How — why — they dressed and spoke and related to each other as people in their society. We are fuzzy about a lot of cultural material and mostly, we take our best guess as to what they were thinking as they lived from one day to the next in whatever capacity they lived it.
We have no clue about how our great-grandfather confessed his love to great-grandmother. We don’t know the words they used, or their tone of voice. We don’t know if their moment of passion happened at all. We don’t know because they left no evidence for us. They spoke differently, yet surely they held the same emotions we do — and we base all our fiction on that assumption. But of course, we could be entirely wrong. It’s just guesswork.
On the other hand, we know precisely — anyone could know — that the people who drew up our Constitution understood how deeply wrong slavery was. They knew — fully and completely — failing to remove this horror would cause a war. A big war. Many expressed gratitude they would not live to see it.
They knew right from wrong.
They spent agonizing hours, weeks, months and years writing about it. Discussing it. Keeping notes about what they said and what others said. They didn’t for a minute think building a nation on slavery was “okay.” Abigail Adams, for one, didn’t want to live in the White House — not merely because it wasn’t finished, but because slaves built it. Yet without the compromise of making slaves three-fifths of a person — a person who would never vote or have anything to say about his own life — there would not have been a Constitution or a country. Getting the country to be a country was, ultimately, what mattered. Under this devil’s decision lay the future in which we are now living.
We didn’t get here by accident. It wasn’t one bad election or a few unfortunate choices. The path on which we are walking was being laid out for us before there was a United State. The issues we now face have always been there.
For all the northern objections to slavery, it wasn’t as if there weren’t any slaves in New England or New York. Southern plantations bought slaves, but New England sea captains brought them here. The first port of call for southern slave owners were the slave markets of New York and New England. Until the Constitution when northern slavery was formally abolished, there were plenty of slaves up north, too.
About those Native Americans from whom we grabbed this land and who we slaughtered so we could keep it? Of course we knew it was wrong. Maybe not every unread slob understood it, but anyone with a modicum of education got it. We still know it, even if we have tried our best to tuck the information as far from “common knowledge” as we can. We don’t want to think about what we did to get this place — and what we are still doing.
Did our ancestors understand this?
But you see — they wanted this country. They wanted it and they wanted it beyond any moral compunctions. If that mean slaughtering entire tribes — see Andrew Jackson for more on that — so be it. Why should “those savages” get this rich and beautiful country? They didn’t deserve it. It should be ours. To make this righteous, we made up a bunch of crap about white being better than not white, but we didn’t get that from anyone’s religion. We quite simply made it up because we needed to believe it.
So, as has happened throughout history, we did what we wanted. We took everything, killed anyone who got in our way and have more less continued to do that ever since. Was it the first or last time an invading group of foreigners stole a nation from its native inhabitants? Obviously not.
I do not buy any concept which says “we didn’t understand what we were doing.” We knew just fine. Our ancestors — your ancestors — might not have talked the way we do, but they were much better at acknowledging good and evil.
Again: How do we know this? Let me reiterate.
They wrote about it. At great length. In documents, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books. We don’t have to guess: they told us. Whether or not great granddad Josiah proposed in flowery English to great grandma Elizabeth may be a guess, but that Josiah thought our behavior toward slaves and Natives was wrong — we do know that.
The reason the Trump White House can do what it is doing is because there is so much hatred in this country. All he needed to do was play to the haters and leave the windows open. We don’t know what our so-called “leaders” believe, but we know who and what they hate. I don’t care in how many other countries this same ugly scene is happening. That doesn’t justify it happening here. If the whole world needs to clean up its act? So be it.
The majority is not necessarily right.
For my entire life, I believed this country — my country — was getting better. Was becoming more of what it said it wanted to be. That we were struggling, but trying to become a moral light in the world. I’m not seeing that anymore. Not on a national level. Are there many individuals who are still fighting the good fight? Sure. But nationally, as a nation, that isn’t what I see. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbing I find this.
How is your conscience doing these days? Having a bit of a rough patch?