On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech, allow me reflect a bit. I was 13 years old at the time, and I remember clearly watching this event (in black & white) on television. My folks were basically in favor of what Dr. King was doing, and they never used the “n” word. They gifted me an open mind, and looking back as a student of history, I now believe that Dr. King’s movement was a third American revolution, or perhaps more accurately, the third phase of the American Revolution.
The first of course was in the 18th century, when our genius Founders established America as an independent country based on the great constitution and Declaration of Independence that they derived from Classical Greek ideas, the enlightenment, and the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Even the “3/5 compromise” during the constitutional convention was an effort by the free states in the north to dilute the power of the slave states in the south, so as to reduce the congressional representation of the slave states. The Founders, of course, were not perfect, but most were anti-slavery, in spite of some being slave owners themselves. Here are a few quotes from some of the Founders:
George Washington: “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.”
John Adams: “Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States…I have, through my whole life, held the practice of slavery…abhorrence.”
Benjamin Franklin: “Slavery is…an atrocious debasement of human nature.”
Alexander Hamilton: “The laws of certain states…give an ownership in the service of Negroes as personal property…But being men, by the laws of God and nature, they were capable of acquiring liberty-and when the captor in war…thought fit to give them liberty, the gift was not only valid, but irrevocable.”
James Madison: “We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”
Thomas Jefferson: “He [the king of Britain] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere…Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.”
Although imbued with Christian morality as reflected in the above quotes, the Founders were not perfect, but neither were the Classical Greeks, Dr. King, nor any other human being. But they were the best combined political minds and moral minds that the world had produced up to that time.
The second phase of the America Revolution was the Civil War. By right, Abraham Lincoln should be considered as a Founder along with Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson and the rest, because he did much to complete the imperfect founding started by these great men. His great leadership, along with the efforts of Frederick Douglas and other abolitionist, and the deaths of 500,000 Americans, ended slavery, and expurgated it permanently through the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.
That brings us to Dr. Martin Luther King and the third phase of the American Revolution. Although slavery was eliminated by the Civil War Amendments, full legal equality was yet to be achieved for African Americans, i.e. the rule of law, and equal treatment under law. Jim Crow laws and KKK terrorism, as well as gun control designed to keep the African American population pacified, prevented the achievement of equality under law. Many white Americans still held hatred and bias in their hearts, as some still do today, unfortunately. But the government cannot change the human heart, only God and morality can do this.
What the people and government can achieve, however, is legal equality, and that is what Dr. King and his movement did, using the same philosophy of Classical Liberalism that our other Founders relied upon. And he did it in a non-violent manner, using the force of God and morality. Full equality, meaning the changing of the hearts of those remaining who still hold bias and hatred is yet to be fully or perfectly achieved, and cannot ever be perfectly reached in a free society based on classical liberalism. But we can move in that direction, and get closer to that ideal than any other system or government in the world can.