So Close To A Working Republic:
The founders of this country desperately wanted to believe they could implement a democratic republic form of governing.
They were so close to accomplishing what others failed to do, developing a state of governing, whereas Jefferson said, “all men are created equal and have the right to liberty and happiness.’
After throwing off the yoke of British rule, they replaced it with their version of a Republic. As John Jay wrote in Federalist 2, ‘they had the same language, professed the same religion, and were attached to the same governing principles.’ The perfect recipe for establishing a republic to be governed by democratic principles.
For sure, these wealthy renegades were on the path of forming the perfect union for themselves and their families. They should have pulled it off by all accounts, and some will say they did, but not really. You see, there was this tiny little problem they had yet to fix.
A somewhat obscure human rights issue kept getting in the founders’ way of preventing them from fully achieving the goal they set out for themselves. I’m referring to chattel slavery as the fly in the ointment, which contained their dream of forming the perfect union they hoped to achieve. Oh, they convinced themselves they indeed accomplished what they set out to do when breaking away from British rule. But like the kings, queens, and caesars of Greek, Roman, and British empires, the Republic they sought has proved to be as elusive as the unicorn. Slavery, more specifically chattel slavery, prevented the Founders from giving us the Republic Jefferson and all the other founders envisioned.
The Greed Of The Founders Gave Us Critical Race Theory:
Yes, the greed of the founders is what gave us this concept of critical race theory that has everyone in an uproar.
We need to be realistic about those individuals who were instrumental in forming our government. They were merchants, farmers, craftsmen, and scoundrels, and they emigrated here for fame, riches, and the opportunity to start over. Many, not all, were already wealthy and brought their wealth with them to grow it even more in a wide-open country.
I ask you, just who in the hell do you think Jay was talking to when he penned these words in Federalist 2, how he felt the country and people made for each other, or brethren united by the most substantial ties? His words weren’t for the seventeen slaves he owned, rented out, and sold. Jay’s slaves were nothing but property to him, to do what he well pleased and indeed not included in the words he penned to persuade the adoption of the Constitution.
Property is what Black humans were to individuals like Jay, Jefferson, Washington, and many of the country’s founding fathers. So from their point of view, the logical course of action was to write laws that protected their property, be it human or non-human.
Remember the fictional character Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street, and the greed is good speech? I imagined a precursor to him saying the following about slavery to a gathering of plantation owners in our young nation:
I am not a destroyer of slavery. I am a liberator of the slaves. The point is, my fellow slave owners, that slavery, for the lack of a better word, is good. Slavery is right. Slavery works. Slavery clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of master to slave. Slavery in all forms, whether raping our comely women slaves to increase our stock or selling their children for profit. Slavery for life, wealth, and power. Slavery will mark this country of ours as a great power and be the wonder of humanity throughout the world – you mark my words – slavery will allow us to prosper and make this country into the most significant corporation ever. Slavery is good.
We revere the founders even though many of them owned slaves. Whether this veneration is justified is not the issue, and it is incumbent on us to recognize the founders built the country on a set of conflicting principles. The most conflicting of all was the agreement around slavery. Jefferson’s word around the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness was not well received by all in the colonies, especially in the Carolinas, where chattel slavery was thriving. The codification of slavery in the newly formed country became an integral part of its history to the level its dependence on it resulted in the country’s only Civil War. While the war ended chattel slavery, it did nothing to remove the stigma of slavery. Nor did it quell the belief this country was for those Jay wrote about in Federalist 2.
So after the Civil War began to move forward, what to do with the freed slaves was a significant issue. Attempts of reenslaving them were not unheard of and essentially accomplished with the flackery of sharecropping. The foundation for Jim Crow extended second-class citizenry for another 150 years. The stealing of rightfully owned property of former slaves stripped them of potential wealth only to add to their already staggering growth of riches. To make it all legal and by the book, laws were written from a white citizenry perspective to support and justify the thievery. Since they could no longer own them, they were going to damn well make sure they wouldn’t have anything of value of their own unless allowed by them.
W.E.B. Dubois wrote about how the “color line” would be a problem in the 20th century and how whites feel about “the relation of the darker to the lighter.” Here we are in the 21st century, still dealing with the same set of issues around race. If DuBois were alive now, it would be interesting to hear what he would say about the current controversy over critical race theory. Some of the actions we have seen on the news relating to critical race theory are reminiscent of the screaming mobs of people protesting school desegregation. The notable difference is white people screaming at other white people who sit on school committee boards, threatening them and their families if they allow one iota of critical race theory to filter into the classroom where their children attend.
