Freedom for One and All - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Freedom for One and All
Civil Rights leaders at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963 (cropped)(Wikimedia Commons)

We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom …

The Republican-led post-Civil War Congresses acted on that resolve. They passed three constitutional amendments and a series of laws to enforce those amendments and secure civil rights. The focus, of course, was on the freed slaves of the South and the border states. But by and large, the laws sought a universal language, to give legal expression the promise of equality that had been the cornerstone of the argument for America’s independence but which had not been translated into reality for millions.

When the war had ended, the most consequential of the Confederate armies was under the command of Robert E. Lee. Lee was cognizant of the deep passions that had fueled four-plus years of bitter fighting. He knew that if he chose to continue a guerilla resistance, many would follow him. He chose otherwise, not only mastering his own passions, but choosing to master those passions in his soldiers and in the rest of the South.

Nathan Bedford Forrest chose otherwise. A slave-trader who became a brilliant and cruel general, he chose to continue to violently resist the laws of the federal government and its aim of establishing equal rights for all. Since the rebellious states had been put under military occupation, and those who had rebelled were excluded from holding governmental power, Bedford Forrest and his fellow resisters organized their own power to undercut and nullify the rights which the law now explicitly was guaranteeing blacks. He helped to found the Ku Klux Klan, and through its violence, to re-establish through private means the reduction of the blacks back to a state of servitude.

It took some years, but Bedford Forrest saw many of his aims achieved as Civil War passions receded and the will to enforce equality waned. By the 1880s, Democrat governments all across the South established the Jim Crow laws, enforcing on the blacks a separateness that was rarely equal in almost every aspect of life. It took many decades before the political will to enforce the guarantees of equality was regained.

When there was still a vital will to stand for equality, Congress had passed a law that many called the Ku Klux Klan Act. Its direct aim was at the Klan and its terrorism, but its language was that of broad principle, not limited to that one group and its particular group of victims. The act outlawed private conspiracies to deprive any citizen of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. It assigned criminal penalties

if two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same. (18 U.S. Code § 241)

This statute does not allow a private exception to constitutional rights. Private citizens may not stand in the way of others acting on their rights. While certainly aimed at the Klan’s campaign of terror to stop the blacks from daring to act as free citizens, it envisions any such private act as illegal, whatever the circumstance.

Some in the American media have been paying careful attention to the flow of information from the newly opened archives of Twitter. Damning evidence is piling up of a joint effort of officials in the FBI and other government agencies to work with Twitter and other media giants in order to suppress the flow of ideas and information. They targeted certain specific themes and ideas from the public discussion, themes that opposed policies and candidates the conspirators supported.

Freedom of the press and of speech has never been absolute. Slander and libel laws have allowed civil penalties for some kinds of speech and laws have prohibited criminal conspiracy and or causing dangerous panic as in crying out “Fire!” in a crowded theater when no danger exists.

As well, there exists no private obligation for anyone to support speech with which they do not agree. Even with no explicit reason, I need not let anyone put up a sign on my property or allow them to stand on my front steps and speak. My school is not obliged to let a Nazi speak; neither is any college or any bar on open-mike night.

But it is quite another thing when the social media giants, whose sites are where some of the most influential conversations are held, are shown to be actively suppressing dissent, passing absolute and consequential judgment on what opinions may be allowed to be heard, and going to such lengths that even credentialed scientists at the highest level, major political figures, and an entire newspaper were banned, de-platformed, consigned to the shadows, or otherwise suppressed.

Yes, democratic leaders have chosen this path before. Perhaps today’s suppressers are impressed with the success of leaders who choose this path. Here, historian Piers Brendon describes one such leader, Neville Chamberlain:

His opinion, expressed by his Private Secretary in April 1939 was that, “It is definitely undesirable that, at times like the present, issues of foreign policy should be discussed in a controversial manner on the air.” …Plainly there was no commitment in Britain to informing the electorate, let alone to acknowledging the sovereignty of the people. R. A. Butler summed up the opinion of the political elite in what would today be regarded as a breathtaking inversion of the truth: “Good government flourishes in the dark.”

Clearly, this idea didn’t take the breath away from some of our governmental elites or the hooded ministers of information at Twitter. They make arguments of a sort, though they defend mainly by attempting to suppress the whole thing. Looking for mention of it in some sources is like looking for mention of the Holocaust in the N.Y. Times during World War II. Who’d have thought?

Chief Justice Taney made sophisticated arguments in practical defense of slavery. Perhaps he meant well and hoped to spare the country from bloodshed. Instead, his decision accelerated the descent into civil war.

Lincoln grasped the real issue better.

There are many would-be Taneys rationalizing the Great Suppression. Their ideas will succeed no more than did Taney’s or Chamberlain’s. Learning from the terrible failings of that era and from the terrible cost we still have not finished paying for those failings, we need not — must not — hesitate to stand for our founding principles. There is no reason that we cannot fail to make this the cause of the overwhelming majority of all Americans.

Back in 1871, David Lowe of Kansas spoke in the House in favor of the KKK Act’s defense of freedom:

Let the different classes of our populations feel that the interest and welfare of one is the interest and welfare of all.

Amen to that.

If those words are shared at our holiday tables, they should get an amen all around.

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