I want to start off this blog post by recapping what exactly Chick-fil-A has done to prove that it is a homophobic company. First of all, it has no written anti-discrimination policy for gay employees. Second, there is the appalling comment made recently by company president Dan Cathy, which I documented in a recent post. Third, the WinShape Foundation is the charitable arm of Chick-fil-A and company founder S. Truett Cathy. This foundation is closely connected with the Ruth Institute. The Ruth Institute is a spin-off project of the National Organization for Marriage, one of the leading anti-gay groups in the country. Finally, it is well documented that the WinShape Foundation excluded gay people from a couples’ retreat. Now, in light of this bigotry, attempts have been made in Chicago and Boston to ban Chick-fil-A from doing business in their cities. This is perfectly reasonable, since it is illegal in both Illinois and Massachusetts to discriminate in employment based on sexual orientation. Of course, the United States has no such anti-discrimination law at the federal level. The European Union requires its members to pass such laws, and Canada also has one. However, the United States prefers to follow the example of such nations as China, Russia, and India. At any rate, Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s mayor and usually a supporter of gay rights, criticized attempts to ban Chick-fil-A, saying, “I just don’t think it’s the government’s business, period,” Bloomberg’s statement is outrageous coming from him. But whereas Angelina Jolie’s statement just made me crack up, Bloomberg’s statement made me want to throw something. This is after all the man who, just two months ago, was championing a city ordinance banning the sale of super-sized soft drinks. So apparently, in Bloomberg’s ideal State, if you have a business and want to trash people based on their sexual orientation, that’s unfortunate but permissible. But if you want to sell a product to people who want it, and the product has too much health risk, the law will intervene. What is Bloomberg thinking? The double standard here would be funny if it were not so appalling. Denigrating a person based on their sexual orientation necessarily hurts them against their will. Selling a huge soda to people every day hurts that person, but the customers are choosing to hurt themselves! Now, to be honest, if Chick-fil-A adopts a written anti-discrimination policy covering gay employees, I might oppose an effort to ban them from doing business, but would still boycott them due to their other displays of homophobia. Yet how can a rational person not understand why allowing Chick-fil-A to do business in New York City while banning the sale of super-sized drinks is so absurd? Oh, people say, but obesity is a public health problem. You know what else are public health problems? Gay teen suicides and anti-gay hate crimes. And these problems are a by-product of homophobia, a disease just as deadly as obesity. And Chick-fil-A helps promote this very disease. Bloomberg’s double standard, however, reflects a major problem in America. For so many Americans, gay equality is an appallingly low priority. (This reminds me that I need to do a post some time soon about how racial equality is a low priority for many historians.) These Americans will simply shrug and keep their mouths shut when one of their relatives makes a homophobic comment. They can never be bothered to protest anti-gay discrimination. But if they are at a football game, and a spectator decides to exercise their right to free speech by sitting during the National Anthem, these same Americans will be filled with indignation and begin yelling at the spectator to stand up. Likewise, many Americans will accept government involvement in areas where it has no business intruding but balk when anyone brings up the idea of using government to fight discrimination against gay people. Many conservatives, when asked about companies that fire people because they are gay, or private Christian schools that refuse to enroll a child because he has two dads, will sigh and say that they oppose such discrimination but think that the government should stay out of it. But what happens three days later, when an Anarchist decides to take a match and light the American Flag on fire? Then, these same conservatives get up in arms and demand that the government step in and pass a constitutional amendment banning flag burning. So denying a person a job or an education based on an immutable trait like their sexual orientation or their parents’ sexual orientation is your decision, but showing anger at the government by burning a piece of cloth should be a criminal offense. So many people care more about whether or not their favorite team won the latest baseball game than about whether or not millions of people have equal rights. They care more about how many martial arts tournaments Chuck Norris won than about how many homophobic comments he has made. The biggest threat to the Gay Rights Movement is, of course, the bigots. But aside from them, the biggest threats are frightened gay people and apathetic, uncaring heterosexuals with skewed priorities. Where are the Wendell Phillipses and Lydia Maria Childs of this generation? What happened to the people who care about other people’s rights and make them their top priority, even at the risk of their reputation and comfort?
