Before the Civil War was fought, the country was being torn apart by slavery. The Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, epitomized the growing controversy of slavery even in a part of the country where slavery did not exist.
To Abraham Lincoln the Declaration of Independence was a guide to and a promise of equality. He repeatedly stated that the institution of slavery was a violation of the Declaration. The founders recognized the fact that slavery already existed and had to work with that fact to form a nation. Lincoln believed that the promise of equality was not just for the present but for future generations.
While Stephen Douglas argued for self-government, saying that it was up to each state and territory to determine whether or not to introduce slavery. The future candidate for President, Douglas stated,” I care more for the great principle of self-government, the right of the people to rule, than I do for all of the negroes in Christendom.” Douglas’s main argument of self-government is similar to the notion of today’s federalists , that each state has the power to determine for themselves what they want.
Abraham Lincoln answered by saying,” the doctrine of self-government is right—absolutely and eternally right, it has no just application to slavery.” When the white man governs himself, that is self-government, but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government-that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal’; and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave over another.”
By the time the Great Civil War was over, the slaves were emancipated and then permanently freed from bondage with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Let us not forget that at that time in history Black Laws existed that prohibited blacks from voting, and from participating in political and social intercourse. The public did not favor assimilation. Many Americans still do not want any assimilation, no mixing of the races. There are still Americans who would deny some of our citizens their rights, guaranteed under the Constitution because somehow they are different.
Discrimination was not just directed at blacks but also it has been directed against other people of color as well as against the Irish and Germans who tended to be Catholics.
For years little if any progress was made until the 20th Century. The promise of the Declaration of Independence has been but a promise and a goal.
African Americans were kept out of the military, they were kept separate in sport and they were denied equal access to public accommodations.
Plessy V. Ferguson decided in 1897 that in the realm of education separate was equal. It took til 61 years ago to right the wrong of the Plessy decision, when the Supreme Court decided in Brown V. The Board of Education, that separate was not equal. The discrimination that exist today in our schools is less overt, it is just more clever and less apparent. What is done and Nevada is a good example, is that less money is spent on education in minority dominated school districts. The court has even held that there is no right to an education guaranteed in the Constitution. There may not be any specific language regarding education, but it is not an outlandish thought that when Jefferson talked about rights in the Declaration of Independence, and he stated that among these rights, among could very well include an education. And in point of fact, the spirit of Brown versus the Board of Education, would seem to have been broken when by spending less in minority districts we have turned towards re-segregating our school districts.You are thereby making the education of minority children an inherently unequal experience in comparison to their white schoolmates.
We as a society and a nation may have less problems than some countries regarding living together in peace with different people from different cultures and living in peace with different races but that does not mean we should deny that a problem exists. Racism is alive and well in America. You can tell just by the simple response of some people to President Obama opening up a Twitter account. The use of the N word was frequent in some citizens less than welcoming response to Obama’s twitter account.
Open season on black men by the police has to end as well. I can just hear the right wing say in response of how much black on black crime there is. Well, let us not forget that there is a lot of white on white crime as well, as witnessed by the recent motorcycle gang violence which saw 9 people killed. We are desperate for reform to where the police become our neighborhood police force. The use of a gun against an unarmed, alleged suspect has to end. Neighborhood policing must have a policy whereby the use of violence is a last resort.
The 1960’s saw after 100 years the legal guarantees to which the former slaves were given in law, the same rights that each white American has. It took a long time to pass a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act to guarantee to a part of our population the same rights that other citizens take for granted.
We may now be seeing a backlash from certain segments of the white population to the fact that we have a black President. There are ongoing attempts to roll back the progress that has taken place, in particular in new voting restrictive laws, and in the future case before the Supreme Court regarding public accommodations. Sadly we are still two Americas, one being a white America and one that is for the rest of America’s citizens.
We still have a long ways to go to fulfill our promise as a nation. There is no excuse for hate. Bitterness and ashes are the residue of hate. We can hope that in the future, we will see more of our citizens look at the content of a person’s character rather than at the color of ones skin as a barometer on how we treat another human being, another citizen of our great land. We must continue to work for greater equality, greater opportunity for all.