‘The Persistency of Evil’

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The Attack on Fort Sumter
(April 12-13, 1861)

On this date, the Sesquicentennial of the beginning of the American Civil War at Fort Sumter, SC, it is worth remembering "the persistency of evil." We are reminded of this sad truism by comments from Arizona politicians in the wake of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Monday enjoining enforcement of Arizona's SB 1070.

Gary Nelson penned a thoughtful opinion in the Sunday Arizona Republic, a portion of which is excerpted below. The evil that led to the Civil War still exists:

There, wrapped in the guise of "states rights" (a familiar refrain these days, as well) and under the banner of the U.S. Constitution, lies the cause of the conflict that sent 600,000 Americans to their graves: the deliberate and cruel abasement of a major portion of the human family.

After four horrific years, the war succeeded in answering which side had the most soldiers, the most guns, the most ships and the most pitiless generals.

But battles seldom change the human heart, and Appomattox could not erase the pernicious racial notions from which the bloodbath had sprung. Nor could it be expected that, battlefield outcomes notwithstanding, the South would gladly stand by while its bought-and-paid-for "property" double-timed it off the plantation.

Thus, with the active complicity of Lincoln's successor, the Tennessean Andrew Johnson, the Southern states were well on the way, in the months after the war, to re-enslaving the newly freed Black populace, although none dared use that term.

It was only the frankly ruthless intervention of a Republican Congress, full of men who had long regarded slavery as an abomination, that prevented the South from nullifying the outcome of the war.

That is where the Reconstruction amendments to the U.S. Constitution enter the picture; and on the back of those amendments this small essay leaves the realm of history and enters that of today's most crucial debates.

There were three of them.

The 13th abolished slavery in the United States or anyplace under its jurisdiction.

The 14th established that all people born in this country "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" are citizens thereof, and it guaranteed to every person "the equal protection of the laws."

The 15th said nobody could be denied the right to vote "on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude."

With those three amendments, the United States took its largest legal steps in history toward actually codifying, in Lincoln's words, "the proposition that all men are created equal."

And yet – how strange to say this – those amendments, at this very moment, are under siege.

Actually, they have been under siege for decades. The amendments' opponents make their case in great detail, focusing on the muscular tactics used by Reconstruction Republicans to get them on the books. But legality is far from their only concern.

To wit, we quote from a long essay now circulating among right-wing websites:

"The validity, or should we say invalidity, of the Civil War amendments is very important to reinstating the inalienable rights of free White citizens in the United States of America. At every juncture where the government of the United States of America and/or the governments of the several states attempt to usurp inalienable rights, the Civil War amendments are ultimately claimed to be the authority for such deprivation of rights."

The author does not enumerate the rights supposedly stolen from long-suffering White America, but it is not impertinent, judging from his overall tenor, to ask whether those rights involve the reintroduction of shackles, nooses and branding irons.

Less dramatically William E. Nelson, a professor at New York University's law school who is regarded as an expert on the 14th Amendment, thinks these supposed rights include, at the very least, "the right to discriminate" and "the right to be free of government efforts to assist less well-off people."

If you nullify the 14th, Nelson said, "Half of American constitutional law is gone." Among those cases: Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 ruling that banned segregation in American schools.

And then what? What civilization, exactly, rises from such scorched legal earth?

That it is necessary to raise those questions 150 years after the cannon fire began speaks to the persistency of evil, to the treachery and smallness of human hearts, to the grim realization that we have not seen the last of history's lurid bonfires, to unfinished business involving matters of justice and love, and to the divine command by the mouth of the great prophet Isaiah to loosen the fetters of wickedness, to release the bands of the yoke bar, and to send away the crushed ones free.

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