What Is American? 4 - Civil Rights

America is intended to be the land of equal rights for all races.

The Constitution of the United States of America has been called the finest document ever devised by man, and there isn't even a close runner-up.  It is, however, not perfect, and never has been.

In their wisdom, our Founders knew this, and provided for a means of amending it.  The Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments, implemented nearly immediately; the remaining 17 took a few hundred years more to put in place as succeeding generations of Americans identified new weaknesses that needed to be addressed.

The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which abolished slavery, defined ex-slaves as full American citizens entitled to the same rights as any other, and forbade any infringement of their right to vote, addressed the most infamous weakness of the Constitution.  These rights weren't fully granted right away, but they were there in plain text for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to claim and to obtain a century later.

So was the Constitution a fundamentally racist document, as so many revisionist leftist polemicists would have you believe?

It's certainly true that the Constitution originally allowed slavery.  A strong minority of our Founders hated the "peculiar institution" and didn't want it in their new country; another strong minority was adamant that they would not join a new nation that stripped them of their power to enslave others.  Both sides followed the pragmatic and wise counsel of Dr. Ben Franklin: "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

So they created a new nation that institutionalized... well, what exactly?  Nowhere is the word "Negro" or "black" mentioned in the text, much less more derogatory forms we won't mention here.  The word "slave" does appear once, in Article 14 - which forbids the federal government and any state from paying "any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave"!  Providing for future emancipation is hardly a ringing endorsement of slavery.

The Constitution did restrict the federal government from prohibiting "The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit" - by which they meant slaves.  Unlike any other clause in the Constitution, this one expired in "the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight", on January 1 of which the international slave trade was indeed banned.

The Constitution also forbade states from providing refuge to escaping slaves - or at least, technically made it clear that crossing into a free state didn't legally make you free.  On the ground, though, the free states refused to actively participate in catching escapees, and when the Supreme Court eventually tried to force them to, it lit the match for the Civil War.

What of the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise?  Even there, the Constitution makes no mention of slavery, though everybody knew that's what it was intended for.

Why does this pussyfooting around the direct mention of Negro rights, and the lack thereof, matter?  Because when the time came to free the slaves, there was no requirement for the Constitution to explicitly grant rights to any particular race.  The 14th Amendment banned slavery regardless of race, and the 16th Amendment banned voting restrictions by race without singling out any particular race for special protections or needing to explicitly grant rights to anyone in particular.  It simply made plain that the same rights must be available to all races.

The Constitution may not have been understood by all our Founders as applying to everyone of every race, but it was certainly written with that potential, on purpose, by those Founders who did.  And in law, we've kept to that fundamentally American principle: never granting any privileges by race, only forbidding injustice on the grounds of race.

In short: the Constitution urges us to judge people, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so famously put it, not "by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."  Dr. King demanded that the Bank of Liberty must cash the check of freedom due to the Negro race, but he rightly understood that the Constitution had written that check to them, as to everyone of every race.

Why, then, are so many modern leftists demanding the moral right to rip away Justice's blindfold and resume the evil bigotry of explicitly judging people by their race?  We have taxpayer-subsidized public-college newspapers printing articles stating baldly that the DNA of white people is "an abomination;" school publications including a special opinion section from which white people are banned; and even, briefly, a magazine named "No Whites Allowed."  We even have industry conventions proudly excluding white people from symposia and mixers - how racist is that, and how unconstitutional when done using government funds paid for by people of all races?

Now, in a sense, we can't call these sentiments directly contrary to the Constitution as originally written.  There's no doubt that, for the first fourscore and seven years of its existence, America tolerated any number of odious restrictions on black people which were far worse than these examples of the opposite.

But we fought a four-year civil war, with hundreds of thousands dead, to get rid of that evil.  What sane person could possibly want to bring it back?  More to the point, what American could ever desire such a thing?

Racial equality wasn't explicitly and unanimously part of our nation at its founding, but it was a strongly-felt desire of a great many of our Founders and their peers, which after several generations of struggle, has finally come to pass in the law.  It's part of America now, as it was always intended to be, and anyone who feels otherwise has a serious morality deficit - or, to use the legal phrase, moral turpitude.

Moral turpitude is not just an old-fashioned phrase, it has a specific and very practical meeting which matters enormously to our discussion of what is American.  We'll see how in the next article in this series.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
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