“Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
I have been a public school teacher for 25 years and have witnessed the conversion of our schools from education institutions to indoctrination centers. Many history teachers, these days, depict our Founders as “dead, racist white guys” who are unworthy of respect. The Constitution is taught, inaccurately, as a bigoted, sexist, and anti-gay document. So I formed a Constitution Club at my school to dispel the lies and misrepresentations that the disciples of Howard Zinn—the foremost left-wing history revisionist—are daily feeding our students.
I had to overcome objections from three campus groups, in order to get students to come: Blacks, women, and gays. Their objections, considering what they are being fed by Common-Core enthusiasts, are understandable. But their objections are easily overcome by the teaching of accurate, historical facts about our founding documents and our Founding Fathers.
African-Americans: On the Three-Fifths, Anti-Slavery Clause
Article One, Section Two, of the Constitution contains a clause known as the 3/5 Clause, or the Anti-Slavery Clause. It reads as follows: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years [Indentured Servants], and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons [Slaves].”
The reason this clause exists is to encourage slave states to free slaves by making their representation in the House of Representatives increase upon actually freeing them. Any teaching that the Founders thought of Blacks as 3/5 a person is false.
It should also be pointed out that there is no mention of race in this clause. The Constitution is color-blind with respect to race. In fact, more than 20% of slaveholders in the South, at the time of the American Civil War, were African-American freemen. And abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, wanted the Constitution applied to Blacks; nobody was in favor of abandoning the Constitution.
Women: On Equal Suffrage
Article One, Section Four, Clause One, of the Constitution reads as follows: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof. . . .” And Article Four, Section Two, Clause One, reads thus: “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” There is actually nothing in the gender-neutral language of the Constitution that states that women cannot vote. All voting-eligibility rules are left to the states to decide.
By the time the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, in August of 1920, twenty-seven states already allowed women to vote in presidential elections. The Nineteenth Amendment sped up the process of giving this right to all women; but the point being made here is that the Constitution itself was indeed written to be gender-neutral. This is why women in some states were able to gain voting rights prior to 1920.
The Nineteenth Amendment reads like this: “Section 1. The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
A brief note on gender neutrality in the Constitution: the pronouns “he” and “him” are gender-neutral pronouns when they refer to persons of unknown gender or when the gender of persons referred to is not meant to be specified. There was no other grammatical convention in use in the day of the Founders. The same convention exists today in modern languages, such as Spanish or French. Bilingual students comprehend this convention with ease.
On Washington’s Tolerance of Homosexuality
Our Founders lived in the era called the Enlightenment, and the value of tolerance was held in high esteem. General George Washington, during the American Revolutionary War, employed the services of a Prussian military officer by the name of Friedrich von Steuben (pronounced “fohn Shtoyben”). Washington hired him to train his soldiers in his superior Prussian methods, to instill new confidence into the rag-tag outfit. He also had him write the first military training manual for our armed forces.
Baron von Steuben had been discharged from the Prussian military due to his “affections for members of his own sex,” despite his reputation as a military genius. Fleeing imprisonment, he ended up in France interviewing, with American ambassador Benjamin Franklin, for a job in Washington’s army. Dr. Franklin decided his military expertise trumped any consideration of the homosexual issue and that tolerance was called for.
Washington valued von Steuben as a friend and associate and never spoke with indiscretion of von Steuben’s personal affairs, nor did he write about them in any official or private documents or letters. George Washington, the Father of Our Country—through his tolerance and encouragement of an outcast military genius—made Friedrich von Steuben, a gay man, the Father of Our Country’s Armed Forces.
Our Ever-Unfolding Promissory Note
Whatever their shortcomings, our Founders understood they were not perfect. They knew, however, that even an imperfect freedom would provide America with the opportunity for a great and unending experiment. The blueprint for this experiment in individual liberty, that they wrote into the US Constitution, would provide its inheritors with an ever-unfolding promissory note for the sustenance and enlargement of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness throughout the ages.
The Constitution our Founders bestowed upon us is written in a neutral style, without specific references to race or gender. President Reagan referred to the republic our Constitution established as our “shining city on a hill” as well as the “last best hope for man on earth.” Indeed, if we want those words to remain true, that promissory note must be jealously protected.