Monthly Archives: July 2013

Pope Francis’s Recent Statement-An Exercise in Talking Out of Both Sides of Your Mouth

Pope Francis would have made a masterful politician. He is quite proficient in the art of double talk. Currently, he is trying to use the age-old trick of saying that he does not judge or “marginalize” gay people, even though he also does not believe that they deserve equal rights.

These statements are very common among conservative Christians. After all, with the exception of a few extremist groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, very few Christian individuals or institutions will actually say that they hate gay people. However, it is important to look at how they actually act toward gay people. And in this context, I am not referring to how they interact on a day-to-day basis with all of the gay friends that they like to use to deflect allegations of homophobia. I am referring to the policies they support and their statements about gay people. As various news outlets have documented, Francis has in the past called gay marriage satanic and called gay adoption a form of discrimination against children. It is important to note that these are not simply Francis’s personal religious views. He has called for them to be the law. When Argentina was discussing legalizing gay marriage and adoption, Francis publicly opposed it. It is important to remember that because sexual orientation is innate, it is a fundamental part of who someone is. A person’s sexual orientation is not all of who they are, and it plays no role in determining their inherent value. But it is still a fundamental part of who they are.

Therefore, by denigrating  someone’s sexual orientation, Francis is denigrating that person. And indeed, by saying that gay people’s sexual orientation should disqualify them from the right to get married or adopt children, Francis has denigrated every gay person in the world. If he had been content to stick with saying that homosexuality was immoral, I would  strongly disagree with him, but I would not accuse him of bigotry so long as he still supported equality under the law. But as mentioned earlier, that could not be farther from what Francis has done. He has made it clear that he favors a system in which the government denies gay people major rights given to heterosexuals. This is not loving or tolerant. It is judgmental and bigoted. One could no more claim to be tolerant and non judgmental of gays while taking the stances that Francis does than claim to be an Anarchist while supporting legislation to ban flag burning. But because Francis is realizing that anti-gay bigotry is so 2002, he is trying to make his bile seem more respectable.

Few people will be fooled. The Roman Catholic Church is more out of touch with its base on gay rights than on nearly any other issue. A recent poll showed sixty percent of American Catholics stating that they would vote in favor of a law to make gay marriage legal in every state. And look at many Roman Catholic current and former politicians: Nancy Pelosi, Andrew Cuomo, Chris Gregoire, Dennis Kucinich, and Ted Kennedy. People who championed gay marriage back when both major parties opposed it. Unless Francis actually endorses equal rights for gays and lesbians, he will be risking a major exodus of members from the Roman Catholic Church.

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Why I Support Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action is still a hotly contested issue. The Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on it in October, with Michigan once again being at the center of the controversy. A new poll shows that the majority of Americans favor affirmative action in general but oppose it in college admissions. Much of the opposition to affirmative action is based on a sincere belief in colorblindness. Some of it is racist. For instance, some conservatives oppose affirmative action supposedly on the grounds of colorblindness while advocating for a racist policy allowing police to racially profile blacks.

I should clarify the difference between quotas and other forms of affirmative action. A quota is a policy in which it is mandated that at least a certain amount of people from a  group must be hired. For example, if Harvard adopted a policy requiring that at least ten percent of accepted applicants be black, that would be a quota. Quotas, of course, have been present since the foundation of the United States, when most institutions had a policy that one hundred percent of those hired had to be white, heterosexual males. I personally oppose quotas, as do most Americans, including many affirmative action supporters. Quotas have a tendency to treat people as races rather than as individuals, and they can lead to people being hired solely based on race. More popular forms of affirmative action attempt to hire or admit more people from historically underrepresented groups by treating race (or, in some cases, gender or sexual orientation) as one of a number of “plus factors.” In the early 2000s, the University of Michigan was sued for using a point system to evaluate applicants. 100 points were needed to guarantee admission, and it was possible to gain a total of 150 points. Applicants from certain historically underrepresented groups automatically received 2o points. As former president Gerald Ford pointed out in an editorial defending his alma matter’s policy, race was one of nearly a dozen factors that were considered. While the Supreme Court stated that some weaker forms of affirmative action were permissible, it ruled the point system unconstitutional. In case it is not clear by now, I agree with Ford and support the use of point systems. I take this stance, because I believe it is important for historically oppressed groups, such as women, gays, and African Americans, to have representation in our nation’s institutions. If we lived in a society that was and always had been free of sexism, homophobia, and racism, affirmative action would be quite unjust. However, we live in a society where various groups of people were historically oppressed by both government and society. If bigotry had been eradicated, I would still favor affirmative action as a substantive way of demonstrating that oppression against these groups would never happen again. Right now, however, bigotry is still a major problem. We have Senators and Congressmen who defend racial profiling and oppose anti discrimination laws. (People like the Pauls claim to base their anti-anti-discrimination law stances on libertarian principles, but they fail to actually uphold libertarian ideals consistently, making their denials of personal racism ring hollow.) We see tributes being paid to the Confederate States of America. We see the comments section on a YouTube video having to be disabled because so many people went ballistic about the presence of an interracial couple. These are but some of the examples I can cite of continued racism in America, to say nothing of the examples of sexism and homophobia that I could cite. These facts make affirmative action even more necessary. While I understand and sympathize with arguments that affirmative action is reverse discrimination, I believe that it is a too late to avoid taking race, gender, or sexual orientation into account at all when it comes to hiring/admitting people. As referenced earlier, governments in America officially practiced discrimination against women and racial minorities for over 150 years and continue to do so against gays. Society in general was little better. Affirmative action makes sense as a form of restorative justice. The point system helps historically oppressed groups of Americans achieve greater representation in institutions but does not exclude other groups of people from also being hired/admitted. A company that, for instance, only hired blacks, would be guilty of discrimination, but that is not what affirmative action usually means and is certainly not what I am advocating. I also believe that regardless of what the Supreme Court or any other body says, some form of affirmative action will continue to be widespread. Many companies and schools greatly desire diversity, and they will practice it officially or unofficially. For that, I applaud them.

