Monday, July 20, 2015

Elections have Consequences

An op-ed from yesterday's Washington Post caught my attention. Okay, several caught my attention. But this one in particular struck my historical nerve. The author comes to the defense of the maligned South and criticizes the north (and west) as regions of the country that are as culpable as the south in our history of racial struggles. I agree with his points about 20th-century discrimination in the north. It existed, it has persisted. De facto discrimination is a very stubborn thing to combat. Racist impulses motivate behavior today, yesterday, and will continue to do so in the future in the different regions of the country. In the future, scholars will look back on 2015 and shake their heads at some of the racist acts and trends of this era.

I don't want to lose sight, however, of an important stand that flawed people took in the election of 1860. In that year, we had a four-way race for president. The candidate who carried the north did so on a platform promising to prohibit slavery in the territories of the west, where slavery did not exist. The candidate who carried the south promised to end any restriction on the spread of slavery in the west. The candidate who carried the north won. And the war came.

from The Washington Post 

In a narrow sense, we can see much racism in the decision made by those voters in the north in 1860. They weren't calling for the immediate abolition of slavery. Some might have believed that cutting off its expansion would eventually end the institution, others might not have thought that far ahead. Some might have voted because they thought the ending of slavery was a matter of justice for the black man, but probably more voted because they saw slavery as something getting in the way of the white man's pursuit of happiness. The motives of those voters, however, is fairly inconsequential. The consequential matter is the result of their decision: setting in motion a chain of events that ended the institution of slavery. The ending of that institution is progress in the name of racial justice, however imperfect the process and intentions of its authors may have been.

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