“Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” so declared Sen. Daniel Webster in ending his famous 1830 reply in the U.S. Senate to South Carolina Senator Robert Hayne’s angry defense of slavery and of a state’s right to nullify federal law.
Leading up to the Civil War in 1861, Southerners loved an America that they believed included a God-given right to enslave others. To question their way of life was to question everything about them. They hated it.
Not happy with the outcome of the 1860 presidential election of Abraham Lincoln as president, the South rejected the Constitution, rebelled and seceded from the Union to protect their way of life. Lincoln and the North saw secession as dooming our democratic republic and its revolutionary ideals if states unhappy with an election outcome could simply leave the Union.
The South’s beliefs were pernicious. The new vice-president of the Confederacy promptly announced: “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [from all are created equal]; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new Government, is the first in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”
Speaking in reply to President Biden’s State of the Union Address, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “Today, our freedom is under attack. The America we love is in danger.” What America is she referring to?
No one, whether on the left or right, can claim that their way is the only American way of life. The Constitution and its Amendments reflect decisions of “We the People” that the ways of all Americans, whatever their color, religion, or culture, are American ways of life as long as they respect the rights of others under the Constitution and the law.
Something is desperately wrong with American education if large portions of the country, on the right or left, do not understand this.
Each generation holds a great trust for succeeding generations to preserve and build upon the nation’s evolving foundation. The decades-long neglect of American history and civics in our schools has violated that great trust and led to political violence.
Overemphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has depleted history teachers at all levels. More high school civics and history courses should also cause universities to have and train more teachers of these subjects.
Gov. Sanders adds: “our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country.” Where this statement may be true, the teaching is wrong, but nothing should be glossed over in the good and bad of our history and civics. Fear that frank discussion of racism in America might cause hatred of white students is unwarranted and prevents progress in dealing with the ongoing consequences of past racism.
Youth need to know what happened, even if some ancestors’ acts were monumentally atrocious (such as participating in savage lynchings). They must also be taught that while they are not responsible for the wrongs of ancestors, they are responsible to know the ongoing effects of what ancestors did and to deal maturely with one another in addressing those effects.
Also, long-delayed before Congress is the proposed Civics Secures Democracy Act, which aims to improve civics and history education. It is fully discussed here. Concerned Americans should contact their senators and representatives to urge them to adopt the Act.
“Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!”
Daniel O. Jamison is a retired attorney. ©2023 The Fulcrum. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.