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Marriage Equality: A Victory for Small Government

This is going to be one of my shorter blog posts, as the point I am trying to make is so simple yet so frequently misrepresented. There has been some debate among libertarians, if you can call a person opposed to marriage equality a libertarian, over whether or not legalizing same-sex marriage or keeping it illegal is the more small government position. Most libertarians will agree that marriage should be privatized. I myself support privatizing marriage. Government does not need to be in the matrimonial business. However, as of right now, the government recognizes civil marriages, not to be confused with civil unions. Therefore, my priority is making sure that gays and lesbians are not discriminated against by government, which means that I adamantly favor legalizing same-sex marriage. At any rate, is it the more libertarian, pro-small government position to support legalizing same-sex marriage, given that government is currently involved in marriage? Absolutely. By having civil marriage for heterosexuals but not for gays, government divides people into different categories of rights based on the immutable trait of sexual orientation. By legalizing same-sex marriage, government would be taking a neutral stance on sexual orientation by avoiding holding up one group of people as superior to the other. It would simply be treating gays and heterosexuals the same. Some libertarians and liberals may disagree about precisely how anti-gay churches and individuals should be dealt with, but the positions that I have laid out cannot be disputed by a true libertarian. There are some people who believe that the government should get out of marriage period but that if there is going to be civil marriage, gays should be excluded. To my mind, this is actually a less libertarian position than supporting marriage equality and opposing marriage privatization. By having civil marriage, government is merely providing a service, albeit at the expense of unmarried taxpayers. By denying civil marriage to gays while allowing it for heterosexuals, government is denigrating an entire group of people based on a trait that, as I said above, is innate. All too often liberals miss a chance to make a point about how their views on same-sex marriage indicate a commitment to small government in certain areas and to call out social conservatives for talking about small government but not really believing in it. I will close with this quote from the libertarian Students for Liberty about why libertarians should support legalizing gay marriage: “This argument [that support for marriage equality is not a small government position] lacks substance however, because the reality is that government is involved in marriage, and so long as that is true, libertarians should uphold the more pressing concern of equality under the law. This is not to suggest that libertarians should be any less concerned with returning marriage to its original, private roots. Take the example of lawfully segregated schools in the United States which lasted for nearly a century after emancipation. Would it be a reasonable libertarian position to oppose desegregating schools because this would further aggrandize the state? Probably not. The proper libertarian position is to oppose state-sponsored discrimination. Should we continue to push for privatized schooling? Of course, but that does not mean that we cannot push for incremental change in order to further liberty and equality under the law. This applies to both segregation and to marriage.”

