Many on the left also believe that the current call for a smaller federal government and a return to federalism—otherwise known as states' rights—is code for a return to white supremacy.
But is it racist to believe in the principles of the American founding? To revere the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and to invoke the Tenth Amendment? To want leaders and national policies that respect the wisdom and humanity of these documents?
The answer is important, because it speaks to the kind of country we are, and the kind of country we were meant to be. Did our founding values produce the country of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's rants? A place where African Americans or any minority would be justified in saying, "God damn America," instead of "God Bless America"? Or did our Founders enshrine a set of principles that gave birth to a just society, despite the obscenity of slavery? Did they, in fact, set the stage for the elimination of slavery? Does America really need, in the words of President Obama, a "fundamental transformation" in order to be a good and decent nation?
As we all know, many of our Founders were slaveholders. Even Thomas Jefferson, the author of the assertion that all men are "created equal" and that we are all "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights," owned slaves and may have had a sexual relationship with one of them. Perhaps the most powerful (and frequently cited) evidence pointed to by critics of the founding is the so-called "three-fifths clause" in the original Constitution. The Constitution that was produced in Philadelphia in 1787 contained a clause that, for the purposes of determining representation in Congress and taxation, counted each "free person" as one and"all other persons" (meaning slaves, although the Constitution never uses the word) as three fifths of a person. Native Americans were not counted at all.
Americans can well ask how, in light of these historical facts, the idealistic words of the Declaration are not the words of hypocrites? How can the meaning of the Constitution not be that African Americans were, and were destined to be, considered less human than white Americans in the United States? If you've attended an elite college or even taken a high school history course, you have probably heard the infamous three-fifths clause denounced as evidence that the founding generation was morally blind, thus all of their works are irredeemably tainted, just like that label on the Constitution warned.
So what is the truth of our founding? We all know that the question of what to do about slavery and its obvious grotesque violation of the ideals of the Declaration was a major issue at the Constitutional Convention. It almost ended the Founders' efforts to produce a Constitution, and with it, a new republic.
Most of us have always thought that the Founders were forced to compromise on the issue of slavery for the sake of creating the Union and keeping it together. Some wanted slavery to continue; some genuinely wanted it abolished. In the end, the profound moral challenge of slavery was put off for future generations to resolve.