GDG- NPS & Slavery

Michael DiLauro madpd2001 at
Wed Jan 4 11:59:52 CST 2012

I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned a tremendous amout from all of you on this topic. Blessed indeed to have so many smart, well read, and articulate people in this group. With that said...
Ironically I don't think it is an oversimplification to say that this is an extraordinarily complex issue with no easy answers. Although our founders authored the greatest governing charter ever devised by mortal men (read here, 'Miracle At Philadelphia' a wonderful book and one of my faves) they weren't perfect and neither was it. They dropped the ball when it came to slavery. They didn't want to face it head on. And thereafter it would periodically raise its ugly head (e.g. 1820 & 1850 compromises) only to be pushed forcibly below the surface. Its remarkable that the country didn't break up long before 1861 and probably would have if we were'nt blessed with Clay, Calhoun & Webster (among others).
Lincoln, our most able and brilliant political president, wanted to save the Union, above all else, and probably would be willing to do so at the exclusion of all else if thats what it took. He manipulated people and institutions (including the Constitution) in the worst ways in order to do so. The role that limiting and ultimately ending slavery played in the calculus was at least secondary and evolved over time. E.g. apart from being the right thing to do (and tepidly undertaken at best) the primary purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was to add a decidely moral tone to the war thus ensuring that the Eurpoean powers did not enter. At least thats how I understand it. Coincidentally I have just finsihed reading Gary Wills wonderful book 'Lincoln at Gettysburg'. Lincoln wasn't even choosy about which founding document got him to where he wanted to be. The Constitution was fine but he was willing to change horses in midstream basing his positions and
 justifications in support of the war and preserving the Union (and the Gettysburg Address) primarily on the Declaration of Independence. The fact that eridicating slavery at the same time while timely was only a bonus.
The fact that some folks might think there to be too much of an emphasis on slavery at Gettysburg, Arlington, etc. is normal I think. The role and understanding of race relations in this country is a central and seminal issue. I think it nearly impossible for it to be overemphasized in just about any discussion of the history of our country, Gettysburg included. And the fact that it had been pushed to the back burner for so long, both before and after the Civil War makes it all the more startling when it enters areas where heretofore it has not, some of which has been discussed here. See here the actions undertaken by the federal government and courts beginning in the 1950's. It was through these actions undertaken almost a century after the Civil War concluded that effectuated the war's results and post war amendments to the Constitution. What took so long?
Finally, a personal anecdote and analogy (I hope)...I was at a conference this past summer on criminal justice reform at the state legislative level. At an initial workshop on media relations we were asked to share our greatest success during the past legislative session. I spoke about our successful effort to secure a pardon for John Gordon, last man executed in RI in 1845 and how it engendered many, many public and private conversations about other criminal justice reform issues generally. I explained it this way to folks from about 30 other states, "Think a Rhode Island, Irish version of Sacco & Vanzetti." About a dozen people raised their hands to ask, "Who are Sacco & Vanzetti?" I wish I was kidding. Unfortunately, I'm not. We have to start these conversations wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Sorry to have gone on for so long.
Mike DiLauro

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