Monday, September 12, 2005

A Covenant with Death

The confirmation hearings for John Roberts begin today and we are sure to hear a great deal about Roberts being a strict Constitutionalist (as opposed to an "activist judge.") I certainly make no claims to being a legal or a Constitutional scholar. It seems to me, however, that any argument for being a strict Constitutionalist falls apart when you get to Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, which reads: "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons." Those "other Persons" who counted as three-fifths of a person were, of course, slaves.

Now there are a lot of things I like about our Constitution. Free Speech-good. Separation of Church and State--excellent idea. But I think it is worth remembering that many abolitionists, who we now point to as heros, condemned the document for its endorsement of slavery. Lydia Maria Child wrote, "The original compact is wrong; and the attempt to obey the laws of man, when they are in open conflict with the laws of God, must inevitably demoralize a nation, and ultimately undermine all true prosperity, even in a material point of view." William Lloyd Garrison was less politic, damning the Constitution as "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell." He even burned a copy in protest on July 4, 1854 and said the only solution was the "dissolution of the Union." Imagine what our current leaders would say about that on CNN.

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