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When Do You Feel Free? December 6, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“As to the charge of treason, what is treason? I would ask. Treason in a people is the taking up of arms against the government or the siding of its enemies. In all revolutions the vanquished are the ones who are guilty of treason, even by the historians, for history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.”

– quoted from a speech given on August 21st and printed in “Vest on Succession. Speech of the Senator at the Confederate Reunion…” in the Abilene Weekly Reflector (Dickinson County, Kansas) on August 27, 1891

History and precedent are funny things. Consider, for instance, that many Americans celebrate “the declaration of independence” on July 4th, even though the vote to declare independence was cast on July 2, 1776 – which is when the then-future President John Adams thought people would celebrate – and it would take months for it to be signed by the members of the Second Continental Congress.

Then there’s that whole sticky freedom and equality thing.

It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though the Committee of Five (and eventually the Second Continental Congress) declared “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.” It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though Article IV, Section 2 of the newly formed nation’s Constitution promised “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” It’s a sticky/problematic thing even though the 5th Amendment, which was ratified along with the Bill of Rights in 1791, states, “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” It’s a sticky/problematic historical thing, because everyone within the country’s borders was not free, equal, equally represented, and/or entitled to the guaranteed the most basic rights, privileges, and immunities. More to the point, the decision to exclude certain individuals was deliberate and intentional (see Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, quoted below) – although we can argue the level of willfulness that went into the decision.

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, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

– quoted from Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of The Constitution of the United States (link directs to amendments which nullified this section)

Bottom line, neither of the founding documents was perfect; that’s why we have amendments.

Then again, even our amendments aren’t always perfect and, more to the point, the way we remember the history of our amendments isn’t even close to perfect. Consider, for instance, the issue of freedom and representation as it pertains to slaves and their descendants. People are quick to laud and celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued by President Abraham Lincoln September 22, 1862 and went into effect on January 1, 1863, but the document only applied to the Confederate States of America – which were still in rebellion; meaning, the document (technically) didn’t free a single slave.

In an attempt to persuade Southern states to peacefully rejoin the Union, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation for Amnesty and Reconstruction on December 8, 1863. This was an attempt to not only end the Civil War, but also strengthen his proclamation. But, there were no takers. The Emancipation Proclamation remained purely symbolic – until the end of the war. Even then, however, it would be June 19, 1865, before news of freedom reached Galveston, Texas. And, yes, some of us celebrate that day, Juneteenth.

Much more expedient in its effectiveness, but arguably symbolic in the worst possible way, was the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. Signed by President Lincoln on April 16, 1862, the Act eventually freed about 3, 185 people (and paid out over $100,100,000 as compensation to former owners of those freed). But, outside of Washington D. C. (where it’s a holiday) very few people take notice of the day unless it falls on a weekend and delays the official tax deadline.

Before we get to far down this rocky road, please keep in mind that President Lincoln (and everyone around him) knew the Emancipation Proclamation was more of a symbolic gesture and that, even after the Union won the Civil War, there was a possibility it would be nullified. Not only could it have been nullified if he had lost his re-election bid, some of his contemporaries worried that he might nullify it (on a certain level) in order to restore the Union. However, President Lincoln was quick to reassure the abolitionists. He campaigned on abolishing slavery and then he set out to fulfill that campaign promise.

“At the last session of Congress a proposed amendment of the Constitution abolishing slavery throughout the United States passed the Senate, but failed for lack of the requisite two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives. Although the present is the same Congress and nearly the same members, and without questioning the wisdom or patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present session. Of course the abstract question is not changed; but in intervening election shows almost certainly that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not. Hence there is only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And as it is to so go at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better? It is not claimed that the election has imposed a duty on members to change their views or their votes any further than, as an additional element to be considered, their judgment may be affected by it. It is the voice of the people now for the first time heard upon the question. In a great national crisis like ours unanimity of action among those seeking a common end is very desirable–almost indispensable. And yet no approach to such unanimity is attainable unless some deference shall be paid to the will of the majority simply because it is the will of the majority. In this case the common end is the maintenance of the Union, and among the means to secure that end such will, through the election, is most dearly declared in favor of such constitutional amendment.”

– quoted from State of the Union 1864, delivered to the United States Congress by President Abraham Lincoln (on 12/6/1864)

Today in 1864, during his State of the Union Address, President Abraham Lincoln urged Congress and the States to take action “the sooner the better” on an amendment to abolish slavery. He proceeded to very actively, more actively than had previously been witnessed in other presidencies, to work towards securing the votes needed to pass and ratify what would become the 13th Amendment – which was, in fact, ratified today in 1865.

