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Jim DeMint: The Federal Government Played No Role In Freeing The Slaves

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Former Senator Jim DeMint, now head of the Heritage Foundation has, shall we say, an interesting view of history:

Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint appeared on Vocal Point with Jerry Newcombe of Truth In Action Ministries last week, where he insisted that “no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.”

DeMint, a former US senator from South Carolina, told Newcombe that “the conscience of the American people” and not the federal government was responsible for the end of slavery.

In the interview, DeMint seemed to confuse the US Constitution with the Declaration of Independence and implied that William Wilberforce, a British politician who died almost thirty years before the Civil War, did more to end American slavery than the federal government.

Here’s the audio and transcript:

DeMint: This progressive, the whole idea of being progressive is to progress away from those ideas that made this country great. What we’re trying to conserve as conservative are those things that work. They work today, they work for young people, they work for minorities and we can change this country and change its course very quickly if we just remember what works.

Newcombe: What if somebody, let’s say you’re talking with a liberal person and they were to turn around and say, ‘that Founding Fathers thing worked out really well, look at that Civil War we had eighty years later.’

DeMint: Well 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 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.

Given that he is a South Carolinian, it may not have occurred to DeMint that the end of slavery came at the end of the Civil War, which was in large part a war to preserve the primacy of the Federal Government, and that one of the requirements that the states of the defeated Confederacy had to meet prior to being formally readmitted to the Union was the adoption of the 13th Amendment, the Amendment to the Federal Constitution that abolished slavery. Indeed, the end of that war and the adoption of the 14th Amendment marked a decided shift in the balance of power in the United States toward the Federal Government. Even more ironic, of course, is the fact that it was DeMint’s Republican Party that held a nationalistic view of the Constitution even before the Civil War, and that Confederate leaders, and the defenders who continue to make excuses for them to this day, characterized the Civil War as a war being waged by the Federal Government against the people of the South. Given all of that, the assertion that Federal power had nothing to do with freeing the slaves is not only inaccurate, it’s delusional.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    What’s weird is that he gives Abe Lincoln some credit. Does he not realize POTUS is a significant player in the federal government?

    Presumably, like many Republicans, he doesn’t count the Union Army, since the military is the good part of government, and thus not government at all.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 39 Thumb down 0

  2. michael reynolds says:

    As is so often the case with hardcore conservatives I have to ask: Evil or Stupid? Is he just a complete moron, or is he deliberately lying?

    I guess in his case it doesn’t have to be either/or.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 0

  3. Mu says:

    So he’s saying the Southerners were wrong to fight in the war and oppose the will of the American people?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  4. Tillman says:

    Given that he is South Carolinian, everything else kind of follows.

    (Sorry, but I don’t know too many North Carolinians who don’t like making fun of South Carolina. It used to be so much fun before the elections two years ago. They were like the New Jersey to our New York.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. ernieyeball says:

    Given all of that, the assertion that Federal power had nothing to do with freeing the slaves is not only inaccurate, it’s delusional.

    “War is peace.
    Freedom is slavery.
    Ignorance is strength.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Once again – Where do Republicans find these people? And why? And this one is running what’s supposed to be a THINK tank.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  7. Chris says:

    Not to slice and dice words in Clintonian fashion, but are we saying Federal Government, Federal Power, Federal Constitution, Union Army, President of the United States are synonymous and all fall under the heading of ‘Federal Government’ ? I can see an argument that says the Executive freed the slaves by proclamation, or that the Army freed the slaves by force. I think it is a stretch to say the Supreme Court freed the slaves or the Congress freed the slaves or that somehow the Constitution freed the slaves a century prior. One could argue that the British ended slavery by ending the slave trade in 1807 and 1833. Or that abolitionists ended social acceptance of slavery in the north. Some would argue slavery didn’t really end until Jim Crow laws were put down.

