Another Perspective

Emancipation — by Republicans Again — in the District

Now both April 15 and April 16 can be celebrated as days of emancipation in the District of Columbia.

By 4.18.11

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Now both April 15 and April 16 can be celebrated as days of emancipation in the District of Columbia.

April 16
It is becoming better known throughout the country that April 16 is celebrated as Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia. When April 16 falls on a Saturday, like this year, the day is celebrated on Friday, April 15, causing the national due day for federal tax returns to change from April 15 to Monday, April 18.

The District celebrates April 16 because, on that day in 1862, President Lincoln signed into law the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act (full text). The law had been passed by the 37th Congress, both houses of which were controlled by the Republican Party. Exercising its plenary power over the District pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, this Republican Congress abolished slavery in the District, thereby overturning the District’s Slave Code, a form of which had been published just a month earlier, immediately emancipated all 3,000 slaves belonging to District residents loyal to the Union, established a three-person commission to adjudicate claims (and allowing persons of color to testify), and appropriated one million dollars to compensate owners up to $300 per slave.

We should note that, not only were public monies used to purchase these slaves’ freedom, but public monies had been used to enslave them. According to a 2005 report by the Architect of the Capitol, over the decades hundreds of slaves were rented by the Commissioners of the District of Columbia to build the U.S. Capitol, most notably Philip Reid who cast the Statue of Freedom atop it. (In ancient times, there were numerous "public slaves" who were used by governments to build roads and aqueducts and temples. The Egyptian pharaohs used their public Hebrew slaves in this manner -- we celebrate their Exodus this week during the Jewish Passover and the Christian Holy Week. In the United States, the U.S. military would rent slaves from their private owners.

April 15
April 15, 2011, marked a new day of emancipation when President Obama, following intense negotiations with a Republican-controlled House, signed into law H.R. 1473, the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (text of law). It marks a new day of emancipation in two respects.

First, throughout the country, we have every hope that this day will mark the beginning of the lifting of the heavy Democratic hand in unprecedented spending, deficits, and debt burden on our children. We can hope that the Democrats will see that neither they, nor the Federal Government, have a monopoly on compassion, that they will see that, merely because the Federal Government reduces its spending on health care or education or roads, it does not eliminate governmental or private spending for these purposes. (See Quin Hillyer, "Save Wrath for Obama," April 15, 2011, and National Center for Charitable Statistics.) We can hope that the number of days we work (the percentage of our GDP) to pay taxes will start to drop. We will not be slaves to our own government. Republican President Gerald Ford used to say that a government big enough to do everything you want it to do is big enough to take everything from you. Former Senator Phil Gramm used to talk about a constituent, Mr. Flatt, who owned a family printing business. Senator Gramm would employ his “Dickey Flatt Test” (“Is it worth taking it out of Dickey’s pocket?”) to determine his vote on public spending. After April 15, we can say with Winston Churchill, after the victory at El Alamein, “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Second, this law President Obama signed on April 15 contained two riders concerning solely the District of Columbia. It reinstituted the District’s school voucher program and it reinstituted the ban on the use of public monies for abortions.

With respect to the latter, the Democrats in the District, like the Democrats throughout the country, favor using public monies for abortions. They are well aware that a large number of residents are adamantly opposed to having their tax monies used to pay for abortions. The Democrats do not have to agree that abortion is deeply morally repulsive; all they need to do is to agree that these are sincerely held beliefs. We’re not talking about money for potholes. The District Democrats are just like those Democrats, time and again, all over the country. Whatever they think is a good cause, they’ll use majority rule to take money from everybody’s wallets to pay for it. Instead of creating a private fund, or a tax form with an optional check-off, for abortions, they ride roughshod over conscientious objectors.

The Democrats insist on having their way. Lincoln referred to this intolerance when he spoke of Democrats and other supporters of slavery during his February 27, 1860, Cooper Union address. Today, we could easily substitute “abortion” for “slavery” in the following passages:

[W]hen you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us as reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws…

[What will convince them?] This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them… suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private…The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery…

Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing.

…If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.

Following the Civil War, speakers at the 1874 New York State Republican Convention recited calls by the Democrats that the Republican Party should dissolve because the Party’s goals had been achieved. The speakers declared that the Democrats had never apologized for their record in support of slavery. (N.Y. Times, Sept. 24, 1874; verbatim transcript of proceedings). Jeffrey Lord has written on these pages of the abhorrent record of the Democratic Party on slavery before the Civil War, on segregation during the hundred years after the Civil War, and on baiting racial issues for the past fifty.

No, it looks like the work of the Republican Party, especially as long as there are Democrats and people like them, will never be finished. Like the April 16 Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, the April 15 rider to ban the public funding of abortions in the District was enacted at the behest of Republicans and, pursuant to the plenary power of the Congress over the District, it overrode tyrannical District law. The District’s residents have been emancipated -- by the Republicans -- again.

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About the Author
James M. Thunder is a Washington, D.C. attorney.