Monthly Archives: July 2012
I want to start off this post by saying that my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the Aurora shooting and their families. This event was a horrific tragedy, and I doubt it will ever be forgotten. Now, there are a few things I want to talk about, related and unrelated to the shooting. First of all, Rick Warren was apparently disgruntled that he had not been in the news lately. I had become acquainted with Warren’s sliminess back in 2008-2009, when he released a video supporting Proposition 8, said he saw same sex marriage as equivalent to incest, polygamy, and pedophilia, and was then rewarded by getting to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration. (Which is another reminder of how far Barack Obama has come on gay rights.) Some time later, I was doing some research on the history of white supremacist theology in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and read about racist preacher and two-term SBC president Wallie Amos Criswell. Apparently, Warren had once skipped class to see him preach and later declared him the greatest American minister of the 20th century. Now think about that statement for a minute. I would hardly have expected Warren to declare someone like William Sloane Coffin, A. Powell Davies, Dana Greeley, or Gene Robinson the greatest American minister of the 20th century, even though I would consider all four to be contenders. But Warren also placed Criswell above Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr, the latter of whom I would consider to probably be the best American minister of the 20th century. However, Mr. Warren had not been in the spotlight for quite some time. Rather than simply continuing to quietly engage in philanthropy, Warren decided to thrust himself back into the public eye by posting a very strange tweet shortly after the Aurora shooting: “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.” The tweet is confusing, random, and weird, but let’s try to analyze it. First of all, humans are scientifically classified as animals. We may have a higher intelligence level than most animals, but we are still an animal species. Second, what exactly did he mean? The general consensus is that Warren was blaming the shooting on the teaching of evolution. The idea that evolution encourages murder is so strange that I have a hard time knowing exactly how to respond. Is Warren saying that evolution is synonymous with Atheism? That is illogical. A little less than half of all Americans believe in Creationism—a poll taken in June showed 46 percent. Yet a great majority of Americans are Christian. Maybe Warren was saying that evolution promotes survival of the fittest/moral relativism. This point is even stranger. Survival of the fittest as promoted by scientists is a scientific theory about how the natural world works. It is not a moral ideology for how society should be run. As for moral relativism, I see no connection. Again, evolution is not mutually exclusive with religion. And moral absolutism is not contingent on the existence of a deity. Think about it: in order for moral absolutism to exist, there have to be natural, eternal moral principles that apply constantly. A moral principle that only exists because a deity said so is actually not an example of moral absolutism, because in that scenario, the moral principle does not occur naturally—it is instituted by someone. In effect, saying that God creates morality rather than simply enforcing it is actually a modified form of moral relativism. Now, less ridiculous but still inaccurate has been the claim that stricter gun control would make tragedies like the Aurora shooting less common. The logic here does not hold water. It might make some sense that gun control would reduce crimes of passion, but premeditated murder? Do we really believe that someone planning to commit a murder is going to worry about a law against owning a gun? This misunderstanding of killers’ minds is the same kind of logic that leads people to believe that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. Finally, another individual seems to be going the route of Rick Warren, struggling to stay in the spotlight just like the slimy preacher. Two months ago, Bristol Palin published an editorial criticizing President Obama for supporting same sex marriage and saying that marriage had been between a man and a woman for millennia and that children needed a mother and father. Of course, if we went with thousands of years of tradition, polygamy would be allowed, and marital rape would be considered an oxymoron. And the idea of children doing better with a mother and father than with two mothers or two fathers is not only illogical but has never been supported by a single legitimate study. Recently, however, Bristol Palin’s views on gay rights were brought up again when an episode of her reality show aired, painting her family in a not-so positive light. Her son, Tripp Palin, wanted to go in a hotel swimming pool, and Bristol would not let him. Young Tripp proceeded to go on a tirade against his mother and Auntie Willow. At one point, Bristol warns Tripp that, “God is watching you.” In addition to millions of people. Pout for the camera! Tripp then calls his aunt some word that starts with f. Some people are claiming that it’s the infamous anti-gay slur that rhymes with “maggot.” Bristol is claiming it was the crude but comparatively less offensive word that rhymes with “duck.” The former word was infamously used online by Willow at one point, and given Sarah and Bristol’s views about gay people, I would not be surprised if Tripp did indeed use an anti-gay slur that he picked up from family members. However, it does not really affect my opinion of Bristol if he actually said the other f word. She’s still homophobic and hypocritical. Additionally, why are she and Willow still in the spotlight? Let’s rattle off some names: Geraldine Ferraro, Lloyd Bentsen, Jack Kemp, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards. These are the people who ran for vice president but never actually held the office for the 20 years before Palin’s time as John McCain’s running mate. John Edwards’ family has been in the news a lot since 2004, but almost never for anything good. But has anyone seen a reality show called, Leading as a Lieberman about the escapades of Joe Lieberman’s grandchildren? Were Jack Kemp’s kids (even the ones who played professional football) ever on the cover of People? But before I end this post and hopefully never have to blog about the Palin family again, I want to address one other thing regarding Bristol. In her anti-gay marriage article, she also took a little shot at President Obama’s parenting, saying, “While it’s great to listen to your kids’ ideas, there’s also a time when dads simply need to be dads.” But here’s what Bristol had to say recently: “I’m doing a terrible job disciplining Tripp.” Maybe he just likes attention from the media. I can’t imagine where he got that from.
