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Hope and Change: Spielberg on Lincoln Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 03 December 2012

Note:
No proper essay about a film can fail to contain a few “spoilers,” and this one is no different. You have been alerted.
 

On Thursday last, I watched Lincoln, the acclaimed new biopic from Steven Spielberg. Later on that afternoon, I wrote this review, which by now I’ve revised half-a-dozen times.

Lincoln is among the best movies I’ve seen since Mr. Spielberg’s own Schindler’s List, but deeper reflection on Lincoln reminds me of Hemingway’s quip about how Scott Fitzgerald was somewhere between handsome and pretty, especially his mouth, which “worried you until you knew him and then it worried you more.”

The more I think about Lincoln – great as it is thanks to Spielberg and the film’s stars, especially Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role – the more I worry.

Now there is often a political agenda hiding in the skirts of what ever sashays out of Hollywood, and there’s one here. The screenwriter attached to Lincoln is Tony Kushner, leftist author of Angels in America, a Pulitzer-winning play that bears the subtitle: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.

A couple of years back there was a flapdoodle over assertions by some that the Great Emancipator was a closeted homosexual, and I was worried before I saw Lincoln that some “queer theory” might seep in – to soil it and spoil it. That’s not the case.

There is, however, a more sinister message at the heart of the film, namely L’etat c’est moi. And I’m going to walk to the end of the limb here and start sawing: the Lincoln screenplay, if not the film itself, is a mash note to the president, and I don’t mean Abraham Lincoln. According to the film, hope is kindled and change realized only when visionaries do the right thing, regardless of cultural or legal barriers.   

 
Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Day-Lewis in Lincoln

Mr. Kushner’s script is taken in part from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, although the film depicts just the last four months of Lincoln’s presidency and life. Scenes, each no doubt with a basis in history, have been gerrymandered to emphasize a key point: the “people” aren’t to be trusted. Most Americans are brutes, in this case, dyed-in-the-wool racists, and a progressive leader must leapfrog democracy in order to achieve what only enlightened people recognize is just. Examples:

Secretary of State William Seward grills Midwestern visitors about the proposed Thirteenth Amendment (the driving force in the film: Lincoln’s determination to weld the Emancipation Proclamation to the Constitution). The good folks are in favor of it if it will help end the Civil War. And if the war ends before the Amendment passes in the House? Opposed. Why? The man says: “Niggers.”

Representative Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the radical abolitionists, speaks with vehemence about his contempt for democracy and “the people.” They elected him, but he owes them nothing.

The president tells the story of once representing a woman, a victim of what we now call domestic violence, who killed her husband, but whose murder case the young attorney knew he couldn’t win. So he let his client climb out a first-floor courtroom window and escape to freedom.

And when the president speaks about the suspension of habeas corpus and of the war-powers reasoning behind the Emancipation Proclamation, he admits he is unsure of the actual legality – doubts it in fact – but believes he was right to circumvent the law.
And that’s what just about everybody urges Mr. Lincoln to realize: you can’t wait for the knuckle-draggers to catch up; you can’t adhere to laws that impede progress.

Lincoln agrees. Thomas More he is not.

But are Messrs. Spielberg and Kushner sending a message to Barack Obama about ignoring pesky laws in order to promote progressive causes (same-sex marriage, perhaps)? Well, based on interviews he has given, I’d say Mr. Kushner is. (He “married” another man in Massachusetts in 2008.) And given Mr. Spielberg’s command of his medium, it’s hard to imagine any screenwriter slipping in such emphases without the director’s approval.

Of course the heroes in Lincoln are Republicans and the villains Democrats. And far from seeing Abraham Lincoln’s judgments as arising from the wellspring of incipient progressivism, one could more credibly conclude his commitment to abolition arose from a kind of conservatism. If he was a radical, it was in this sense: that he went back to the root our Judeo-Christian tradition – the radix, itself the root of “radical.”

And there may be a better historical analogy between Lincoln’s struggle and our own: between the Thirteenth Amendment and . . . the Human Life Amendment. It’s a natural-law connection as hard to imagine Tony Kushner making as it is to imagine Abraham Lincoln not making.

But now I’ll put aside my pet theories and say again: this is a very fine film. It has a peculiarly inept ending, but I’ve no doubt it will be a tsunami at the Oscars in February.

