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A Different Perspective: Exploring history

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 5th, 2013

Over the Thanksgiving weekend Roberta and I went to see “Lincoln” in the VIP theatre at Galaxy Theatres in Atascadero. We prefer late night screenings as the texting/cell phone addicts seem to avoid that time and we were rewarded by an audience that were mostly charter members of AARP. Not a cell phone in sight.

“Lincoln” was based upon the book, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” written by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and published in 2005. It explores the internal conflict within Lincoln’s cabinet during the Civil War and his fight to end slavery by passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. If there is justice this movie should garner one or more Academy Awards.

“Lincoln” should be a must-see for parents with middle school or older children as it lays bare the hard politicking and compromises that often must be made to accomplish noble ends. Seldom are great deeds done while maintaining ideological purity.

For the historically uninitiated, Lincoln freed the slaves and until the Civil War not much was done to remedy their plight by the old, rich white guys we call “The Founding Fathers.” After all, the Revolution was about being forced to pay taxes without representation and the rich merchants of Boston and Tidewater Planters of Virginia resented the monopoly imposed upon them by British manufacturers, or so we’ve been told for about 90 years. Actually, that’s wrong.

A major ideological breaking point with Britain was over King George’s re-imposition of slavery in several of the Colonies after their legislatures had abolished the practice. Pennsylvania, for instance, abolished slavery in 1774, only to have the King order it reinstated. The British Empire depended upon its sugar cane plantations in the West Indies for its molasses trade, which required an abundant slave population to work the cane fields. Abolition of the slave trade would jeopardize the economic underpinnings of a lucrative source of revenue for the Crown and no upstart colonists were going to upset the royal applecart. When one reads the letters of Thomas Jefferson and other famous Founders as they expressed outrage at this immoral imposition, one begins to understand that breaking with England had far deeper roots than simply the price of tea being dumped into the Boston Harbor.

How does one square that fact with Jefferson owning slaves and not freeing them upon his death? Delving into the original documents, you discover that Jefferson inherited most of his slaves and that it was illegal to emancipate them except upon the death of the owner. Washington freed his slaves upon his death; Jefferson, however, was unable to do so as the laws of Virginia were changed in 1799 to prohibit emancipation, except that an owner provide an exorbitant sum of money for their lifelong support upon emancipation. Jefferson was a wealthy man, but not that wealthy. He did pay his slaves wages and was not a stereotypical caricature of the slave-master.

The fight to end slavery in America was long and bitter; not all Founders agreed with ending slavery, but the vast majority did and attempted to incorporate restrictions in the Constitution to prevent slavery from expanding to new territories. Go see the movie; it’s worth every penny on a big screen.

Al Fonzi is a retired Army Lt. Colonel and career intelligence officer with more than 30 years of service. He is a self-described conservative and active in several political organizations. Fonzi first moved to Atascadero in 1972.

For the complete article see the 12-05-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 12-05-2012 paper.

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