Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Founding Father for African-Americans: Frederick Douglass

There is no such thing as a Founding Father for African-Americans, but if there was one it would be Frederick Douglass. Although Douglass was not alive during the founding period, he was the key leader during the initial civil rights period to end slavery. Douglass was born a slave in Maryland in 1818. After several failed attempts, Douglass escaped to the North and settled in Massachusetts. In 1839, Douglass became a licensed preacher and became active in abolitionist groups. Douglass was a gifted writer and orator and he symbolized the antithesis of Southern and even Northern views of a Black person. Most could not believe such a gifted person could have once been a slave. In other words, Douglass debunked any bigoted ideas that Blacks did not have the intelligence to be functional members of American society.

Douglass was remarkable for many reasons. He had many of the traits of more modern Civil Rights leaders such as Martin Luther King. Douglass, like King, was not only smart and protested for equal rights for all (not just blacks, but for women), but showed little animosity towards the system that oppressed him. Douglass, like King, was very active in the political process supporting Ulysses S. Grant for President and was even the Vice Presidential candidate on a small Party ticket in 1872.

After the Supreme Court held that Blacks had no Constitutional rights in the landmark 1857 case Dred Scott v. Sanford, Douglass was at his best. In one of his most famous speeches Douglass declared that “my hopes were never brighter than now.” He continued “The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only power in this world.” Douglass contended “I ask, then, any man to read the Constitution and tell me where if he can, in what particular instrument affords the slightest sanction to slavery?” He added “Where will he find a guarantee for slavery? Will he find it in the declaration that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law? Will he find it in the declaration that the Constitution was established to secure the blessings of liberty? Will he find it in the right of the people to secure in their persons and papers, and houses, and effects? Will he find the clause prohibiting the enactment by any State of a bill of attainder?” Douglass realized that all these “strike at the root of slavery, and any one of them, but faithfully carried out, would put an end to slavery in every State in the American Union.” Douglass understood the Dred Scott decision showed that the “Constitution does not mean what it says, and says what it does not mean.” Douglass had full faith in the Constitution: “I am here to vindicate the law, not the administration of the law. It is the written Constitution, not the unwritten Constitution, that is now before us.” He further notes about the Constitution: “It makes, as I have said before, no discrimination in favor of or against, any class of people, but is fitted to protect and preserve the rights of all, without reference to color, size, or any physical peculiarities.” He summarizes by saying “let me say, all I ask of the American people is, that they live up to the Constitution, adopt its principles, imbibe its spirit: enforce its provisions.” Douglass would make a similar argument in an 1860 speech in Glasgow Scotland. Douglass was right, the “Constitution is for the ages” and would prevail over time. Of course, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were needed to accomplish his vision, but the Constitution prevailed just as a confident Douglass predicted.

Douglass would not support present day diversity, affirmative action, or welfare programs. Douglass was about having equal rights for all Americans. His 1865 speech “What the Black Man Wants” is once again amazing. Douglass says in part “What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.” He would continue “And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! Your interference is doing him positive injury.” Douglass was not only ahead of his time, he is more advanced in his thoughts than modern liberal or progressive policies seeking social justice. Has social justice helped African-Americans? Some, but over the course of time, social justice is doing more to harm the African-American race than to help them.

Douglass could have been bitter about his situation. However, Douglass was less bitter about what happened to him than most present day minorities who repeatedly inject race as an excuse for their failures. Douglass had faith in the Constitution, but unfortunately Justices are destroying his vision and faith: For instance, see Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and University of California v. Bakke for diversity decisions or Roe v. Wade, Lawrence v. Texas, and Obergefell v. Hodges for social justice decision.

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