And good as Lincoln is  with one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled  it’s Mr. Day-Lewis who makes it extraordinary. I can’t recall a better screen performance. Ever. Day-Lewis has the Lincoln look, and he has the voice. We can’t really know, of course, how Lincoln sounded, but the actor’s commitment to a plausible Lincoln is consistent, compelling, and convincing. In quiet moments you hear him breathing. His stooped posture seems spot on. There’s a twinkle in his eye. And he seems every bit as odd – fey not gay – as the real Lincoln must have been. A.L. the Extraterrestrial.

 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (28)Add Comment
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written by Austin Ruse, December 02, 2012
Brad, I thought the tight close up of the roll call was a direct threat to any legislator who opposes gay marriage. "you and your name will live in infamy.".
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written by Dan, December 02, 2012
I had much the same reaction to the film. An additional criticism: the film reeked of modern day political correctness about issues of race, and was almost infantile in its caricatures of blacks (all saintly) and ordinary whites (generally racists). Daniel Day Lewis was superb. I thought the Lincoln-the-raconteur was over done a little bit although he was known as a raconteur.
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written by ib, December 03, 2012
Lincoln was perhaps our greatest president. He was NOT a Saint or Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. His exact stance with respect to any Christian group is of great mystery, a mystery he himself created. One may admire him much as one admires Cicero or Pericles. But please don't try to make him into more than what he was.

I am interested in seeing this film. Thanks, Mr. Miner!
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written by petebrown, December 03, 2012
I loved this movie, Brad and I'm glad you did too.

I'm not sure I agree with your criticisms of the film's alleged anti-democratic subtext.

To step back from the politics of the day and your fear that Obama might take inspiration from the film to ignore "the people" in the pursuit of some progressive objective, I note that there are some great questions that your article raises however and were I think raised by the film.

How does a free society decide difficult moral questions? I don't quite agree that the film is urging that great progressive visionaries are to decide them for the people by leapfrogging public opinion with a stealthy maneuver and a stemwinding speech. That's more what you'd see in an episode of the West Wing... What I get is that when there is a collective decision of a whole society that there is alot of ambition, vagueness and obscurity, gamesmanship, posturing, wheeling and dealing, art, guile and horsetrading among many people at many levels. First we push through the amendment banning slavery without any real agreement about what comes next for freed blacks--which is good for if we had had to agree on the end goal at first we never would have made the first step. I think the movie really nailed this.


A related question you raise...To what extent can the will of the people be trusted in the great moral questions of the day? I'd say that the limits of the trust is that they get not to decide the moral questions themselves but to decide who decides them. It's a Republic not a Democracy..and that's the way the framers wanted it. (Ive never been a big fan of ballot issues or I&R)

We didn't have Gallup polls then but I suspect it would have been extremely hard if not impossible to garner a majority in favor of abolition in even the North were that exact question be put to a plebiscitary vote. But I also tend to think it is a good thing that our system of government is capable from time to time of producing leaders who can get ahead of public opinion and, in effect, move public opinion in a positive direction. I don't think we'd have had the post Civil War amendments were it not for the Radical Republicans who surely were ahead of public opinion on the matter of black equality and willing to take advantage of a fairly brief window of opportunity to push them through. Maybe they went too far...maybe they provoked a bigger backlash in the South than a less ambitious Reconstruction would have..and the Radicals did eventually overreach and get rebuffed. But that's a why its a democracy. The opposition always gets a chance to fix things later.

And the same thing will surely happen to whatever Obama does if it is clear that he overreaches. I think there are a number of things in this health law that will prove politically unsustainable even if most Americans are unaware of it and indifferent to it now. In the meantime we have to accept that we give elected leaders some space to do things just because they won the election. I think the older more skeptical pre-populist conservative view of public opinion --say after the FDR's landslide re-election in 1936--is probably more apropos in these times than the one you seem to be embracing.


I know...there is a persistent conservative mythology going back to the 60's of a great "silent majority" in flyover country that will rise up and humble the elite educated liberal smarty pants' who've used all sorts of undemocratic means to impose their "progressive" vision on America without deigning to ask the common man's view of things first. But if that silent majority ever existed, Brad, its become the noisy minority that lost the last two elections.

