Former-slave-state Missouri Senator Josh Hawley doesn’t want America’s white children to be exposed to the simple reality that slavery was not only legal at the founding of our country but was, in several places, written into our Constitution.
And that the rest of America subsidized the slave-owners’ states and continues to subsidize them to this day.
Hawley, of course, is the guy who gave a fist-salute to the armed white supremacist traitors who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th to assassinate Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi. He hopes to ride his white supremacy shtick to the White House.
Doubling down on the GOP notion that America is a nation exclusively of, by and for white people, Hawley has now proposed a law he calls “The Love America Act of 2021.” The bill is only 3 ½ pages long. There’s a bit of legalese to make it into legislation, defining what “school” means, etc., but this is what it says:
“RESTRICTION ON FEDERAL FUNDS FOR TEACHING THAT CERTAIN DOCUMENTS ARE PRODUCTS OF WHITE SUPREMACY OR RACISM — …[N]o Federal funds shall be provided to an educational agency or school that teaches that the Pledge of Allegiance, the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution of the United States is a product of white supremacy or racism.”
That’s it. That’s the gist of the entire bill.
In other words, public schools that teach the actual history of our Constitution lose all their federal funds — our tax dollars — and essentially go out of business. It’s really just that simple: white supremacist Republicans like Hawley don’t want your kids to know the true history of America.
Black children, they say, are old and tough enough to experience racism but white children are just waaay too young and fragile to learn about it.
Hawley’s protests notwithstanding, racism and white supremacy were very much a part of our founding documents. Consider “Father of the Constitution” (and slaveholder) James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
It was the third week of August and the issue of America taxing “property” (a code word for slaves) got tied to the debate about how many representatives each state should have in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The five slave states wanted all their enslaved people counted toward representation — even though they couldn’t vote or enjoy any of the rights of citizenship — but didn’t want to pay any “property tax” on them. The eight “free” states vehemently objected both to counting enslaved people to increase the slave states’ representation in Congress and to subsidizing them via tax law.
It produced one of the great speeches at the Constitutional Convention, which Madison dutifully transcribed.
Gouverneur Morris (“Gouverneur” was his first name, not his title) represented Pennsylvania, and single-handedly wrote the Preamble to the Constitution. He was 35 years old, a lawyer and a graduate of Kings College (what we now call Columbia University). And he was an ardent abolitionist.
“He never would concur in upholding domestic slavery,” Madison wrote, summarizing Morris’ speech. “It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.”
Warming to his topic, Morris began an extended rant about how destructive slavery was to the new nation they were birthing. It illustrates how wrong Hawley is in saying that racism and white supremacy had nothing to do with writing the Constitution.
“Compare the [slave]-free regions of the Middle States, where a rich and noble cultivation marks the prosperity and happiness of the people,” Morris said, “with the misery and poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Virginia, Maryland, and the other states having slaves. Travel through the whole continent, and you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance and disappearance of slavery.”
Morris said the enslavement of people was a curse on America that was visible to anybody who simply looked. The free north was prosperous; the south, where people were enslaved, was poor.
“The moment you leave the Eastern [slave] States,” he said, “and enter New York, the effects of the institution become visible. Passing through the Jerseys, and entering Pennsylvania, every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed southwardly, and every step you take, through the great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings.”
But the white supremacist slaveholders representing the slave states in the Convention wanted more power in Congress and lower taxes in their own states, much like today’s Republicans. The key to that, they believed, was having some or all of their states’ enslaved Black people counted toward representation in Congress, even though they were in chains and unable to vote.
In an echo of this very argument last month the white supremacists of the Georgia legislature passed, and Governor Brian Kemp signed into law in front of a painting of a slave plantation, legislation that would give Georgia’s Republicans the ability to simply toss out the votes of people in largely Black districts with the excuse that they “suspect,” with or without evidence, that “fraud” happened.
Georgia has already begun to purge local voting officials in Black districts, replacing them with safe white Republicans who will make sure elections produce the “right” outcome.
It’s such a radical law that the CEO of the Stacey Abrams-founded New Georgia Project, Nsé Ufot, bluntly told Politico that unless the law is overturned by ending the filibuster and passing the For The People Act, “we’re fucked.”
As if we’re torn in half through some weird time machine, Madison continued with his transcription of Gouverneur Morris’ speech.
“Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation?” Morris demanded of his colleagues. “Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included [in determining representation}? The houses in this city (Philadelphia) are worth more than all the wretched slaves who cover the rice swamps of South Carolina.”
And then Morris nailed down precisely how and why racism and white supremacy were written into the Constitution with the so-called “3/5ths compromise” (among other places) that gave southern states more members in the House of Representatives than their white population would justify.
“The admission of slaves into the representation, when fairly explained, comes to this,—that the [white] inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina, who go to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow-creatures from their dearest connections and damns them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes… than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who views, with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.”
It was all about using racism and white supremacy to increase the power of white people in the South, and then force the rest of the country to subsidize them.
Keep in mind that Democrats in the U.S. Senate today represent 41 million more people than do the Senate’s Republicans. And, echoing 1787, Georgia and 17 other Republican-controlled mostly-former-slave-states have now put into law the power for them to deny the vote to Black people or simply refuse to count their votes.
But back to 1787:
Morris paused to gather his thoughts, and then, Madison noted, continued, this time calling out the Southern oligarchs who flaunted their riches made possible by slave labor while asking the northern states to pay for their defense and otherwise subsidize them with northern tax dollars.
“He would add,” Madison wrote, “that domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of aristocracy.”
Morris was probably shouting at this point; such language is rarely found in our founding documents and may help explain why Madison kept his “notes” secret until his death nearly 50 years later. Morris pointed out how the south was essentially demanding that the north subsidize them financially, something that continues to this day.
“And what is the proposed compensation to the Northern States,” Morris demanded, “for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity? … The … tea used by a northern freeman will pay more tax than the whole consumption of the miserable slave….”
Morris lost the argument and the southern slave states got extra representation in Congress along with no federal taxation of their “property.” But the GOP sure doesn’t want you or your kids to know that.
If Hawley’s bill were to become law, any public school that taught Morris’ anti-slavery speech would lose all federal funding. This is how white supremacy works today and, indeed, has worked in this nation since our founding.
Their strategy is straightforward: Control history (from Texas editing Martin Luther King out of its textbooks to generations of statues of Confederate generals), suppress the political power of Black people while subsidizing Red states, and do it all with a thin patina of legalese.
Northern states generally make it easy for all people to vote while former slave states do everything they can to suppress the Black vote (along with the votes of young people and older Social Security voters).
Former slave states like Hawley’s Missouri represent the overwhelming majority of states to have passed voter suppression legislation. And they’re still hustling tax dollars from the rest of us, just as Morris complained about in 1787.
Northern states get back a fraction of every dollar they send to Washington, DC while former slave states get as much as $2 for every tax dollar they send the federal government.
As the AP noted in 2017:
“Mississippi received $2.13 for every tax dollar the state sent to Washington in 2015, according to the Rockefeller study. West Virginia received $2.07, Kentucky got $1.90 and South Carolina got $1.71.
“Meanwhile, New Jersey received 74 cents in federal spending for tax every dollar the state sent to Washington. New York received 81 cents, Connecticut received 82 cents and Massachusetts received 83 cents.”
White supremacy, racism and the rest of America subsidizing Red states weren’t just realities in 1787: they’re alive and well today.
Hawley and his white supremacist buddies in the GOP want to keep it that way, and their hateful “Love America Act” is just the latest disgusting part of their strategy. We’ve been tolerating and subsidizing these losers since 1787 and it’s time to stop.