In the movie Lincoln, the audience gets to view a historically accurate drama depicting how President Lincoln and the Radical Republicans passed the 13th Amendment in the House of Representatives and on its way to its eventual ratification by all the states. Republicans controlled a super-majority in the Senate, so passing the Amendment was a piece of cake. But they did not own a super-majority in the House, so they had to use some less than legal methods to get Democratic votes. Though these tactics gained them votes, they needed to make sure not to scare the Democrats away by appearing too radical. Because of this, during the debates, Lincon himself encouraged radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens to appear more moderate in order to appeal to the Democrats.
Jack Shields | United States
The federal government has been shut down since December 22nd. I am a huge fan of government shutdowns, as I believe they disprove a popular illusion about the importance of government. The illusion, of course, is that we need government to shield us from the dangers of freedom and without the government being involved in every part of our lives, we’d fall apart in violent anarchy. But it’s been weeks since the shutdown. I’m not dead. No one else is dead. People are still getting their Social Security checks. The military is still out there protecting us, fully funded. Everything is okay. And the fact there are parts of the federal government that can be labeled as ‘non-mandatory’ and not be funded during this shutdown ought to prove the government has grown way too large and we should rid ourselves of these self-acclaimed unnecessary programs. You’d be hard pressed to find a private company that could survive long while paying non-mandatory employees. Many of these non-mandatory programs should just be defunded and forgotten about forever (the study which analyzed the effects of cocaine on a bird’s sexuality comes to mind). However, many are extremely popular and aren’t going anywhere, with national parks being perhaps the biggest example. These types of programs should be devolved back to the state level. This will restore federalism and actually improve the state of the parks.
The idea of national parks was conceived in the mid nineteenth century, with advocates such as John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Stephen Mather claiming the federal government should ensure that some land is kept natural and preserved so that all generations may experience their beauty. And they were incredibly successful. The first of such came about when President Lincoln required California to preserve Yosemite. Then, President Grant made Yellowstone the first official national park. More were gradually added but the number of national parks skyrocketed under President Theodore Roosevelt, as he added national parks, national monuments, national game refuges, bird sanctuaries, and millions of acres of national forests. Under President Wilson, the National Park Service was created in 1916, and today there are 392 national parks along with millions and millions of acres of other federally protected lands and areas.
National parks in and of themselves may not be such a bad idea. I, for one, am certainly sympathetic to the idea we should preserve some of nature for the generations to come. Even one of the greatest Libertarian thinkers of all time, Ron Swanson of Parks and Rec, seemed to give exception to the national parks when it came to his philosophy of an almost nonexistent government. But just because something is a good idea does not mean the federal government should be the one doing it. If this was true, then we should immediately give the federal government complete control over the economy, violent crime, schools, and every single issue that has ever existed. Because, after all, if it’s a good idea, why shouldn’t everyone do it? This logic is in complete contradiction of federalism, localism, and most importantly the Constitution.
The United States was designed to allow most decisions to be decided at a local level. This was because it holds the representatives more accountable, ensures there are more similarly held beliefs, prevents tyranny, and actually makes more people happy with their government. When it comes to the national parks, there isn’t too much concern that tyranny will arise from them, so making the people happy is the most important issue, and localization ensures the highest success rate. Say for example there are 100 people living in Texas and 80 living in New Mexico. In Texas, 80 people want to increase the budget for the parks. In New Mexico, only 30 want to increase the budget. Under a federalized park system, the budget is increased, with 110 citizens being left pleased with the turnout, and 70 citizens being left disappointed. But under true federalism, the budget is increased in Texas but left the same in New Mexico. This leaves 130 citizens being left pleased with their respective states’ decisions, and only 50 being left disappointed. If Americans want more funding for parks, more protections, or perhaps they’d rather sell the land, all that is well and good. But it should be decided at the state level, leaving more people happy.
