Diary

Arkansas Dems Say USA 'Founded By Slaveowners' -- Were ALL Founders "Slaveowners'?

To answer the headline: NO.

According to the historically illiterate Democrats in the Arkansas legislature, the USA was “founded by slaveowners,” and so they said in a resolution celebrating the election of Barack Obama. Not surprisingly, a few Arkansas Republicans objected to this stilted and historically misleading language and voted against the thing and those few Republicans deserve a pat on the back.

The resolution congratulating President Obama was killed in the Arkansas House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs this week when Republicans raised objections over the language in the document that claimed the United States as a nation was “founded by slaveowners” as if every founder was a slave owner or slave owning was a chief reason for creating the nation.

Opposition led by Rep. Dan Greenburg, R-Little Rock, and Rep. Ed Garner, R-Maumelle, centered around laguage in the resolution that described the United States as a nation founded by slaveowners. Greenburg and Garner wanted the language stricken or amended, noting that not every founding father was a slaveowner.

Apparently, Democrats in Arkansas are unaware that a large number of the Founding Fathers not only didn’t own slaves, but abhorred what would come to be known as the peculiar institution. Famous Founders such as John and Sam Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine were very much anti-slavery. Paine, for instance, was a founding member of one of the first anti-slavery societies in the country, founded in 1775 in Philadelphia.

In fact, the country almost didn’t get off the ground because folks in the North East had wanted to eliminate slavery as a provision of nationhood. Sadly, politics intervened and the anti-slavery folks were convinced by their Southern brethren that the country would never be started unless the Northern members of the new nation relented on the issue.

Yet with the historical illiteracy of Arkansas Democrats aside, this language is even more insidious if not subtly so. For if the state government of Arkansas was to adopt a resolution that says something like “the United States is a nation founded by slaveowners” then it would be officially sanctioning the concept that slavery was a chief aspect of that founding. After all, to focus solely on the “slaveowners” aspect of our founders would be to focus on that slave owning itself.

Now, there is no denying that slavery was a sticking point in our founding. But slavery was not a chief component of the founding. Slavery was not featured as the raison d’être of the genesis of this nation. It was a messy fact of everyday existence — and had been for nearly 200 years already in the New World — but it simply was not a founding concept of the nation.

This is not to say it didn’t feature prominently in the negotiations between Northern and Southern factions of the founding generation, because it did. This is not to say that there was no fighting over it, because there was. This is also not to say that the anti-slavery side was so concerned over the issue that they refused to budge on moral grounds, because they did not.

But, as important an issue as it was, slavery itself was not a main reason for founding this country.

The Arkansas Republicans that killed this resolution were 100% right to scuttle it. It would have been no more logical to say that “the United States is a nation founded by men,” or “the United States is a nation founded by English speakers.” While technically true, of course they were English speakers and men, these singular facts had little to do with the founding itself.

At any rate, to focus on the slavery aspect of the founding era is misleading and to say outright that all the founders were themselves slaveowners is factually incorrect.

Good for these Arkansas Republicans for quashing this resolution. If they want to create another one that celebrates Obama’s election without surreptitiously trying to slide in the claim that all our Founders were slaveowners, then have at it. But, let’s not mar Obama’s success with ideological backbiting, historical illiteracy and lies shall we?