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.

Salem_Poor_stamp_1975

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,_half-length_portrait_of_Jackson_seated_at_a_table,_July_1,_1983_edit

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.

Watch Jesse Lee Peterson’s video “How Black Liberals Exploit Black America & Divide The Races!

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.”

Frederickdouglass

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 counterpunch.org, 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

Coleman:

…[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 Consortiumnews.com, 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 youtube.com 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.

Note:

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.”

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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 enslaved 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.

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We present a brief summary of Douglass’s 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.

Freedom!

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 cliffsnotes.com, “Some thought that the text was a clever counterfeit document produced by abolitionists and passed off as Douglass’s 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.”

History.com summarizes Douglass’s 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’s 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’s “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’s 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’s 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’s 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,

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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.

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

Part 4 is available here.

Notes:

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.

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