The Long Struggle for America’s Soul

Apparently, the self-evident truth that all people deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is far from settled.

Comments: 220

  1. Such a moving and well-articulated piece. I just finished reading "Beloved" by Toni Morrison for the second time. The legacy of pain and suffering that this country is still willing to inflict on other human beings is incalculable and devastating. I'm simply unwilling to conform to the ugly spirit of the times today. I still believe that freedom and equality and a decent life for all is possible.

  2. @Suzanne Wheat. Freedom and equality are still available only if people vote in every election and especially in census years and in off-year elections, and in Presidential elections, and in school board elections and in city elections and in state elections . . . You know the drill for democracy.

  3. @B. Rothman If Beloved isn't in your alltime top ten list then you don't know literature.

  4. Much of the emphasis today is on Jefferson as a white male slave owner, whose truths of the equality of men, and of inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence must therefore not be self-evident. Trump and his followers are only too happy to question the equality of human beings, in the process redefining citizenship and the 14th Amendment, even as they celebrate the "liberty" of the Second Amendment and the pursuit of happiness at the expense of others.

  5. @Alan J. Shaw: There is no equivalence, as you suggest, between re-interpreting the precise meaning of the 14th amendment to exclude birthright citizenship and questioning the equality of human beings. Ending birthright citizenship is a choice we as a nation can make, it is not calling non-US citizens less than human. Were that so, liberal bastions such as the many European countries that do not provide for birthright citizenship would be guilty of "question[ing] the equality of human beings."

  6. Excellent, as it is very enlightening. It is horrific about how people were treated so cruelly, as well as inspiring about how they fought back and had some support. Tuchman wrote about another past as "a distant mirror." Here is part of our own.

  7. Well we are going back into the dark again. Humans have overpopulated many lands leaving no way of growing crops or feeding animals. Wars and climate change finish off what is left of the environment. We live what seems like a safe sophisticated life, but we depend on long chains of supply that may be vulnerable soon.. Humans tend to fight rather than cooperate, except in very small groups. We are tribal beings. That, in this time and place, combined with mostly having contact through the amoral and polarizing media, makes big problems. Spin is now a popular and easy way of avoiding responsibility for anything. Republicans have decided that anything goes as long as they hold on to power and that there are no rules that they must obey. Hopefully they will eventually wear out that game and get caught. Vote as if your life depends on it, because if health care and social security go, it very well may.

  8. Bravo! What is left to say after all these decades and centuries? The fate of slaves and their descendants is almost unspeakable. Let's also remember the long. vicious, and unfinished war on America's early inhabitants, still called Indians. The title here makes it a struggle for America's soul. But I think it's easier to understand if we stop seeing the struggle as unique to America. The human race is a long way from perfection, if that can ever be achieved. As the old Taoist saying almost puts it: the journey is the goal. If we stop thinking we are very special, perfect even, we may be able to address the issues. Until then, it's every one for themselves.

  9. Our complicated history, here made clearer by a careful and deeply thoughtful writer, provides an odd kind of comfort. We have never been the simple story we tell ourselves; and yet our ideas endure. Yes they are tried; yes, we fall short of them. But that does not mean we stop holding them, or that they continue to prod us to more closely conform our nation to their expectations.

  10. I'm a native-born American in my 60's. I'm an ethnic and religious minority. What my white, Christian neighbors do not understand is that rights we fought so hard for decades ago may now so easily be stripped from us again. Somehow they believe our Constitution will protect us, that our system of "checks and balances" will protect us. But they won't. These past two years have shown us that our Constitution is nothing more than a badly broken honor system. And we will see our rights stripped from us, even though only a minority of our citizens supports this "president". Gerrymandering and the makeup of the Senate virtually guarantee white nationalist control of this country for the next few decades. The Supreme Court is now their handmaiden. And everyone alive today will live under the law this court makes. Indeed, many of us born decades from now will still live under this far right interpretation of Constitutional rights. Plessy v Ferguson was the law of this nation for some sixty years. We are no longer in a political fight between two parties. We are in a fight for the soul of this nation. A slight majority of us believe that all our people should have equal rights and opportunities, and that all our people should be able to practice their religion. An extremely large minority believes none of this. And their hateful views have managed to destroy decades of civil rights gains in just a few short years. This is America now. Not some dystopian future, but here. Now.

  11. @Charles Dodgson The way to enforce your rights is to bring a Section 1983 action in Federal Court. I’ve represented many clients. It’s not that complicated.

  12. @Charles Dodgson The hegemony of the right is not quite so set in stone. Every ten years there is a census, and after the census House representation is redistributed and states adjust their Congressional districts. I must have learned this back in high school, but even many years later, I knew that 2010 was a very important midterm and made sure that I voted. I was disheartened that few of my fellow Dems, especially young people, shared this awareness. Unfortunately, the GOP has been laser-focused on this aspect of our system. I'm glad that the Dems have finally woken up and are turning out to vote!

  13. @Charles Dodgson - I agree on all counts, Charles, except that you overlook one thing. You write as an "ethnic and religious minority," and state that "What my white, Christian neighbors do not understand is that rights we fought so hard for decades ago may now so easily be stripped from us again." I am white, but also female. I am acutely aware right now of how the rights we women (white and otherwise) spent decades fighting for might be stripped from us. You would have to be deliberately obtuse not to know that many men (white and black, in the religious mainstream and otherwise) would like to see us pregnant, barefoot, and in the kitchen again. What you mean, then, Charles, is that your white, Christian, MALE neighbors don't understand your concerns as an ethnic, non-Christian male. We women--those of us with half a brain, at any rate--understand all too well.

