Sunday, October 31, 2010

What will we do Tuesday, a century and a half after Lincoln's election?

This week's election occurs 150 years after the nation elected Abraham Lincoln president. Lincoln gained national prominence in his opposition of the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision. That decision is thought to have had some major implications:

  • That people of African descent were not citizens of the United States and therefore did not have the protection afforded to citizens by the constitution and the courts.
  • That slaves were the property of their owners and could not be taken from those owners without due process of law.
The Chief Justice held that the Congress could not make laws that applied in the territories. Essentially the five slave owners on the Supreme Court that decided the Dred Scott case sought to assure that the territories west of the Mississippi would allow the importation of slaves, and they were sure that that fact would assure that the United States remained a country in which slavery was accepted.

Lincoln traveled over much of the north speaking against this decision. His opposition took him from being a retired Congressman to having the prestige and visibility to win the nomination of the Republican party for President. The Republican party abolitionists were energized -- galvanized -- in their opposition to the Dred Scott decision, and Lincoln was elected President.

The southern states recognized the election as a turning point as to what kind of nation the United States would be. The seceded from the Union to preserve their social system and Lincoln declared war to preserve the Union. The Civil War led to the abolition of slavery and began a process which is still continuing by which African-Americans are gaining the full rights of citizenship and equality in our nation.

Strangely, there has been a reversal in the roles of the parties with the Democrats now including the progressive wing of American politics, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 leading to the white population of the southern states shifting en mass to the Republican Party.

It would be ironic if in this election, 150 years after the election of Lincoln, the nation voted against the party of our first African American President and in favor of the party that opposed the extension of health insurance to the marginalized portions of our society and opposed taxes that would have the rich among us pay their fair share of the bill for government services.

But then it was ironic that people who did not own nor benefit from slaves fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and that the south was so successful for so long after emancipation of slaves in keeping the ex slaves and their descendants in a state of subservience.

1 comment:

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