Even more important than ensuring the happiness of the citizenry, national parks should be devolved to the states according to the Constitution. There’s really nothing wrong with the idea of parks, and National Parks aren’t really a tyrannical threat to liberty, so most people are probably fine with them being run by the federal government. But we are either a nation of men or a nation of laws. And seeing as because of the principles it is built on, a nation of men turning tyrannical is almost certain, I’d much rather live in a nation of laws. That means strictly upholding the Constitution. Even when it comes to the fun stuff like parks that almost no one has a problem with. Nowhere in the Constitution is the power to run national parks granted to the federal government. This fact requires two parts of the Constitution to be evaluated. First, Article I Section 8 Clause 18, known as the Elastic Clause. This clause states that any law may be passed to execute an enumerated power, and this has been interpreted to allow the federal government to have powers not specifically listed in the Constitution if they are necessary to execute an enumerated power. For example, requiring men to sign up for the draft is considered an implied power which is necessary in executing the power to raise and support armies granted by Article I Section 8 Clause 12. However, it is clear that having national parks isn’t necessary in order to coin money, regulate commerce, or any of the other powers granted to the federal government. Which leads to the 10th Amendment which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution says quite clearly what should be done when it comes to parks.
This devolution of the parks to the states will not only be in line with the Constitution and make more people happy but will also ensure the parks are run more efficiently. Right now the federal government is shut down, which means the national parks are shut down. This means there is no tourism which is causing lots of money to be lost, no one is cleaning the parks (except a few cases of private, charitable parties doing it), and many other problems and inconveniences. The shut down is occurring because the Republicans and Democrats cannot come up with a compromise when it comes to immigration reform, more specifically, President Trump’s proposed wall. Which means tourists can’t go to the parks, and the parks are covered in trash that can’t be cleaned, because of immigration laws. It seems silly that immigration policy should determine whether or not you get to go to Yosemite. With parks in the hands of the states, President Trump and Speaker Pelosi can scream at each other all they want and shut down the government as long as they want, and it won’t effect your trip to the park one bit.
Devolving the national parks to the states would be a simple concept in a time of extreme partisanship and gridlock that would do a little to reign the federal government back into its constitutional boundaries, make citizens a little happier, and prove that not only does the federal government not have to be involved in every little thing, things may actually be better when they aren’t.
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By. Joshua D. Glawson | United States
It has been accurately stated by an anonymous source, “The institution of chattel slavery is truly the worst chapter in American political history. Not only did the institution stand in stark contradiction to the professed ideals of freedom and equality, but its legacy extended well beyond the formal abolition of slavery with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. The enduring repercussions of the institution of slavery and the white supremacist ideologies that supported it constituted a relentless assault on black people’s dignity.” This rang true for all, from Frederick Douglass to James Baldwin.
The onset of African chattel slavery in America began in the early Seventeenth Century as the Dutch began their slave trade in the colonies. The numbers of enslaved African people brought to America exponentially grew through the mid Nineteenth Century. It was not until after the U.S. Civil War that slavery was legally condemned throughout the nation via the U.S. Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment which was ratified in 1865. Prior to this ratification, slavery was only considered illegal in various regions of the Northern states, and even there slaves were continually counted on national censuses as “slaves” until slavery was declared nationally illegal.
This would suggest that although slavery was one of the key issues fought over in the U.S. Civil War, it was not so urgent for the country, or even the North, to treat the enslaved as being equal to ordinary citizens until after the victory of the Union over the Confederacy. Even after defeating the slave-entrenched Confederacy, it was not until 1965 that Blacks would get full equal rights to Whites under the law.
From the origin of the United States of America, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the U.S., Thomas Jefferson, openly publicized in written word and voice that slavery was wrong and that he was against its very existence. In 1769, as a member of the Virginian Congress, he had a bill to end slavery in Virginia, but it was denied (Jefferson, 9). The unbeknownst issue for Jefferson was that he did not believe in ‘manumission,’ the immediate freeing of slaves by their owners. Few abolitionists in America believed in this immediacy, other than Benjamin Lay and few others. Jefferson believed in gradually transitioning slaves from enslavement to free-society through education and a sort of genetic weeding-out over time separating the naturally bright from the doltish (Jefferson, 243-244).
In part, the reason that Jefferson was hesitant to free slaves through immediate judicial means was that, culturally, chattel slavery was the norm for over one hundred years in America prior to Jefferson. His view of government and regulating society was to incorporate as peaceful of means necessary by gaining the democratic vote of the Colonies and then the American people as a whole.
Additionally, Thomas Jefferson held an Aristotelian philosophical concept of a natural hierarchy and specifically the idea of ‘Natural Slavery,’ being that some people are born to be slaves by their very nature. In the meantime, before any division could have been made, Jefferson felt that having slaves was a benefit to both the slave and the slave owner because enslavement benefited the slaves as being housed, clothed, and fed, etc.; while the slave benefited the slave owner by performing all work necessary for the slave owner’s survival and thriving. Unfortunately, this was a view that many Americans held in Jefferson’s day (Jefferson, 243-244).