  14. It is important to learn from history. At the crucial moments American leaders remembered the spirit of the founding of the country which includes the soul of freedom, equality and humanity. The policy of President Trump for immigrants looks like publicity stunt for the midterm election. His way of thinking is far from the spirit of the founding of the country.

  15. @Matsuda "...far from the spirit of the founding of the country." But it fits the letter of the LAW precisely. If you don't like that law, then change it.

  16. If political refugees wish to enter the U.S. legally, they can apply via the standard bureaucratic channels. Anything else is a crime - an offense against all U.S. citizens per the LAWS of our nation. At that point, their "unalienable rights" of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (which OUR GOVERNMENT was CREATED to protect), will be affirmed. It's not complicated.

  17. @c smith No, seeking asylum is permitted under the Geneva Convention, and international treaties ratified as recently as 1951. It is lawful to seek asylum. The phrase "illegals" is simply a lie.

  18. @c smith It actually is complicated. The 5th and 14th amendment guarantee due process to citizens as well as non-citizens. Not that people in government and outside it all agree this should be so, but for now it is. For me, if you can be accused of a crime, or if any organization of humans has the institutional power to detain or imprison you, for it to be anything other than institutional tyranny, that same organization must permit a formal examination of the merit of their actions and allow the person, whose liberty the government violates, to defend themselves with the same resources of the entity making the accusations has. This never happens but it should.

  19. Our laws must be made to conform to our highest ideals. It is our responsibility to follow our moral compass when it contradicts the law. Otherwise, the tail wags the dog. May I have the courage to heed these words....

  20. Professor Delbanco's analysis is deeply learned, grounded in his thorough knowledge of the historical facts of the American experience and the American experiment. As a hopeful progressive, his insights have given me pause. At times, I despair of our emergence from this long, national nightmare. However, as long as voices such as his are allowed to speak, we might still have a chance to be guided by our better angels.

  21. When drafting the Preamble, Jefferson was urged to use the expression "We hold these truths to be God-given." Jefferson rejected that, saying that the United States was not a theocracy. He made this crystal clear with the First Amendment. His compromise was to allow the next phrase "...endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights....". The suggestion that the US is a "Christian" nation is belied in the first eight words of the Constitution, and certainly belied by the continuation of slavery for decades after ratification.

  22. Africans were kidnapped and brought to America. No one is doing that to central Americans.

  23. @Styxman that is true, and no one is saying otherwise. Did you read this article? It is about what happened afterwards, centuries later in most cases, to de-humanize people. That is exactly what Trump is doing to Central Americans. Also, the conditions they are fleeing were created, in part, by us. Study history.

  24. Equating enforcing our immigration laws with slavery is a stretch, even for an open borders publication like this one.

  25. @QED The author isn't talking about enforcing our immigration laws. He's talking about dehumanizing people of color.

  26. @QEDi think the question of who gets to be a citizen, and that of who gets equal protection under the law in us jurisdiction, apply to both the mess of immigration policy now and the economic legal and human struggle over fugitive slaves then. (And neither I nor anyone I know, nor US laws today favor “open borders.” )

  27. @QED says "Equating enforcing our immigration laws with slavery is a stretch, even for an open borders publication like this one." Here goes the distorting Republican rhetoric. Nobody here is advocating for open borders. Those who want to "abolish ICE" want to reorganize ICE into the components of which it is comprised, as they were in the past . ' Wiki explains, "following the events of September 11, 2001 . . . the functions and jurisdictions of several border and revenue enforcement agencies were combined and consolidated into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most simply want to disconnect the "Enforcement and Removal Operations" from the refugee agencies. The Democrats need to be more clear. The Republicans have to begin to learn and be honest.

  28. Arrant touchy-feely bleeding-heart outpouring. What was "right" once can today be considered "wrong". But transferring the fathers' sins on the heads of the sons is nothing but corruption of blood.

  29. I had an epiphany once regarding the phrase from the Bible about the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons unto the 7th generation. In my youth I thought this idea terribly unfair. Why should descendants of a wrong-doer, who themselves had done nothing wrong, be blamed for his sins? Why should the sin be a stain on them, when they had nothing to do with the act in question and most weren't even alive when it happened? But one day, much later in life, I realized that I had gotten it all wrong. It never was about blame, it was about consequences. It was about how the evil that men do doesn't just stop when they die- it gets passed down in attitude and behavior and pain in ways subtle and not so subtle, directly and indirectly, so that future generations are still affected by that evil's power to harm. Make no mistake - just as the United States is still being visited today by the sins of the slavers and the founders and governors of our country who allowed them to operate - in oppression, poverty, inequality and bigotry - what Donald Trump has done and is doing to take refugee children away from their parents; to instill fear in immigrant families; to stoke fear and hatred in his followers for immigrants and refugees and others, making white supremacists feel validated and emboldened in their racism, and more - what he is doing will adversely affect future generations in ways large and small for decades. We *cannot* let this go on.

  30. You got it! I used to feel that way too. This is an instance where the Bible, Buddhism and karma mesh beautifully. Claiming oneself is innocent due to his/her’s ancestor’s wrong-doing is just a way of excusing oneself from taking or supporting moral action.

  31. @Tuvw Xyz - One person's "Arrant touchy-feely bleeding-heart outpouring" is another's basic human compassion and empathy. "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." To me, that pretty much covers it, and I'm not even a True Believer. Sadly, the True Believers mostly ignore the actual teachings of their guy. Personally, I'm going to spend my weekend appreciating that I don't live next door to you, consonant guy.

