As a guest last Friday on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor I debated a Mr. Carl Galmon, an activist in New Orleans who is lobbying to remove from all public schools in that city the names of anyone who owned slaves, including Jefferson and Washington. I was there to the defend the honor of the Founders, and to place the argument in some historical and political context. (You can read a transcript on our web site, and an op-ed I wrote on the subject several years ago.)
It was fun because it was, after all, television; and I got to refute some silly liberal arguments. It was also a little frustrating because the segment was short and I didn't get to make a number of points that I had hoped to discuss.
I did get a chance to mention that the Founders clearly saw the evil of slavery, and anguished over it. More importantly, they founded the United States on the principles of human equality and natural rights, thus "putting slavery in the course of ultimate extinction," to use Lincoln's phrase. The American Founding was the greatest anti-slavery moment in history up to that point. The Declaration of Independence, as Martin Luther King preached, said that all men, including all black people, are created equal. From that moment slavery was marked out as an intolerable anomaly that must be eliminated. This was not easy to do — it took a civil war because slavery had been entrenched in human society for thousands of years, and in America for two hundred years.
If there had been more time, I would have pointed out that Washington, for example, tried to find ways during his life to free his slaves (although he failed), but did so upon his death, and put aside money in his will for their support. Benjamin Franklin, whom Galmon also attacked, did own household slaves, but also wrote anti-slavery tracts as far back as 1729 and arguing against the widespread prejudice that blacks were innately inferior.
Nor did I get to plug our best-selling book, Vindicating the
Founders by Senior Fellow Thomas West, or our new web site devoted to Washington: www.foundingfather.com. There, we clearly confront the issue of slavery. But we also look at Washington the statesman, and discuss his accomplishments and virtues, which were, after all, considerable. If the discussion got nasty I was prepared to ask Mr. Galmon what he was doing about the fact that Africans are being enslaved this very day in some parts of the world, notably Sudan. Surely, if one wants devote one's self to the issue of slavery, exposing the torments of people alive and suffering today is more important than trashing George Washington. More likely it was Mr. Galmon's purpose to undermine the American Founders and the principles for which they fought. But I was polite.
If any of you have not had a chance to read Professor West's important book it is now out in paperback.
And please do visit foundingfather.com and recommend it to people who wish to know more about the man who was, most deservedly, "first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."