Tea Party History 101: George Washington The Abolitionist
Two weeks ago I wrote an article that included a critique on the resurgence of historical revisionism in the age of Barack Obama’s presidency. While the article, The N-Word Becomes “Sivilized,” focused mainly on a publishing company’s censorship of the N-word in the classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain—on the broader issue of straining facts surrounding The United Sates and its relationship with Black Americans I wrote:
We see this with Governor Haley Barbour (R-MI) in his recent attempt to glorify the White Citizen’s Council or Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies. From renaming the Civil War to the War of Northern Aggression in Southern textbooks to defending the flying of Confederate Flags outside of government buildings, there has always been this need to strain our history, leaving only the sugary sweet parts. But defending these realities under false pretenses and gross inaccuracies is not only disrespectful to the memory of those who have lived, but robs truth from those who have yet to know the world.
Later that week, in a speech to Iowans for Tax Relief, Congresswoman and Tea Party Express spokeswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) went a step further stating, “We also know that the very founders that wrote those documents (The Constitution) worked tirelessly ‘till slavery was no more in the Unites States. And I think it is high time that we recognize the contributions of our forebearers who worked tirelessly. Men like John Quincy Adams who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.”
Blink, blink. What?
To be fair to the Congresswoman, John Quincy Adams was lead counsel during the Amistad trial and a staunch anti-slavery advocate until his death in 1848—17 years before The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. However, that is the only thing Ms. Bachmann got correct. Adams was not a founding father, as being born ten years prior to the signing of The Declaration of Independence would have made him a founding prepubescent child. In fact, Adams was only twenty-years old when The Constitution was signed.
When it comes to U.S. history, certain things are not debatable. As former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.” There were fifty-six signatures on The Declaration of Independence and thirty-nine delegate signatures on The Constitution. However, there are between seven to twelve men recognized by most historians as founding fathers—the most famous among them being slave owners. From George Washington to James Madison to Benjamin Franklin, many actually owned slave-operated plantations, including Thomas Jefferson who wrote the famous “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” phrase into The Declaration of Independence.
Slavery did not end with the signing of either one of these documents. The Constitution actually elongated American slavery with its Three-fifths Compromise and anti-slavery expansion activist established in 1854 the political party that Michelle Bachmann is a member of. If there is one person that the Republican and Tea Party darling Bachmann should know, it’s Republican president and actual emancipator Abraham Lincoln whose unwillingness to sever the Union led to the slavery-abolishing Civil War. The irony of her ignorance is comical, almost scripted for reality television.
There are many public figures on both sides of the political divide who knowingly or unknowingly misrepresent facts—Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh being the poster children of right-wing historical malfeasance. But Michelle Bachmann is an elected official. She writes and votes for legislation with this empty-headed drum of knowledge about basic American history. To be a good Tea Party candidate is to be cloaked in the “Don’t Tread On My Flag” like a bulletproof vest, shielded from having to bother with silly things like facts to make an argument. Just look into the camera and say whatever paranoid thought pops into your head about a bigger, African-er, Muslim-er government—Obamacare, black helicopters, Sharia Law, oh my!
This seems to be a pervasive theme throughout the Tea Party movement: Not-knowing is the mark of a real American; criticism of anything red, white, and blue is tantamount to treason; and the country was better during Mad Men. This rewriting of history and support of dog-whistle politics has led many to associate the right-wing, the Tea Party, and Republicans with a very white, male-based, political agenda—not to mention its monochromatic rallies. It makes the valid concerns they now have about the national debt and domestic spending seem very peculiar—almost as peculiar as introducing birth certificate legislation in Arizona after the election of our first Black president. When leaders like Bachmann try to literally whitewash history, the movement seems more nativist than nationalistic, and as incoherent and stupefying as a Sarah Palin essay on Russian foreign policy titled, I Can See The Reds From My Porch.
To my most patriotic of patriots, the ones with tea bags adorning their Ben Franklin hats: The fact that our founding fathers were sinfully flawed does not soil our founding documents or what truly are perfect ideals professed by imperfect men. They stand as great thinkers and brave souls without having to scrub the stench of slavery off their pantaloons. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “There is a some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.” That goes for our founding fathers, as well as our country. It is the morphing of our morals and embedded ability to perfect of our union, year-by-year, amendment-by-amendment, election-by-election, that is a testament to their creation—even if their short sightedness contradicted their vision.