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Helen Thomas, Robert Bork, and Double Standards

One of the more difficult things to handle is the death of a public figure who displayed a significant level of moral turpitude. I never feel that a person’s death should be celebrated, no matter how bad they were. Ronald Reagan was an individual who pandered to bigots, played a role in destroying the GOP, and should be ranked somewhere in the lower reaches of the top twenty-five or thirty best presidents, but I thought it was very distasteful when cartoonist Ted Rall made a crack about him burning in Hell. On the other hand, I do not believe that a person’s death gives the living license to give them honors they do not deserve. As many people probably know, Helen Thomas, a famous journalist and member of the White House’s press corps, passed away yesterday. I was not going to mention her until I noticed that, mere hours after her death, some right-wing websites were already blasting her as an anti-Semite. I have no problem with that criticism. Helen Thomas was indeed an anti-Semite. She said that Jews in Israel who had immigrated there after World War II from Europe and North America should “get the Hell out of Palestine” and “go home.” She also accused Jews of basically controlling American society. Anti-Zionists often claim that they are unfairly tarred as anti-Semites. It is indeed unfair to label everyone person who opposes Israel an anti-Semite. However, the truth is that that is exactly what many of them are. For every person like Desmond Tutu who opposes Israel but has no bigotry toward Jews, there is someone like Helen Thomas using their criticism of Israel as a cover for anti-Semitism. However, what I do find interesting is comparing the Right’s reaction to Helen Thomas’s death with their reaction to the death of Robert Bork. Bork was rabidly homophobic, for one thing, but I realize that most conservative  news sources still share his views, even though not all conservatives do. But Bork was also blatantly racist towards African Americans. He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, supposedly for libertarian or federalist reasons. But does his excuse really hold water? Bork had no problem with a powerful federal government when it suited him. He was one of the strongest proponents of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and making it a matter of federal policy to divide citizens into different categories of rights based on sexual orientation. So if he was so comfortable with a powerful State, why could he not support a law making it illegal to fire someone based on their skin color, unless he was a racist? When Robert Bork died, however, he was given tributes by WorldNetDaily, TownHall.com, and National Review. Of course, National Review opposed many of the reforms of the Civil Rights Movement and practically defended segregation under William F. Buckley, so perhaps some things never change. For years, many conservatives have tried to overlook Bork’s racism, as they did with Buckley, W.A. Criswell, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Jerry Falwell, and anyone else who had mostly conservative views and either started out a Republican or became one. So why do some conservatives act as if it was alright for Robert Bork to use constitutionalism as a smokescreen for racism against blacks, but it was inexcusable for Helen Thomas to try and blame everything on Jews? For that matter, why were many Democrats horrified by Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond’s racism but willing to make all sorts of excuses for Exalted Cyclops Robert Byrd? When are we going to lambast everyone who displays bigotry instead of practicing double standards based on political alignment?

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July 22, 2013 · 3:34 am

Why I Am Not a Liberal

Chances are, I often come across as a liberal. In fact, my writings against the Founding Fathers can seem like something from an Anarcho-Socialist publication. And if I have to fill out a form where the choices for political identification are “liberal,” “conservative,” or “moderate,” well, I’ll go with the liberal label. But these sorts of labels are often oversimplifying. I do not consider myself to be a liberal as the term is generally understood. I am against national health care. In fact, I am to the Right of Ann Coulter, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich on that issue. All of them are fine with forcing people to buy health insurance whether or not they want it. I, however, oppose health care mandates, except for children. I am in favor of allowing businesses to replace striking workers. I believe that the federal stimulus and bailouts were mistakes. I favor privatizing Medicare and Medicaid. I am against farm subsidies. I believe that America would have been better served to stay on the Gold Standard. I think that in the vast majority of cases, eminent domain is a form of legalized theft, and rent control does more harm than good. I favor requiring a balanced budget. I believe that pressuring banks to give out loans to people who could not afford to pay them back played a role in the recession. I think that as long as the public is properly warned, the food industry should be able to put whatever they please in products and sell it to willing consumers. If a person wants to drink a forty ounce soda, that is their decision. I generally oppose gun control measures, believing that they are as ineffective in keeping our streets safe as the death penalty or the War on Drugs. Most of these are not positions that a lot of liberals hold. In general, American liberalism, like American conservatism, trusts government too much and wants to give it too much power. I am very wary of government and want to keep it small. In fact, I had to block ads for Koch Brothers internships, because I liked a small government page on Facebook. According to the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz,” by the libertarian Advocates for Self Government, “Liberals usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded ‘safety net’ to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.” So while liberals support small government in many areas, they also support big government in many others. Unfortunately, at some point, many liberals started buying into right-wing rhetoric in that many of them began to inaccurately describe themselves as all around supporters of big government and criticize conservatives for not being pro government enough. This problem was showcased when Pete Stark, a Congressman who takes libertarian positions on immigration, foreign policy, pot, gay marriage, and the Patriot Act, basically said that there were no limits on the power of the federal government. In short, it’s hard to be a liberal and be as distrustful of the government as I am. That, in a nutshell, is the main reason why I identify as a “liberaltarian” in the tradition of Mike Gravel, Jesse Ventura, Paul Tsongas, and arguably George Carlin. While I support a larger role for government than most pure libertarians desire, I am far too fiscally conservative to be called a liberal. The aforementioned political quiz scored me as a liberal but put me very near the boundary between liberalism and libertarianism on the political spectrum. It is an open question whether I am closer to being a liberal or a libertarian, and figuring it out is rather unimportant. It is enough to say that my political philosophy is basically a melding of liberalism and libertarianism. I believe that equal rights are paramount for any free society and that any government that discriminates against citizens based on immutable traits like race, gender, or sexual orientation loses its right to exist, that markets should be mostly free of government intervention, that individual liberty should be highly valued, that our environment should be protected, that a nation’s military should be for defense and not attack, and that there is a role for government in promoting equality for all people regardless of the aforementioned immutable traits. This ideology includes both liberal and libertarian principles.

