Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint appeared on Vocal Point with Jerry Newcombe of Truth In Action Ministries last week, where he insisted that “no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.”
DeMint, a former US senator from South Carolina, told Newcombe that “the conscience of the American people” and not the federal government was responsible for the end of slavery.
In the interview, DeMint seemed to confuse the US Constitution with the Declaration of Independence and implied that William Wilberforce, a British politician who died almost thirty years before the Civil War, did more to end American slavery than the federal government.
DeMint: This progressive, the whole idea of being progressive is to progress away from those ideas that made this country great. What we’re trying to conserve as conservative are those things that work. They work today, they work for young people, they work for minorities and we can change this country and change its course very quickly if we just remember what works.
Newcombe: What if somebody, let’s say you’re talking with a liberal person and they were to turn around and say, ‘that Founding Fathers thing worked out really well, look at that Civil War we had eighty years later.’
DeMint: Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.
Of course, the Emancipation Proclamation was a presidential proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment was initiated by the federal government.
Historian Michael Les Benedict notes that Republicans at the time advocated a “nationalist” view of the Constitution, unlike “the largely state-rights Democratic party.” Abraham Lincoln’s critics, historian Don E. Fehrenbacher points out, pilloried him as a “tyrant” who was “bringing about destruction of the old Union of sovereign states and setting the nation on the road to totalitarianism” by “subverting the rights and powers of the states.” Confederate leaders insisted that the Civil War was a “war waged by the Federal Government against the seceding States.”
Lincoln, in fact, greatly expanded the role of the federal government and signed into law the first federal progressive income tax.
Later in the interview, DeMint talked to Newcombe about his opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.
He gave a similarly a confusing answer on why he opposes marriage equality, suggesting that states have never enacted marriage equality laws: “I personally don’t think the government has the right, particularly at the federal level, to redefine marriage. It’s always been regulated by the states but never redefined by the states. Marriage was in effect created by the church, regulated by the states. For the government to come in and start redefining our civil institutions makes no sense.”
He went on to claim that marriage equality contributes to “broken families” and “the breakdown of the family.”