The Church and the State
It is 1860, and a man from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, has won the presidency. But there will be no parades for Lincoln, and little cheering, because the nation is about to go to war-with itself. Some people are saying that the American experiment in democracystarted so bravely seventy-one years earlieris finished. How could this have happened?
The United States was born with a promise-and with a problem. The problem was slavery. By 1860 there are four million black slaves in America. Henry Highland Garnet is a black minister who sees to the heart of the problem. He says : "Our race was brought to the shores of America. They came not with glad spirits to a land of freedom. They came with broken hearts, and were doomed to unrequited toil and degradation."
And the promise of Americawhat was the promise? The promise is in the words of the Declaration of Independence : "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The Founders of the United Stateswho wrote of liberty and equality in that remarkable Declaration and in a splendid Constitutionalso gave their consent to slavery, which is the very opposite of liberty and equality. Why did they do it? Many of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787 knew that slavery was wrong. And they said so. But the delegates from the Deep South refused to sign the Constitution if it banned slavery. So the delegates compromised, and allowed it to continue .
Though Thomas Jefferson himself owned close to 200 slaves, he knew slavery in America would lead to terrible things. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just," he wrote. "His justice cannot sleep forever."