Rather than wait for it to return, I'll take my chances on finding another Lincoln!
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written by Mr. Levy, December 03, 2012
Everything Spielberg has ever done has been superficial. I don't think I'd enjoy watching a movie that tries to squeeze so great a man as Lincoln into the small confines of the director's intellect.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, December 03, 2012
I do not care how good any film hollywood produces is - I will not use my money to help finance their immorality. If a film is that good, I simply wait until it goes to DVD and I check it out from the library. Thank goodness I am not among the 'first to see a film before the Oscars' crowd.
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written by Manfred, December 03, 2012
Thanks for a great review, Brad. I share Ed Peitler's view of my money and Hollywood, but of course you were serving as a film reviewer. One must remember that the Emancipation Proclamation, after being discussed during the summer of 1862, was signed on Sept. 22, 1862, five days after the one day Battle of Antietam in which 23,000 casualties (both North and South combined-dead, wounded and missing-the highest number EVER sustained in a single day by U.S. forces). It "freed" only the slaves in the seceded States-it had no effect on slaves in the North or the border States. Today and Mr. Obama: Pvt. Bradley Manning is finally being allowed to testify at Ft. Meade and his story is terrifying. In 2010 he was arrested for releasing thousands of Wikileak video showing U.S. torture and war crimes. He was taken to KUWAIT for two months (remember, he is a U.S. citizen and still active in the U.S. Army) and kept naked in a cage. He was then transported to Quantico,VA where he has been until now in a six by eight cell. Ralph Nader recently commented how he believes that Mr.Obama is "worse than Bush" and lists Obama's complete disregard for U.S. citizenship and the protection it affords individuals. Pvt.Manning, who received no financial gain from his actions, used his position to alert the American and world public as to what the U.S. military was doing to Third World peoples. Final note: Lincoln loved Grant because "he fights". Grant wanted as many confederates dead and maimed as possible,even if it meant an equal number or more Yankee troops were destroyed, as he stated the Confederate forces were finite while immigration was occurring in the North and these could be drafted. Lincoln knew that if there existed two governments in the U.S., there would be continual wars.
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written by Grump, December 03, 2012
Sorry to hear, Brad, that you've apparently bought into the Lincoln myth spun by pop historians such as Goodwin, Marxist Eric Foner and the Claremont Institute who perpetuate the false legend of the "Great Emancipator" who "saved the union."

It was Lincoln, channeling a still unborn David Duke or any other garden variety klansman, who proclaimed in his first debate with Stephen Douglas: "I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people . . . . I as much as any man am in favor of the superior position assigned to the white race."

There is hardly enough space here or in one book alone to list Lincoln's sins and failures which include the jailing of thousands of political dissidents and opposition newspaper editors, his suspension of habeas corpus and his obscene profiteering as a railroad lobbyist. While he Illinois, he was "the master string-puller," wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and preeminent Lincoln scholar David Donald.

Longtime Ebony magazine executive editor Lerone Bennett Jr. labels Lincoln's marginal role in passing the 13th Amendment "a pleasant fiction" and otherwise sets the record straight on Lincoln's multi-faced mendacity.

Most egregiously it was Lincoln who willfully ignored peaceful gestures from the South to negotiate an end to slavery without bloodshed -- the Confederates were upset by unjust tariffs imposed by the North on the South more than slavery -- and lit the fuse that wound up killing an estimated 800,000 Americans, many innocent civilians, women and children.

Lincoln's highly dubious honor on many lists as the "greatest President" is belied by objective history and merely reflects the hazy romantic and biased views of Goodwin and Kushner, who have collaborated on just another left-wing Hollywood fantasy.

George Washington undoubtedly deserves the top spot while Dishonest Abe's more properly should be relegated to the bottom three between Millard Filmore and Barack Obama.
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written by Brad Miner, December 03, 2012
@Grump: Well it's interesting to me that you conclude from this review that I am perpetuating a myth. I suppose it's because I didn't put Great Emancipator in scare quotes. But the sheer sloppiness of the usage ("channeling a still unborn David Duke") in your pre-packaged rant is sad. If nothing else, your over-long, self-indulgent comment confirms your screen name.
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written by Mr. Levy, December 03, 2012
Grump:

Goodwin and Kushner, who became known only recently and who relatively few Americans have read, have nothing to do with the high view of Lincoln that most of us have. There is a reason that biographies of Lincoln are far more common than those of any other American.