  32. There is enough for everyone. The story of the loaves and the fishes could be seen not as the story of a miracle but a story about people sharing what they had with those that didn’t have. When that happened, there was enough for all. What in the world is terrifying about desperate people, escaping horrific conditions, coming to a country that used to have a reputation for helping them? Apparently, they fear death in their own countries. Why else would they hope to come here? Walking thousands of miles? Escaping with small children. Walking together to keep each other safe. Where are our open hearts? This lie that they are evil, bloodthirsty invaders is some kind of insanity. Trump hates brown people with a vengeance. He is passing on this illogical fear to his believers. He stirs them up with hate speech. Let them come, as immigrants have come to America for our entire history. There will be enough for all.

  33. @Kathryn Janus: British Americans living in what is now the US feared for their death in their "own country" at the hands of merciless Hessian mercenaries. They were treated unjustly by their own government. And they collectively decided to pay a price in blood to secure their rights. My heart is open to help them secure their rights in their own country if that's what they want. But letting them all come to the US to escape their problems, not so much. That's just kicking the can down the road. They should be willing to do what my forefathers did.

  34. @Kathryn Janus I would like to hear more about how you have shared your wealth with the many poor people already living in the Tri State area. I hope you are not one of those who exploit immigrants for cheap labor, further impoverishing the many poor people already here.

  35. Thank goodness we fought a war to rid our land of British slavery. Thank you to those brave soldiers, many who were immigrants, born in foreign lands like Germany.

  36. The last sentence of Andrew Delbanco's piece struck a raw nerve. "The question of who is considered fully human has returned with a vengeance". I have believed for a long time that, if one can say it in one sentence, it is likely relevant--and perhaps true. America has had--and continues to have-- a fundamental problem with humanism--and thus with equal rights.Of course, the Nazi period is the most powerful illustration of the denial of being human. Why is it that right at this hour large parts of our society have grave problems with seeing the human plight of caravans leaving central America? That there are decision makers that decide who is " fully human"------is it still puritan righteousness ?

  37. @Norbert Voelkel. And why is it that those in the caravans don’t want to make their own country better?

  38. @Jackson Of course those in the caravans want to make their country better, but they are powerless. Their lives are so hard that they prefer a decidedly unpleasant welcome in Mexico and USA, if they actually manage to survive the journey. Syrians would also rather be at home (neither bombed nor oppressed nor tortured) than in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. Do try to engage with what it means to walk 1000 miles without proper footwear, or enough money and possibly with a very young child or two in tow. Most people find traveling with young kids for a few hours on planes to be a trial. Try two months with little food and sleep and exposed to the elements and criminal gangs that prey upon them. They are fleeing their country in order to remain alive.

  39. Thank you Professor Delbanco. I usually resist any suggestion of parallels between the many challenges faces by immigrants, refugees, and migrants, and the “plunder” (Coates’ term) wrought upon generations by four centuries of American slavery and what has followed. But you draw out a resounding historical “rhyme” of tension between the promise of freedoms this country has always offered, and the restrictions then imposed by those who enjoy more freedoms upon others who would like them. It is a truth through history: people moving toward freedom - fugitives, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers - won’t go back. Not unless forced. And they and their advocates will usually have a good argument that they should not be forced. Working out the details of how any such tides of human aspiration and displacement might be welcomed, channeled, dammed (or whatever) is a human, legal, ideological, political and policy challenge for every democracy. It is worthy of our best effort. There will always be demagoguery, chants, political sloganeering to demean the effort. Which only makes leadership, and honest, serious, out loud argument about how to make better policy more important.

  40. Sensational article. Thank you. The big omission from the article is the word "conservative." The founding fathers (the famous ones, anyway) were raving liberals for their day (and we would naturally presume that today they would be just as adamant about that liberty, equality, justice for all and "general welfare" stuff). Liberals have always actually believed in those original American precepts. There is no doubt in the liberal mind who qualifies as human and deserving of the entire spectrum of inalienable rights: everyone. Conservatives? They never have been comfortable with what America is supposed to be. No, they want rights only for themselves and their clan. Conservatives have fought like demons over every stitch of progress toward those founding ideals. They were the Tories, against the United States of America in the first place, and still to this day are busy trying to oppress people: African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic people, LGBT people, Muslims, atheists, immigrants, liberals. They are still resisting making their own women full-fledged, equally paid, citizens. Washington, Adams, Emerson, Douglass, none would be in the least surprised that conservatives are still up to their old tricks. Well, they may be surprised that they are not nearly as violent as they used to be. But Trump is working on that. The media and academia just can't blurt out this great unspoken truth. Conservatives are America's biggest problem.

  41. @Russ Thank you for clearly and succinctly illuminating the problem. Liberals and progressives have always been the true patriots pushing to demonstrate and enact the ideals of the Constitution. Hmm, maybe we could have some sort of symbol of this commitment, like ... the American flag! Let's reclaim it. I've generally found any use of the antiquated and inaccurate term "conservative" is best replaced by the more functional update: Constrictive.

  42. Wow! Like most of the others commenting here, I just want to thank you for your incredible essay. It seems like a whole new campaign, along the lines of the abolitionist movement but with the aim of humanizing immigrants (and treating them like human beings) is the next step in the evolution of American society. We need to start, of course, by disempowering those who dehumanize immigrants, both in our government and our society. Now there's a culture war worth fighting!

  43. Thank you for providing us with a powerful essay! The closing wording is exactly right. As an immigrant myself, I have experienced many of the feelings you referred to in your text. Thank you for contextualizing this fight in its right dimension—the continuous fight for this country’s soul.

  44. Dr. Delbanco-Thank you for this excellent essay and very important history lesson. Please keep writing.

  45. ... A remarkable essay, serving as a reminder of just how powerful and enduring the vision of the Founders of our country were, yet, unable to apply their majesty of vision to male persons who were not of their class or heritage— even to have excluded their own mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces ... visionary in one eye. Blind in the other.

