The United States, Senator Bernie Sanders declared before a few thousand college students yesterday, was founded “from way back on racist principles.” “That,” he added, after briefly apologizing for bringing the topic up in the first instance, “is a fact — we have come a long way as a nation.”He concludes with remarks by Alexander Stephens:
That Sanders should remind voters of this truth is admirable and necessary. That he should do so in the middle of an ideologically hostile crowd is even more so. One cannot enjoy redemption without guilt, and, on occasion at least, that guilt must be given a name. America has indeed “come a long way.”
It is unfortunate, however, that Sanders felt the need to attach his reminder to a dangerous falsehood. The American escutcheon is indeed sullied by original sin, but that sin is largely one of omission rather than commission. Flawed as it is, the United States was not founded on inadequate or abominable or “racist” principles, but upon extraordinary, revolutionary, and unusually virtuous propositions that, tragically, have all too often been ignored.
Whereas the United States “rested upon the assumption of the equality of races,” the Confederacy would be “founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” The departure from the settlement of 1789 would be dramatic. “This, our new government,” he submitted, “is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”When a leftist makes such a false assertion about founding principles, are they demonstrating simple ignorance or knowingly lying in order to attack and undermine the country?
Mercifully, Stephens’s pernicious pseudo-“truth” was smashed and cut into pieces by the Union Army, and the older, more virtuous axioms were restored to the center of American life. Over the next century, by a tricky combination of legal reform and social pressure, the unrealized values of the founding were extended, little by little, to all. Today, we still grapple with them — not because we suspect that they may be wrong but because we worry that they are not being universally enjoyed and that this is unacceptable. When the likes of Bernie Sanders submit that that the creed is flawed per se, they do a disservice not only to America’s North Star — her “promissory note” as Martin Luther King Jr. memorably put it — but to themselves, for to advance the idea that warped men can by their behavior sully self-evident truths is to side unwittingly with the Calhouns and the Stephenses of the world, and to take firm aim at the hard-earned scars on Frederick Douglass’s back.