I read his papers and the greatness of the man stands forth. That he should, to some degree, possess the sensibilities of his time, should not be the basis of serious criticism. (Frederick Douglass, who delivered an oration after Lincoln's death calling Lincoln "preeminently a white man's president," still offered high praise for Lincoln's virtues, concluding: " In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honors to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal...") In fact, we might thank G-d that Lincoln was not educated according to our sensibilities today. It is likely he would not have read the Bible, or if so, not the King James; nor would he have read Blackstone's Commentaries; nor would he have had a full understanding of liberty, equality, and the American Revolution.

Your other criticisms are misplaced as well. I recommend reading Lincoln's papers directly in order to understand the man - Don Fehrenbacher's small, one-volume book or the Library of America's two-volume set. I also recommend Harry Jaffa's inimitable book, "Crisis of the House Divided."
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written by Other Joe, December 03, 2012
@Grump: My grandfather read everything printed about Lincoln. The books alone filled a bookcase. His father fought in the Civil War, got sick and died before he could get home. The very detailed knowledge of that era was not invented by a couple of pointy heads. Only pointy heads feel comfortable reducing a man's life and moral searching to a handful of snarky (and cringingly superior) comments and motive assignments. I hereby second Mr. Miner's thoughts - above. I hope you never have to encounter such trivializing of your own moral searching.
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written by Jacob, December 03, 2012
Just be thankful they didn't make Lincoln fight anti-abortion-rights-terrorists!
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written by Achilles, December 03, 2012
Other Joe, you took my rough thoughts about Grump’s comment and breathed erudition and depth into them and articulated them as I wish I could have.

Grump that was a terribly mis-weighted slandering of President Lincoln. Mr. Minor and Other Joe say it best, but your final jibe, at the bottom next to Obama? What the…..? Did Jimmy Carter outshine honest Abe? You seem victim or perpetrator of revisionist history. Hopefully you looked to the Root for some of your info on Lincoln? Professor Gates has a very strong opinion on the subject and he just might agree with you. I have come to expect much better comments from you than this.
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written by debby, December 03, 2012
dear brad,
i TRUST YOUR RIGHT-FORMED CONSCIENCE AND THEREFORE I TRUST YOUR JUDGEMENT. i now can't wait to go see this movie.

based on some of the typical negative reactions, i am surprised that any decent person still makes the effort to share their thoughts and insights with us here at this website. i often learn so much from the writers but am wondering if maybe the time to remove the comment section has come. i used to be afraid of dying without really being "known". seeing how many supposedly "good catholics" judge the dead as if they "know" something, i hope i am quickly forgotten, and if anything, Jesus remembered.

and to some of the commenters, i have a question.
does ANYTHING EVER make you happy, smile, omGOSH - CRACK UP LAUGHING? Yes! it says in Scripture (in the Prophet Isaiah) that the Messiah would be "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief...." but the Gospels also speak of women and children surrounding and not having fear to approach Him. He must have been One Who captured the heart with great Joy. since when is Love ONLY Pain?

it is unconscionable to call one's self a Christian and yet to day after day exude such negativity. it does not seem to matter what the post's subject is! there's a wise saying for the likes of these:
GET OFF THE CROSS, WE NEED THE WOOD.
(i.e., your comments are not Saving Any Souls.)