  46. Just another bunch of politicians.

  47. It is important to note that many of the Founders came from wealth and were merchants and large landowners. And that by the time it came to enact a constitution, the Declaration's aspiration of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was changed to "life, liberty and property." Score one for the one percent. The decline had already started...

  48. It is important to remember that the very origins of what became the United States are confounded with inequality and intolerance, on racial as well as religious grounds, and that its westward expansion, too, happened in clear and repeated violation of a succession of treaties with the Natives. Mr. Belbanco focuses on the treatment of Blacks, but the attitude of the establishment to immigrants who were in any way different has invariably been hostile, be they Catholic Irish or Italians, refugees from Eastern Europe or Asia or, as now, Central America... Trump is merely riding the crest of the current wave. Indeed, it is possible to argue that his behavior is a more overt, a more honest even, expression of the true undercurrent in American society than any mealymouthed expression of impotent sympathy. This is why his demise is unlikely to happen any time soon and may, perhaps, help explain why the Democrats are finding it such a challenge to formulate a response.

  49. @Rudy Flameng In reading the article, my impression is that the author is trying to show that the struggle of African-Americans to obtain their full rights has been echoed in the struggles of each succesive wave of immigrants to do the same. Americans do indeed have all the faults of their fellow human beings around the world, but what sets America apart as a country is our ideals and our insistence on trying to live up to them. Last year's PBS program on the Chinese Exclusion Act described the over 60-year struggle of Chinese in the US to obtain their rights under the 14th Amendment. At the end of the program, one of the narrators marvelled at his ancestors' persistence in pursuing their rights. He said it was because they admired and believed in American ideals and refused to give up. That is indeed the essence of being an American: we have ideals, and we refuse to give up in our efforts to make them reality!

  50. See my problem is that liberals have extended the rights given to Americans in the Constitution to the rest of the world. To a liberal, everyone in the entire world deserves to be an American. While I think that is a good goal, it's also completely unrealistic at this time. Most of the world gets by for a whole day and even a whole week on what an average American makes in one hour. What we need to promote is spreading Democracy and turning other countries on to the American system of government. Contrary to what many on these comment boards say, this style of government did produce what is still the most powerful and rich country in the history of the world. A country that is extremely diverse and whose diversity is growing. A country that will continue to do great things in the future if we can avoid becoming terminally divided. I want more legal immigration, no illegal immigration, rule of law, amnesty for everyone here already, an agreement to control the borders and the provide resources required to do that effectively, e-verify, more seasonal work visas, and more promotion of English acquisition while at the same time celebrating the cultural diversity immigrants bring to this nation. Unfortunately no party represents those views.

  51. @Jacqueline - Legal immigration policy? No illegal immigration? Rule of law? Amnesty? Etc? I believe your problem is your argument is too reasonable and logical. I do think, despite Trump’s attacks, that most Democrats are closer to agreeing with your basic principles of a rational immigration plan. First they must regain control. Then they must block out the static blasted out by the Republicans. I think your vision could come to fruition with some solid planning and absence of hysterical extremism. I wish us all good luck.

  52. @Jacqueline What sort of democracy is it that you want to spread to the rest of the world? Do you want to make sure that less than 50% vote, as in your country? Do you want to discourage and actively prevent people from voting, as in your country? Do you want other countries to do gerrymandering? How can that even be legal in a democracy? Do you want other countries to be able to elect a president, even though a majority by 3 million voters supported the other candidate? Please move beyond your insularism and realize that you can learn a lot about democracy from other countries.

  53. @Jacqueline Your comment resonates positively with this "liberal" for the most part. Would have no quibble if you took out the false equivalencies and avoided red herrings unnecessarily thrown in. Using your 1st paragraph as example. Yup I do believe "that all men [humans] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". And yup I do believe that we have obligations to all humankind and in turn this Blue Marble without national, ethnic, racial, or other distinction. Perhaps because I am a "liberal cultural christian" coupled with an "acute scientific awareness of the the ecology of things" that supports that "religious" inclination. So yes I do believe in universal rights and our general obligations. But I do NOT believe everyone has an unalienable unqualified right to USA citizenship or to be on our soil unqualified. We DO have a right to protect ourselves (rights and security) and our property/livelihoods under proper just laws. Balancing my "liberal mindset" takes nuanced thinking and honest reflection. It is not at all easy being moral! Especially if you are a committed "secular liberal christian" and an honest evaluator of cause and effect. Hope we you get my point - most liberals I know resonate with most of your comment but are rightly revolted by Trump's wanton self-serving mendacity, simplistic propaganda, and cruelty re: this issue. Aren't you?

  54. The author seems to think that countries are created by philosophers. They are not. The USA was just barely created in order to principally preserve the economy of the 1%. Not only was that new government called Great Britain beginning to enforce century old laws that some Americans had grown rich by violating, its courts by the 1770's were now stripping the legal basis of slavery out of the Common Law -- which was the unchangeable law of the land in all 13 colonies. The only way that the colonies could preserve their law, and their impunity, was by unifying militarily. That required acceptance of slavery on a mythical state-by-state basis. Thomas Jefferson's and Thomas Paine's rhetoric notwithstanding, the American Revolution had nothing to do with the rights of man, and everything to do with states rights against a central government (be it British or American).

  55. Excellent and thought provoking. Would that all Americans would read and think about this column.

  56. Welfare does not rhyme with liberty.The analogy that Prof. Delbanco makes between African American slaves and the migrant caravan attempting to enter the U.S. across Mexico is not just bad rhyme; it’s a false equivalence in factual history. Neither our free states nor British North American territory (as Canada was not independent) discouraged fugitive slaves from asylum, but they also did not offer them welfare and other social benefits paid by the governments. Such material benefits for slaves in fact had been fully paid by their slave owners who wanted to protect their investment. The governments of Central America seem to have no investment in whether their peoples live or die, nor wish to prevent their seeking a new life in our country. Freedom was the motive for fugitive slaves, but that freedom is not the reason that the caravan of migrants are fleeing their countries to our border. There is no historical parallel.