Recently, former U.S. Commander Stanley McChrystal stated that, “I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population.” He also said, “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.” For years, many people have called for the reinstatement of the draft for a variety of reasons. One favorite reason cited by liberals is that the current all volunteer military is disproportionately composed of black and low-income soldiers. These are really too separate issues, so lets start with the first one. If a lack of economic opportunity is causing African Americans to be overrepresented in the armed forces, that is a problem of racial inequality, and bringing back the draft would be attacking a symptom, not the cause. Later in this blog post, I will talk more about how, when a draft did exist, African Americans and Native Americans were arguably harmed by it more than anybody else. In the case of the military having a disproportionate number of poor people, there are two things that need to be considered. First of all, would promoting economic opportunity not be a better solution to this problem than forcing everybody to serve whether they want to or not? How to do so is another conversation for another time. Second, saying that we should force everyone to serve in the military to make it economically “fair” is basically calling for equality of results. Third, the fact of the matter is that a draft would also be unfair to poor people. The Vietnam War-era policy of student deferments obviously favors people from middle and upper class families, since they can afford to attend college. Even if student deferments were eliminated, many rich people would simply pull strings to make sure their children get the safest military jobs. And how can you blame them? Nobody wants their son or daughter forced into harm’s way. People of a more conservative bent often argue that people somehow “owe” it to the government to serve in the military. Freedom, they say, does not come free. Well, the last time I checked, we have not gotten a single thing from the government that was not paid for with our tax dollars. So to say that we are obligated to serve our country by serving in the military is illogical. In fact, conscription flies in the face of the principles of self-ownership and individual freedom. I believe in altruism and in the value of doing things for other people. However, a person’s life belongs to that person, and it is their choice what they do with it. If a person has children, their life belongs partly to the children. But it does not belong to the government. Nobody can be forced into service. It is bad enough to force a person to undergo grueling military training that can cause massive amounts of anxiety and discomfort. It is even worse to force a person to die for you. If the government can do such a thing, what can’t it do? Is it any surprise that conscription in America existed side by side with government discrimination against blacks, bans on homosexuality, censorship, and bans on birth control? Furthermore, a draft is highly unfair to oppressed minorities. In both World Wars, African Americans were drafted and forced to serve a country that treated them as outcasts. Stories about how horribly blacks in the U.S. military were treated during World War II are truly heartbreaking. Native Americans were also drafted in World War II, although they also exhibited high rates of voluntary enlistment. Enlisting, of course, should be the prerogative of anyone, regardless of race. However, blacks and Native American conscripts in the pre-civil rights 20th century were effectively forced to take part in a fight in which they had no dog. It might be said that U.S. involvement in World War II was largely representative of white Americans’ fears of ending up like African Americans and Native Americans at the hands of Nazi Germany: disenfranchised, persecuted, and subjected to violence. A widespread historical view is that African Americans’ valiant service in World War II encouraged previously racist white people to give them civil rights. The evidence to support this view is sketchy at best. While Harry Truman may have been personally motivated to support civil rights for this reason, the effect of black service on the public and military consciousness was probably not that great. Three years after World War II, a poll taken indicated that the majority of soldiers supported some form of racial segregation in the military. In the 1940s, Generals Eisenhower, Patton, and MacArthur all defended segregation in the military. World War II benefited the Civil Rights Movement in two ways: first, it made black veterans less likely to accept discrimination after having fought for their country. Second, while America did not enter World War II to save Jewish people, fighting against a genocidal racist did make many Americans more nervous about what racism could lead to. A similar problem would exist with regard to gay soldiers if the draft were