Full Text Political Transcripts December 9, 2015: President Barack Obama’s speech at Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment Abolition of Slavery

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment

Source: WH, 12-9-15

U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.

12:02 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.”  That’s what President Lincoln once wrote. “Honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.  We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

Mr. Speaker, leaders and members of both parties, distinguished guests:  We gather here to commemorate a century and a half of freedom — not simply for former slaves, but for all of us.

Today, the issue of chattel slavery seems so simple, so obvious — it is wrong in every sense.  Stealing men, women, and children from their homelands.  Tearing husband from wife, parent from child; stripped and sold to the highest bidder; shackled in chains and bloodied with the whip.  It’s antithetical not only to our conception of human rights and dignity, but to our conception of ourselves — a people founded on the premise that all are created equal.

And, to many at the time, that judgment was clear as well.  Preachers, black and white, railed against this moral outrage from the pulpit.  Former slaves rattled the conscience of Americans in books, in pamphlets, and speeches.  Men and women organized anti-slavery conventions and fundraising drives.  Farmers and shopkeepers opened their barns, their homes, their cellars as waystations on an Underground Railroad, where African Americans often risked their own freedom to ensure the freedom of others.  And enslaved Americans, with no rights of their own, they ran north and kept the flame of freedom burning, passing it from one generation to the next, with their faith, and their dignity, and their song.

The reformers’ passion only drove the protectors of the status quo to dig in harder.  And for decades, America wrestled with the issue of slavery in a way that we have with no other, before or since.  It shaped our politics, and it nearly tore us asunder.  Tensions ran so high, so personal, that at one point, a lawmaker was beaten unconscious on the Senate floor.  Eventually, war broke out –- brother against brother, North against South.

At its heart, the question of slavery was never simply about civil rights.  It was about the meaning of America, the kind of country we wanted to be –- whether this nation might fulfill the call of its birth:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” that among those are life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

President Lincoln understood that if we were ever to fully realize that founding promise, it meant not just signing an Emancipation Proclamation, not just winning a war.  It meant making the most powerful collective statement we can in our democracy:  etching our values into our Constitution.  He called it “a King’s cure for all the evils.”

A hundred and fifty years proved the cure to be necessary but not sufficient.  Progress proved halting, too often deferred.  Newly freed slaves may have been liberated by the letter of the law, but their daily lives told another tale.  They couldn’t vote.  They couldn’t fill most occupations.  They couldn’t protect themselves or their families from indignity or from violence.  And so abolitionists and freedmen and women and radical Republicans kept cajoling and kept rabble-rousing, and within a few years of the war’s end at Appomattox, we passed two more amendments guaranteeing voting rights, birthright citizenship, equal protection under the law.

And still, it wasn’t enough.  For another century, we saw segregation and Jim Crow make a mockery of these amendments.  And we saw justice turn a blind eye to mobs with nooses slung over trees.  We saw bullets and bombs terrorize generations.

And yet, through all this, the call to freedom survived.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”  And eventually, a new generation rose up to march and organize, and to stand up and to sit in with the moral force of nonviolence and the sweet sound of those same freedom songs that slaves had sung so long ago -– crying out not for special treatment, but for equal rights.  Calling out for basic justice promised to them almost a century before.

Like their abolitionist predecessors, they were plain, humble, ordinary people, armed with little but faith:  Faith in the Almighty.  Faith in each other.  And faith in America.  Hope in the face so often of all evidence to the contrary, that something better lay around the bend.

Because of them — maids and porters and students and farmers and priests and housewives — because of them, a Civil Rights law was passed, and the Voting Rights law was signed.  And doors of opportunity swung open, not just for the black porter, but also for the white chambermaid, and the immigrant dishwasher, so that their daughters and their sons might finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes.  Freedom for you and for me.  Freedom for all of us.

And that’s what we celebrate today.  The long arc of progress.  Progress that is never assured, never guaranteed, but always possible, always there to be earned -– no matter how stuck we might seem sometimes.  No matter how divided or despairing we may appear.  No matter what ugliness may bubble up.  Progress, so long as we’re willing to push for it; so long as we’re willing to reach for each other.

We would do a disservice to those warriors of justice — Tubman, and Douglass, and Lincoln, and King — were we to deny that the scars of our nation’s original sin are still with us today.  (Applause.)  We condemn ourselves to shackles once more if we fail to answer those who wonder if they’re truly equals in their communities, or in their justice systems, or in a job interview.  We betray the efforts of the past if we fail to push back against bigotry in all its forms.  (Applause.)

