1. Opinion

Let’s think again about the ‘Constitution as written’ | Sunday’s letters

Sunday’s letters to the editor
Letters to the Editor Graphic [TARA MCCARTY | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 7

Jordan’s 1974 statement could apply today | Column, Sept. 1

An 18th century document

The juxtaposition of Bill Maxwell’s piece on Barbara Jordan and A.T. McWilliams’ on reparations for the unfathomable injustices done to African Americans over four centuries spoke volumes about the current, sorry state of the Republic.

Jordan’s argument was necessarily based on the notion that the Constitution was the wise counsel that informed impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon. And yet, as McWilliams explains in brutal detail, there are few political documents that have allowed more exploitation.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Constitution was produced by a bunch of 18th century male aristocrats, most of them wealthy landowners and many of them also slaveholders. Informed by the religious wars that had made Europe a bloodbath during the previous two centuries, they gave us reasonable protections against a theocracy.

But they were also assiduous in protecting property and — by extension — wealth. Their wealth. And that wealth included “property,” and that property included people. They were also completely clueless about the world that would come. They had no notion of electronic media, germ theory, in vitro fertilization or any of the other things we take for granted.

Those who defend the “Constitution as written” cite its survival over two-plus centuries as proof of its worth. To them, I pose this question: You are gravely ill, and check into a hospital. Yet the doctor who will try to cure you is limited to the works of Benjamin Rush, a physician who signed the Declaration of Independence but whose medical knowledge was limited to the 18th century. So, while he might try to diagnose the ethers that afflict you, or give you a good bleeding (a “remedy” that may have killed George Washington), X-rays, biopsies, antibiotics and anesthetics are denied you. They didn’t exist back then.

The Constitution as written allowed slavery, but not the vote for women. Keep all of this mind the next time someone cites the Constitution as written.

Buck Beasom, Tampa

My ancestors’ case for reparations | Column, Sept. 1

It took an amendment

While I believe A.T. McWilliams made some good points, he, like most Americans, cites the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order signed by President Abraham Lincoln that took effect Jan. 1, 1863, as the end of slavery. Many Americans see it as the greatest act of his presidency, and it gave our 16th president the moniker of the “Great Emancipator” who freed the slaves. The only problem is it didn’t end slavery in the United States.

Here’s the problem with the proclamation: It only freed slaves in the Confederate-held lands at the time. Slaves in the border states that were still part of the Union were not affected. I know this because my great-grandfather was a slave boy in Kentucky and remained one until the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress on Jan. 31, 1865, and ratified on Dec. 6, 1865. That, not the Emancipation Proclamation, abolished slavery in the United States, but, unfortunately, it gets little respect in U.S. history.

Joseph Brown, Tampa

My ancestors’ case for reparations | Column, Sept. 1

Another family’s story

For the sake of discussion, let us use the term “involuntary servitude” in place of the word slavery, so that anyone who had descended from anyone who was subjected to “involuntary servitude” may be eligible for some form of reparation. That being the case, count me in.

I am an 80-year-old white male, born in the United States to white parents who were also natural-born citizens. However, on my mother’s side there is one ancestor who at the age of 14 was brought to this country against her will as an indentured servant — rather the same as being a slave, only she was white, so it wasn’t called slavery. I will call her Elsa. Her master immediately began using her for his personal pleasure, and she subsequently bore him two children. Sometime before her 18th birthday her master died, and she and her children were turned out by his family. She was homeless and destitute.

A couple years later she reappeared on a census as the wife of a man. There are two children listed who are the children of her husband, her two children and a newborn. That newborn is my ancestor. In the next record of her, she is a widow with all five children under her census entry. Judging from the address listed on the census form, she must have been desperately poor.

Now, where does all this lead? If the plight of A.T. McWilliams’ ancestors make him somehow eligible for some form of reparation, then surely Elsa’s plight should come into some kind of consideration as well. However, even as horrible as the lives of Elsa and that of Mr. McWilliams’ ancestors were, it was not our experience, it was theirs. To us it is history and only history. It does not make me eligible for any kind of reparation from anyone and neither is Mr. McWilliams.

Lester E. Scates, Lithia

Passing on all that plastic | Sept. 1

How they do it up north

Visiting British Columbia this summer my family and I, who regularly compost and recycle, were happy to see how Canadians approach the use of plastic, specifically plastic bags. They charge you for it! Not much, but enough to make you become more mindful. Do I really need a plastic bag to carry out the four items I purchased? Probably not. We stuffed our purchases into our jacket, pockets and purse, mostly because the cashier asked, “Do you need a bag?” Upon returning to the United States I was more aware of how mindlessly we put items in a plastic bag, and started telling clerks I did not need a bag. Many of them agreed, and we both felt good about reducing our use of plastic. Unfortunately, I have started to revert to walking out with merchandise in bags I do not need. Thank you for your reminder and suggestions on how we can all help save the planet. It really can be very simple and passing on plastic makes you feel good. Try it! I’m going to go back to the Canadian way, starting today.

Marcy White, Tampa


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