On John Ashcroft --- and Jefferson Davis

Column No. 13 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH – May 20, 2004


Although racism is ever-present in Georgite politics, policies, programs, and Court appointments, it is hardly ever overt.  It is at times actually subliminal.  At present, the “type of person” targets that the Republicans have placed prominently in their sights as part of their electoral strategy are women who don’t believe that life begins at the moment of conception and the homosexual members of our society.  But that hardly means that down the road the Republicans could not once again put racism to the fore, as it was by them in the original Goldwater/Nixon “Southern Strategy.”

John Ashcroft is the Minister of State (figuratively and literally) from the Christian Right to the Georgite Regime.  He is also the most powerful person in law enforcement in the nation.  The Christian Right can hardly expect to persuade very many people beyond their own true believers (less than 10% of the population) to voluntarily support and comply with their policies and programs.  Thus, because of their fundamental numerical and philosophical weakness in our society as a whole, they have no other choice but to seek to use the criminal law to impose their will.  They are in the process of doing this in dealing with pregnant women and homosexuals.  Their Attorney General is central to the implementation of their current offensive.

Seeking to broaden the rifts in society that they feed upon, the Right could once again turn openly on the African-American population.  Far-fetched, you might say. But if it did, their current Minister to the Georgites would be right there with them.  Just consider the (generally hidden) racist background of the man who is leading the drive to gut many central elements of our Constitutional rights and liberties, Attorney General John Ashcroft.  Examining this background of his under the light is quite revealing.

On the “Southern Patriots”

In an October 1998 interview with the magazine Southern Partisan (Riverfront Times [St. Louis, MO], Dec. 28, 2000)[a copy of the Ashcroft interview can be found here – Talking Points Memo] then Attorney General-designate Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri had this to say about the principal leaders of the Confederate States of America:

“Your magazine helps set the record straight.  You’ve got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Confederate Gen. Robert E.] Lee, [Confederate Gen. “Stonewall”] Jackson, and [Confederate States of America {CSA} President Jefferson] Davis.  Traditionalists must do more.  I’ve got to do more.  We’ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.”

It is interesting to examine some of the positions taken by the leader of the Confederate Rebellion, Jefferson Davis, on the principal questions of his time, including slavery and secession, to see which ones then-Sen. Ashcroft might have felt needed defending, or protecting from the thought that those positions were part of a “perverted agenda.”  It is fascinating that a man who would become the nation’s leading law enforcement officer would think that Jefferson Davis’ agenda was not in any way “perverted.”  One must wonder if this man, sworn to uphold the Constitution, and with many direct powers to do so, had ever read the Constitution, especially the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, specifically designed to discard Jefferson Davis’ agenda from the national body politic.

The quoted material used below is all taken from the absolutely fascinating book The Approaching Fury: Voice of the Storm, 1820-1861 by the Civil War Historian Stephen B. Oates of Amherst University (New York: Harper Collins: 1997, page numbers in parentheses.

Would, for example, then-Sen. Ashcroft have wanted to defend the following statement Davis made about Ashcroft’s own party (the Republicans)?

“Your platform on which you elected your presidential candidate denies us [the slave-holding states] equality in the Union.  It refuses us equal enjoyment of the territories . . . I ask you, do you give us justice; do we enjoy equality? . . . Without equality, we would be degraded to remain in the Union . . . . “Your votes refuse to recognize our domestic institutions which existed before the formation of the Union, our slave property which is guarded by the Constitution. . . . The leading members of your party . . . made speeches after the election announcing that the Republican triumph signaled the downfall of our domestic institutions!  And you dare to ask us, ‘What is the matter?’” (p. 368).

Or perhaps it is the following statement that some might teach as indicating that Davis was following a perverted agenda, one for which then-Sen. Ashcroft would want to set the record straight:

“The state of Mississippi gave warning and declared her purpose to take counsel with her southern sister states whenever a President should be elected on the basis of sectional hostility to them.  With all this warning, you paused not.  Such a President [the first Republican] has now been elected.  The quarrel, then, is not of our making.  Our hands are stainless.  It is you who are the aggressor. . . . “If in the pride of power, if in contempt of reason and reliance upon force, you say we shall not go, but shall remain as subjects to you, then, gentlemen of the North, a war is to be inaugurated the like of which men have not seen before [emphasis added]” (p. 369).

Or perhaps the following is a statement of Davis’ that some critic might perversely use to further his or her own agenda:

“I would, however, say a word to those who have attacked our social institutions by evoking the Declaration of Independence and its phrase ‘all men are created equal.’  By that Jefferson clearly meant not equality of the races, but the equality of the men of the political community at that time.  The phrase had no reference to Negroes, who were not then regarded as citizens” (p. 371).

Then-Sen. Ashcroft referred to “traditionalists,” saying that they “must do more.”  One wonders if that would include doing more “to stand up and speak,” for example, about Davis’ view of the institution of slavery:

“The abolitionists, howling at us from afar, could not see how well treated our slaves were.  They called slavery a sin.  By what standard did they measure it?  Not by the Constitution, which recognized property in slaves.  Not by the Bible; that justifies it.  Not by Christianity; for servitude was the only agency through which Christianity reached the Negro race.  Not by a comparison of the slave’s lot to that of the free black in the North; the one well provided for in all his physical wants and steadily improving in his moral condition; the other miserable, impoverished, loathsome from deformity and disease which follow after penury and vice.  Negroes were not fit for freedom because they were unable to care for themselves.  As the descendants of Ham, the graceless son of Noah, they carried God’s curse on Ham and so were slaves by divine decree.  How then could slavery be a sin?  It is, in fact, a moral, social, and a political blessing” (p. 219).

Finally, there was the famous explication of the theory of white supremacy uttered by the CSA Vice-President, Alexander Stephens.  About it Jefferson Davis said: “what Stephens said was true, perfectly true” (p. 382).  To defend that theory, and the institution of slavery too of course, Davis and Lee and Jackson gave their lives (literally in Jackson’s case) and subscribed “their sacred fortunes and their honor.”

Here is what Stephens had to say about the theory of white supremacy, which theory would presumably be, to then-Sen. Ashcroft’s way of thinking, not a perverted one:

“Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature.  Our system commits no such violation of nature’s law.  With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law.  Not so with the Negro.  Subordination is his place.  He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.  Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races.  Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery --- subordination to the superior race --- is his natural condition.” (pp. 381-2)

Notice the Biblical references used by Stephens, above, and Davis in the previous (but hey, guys, I’m confused: is it the curse of Ham or the curse of Cain that is primary here?)  Sounds just like the Christian Right justifying their policies and programs by the use of selected references to the “inerrant" Bible, doesn’t it?  So if they can use what one particular English translation of a Latin translation of a Greek translation of a Hebrew translation of an original Aramaic text to inform national social policy (backed up by the force of the criminal law) in dealing with pregnancy and homosexuality, who says they could not return to it to inform policy on what they call “race?”

And so, we now have as Attorney General of the United States a strong Christian Rightist who has characterized as “patriots” men like Lee, Jackson, and Davis who had subscribed “their sacred fortunes and honor” to defend a political philosophy and economic system based on the theory of white supremacy and the institution of slavery.  Since they all, as former officers in the U.S. Army (and Davis was Secretary of War, 1853-57, under Franklin Pierce) had sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution, by taking up arms against it, actually they were all traitors.

Here is Ashcroft defending them and saying that he had “to do more” in carrying out that task.   Yes, this is the same man who has characterized anyone who dares simply to disagree with Georgite foreign and military policy as a traitor.

So, no return to open racism under a re-elected Georgite regime?  I wouldn’t be too sure.