No, Senator DeMint, the Constitution Did Not End Slavery; It Protected It.

Posted By Levi

April 10th, 2014 7:35pm

us constitution

Jim DeMint is a former Republican member of the United States senate. He is currently the head of the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, DC.

Recently, he gave an interview in which he said the following:

“The reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution . . . It was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights in the minds of God.”

“But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government,” DeMint continued. “It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce, who persisted for years because of his faith, because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.”

There is so much wrong in this statement. I don’t know whether senator DeMint is genuinely confused with history or he is deliberately distorting it.  Let me just point out a few of the errors.

1. The Constitution says nothing about “all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights.” These words are actually in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence was issued on July 4, 1776 by our Founding Fathers explaining why the thirteen colonies were about to break away from Great Britain and formed their own nation. This is why we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day.

The Constitution we currently have was written in 1787, eleven years after the Declaration.  One would certainly expect a former senator to know this difference. By the way, the word “God” does not appear in the Declaration. Read it here.

2. “The reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution.”
The Constitution did not free the slaves; they were freed by the Civil War.  President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing most slaves as of January 1, 1863.

If anything, the Constitution supported slavery.

▪ First, there was the notorious Three-fifths Compromise that allowed southern states to count three-fifths of their slave population for representation purposes in the House of Representatives. This gave southern states more power in Congress to maintain the slave system.

▪ The people who drafted the Constitution made sure that the words “slave” and “slavery” would not appear anywhere in it. Instead, when referring to slaves, euphemisms such as “all other persons” and “persons held in service” were used. They did not want history to remember them as supporting slavery.

▪ The new Constitution kept the slave trade going for another twenty years. The buying and selling of human beings continued in the new America until 1808.

▪ The Constitution included the Fugitive Slave Law. It guaranteed that run-a-way slaves, if caught, would be returned to their owners.

Thus, the new Constitution ended up giving important protection to slavery.

This led Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court, to argue that the Constitution was “defective from the start.” He pointed out that the framers had left out a majority of Americans when they wrote the phrase, “We the People.” While some members of the Constitutional Convention voiced “eloquent objections” to slavery, Marshall said they “consented to a document which laid a foundation for the tragic events which were to follow.”

3. “People like Wilberforce, who persisted for years because of his faith, because of his love for people.”

Here, senator DeMint is referring to William Wilberforce. This is kind of curious since Wilberforce was a British abolitionist who fought to end slavery, not in America, but the British territories where it existed.  Moreover, Wilberforce died some 30 years before slavery ended in America.

Yes, there were many people of faith who fought tirelessly to end slavery, some even giving their own lives.  But equally, there were those who used religion to maintain and protect slavery.

Here is James Henley Thornwell (1812-62),  a pastor in Presbyterian Church:

“As long as that race, in its comparative degradation, co-exists, side by side, with the white, bondage is its normal condition…. Indeed, as we contemplate their condition in the Southern States, and contrast it with that of their fathers before them, and that of their brethren in the present day in their native land, we cannot but accept it as a gracious Providence that they have been brought in such numbers to our shores, and redeemed from the bondage of barbarism and sin.”

4.So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.”

I guess it depends on the definition of big government. By big government Senator DeMint meant the federal government.  The Civil War was the action of big government. Lincoln used the power of the federal government to destroy slavery. It was the federal government that successfully passed the Thirteen Amendment that abolished slavery.

If anything, Lincoln expanded the role of government and signed into law the first federal income tax.

Thanks to my friend, Danielle, for editing this post.
Twitter: @Levianthony123

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