From Slavery to the White House:
What Barack Obama's Victory Says About America and the Legacy of the Founders
by Brian Tubbs
Yesterday, the American people resoundingly elected Barack Obama, an African American, to the presidency of the United States. The tears of joy seen on the faces of African Americans was worthy of all our celebration. Indeed, the issues of the presidential campaign aside, the election of Barack Obama is a huge symbolic step forward in our quest to end racism in America.
Barack Obama himself couched his victory speech in the ideals of the nation's founding. Last night, he told cheering throngs:
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."
The Stain of Segregation and Slavery
Just forty years prior to Obama's victory speech, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was felled by an assassin's bullet, and the United States (particularly in the South) was embroiled in a highly divisive battle over segregation.
A century before that, the nation was ravaged by civil war -- a conflict that claimed the lives of over 600,000 Americans and maimed in body or spirit tens of thousands more. Slavery and race relations were at the heart of that conflict.
And less than a century before that, our Founding Fathers (meeting in Philadelphia) hammered out a compromise that reduced black citizen status to 3/5ths of a person for purposes of taxation and representation and protected the dreadful slave trade for 20 more years. While most of the men at the Constitutional Convention were no fans of slavery, the compromise was necessary, they felt, to achieve a new form of government and keep the United States the United States.
While I am no fan of those who routinely bash America for all its faults, let's agree that the legacy of slavery and segregation are stains on America's honor. To lift ourselves from that past is indeed worthy of celebration.
What about the Founders?
Like Martin Luther King, Barack Obama generally speaks approvingly of the Founding Fathers. While he acknowledges the sins of our nation's past, he does not - at least in public rherotic - lay the blame for those sins at the Founders' doorstep. For this, I am grateful.
I personally do not participate with those who denigrate our Founders. Yes, there were some Founders (though not many) who engaged in personally abhorrent practices in relation to slavery and some (even fewer) who publicly championed it.
For the most part, the Founders recognized the inconsistency between slavery and the American cause. A majority understood that a nation which condoned slavery was not truly dedicated to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
George Mason said that slavery made "petty tyrants of us all" and James Madison criticized slavery for being based on the "mere distinction of color." Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence (modified to appease the Deep South) condemned the slave trade (and blamed it on King George III). Quasi-abolitionist Ben Franklin wrote approvingly of "a disposition to abolish slavery [which] prevails in North America."
Many acted on their anti-slavery convictions by starting or joining abolitionist societies, including Constitution signer Robert Livingston, who wrote:
“I would most ardently wish to become a member of it [the abolitionist society in New York] and... I can safely promise them that neither my tongue, nor my pen, nor purse shall be wanting to promote the abolition of what to me appears so inconsistent with humanity and Christianity... May the great and the equal Father of the human race, who has expressly declared His abhorrence of oppression, and that He is no respecter of persons, succeed a design so laudably calculated to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”
Even some who owned slaves spoke out against it, including Thomas Jefferson, who wrote famously: "Indeed, I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just, and His justice cannot sleep forever." What would Jefferson say today?
The American Creation blog is about (well) the American Creation. And, so, I'm keeping my posting here focused on the issues of race and America's founding. I hope no one will object, as I believe yesterday's historic election is worthy of some acknowledgment on this blog.
That said, if you'll permit me a quick personal aside (one unrelated to American Creation)....I want to make clear to my readers that there are issues in which I strongly (yes, passionately) disagree with Barack Obama. It remains to be seen how Obama will govern or proceed on those issues.
However, I want to also make clear that he is my incoming President, and will (from this day forward) be in my prayers. And, for this historic election, he deserves our congratulations and all our prayers.
I also want to close with a controversial speculation. While we can't know (for sure) how our Founders would feel about yesterday, I believe that - if they have been able or had been able to observe the history of the US (and how it's played out over the last 220 plus years), they would be PLEASED that the color barrier has been breached with the highest office of the land.
Some will probably disagree with that statement, believing that the Founders were hopelessly racist or anachronistic. I think this is (once again) very superficial and shallow. The Founders were men (and women) within their time, but they were also men who could and did think and look ahead. Given the benefit of observing America through its history and struggles, I think most would have come to the conclusion that slavery and segregation were wrong -- and that racial equality was a worthy goal for our people. In this respect, they too would have shed a few tears of joy at last night's historic election.