  57. @Bayou Houma Won't go into the idea that slavery, the ownership of a human being is 'welfare' or a 'material benefit' for the slave, but having lived in several European countries with welfare, I can attest people are more free, not less so, when they do not need to worry about scrambling for food, go into a panic about rent, or spend every hour of the week going and from 3 jobs, but instead might be able to do something creative and constructive with their particular talents - or just plain enjoy their time on earth. With taxation being spread across businesses, the rich and the middle class, it pays for itself with quality of living - and excellent health and school systems.

  58. Thank you for this thoughtful and educating essay. This summer I was in Boston and decided to take the African-American History tour conducted by the U S Park Service. It was during this tour that I, too, began to connect the history of fleeing Southern slaves to Boston with fleeing Central Americans to the United States. We owe it to our own humanity and our own survival to learn from the lessons of the past. Thank you for this history lesson. Now it is up to us of good conscience to act.

  59. What's far from settled is the idea that we as a people are somehow morally obligated to give away our country.

  60. @Bobo: "give away our country..." That's what Crazy Horse said too.

  61. It's understandable that academics would want to play a part in policy debates. But the comparison between runaway slaves and illegal immigrants is at best a very forced one. The real story here is a generation of radical chic intellectuals who have lost touch with their own country and are increasingly hysterical as their power slips away. The ever more shrill denunciations of Trump and the Republican Party result directly from this.

  62. I don't believe that the "caravan" is composed of would be illegal immigrants. I believe the migrants are intending to apply for asylum, which they have a legal right to do. I understand the larger point of comparing migrants, whether legally seeking asylum or entering or remaining illegally, with the fugitive slaves, but to call these people "illegal immigrants," when many of them are acting within the bounds of the law is not accurate.

  63. When our nation was created and the phrase life, liberty, and the pursuit was used, it is obvious they did not intend it to apply to slaves. That much is evident in what the writer of this piece states as the history of laws related to slavery. I wish it had been their intention that it applied to all but it didn’t. They certainly did not intend that it apply to all individuals living at that time in foreign countries. Our efforts in trying to impose democracy in the Middle East have failed. Our laws, culture, and beliefs are different. Trying to compare this country’s history on slavery to illegal immigrants is most absurd!!

  64. Just as World War I never really ended but morphed into World War II (e.g., read up on how Germany's military initiated secret armaments development programs the day after the 1918 armistice), the U.S. Civil War has never really ended (and note that the Western red state were settled largely by ex-Confederates).

  65. Some people - his Svengali, Stephen Miller, for example - probably know they resemble some historic forces too thrilling to resist for their political potential. The President, on the other hand, exhibits such serene incuriosity that he just needs more of the same, whatever that is. The show is terminally disgusting, yes, but when given the backdrop of an organized political party which protects it without question, it makes an election a national emergency.

  66. Yes yes! I have been making the case in several of these comments that the most "politically correct" statement in history is that "All Men Are Created Equal," pointing out that it is at the heart of our Constitution, and that if people don't believe that, then they're un-American and should get the heck out of our country.

  67. It is amazing to me how brilliant professors like Delbanco and Lepore do not become terribly depressed in their American Studies research and writing. America’s past appears to me to be an incredible litany of foolish actions and ideology. I applaud the professors for their courage.

  68. The great thing about Trump that will endure through all of history is he shon enough light on the American soul to show the depth of hatred and resentment that has festered for the last 200 or so years. He has managed to draw tens of millions to him to publicly express their rage at the fact that others believe that they are human beings too. The evangelicals have thrown out their teachings and grasped at social roles equivalent to the slave owners. Instead of saving society they have ensured that it has no hope.

  69. Yup. That is, in the end, what it's all about--the apparent need of large swaths of humanity to deny to other swaths of humanity the privilege of being human. I have heard the argument that the slavery situation was very different from the immigrant situation, and certainly there's the difference that slaves were forcibly brought here while most immigrants are here voluntarily. But the condescension towards other human beings, thought of as less than human, is a striking commonality. And let's not even get into the complicity of so many of our rich oligarchs in our immigration "problem": they bemoan the porous borders to get worried "natives" to vote for their toadies while continuing to hire immigrants at slave wages--even those here "legally" on H1b visas--refusing to adopt universal e-Verify, refusing to discuss any sort of formal system of points or qualifications to provide legal avenues and set out clear standards, all in the name of keeping a few more bucks for themselves. That's another similarity with slavery--if the rich masters weren't incentivized to have these workers here, they wouldn't be. The hypocrisy is rich. And, of course, the obvious parallel can be drawn that a great many immigrants are fleeing the same type of destructive environment as slaves crossing the Mason Dixon line. The slaves didn't always find a hospitable welcome in the North, and immigrants don't always find one here now, but that they try speaks volumes as to what they flee from.

  70. No one can claim that this democracy is a passive sport. If it is not fed by it's citizen's involvement, it can de destroyed with relative ease, witness 'racist' Trump trampling on it, duly assisted by the republican party, however shameful their commitment to defrauding us. That is the price of 'looking the other way', and not voting; it would give demagogues and charlatans the upper hand, and however incompetent and corrupt, tell you what to do...instead of you controlling your own destiny, and promoting solidarity, so that even the least among us may sit at the table.

