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“Promises Not Yet Recognized”: Enshrine The Right To Vote In The Constitution

Flags flew at half mast, schoolchildren recited the “Gettysburg Address” and for a few hours on April 15, America paused to remember that a century and a half ago this country lost its 16th president to an assassin’s bullet.

Now, Americans can finish with the pause and begin to fully honor Lincoln.

The place of beginning is with an embrace of the work of reconstruction that was imagined when Lincoln lived but that is not—even now—complete.

President Obama proclaimed April 15 as a National Day of Remembrance for President Abraham Lincoln, declaring, “Today, we reflect on the extraordinary progress he made possible, and with one voice, we rededicate ourselves to the work of ensuring a Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Obama was right to focus on Lincoln’s great preachment on behalf of American democracy. It directs our attention toward the mission to which small “d” democrats of all partisanships and ideologies must rededicate ourselves.

One hundred and fifty years after the moment when a still young country saw the end of a Civil War and the assassination of a president, the events of April 1865 continue to shape and challenge the American experience.

With Lincoln’s death, an inept and wrongheaded vice president, Andrew Johnson, succeeded to the presidency. Had it been left to Johnson, who vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the progress extending from the great sacrifices of the Civil War would have been imperiled. But the rough outlines for securing the victory were not left to a president. They were enshrined in the US Constitution.

Three amendments to the founding document were enacted during the five-year period from 1865 to 1870. These “Reconstruction Amendments”were transformational statements—even if their promise has yet to be fully recognized or realized.

The first of the amendments addressed the great failure of the founding moment: a “compromise” that recognized—and effectively permitted—human bondage.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution affirmed that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Those words confronted the indefensible “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which was outlined in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution as it was framed in 1787. That paragraph did not speak specifically of slavery, but instead referred to two groups of Americans: “the whole Number of free Persons” and “all other Persons.”

The 13th Amendment was an essential step toward an official embrace of Thomas Jefferson’s “immortal declaration”of 1776—that “all men are created equal.”

But it was not enough.

To the 13th Amendment of 1865 was added the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which confirmed that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The 14th Amendment, remarkable in its clarity and detail, provided for due process and equal protection under the law.

But it was not enough.

To the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 and the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 was added the 15th Amendment of 1870, which avowed that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Congress was given the power to enforce these articles by appropriate legislation.

But that was still not enough, as became obvious with the collapse of Reconstruction and the establishment of “Jim Crow” segregation in states that had been part of the Confederacy. With these ruptures came overt discrimination against voting rights.

It took more than a century of litigation, boycotts, protests and marches to restore the promise of equal protection and voting rights.

But that was not enough.

Despite the protections delineated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (which in 1964 formally banned poll taxes), headlines remind us that the right to vote is “still threatened.” The US Supreme Court has mangled the Voting Rights Act, and the Congress has failed to repair the damage done. The Brennan Center for Justice has determined that at least 83 restrictive bills were introduced in 29 states where legislatures had floor activity in 2014, including proposals to require a photo ID, make voter registration more difficult, reduce early voting opportunities, and make it harder for students to vote.

“The stark and simple truth is this—the right to vote is threatened today—in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” said President Obama.

The great American process of forming a more perfect union is far from complete. The events of 150 years ago were not the end of anything. They were a pivot point that took the United States in a better direction. But the was incomplete, and insufficient to establish justice. So the process continues.

That is why Congressmen Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, have proposed to amend the Constitution to declare clearly and unequivocally that

“SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

“SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Pocan-Ellison amendment will not, in and of itself, form a more perfect union. But it provides a tool for those who understand that we best honor our history by recognizing unmet promises—and seeking, finally, to keep them.

“A core principle of our democracy is the ability for citizens to participate in the election of their representatives,” explains Pocan. “We have seen constant attempts by some states to erode voting rights and make it harder for citizens to vote. This amendment would affirm the principle of equal participation in our democracy for every citizen. As the world’s leading democracy, we must guarantee the right to vote for all.”

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, April 16, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Abraham Lincoln, Democracy, U. S. Constitution, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lurking In The Wings”: Mitt Romney Could Be The Next Andrew Johnson

Tuesday’s presidential election is one of the most important political events to affect racial progress in America since the 1964 contest between Sen. Barry Goldwater and President Lyndon Johnson.

Fortunately, the much-feared Goldwater victory never came to pass. But in ’64, there was plenty of praying among people of good will.

And with good reason.

Widely regarded as a founder of the modern conservative movement, Goldwater entered the presidential race as an outspoken defender of “states rights” and a fierce opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Goldwater’s anti-civil-rights stance earned him the support of Deep South states, making him the first Republican since Reconstruction to carry Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana.

Operating with a well-earned inner sense of peril, African Americans voted overwhelmingly against Goldwater, helping to hand Johnson a landslide victory. A retreat on progress toward racial equality was averted.

What would be the consequences for race of a Mitt Romney victory?

A Romney takeover of the White House might well rival Andrew Johnson’s ascendancy to the presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

Let’s dispense with something right now. I am not asserting that, in the unlikely event President Obama loses, the result could be chalked up to his being black.

Yes, race still matters in America, as Romney surrogate John Sununu recently reminded us with his slur regarding Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama.

A Romney win would be worrisome, however, because of his strong embrace of states rights and his deep mistrust of the federal government — sentiments Andrew Johnson shared.

And we know what that Johnson did once in office.

His sympathy for Confederacy holdouts, and his distaste for Washington, led him to retreat from Reconstruction and avert his gaze as Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws, many of which lasted until the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

There is nothing in Romney’s record to suggest that he would be any stronger than Andrew Johnson in resisting the blandishments of his most extreme supporters, especially regarding federal enforcement.

Johnson stood by as Southern states enacted “black codes,” which restricted rights of freed blacks and prevented blacks from voting.

Romney stood by last year as Republican-controlled state legislatures passed voter-identification laws, making it harder for people of color, senior citizens and people with disabilities to exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Is a Romney victory out of the question?

Lest we forget, Abraham Lincoln was not a beloved president across the nation at the time of his death. To white Southerners, wrote historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, the 16th president was “The principal author of all the woe that descended upon them . . . a ruthless Attila bent upon the destruction of a superior civilization.”

In his April 1876 oration in memory of Lincoln, Frederick Douglass said, “Few great public men have ever been the victims of fiercer denunciation than Abraham Lincoln was during his administration. Reproaches came thick and fast upon him from within and from without, and from opposite quarters.”

In some quarters, the hatred of Lincoln bordered on fanaticism; similar sentiments are in evidence against Obama.

It was Lincoln’s declaration that, after the war, the nation would have “a new birth of freedom” that led to him taking a bullet on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

Obama’s exhortation in 2004, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America,” goes down no better with some folks.

For months on end, Romney and his ilk have been stoking the country with the charge that Obama has been systematically undermining America’s economic and social structure. It has caught hold; how much, we’ll see.

If Romney prevails, who will dictate what policies a Romney administration pursues? Certainly not Mitt Romney, a panderer and flip-flopper whose convictions don’t extend far beyond getting elected.

But the next president will make appointments to the Justice Department, State Department, the Pentagon; the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services; the Securities and Exchange Commission; the Treasury Department; and probably a Supreme Court justice or two. And there will be political jobs galore to fill. With a Romney administration, that means recruiting people who hate the federal government.

So where will Romney turn for help? Why, from those who helped get him where he is today: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and the Fox news crew, to name a few.

The ghost of Andrew Johnson is lurking in the wings.

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 2, 2012

November 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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