More on Founders, Bachmann, and Slavery

What with everything I’ve had to do recently, I’ve not progressed as quickly as I would like with Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life.  I wish I’d gotten a bit further through it ten days ago, when I wrote about Michele Bachmann’s contention that the American Founding Fathers had fought against slavery.

Not according to Chernow:

James Madison led congressional opposition to any interference with slavery, unfurling the banner of states’ rights.  Although Hamilton had cofounded the New York Manumission Society, he, like Washington, remained silent on the issue….  In fact, virtually all of the founders, despite their dislike of slavery, enlisted in this conspiracy of silence, taking the convenient path of deferring action to a later generation.  (623)

We rewrite history all the time as we discover new information and develop new attitudes.  Chernow, for example, makes too much, perhaps, of what he sees as Washington’s private discomfort with slavery–not to the point of excusing his public attitudes, but in trying to keep modern readers, to whom slavery is unacceptable in any form at any time, from rejecting any admiration of the first president.

What we can’t do is rewrite history in the face of the facts as we know them.  The Founders did what they did, and didn’t what they didn’t.  We can’t change that, no matter how we might wish otherwise.  Yes, we can increase our understanding of their actions and words but, again, we can’t change them… as Bachmann was trying to do.

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