brought back today. I advocated long and hard for gays to be able to serve openly in the military if they so chose. Yet the wording is important here: it is their choice to make whether or not they want to serve and sacrifice for a country that does not give them equal rights. Conscription eliminates that choice. Just as it was unfair to deny gay people the ability to choose to serve openly, it would be unfair to force them to serve in a fight ostensibly for freedom when freedom is denied to them in America. I have now outlined the moral reasons for opposing conscription. I now want to address why I feel conscription would be a strategic error if we want to have the most effective military force possible. As I mentioned, military training and service is grueling, both emotionally and physically. It takes a certain kind of temperament to be able to handle that level of stress. Do we really want people forced into those kinds of situations if they do not have the capacity to handle them? Furthermore, people are usually the most motivated to perform a task well when they have chosen to perform it. Nobody would deny that many conscripts have served well. Yet that does not change the fact that a conscript is more likely to desert, disobey orders, or otherwise shirk the “duties” forced on them. Rather than bringing in the most skilled, motivated people the way that an all-volunteer force should, conscription brings in the most skilled and motivated, as well as the most unskilled and unmotivated. Honestly, though, while I do not want the draft brought back at all and would try to prevent it, two years of military conscription would probably end the debate permanently. The military would almost certainly see a major increase in the number of people going AWOL. A substantial number of people who received a draft notice would go to Canada. Of those who stayed behind, a significant number would work hard to come up with other ways of evading military service. Some conscripted soldiers who did not desert would either freeze up on the battlefield or continually disobey orders. The only way to get people to comply with conscription is to either habituate their culture to the point where they have a feverish trust of government (like the United States prior to the 1960s, and countries like North Korea today) or to never go to war and inundate your citizens with so many goodies that they grit their teeth and put with having to serve (like Sweden until recently.)
(Note: a portion of this article comes from a piece I wrote on April 30. I felt there were some things from that piece that need to be repeated.) It seems like the past few days have been unusually homophobic. Jimmie Walker from the 1970s T.V. show, Good Times, has joined Kirk Cameron among the few and dishonored actors opposing gay marriage. I can just picture Walker and Cameron with Wallace ’68 bumper stickers, especially since that was about how long ago they were in a Hollywood program that people actually watched. Among celebrities who people actually know about, Jon Voight has voiced support for Brad Pitt’s mother’s letter endorsing Mitt Romney and praising him for his opposition to gay marriage. Your two ex wives say hi, Jon. Confirming what everyone already knew—Chick Fil A is a homophobic business—company president Dan Cathy said, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about,” Hey, Dan: if you want to run your business based on a strict adherence to the Bible, you may want to replace your employees with slaves. Leviticus says you can! Finally, despite efforts by activists to change the policy, the Boy Scouts of America has announced that it will continue its ban on gays. Just so that there is no controversy that such a ban exists, I will quote a press release that the BSA issued last month: “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.” Until they removed it from their website to avoid controversy, their official policy stated: “Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.” The actions of the Boy Scouts of America are bigoted and completely unjust. As referenced above, such actions entail discrimination based on an immutable trait. For many years, Boy Scouts apologists loved to claim, despite the obvious wording in the BSA’s policy to the contrary, that the exclusion was based on fear of male scoutmasters sexually abusing boys. Even if this were true, the policy would still be asinine. Such logic seems to imply either that all gay people are pedophiles, that gay men are the equivalent of women (and that, therefore, letting a gay man sleep in a tent with boys is the equivalent of letting a heterosexual man sleep in a tent with girls) or both. Yet if it was not already, it must be painfully obvious now that the policy is rooted in opposition to homosexuality. If it were based on fear of sex abuse, why would the BSA exclude a lesbian from leadership? After all, a lesbian is a lot less likely to sexually abuse a boy than a heterosexual woman would