How Conservative Myths Stoke Racial Fear

In the twisted right-wing version of history, whites are bias victims. Meanwhile, the poor get stiffed.

Michele Bachmann signs an autograph at a rally in August in South Carolina.(Richard Ellis/Getty Images)
Michele Bachmann signs an autograph at a rally in August in South Carolina.(Richard Ellis/Getty Images)

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Earlier this year she told an audience that the United States, at its founding, was a bastion of fairness and opportunity for “different cultures, different backgrounds, different traditions.” She went on to say (in an awkward sort of way) that the U.S. was a “resting point from people groups all across the world. It didn’t matter the color of their skin … [or] language … or economic status.” She was on a roll: “Once you got here, we were all the same.” Even assuming that she was talking only about the men, I still say, uh, no.

But wait; what about slavery? Her answer: “The very founders that wrote [the Constitution] worked tirelessly until slavery was no more.” Hmmm. Wrong again. In fact, not only did the Founding Fathers not work tirelessly to end slavery, but most were wealthy because of slavery. More than half of them amassed great wealth on the backs of the thousands of people whom they enslaved.

Slavery was so essential that the Continental Congress deleted language that condemned the Atlantic slave trade from an early draft of Declaration of Independence. These architects of the Early Republic were loath to condemn the slave trade that had been so central to their wealth and the future wealth of their new nation. And after the American Revolution, almost every state enacted laws that prevented people of color from voting, serving on juries or testifying in court. The first federal law regarding immigration mandated that only “free white persons” could become U.S. citizens.

Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the most celebrated Founding Father, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, did not equivocate regarding his belief in white supremacy and the subjugation of black people, whom he regarded as “inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind.” He explained that their inferiority was “a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people.”

Yes, Federal Handouts for White Folks

When pressed to explain how she could say that the Founding Fathers “fought tirelessly” to end slavery, Bachmann offered up John Quincy Adams as proof. Again, wrong answer. John Quincy Adams was a child during the American Revolution, not a Founding Father. His father, John Adams, however, was actually one of the seven men who historians generally agree were Founding Fathers. He was also the only one of the first five presidents not to enslave people.