Dems assault on America and her history miss the uniqueness of our story
WASHINGTON: America, and her history, is under relentless attack by liberal Democrats. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) said of the Fourth of July celebration that, “The freedom they’re referring to is for white people. This land is stolen land and black people still aren’t free.” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) attacked the Declaration of Independence, suggesting that “all men are created equal is only applicable to white men…Isn’t it something that they wrote this in 1776 when African-Americans were enslaved? They weren’t thinking about us then. But we’re thinking about us now.” U.S. Air Force Academy Professor Lynne Chandler Garcia says that George Washington was a “racist” and that the U.S. Constitution “was ingrained with racism from the beginning.”
We could fill pages with similar thoughts. Those who provide this assessment do not compare colonial America with other places in the real world at that time, or with other real places in earlier history. Instead, they compare America in 1776 and 1787 with their idea of “perfection,” as “ enlightened” men and women would have it in 2021. By that standard, America is found wanting——-but so would every other country in the world be in precisely the same position.
When the Framers of the Constitution gathered in Philadelphia, slavery was legal everyplace in the world.
Indeed, most people in the ancient world regarded slavery as a natural condition of life. It has existed almost universally through history among peoples of every level of material culture. Among nomadic pastoralists of Asia, hunting societies of North American Indians, and sea people such as the Norsemen. The legal codes of Sumer provide documentary evidence that slavery existed there as early as the 4th millennium B.C. The poems of Homer supply evidence that slavery was an integral part of Ancient Greek society as early as 1200 B.C.
Our Judeo-Christian tradition is also one that accepts the legitimacy of slavery. In Leviticus, God instructs the Children of Israel to enslave the heathen and their progeny forever. St. Paul urges slaves to obey their masters with full hearts and without equivocation. He wrote,
“Slaves, give entire obedience to your earthly masters, not only with an outward show of service…but with singlemindedness out of reverence for the Lord.”
When the Constitution for America was written, the Framers could not find a single example in history of a society that had made slavery illegal.
The first society to do so would be Denmark, which in 1792 banned the importation of slaves to its colonies in the West Indies, although the law was not to take effect until 1803. Critics of the Constitution overlook what is historically unique is that so many of the leading men of the American wanted to eliminate slavery. And pressed vigorously to do so. Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were ardent abolitionists. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice, was president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Rufus King and Gouverneur Morris were at the forefront of opposition to slavery and the slave trade. One of the great debates at the Constitutional Convention related to the African slave trade. George Mason of Virginia made an eloquent plea for making it illegal. He said,
“Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven upon a country.”
In the end, the slave trade was made illegal, but this was delayed by 20 years, a compromise was made by ten states to ensure that the original union would include the three states of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. In retrospect, this compromise may have been mistaken. It would have been good if slavery had been eliminated at the beginning. If it had, the U.S. would have been the First Nation in history to do so. Critics of our history would do well to consider the new ground broken by the Founding Fathers.
They created something new and unique in history. Americans in 2021 live under the same form of government they established in 1787. That is not true of any other country in the world.
One of the unprecedented breakthroughs which the framers included in the Constitution was that there would be religious freedom, separation of church and state, and no religious test for public office or for citizenship. Elsewhere in the Western world, Catholics were without rights in Protestant countries. Protestants were without rights in Catholic countries, while Jews had rights in neither.
Prof. Samuel Huntington points to the truly historic meaning of the Constitutional Convention and its product:
“This is a new event in the history of mankind. Heretofore most governments have been formed by tyrants, and imposed on mankind by force. Never before did a people, in time of peace and tranquility meet together by their representatives and, with calm deliberation, frame for themselves a system of government.”
America was, and is, something unique in the world.
Made up of men and women of every race, religion, and nation. This was true from the very beginning. Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, the French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that in this town of 8,000 people, 18 languages were spoken. In his “Letters From an American Farmer,”. J. Hector St. John Crevocoeur wrote in 1782:
“Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”
In “Redburn,” written in 1849, Herman Melville declared,
“There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled that, in a Noble breast, should forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes. Settled by the peoples of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world…We are not a narrow tribe of men…no: our blood is the flood of the Amazon, made up of a thousand Noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation, so much as a world.”
At a celebration in New York City of the 150th anniversary of Norwegian immigration, news commentator Eric Sevareid, whose grandfather emigrated from Norway, addressed the group in the form of a letter to his grandfather. He said:
“You knew that freedom and equality are not found but created…This grandson believes this is what you did. I have seen much of the world. Were I now asked to name some region on Earth where men and women lived in a surer climate of freedom and equality than the northwest region where you settled——were I asked I could not answer. I know of none.”
America, being a nation composed of imperfect human beings, has made many mistakes in its history. But the Founding Fathers knew that this would be true. They provided a means to amend the Constitution, and this we have done. Freedom has been expanded, slavery was ended by civil war, segregation was ended, legislation has been passed to provide equal rights to all citizens. America is not finished. Positive change will continue. But our vocal critics continue to compare America to perfection and find it wanting—-not to other real, places that have an address.
As American Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:
“France was a land, England was a people, but America, having still about it the quality of the idea, was harder to utter—-it was the graves at Shiloh, and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart.”
About the Author:
Allan Brownfeld is a veteran writer who has spent decades working in and around Washington, D.C. Brownfeld earned his B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary. His M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia, and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonwealth, and The Christian Century. Visit his Writers Page to learn more.