Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pining for Stephen A. Douglas

Here are the opening words of Stephen A. Douglas (one of Lincoln’s three opponents in the 1860 election and a windbag of epic proportions; remind you of anyone?) writing in the September 1859 issue of Harper’s Magazine:

UNDER our complex system of government it is the first duty of American statesmen to mark distinctly the dividing line between Federal and Local Authority. To do this with accuracy involves an inquiry, not only into the powers and duties of the Federal Government under the Constitution, but also into the rights, privileges, and immunities of the people of the Territories, as well as of the States composing the Union.

He sounds like a Tea Partier, doesn’t he? Just like Stonewall Emmer, Mike Parry, Michele Bachmann and the whole bunch.

But you don’t need to read much further in the article — Douglas does reel off a nineteen page diatribe, but you don’t need to read all of it, by any means — to see what Douglas’ constitutional tut-tutting is really all about:

The political organization which was formed in 1854, and has assumed the name of the Republican Party, is based on the theory that African slavery, as it exists in this country is an evil of such magnitude-social, moral; and political-as to justify and require the exertion of the entire power and influence of the Federal Government to the full extent that the Constitution, according to their interpretation, will permit for its ultimate extinction.

*  *  *

Thus it will be seen, that under the auspices of a political party, which claims sovereignty in Congress over the subject of slavery, there can be no peace on the slavery question-no truce in the sectional strife-no fraternity between the North and South, so long as this Union remains as our fathers made it-divided into free and slave States, with the right on the part of each to retain slavery so long as it chooses, and to abolish it whenever it pleases [that is, never].

(Douglas was addressing, in part, the issue of the power of the federal government to prohibit slavery in the Territories of the United States.)

Douglas cannot imagine a federal government with the power to right such a monumental outrage as slavery. He shakes his head sadly at the loss of freedom — and never mind the valuable property — that would be suffered by white slave owners if the Peculiar Institution was abolished, or indeed stunted from flourishing in the territorial possessions of the United States.

Just as Stonewall Emmer cannot imagine the idea of the loss to his “personal freedom” if some of his tax money goes to help insure that people don’t die in the streets from lack of health care. But the “I don’t care if people die in the streets because of lack of health care” frame seems, well, a little heartless; it has to be dressed up in the Constitution before it can be taken out on display.

But make no mistake: the Tea Party fanciers differ in degree but not in essential kind to the slavery apologists like their windy pal Stephen A. Douglas.

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