News & Politics

Pete Buttigieg's Comments on Slavery Show the Failure of Our Educational System

Pete Buttigieg's Comments on Slavery Show the Failure of Our Educational System
Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg answers a question Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Video surfaced on Saturday of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg saying in 2014: “It’s an embarrassing thing to admit, the people who wrote the Constitution did not understand that slavery was a bad thing.” In saying this, Buttigieg demonstrated both his abject ignorance of the history of America’s founding and the utter failure of the American educational system to teach that history. No wonder this place is crawling with young socialists and America-haters.

Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is 37 years old; he reportedly attended Catholic schools, not public schools, in his youth. At this point, however, that is a distinction with barely a difference: both Catholic and public schools generally teach the spirit of the age, and that spirit dictates that the Founding Fathers, when not ignored altogether, should be presented as white male slave owners without any redeeming qualities.

If Buttigieg had received anything resembling a decent education, he would have learned about a fellow named Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States. Jefferson was a slaveholder, and that is likely to be all that young Mayor Pete was taught about him. But reality is seldom simple and cut-and-dried. As president in 1807, Jefferson promoted the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves, which outlawed the importation of slaves after January 1, 1808. Jefferson hoped that it would lead to the outlawing of slavery altogether, as he stated in his annual message to Congress on December 2, 1806: “I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe.”

Hmm. That doesn’t sound as if Jefferson “did not understand that slavery was a bad thing.” But taking a strict constructionist view of Buttigieg’s statement, Jefferson was a key Founding Father, but he was not a primary architect of the Constitution. The “Father of the Constitution” was another dead white male Mayor Pete may or may not have heard of: James Madison, who earned that nickname by being the principal architect of both the Constitution as it was originally written and the Bill of Rights (that’s the first ten amendments to the Constitution, Pete). Madison (yes, another slave owner) supported the prohibition on the importation of slaves, but was impatient with the delay of getting it going.

“It were doubtless to be wished,” Madison wrote in 1788, “that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808, or rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation.” He explained that “it ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate forever, within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a considerable discouragement from the federal government, and may be totally abolished, by a concurrence of the few States which continue the unnatural traffic, in the prohibitory example which has been given by so great a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the unfortunate Africans, if an equal prospect lay before them of being redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethren!”

Once again, this sounds as if James Madison understood perfectly well that slavery was a bad thing. To be sure, there were some among the Founding Fathers who didn’t understand that, and anti-slavery forces at the Constitutional Convention had to make the hard choice between accepting slavery, hoping to end it in the near future, and dividing the United Colonies into two or more states, which would weaken them all. They chose the former, but that doesn’t mean that Jefferson, Madison, and many others, notably the irascible and fantastic John Adams, didn’t understand the evil of slavery.

If by some bizarre turn of events Pete Buttigieg becomes president of the United States, he would likely not be the first product of our shoddy, heavily politicized, and frankly anti-American educational system to enter the Oval Office without any understanding of or appreciation for the greatness of the office he now occupied, and its illustrious history. The first was Barack Hussein Obama. How many more such presidents can the free republic that Jefferson, Madison, and the rest bequeathed to us afford to have?

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.