Wednesday, April 20, 2011

States Rights’ Was Really About The Elephant In The Room!

I’m deep into an excellent biography of Alexander Hamilton, the only founder of this nation who was emphatically and unequivocally opposed to slavery.  Born and raised in the West Indies, he had witnessed the inhumanity first hand.

The war that began 150 years ago last week has intrigued me from my youth and often been reframed as being a struggle over states’ rights and manufacturing vs. agrarian economies.  A Westerner until moving to Durham, North Carolina more than two decades ago, I do understand the cultural differences ( I know, to Southerners, anyplace else is the North.)logo-resized

But it is clear from reading biographies of the founders of this nation that slavery was the “elephant in the room” and the unfinished business that festered for another seventy-four years after the Constitution was ratified. States’ Rights and debates about agrarian vs. manufacturing economies, while important discussions, were in the end euphemisms.

But just as the Revolutionary War did not complete the task of nation-making, the Civil War did not complete the task of emancipation.

African-Americans were horrifically victimized by slavery but the issues that still hold so many back cannot be resolved by reinforcing a culture too often centered on enabling people to hide behind that history.  Nor will just the threadbare-safety nets suffice as so many on the right condescendingly leave dangling.

Slavery is still permitted and enabled today as much through unlivable wages as through prostitution and other forms.  The indignation about the size of government is misplaced by tea partiers.  Even liberals, both the nation’s founders and those today, are defiant about limited government.

Hamilton was not only the chief architect of the Constitution but he parlayed his close war-time friendship with George Washington to persuade him to stand for election as the nation’s first President.

As the biographer I’m reading notes, Hamilton though, didn’t create America’s market economy as he is often credited, so much as he almost single-handedly “fostered the cultural and legal setting in which it flourished.”

But Hamilton also viewed a strong government as a means to balance the dangerous potential of capitalism devolve into greed and to “promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement, and self-reliance,” something the programs of the left have forgotten and the “I did it my way” right fails to acknowledge.

I’m highly recommending the biography of Alexander Hamilton and I’m glad I read it after reading A. Lincoln and before moving on to the author’s now Pulitzer-prize winning biography of George Washington.

And for detailed information on the role of my adopted hometown in the Civil War, click here.

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