Top Figures in Conservative Movement Spreading Crazy Lie That Faith in God Ended Slavery
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The fanatical right in the US has a problem on its hands and that problem is American history. History tells a tale that does not fit the narrative of the Tea Party and libertarian version of American's founding and history.
That was evident this week, when former senator Jim DeMint, who is head of the Heritage Foundation, a libertarian think tank, made the claim that it was not the government that freed the slaves, but faith.
Talking to Jerry Newcombe on the radio show Vocal Point, DeMint said, “[Abolitionism] came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that [slavery] was wrong.” DeMint goes out of his way to say big government had nothing to do with freeing the slaves; it was on the Constitution and Lincoln, because obviously neither of those is big government. DeMint goes on to say:
The reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution; it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people; it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like [British abolitionist William Wilberforce] who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.
DeMint misses some important historical points here. For starters, while he is correct that Lincoln was a Republican, he ignores the history of the Democratic and Republican parties and their ideologies at the time. The roles of the party had been reversed and did not fully change place until around the time of President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Secondly, there is no historical evidence Lincoln governed with faith. Lincoln never joined a specific religion, yet he did appear to believe in some form of God or deity. This however is not sufficient evidence that Lincoln fought to free the slaves because of a religious or faith-based obligation to do so.
DeMint also misses another important piece to the historical puzzle: most churches refused to take part when offered a leading role by abolitionists. As historian John R. McKivigan explains in his book The War Against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches 1830-1865, "All but a few small denominations balked at a commitment to uncompromised abolitionist principles and programs. As a result, civil war and government ended slavery in 1865.”
History is not on the side of DeMint, who is fighting to change the country's history to fit a new narrative he has for the Tea Party and the far right. DeMint knows the true history of this country is built upon the backs of liberals, union men and women, and those who fought against an oppressive South, ruled by then conservative Democrats, who are now in turn the conservative right’s Republican Tea Party.
While crediting Lincoln with freeing the slaves is actually historically inaccurate in his intentions, it is correct that the war Lincoln chose to fight did bring an end to slavery. Lincoln himself said he was not interested in freeing the slaves when going to war—his goal was preserving the Union, and freeing slaves happened to be a later part of his military strategy.