The opposition to CRT has become the catchall for anything race-related. It is a distraction designed to keep people off balance and at each others’ throats and away from developing solutions to issues of race and wealth.
The Distraction Of Critical Race Theory:
Tell a lie often enough people eventually will believe it. Even if people don’t think it’s a lie, it will distract them. The current outrage about critical race theory fits into that category. So much misinformation and just plain lies have created a distraction on a topic essentially only known by those who went to law school.
Suddenly, with the onset of the 1619 Project, it has become the latest political ploy by the politically astute who are masters of disinformation campaigns. Nicole Hannah-Jones 1619 project is an insightful body of work, and it puts a spotlight on the part of our country’s history people would like to go away like it never happened. It is interesting how 1619 has become the focus of so much distraction considering other authors provided similar information on the introduction of slavery into the colonies.
We have Orlando Patterson’s books: White Man’s Burden and White Over Black: America’s Attitude Toward The Negro 1550-1812. In both, he writes the following:
“The first Negroes landed in Virginia in 1619, though very, very little is known about their precise status during the next twenty years. Between 1640 and 1660, there is evidence of enslavement, and after 1660 slavery crystallized on the statute books of Maryland, Virginia, and other colonies.”
Patterson is very clear about slavery becoming law in Maryland, Virginia, and other colonies. In his book, White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism, he details the growth of slavery in the colonies, and Patterson’s books came out before Hanna-Jones’ 1619 project. Also, we have Edward E. Baptist book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and The Making of American Capitalism, also written before the 1619 project:
“The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth. . . But what survivors experienced, analyzed, and named was a slavery that didn’t fit the comfortable boxes into which other Americans have been trying to fit it ever since it ended.”
Those politicians who have pushed through laws preventing the teaching of critical race theory, or banning discussions around the 1619 project, are playing a highly sophisticated game of Three Card Monte. We all know it is a rigged game of distraction in favor of the dealer. While focusing on attempts to disprove claims, critical race theory isn’t taught in grades K through 12 with statements it’s too complicated for children at that level don’t stop the CRT provocateurs. They continue to chum the waters of discontent and distraction by engaging in the tactic of banning books they believe promote critical race theory. Interestingly, many of the books they seek to ban are best-sellers written by Black authors.
It is all a calculated distraction to draw attention away from their fundamental objective, which is why we must take Franklin’s response to the question posed to him by Elizabeth Willing Powel when she asked, ‘what have we got a republic or monarch?’
A Republic If You Can Keep It:
Elizabeth Willing Powel of Philidelphia society is the woman who supposedly asked Franklin, ‘what have we got a republic or monarchy?’ To which he replied, ‘a republic if you can keep it.’ Indeed, it was interesting how he phrased the latter part of his response, ‘if you can keep it.” It suggests insight and understanding of what it would take for the newly formed country to survive under a republic form of democratic governance.
It was a coin flip whether this newly formed government would survive. Their previous British rulers tried to bring them back under their thumb, with a series of naval attacks and one final war. They prevailed, and this newly formed baby started its growth spurt. Buoyed by its vastness, exploring its boundaries presented new and exciting challenges along with the need for developing an economy and generating wealth.
The former colonists had land in abundance, and their vast landholdings required many hands to work the land for them. Chattel slavery expanded significantly after their independence from England, along with their wealth. Wedded to the maintaining this barbaric practice was the beginning of continuous stress tests on Franklin’s statement, ‘a republic if you can keep it.’ This stubborn insistence on chattel slavery plunged the country into a civil war that nearly destroyed their precious Republic. That same civil war put an end to the barbaric practice but did nothing to eliminate the stigma of slavery for those who have dark skin. Or has Du Bois said, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” When Frankly responded to Mrs. Powel, he understood what it would take to maintain the form of governance he and the other Constitutional delegates created. Fortunately for us, we are still a Republic. But, for how long?
In 2022, our country will be facing one of its most significant stress tests yet. With the nonsense and distraction of Critical Race Theory, people are overlooking the subtle and sometimes not so quiet push toward the dismantling of the Republic. As Du Bois put it, the overt push to limit voting of those “of the darker to the lighter races” is evident along with states’ push to control classroom education regarding history related to slavery.
