Today's blog post owes an H/T to a regular reader of this blog with nothing better to do in retirement. Tom-in-Wisconsin knows his history unlike Bachmann Moron Overdrive (R-MN) and he forwarded a link to today's Op-Ed essay by John Nichols. If this is (fair & balanced) 4th of July ass-kickin', so be it.
[x Madison Fishwrap]
A Lesson In U.S. History For Sunshine "Patriots"
By John Nichols
Tag Cloud of the following article
Michele Bachmann was so sure that the Supreme Court would overturn the Affordable Care Act that she hustled down to the chambers of the high court last Thursday morning and got a ticket to the session where the ruling would be announced.
She even tweeted a picture of herself holding the ticket that would allow her to personally hear the announcement that the governmental intervention to ensure that all Americans would have access to health care was unconstitutional.
But Bachmann and all the other tea party “patriots” learned last week that they know a good deal less about the U.S. Constitution than they thought.
Should we be surprised? Of course not.
Bachmann and the fantasists who would remake the radical tea party of 1773 as some sort of conservative crusade have made a habit of getting the story of America’s founding — and the experiment that has extended from it — wrong.
Last year, when she still imagined herself as presidential timber, the tea party “patriot” revealed she knew so little about the birth of these United States that she made John Quincy Adams — the son of a somewhat disappointing Founder (John) and the cousin of one of the true revolutionaries (Sam) — into something he was not.
Bachmann had for some time peddled the notion that the nation’s Founding Fathers worked “tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” She is simply wrong about this. The last of the revolutionaries generally recognized by historians as the Founders — signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and their chief political and military comrades — passed in 1836, with the death of James Madison. That was 27 years before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, and 29 years before the end of the Civil War.
When she appeared on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” to make the point as Independence Day approached last summer, George Stephanopoulos asked Bachmann to explain how she came to her distinctive view of the nation’s founding.
“Well, if you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that’s absolutely true,” the Minnesota congresswoman chirped. “He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father’s secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery.”
In fact, John Quincy Adams was just 8 when the Declaration of Independence was signed and just 20 when the Constitution was being cobbled together at a convention that agreed to a “compromise” that identified a slave as three-fifths of a human being. He did not sign either document. Nor did he participate in any significant manner in the debates regarding those documents — or the compromises contained in them — until the last years of his life.
John Quincy Adams was, like his father, a critic of slavery. But as a diplomat, Cabinet member and president, he was relatively cautious in his approach to the issue — fearing the divisions that an honest and thorough debate would stir. Only when he was in his mid-60s, after finishing his one term as president, did Adams emerge as an outspoken critic of human bondage. When he did so, his was a radical act of departure from the corrupt political consensus that allowed slavery to be maintained. Adams’ courageous stance in opposition to states’ rights and in favor of a strong federal government with a commitment to liberty and justice for all is surely worthy of note.
But Bachmann got Adams’ story wrong. And she refused to back off her error even when she was offered an opportunity to do so.
That ought to be troubling to anyone who takes seriously the detail and nuance of America’s founding and the progression of the American experiment. But it is not the most troubling thing about her ignorance with regard to the history of the revolutionary moment and its aftermath.
The really unsettling thing about Bachmann’s desperate struggle to explain away her errors is that, with a little effort, she could have gotten right the story of the fight over slavery at the point of America’s beginning.
There were, indeed, Founders who objected to slavery. Thomas Jefferson tried to insert anti-slavery language into the Declaration of Independence, only to be rebuked by his fellow Southerners. Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush were relatively active abolitionists, for instance. More significantly, within the founding circle, a genuine foe of human bondage risked his place among the elites to stand, again and again, at the side of the disenfranchised: slaves, Native Americans, the landless masses and women.
Tom Paine, the man who called the United States into being, did not just write Common Sense.
Historians suggest that it was Paine who encouraged Jefferson to include the anti-slavery clause in the declaration.
Historians know that Paine was a regular contributor to the great radical journal of the colonial era, the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, which in 1775 published “African Slavery in America,” the first article proposing the emancipation of African slaves and the abolition of slavery. In his time and to this day, it has been speculated that Paine wrote that pioneering article. Certainly, he associated himself with its values and ideals — particularly the declaration: “Our traders in MEN (an unnatural commodity!) must know the wickedness of the SLAVE-TRADE, if they attend to reasoning, or the dictates of their own hearts: and such as shun and stifle all these, wilfully sacrifice conscience, and the character of integrity to that golden idol.”
Those words were published March 8, 1775.
Barely one month later, on April 14, 1775, the first anti-slavery society in the American colonies was formed in Philadelphia.
Thomas Paine was a founding member.
If Michele Bachmann wanted to talk about a Founder who was on the right side of history, she could have done so.
But that would require her to do more than talk about American history. She would have to read it. And she would have to do so with an eye toward understanding America as a work in progress where there have always been debates between progressives like Paine and his “winter soldiers” of the visionary American revolution, and the “sunshine patriot” conservatives who were — and are — too afraid, or too wrongheaded, to do right by their fellow human beings. Ω
[John Nichols, associate editor of The Capital Times, is the author of seven books on politics and the media. He writes about electoral politics and public policy for The Nation magazine, and is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times. His most recent book is The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism (2011). Nichols received a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA from the Columbia University School of Journalism.]
Copyright © 2012 Capital Newspapers
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
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