It’s time to Break It Down!
The U.S. Senate, on Monday began its confirmation hearings for President Biden’s nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Senator Ted Cruz began his opening statement with a history lesson, of sorts. He advised Her Honor that Supreme Court nominations weren’t always controversial, and then cited an instance of such a non-controversial pick…who just happened to have been a (select the term that suits you) slave owner/slave holder/enslaver. In continuing his “lesson,” he said, “Bushrod Washington, when nominated to the Supreme Court in 1798, as confirmed the very next day.”
While Mr. Washington, a favorite nephew of George Washington, was confirmed via voice vote a day after President John Adams nominated him, it’s noteworthy, The Washington Post reports, that Washington was neither the first nor the last to be confirmed that quickly” – about 10 Supreme Court justices were confirmed the same day they were nominated – and “he was definitely controversial, largely because he was an enslaver.”
In reviewing the (for the purposes of this post), curious case of Bushrod Washington’s Supreme Court nomination, we learn that Washington brought enslaved African Americans back to Mt. Vernon after inheriting the estate in 1802, after Martha Washington’s death. Mrs. Washington had freed the estate’s remaining slaves, effective upon her death. That he was an enslaver was not in and of itself controversial. More than half of U.S. Senators, at the time, were slaveholders. However, when he sold 54 slaves for $10,000, to pay off his debts, and they were marched to Louisiana in chains, the newspapers of the day described his actions as excessively revolting.”
Bushrod was also the co-founder of an organization in 1812, known as the American Colonization Society. How apt! “Black Panther” fans will appreciate the hubristic irony. The organization was designed to send the growing numbers of free Black Americans to Africa, a place almost none of them had ever been. Abolitionists and Black people who resisted this movement, were met by complaints from Washington that “unworthy persons” were speaking “with my negroes.” With characterizations such as this, it’s easy enough to see why a certain segment calls any information that reveals what should be considered controversial about a man like Bushrod Washington, Critical Race Theory (CRT). In essence, they are saying, revealing actions their forebears actually took, is criticizing their race, ergo, CRT.
To wit, WaPo writer Gillian Brockell wrote, “So that is who Cruz mentioned in his speech Monday. For all intents and purposes, it was a throwaway line meant only to introduce Cruz’s real historical point: what had changed from those halcyon uncontroversial days.” Maybe, maybe not. Maya Angelou said, “When people tell you who they are, believe them. The first time. In any event, Cruz’s revisionist explanation of what changed raised its own set of questions. To that end, the questions I leave with you…”Who Was Bushrod Washington…And Why Does Ted Cruz Think He’s An Avatar For A Non-controversial Supreme Court Nominee?”
I’m done; holla back!
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