You may have noticed some of the countless contenders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination have claimed that the country they wish to lead was founded on racism.
As noted by Rich Lowry, Beto O’Rourke recently said “This country, though we would like to think otherwise […] was founded on racism, has persisted through racism and is racist today,” while Bernie Sanders claimed the US “was ‘created’ in large part ‘on racist principles.’”
Even the country’s “paper of record,” The New York Times, is getting in on this action. Its new “1619 Project,” which marks the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves brought to our shores, “seeks nothing less than ‘to reframe the country’s history'” and put slavery and the works of African-Americans “at the very center” of the country’s story.
Is racism the “essence” of America? Hardly, Lowry says.
It doesn’t explain why any reference to slavery was kept out of the Constitution. James Madison, per his notes during the drafting convention, “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”
The careful avoidance of the term was subsequently used to buttress the position of opponents of slavery from John Quincy Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Frederick Douglass. The great black abolitionist asked, “If the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument,” how could it be that “neither slavery, slaveholding nor slave . . . be anywhere found in it?”
The notion of slavery as a founding principle doesn’t explain the passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, prior to the adoption of the Constitution, setting out the terms of settlement in the swath of territory between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. It stipulated that “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.”
It doesn’t explain why the Constitution permitted the prohibition of the slave trade as of 1808, when it was indeed prohibited.
As historian “Next, You’re Gonna Be In Here Regurgitatin’” Gordon Wood said, “The Revolution suddenly and effectively ended the cultural climate that had allowed black slavery, as well as other forms of bondage and unfreedom …”
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese had noted that “Europeans did not outdo others in enslaving people or treating slaves viciously.” What they did do was “stir moral condemnation of slavery and roused mass movements against it.”
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