Historical revisionism is a Republican and religious right practice regarding the illegitimate distortion of the historical record so certain events appear in a more favorable light to substantiate their backward positions. One of the most recent phenomena in revisionist history is the insane notion that the Founding Fathers were directed by god to form America as a Christian nation, and that when he wrote the U.S. Constitution he told them there was no need for a federal government because states were the supreme law of the land. Recently, a staunch religious right conservative attempted to revise history again and asserted that people of faith are the true advocates for equal rights to bolster his claim there is no need for a federal government to ensure every American is treated the same.
Jim DeMint, president of the uber-conservative Heritage Foundation and former South Carolina senator was selling conservatism as America’s salvation on a Christian radio show when he claimed that the federal government had nothing whatsoever to do with ending slavery, and credited Christian advocacy for the Constitution with freeing the slaves. DeMint told Jerry Newcombe of Truth in Action Ministries that only by allowing conservatives to return the nation to 1776 and the original conservative intent of the Founding Fathers, is it possible for America to be America again. DeMint said, “This progressive, the whole idea of being progressive is to progress away from those ideas that made this country great. What we’re trying to conserve as conservative are those things that work, and we can change this country and change its course very quickly if we just remember what works.” Newcombe replied, “Let’s say you’re talking with a liberal person and they were to turn around and say, ‘that Founding Fathers thing worked out really well, look at that Civil War we had eighty years later.” DeMint shifted to the topic to slavery to demonstrate how racism permeates the Republican Party, and was incited to claim the government had nothing to do with ending slavery.
According to DeMint’s revisionist history, “The reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.” Since Jim DeMint is too much of a coward to have a real debate with a real liberal, it is worth the time to disabuse him of his revisionist history giving credit for ending slavery to the religious right.
There are serious problems, and blatant lies, in DeMint’s offensive historical revisionism about “people of faith” in the Confederacy adhering to Thomas Jefferson’s famous “all men are created equal and have inalienable rights” to bring an end to slavery. First of all, neither the Confederacy nor many, many northerners were harkened back to the Constitution’s guarantee that “all men are created equal and have inalienable rights” because that line is in the Declaration of Independence; not the Constitution. Further, from the nation’s founding through Lincoln’s executive order freeing the slaves (Emancipation Proclamation) and the Civil War right up to the Civil Rights movement, African Americans were never afforded any equal rights without federal government intervention. In fact, the Founding Fathers’ worked out a compromise at the Constitutional Convention to determine African slaves were only worth three-fifths of a white man, and that was about ten years after Jefferson wrote his famous line that meant nothing to the Founders insofar as slavery was concerned.
For DeMint to claim it was the Constitution that granted enslaved African Americans “inalienable rights” is absurd because the Constitution had to be amended by the federal government many times after the Civil War, specifically the 13th and 14th Amendments, to completely end slavery and grant African-Americans equal right citizenship because Confederate ‘people of faith’ were defending slavery as a biblical mandate. African Americans did not secure civil rights, including voting rights, until about 100 years after the Civil War and racist Republicans fought the federal government every step of the way. It is true that Abraham Lincoln used an executive order to free the slaves, but it took the full force of the federal government to free them including fighting the deadliest war in America’s history to guarantee slaves would remain free throughout America.
Now, DeMint’s claim the religious right drove the end of slavery because they thought “that this was wrong” is a blatant lie and as a fundamentalist Christian Southerner he knows it. Christians used the bible exclusively to defend the practice of owning human beings as indentured servants and it was not just from examples of god supporting slavery in the Old Testament. In fact, throughout the 1860s, Southern preachers were adamantly defending slavery and asking a question 21st Century evangelicals persistently proffer. Who can possibly question the word of god? Especially when Southern clergy cited numerous biblical scriptures such as in Ephesians 6:5 where it says “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling,” or when former Jew the apostle Paul wrote to Titus with instructions to “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). For dog’s sake, Mormon Christians adhered to the biblical “Blacks are cursed by god” commandment until the 1970s, so there is no possible way people of any faith were responsible for ending slavery until the federal government stepped in and forced them to grant full equal rights to African Americans long after slavery was officially abolished.
Despite DeMint’s typically Confederate hatred of the federal government and African Americans, some group or other has always needed the full weight and force of the federal government to intercede to make sure African-Americans, women, children, gays, and workers secured their basic rights; for slaves it was their freedom. There are still a large number of Republicans like DeMint who still do not believe that “all men are created equal,” and some Americans may recall that it one of DeMint’s Heritage Foundation cohorts and white supremacist, Jason Richwine, who decried immigration reform because he claimed Latinos and African Americans were intellectually and morally inferior to the great white race. It is a belief that is rampant among conservatives, and the religious right is not speaking out against racist conservatives today any more than they were during slavery. As a matter of fact, today the religious right is at the forefront of denying that “all men (or women) are created equal” as evidenced by their frenzied discriminatory crusade against gays and women that conservatives in the teabagger and Republican movement are more than happy to advance with legislation at the state and federal level.
Jim DeMint is not a fool, and he knows it was not the Constitution or people of faith who ended slavery. It was the federal government that then, as well as now, has to protect Americans whether they are African Americans losing their right to vote in Southern states, gays wanting to marry the person they love, or women demanding to make their own personal reproductive health choices. It is likely true that racist Christian fundamentalists like DeMint really do want to return to late 1700s America to get back to what conservatives think worked so well, but for African Americans, gays, children, and women, it is certain they are thrilled America progressed away from that era. They are also grateful they have a strong federal government that, over the past century-and-a-half, forced religious right conservatives to accept that “all men and women are created equal;” something Southern people of faith have never accepted and are still working frantically with Republicans to end once and for all.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.