i think i will stop now and only read the post from here out tho the thought of that grieves me. i loved hearing louise's comments and achilles, and other joe, and the one i could never spell: anthunasius (?) and i miss the contributor who is a Muslim young lady on her journey. but this is just getting ruined for me.
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written by Other Joe, December 03, 2012
Correcting a small error, it was my grandfather's grandfather who died at the end of the Civil War.
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written by Grump, December 03, 2012
@Brad, I admit my screen name is well earned. Upon re-reading your piece, I beg your pardon if I lumped you in with those who "perpetuate" the Lincoln myth. I certainly agree with you that Daniel Day-Lewis is a fine actor whose best performance was in "There Will be Blood." Those who suggest that Lincoln's writings and speeches depict a man of nobility and great character choose to overlook or are not aware of his many misdeeds, dimmed by the gloss of so-called "historians."
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written by diaperman, December 03, 2012
Honestly Grump goes way overboard in his trashing of Lincoln. (David Duke come on?) But I'm surprised Grump's not getting more support from the anti-federal govt. Catholic traditionalist crowd who frequents this page. If you hate what the federal government has become in terms of its size and scope, Lincoln is really your bete noir. He more than almost any one is the person who put the modern state on its growth trajectory. And more importantly he forever crushed the anti-federalist Calhounesque reading of the Constitution.
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written by Grump, December 03, 2012
@diaperman. Keen observation. Lincoln was a big-government President in the mold of Alexander Hamilton and obviously abhorred states' rights championed by Jefferson. We revere Jefferson but live today in Hamilton's America.
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written by Louise, December 03, 2012
I saw the movie last weekend and thought it was a bit like watching sausage being made (isn't that how the political process is often described?) I didn't realize going in that the focus was on the passage of the 13th amendment in the US House.
I find watching movies about historical figures a bit unnerving because I'm never sure how much is Hollywood and how much is history.
Brad, i had your concern as well...is this a message to someone we know? However, I couldn't come to a conclusion.
I was, however, struck by Day-Lewis' emphasis on "unborn" in one of his talks about the importance of the amendment. It made me wonder if that was intentional on his part; a subtle prolife witness of sorts.
I too thought he did a masterful job but alas, as I said above, i attend movies such as this with a large amount of reserve which keeps me from fully enjoying them.
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written by Brad Miner, December 03, 2012
@ Louise: In one of the drafts I did of the column, I included the famous laws/sausages, generally (and improperly) attributed to Bismarck: "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made."
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written by Louise, December 03, 2012
HA! Thanks for the quote. I left the movie thinking that if that was indeed how the process actually occurred I felt a little better about our situation today. I'm sure politics has never been pure seeing as how it is engaged in by mere humans.
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written by Dan, December 03, 2012
I agree with Mr. Levy: read Lincoln's writings. Particularly: His farewell address when he left Springfield for Washington; the first inaugural; the peroration of the 1862 address to Congress; the Gettysburg address; the second inaugural; and his wartime letters (I think his letter to Fanny McCollough is a masterpiece).
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written by Mr. Levy, December 04, 2012
Diaperman, Grump: The bete noire of those who love limited government is not Lincoln, who had tremendous respect for liberty and local government, but the Progressive Movement and its leaders, such as TR, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR. Ronald Pestritto has written a terrific overview of the subject: "The Birth of the Administrative State"

Dan: Those are excellent reading suggestions (and I agree about the letter to Mrs. McCollough). I find also that many of Lincoln's lesser-known writings, such as his various letters and orders to his generals, are wonderful, too. These more pedestrian writings can surprise in how much they reveal of his prudence, magnanimity, and profundity.
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written by Graham Combs, December 04, 2012
In France they have apparently developed an auteur theory for film director Michael Bay -- he of the Transformer series. Bay got into troubled some years ago for THE ISLAND. I won't go into the plot, but in one scene a clone develops in what can only be called a man-sized natal sack. It is attacked and destroyed in a particularly vicious and graphic manner. The movie has the usual elaborate chase sequences but life issues are addressed. Mr. Bay backpedals from that movie to this day. On the flip side I can barely sit through a Hollywood movie in recent years. I don't doubt Mr. Miner's analysis. It rings true. It's all layered narratives now. All very complicated and nuanced. This week Mayor Rahm Immanual gave a speech comparing Obama to Lincoln. As did James Spader, an actor in the movie. And the screenwriter after a White House showing of the movie. And on and on. Remember the take away after the 2008 election: Government is cool again. And as we know, Cool is the new fascism. And the old fascism.

I was not being entirely flip to a professor in my legal history course many years ago when I said that if we had just waited a few more decades for our Revolution, the evil of American slavery might have ended more peaceably. Instead we pursued the worst possible termination. Or an impersonal "History" did. Here at the end of our Constitutional Era we have a big problem. Or rather we simply must surrender to fatalism. Here in South East Michigan where left wing politics have always been literal-minded including in the Archdiocese of Detroit, the tone since the election has coarsened. Emboldened by a confirmation of political solutions as the only solution, hostility to Catholics is open and unrestrained from break rooms to parish halls. The genial black woman who is a Eucharistic minister where I attend the Mass has a 95 out of 100 chance of having voted for the president. And her mood since the election has been buoyant. Mine hasn't and she seems to have noticed. The situation is impossible throughout the metropolitan area. And there is nothing anyone can do. Because you can't talk about it even thought the the stakes -- the gauntlet of reproductive rights -- could not be greater. But then his excellency seems to believe that collecting old guns will end the violence in the city. Which it hasn't. As I say, mums the word. And as with abortion, silence is lethal.

Lincoln was the more interesting of our two "founding" presidents. Certainly for dramatic purposes. But it comes at a cost. Let's not forget that even if every institution in America has. The tragic view of history and life is called for here. Things are not going well.