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Warrantless Wiretapping is Unwarranted

As I have explained in some of my previous blog posts, my attitude toward Barack Obama followed the opposite trajectory of a lot of people. My attitude toward him was pretty unenthusiastic from 2008 to 2010, mainly because during that time he was weak on gay rights. On the heels of him playing a role in ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” my view of him softened in late 2010 and 2011. In 2012, I became a staunch Obama supporter once he publicly started favoring marriage equality. I remain as enthusiastic about President Obama as I have ever been. I rank him among the top ten best presidents, and he is my personal favorite, although I consider Abraham Lincoln to probably be objectively the best. One thing I do find odd about liberals who have soured on President Obama is their complaints about his civil liberties record. There seems to be a perception among a lot of social liberals that Obama was somehow supposed to be pro-civil liberties and turned out to be anti-civil liberties. The truth, however, is that there never should have been any illusion that Barack Obama’s civil liberties policy would be much different from Bush’s. When Obama was running in the 2008 general election, and I was supporting him reluctantly to avoid McCain becoming president, I was already well aware of the fact that he had voted to re authorize the Patriot Act. That piece of legislation is, as most of the people critiquing Obama’s civil liberties record will agree, one step short of setting up a police state. So it was no surprise to me that  Obama, upon becoming president, decided to continue the tradition of government flagrantly violating civil liberties in the name of national security. I love President Obama for his gay rights policies, not his civil liberties policies. With that in mind, I want to address the issue of warrantless wiretapping. Warrantless wiretapping is still used by the government, and the ACLU’s fight to stop it has so far been unsuccessful. What, precisely, is wrong with warrantless wiretapping? The reason that warrants are traditionally required for searches by police is to make sure that people are not being searched without probable cause. If police were allowed to search people’s houses at their discretion, there would be a serious risk that they would search anyone they thought could possibly be guilty, even if there was not actually strong evidence of guilt. Requiring a warrant helps reduce the likelihood that an innocent person will be searched on a whim, because police must make a strong case that their suspect is likely guilty. The same principle demonstrates why it is so important to also require the federal government to obtain a warrant before wiretapping a suspected terrorist’s phone. Without a warrant, the government can start wiretapping people on a whim. I realize that giving up civil liberties may make us safer in a sense. But in the case of giving up essential, natural rights to reduce the likelihood of suffering another terrorist attack is a case of the cure being as bad as the disease. A totalitarian regime with no civil liberties, a la North Korea, would probably significantly reduce the chance of a terrorist attack. Yet I do not want such regime, and I suspect few Americans do. Unfortunately, a path to that sort of regime is the slippery slope the United States gets on when our government claims the right to spy on people without accountability.

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How to End Legal Discrimination in America Once and For All

