Members of Connecticut’s Democrat State Central Committee on July 22 voted unanimously to pull the eject lever on Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, and Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, widely considered the father of the modern Democratic Party. On a unanimous voice vote, the names of the two gentlemen were stripped from the Party’s annual “Jefferson, Jackson, Bailey Dinner.” The Confederate Flag lowered permanently from a flagpole on the lawn of the State Capitol in South Carolina following the racist-terrorist murder of nine churchgoers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has brought down more than a flag.
On the 67th year of the annual Jefferson, Jackson, Bailey fete, Connecticut Democrats awakened suddenly to the slaver pasts of both Jefferson and Jackson. U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro stoutly resisted the effort to airbrush Mr. Jefferson from Democratic Party history. The third American president was, Mrs. DeLauro noted, one of the founders of the Republic, but she seemed willing enough to efface Mr. Jackson, an Indian killer and slaver whose violent character is far less defensible.
Perhaps Democrats in Connecticut spearheading the change should be asked if they would rather see Mr. Jackson replaced on the twenty dollar bill than Alexander Hamilton on the ten dollar bill. The change is being made to make room for a yet unannounced woman of moment. Mr. Hamilton certainly was no friend of slavery and did much to shape the American economy. Mr. Jackson resisted the establishment of the Second Bank of the United States, moved Indians onto reservations, robbed black farmers of their land in Florida and was as President at least as intemperate with his political foes as the current Democratic President or, coming closer to home, our prickly Governor Dannel Malloy, all of whose budgets were formed without Republican Party input. Bi-partisan government in Connecticut was thrown to the winds when Mr. Malloy, the first Democratic governor in the state since 1991, assumed office.
The politically opportune airbrushing of history presents awkward practical problems. George Washington, considered the father of the country, was also a slaver, though Washington did manumit his slaves to freedom in his will. Washington D.C., where Mrs. DeLauro commingles with other Democrats at the policy salons she holds at her plush Capitol Hill townhouse, is named after the nation’s first President. Should the nation’s capital be renamed? And what is to done with the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial?
A hint that the author of the Declaration of Independence was to be degraded was provided by Governor Dannel Malloy at the last Jefferson, Jackson, Bailey Dinner. Mr. Malloy said the change would not trouble him and later offered a few suggestions that would attach the Democratic Party to its more modern evocations.
The problems of the past will continue to haunt the Democratic Party for years to come. Slavery, Jim Crow and its modern equivalents must continue to be denounced, and there is little question that Republicans -- called by Democrats in the South during slave days “black Republicans”-- have less need than the Democratic Party to shed the past. “Shed” is exactly the right word: As people and institutions move from the past to the future, they slough off their past sins, like snakes shedding their skins. The oak tree is not the acorn. And the problems that face blacks today in America are both similar and different than those that confronted Frederick Douglass, who was asked by Abraham Lincoln following his Second Inaugural Address what he thought of the speech now engraved on the north chamber wall of the Lincoln monument. John Wilkes Booth, in the audience, heard Lincoln say:
“The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Lincoln's remarks run like lava through Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, delivered nearly a hundred years later from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This was the same Lincoln who praised Jefferson on the occasion of his birthday celebration in Boston for having inserted into the Declaration of Independence language – “All men are created equal” -- that in time struck the irons from the feet of slaves:
“This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.
“All honor to Jefferson--to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”
Frederick Douglass would have agreed with Lincoln’s assessment.