be. However, as disgusted as I was and am with the Boy Scouts of America, I could not help but shake my head at Jennifer Tyrrell upon reading this story. In an email urging people to sign her petition, she said, “When Cruz told us last year that he wanted to be a Boy Scout, my partner and I were concerned. We knew the organization has discriminated against families like ours before. But the other families in Cruz’s group were so welcoming and supportive — they even asked me to be a den leader on the first day.” As soon as I read this, I almost did a face-palm. Why would she have ever gotten involved with the organization? It is clear that she did not intend to serve as a test case, as she did not begin protesting until the policy began to impact her directly. A civil rights movement cannot be run this way. Members of oppressed minorities, as well as their allies, must not be involved in institutions that support their oppression. I regret to say that as a little boy, when I was unaware of the pressing issue of gay rights, I was a boy scout. I have not been affiliated with the organization in roughly fifteen years. If I had it to do over again, I would not join. I don’t have a son, but if I did, I would not encourage him to join the Boy Scouts of America. And this is the difference between my views and those of Jennifer Tyrrell: if my son wanted to join the Boy Scouts of America, I would not let him. Instead, I would sit him down and explain to him why the BSA is a bad organization. Tyrrell should have explained to her son that the BSA is “mean to people like your mommies.” The vast majority of the time, children love their parents. If they know that a person or group is mean to their parents, they will generally not want to be associated with that person or group. This case is a cautionary tale about the futility of staying in bigoted organizations while opposing their policies. The fair-minded families who welcomed Jennifer Tyrrell must now make a choice. They can do what they should have done long ago and quit the BSA or they can retain membership and tacitly condone its policies. There is no third option. Those who support gay rights must learn to make sacrifices as members of other social movements have. Abolitionists refused to buy sugar or cotton because these products were made with slave labor. Blacks in Montgomery refused to ride the city’s buses in the 1950s because they were segregated. As a consequence of publishing his autobiography against slavery, Frederick Douglass had to leave his native land behind and go to Great Britain. If Frederick Douglass was willing to flee the country, surely those who support gay rights can avoid participating in the Boy Scouts of America. On a final note, I would like to respond to those who claim that the government cannot force the Boy Scouts of America to change its policy. That is indeed true. However, it is also true that the government has an obligation to deny the Boy Scouts of America the right to use taxpayer-funded property until it allows gays and lesbians to participate.
“I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.”–Thurgood Marshall
Today’s portion of my blog will be the final one. It will also be the most controversial. Today, on “Independence Day,” I decided to wear my Wendell Phillips t-shirt so that people could see a real American hero. Yet in spite of the incontrovertible evidence of the Founding Fathers’ misdeeds, despite the absence of any compelling excuses or mitigating circumstances, many people believe that we should consider the Founding Fathers heroes for their achievements. This mistaken belief comes largely from the poisonous doctrine of moral relativism. According to moral relativism, there is no such thing as absolute morality. Right and wrong depend on the time and place. It was moral relativism that fed the argument that gay marriage should be illegal in California because the majority of Californians voted against it. Inalienable rights do not matter in this worldview. It is likewise moral relativism which teaches that slavery in other cultures and time periods should not be condemned, because, well, we shouldn’t judge others from our 21st century Western perspective. Slavery is bad for today, but it was not morally wrong in the 1700s. Conservatives have embraced the doctrine of moral relativism in order to keep their slaveholding heroes from being disgraced in the public eye. But because the idea of moral relativism is also popular among people on the Left, it is not at all unusual to find liberals standing up for the founders and warning against judging from the lens of the present. How far, I wonder, would people be willing to take this thought process? What if the majority of Mississippians wanted to bring back slavery? According to moral relativists, would this be wrong? After all, moral relativism teaches that morality is not set in stone. If slavery was justified in 1787 because the majority supported it, could it be justified under