In the previous posting on this subject, we addressed the question whether the United States was founded as a “Christian nation,” and came up with the non-answer that it depends on what you mean by “Christian nation.” We decided — that’s us, not you — that, yes, you could use that term if you didn’t mind saying something misleading, but it would be better to say that the United States was founded as a country that — with certain rather key exceptions — embodied respect for the dignity of the individual human person.
|"WE THE PEOPLE," not "I THE STATE"|
And the key exceptions? Human chattel slavery and treatment of native peoples, both of which Alexis de Tocqueville warned were a danger to the uniquely American form of liberal democracy. It’s a very complicated story, and we’ll only go into the problem of slavery, at least in this posting.
Where do we begin? At the beginning. The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution clearly states that actual people got organized and created the state. The state didn’t create people. In plain talk, all human beings are “natural persons,” that is, every human being is a “person,” a term that means something has rights, including life, liberty, and private property.
Unfortunately, in the United States before the Civil War, human chattel slavery was legal in most states. (Barroom bet: name the five slave states that stayed in the Union. Answer at the end of this posting. NOBODY ever gets the last one.) As a result, with the invention of the cotton gin and the explosive growth in cotton exports (cotton was the single largest export from the U.S. from 1803 to 1937), the pressure was on to extend and preserve slavery.
|You never know. . .|
Not surprisingly, Supreme Court decisions tended to be slanted in that direction, but had to move carefully with the country split down the middle (literally) on the issue. The pro-slavery Democratic Party was conservative, wealthy, and very powerful, while the anti-slavery Whigs were often radical (economic equality, socialism, esotericism, feminism, basically a grab-bag of issues without a consistent stand, which is why the party dissolved and the new Republican Party, which began in 1854 as a third party with a consistent platform centered on anti-slavery, took its place).
|John C. Fremont|
The Republican Party had such an unexpectedly strong showing with John C. Fremont in the 1856 presidential campaign that the Democratic Party got scared. The pressure was on to secure slavery (and the fortunes being made from slave-grown cotton). Their chance came in 1857 with the Dred Scott case and the fortuitous circumstance that the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was a Democratic Party hack, Roger Brook Taney, who had previously been appointed Secretary of the Treasury by Andrew Jackson because the previous ones refused to knuckle under to Jackson’s demands to shut down the Second Bank of the United States.
Why was Jackson opposed to the Bank? Because a friend of his was turned down for a job. Then Nathan Biddle, bank president, pulled a few shady (and probably illegal) political stunts to try and secure the Bank’s re-charter ahead of schedule before Jackson could carry out his threats to close it down, and the “Battle of the Bank” was on. Taney was rewarded for his toeing the party line by being appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
|Chief Justice Roger Brook Taney|
But back to our story. The year after the Republican Party was formed, a northern former abolitionist by the name of David Christy published Cotton is King, the most logically argued case in favor of slavery from the Antebellum period . . . if you ignore the basic premise that some human beings are not as fully human as other human beings, that is. Christy’s argument was that the economic — and thus political — survival of the United States and the British Empire depended absolutely, no ifs, ands, or buts, on the slave cultivation of cotton. As he concluded his argument (and we’re not making this up),
KING COTTON cares not whether he employs slaves or freemen. It is the cotton, not the slaves, upon which his throne is based. Let freemen do his work as well, and he will not object to the change. The efforts of his most powerful ally, Great Britain, to promote that object, have already cost her people many hundreds of millions of dollars, with total failure as a reward for her zeal; and she is now compelled to resort to the expedient of employing the slave labor of Africa, to meet the necessities of her manufacturers. One-sixth of the colored people of the United States are free; but they shun the cotton regions, and have been instructed to detest emigration to Liberia. Their improvement has not been such as was anticipated; and their more rapid advancement can not be expected, while they remain in the country. The free colored people of the British West Indies, can no longer be relied on to furnish tropical products, for they are resting contented in a state of almost savage indolence; and the introduction of coolie labor has become indispensable as a means of saving the Islands from ruin, as well as of forcing the negro into habits of industry. Hayti is not in a more promising condition; and even if it were, its population and territory are too limited to enable it to meet the increasing demand. HIS MAJESTY, KING COTTON, therefore, is forced to continue the employment of his slaves; and, by their toil, is riding on, conquering and to conquer! He receives no check from the cries of the oppressed, while the citizens of the world are dragging forward his chariot, and shouting aloud his praise!
The sea-change came in 1857 when the U.S. Supreme Court, Roger Brook Taney presiding, overturned the decision of the Missouri State Supreme Court in the case of Scott v. Sandford. Without going into the legal arguments or the convoluted opinion handed down by Taney, Dred Scott’s argument that he had been taken to a free state while a slave and was therefore free was dismissed on the grounds that rights come from the State, not from people, and the state decided that human beings of African birth or descent were not persons, i.e., have no natural rights.
Yikes. In other words, man was made for the state, not the state for man, and the state therefore has absolute power over life, liberty, and property. Taney argued in his opinion that rights come from the State with the conferral of citizenship; the State creates persons, persons don’t create the State. He then posited that human beings of African birth or descent could never be citizens and therefore were not persons. That this was contradicted both by history and fact is of no relevance today, when the 14th Amendment, intended to overturn Scott, was nullified by the majority decision in 1873 in the Slaughterhouse Cases.
|Finally. A good de Tocqueville pic.|
Prior to Scott, Alexis de Tocqueville noted three separate meanings of “liberal democracy”: 1) French or European, the collective or State is sovereign (the basis of socialism), 2) English, an élite is sovereign (the basis of capitalism), and 3) American, the human person is sovereign (the basis of personalism). Catholic social teaching adheres to the “American” type of liberal democracy (which doesn’t appear to have survived), while “the New Christianity” and “Neo-Catholicism” adhere to the French type of liberal democracy. America has been wavering back and forth between English and French liberal democracy for about 150 years.
If we want to return to American type liberal democracy, it is essential that the U.S. adopt a program based on the principles of economic personalism at the earliest possible time, restoring power to all people. CESJ’s proposed Capital Homestead Act is a possibility.
And the five slave states that remained in the Union? Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia . . . and Delaware. Didn’t see that coming, did you? Delaware only had about 1,800 slaves in the entire state; it was getting phased out pretty rapidly. There were almost six: western Tennessee was strongly for the Union, too. Quite a few Tennesseans went north and volunteered for the Union Army.)#30#