  71. Even setting aside the abominations of racism against minorities and genocide against its native Indians, the 'American Dream' only ever existed in the minds of those who benefitted from it. The 'Law of the Jungle' was mistaken for 'Opportunity', military strength was/is confused with Greatness, and anyone rejecting U.S. norms and morals was dismissed as "jealous of our way of life." It has only recently become apparent to some Americans that their nation is self-destructing in an orgy of socio-economic division, wasteful militarisation and hollow patriotism. In fact, judging by global comparisons on education, economic opportunity and health/longevity, the rot began decades ago, seemingly masked by a cognitively dissonant populace brainwashed into believing their nation may be misunderstood but nonetheless remains the 'beacon on the hill'. No, the U.S. is a poor example to the rest of the world, as is my own country that seems to reflect the 'Greed is Good' ideal. The U.S. is so huge that it will take generations to turn it around. Ironically, my nation could turn around more rapidly with a few good leaders. Let's pray for both our nations.

  72. @Hamid Varzi I've given up praying. As I've told you before, this country gave me enormous opportunity in the sixties via an affordable Ivy League engineering education, and an advanced degree at a flagship state university where tuition was free. I graduated debt-free, and could actually afford my own apartment. I worked, and happily paid back society in the form of taxes so others could benefit as I did. How naive of me. Meanwhile, we were finally getting around to Civil Rights, and our youth were effectively protesting our misadventures in Vietnam--protesting is something we are allowed to do here. For now. We were that country once, trying to live up to our own hype, but for too short a period of time, unfortunately. Sadly, we got Ronald Reagan and Greed is God. Um, I mean Good. The individual over society. Jeff Bezos is apparently our big winner, so now he has to house all our homeless and educate all our moron Americans--functions once under the purview of government. He's into health care as well, with Buffet and Dimon, since our government can't seem to do it. I'm sure he feels so burdened, as it cuts into his big plans to escape the planet via space travel. Maybe we should just force him to be President. Cancerous capitalistic corruption, throw in a few hundred million guns and don't forget church on Sunday, and here we are! Some of us have seen this coming for decades. I'm not wasting my prayers on this mess.

  73. Any country which defines itself as a beacon of freedom for the world will confront serious challenges when it attempts to convert the ideal into reality. In the US, slavery compounded that dilemma, because the institution forced the framers of the Constitution to exempt an entire segment of the population from the promise of equal treatment under the law. In the minds of most Americans, racism justified that exception to the principle of human equality stated in the Declaration, even after the 14th amendment formally abolished the system of apartheid. Despite the substantial progress we have made, Americans still live with the legacy of that vicious set of attitudes. In the 19th century, we extended the scientifically meaningless concept of "racial inferiority" to include anyone whose skin color precluded their inclusion in the "white" community. Initially, it was the "yellow peril" from Japan and China who aroused fears of a threat to our culture and ethnic "purity," but today Trump has identified a new source of danger, people from south of our border. No country can simply open its borders to all comers, but it is ludicrous to deny that the ethnic background of these refugees represents the real source of anxiety among many Americans. These desperate people demand that we validate our ideals, which would require that, whatever restrictions we place on immigration, they would not involve ethnicity or religious beliefs.

  74. Very well written piece. I would only add to it by observing how delusional America actually is about its own history. America was not a great land of liberty from 1776 to the present, as most Americans like to tell themselves. It was a racial colonizing empire, in which “Liberty” was intended only for those of one race. This wasn’t “Liberty” at all. Slaves were supposedly freed in 1865 but the horror of their condition continued long after that under the law, well into 1965 and arguably the 1970s. But this is obviously not taught in our history classes, where textbooks insist on the lie that Liberty is a core theme of America from 1776 to the present. We are a country that has refused to look itself in the mirror. I love this country and therefore will not stop insisting that it face its sins, in order that it can become as free as it promised the world it would be in 1776.

  75. @neilends In 1776 the entire world had either slavery or some equivalent form of bondage or by our standards extreme social immobility. Our country was the only one in the world to be established charting a path to freedom for all citizens . We’re still working on it and judging by the desire of millions who have come here or desire to, we are doing a comparatively good job.

  76. Whether Mark Twain said the words or not, the idea that history "rhymes" is one to snatch up and run with. Any sentient human being would see similarities between the Southern slaves of the 19th century and today's "caravan" of migrants headed toward America's promised land. I'm currently reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, but I have to put it down every so often because the stories are too horrible, too true and horrible. Next Tuesday, I plan to do more than just read and vicariously empathize with those 19th and these 21st century poor souls. I'm going to vote, and I'm signed up to serve as a kind of "taxi service" for anybody who needs a ride to the polls. My blessings of liberty should count for something, I think.

  77. This is another in a long series of NY Times op-eds that tries to characterize any opposition to the most extreme liberal positions as racist and bigoted. There seems to be no recognition that labeling those who have different views as racist immediately polarizes the debate and makes rational discussion impossible. Nobody wants people in Honduras to suffer. The question is whether immigration laws, duly passed by Congress, should be allowed to work. Or whether we want to set those laws aside on a case by case basis, because of emotions of the moment. We haven't had the slow rational discussion necessary to reach compromises and formulate policies that can not only lessen the poverty of Honduras, but also treat the very real needs of our own poor, many of whom fall through the cracks of a health care system that is broken. Politicians of both parties avoid an honest discussion of resources. How do we fund medicare so that it doesn't develop shortages. Eliminating poverty in Honduras on an individual basis, with no clear policy, letting this person in because he stormed the walls, and denying entry to another who is equally worthy, is not a viable solution. Simply opening the borders will quickly cause our own welfare system to run out of resources. The shortages which many people already see will become worse. We need to have rules of entry which we follow instead of work to circumvent. We need to limit population growth, including limiting immigration.