similar circumstances in 2012? The most frightening thing about moral relativism is that it can be used to justify anything: slavery, genocide, rape. Some people will argue that we cannot determine morality. In the case of civil rights, however, it is easy. No person wants their civil rights denied, so no person should deny another their civil rights. Do the achievements of the founders really outweigh their monstrous crime of condoning slavery? Enslavement entails the rape of another human being’s dignity. Nothing—no strides on behalf of representative government or checks and balances, no Bill of Rights that does not even cover slavery—can balance out this atrocity. A frequent argument is that the Constitution would not have been ratified if a clause banning slavery had been included. That is probably true. However, this argument obscures the bigger issue. The truth of the matter is that a country that cannot survive without slavery deserves to die. And we must face the fact that whatever noble experiment of liberty and republicanism the framers devised was a failure as long as slavery continued. Equally as important, if people have an inalienable right not to be enslaved, they must be given this right immediately, regardless of the consequences. However, for the sake of argument, let us examine some alternative routes that those founders who did not own slaves could have taken. First of all, they could have chosen to go to war against the slaveholders for control of the government. This would have certainly been a more worthwhile cause than that of the Revolutionary War, which often consisted of slave masters whining about their rights supposedly being violated. Keeping another person in chains? Not such a big deal. Taxation without representation? Unconscionable. Another alternative would have been to form two separate countries, one of free states, the other of slave states. This would have prevented fugitive slaves from being returned to their masters if they escaped to the North and deprived the South of Northern military aid in the event of a slave rebellion. Perhaps these alternatives would have failed to abolish slavery. But it would have allowed the more enlightened founders to avoid perpetuating the system of human bondage. Interestingly, the United States’ system of “representative government” was not as unique as we have been led to believe. At the time of the Revolutionary War, Britain already had a Parliament with lawmaking power. British suffrage was restricted to a few wealthy men. Yet the United States initially did not allow women or slaves to vote. And at first, property qualifications were in place for voting. As these property qualifications were repealed, they were frequently replaced with laws that restricted suffrage to white men. The United States government began as an oligarchy, not a republic. Additionally, I believe that the crimes of the Founding Fathers have a special significance for gay Americans. A country that starts off with a proslavery Constitution will be slow to grant gay people equal rights. It was the abolitionist movement, not the American Revolution and the Constitution, that was the spiritual grandfather of the Gay Rights Movement, rejecting the legacy of the Founding Fathers and standing up for real equality. So where do we go from here? Those of us who accept the truth about the Founding Fathers must pick our battles. Focusing too much of our attention on founders like John Adams who did not own slaves but acquiesced to the system will be too controversial and hamper the rest of our aims. It will be better to focus mostly on those founders like Washington and Jefferson who were actually slave masters. A goal should be to remove every slave master from our currency. Monuments to slave masters should be taken down. Buildings, schools, etc. named after slave masters should be renamed. Do we abolish the Fourth of July? I’m open to it. But it would be a shame to end such a fun, festive holiday and not replace it with something. A wonderful category for replacement exists. June 19, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is recognized in most states. June 19, 1865 was the day on which the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in Texas, as Galveston had only been captured by Union forces the previous day. It therefore marks the abolition of slavery in Texas. It would work much better as the day for a holiday than December 6, 1865, the day when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. A holiday on December 6 would be uncomfortably jammed between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And while the weather might be decent in the South, it’s hard to imagine people in Maine being able to enjoy parades, cookouts, pool parties, and fireworks in the snow. June 19, by contrast, falls conveniently in the summer and allows for lots of fun celebration across the country. I realize that my recent posts will not earn me many friends. But the truth hurts.