Beyond simply thinking that people are naturally born leaders or slaves, Jefferson thought certain races of people, e.g. Blacks and Native Americans, were mentally inferior to that of Whites. He also thought the only way Blacks would become equal to Whites was if they mixed with Whites having mulatto children. This was not because of some hatred for others.
Rather, he believed there was empirical evidence for this idea. His racism towards Blacks was established through empirical evidence only by strict guidelines of social norms which had well-established slavery that also precluded education for these slaves. This means that Jefferson’s so-called evidence for the inferiority of black people was not determined by practical scientific methods, rather it was misguided understanding of the exasperating multi-generational enslavement of Blacks. Any mental inferiority held by black slaves of Jefferson’s period was due to their situation and not their skin color or any correlation of such (Jefferson, 238-241).
Although Jefferson advocated for the abolition of slaves through democratic processes while maintaining the conflicting view of ‘Natural Slavery,’ he also possessed slaves of his own from the age of 21 until his passing in 1826, at age 83. Since his slaves were considered his property, he had the option of what should happen to them once he died via his will, e.g. free them or give them to someone else. Jefferson chose to give them away to others as a means to pay off some of his growing debt, rather than giving these enslaved people their freedom. Just as America’s history of slave ownership, Jefferson’s slave owning is often a point of conflict for those that love Jefferson and those that oppose him.
I disagree with Jefferson’s gradual transition for the enslaved people on the grounds that he considered it an endangerment to Blacks as being mentally inferior to that of Whites and that it would be more harm for them than good. I do not think that someone is inferior or superior because of their skin color. I also do not think it is the place of a government to concern itself with what it determines as being best for individuals, such as when or how to free slaves.
Slavery should, of course, exist under no circumstances as it is the natural inclination of being a person that provides the need to be free. An enslaved person is under the arbitrary will of another and this prevents their truly living and flourishing. Not only does slavery hurt the enslaved, but it equally hurts those that enslave because it makes the master think of themselves as superior to another while cutting off sympathy to others. Simply put, it makes the slave owner less human as it makes the enslaved less human. It is my position that people are to live freely in society among others, and we have ‘negative duties’ towards others such as not hurting, not killing, not stealing, not enslaving, etc. Frederick Douglass thought the same.
Frederick Douglass was a slave for most of his life being traded from one slave master to another. He constantly felt that no matter how well his slave masters treated him, he was still not treated as being a human. His Liberty and freedom grew to be of most importance to him. In one relationship of slave and slave master, Frederick Douglass said that the woman of the house he worked for first treated him as one human should treat another human. As time went on, it became clear that the absolute power she was given over Douglass had corrupted her own integrity of treating others as fellow human beings, especially when it came to Douglass. In this example, it is empirically clear that slavery harms both the enslaved and the enslavers, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Further examples provided by Frederick Douglass were that some masters treated him less poorly than others. I will not say “They treated him better than others,” because after all, he was still not free and was treated as being a lesser creature than his white slave masters and White society as a whole.
For instance, when he was growing up on a plantation, the slave master would give him cakes and speak kindly to him (Douglass, 16). Yet another slave master would allow Douglass to go work elsewhere for money, but he had to give the entire earnings to the slave master at the end of every week. Sometimes this master would give Douglass some of the earnings back. Frederick Douglass thought that all of the money should be his own since it was earned through his own labor. These examples demonstrate that even when given some taste of kindness or freedom, he was still not treated as being owner over himself or his labor (Douglass, 59).
It is not clear in Frederick Douglass’ words as to whether he felt the same towards government and taxation. It is my speculation that he would think that a government should tax as little as possible in order to operate, but in the end every person’s income is justifiably their own. In order for ‘justice’ to exist, there requires a unilateral system of equal treatment under the law, so anarchy would not be applicable for ‘justice’ to exist. Either small amounts of taxation would be required, or a voluntary system would be necessary. It is more likely that small amounts of taxation would be successful, and it is my understanding from Douglass’ situation with the master that took his money that he would be inclined to agree with this sentiment for a Minarchist, or “Night-Watchman,” state.
