In theory, Jim DeMint’s understanding of slavery and the Civil War is the sort of thing that should bother those who describe themselves as “constitutional conservatives.”
Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint appeared on Vocal Point with Jerry Newcombe of Truth In Action Ministries last week, where he insisted that “no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.”DeMint, a former US senator from South Carolina, told Newcombe that “the conscience of the American people” and not the federal government was responsible for the end of slavery.
I suppose it’s possible DeMint wasn’t prepared to discuss the topic during this interview, listening to the clip, the former senator made an effort to sound like an authority on the subject.
“[T]he reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution,” the Heritage chief said. After noting court rulings like Dred Scott, DeMint added, “[T]he Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have ‘inalienable rights’ in the minds of God.”
For the record, it was the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, that says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
Wait, it gets much worse.
In the same interview, DeMint added:
“[A] lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.”
Look, I can appreciate the fact that the former South Carolina senator is anti-government and is reluctant to give the public sector, especially federal officials, credit for combating and eliminating evil.
But slavery still existed in the United States until the Civil War because Southern states, including South Carolina, ignored the abolitionist voices. It was the federal government that won the Civil War; it was the federal government that freed the slaves; and it was the federal government that moved to change the Constitution by approving post-war amendments to ensure slavery’s end in the U.S.
It may be ideologically unsatisfying for DeMint, but this was government activism on a grand scale. Indeed, it was government activism financed by Lincoln’s approval of the first national income tax.
Philip Bump added, “Big government played a significant role in freeing the slaves. Acknowledging that shouldn’t make DeMint’s job at Heritage that much harder. Denying it is only likely to make other anti-government arguments seem similarly blinded by ideology.”