Racism and Our Republic
MADISON'S REPUBLIC IS DEAD
James Madison created a republic that limited popular government and codified racism. He feared the effect of factions on republican governments and knew republics seldom survived when there were great disparities in wealth and property among their citizens. By faction, Madison meant a majority or minority of citizens who were united by a common interest adverse to the rights of other citizens. He believed the danger to his republic would be a majority faction oppressing a minority, but as current events show he was wrong in this calculation. The Republican Party is the faction that has destroyed our republic by oppressing the majority on an array of political, social, and economic issues. It has guaranteed by its fiscal and tax policies a great disparity in wealth among the citizens of Madison’s Republic.
Madison’s design of three branches—legislative, executive, judicial—was a flawed plan from the beginning. He was told when the same faction controlled the executive and legislative branches there would be no checks and balances. Madison believed no single faction would be strong enough to hold all three branches. Two centuries later when there are two dominant factions, one of them—the Republican Party—despite losing the popular vote in 2016 wins the presidency, gains majority control in the Senate and House of Representatives and tips the balance on the Supreme Court. The Democrats lost the presidential election because of the Electoral College and took control of Congress because of Republican-engineered gerrymandering.
The Republican Party—the party of no, no to abortion, no to greater equality, no to gay marriage and transgender rights, involved in voter suppression, endorsed by American Nazis and Ku Klux Klan—now controls all three branches of the government. Even with control of the House of Representatives, the Democrats cannot break the stranglehold on democracy. The Republicans’ basic political ideas are tax welfare for the for the rich and voter exclusion to manipulate elections. Within months of his inauguration, the Republican president called anti-Semites carrying Nazi flags and racists waving the stars and bars some “very fine people.” Separation of powers is meaningless when the three branches are in the hands of one party.
While the delegates at the Constitutional Convention argued over the idea of proportional representation for the House of Representatives and whether there should be a Senate, they also had concerns about the chief executive. Benjamin Franklin in the constitutional debates opined that the first chief executive would be a good one, “but nobody knows what sort may come afterwards. The executive will be always increasing here, as elsewhere, till it ends in a monarchy.” Roger Sherman of Connecticut opposed election of the executive by the people who “…should have as little to do as may be about the government. They lack imagination and are constantly liable to be misled.”
Pennsylvania Delegate Gouvernor Morris was a vocal opponent of slavery at the Constitutional Convention. Morris argued that “Wealth tends to corrupt the mind and to nourish its love of power and to stimulate oppression.” He believed the chief executive should be the “guardian of the people even of the lower classes, against legislative tyranny.” Yet we witnessed the longest government shutdown in American history as a contrivance of a Republican president – supported by a Republican Senate. Most Americans are opposed to Trump’s immigration policies and his demand for a wall, yet the Republican President and Senate tyrannize the majority. The ineffectiveness of Madison’s system of checks and balances is proven by the fact that despite control of the House, without control of the Senate, Democrats could not end the shutdown.
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention who prospered from slavery wanted their white privileges protected. The southern delegates insisted on protections for slavery and made clear no union was possible without a constitution recognizing the institution of slavery and protecting it. From Madison’s notes we know a fellow southerner made the ultimatum explicit. “General Pinckney of South Carolina, reminded the Convention that if the committee should fail to insert some security to the southern states [in the constitution] against an emancipation of slaves… he should be bound by duty to his state to vote against their report.” The Virginian Madison met southern demands and preserved slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello estate and his Montpelier plantation. This sustained his and Jefferson’s lifestyle at the cost of slaves. From the time of the Constitution’s ratification, the compromises on slavery and representation of the popular will have failed the promise for a democratic republic.
The Constitution counted men and women held in bondage as three-fifths of a person in order to increase southern representation in the House of Representatives and Electoral College. And in this original attempt to manipulate the definition of a constituency, granted southern states the partisan favor while at the same time defining slaves as property not to be taxed by federal authorities or through interstate commerce. The Constitution created a disproportionate Senate giving the southern states a way to block any attempts at abolition that might arise in the House. It enabled the passage of two Fugitive Slave Acts and made possible a Supreme Court decision which declared slaves were property to be bought and sold. The Constitution ennobled and propped up a labor system based on racism where the blood of African Americans built an empire.
The South seceded in 1861 because of slavery. The Constitution failed the test of checks and balances within seventy years of its ratification resulting in a great Civil War and almost 700,000 dead. And without the Civil War, because of Madison’s blueprint for government, slavery could never have been abolished. Passing legislation to end slavery was not possible. The American system of government was designed to protect slavery and it was in no way consistent with the rhetoric of the rebels who fought the American Revolution.
Make no mistake. Slavery was stopped by the Civil War, not the supremacy of whites. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, racism survived. Lynchings, voter suppression, Jim Crow laws and racial segregation were the norms in the South. Despite the very public torture and murder of thousands of African American men and women, the Senate of the United States refused to pass anti-lynching legislation. Between 1918 and 2018, two hundred bills were introduced in the United States Senate to make lynching a federal crime – it didn’t happen until December 2018. Southern senators led filibusters that kept the Senate from acting, and as late as 2005 the Senators from Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas refused to join in an apology for lynching. Gerrymandering and voter suppression are successful today in the South in limiting black voting and in the North and elsewhere in limiting voting by members of both political parties.
Despite all of the political missteps and public crimes made possible over two-hundred and thirty years as a result of a constitution written in the eighteenth century by men who wanted to protect slavery and thwart popular control of the government, the election of Donald Trump is clearly the end of the Madisonian Republic and its demise into what Franklin feared: monarchy. Trump rules by executive order and often to line his own coffers. The Constitution is dead, killed by Republicans, and we are all pall bearers at the funeral.
This is a work in progress. Representation by Jill Swenson, Swenson Book Development LLC.