way, no slaves would have been counted at all, and the anti-slavery position in the House of Representatives would have been strengthened to the greatest degree possible. Neither side prevailed. A compromise was reached.

The Three-Fifths Clause read,

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.


So, contrary to first impressions, the pro-slavery position was to count slaves as full individuals, and the abolitionist position was to not count them at all! Again, the decision to number slaves in the manner described in the Three-Fifths Clause had absolutely nothing to do with the worth of a slave as a person, but with taxation and with representation of slave states in the House of Representatives.

The pro-slavery position was to count slaves as full individuals, and the abolitionist position was to not count them at all! The Three-Fifths Clause had absolutely nothing to do with the worth of a slave as a person, but with taxation and with representation of slave states in the House of Representatives.

Overcoming the impression one gets when he or she hears that the Constitution authorized counting each slave as three-fifths of a person is difficult enough, but even many of the sources that acknowledge the Three-Fifths Clause was about counting slaves for representative and taxation purposes don’t explain what this actually meant in practical terms (as we have here). Moreover, the sources often go on to condemn, either directly or by implication, the Founders for refusing to draw a line in the sand to end slavery altogether. Consider this description of the Three-Fifths Compromise in “The Making of America: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Nation.”


The Southern states insisted that their slave populations would be counted when assigning seats in the House of Representatives, even though no one seriously considered giving the right to vote to anyone other than white men. This resulted in the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” in which 60% of a state’s slave population would be added to its free population when assigning seats in the House. Sadly, the new nation’s founding document sanctioned slavery: at the insistence of Southern states, the Constitution specifically prohibited Congress from passing any laws that abolished or restricted the slave trade until 1808.1

This makes it sound as if the Southern states got everything they wanted, but, in fact (as we already have said), they did not. Next week, we’ll learn even more about slavery and the Constitution at the founding of America. Among other things, we’ll consider why the anti-slavery delegates at the Constitutional Convention didn’t give their pro-slavery counterparts an ultimatum.

I venture to say that anyone who gives our discussion a fair hearing will find it enlightening and eye-opening. Stay tuned.

Part 2 is available here.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.


1The editors of Time, The Making of America, (New York: Time, Inc., 2005), 83.

Websites in this article have been cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.