Douglass saw the world in a different way than many other slaves did at the time, which provided him the ability to grow as a person. He learned to read and hungered for knowledge by playing games with white children nearby (Douglass, 22-23). He rightfully understood that a person has property within themselves and is responsible for their actions and labor (Douglass, 59). Furthermore, he saw that people are to be treated equally under the law as the concept of ‘justice’ would have it, no matter one’s skin color or mental capacity.
Frederick Douglass, in contrast with Thomas Jefferson, saw that immediately releasing slaves was imperative. Where Jefferson saw Black people as being naturally inferior, Douglass was able to refute such a hasty generalization and distasteful claim by proving over and over again of his humanity and intellect, while establishing his equality to Whites.
Douglass, like Jefferson, for the most part, believed in peace; and his solution to being enslaved was to run away from the slave owners rather than leading acts of violence towards those that enslaved him and others. Until his death in 1895, at age 77, Frederick Douglas continued to advocate for the equality of Blacks to Whites, and condemned the practice of slavery. He lived to see the victory of the Union over the Confederacy, the Emancipation, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. If only he could have seen the progress made around 70 years later through the likes of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Baldwin.
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By Willie Johnson | United States
At few other times in history were the hearts and minds of Americans filled with so much fervor than the dawn of the American Civil War. Men from across the nation rallied to the cause of the North or South with passion that carried them into the jaws of death for four long years, fiercely loyal to the decision of their home states to either remain a part of the Union or to leave it. Although this allegiance was often reluctant, men on both sides usually put aside their personal opinions to defend their homes regardless of the larger cause―something that would never happen today.
Today, citizens of the United States refer to themselves as “Americans.” One people, united by a bond of a national identity made possible not only by modern travel and communication, but also by shared trials and tribulations throughout history. Before such circumstances as a depression or World War could bring us together, however, we more closely resembled an amalgamation of small, loosely organized countries. As a young nation defined first by colonies and then states, a resident of the Carolinas, for example, would refer to himself or herself as a Carolinian first, and an American second.
In a time when the bounds of technology limited the ability of any government to effectively rule large amounts of territory, the regional governments of states (and even counties, to some extent) played a much larger role in the lives of citizens than the federal government ever did. This created a perfect storm for civil war, however, as the regional differences intensified by this form of rule allowed for a gap between north and south to grow ever wider in the Antebellum period. When the question of secession finally arose, it was these states and counties that shaped the opposing sides. The counties of Kentucky, for example, contained split allegiances, and the state fielded both Union and Confederate troops as a result.
The fact is, if you were a white male between the ages of seventeen and forty in 1861, you would most likely join your friends and neighbors to fight for the State in which you were born. Your loyalty to your State Government, already largely independent from Washington, would supersede your loyalty to the United States as a whole. You would take up arms under the impression that you were doing so in defense of what was best for your state and its citizens. That isn’t to say that people did not see the larger cause, though; references to “defending the South” or “preserving the Union” are not uncommon in original letters from the highest ranking generals to the lowliest of foot soldiers.
In a letter to his children penned soon after leaving to join the Confederate Army, Lieutenant Samuel J. C. Moore of the Second Virginia Infantry perfectly expressed the reasons for his sacrifice. In it, he emphasized an attitude of state loyalty common among soldiers of both sides, and like many southerners, claimed to be defending his home from an invader:
“Do you know for what your Papa has left his family and his home and his office and his business? I will tell you. The State of Virginia called for all the men who are young and able to carry arms, to defend her against Lincoln’s armies, and it is the duty, I think, of every man to answer her call, and be ready to keep the army of our enemies from ever setting their feet in the state.”
Moore was simply one among millions of enthusiastic volunteers on both sides who understood exactly what was on the line. Before the war was over, his native Shenandoah Valley would be in ruins like so many other parts of the country, but not in vain. The country needed the most bitter of conflicts to become more unified and successful than ever before. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the nation rose to enter the industrial era as a world superpower. Although much progress was still on the way, the final result of the Civil War set the stage for the modern day.
Perhaps now more than ever, it is important to learn from history. It, unfortunately, took the deaths of over 600,000 men to change the way Americans thought of their identity, but that sacrifice ensured that America would never be the same. The Civil War achieved many other essential accomplishments, but its effect upon our idea of unity cannot be overstated. We went from the United States of America to the United States of America… a simple distinction forged in bloodshed.