Mark Twain and the Constitution, Politically Incorrect?

Being a student of history, I enjoy reading books, articles, poems and speeches, even technical works, in their historical/grammatical setting. This is true of the Bible as well as other historical works. Doing so gives me a real view into the lives and thinking of folks of yester year. Joy and I have spent a fair amount of time over the years going to Civil War battlefields and reading notes and letters from soldiers on both sides of that terrible conflict. How very human they were and befuddled about the obstinance of those on the other side. The commander of the Army of the Potomac, General George B. McClellan, held a low view of President Abraham Lincoln, referring to him as a baboon. Although McClellan was outstanding at training and preparing an army, he was fairly worthless as far as actually taking an army into battle. He was frozen into inaction by always believing he was outmanned by the other side. At one point, Lincoln sent him a note saying along the lines of:

““My dear McClellan: If you don’t want to use the Army I should like to borrow it for a while.””

Lincoln had a good whit and used satire to make his points from time to time. The language, context and historical setting gives us a better grasp of what was being communicated and for what reason. The one thing we can see as we read historical works is that King Solomon was right. There is nothing new under the sun. Human attitudes are essentially unchanged even though the object of some of their views change. In current cultural thinking and rhetoric 2 contradictory positions are held by the politically correct crowd. One the one hand, we are told that we should not make any judgments about behavior and morals in other cultures. There are no absolutes, they insist, morals and ethics are fluid from culture to culture and no beliefs are any more right or wrong in one culture than any other culture. On the other hand, the same crowd is quick to condemn the beliefs of our ancestors in the past as wrong, even though, in some cases, those doing the condemning hold the same views today. Two things in recent news demonstrate what I am talking about.

The first was the hub bub over Mark Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn and the revelation that a Upcoming NewSouth ‘Huck Finn’ Eliminates the ‘N’ Word. What is the issue? Well, that the word is derogatory and demeaning. That is true but then that was Mark Twain’s point in using it. Black’s in the South were not regarded as persons deserving of Constitutional rights or respect. They were property, to be used, abused, bought and sold like a cow, horse, or piece of furniture. Two quotes give us the historical setting and Twain’s intentional poke in the eye of those who held these views. These and many other quotes are listed on schmoop under Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Race Quotes. They give the chapter and paragraph number for each quote. For example chapter 31, paragraph 6, Huck Twain has Huck saying:

“I wouldn’t shake my NIGGER, would I? – the only nigger I had in the world, and the only property.”

Huck wouldn’t damage his property; after all, it is the only property he owned. In chapter 32, paragraph 19, 20 & 21 a short discussion affirms this same view:

“Good gracious! anybody hurt?”

“No’m. Killed a nigger.”

“Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”

Twain artfully, with thought and careful word selection, paints a cultural picture in a time when blacks were regularly called the “N” word because it was demeaning and a regular reminder that they were not people, not persons but property as defined by that culture at that time. They were human, no one really questioned that but a lower class of human and not worthy of respect, consideration or legal protection under the Constitution. That brings us to the second item.

The 112th Congress began with a reading of the Constitution. But oddly, what the House read was an Amended Slavery-Free Constitution. The Politically Correct Constitution danced around the three-fifths compromise. Of course, anyone unfamiliar with the historical context would assume that this was saying that each black was three-fifths of a person. This shows up in the linked article as the lack of historical grasp is demonstrated when the writer says:

“It’s fairly likely that no elected politician wants to stand up and read aloud the Founder’s vision of African Americans as equaling three-fifths of a white person”

In actuality this compromise was between slave holding Southern states and anti-slave holding Northern states and had to do with how many representatives each state would have as well as how much tax each state would pay. The number of Representatives were based on population and taxes were based on land values. The Southern States viewed slaves as property not persons. Human perhaps but not persons or, as Huckleberry Finn shows, not “people.” But when it came to increasing the number of representatives they wanted to count each and every slave. Tongue –in-cheek, some of the Northern states, started counting their cows, couches and other pieces of property to show the absurdity of their position. In the end, the “compromise” was to count the slaves but they would only count for three-fifths of a white population. In other words 100 blacks would equal 60 whites in tallying up for how many representatives each state would get. The “compromise” had nothing to do with individual blacks or the Founding Fathers view of blacks. Some of them, the Northern States, viewed Blacks as persons, deserving of all the Constitutional rights accorded to persons. Southern States used an arbitrary criteria, skin color, to define persons. It was skin color. The wrong skin color classified a human property.

In Do Humans Have Rights That Can Be Violated? and Every Grandma a Wanted Grandma we looked at the problem with a lack of absolutes. Personhood and rights become culturally arbitrary. This is blatantly seen with today’s ruling elite. They are horrified that Mark Twain used the “N” word in his book, even though he was using it to show the wrong headed attitude of the Southern States about their arbitrary definition of blacks as property instead of persons. They lack historical understanding of the Constitution and because they lack historical understanding are offended by imagining that the founding document legitimizes something (inferiority of blacks) which in actuality it doesn’t legitimize. But even if it did, why should they be offended? Simple, they are using “differing weights” (Deut. 25:13), a different set of standards for themselves and others. While they look down their uninformed noses at people in the past, they too define certain humans as non-persons and property today. Their criteria is geographical. A human in the womb is property and can be kept or disposed of as the owner sees fit. Once the human makes a few inch geographical transition from inside the womb to outside the womb, viola, it is now a person and has legal protections. The only reason this works for the ruling elite today is their double standards. God speaks to this in Proverbs 20:10:

Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD.

And again in Proverbs 20:23:

Differing weights are an abomination to the LORD, and a false scale is not good.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


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