    I guess my point is DeMint and this article (and some of the comments) are suffering from a lack of precision. By this rather loose definition, the ‘Federal Government’ has basically done everything in US History since they make the laws, approve inventions, enforce the laws, store all publications, manage all public money, build the roads, govern the schools, support the arts, etc.

    So, who DID end slavery in the United States? I’d argue the Union Army under Grant did.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. MikeSJ says:

    Maybe a microstroke? It would explain a lot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. ernieyeball says:

    Where do Republicans find these people?

    Maybe they all come from Republican, Arkansas…
    http://www.fallingrain.com/world/US/AR/Republican.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Pinky says:

    It makes sense when you look at what he means by “big government”. He definitely didn’t say what this headline accuses him of, at least not in the excerpt provided.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  11. @michael reynolds:

    or is he deliberately lying

    “Lying” implies he knows what the truth is and deliberately chooses to say otherwise. DeMint says what suits his agenda and doesn’t at all care whether it’s true or not. To call him a liar is giving him too much credit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @Pinky: I have no idea what DeMint means by “big government” and I seriously doubt DeMint knows. I am pretty sure that a federal government that was marching armies wherever they wanted in your state would meet most peoples definition.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  13. Grewgills says:

    @Pinky:
    From what I have seen “Big Government”, when used by prominent Republican politicians means, “the coercive use of government force to bring about a social welfare end.” Alternately it can mean, “the coercive use of government power to bring about an end I don’t like.” He is utterly and completely wrong on definition one, but could be right on definition two.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. Moosebreath says:

    I think this is related to the Tea Party’s insistence that Medicare is not part of the government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  15. anjin-san says:

    This is today’s Republican Party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. stonetools says:

    Sigh.
    And the incredible thing about it is that Jim DeMint is supposed to be a leading conservative intellectual-indeed in charge of what used to be the premier conservative thik tank. How the Heritage Foundation has fallen!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  17. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:
    Seriously???

    Chait had the best comment:

    Everybody knows the slaves were freed by Ronald Reagan, and he did it by cutting taxes.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0

  18. al-Ameda says:

    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.

    150 years later and we’re STILL fighting the Civil War. It’s like the occasional outbreak of the flu – periodically we have to listen to guys like DeMint posit the ridiculous notion that “big government” e.g. the military resources of the federal government, had nothing to do with ending slavery. In retrospect we should have let South Carolina go.

    Also, it is interesting how it turns out that Lincoln was a RINO.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  19. M. Bouffant says:

    @Chris: Yeah, I remember from the history books Grant raising the Union Army single-handedly from his store in Ohio & then heading South to stop slavery, more or less on a whim.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  20. Pinky says:

    I think the key sentence is, “But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 9

  21. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:
    Sure…and a lot of the move to marriage equality is coming from the people…as did suffrage…and civil rights…but until the Government acts (in this case Grant kicking Confederate a$$) it doesn’t mean much. Crimminy…the United States came from the people…it’s a specious argument.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    Presumably, like many Republicans, he doesn’t count the Union Army, since the military is the good part of government, and thus not government at all.

    And like many Southerners, he doesn’t realize — or pretends not to — that the Union Army was the United States Army, and that their Confederate ancestors were making war on the United States Army and the United States of America and firing on Old Glory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  23. DrDaveT says:

    @Chris:

    By this rather loose definition, the ‘Federal Government’ has basically done everything in US History since they make the laws, approve inventions, enforce the laws, store all publications, manage all public money, build the roads, govern the schools, support the arts, etc.

    Yes! Exactly! You have sussed it. Also enforce contracts, defend our shores, establish and regulate markets, break up cartels, reduce discrimination, enforce food safety, mediate civil disputes, … All of the things that make “freedom” possible for more than a tiny minority of the population.

    (Well, OK, not education. The US still allows every little hilltop to decide for itself whether to teach evolution, how to explain the Civil War, which parts of US history to skip, and whether exposing kids to music and art makes them better adults. But the rest of it, yes, that’s exactly what the Federal Government is, and has been.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    @Chris:

    So, who DID end slavery in the United States? I’d argue the Union Army under Grant did.

