There are a lot of things we don’t know about the people who came before us. We don’t know how or 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 for great-grandma. We don’t know what words he used, or his tone of voice. We don’t know if they had a moment of passion because they left no evidence for us. They spoke differently, yet surely they held the same emotions we do. We base our fiction on that assumption.
We could be entirely wrong. It’s guesswork based on some facts.
On the other hand, we know precisely — anyone could know this because it’s easy information to find. The people who drew up our Constitution understood how deeply wrong slavery was. They knew 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 or her own life – there would not have been a Constitution or a country.
I used to think it was the right decision, but I’ve changed my mind. We should have fought to do the right thing. Evil never becomes righteous, no matter how well-intentioned someone is. We were sure that getting this to be a country was what mattered. Under this devil’s decision lay the future in which we are now living.
The northerner’s objections to slavery didn’t mean there were no 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. And quietly until after the civil war, there were still slaves kept quietly where there were not supposed to be any.
About those Native Americans from whom we grabbed this land and who we slaughtered to keep it? We knew it was wrong.
Maybe not every unread slob understood it, but anyone with a trace 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? Yes.
Understanding was not nearly enough because they wanted this country. All of it. They wanted it beyond any moral compunctions. If that meant slaughtering entire tribes — look up Andrew Jackson for more on that — so be it. Why should “those savages” get this rich and beautiful country?
We didn’t think anyone else deserved this great nation. It had to be ours. To make this officially 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. Not only were we greedy and vicious, but we had to make ourselves somehow feel righteous about ourselves.
So, as has happened throughout history, we got what we wanted. We took everything, killed anyone who got in our way. And said we deserved it because we are better.
We have pretty much 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. Nor do I buy into any belief that says “we didn’t understand what we were doing” because we knew. We didn’t care then and we don’t care now.
How do we know we knew? Because all our founders wrote about it. At great length. In documents, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books. We don’t have to guess: they told us.
The majority is not necessarily right.
For my entire life, I believed my country was improving and becoming more of what it said it wanted to be. We were struggling but trying to become a moral light in the world. I’m not seeing that today. Even with a new administration, I’m not seeing the kind of change we need to make this a better country.
Are people still fighting the good fight? Yes. But nationally, that isn’t what I see. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbing I find what I do see. How is your conscience doing these days? Are you having a bit of a rough patch? I know I am.