Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Beautiful Lies: Theocrat Propagandist David Barton Explains How the U.S. Constitution is an Anti-Slavery Document

Timing is everything. I am teaching the Federalist Papers and the Constitution later today. In searching for a clip from the PBS on slavery and the founding, I came across the above gem from the one and only pseudo-historian David Barton. Several months ago I posted a gem where Barton gave a Christian-approved tour of the Capital and Washington D.C. where he exposed the "hidden" history of the framers and the founding of the Republic to a crying and emotionally-moved audience.

To my eyes, Barton's expose on how the Constitution is an anti-slavery document is yet another blood boiling exercise in professional lying. His lie is also a genius exercise in propaganda. Here, Douglass's demand that the Constitution lives up to its potential regarding human liberty and freedom is actually a device for Barton to frame the 3/5th's clause as a demonstration of the framers' anti-slavery intent.

This is a common canard for Conservatives who worship the Constitution as a document divinely inspired, and its authors as perfect men--as opposed to people who were pragmatists, with a particular class and racial interest that they were working to protect, all the while crafting a very narrow and anti-populist document.

Ultimately, the Constitution is a pro-slavery, Southern document that protects the rights, privileges, and property of a very narrow part of the population at the expense of others. The Constitution is also practical, radical, and genius. That does not at all absolve the document from the stains of white supremacy which penetrate it. For the Constitution's authors, these facts are not contradictions or problems for their "democratic" project.

Barton is a genius liar. I admire his craft while condemning his dishonesty and ethics. But then again, maybe Barton actually believes the pablum that he is selling to the mouth breathing Christian Conservative Republican Nationalist crowd?

Help me understand. Why would any educated, reasonable, and historically aware person buy into Barton's lies about the Constitution when the truth is far more interesting and compelling?


Bill said...

Why would an educated, etc...?

I can't psychoanalyze someone who's not sitting on a couch in front of me, but a similarly well-educated man with similar views I knew was terrified of death, and the promise of eternal life--offered to him by his conservative, Christian church, trumped everything. When his theological line clashed with a historical argument, the theology always won. When it didn't he was as sober an analyst as you could want.

The thing that is pernicious about this piece is that on the surface it's plausible, sort of like the argument that the Civil War was about States' rights. Only when he says that the 3/5 clause said nothing about the worth of a person does he explicitly go too far. Unless someone came at this prepared, it could hook you.

It is shocking on the face of it, though, that it's so hard for some people to accept that, while the Constitution has indeed provided a framework, as Douglass noted, for a lot of positive forward momentum, it was, like the people who wrote it and the society that produced them, deeply flawed, to put it mildly.

Daniel Goldberg said...

Hmmm . . . A Southern document? Really?

I'd like to hear more of your justification for this.

As for your final question, it's a good one, but I think you've already more or less answered it. Myths of origin are powerful things indeed.

JGreyden said...

How does he jump to the conclusion that since a document is not pro-slavery therefore it is anti-slavery ?

But really, i would have expected that kind of sub par critical thinking from a religious tv show, certainly not on a constitutional document.

Could it be possible that this guy himself looks down on his own viewers and followers and probably like to rub it in their faces.

I found the cattle example particularly brutal... in a "see these guys can't be that bad" kind of way or "can't be that nice".

Sure, it was relevant to point that Frederick Douglass said it wasn't pro-slavery, but it's not like he was existing in a political vacuum. What was the context, actually.

Debbie said...

Question for you Chauncey
I had a professor in school argue that the 3/5th’s clause in the Constitution was not put in place for racist reason, instead it was solely done for economic reason. His argument was that if it were done for racist reasons then slaves would have not been counted at all. What is your opinion about his reasoning?

freebones said...

educated men and women buy into bullshit all the time. i'm sure their are santorum supporters with doctoral degrees.

freebones said...

::sigh::: and then i make a grammar error. woe is me.

Ray Semedi said...

This doesn’t surprise me at all from this crowd. These are same types of people that argued that Blacks were actually happier under slavery. Personally, I do believe that he believes his own nonsense. Barton is motivated by ideology and the desire to mythologize the White supremacist that founded this country. I guess they believe that if they can erase the crime of generational enslavement of African people and ignore inscribing Black sub-personhood into the DNA code document of the country it would all just go away. Then, I guess negroes would stop complaining and realize that “America” has always been for us even when they were against us.

Just another way to obfuscate the founding crimes of this nation and tell us the sky is green and we actually live on Pluto.

Incidentally, this topic makes me want to follow up on a book, “Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution”, very interesting take on the motivations behind the “revolution”. Never put in enough time with it, need to pick it back up.

Anonymous said...

Did you just refer to Barton as a historian? I take issue with that.;) Barton is a crank/huckster who writes drivel destined for people looking to validate they're strongly held delusions.

Anonymous said...

Why would any educated, reasonable, and historically aware person buy into Barton's lies about the Constitution when the truth is far more interesting and compelling?

You assume reasonable and educated and historically aware all must go together in the same person.

The people that buy into this find the lies more soothing and more fitting for their worldview than the interesting and compelling truth which hurts their self conception of themselves and the founders they so revere. So any hair-splitting (3/5 clause refers to population and not "worth") and muddling (let's cherry pick anti slavery founders and pretend they are all that way) that enables them to whitewash history is readily accepted, despite the logical fallacy.

GeneJockey said...

@Debbie, as I understand it the 3/5 provision was for the purposes of determining representation. The South 'feared being dominated' by they more populous Northern states - that is to say they wanted power out of proportion to its voting population. A compromise was reached to include slaves in the count for determining how many Representatives each state would have, but to limit the resulting domination by the South, they were reduced to 60% of a person.

Why would any educated, reasonable, and historically aware person buy into Barton's lies about the Constitution when the truth is far more interesting and compelling?

Because it's more comfortable to believe that the Framers were divinely inspired supermen than to accept that they set up a system largely to benefit white male landowners like themselves. Along those lines, they'll insist that Jefferson didn't REALLY bang Sally Hemings, but rather it was his brother. They can't grasp that he might have been a brilliant, but flawed man.

Anonymous said...

Why would any educated, reasonable, and historically aware person buy into Barton's lies about the Constitution when the truth is far more interesting and compelling?

Because nothing is as "interesting and compelling" as something that validates what you already believe, and says what you want to hear. This overwhelmingly trumps mere "truth".