Disputes over the founding of the nation continue to this day

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Regarding “We Can’t Erase Racism from the History Books” by Alma Rutgers (May 15):

Alma Rutgers states that Kimberly Fiorello said slavery ended with the Gettysburg Address. If Ms. Fiorello said that, she obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

However, in her essay, Alma Rutgers also has some major errors.

She talks about what she calls “the truth that our founders meant only white landowners in their reference to all men as equals.” She’ll be glad to know that if she went back to pre-Civil War America in 1860 and said that, the slave owners would welcome her with open arms, because what she said would mean she was of theirs. side.

This vision of the Declaration of Independence was created by slave owners in the 1850s to be used as a defense as the rest of America became increasingly anti-slavery. This became a central issue in the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, and can be illustrated by quoting them.

Douglas took the position of the declaration applying only to white men in hopes of gaining support from pro-slavery forces. Lincoln criticized this.

As he pointed out, slavery existed in the days of the founders, and there was no way of winning the revolutionary war or, later, of forming the world’s first real attempt at democratic government, without the participation slave owners. But the Founders believed that slavery was already “on the way to ultimate extinction”. (Slavery at the time was becoming less and less profitable, and they could not have known that the future invention of the cotton gin would make it viable again). Lincoln said that slavery was “a vast moral evil”, and it could be demonstrated “by the writings of those who gave us the blessings of freedom…that they so regarded it”.

The Founders “defined…in what respect they considered all created men equal—equal with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s what they said and that’s what they meant. They did not want to affirm the obvious lie that everyone then enjoyed this equality equally, nor that they were going to confer it on them immediately. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They simply intended to declare the law so that its application could follow as quickly as circumstances would permit. They wanted to establish a standard maxim for free men which should be familiar to all and revered by all, constantly sought after and constantly worked on…and so constantly extend and deepen its influence and increase the happiness and value of life for all. people of all colors everywhere. The declaration was a declaration of the natural rights of all and the goal for which they fought.

As for the claim that the founders believed the declaration applied only to white men, and that it had been America’s view from the start, Lincoln challenged Douglas: “I believe that all records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independence until three years ago, one would search in vain for a single assertion, by a single man, that the Negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence. ‘independence.


Lincoln, of course, did not have the Internet, and I guess it is possible that such a comment could be found today. But would Lincoln have issued this challenge if the slaveholder’s point of view – and that of Alma Rutgers – had had real support in the years before 1855? Could he have taken up this challenge?

The idea that the Declaration of Independence was intended by its signatories to apply only to white male landowners was floated by proponents of slavery more than 70 years after the declaration was written, and is not true.

To briefly cover another topic: Rutgers also says that the 3/5 compromise in the Constitution “gave slave states more congressional seats and electoral votes.” When the Constitution was first written, debated and disputed, the South wanted all of its slaves to be counted as individuals to give them more power. The 3/5 compromise was not an attempt to increase the power of the slaver but to decrease it from what he wanted.

Greg Darak lives in Trumbull.

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