  78. Professor Delbanco, you make your points well, but you seem to ascribe universal value to temporary policies: "The New Deal tried to protect vulnerable citizens from the destructive effects of dynamic capitalism." You are right, but it has been the proletariat that has withered away, not the state. Dynamic capitalism is barely alive and is certainly not well. Dear Mr. Romney said behind closed doors what Trump knows only too well: 47% or more of our people have been thrown out of the water. They are beached, like a whale baking in the sun. You can't unionize the unemployed or the unemployable. You can extend unemployment benefits indefinitely as Obama did and call it progress, but the deplorables like me emerged out of the ashcan, from the smoldering ruins of a wrecked country. Hillary called for a celebration of the status quo; Trump promised hope and change. Some of us went for it and haven't looked back. We needed saving from oblivion not suffocation. Obama gave us a rotten deal.

  79. The argument in this article is overly redundant, overdone and off-course. It tries to delineate a false corrispondence between black slaves and latinos immigrants. It is an unfit comparision since black slaves were all within USA, meaning that their escapes from one states to the other happened on USA's territory where they were subjected to the same federal laws, for example. Honduras is not USA, not by any stretch of imagination they have shared sovereignity. Secondly black slaves didn't born so in USA they were kidnapped and forced on ships from Africa to America ( both North and South ), those people weren't worried about the dangerous place they were living in, but they will once on USA's soil. Of nowadays immigrants from Honduras who choose to leave their country, only half are settling into Mexico, the nearest country where they could live peacefully lifes. but the other half is setting USA as its destination for economic reasons. That's not an isolated case. About the same happened with Syrian immigrants, the majority of chose to settle in the near region ( Turkey, Jordan) while the others went as far as Finland for economic reasons. The first needs humanitarian help, the second depends on political choices.

  80. There is no comparison between black slaves who were brought here against their will and people who enter our country illegally. Black slaves and their descendants helped to build this country and make it the country it is. Illegals have not done the same. Cutting grass, babysitting and bussing tables are service jobs that Americans will do if paid a decent wage. Illegals working in meat processing plants are filling jobs that Americans used to do before the Unions that guaranteed fair wages and benefits were busted. The NYT recently wrote about the Tom Cat bakery in NYC where ICE found 21 illegal workers (they were not arrested or deported). Tom Cat let the workers go with generous severence pay and health care for 3 months. Tom Cat filled the jobs with legal workers. So much for jobs Americans won’t do.

  81. Professor Delbanco assumes to not let foreign nationals move to America is denying them their humanity. But sensible people understand that it is sane to draw a distinction between American citizens and the other 96% of the world's population.

  82. Is this what Trump and his followers mean by "Make America Great Again"? Is this a pillar of "American Exceptionalism?" If so, I want no part of it! I'd rather that America implode than return to the darker parts of our history.

  83. How telling, that Mr. Delbanco somehow failed to include the part about the Mexican bandit incursions into the southern US during the late 19th century and early 20th century, the murders along the southern border committed by the bandits and other criminals and smugglers, and the culture of lawlessness that has existed ever since then.

  84. The bandits were the white people who stole a huge chunk of Mexico in the late 1840s. Robert E. Lee fought in that war (it figures). Thoreau briefly went to prison for refusing to pay his taxes to support this war. Part of the reason we stole Mexican land was to expand slavery. Another vile chapter in white American history.

  85. Delbanco’s central analogy doesn’t hold. Slavery was a gross injustice. Limiting the number of immigrants allowed into the US is both just and prudent. Slavery violated African-Americans rights to life and liberty. Limiting immigration into the US does not violate anyone’s rights: there is no general right to immigrate wherever one wants.

  86. This is a wonderful piece, for I could see clearly the parallels (or rhymes) between that anguished time when slavery was a stain upon our land and this present time when those who associate themselves as the right demonize and dehumanize the immigrants that flee untenable situations in their own countries. I have read many comments by those who violently oppose immigration and I always wince at the characterizations of these people as rapists, murderers, disease infested, or being mostly single men. I wonder where is the compassion for these mostly impoverished people? We need sensible immigration reform, to be sure, but to treat asylum seekers and their children as criminals is plainly wrong. Is it any wonder that Latino families are afraid of the police or ICE agents in our politically charged atmosophere? I see the parallels to the the fear of runaway slaves once upon a time. And lest it said, many black people are still treated as less than the fully human beings they are. Many are still terrorized by police, not knowing if an encounter will turn deadly. We Don't treat people like this in a civilized society. That is still something that remains out of reach as long as racists and anti-semites control our government.

  87. A good and informative article about the long Black struggle for full human status. However, it is marred by one common usage that is actually dehumanizing. The author writes, in the penultimate paragraph: the cadre of the propertied white males who first articulated it. The noun "male" typically goes with "white" as here. It also tends to go with a sneer, either explicit or understood. Why not the traditional noun "man", instead of "male": white men? Black men fought for decades to be known by this word: for example, Dr. King's last fight was for Memphis sanitation workers. Their slogan was, "I am a man". "Male", on the other hand, is at best pretentiously clinical, and at worse a description of a person or animal on an auction block. That it is ubiquitous is no reason to use it.

  88. Fear is the animating and boldest part of the Trump agenda. This is why the upcomng election is so important, since it will give citizens an opportunity to elect representatives who, unlike the current crop of quislings, will serve as a check on the current occupant of the White House, replacing fear with its' antidote, hope. Meachem's The Soul of America argues that eventually the better angels of American society counteract the baseness that sometimes has infected the country. We have the power to curtail this stain on America's soul and hopefully will do so on November 6th.

  89. The South did not lose the Civil War. A cease-fire was declared in I965 and the war was resumed in earnest in 2016.

  90. @Cassandra, At first I thought that your date 1965 was a typo, but in fact 1965 is almost correct, just out by one year (Civil Rights Act of 1964).

