by Lincoln Institute | April 27, 2022

By Colin Hanna, President, Let Freedom Ring

Although the Russian war on Ukraine remains the top political and governmental issue in the world, we must not lose sight of other issues that have the potential to affect us in fundamental ways in the roughly six months before the 2022 elections and  2 ½ years before the 2024 elections. One of those issues that has the potential to captivate the national attention and possibly further divide our already deeply-divided nation is the issue of reparations for slavery.

Let me state at the outset of this commentary that the chattel slavery that was legal in this country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was utterly and unambiguously reprehensible, and left an indelible moral stain on our national character that endures to this day.  It was, however, legal for nearly a hundred and fifty years.

Since our national government did not condemn slavery until 1865, it is not unreasonable to assert that it should provide some kind of government-funded compensation to those who were its victims. President Abraham supported a plan originated by General William Tecumseh Sherman in a Field Order that granted up to 40 acres of land to each emancipated slave family, later modified to include a mule. Sherman’s Field Order was subsequently approved by President Lincoln and it became what we call today an Executive Order. The plan was crudely designed and flawed in several respects, but in its conceptual basis, it was laudable. 40 acres and a mule would be provided by the government that had tolerated chattel slavery. Freed Blacks would not have been included, only formerly enslaved Blacks in the Confederate states. That reparations plan could have worked, although it would have been challenging to administer, but soon after Lincoln’s assassination, his successor Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, overturned the Order and returned the land to the very people who had declared war on the United States of America. Many people do not know that the villainous Andrew Johnson, Vice President to Abraham Lincoln, was a Democrat

In the more than 150 years since 40 acres and a mule was repealed as national policy, much has occurred that has had the effect of making it totally impossible to effectuate justice through reparations. Should a twenty-first century American Black who is only 1/64th part descended from a slave receive the same compensation as one who is 100% descended from slaves? Should the blood of potential recipients be tested, and their award be proportionate to their African origin DNA? After having rejected the implicit dehumanization of counting Blacks as only 3/5ths of whites in Congressional representation, how morally repugnant would it be to begin defining candidates for reparations into much smaller fractions, based on their ancestry? Should the land offered to each family be diluted in size to reflect the growth in the Black population since 1865? And what about singles? While it might have been possible to declare that some land in formerly Confederate states should be appropriated from the rebels and become Federal government property to be given to former slaves, it’s obviously impossible to do that now. Should it be taken from the national parks and other Federal land? The acreage was originally to be tillable, or capable of producing crops. What’s the 21st century analog to tillable land? Should those 21st century African Americans whose ancestors came to the United States after 1865 be excluded? Making such arbitrary distinctions fairly is inherently impossible, and the divisive impact on our already-divided nation would be devastating.

In 1865, the Presidential proponent of reparations for slavery was a Republican, and the Presidential opponent of reparations for slavery was a Democrat. In 2022, the proponents of reparations are largely Democrats, and those who oppose reparations are largely Republican. Today’s Democrats know that reparations for the acts and policies of 150 years ago are inherently unworkable today, but they still propose them because they know that principled opposition can be exploited as racism, which should accrue to the political benefit of Democrats. That kind of perversion of the truth borders on treason. The drive for reparations in this century must be stopped before it becomes a legitimate public policy debate, or it will further tear our nation apart, perhaps irreparably.