“the Constitution was meant to be, what is has always been esteemed, a compromise between slavery and freedom.”–Wendell Phillips
Before I begin the main part of today’s post, I should explain why I have not given much focus to the founders’ treatment of women and Native Americans. The reason is that while the founders’ behavior in these areas was inexcusable, it was not as incredibly heinous as their behavior when it came to slavery. The main focus of the third part of my series on the Founding Fathers is how the federalists drafted a proslavery Constitution. In Part 2, we learned how George Mason opposed the Constitution partly because he thought it could allow Congress to end slavery. Interestingly, however, some antifederalists in the North actually opposed the Constitution because it supported slavery. Benjamin Workman, a Quaker teacher from Philadelphia, lamented that the Constitution’s “very basis is despotism and slavery.” One part of the Constitution that would be a thorn in the side to abolitionists was Article 4, Section 4, which stipulated that, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.” Thus, when John Brown tried to start a slave rebellion in Virginia, federal troops were sent in. Yet much more nefarious was Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3, which stated that, “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.” This, in effect, meant that a slave who ran away from, say, Virginia to a free state like Massachusetts or Pennsylvania was required by federal law to be returned their their master. Every runaway slave and every person, black or white, who participated in the Underground Railroad or assisted fugitive slaves in any way—Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Harriet Tubman, Henry Bowditch, Thomas Wentworth Higginson—was flagrantly violating the Constitution. And they were heroes for doing so. Some pro-Constitution abolitionists tried to argue that this clause only referred to hired laborers who tried to run off without fulfilling their contracts. Yet the text says no such thing. Given the fact that legal slavery existed at the time that the Constitution was drafted, surely the framers would have specified that the clause did not apply to slaves if they did not intend to protect the “peculiar institution.” In the absence of any specific caveat, we must conclude that the framers intended to ensure that both runaway slaves and runaway servants were returned. Furthermore, the clause is written in such a way that, were it not for the Thirteenth Amendment added in 1865, there would be no way to oppose slavery without subverting the Constitution. As if the fugitive slave clause was not clear enough, we have proof of its intention from James Madison himself. John David Smith’s Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery describes how Madison urged Virginians to support the Constitution partly because of its strong support for slavery. The “Father of the Constitution” boasted that the document gave slave masters more security than they had possessed previously, thanks to the fugitive slave clause. In fact, Madison said, the clause was “expressly inserted to enable owners of slaves to reclaim them.” What more damning evidence could anyone ask for? It is no surprise that Wendell Phillips and many other abolitionists hated the Constitution. William Lloyd Garrison publicly burned the document on Independence Day. Largely because of this, they have been hated and demeaned to this day by conservatives. Frederick Douglass, who incorrectly argued that the Constitution was antislavery, is more revered by conservatives for this view than for any of his incredible heroism or his many achievements. Lucas E. Morel from the Claremont Institute writes of Wendell Phillips and John Brown that, “These so-called freedom-lovers sought to free Americans by preaching against the limitations of constitutional self-government and free elections. Bennett admits these and other abolitionists “inflame” public opinion and ‘create contempt’ for the Constitution, but he applauds them for it because of the purity of their motives.” Morel apparently does not respect Phillips’ and Brown’s principled, unpopular stand in favor of immediate emancipation and racial equality. Yet whether anyone likes it or not, the Constitution’s protection for slavery is perhaps more damaging to the reputation of the Founding Fathers than any other historical evidence. Were it not for the Constitution, we might be able to lionize framers like John Adams, who never owned slaves, or Benjamin Franklin, who freed his slaves and became involved in the antislavery movement. Yet every man who endorsed the final draft of the Constitution, from the staunchly proslavery Pierce Butler to the antislavery Benjamin Franklin, bears responsibility for the horrors inflicted on enslaved blacks in America for nearly eighty years after the Constitution was ratified.
“If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”–Thomas Day
Today, I want to start off my criticism of the Founding Fathers by addressing the common argument issued in their defense that they ended the African slave trade. The argument goes that the Constitution was somehow anti-slave trade/that Thomas Jefferson signed legislation outlawing the trade, and that this means that the Founding Fathers were antislavery in a meaningful sense. Well, first of all, the Constitution did not prohibit the African slave trade. It forbade Congress from banning the trade for twenty years, after which time, it stipulated, Congress could but was not obligated to ban it. Very well, the apologists say, but after the 20 year timetable was up, Jefferson almost immediately banned the trade. That’s true. However, people who use this fact to defend the Founding Fathers are making the mistake of confusing opposition to the African Slave Trade with opposition to slavery in general. This is inaccurate for several reasons. Since we live in a predominantly antislavery world, it may seem strange