Earlier this week, there was an uproar over a publisher’s plans to release an edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that would replace the N-word with the word “slave” in order to make the book more “appropriate” for schoolchildren. This kind of political correctness offers no justice to the descendants of slaves — it merely papers over a terrible ugliness that is an essential part of American history.
Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.
The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.
As Jamelle Bouie wrote about the Huck Finn controversy, “If there’s anything great about this country, it’s in our ability to account for and overcome our mistakes.” We shouldn’t pretend we didn’t make them.
This. This. THIS.
A bit about the 3/5s compromise (it’s random history lesson day!)
The 3/5s compromise wasn’t necessarily about the slaves themselves. It was about representation in the new government. Pre-constitution days, well, still today i guess, a state’s representation & power in the government was poportional to their population. [please forgive the horrible paraphrasing i’m about to do] Southern states, one day, were like “hey, our populations are HUGE, why don’t we have more power?” Northern states were like “umm… yeah, no. You can’t count slave populations. It doesn’t work that way.” See, both sides were afraid of the other side getting to powerful. And honestly, the south just wanted to be power greedy & ensure that they could keep their slaves and spread slavery throughout the country into new lands. The north wanted to contain slavery and keep it from spreading. So the South tried to push that they get more representation by counting their slaves as part of their population. The north wanted the slaved to not count at all. But, they needed the southern states to sign the new constitution, thus the 3/5s compromise. I just had to add that because i feel as though the way we come to talk about the compromise is misunderstood. In reality, if slaves weren’t counted at all, the north might have had the political power to end slavery sooner, or contain it better, or keep a tighter grip on slaveholders.
But don’t get me wrong, i think the way slaves and blacks were treated politically was abhorrent. The civil war wasn’t about freeing slaves, it was about the North & South and power struggles. The slaves were only freed to force the south into submission. It was strategy, not humanitarianism that freed the slaves.
Free blacks were given the right to vote because northern republicans (now sorta kinda present day democrats) wanted blacks to vote for them. They helped franchise blacks and fight off southern democrats only because they wanted the votes. As soon as the northern republicans realized that they could get votes from whites in the mid west, they completely left blacks in the south the fend for themselves, they were basically disenfranchised all over again, violence in the south rose and blacks basically couldn’t vote safely again until the civil rights era.
It’s disgusting, how we can pretend to care about the rights of oppressed groups ONLY when it is politically beneficial. We still do this today. It makes me angry. Everyone in power who’s only using their political influence to pull strings and piss off in capitol hill as opposed to FIXING THIS FUCK UP COUNTRY can seriously kiss my ass. Our representatives don’t represent us, the represent themselves. The sooner we figure it out as a whole and demand real politics, the better.
wow. This started out as a history lesson and ended in a rant. But, if you pay close attention to history, you should always be angry - in my opinion.