But we betray our most noble past as well if we were to deny the possibility of movement, the possibility of progress; if we were to let cynicism consume us and fear overwhelm us.  If we lost hope.  For however slow, however incomplete, however harshly, loudly, rudely challenged at each point along our journey, in America, we can create the change that we seek.  (Applause.)  All it requires is that our generation be willing to do what those who came before us have done:  To rise above the cynicism and rise above the fear, to hold fast to our values, to see ourselves in each other, to cherish dignity and opportunity not just for our own children but for somebody else’s child.  (Applause.)  To remember that our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others -– regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what their last name is or what faith they practice.  (Applause.)  To be honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.  To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.  To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth.  That is our choice.  Today, we affirm hope.

Thank you.  God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
12:16 P.M. EST

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Legal Buzz June 18, 2013: Google challenges US gag order, citing First Amendment

LEGAL BUZZ

COURT AND LEGAL NEWS

Google challenges US gag order, citing First Amendment

Source: Washington Post, 6-18-13

Google asked the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday to ease long-standing gag orders over data requests it makes, arguing that the company has a constitutional right to speak about information it’s forced to give the government….READ MORE

Political Headlines January 6, 2013: ‘President for Life’ Barack Obama?: US Rep. Jose’ Serrano, D-N.Y. Introduced House Joint Resolution 15 to Repeal the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

‘President for Life’ Barack Obama?

Source: BizPacReview, 1-6-13

obama_toga

Read the bill at GovTrack.US.

A bill was quietly introduced on Friday and sent to committee which would allow President Obama to serve a third, fourth or any number of terms.

According to GovTrack.US, U.S. Rep. Jose’ Serrano, D-N.Y., introduced House joint resolution 15 on Jan. 4, which proposes “an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.”

The measure has since been referred to committee….READ MORE

History Buzz February 28, 2012: David McCullough, Gordon Wood: Students need more uniform teaching of US Constitution, Historians say at panel “The Teaching of Constitutional History in the 21st Century University”

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Students need more uniform teaching of Constitution, historians say

Source: The Oklahoma U Daily 2-28-12

Instructors need to teach the U.S. Constitution to all students in a stimulating way to create well-educated citizens who are aware of their responsibilities, according to seven panelists in a discussion Tuesday.

photo

Photo by Astrud Reed

Panelist Akhil Reed Amar, Yale Law and Political Science Professor, responds to a question from Diane Rehm, NPR radio program host and event moderator, at Monday’s “The Teaching of Constitutional History in the 21st Century University.”

Students, faculty and visitors crowded into Catlett Music Center to hear noted historians share perspectives on teaching America’s founding in a panel titled, “The Teaching of Constitutional History in the 21st-century University.”

National Public Radio host Diane Rehm moderated the panel, which was part of OU’s inaugural “Teach-In: A Day with Some of the Greatest Teachers in America.”

The U.S. needs leaders and teachers who can make the Constitution relevant to students of all ages and backgrounds, Pulitzer-prize winning historian David McCullough said.

“There is nothing wrong with the younger generation,” he said. “The younger generation is terrific, and any problems they have, any failings they have, and what they know and don’t know is not their fault — it’s our fault.”

Teachers are the most important people in the society, and they should not be blamed for these failings either, McCullough said.

“I think that history, the love of history and the understanding of history begins truly, literally at home,” McCullough said.

In today’s education system students are not trained enough to ask questions, and this is a serious issue, he said.

Some students get all the way to college and have very little knowledge about the Constitution, said Kyle Harper, director of the OU Institute for American Constitutional Heritage.

“One of the exciting things about teaching in college is that you are teaching adults, and you are teaching kids who are becoming adults,” Harper said.

Harper aims to create situations for debate in classrooms to make college students realize that the facts on a page influence their political lives, he said.

In most graduate schools Constitutional history is always there, but undergraduate schools simply neglect it, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Gordon Wood said. Even in graduate training, issues of race and women have preoccupied graduate training and the writing of history….READ MORE

History Buzz October 13, 2011: Pauline Maier Constitution worth study

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

HISTORIANS’ SPOTTED

Source: Jackson Sun, 10-13-11

Pauline Maier

Massachusetts Institute of Technology history professor and author of “American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence,” Pauline Maier reminded students from all over West Tennessee that the U.S. Constitution is about the rights of its people.

“(The Constitution) is a result of direct ratification by the sovereign people,” she said. “That alone is extraordinary. It has lasted so long. How many constitutions have other countries written? How long has each one lasted?”

Maier spoke in the 15th annual lecture of the Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecture Series, held Tuesday night in Union University’s G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel. The lecture was free and open to the public. About 300 people attended.