Ratification of the 13th Amendment “officially” made slavery illegal in the United States. It also rendered the Fugitive Slave Clause moot and created the opportunity for more representation, by eliminating certain aspects of the Three-Fifths Compromise. So, we celebrate today, right? Right??

Funny thing about that ratification: Even before we address things like the 18th Century “Tignon Laws,” the 19th Century “Black Codes” or “Black Laws,” and the “Jim Crow Laws” enacted in the late 19th and early 20 Centuries – or the fact that a 14th and 15th Amendment was needed to secure the rights, privileges, and immunities of former slaves and their descendants (let alone all the Acts) – we need to look at the how the 13th Amendment was ratified.

Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

– “Amendment XIII” of The Constitution of the United States

By the time President Lincoln was assassinated, 21 states had ratified the 13th Amendment (starting with Illinois on Feb. 1, 1865 and continuing to Arkansas on Feb. 14, 1865). When President Andrew Johnson took office, he also made it a priority to get the 13th Amendment ratified. His approach, however, was very different from his predecessor. Instead of encouraging the spirit and intention of the amendment, President Andrew Johnson spent his time assuring states that they would have the power and jurisdiction to limit the scope of the amendment. This led states like Louisiana (Feb. 17th), South Carolina (Nov. 13th), and Alabama (Dec. 2nd) weakening the implementation and enforcement of the amendment by ratifying with caveats. Further weakening its perception, in certain areas, was the fact that ratification only required three-fourths of the states (at the time that equaled 27 out of 36).

Georgia came through today in 1865 as the 27th (and final) state needed to solidify the ratification. Five states (Oregon, California, Florida, Iowa, and New Jersey (after a 2nd vote) ratified the amendment within a few weeks. Texas would get on board over four years later (on February 18, 1870). Delaware, Kentucky, and Mississippi – all of whom, like New Jersey, initially rejected ratification – would make the amendment official in 1901, 1976, and 1995 (respectively). Curiously, Mississippi didn’t certify their 1995 vote until 2013.

Take a moment, if you are able, to imagine being a former slave – or even the descendant of a former slave – living in one of the states that only ratified the 13th Amendment with a “provisional statement” and/or didn’t ratify it until the 20th Century. You may know when you are technically free, but when does everyone around you recognize that you’re legally free? When do you feel free? Because remember, the Ashtavakra Gita says, “’If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so.’” (1:11)

So, yes, we can talk all day about the fact that slavery “officially” end in 1865. However, we must also remember that for some folks, like Missouri Senator George Graham Vest, who was born today in 1830 – and was the last of the Confederate States Senators to pass, as well as an ardent supporter of the “Lost Cause” ideology – the “War of Northern Aggression” was a war about states’ rights and there was (they believed) an economic, and therefore moral, justification for slavery.

Because he once defended an African American man in a court of law, my bias is such that I would like to say that “The Gentleman from Missouri” was more faceted that I’ve just painted him. However, he is best remembered for arguing a case about the killing of a dog. So, as eloquent as he was, I’m not sure I can make a case for him. There is, however, at least one thing upon which I will agree with him:

“Look at Adam. I have very little use for Adam. When he was asked who ate the apple he said Eve ate a bit of it first. Shame on him for trying to dodge the result. I know that if Adam had been a Missouri ex-confederate soldier he would have said: ‘I ate the apple and what are you going to do about it?’”

– quoted from a speech given on August 21st and printed in “Vest on Succession. Speech of the Senator at the Confederate Reunion…” in the Abilene Weekly Reflector (Dickinson County, Kansas) on August 27, 1891

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 6th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Yes, ironically, this is the “Fourth of July” playlist. The playlists are slightly different, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that the videos posted on the blog on July 4th do not appear on Spotify.]

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

“When the physical war ended, then the real practical problems presented themselves. How was slavery to be effectively abolished? And what was to be the status of the Negroes? What was the condition and power of the states which had rebelled? The legal solution of these questions was easy. The states that had attempted to rebel had failed. The must now resume their relations to the government. Slavery had been abolished as a war measure….

The difficulty with this legalistic formula was that it did not cling to facts. Slavery was not abolished even after the Thirteenth Amendment. There were four million freedmen and most of them on the same plantation, doing the same work they did before emancipation, except as their work had been interrupted and changed by the upheaval of war. Moreover, they were getting about the same wages and apparently were going to be subject to slave codes modified only in name. There were among them thousands of fugitives in the camps of the soldiers or on the streets of the cities, homeless, sick, and impoverished. They had been freed practically with no land nor money, and, save in exceptional cases, without legal status, and without protection.”

– quoted from Black Reconstruction in America (The Oxford W. E. B. Du Bois): An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880 by W. E. B Du Bois

### WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FREE? ###