    The Union Army was the United States Army, whose commander-in-chief was the President of the United States, and which was funded and organized by the Congress of the United States. In other words, the federal government.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  25. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    “But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government.”

    The federal government is comprised of the elected representatives of the people. Didn’t Lincoln, in his role of president of the people (and the federal government) take action to utilize the resources of the federal government to quell the insurrection of the South and to end slavery?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  26. anjin-san says:

    @ Pinky

    And you wonder why you are not taken very seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  27. Matt Bernius says:

    Extending DeMint’s logic that it was “the people” who freed the slaves through the conduit of Government, it stands to reason that “Big Government” (i.e. the social safety net, and general liberal progressive values) is also the work of the people.

    After all, it’s been “the people” who have, on the whole, repeatedly voted in the majorities who put those tools in place.

    Either way, he is twisting history and fact to make a twisted point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  28. dazedandconfused says:

    Sort of related, a few years back the History Channel (yeah…I know) did a special based on the research of an FSU prof, The Slave Catchers:

    http://www.history.com/shows/h2-specials/videos/slave-catchers-slave-resisters

    Supposedly well documented. Every single white male had to serve in these “militia’s”, and a thought that crept into my head is this is where the militia reference in the 2nd really came from. There was no way the slave states would join a Union that had the power to disarm these militia’s as they were teetering on the brink of bloody revolt at all times. Very invasive systems were needed to check it. Including brutalizing someone’s slaves if they deemed their owner was not properly breaking their spirit.

    That was more than “throat clearing” if true.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  29. John Scotus says:

    His is a very odd point of view. Essentially, when facts get in the way of his ideology, he insists on altering them to make them fit the narrative. This is the same kind of nonsense the liberals engage in. One would expect that a conservative would hold that reality always trumps orthodoxy, and not the other way around. Bizarre.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  30. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @stonetools: DeMint wasn’t hired for his intellectual chops. He was hired because he knows how to stir up the activists. My fellow citizens in South Carolina elected him to the Senate twice despite the absence of any evidence that he actually cared about what was best for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @dazedandconfused: A case has indeed been made that the 2nd amendment was written to guarantee to Patrick Henry and others that the federal government would not interfere with the southern state slave patrols.
    http://truth-out.org/news/item/13890-the-second-amendment-was-ratified-to-preserve-slavery

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. C. Clavin says:

    @John Scotus:
    Bizarre? From the party that brought you trickle down economics, climate change denial, creationism, and WMD in Iraq? Yeah…bizarre.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  33. Matt Bernius says:

    @John Scotus:

    Essentially, when facts get in the way of his ideology, he insists on altering them to make them fit the narrative. This is the same kind of nonsense the liberals engage in.

    Irony overload: Implying that type “of nonsense” is primarily done by “the liberals” is exactly the sort of the “altering the facts to fit the ideology” nonsense that you are complaining about.

    One needs simply to look at Right Wing Media to find ample “facts” to suggest that there are lots folks in the conservative movement who have made their careers on cultivating this behavior within their audiences.

    In other words, this is hardly *just* or even *primarily* something that happens only on one side or the other.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  34. Pinky says:

    @anjin-san: I’d assume that the average reader could understand that I was explaining DeMint’s comment, which is different from agreeing with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. grumpy realist says:

    @Pinky: Which indicates the DeMint has a very bizarre idea of where government comes from and certainly hasn’t read a) Aristotle or b) the Declaration of Independence.

    Eh. It’s rhetorical fluff-bait for the marks of the conserva-entertainment complex, thassall….That Paypal button won’t push itself, guys!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  36. Pete S says:

    If “the people” were really against slavery, why on earth did they keep slaves? Is DeMint calling Southern landowners of the Civil War era stupid? It seems an odd position for someone from South Carolina to take….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0