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written by Sue, December 05, 2012
Grump,

Google "Declaration of Causes
of Seceding States" and see that protection of slavery was an explicitly ckted reason for secession of the Southern states. As much as they inveighed legitimately against abuses by the Northern states, the southern states' credibility was seriously undermied by their addiction to their "precious", their peculiar institution of slavery.

By the same token, however, we should ascribe condemnation of Madison for failing to convey the inalienable right to liberty in the Constitution, thereby baking slavery into the Constitution. Even worse than slavery was the abusive slavebreeding that mushroomed after the import ban of 1808. And this was foreseeable, especially by Madison, whose notes on the Constitutional Convention clearly recognize the potential for slavebreeding to be an important force.

All of which set up our country for perpetuation of eugenics and reproductive abuses on into the 21st century, along with the racist attitudes that never were quenched by the Civil War because they were baked into our country's consitution.

And finally, our floundering on the liberty issue has had implications for the protection of life as an inalienable right. Madison's cooking slavery into the constitution had the unfortunate result that even today, critics like Obama can thumb nose at Constitution and abortionists can get away with murder.
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written by Mr. Levy, December 06, 2012
Sue:

Had the Constitution banned slavery, the southern states would not have joined the Union. Some of them, such as Charles Pinckney of SC, said so explicitly at the time of the convention. As it is, the Constitution goes as far as possible to condemn and circumscribe slavery without abolishing it. For instance, not a single word of the Constitution needs to be changed to allow a black man to become president. How could that be the case if the Constitution supported the enslavement of blacks? And why doesn't the word "slave" appear? Any reference to slaves uses the word "persons." The closest thing to a reference to slaves is "persons held to service," which suggests that the persons are not justly held to service. (The draft phrase was "bound to service," but that language was rejected in the convention because it could imply that the persons were rightfully bound.)

This is not to say that the Framers of the Constitution couldn't have done more. I think they might have been able to do more as state legislators and molders of popular opinion after the Constitution was adopted. Then again, some of them did try.

A great summary of the relevant history is in Lincoln's Cooper Union address, which can be found immediately with an online search.

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written by Sue, December 07, 2012
"Had the Constitution banned slavery, the southern states would not have joined the Union." Maybe so, maybe not...or maybe this is the type of Disneyfied argument, supported by the 1776 musical construction of the Constitution, admittedly trotted out ad nauseam, but whose fatuity blinds us to the reality of the rape of our senses that happens whenever the Declaration and Constitution are juxtaposed.

But even if that were the case, was it worth the cost, which we are still paying? Constitution in its very creation, was denying the notion of inalienable rights - it was ITSELF alienating those rights.

Language - mentioning "persons held to service" in a founding document is a waffle which includes indentured and possibly other types of labor - so what? The "3/5" phrase speaks more loudly - and no, I don't need to hear how that actually denied slaveholding areas as much power as they might have had. They knew, and Madison CERTAINLY knew, that they could grow their own slaves if only the Constitution could be shut up about the whole damned "peculiar" institution.
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written by Mr. Levy, December 07, 2012
Sue:

There's nothing Disneyfied about the historical record. Take a look at Madison's notes to the constitutional convention.

Your view is that of the abolitionist leader, William Lloyd Garrison, with whom Frederick Douglass broke because of his view of the Constitution. Garrison believed that the Constitution was pro-slavery, and he also believed that it was better to rip the union asunder than to have a union with slaveowners. But how would breaking apart the union have helped the slaves? That is a question that Garrison never answered - and it is a question that you do not answer, either.

Union WITH the southern states allowed for the ultimate abolition of slavery. Union WITHOUT the southern states would have permitted those states to perpetuate slavery as long as they wanted.

You are misreading the 3/5ths clause. That clause concerns congressional representation, not human worth. If the slaves had been counted fully, rather than as 3/5ths, that would have given MORE congressional power to the slaveowning states. 3/5 was a compromise. The anti-slavery delegates to the constitutional convention would have preferred not to count the slaves at all, because then the southern states would have had fewer congressional representatives and therefore less political power.

The Constitution is clearly anti-slavery on its face, and all the more clearly anti-slavery if you read the notes from the convention.

I recommend reading the historical record; taking another look at the text of the Constitution; and considering whether the slaves really would have been better off had only the northern states formed a union.

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