When the founders formulated their ideas of a Republic, they looked to Greece and Rome for inspiration. Taking the best of each and hoping what they fashion would surpass them both and become a true beacon of Republic democracy. Many viewed our representative governing and the Constitution as the ideal to be achieved by struggling nations. As a country, we should be proud. But, what is there to be proud of when our history is ripe with embracing the ugly residue slavery left us?
Greece and Rome provided the fundamental elements for forming our Republican form of democracy. However, we should not lose sight; both of these ancestors of democratic principles lost what they had, Greece, by losing the Peloponnesian war to Sparta, subjecting Greece to its oligarchic rule. Rome’s four-hundred-year democracy became a casualty when Caesar crossed the Rubicon and set himself up as dictator with the people’s help.
A country’s history is ugly, brutal, and glorious, depending on who records it. Our history is no exception; an accurate portrayal is necessary. Suborning the history of slavery in this country will not work no matter how many governors try to negate the truth by banning critical race theory. As I stated, the current fervor around critical race theory is a clever distraction created to sow doubt and create anger among white parents who don’t want their children thinking they are racists.
Those who have entangled themselves in this flackery around critical race theory that the Heritage Foundation and Christopher Rufo from the Manhattan Institute have conjured up should ask themselves straightforward questions, Why is this so important right now? What will they gain in banning books by Black authors or any author who writes about race? What is the real reason for all this furor over Nicole Hannah-Jones 1619 Project?
I can’t help but wonder if these governors who are pushing CRT legislation and pulling books off library shelves are truly upset about books that discuss slavery. If they were, wouldn’t they be raising holy hell about The White Man’s Burden, Slavery and Social Death, by Orlando Patterson and The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and The Making of American Capitalism written by Edward E. Baptist?
What governors Abbot, DeSantis, Noem, and Youngkin are doing around CRT is for show and is a distraction to keep people from seeing what they’re really up to, the systematic moving of their states toward an autocratic governing structure, the natural outcome when democracy in a Republic dies.
When Franklin answered, ‘a republic if you can keep it,’ to Mrs. Powell’s question, he knew of what he spoke. He fully understood what men were capable of regarding power and wealth. He also understood that for the newly formed Constitutional Republic to succeed, it would have to deal with the question of slavery. Franklin also understood the weaknesses of powerful men, how power and wealth could corrupt them. This new land with a new government lure of power and wealth would be great. The questions were these men and those who would come behind them be up to the task of maintaining this newly form Constitutional government? So his reply, a republic if you can keep it, was indeed portentous.
In The Year 2022:
Here we are 246 years since declaring independence from England. The newly formed Republic faced numerous challenges. England wasn’t taking the breakaway of its former colony very well as it made multiple attempts to bring it back into the fold. I suppose one could consider their attempt in doing this what Franklin meant ‘if you can keep it.” Our history tells the story of how that worked out for Britain.
Needless to say, as a country, we’ve grown into a superpower and world leader. Every day we welcome those who see our country as an opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Some are successful, others not as much. As a country, our accomplishments are staggering and also disappointing.
While we have a relatively strong form of governing, we still refuse to accept ‘those of the darker races’ are and have been an integral part of this country’s success on all fronts. And the continued refusal to admit this is the country’s Achilles heel will contribute to its descent toward autocracy and not ‘keeping it.’
First off, wow! Such a brilliant walk through The Founders’ sensibilities, Franklin’s caution over our continued existence as a democratic republic in the face of slavery and its ramifications and the distraction of CRT as a pursuit of authoritarianism (and a new and different Civil War).
Just have to say, I really enjoyed this very smart and historically-grounded piece!
Also have to add, your revision of the Gordon Gekko speech to be about slavery was flat-out genius and devastating.
Everything you laid out is bolstered by your presentation and as may be no surprise, I agree wholeheartedly with the many insightful points you make.
It is no coincidence that those decrying CRT can’t actually explain what it is. They provide all kinds of vicious accusations about it, they howl that it is trying to make “our children” hate America, be shamed for the past and for being white, be brainwashed, etc.
But they can’t tell you in any specificity, what CRT actually is. They lie about it being taught in public schools to young children, they lie that it is about oppressing white people, they lie about it all. And why? Because, just as you point out, it is a distraction and a catch-all for white racial fear and animus.
