Sunday, April 13, 2014

'We The People' Eventually Freed The Slaves

"if there is once a will in the people of America to abolish slavery, there is no word, no syllable in the Constitution to forbid that result" - Frederick Douglass

In a 1860 speech in Glasgow Frederick Douglass writes on the Constitution of the United States: 'Its language is “we the people;” not we the white people, not even we the citizens, not we the privileged class, not we the high, not we the low, but we the people'. The opinion that the Constitution of the United States is fundamentally anti-slavery is reflected in the 1860 Republican Platform, put together two months later, which declares: "That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution, "That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," is essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions; and that the Federal Constitution, the Rights of the States, and the Union of the States must and shall be preserved." Or, as Jim DeMint recently put it, 'the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the mind of God'.

Over against the revolutionary tabula rasa of the Garrisonians, Frederick Douglass puts reform. The move to free the slaves came from the people, says Jim DeMint. People that refused to dissolve the Union, people that voted Lincoln into office. Let's listen again to Frederick Douglass: 'If the South has made the Constitution bend to the purposes of slavery, let the North now make that instrument bend to the cause of freedom and justice.'

The Constitution of the United States was no doubt 'a product of an enormous set of compromises' but slavery was not one of these compromises. As Lincoln argued in his 1857 speech on the Dred Scott ruling: "The Constitution was ordained and established by the people of the United States, through the action, in each State, of those persons who were qualified by its laws to act thereon in behalf of themselves and all other citizens of the State. In some of the States, as we have seen, colored persons were among those qualified by law to act on the subject. These colored persons were not only included in the body of `the people of the United States,- by whom the Constitution was ordained and established; but in at least five of the States they had the power to act, and, doubtless, did act, by their suffrages, upon the question of its adoption.”

Abraham Lincoln's actions concerning slavery were based neither 'on a love in his heart', nor on some form of Christian fundamentalism but on a specific interpretation of the Constitution of the United States and it's context. A context formed by people like Anthony Bénezet, Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Finley. And by politicians like John Adams and Elias Boudinot. What this meant for discussions concerning the Constitution read this and on the 3/5 clause read this. Lincoln rejects Chief-Justice Taney's view that the public estimate of the black man was more favorable in 1857 than it was in the days of the Revolution. The Lincoln-Douglas debates draw a sharp distinction between proponents of popular sovereignty and Lincoln's stance:  “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.

In their blogposts Peter Wehner and Jamelle Bouie seem to disagree with Abraham Lincoln's basic argument that slavery runs counter to the intentions of the founding fathers. These intentions were eloquently summarized by Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: 'We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately'.

The founders were no demi-gods, but they did bring forth "a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the preposition that all men are created equal."

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