that someone could oppose the African Slave Trade and support slavery in America. In fact, however, this was a common opinion. In the first place, many sanctimonious slave owners could reconcile themselves to owning people born into bondage but could not stomach the kidnapping and importation of people who might have been born free, especially when said people were transported across the ocean in cramped, disease-filled ships. Second, much of the opposition to the trade was economic rather than moral. This was illustrated at the Constitutional Convention. Antifederalist and Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, George Mason, complained that the Constitution did not protect slavery in the South, but he also railed against the African Slave Trade and demanded that Congress ban it. When Mason tried to defend his views on the Slave Trade by lecturing on the evil effects of slavery, Connecticut delegate Oliver Ellsworth astutely suggested that if slavery was as destructive as Mason suggested, Congress should ban slavery itself, not just the trade. This was a stand that George Mason could not bring himself to take. Other Virginia delegates were similarly in favor of banning the African Slave Trade. In his book, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, Paul Finkelman describes how Virginians felt that importation of slaves from outside the state decreased the financial value of every individual slave. After all, an important law of economics is that supply decreases demand. Having already amassed a large labor force of enslaved blacks, Virginia’s powerbrokers decided that it was in their best interests to support ending the African Slave Trade. Finally, having too many slaves could lead to a situation where whites were outnumbered and a slave rebellion took place. With these facts in mind, it is no surprise that slavery in the United States continued for nearly sixty years after Congress banned the trade. To claim that founders like George Mason and Thomas Jefferson were antislavery because they opposed the African Slave Trade ignores the political nuances and economics of the era. Another argument made in favor of slave-owning founders is that they could not free their slaves because the law did not allow them to. It is true that well-meaning slave owners were often inhibited from freeing their slaves due to red tape. However, this excuse does not exonerate the Founding Fathers. A slave-owner who truly wanted to free their slaves but was prevented from doing so by law could be expected to work for abolition while covertly encouraging said slaves to run away and not enforcing the system of slavery in any way. Not one of the most revered Southern founders—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, Patrick Henry, James Madison—did all of these things. When Oney Judge, a slave on Washington’s plantation ran away, George Washington unsuccessfully tried to have her recaptured. Additionally, he signed a fugitive slave law as president. Thomas Jefferson’s refusal to respect the humanity of African Americans is well illustrated in the case of a slave he owned named Billy. The book Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a Builder skillfully describes the attempts by Jefferson to crush Billy’s rebellious spirit. Pushed to the breaking point, Billy ran to Monticello to appeal to Jefferson, but the author of the Declaration of Independence sent him back to the overseer. In another case, a slave named Hercules ran away and was jailed. Jefferson showed leniency, but the way he went about it shows his acquiescence to the system of slavery. In a letter encouraging his overseer to be lenient toward Hercules, Jefferson made two damning statements. First, he referred to Hercules’ running away as “folly” and stated that he deserved punishment. Second, he warned his overseer not to reveal to Hercules that it was Jefferson who had suggested leniency. Jefferson did not want slaves to believe that they could run away and expect him to shield them from punishment if they were caught. In a similar situation involving a slave named Phil, Jefferson wrote that, “altho I had let them all know that their runnings away should be punished, yet Phil’s character is not that of a runaway.” Jefferson treated his slaves in a manner less cruel than some masters but not liberally enough to make them forget that they were his property. Slaves who repeatedly refused to obey his rules were sometimes whipped. In this respect, James Madison may be judged less harshly, since he avoided whipping as a punishment. Still, he instructed an overseer to, “treat the Negroes with all the humanity & kindness consistent with their necessary subordination and work.” A favorite story of Madison’s defenders is of how he arranged for a rebellious slave named Billey to be freed. Indeed, part of Madison’s motivation in this case was humanitarian. However, he also wrote that, “I am persuaded his mind is too thoroughly tainted [from living in Philadelphia, where slavery was illegal] to be a fit companion for fellow shaves in Virginia.” When Madison died in 1836, his will stipulated that slaves who were deemed to be misbehaving could be sold. In the case of George Mason, one might have expected a slave-owner who so hated slavery to support a law abolishing it. Yet as referenced earlier, Mason balked at the idea that the Constitution might allow Congress to end slavery. (In reality, the Constitution, at least in the form that it was ratified, said the exact opposite.) And what of Patrick Henry? He wrote that he owned slaves because he was, “drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them.” Pathetic. Of these five Virginians, only George Washington freed all of his slaves. Washington did so in his will, demonstrating that he knew slavery to be wrong and decided to keep his slaves in bondage until he was dead and no longer needed them. While all five men had moral compunctions about slavery, every one of them embraced their role as master.