The Supreme Court’s recent gay marriage decisions, despite being steps in the right direction, are conspicuous for not going far enough. Marriage inequality is still the law in almost three times as many states as have legalized marriage equality. Perhaps more horrifying, in many states it is both illegally to marry someone of the same sex and legal to fire someone or discriminate against them in housing based on their sexual orientation. In light of these and other facts, one of the strategies that needs to be pursued is a twenty-eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment should read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation anywhere in the United States, by the federal, state, or local governments or by any government in U.S. territories or Native American reservations. No government in the United States may restrict marriage for same sex couples. Discrimination in employment or housing based on gender, gender identity, disability, race, religion, color or sexual orientation is forbidden anywhere under U.S. jurisdiction. Jurisdictions failing to adhere to this amendment will be denied any federal funding, and Congress shall have the power to enforce this amendment by appropriate legislation.” This may sound wordy. But a vaguely worded amendment won’t do. Let’s say, for instance, that Congress were to pass an amendment simply stating that gays are entitled to equal protection under the law. That would not solve the problem, because every homophobic state from Idaho to Florida will simply pass a separate but equal civil unions and call it good. They could even try to argue that their current laws do not violate the equal protection clause, because both gays and heterosexuals are required to marry someone of the opposite sex. Silly and obstructionist? Of course. But after Reconstruction, many states argued that the Fourteenth Amendment did not prohibit segregated schools or bans on interracial marriage, because such laws applied to people of both races. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that, while some proponents of the Fourteenth Amendment, such as Charles Sumner, wanted to completely remold America into a nation of racial equality, others still believed in some form of white supremacy and were not interested in initiating change to the extent that their abolitionist allies desired. Wendell Phillips proposed a text for the Fourteenth Amendment that would have essentially forbidden government from taking race into account, but this wording was rejected, and the result was eighty years or so of Jim Crow. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883 ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment only applied to governments, not the private sector, and struck down a civil rights bill that restricted racial discrimination by private business. If there is no clause in the Twenty-Eighth Amendment dealing with private businesses, it could be argued that companies still have the right to discriminate against gay employees. This amendment will be highly difficult to pass, let alone to get three fourths of all states to ratify. But there is no other option. By hook or by crook, gays and lesbians must get equal rights under the law. A constitutional amendment would give these rights a safety that a mere federal civil rights bill will not.

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The Myth of the Admirable Founders, Part 3

“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

“We were founded on a very basic double standard: This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free.”-George Carlin

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 attempted to start a slave rebellion and make 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. 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.

 

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The Myth of the Admirable Founders, Part 2

“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 isdespotism 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.

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The Myth of the Admirable Founders, Part 1

“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

Every year, around this time, we get inundated with tributes for the Founding Fathers and their deeds in the Revolutionary War, or, as many of our Canadian friends to the North call it, the War of Rebellion. After all, July 4, 1776 was the day on which the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Continental Congress. (Interestingly, the signing took place on August 2.) The Founding Fathers are a sacred cow in America. You could probably damage your political career more by bashing the Founding Fathers than by telling black people to be grateful for slavery. For many years after emancipation, the fact that so many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves and that many who did not allowed a proslavery Constitution to be drafted, was not even discussed. Interesting, during the days of slavery, both Southern slave masters and anti-Constitution abolitionists had pointed out these very facts. But as even old school white Southerners admitted that abolition (although not the abolitionists) had been for the best, this aspect of history was swept under the rug. Then, on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, the skeletons of individuals like Thomas Jefferson began to come out of the closet. Textbooks were rewritten to include Founding Fathers’ slave ownership, opposition to women’s suffrage, and support for Native American removal. What happened next is mind boggling. Having just experienced essentially a revolution that successfully ended Jim Crow in the United States and at least tacitly repudiated white supremacy, one would have expected to see American historians and political scientists, as well as the general public, rush to discard most of the Founding Fathers as heroes. One would have also expected them to replace these Founding Fathers with a cast of white anti-racist heroes—Lydia Maria Child, Wendell Phillips, John Brown, Joel Spingarn, Mary Ovington, among others—to stand alongside popular black heroes like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and MLK. Instead, what we saw was a lot of rationalization and turd polishing. Hence, I have decided to do a series of three blog posts arguing that most of the Founding Fathers should not be considered heroes. My second and third blogs will be posted tomorrow and on the Fourth of July, respectively.

A popular 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, one of Mason’s reasons for opposing the ratification of the Constitution was that he incorrectly feared that the document gave the federal government authority to abolish slavery. “They [the framers of the Constitution] have not secured us the property of the slaves we have already,” lamented Mason. “So that they have done what they ought not to have done, and have left undone what they ought to have done.” (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. In the 1790s, Oney Judge, a slave who had been the property of Martha Washington’s first, now deceased husband, fled all the way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1796, George Washington sent a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr., asking him to aid in recapturing Judge. Washington called her an “ungrateful girl” and ironically claimed that she had been treated more like a daughter than a slave. Joseph Whipple, the Portsmouth Collector of Customs, was informed of Washington’s desire to apprehend Judge and managed to locate the runaway slave. Whipple stated that Judge had offered to return to the Washington’s plantation as a slave in exchange for being granted her freedom upon the death of George and Martha. The president adamantly refused. Thankfully, however, Oney was never sent back into slavery, as Whipple warned that attempting to forcibly capture and re-enslave her in Portsmouth was likely to create a riot. While all five men had moral compunctions about slavery, every one of them embraced their role as master.

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