Jim DeMint, the radical right-wing former senator from South Carolina and current Heritage Foundation head appeared on a program called “Vocal Point with Jerry Newcombe of Truth In Action Ministries” in early April, where he insisted that “no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.” Instead, DeMint credited the move to “the conscience of the American people.” Here are his comments:

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.

When it comes to freeing the slaves, it is impossible to separate the country’s evolving conscience from the political actions of the United States government. Yes, there was an abolitionist movement that underwent tremendous growth during the early 19th century, particularly in the north and midwest. At the same time, a nascent abolitionist movement in the south died out as slaveholders locked up control of the state governments. The secession movement in 1860 was purely the result of of slaveholders wanting a free hand to protect and expand slavery. The war was not a result of an anti-slavery movement, but a pro-union movement. Lincoln was against slavery, but he entered office a moderate abolitionist. Eventually abolition became one of the war aims of the north. Slavery remained a war aim of the south; indeed, even when facing defeat, the southern rejected a proposal to give freedom to any slave who would fight for the confederacy. Yankee troops killing rebel soldiers ended slavery, Yankee troops marching across southern plantations ended slavery, southern states being denied reunion with the north until they abolished slavery ended slavery. No doubt some consciences evolved, but a century of segregation and Jim Crow shows that change was slow, and fedderal, big government action was still needed to help bring freedom in the south.

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.

– See more at: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/jim-demint-asserts-federal-government-played-no-role-freeing-slaves#sthash.GHEK2i22.dpuf
– See more at: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/jim-demint-asserts-federal-government-played-no-role-freeing-slaves#sthash.GHEK2i22.dpuf

[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski.com]

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Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.