The American Historian, Heather Cox Richardson, makes history come alive so that it pokes its head right up into our current political events and gives us a more honest assessment and informed perspective of what’s really going on.
Two days ago "Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed his state’s new voter suppression law" underneath a painting of the “Callaway Plantation on which more than 100 Black people had been enslvaved,” Cox wrote.
Cox recalled how in the same month of March in 1858, the U.S. Senate had debated “the power of the Vote” in our democracy in a similar fashion as the Georgia (Republican) Legislature has recently debated how to more effectively control and limit access to the Voting Box so as to maintain their power and privilege—all under the guise, of course, of “protecting the integrity” of Georgia’s voting system.
[In that year] in the Senate, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond, who rejected “as ridiculously absurd” the idea that “all men are born equal,” rose to speak on the subject….
He explained to his Senate colleagues just how wealthy the South’s system of human enslavement had made the region, then explained that the “harmonious… and prosperous” system worked precisely because a few wealthy men ruled over a larger class with “a low order of intellect and but little skill.” Hammond explained that in the South, those workers were Black slaves, but the North had such a class, too: they were “your whole hireling class of manual laborers.”
These distinctions had crucial political importance, he explained, “Our slaves do not vote. We give them no political power. Yours do vote, and, being the majority, they are the depositaries of all your political power. If they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot-box is stronger than ‘an army with banners,’ and could combine, where would you be? (emphasis mine) Your society would be reconstructed, your government overthrown, your property divided… by the quiet process of the ballot-box.”
Hammond believed the South's system must spread to Kansas and the West regardless of what settlers there wanted because it was the only acceptable way to organize society. Two years later, Hammond would be one of those working to establish the Confederate States of America, “founded,” in the words of their vice president, Alexander Stephens, upon the “great physical, philosophical, and moral truth… that the negro is not equal to the white man.”
Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln recognized that if Americans accepted the principle that some men were better than others, and permitted southern Democrats to spread that principle by dominating the government, they had lost democracy. "I should like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares ... are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop?” he asked.
Led by Abraham Lincoln, Republicans rejected the slaveholders’ unequal view of the world as a radical reworking of the nation’s founding principles. They stood firm on the Declaration of Independence.
When southerners fought to destroy the government rather than accept the idea of human equality, Lincoln reminded Americans just how fragile our democracy is. At Gettysburg in November 1863, he rededicated the nation to the principles of the Declaration and called upon his audience “to be dedicated… to the great task remaining before us… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The United States defeated the Confederacy, outlawed human enslavement except as punishment for crime, declared Black Americans citizens, and in 1867, with the Military Reconstruction Act, began to establish impartial suffrage. The Military Reconstruction Act, wrote Maine politician James G. Blaine in 1893, “changed the political history of the United States.”
I guess some “men” just don’t get it. Once again we’re witnessing how the “men” in power (in Georgia) are prepared to sacrifice the principles of democracy—“that all men are created equal”—in order to preserve their own power since they assume that they know what’s best for all others without having to ask. It’s much easier to simply barrel your ideas through the government without having to risk the defeat of your ideas at the hands of the whole electorate, especially those who have a “different perspective on life” than White Men!
But—once again, this time with far more political power than in 1858, the electorate in Georgia will need to rise up “as the depositaries of all Georgia’s political power, and exercise the tremendous secret that the ballot-box is stronger than ‘an army with banners.”
Go Georgians!! What you do or don't do will help determine the fate of our democracy.
Read Heather Cox Richardson's full article on her blog: https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/.