Maier is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American History at MIT. She has appeared as a commentator for American Revolutionary documentaries by PBS. Maier also has written several books and articles in historical journals such as the Journal of Interdisciplinary History. She has reviewed books for the New York Times and Washington Post.

“She is a splendid American historian,” said Union President David Dockery on Tuesday. “We are very blessed to have a historian of her caliber to speak here tonight. We are very grateful to the Carls-Schwerdfeger families.”

Maier described the time between Sept. 7, 1787, and Sept. 13, 1788, as a period of endless debate.

“The country had struggled so hard to hold together,” Maier said. “Most controversial of all, the (Constitutional) Convention met in secret. They introduced the Constitution without having public feedback. It was, ‘Take it or leave it.'”

“(1787-1788) was almost a year of extraordinary debate and tumult,” she continued. “The Convention adjourned on Sept. 17. The Constitution was ratified on Sept. 13, 1788. Americans then read the Constitution. They knew it inside and out. They fought about it.”

Maier said many Americans today are unfamiliar with the Constitution.

“Most adult Americans have not read the Constitution,” she said. “At least, not since high school. We have to take it seriously, and it should be an integral part of our educational system.”

Maier said she hopes the American people will realize the worth of their Constitution.

“The fact is that the Constitution is worth understanding and arguing about,” she said. “You only argue about things you care about. We should be concerned about it.”

Simon Schama: The Founding Fathers, Unzipped

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

The Constitution’s framers were flawed like today’s politicians, so it’s high time we stop embalming them in infallibility.

Source: Newsweek, 7-26-11

founding-fathers-schama-wide
From left: Francis G. Meyer / Corbis; Bettmann-Corbis; CorbisFrom Left: Paintings of Alexander Hamilton, Paul Revere, and Thomas Jefferson.

He may have written the Declaration of Independence, but were he around today Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t have a prayer of winning the Republican nomination, much less the presidency. It wouldn’t be his liaison with the teenage daughter of one of his slaves nor the love children she bore him that would be the stumbling block. Nor would it be Jefferson’s suspicious possession of an English translation of the Quran that might doom him to fail the Newt Gingrich loyalty test. No, it would be the Jesus problem that would do him in. For Thomas Jefferson denied that Jesus was the son of God. Worse, he refused to believe that Jesus ever made any claim that he was. While he was at it, Jefferson also rejected as self-evidently absurd the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection.

Jefferson was not, as his enemies in the election of 1800 claimed, an atheist. He believed in the Creator whom he invoked in the Declaration of Independence and whom he thought had brought the natural universe into being. By his own lights he thought himself a true Christian, an admirer of the moral teachings of the Nazarene. It had been, he argued, generations of the clergy who had perverted the simple humanity of Jesus the reformer, turned him into a messiah, and invented the myth that he had died to redeem mankind’s sins.

All of which would surely mean that, notwithstanding his passion for minimal government, the Sage of Monticello would have no chance at all beside True Believers like Michele Bachmann. But Jefferson’s rationalist deism is not the idle makeover of liberal wishful thinking. It is incontrovertible historical fact, as is his absolute determination never to admit religion into any institutions of the public realm.

So the philosopher-president whose aversion to overbearing government makes him a Tea Party patriarch was also a man who thought the Immaculate Conception a fable. But then real history is like that—full of knotty contradictions, its cast list of heroes, especially American heroes, majestic in their complicated imperfections….READ MORE

Jack Rakove on the U.S. Constitution

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

Source: The Browser, 7-3-11

Please tell us about the document that preceded the Constitution.

The Articles of Confederation formed America’s first federal constitution. It was framed in 1776 and 1777 but not ratified until 1781. The articles created a unicameral Continental Congress, which had no authority to legislate; it could not pass statutes. Its members generally served for only a few months at a time and went home often. The Continental Congress did much of its work by sending resolutions, recommendations and requisitions to the states. It assumed that the states would simply do the right thing for the United States. That assumption turned out to be terribly naive. Figuring out how to replace the articles was the challenge the framers faced in 1787.

Although the United States is a relatively young country, we have the oldest written constitution still in use. What is uniquely enduring about the document?

What’s uniquely enduring about the document is how deeply Americans are wedded to it. When Americans started writing constitutions in the 1770s, doing so was a new idea. The idea of having a written constitution as the original supreme fundamental source of law was an American invention. Now most nations around the world, with a few notable exceptions, have written constitutions.

But the United States remains uniquely wedded to our Constitution. We’re very reluctant to amend it. The idea of rethinking decisions made in 1787 scares some of us to death. So there’s a curious story: in the 1780s Americans expressed confidence in their ability to devise new institutions of government as a supreme act of political wisdom, but today we are unable to imagine how we could ever improve upon what the framers did….READ MORE

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