No Constitution Classes Valentines Day Week

No Constitution Classes Valentines Day Week

Friday, January 27, 2023

Frederick Douglass and the United States Constitution

by Douglas V. Gibbs
Author, Speaker, Instructor, Radio Host

The United States Constitution has served as a powerful and enduring force in the history of the United States, and the document has proven to be a pivotal influence on the political stage worldwide.  The belief that the Constitution is a valid document and a tool for the advocacy of liberty was embraced early on by many, but the Constitution was also an immediate target for conflict among those who viewed proper governance as only being able to properly operate under the guidance of a ruling elite.  A passionate mixture of opposition and support has been a constant dynamic for the Constitution, with Jeffersonian-minded patriots seeking to preserve liberty on one side, and Hamiltonian-minded elitists, collectivists, and secularists congregating against it. 

Frederick Douglass was among those who began in opposition to the Constitution, and then over his lifespan came to understand that it was not a pro-slavery document, and that as written the founding document was a spectacular instrument for the preservation of liberty.  He publicly changed his stance on the Constitution in the spring of 1851 when The American Anti-Slavery Society established a new policy denouncing any paper that opposed the organization’s belief in the Constitution as a pro-slavery document.  Douglass, a longtime member of the organization, proclaimed that under this new policy his newspaper The North Star was ineligible for their endorsement. 

Quotes by Frederick Douglass reveals his opinions that acknowledged the importance of the Constitution.

“Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”

“Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the constitution is a Glorious Liberty Document!” 

“I opposed the Constitution until I read it.”

Douglass inserted himself into a pro-constitution dialogue demonstrating that education was the key to understanding the document.  He called education to “great emancipator.”  As long as he listened to people like William Lloyd Garrison, who believed the Constitution to be a pro-slavery document, and accepted what Garrison had to say about the Constitution without researching the facts for himself, Douglass was opposed to the founding document.  He saw what Garrison saw because he only accepted what Garrison had to say.  Douglass realized, however, that if he was going to be a participant in American society, and if he was going to form his own opinions about the world he lived in, he needed to see with his own eyes the facts of the matter.  So, Douglass studied the Constitution, and his studies brought him to conclusions that were at odds with Garrison’s.  

Under his new point of view, Douglass recognized that the recent presidential administrations had been leading the government away from its founding ideals. The Constitution was being interpreted in ways that it never intended.  Douglass realized that a calamity was in the making, and it was the duty of every American citizen to use the Constitution and political processes at their disposal to bring the country back in line with its founding intent.  Douglass challenged his fellow Americans to reconsider what it meant to be a citizen, and who was a citizen.  Were citizens entitled to protection under the Constitution, or were their natural rights something that they needed to actively preserve through their own civic action?  Douglass began to champion the Constitution, declaring that the proper interpretation of the Constitution always pointed toward freedom and natural rights despite the ambiguity of a particular situation.  He argued that the Constitution must be the lens through which advocacy for freedom and natural rights of all people, including the black community and women, begins.  It begins with “We the People” because the people are who must ensure that the original writings were followed as intended.  The Constitution does not preserve liberty, the people have the duty to preserve liberty, using the Constitution as a valuable tool.

In January 1865, Douglass declared the “hour of the Negro” was upon America.  Advocacy for Black citizenship and suffrage was a duty of those who sought such a thing.  He fought for enfranchisement for Black men, but insisted that once that right was acquired, Black men could help in the push for women’s suffrage.

To be an American Citizen, in the eyes of Douglas, meant that you had the right to vote and hold office.  According to Douglass, upon emancipation, Black men deserved, and must be given, the opportunity to achieve those same rights and privileges.  It was the pinnacle of the American Dream to be active in protecting one’s communities and families and to insure that the interests of all individuals were represented in the American government.

By the 1870s Black people were working, paying taxes, defending the country, and upholding the laws and customs of society, yet in many regions of the United States they were doing so without the benefits of protection by law enforcement, enfranchisement, and the government securing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by restraining itself legally, and inserting itself when individuals sought to betray those rights that belonged to the Black community.  The tension led to an ongoing battle for civil rights in the United States, sometimes unleashing violence and the disenfranchisement of Black people.  Douglass recognized that the fault was not with the Constitution.  The culture was suspect, and it was his goal for all Americans to hold the Constitution in high reverence as he did; if that goal was achieved, the journey back to a Jeffersonian view of liberty in the country would become reality.

That battle continues today, but now the surface arguments have been jumbled, shuffled, creating a Marxist scenario of class warfare.  What we see, the names and who the groups are, and the technology involved, are all symptoms.  As Frederick Douglass believed, as Thomas Jefferson advocated, and as a delegation in Philadelphia during the Summer of 1787 wrote, the key comes down to liberty versus tyranny.  To survive, and to restore the republic as originally intended, the war is not in the streets, or between races.  The war is for the minds and souls of the people.  The battlefield is the culture.  And the battle plan is the United States Constitution.  Dismantle the efforts that challenge the idea that the Creator is the keystone and foundation of the system, and restore the mechanisms of the republican form of government established by the Constitution, and all of the other things will be resolved.  And it begins, as Frederick Douglass taught, with education.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

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