I have been watching the Koch/Mercer/Bannon machinery operate over the past number of years, focusing on testing and seizing on propaganda campaigns that they will rely on to win elections since they have turned against democracy and trying to win hearts and minds to take more power in elections.
There is a coalescing of the GOP, the RW religious extremists and the wealthy plutocrats, all trying to whip up a rebellion against the republic we are trying to keep as you quote Franklin as addressing.
This is the big picture. This overthrow of our Republic is what this is all about and these anti-American authoritarians know that the key dynamic to rally their own “army” of the public, to ignorantly support their takeover of our democracy (including oppressing the fools marching like zombies for these few to rule the nation), is the poison that was embedded in this nation from its birth, racism.
They have been floating one test balloon after another to find the most flammable propaganda they can to really ignite the racism of their lemmings. They tried but ultimately failed with their “caravans of rapists and terrorists” coming over the border. They tried and failed with building up the massive threat of “Antifa”. They kept trying and trying with their “All Lives Matter” and their “Thin Blue Line” flags and their “Defund the Police” scaremongering but none of it really gave them the racist red hot poker they know they need to make their racist moron followers stampede.
So they tried it with CRT and they’ve had more success. They seem to have taken the Virginia governorship due to that tactic but arguably, this CRT bullshit won’t work outside of southern swing states and may be played out as people see no difference in states that do or don’t burn books by and about African Americans (whether or not they are about slavery and its legacy in America).
As you point out, this is absolutely about grabbing power, fueling insurgency and delivering an autocracy to the few white men financing and promoting this effort. One could legitimately assert that Florida and Texas are now racist autocracies and all the states in which Republicans are trying to strangle elections and democracy are fast on their way on joining this “Confederacy” if they aren’t there already.
Indeed, attacking CRT is both a distraction and a tool to install autocracies that enforce racism in states and eventually through national control. If the election law changes in Repub-run states follow Georgia and allow Republican legislatures to throw out elections that they lose by simply declaring, There’s fraud!” without proving it in court…who will be losing their constitutional rights to vote. Whose right to vote will essentially be returned to the times of slavery, before the 15th Amendment granted it to them?
Percentage-wise, African Americans will be hit the hardest. Their right to vote in such states will be stripped away from them as it will be for most people of color who largely vote for Democrats.
And what is important to remember, and I know you do, is that it won’t stop there. Once elitists take away one right and power of a group of people to benefit themselves, they will be back to take away more and more rights from those people to cash those inas well.
These autocrats need to herd their sheep with intense emotions that override any desire to reason and the one proven tool they know that will accomplish that is to spike their fear and hatred through racism.
I know many have said this and are saying it, from respected politicians to pundits but we are in a very dangerous time and in the midst of a losing battle against the overthrow of our republic,
With greedy enemies of our republic as a whole political party and such tools as Manchin and Sinema. there is one very narrow path to preventing this overthrow. Dems must pull out all the stops, spend all they can (including all of us, contributing time, energy and money) and file all the lawsuits possible to help Democrats keep The House this year and add two seats to the majority in The Senate.
That is a very tall order, especially with all of these new gerrymanders and voter suppression laws trying to hobble voting by Democrats. But with Manchin and Sinema sabotaging the entire Democratic Party and giving aid and comfort to those who are overthrowing our democracy, it may be the only hope we have.
What is hard to argue, in the face of 2020 and Repubs around the country refusing to concede elections even when they lose by 40%, is that the presidential election in 2024 is on track to launch violence and insurrection, physical and social conflicts exploding all across the country, if this attempt to overthrow free and fair elections is in place.
There is one more thing that may help Dems overcome the odds to keep our republic and that is the 1/6 committee’s public hearings and criminal prosecutions of Trump and those around him, proving them and the GOP to have conspired to overthrow our democracy. In past history, devastating revelations about the corruption and criminality of Republicans has resulted in Dems winning elections and houses in Congress. The deciding factor may be swaying independents who become disgusted with the lies and sedition of Republicans to support Dems.
All of this is connected to your meaningful insights on the phony CRT propaganda because I think we will see Repubs hammer so much harder on their racism and attacks on CRT as we head towards this year’s election so we need to be prepared for that and do whatever we can to confront this truly insidious campaign against our fellow Americans and our republic.