Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Monday, August 2, 2010

Remaking History

Jerry Adler of Newsweek reports on a fascinating story from Iowa. It seems the Republicans in that fair state have called in their newly adopted platform for something pretty radical. As some of us may remember, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1865 to complete the work begun by President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The language of the amendment is simple:

"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

What is far less well known is that there was a much earlier amendment proposed by Senator Philip Reed of Maryland, one that appeared on its way to eventual adoption by the end of 1812. For whatever reason it was never finally adopted and accepted as constitutional law. This amendment, had it been adopted, would have become the 13th. It had nothing to do with slavery, but was rather concerned with the acceptance of titles of nobility and pensions from foreign monarchs. Reed wanted to strengthen the existing constitutional ban, that prohibited U.S. officeholders from receiving such goods, by extending it to all U.S. citizens and imposing the loss of citizenship as the penalty for violating the ban. The precise language of Reed's amendment follows:
If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them.

What does all this have to do with Iowa Republicans in 2010? Well, they have adopted as part of their platform a call for “the reintroduction and ratification of the original 13th Amendment, not the 13th amendment in today’s Constitution.” Let's give these folks the benefit of the doubt and not interpret this this as calling for the reversal of slavery's abolition. We might be over generous in so doing, but this blog is all about giving everyone a fair shake. But why call for bringing back this early 19th century amendment? Iowa Republicans are happy to explain that they could use it to strip President Barack Obama of his office and citizenship since he received the Nobel Prize. They don't seem to mind that it would also damage Jimmy Carter. Or that Ronald Reagan, who received honors from Elizabeth II of England, would be a posthumous violator of "the original 13th."

Of course, this is all absurd. Categorizing the Nobel Prize Committee as a foreign power is only one aspect of the craziness. Yet it actually makes sense from the distorted perspective of the radical right. Obama-haters have already made up their minds that Obama seeks to destroy all that they value. They are not content to accept the results of a national election. If they can't easily find something in Obama's conduct to warrant throwing him out of office, then they will search for anything else they can use to make him illegitimate. The brouhaha over alleged irregularities in his birth certificate was another manifestation of the same desperate desire to destroy credibility.

We can't convert these rabid Republicans to a more reasonable point of view. Yet we need to take seriously their fanatical opposition. Only by motivating Democrats and progressives to work with heightened zeal can we construct a better vision for America that appeals to voters. We should never seek to appease those who will stop at nothing to destroy us. Instead we need to patiently counter outrage with good sense and positive deeds.

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