  91. @Cassandra. - There was never a cease fire. Black slavery never went away, and if you take a look at Southern education ever since 1865, they believe they were victimized and are the true Americans. 2016 just hit is more strongly in the face with it since the 1960s. Trump is just allowing the would-be slave owners to rise to the surface again. He is one himself.

  92. This column is absurd. There's absolutely no connection between the fugitive slaves of the 19th century & the current migrant caravan headed towards our border. These are two entirely separate issues. Last week the networks ran non stop video of this massive caravan surging across a bridge leading to Mexico before they were halted in a confrontation with a police in riot gear. No matter where you stand on immigration this is alarming. We certainly don't want to duplicate that at our border. Under current law, they have the legal right to present themselves at our border, request asylum, & then make their case to a court. The question is, will they be inside or outside the border while they wait for the hearing (that they'll never show up for)? That's the rub. There are limits to what the United States can absorb at any given time. Further, what about fairness to the immigrants who have applied legally, and are waiting? For some to sneak in, take up the resources of the government, and makes it take longer for people who are applying legally. Every person crossing our border must be vetted. Migrating to the US legally is, and should be, a thorough procedure meant to protect the interests of US citizens. It involves more than simply jumping a fence & heading north in pursuit of free health care, education, food stamps, & other handouts paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Do liberals want to stop illegal immigration? From the responses I've read the answer would appear absolutely not.

  93. The freeloaders are rich white people who want you to pay their taxes for them and work for starvation wages. Most of the immigrants I see are working and working hard. Where did you come from and what did your ancestors do?

  94. @Bill Brown. I guess we can just take down the Statue of Liberty now. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" has not relevance anymore.

  95. Before his appointment with the hangman, John Brown famously observed that "the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood". Until recently, I had believed that the 600,000 deaths brought on by the Civil War constituted a sufficient purge. But, when in 2016 Americans put an openly racist white supremacist into the White House -- and let's face it, largely as a reaction to the fact that his predecessor had been black -- well apparently the lesson wasn't learned, or it had been forgotten if it was. Clearly there is still a significant element in American society which -- at its' core -- still holds to the pre-Civil War belief that no person of color can ever be a "real" American. The more things change ...

  96. As usual, the grotesque chaos agent in the Oval Office has distracted and trolled effectively. His dehumanizing, racist, vicious treatment of desperate migrants pushes his haters into taking a politically and legally untenable position: open borders. The problem of slavery—America’s original sin—may rhyme in dehumanization but it’s unique. The Unites States is a nation with borders. And laws. And a democracy (so far). Its people have the right to establish immigration policy. I would hope it’s generous to refugees and asylum seekers. However, restricting immigration is not inherently dehumanizing and certainly doesn’t compromise the rights of foreigners to settle in the U.S. because they have no such rights.

  97. In the early 1800s women could not own property. If the husband died and the wife had only daughters, then the home and farm went to a male relative. Women in the U.S. could not vote in national elections until 1920 - three years after the Russian communist had given women the right to vote. The southern states were an economic backwater until civil rights gave blacks enough freedom to participate more fully in the economy. Atlanta is a vibrant city due to civil rights. There is enough air for everyone. One person’s well being does not detract from another. Freedom sparks economic growth.

  98. @Phyllis Mazik I'm with you Phyllis but the New South owes its existence to the Federal Government's actions immediately prior to, and most importantly, during WW2. Oh, and air conditioning. Seriously.

  99. An excellent historical piece, thanks. Too, we should all be grateful that Republicans led the fight to end slavery under President Lincoln and they were the reason for the passage of the 1960's Civil Rights Act. Because of the GOP, black people rightfully enjoy the same liberties and freedoms as everyone else.

  100. @Alan I believe that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was first proposed by President John F. Kennedy, and passed under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson; these two Presidents were Democrats. The Republican Party under President Lincoln is not the same as the present day Republican Party. People of color today may enjoy the same liberties and freedoms in theory, but until everyone embraces these words in their hearts, this doesn’t ring true.

  101. Alan, Pittsburgh It is too bad that the current GOP has turned so far away from their love of our constitution and our bill of rights. So far have they strayed that their founder, Abraham Lincoln would not recognize them as his Republican party, to thei shame.

  102. @Alan Are you bold-facedly trying to say that the Republicans of the 1850s and 60s and/or the Republicans of the 1950s and 60s are the equivalent of Republicans today? I hope that you re-examine your understanding of American history and learn that a "name" and an "ideology" are two very different things. Otherwise, be sure to link Trump's unabashed "nationalism" with National Socialists, since they were nationalists too.

  103. If you wanted to write a summary of the Fugitive Slave Act that's fine. But trying to tie it to the current immigration debate is lame. American slaves escaping is the exact opposite of free foreigners clamoring to get in. Likewise, the Declaration of Independence is what made us a separate, sovereign country with enforceable borders. It was for the benefit of Americans "and our posterity." It was the opposite of a declaration that "we are the world." So nice history lesson. But terrible attempt at a political point.

  104. It would be more pertinent to say "and African-Americans are STILL targets of violence, harassment, intimidation, oppression, and imprisonment, without due process of law."

  105. @Wiener Dog. Not really. One important thing that refugees today and slaves back then have in common is that they are and were not considered human beings worthy of basic human rights. None considered worthy of due process under the law, and behind it all were and are white people terrified of losing their privileged status. That's one thing that never changes about us. White Americans have always believed in having a privileged status. But the problem with that was pointed out by (I think) LBJ. A certain political party (Democrats then, Republicans now) works that sense of privilege as much as possible for its own purposes. LBJ noted that as long as a white man believes there's a black man he can hate, he'll never notice that you're picking his pocket. Today, as Trump screams about a bunch of raggedy peasants and children in Mexico "coming to get you," he gets legislation passed that lowers the taxes of him and his rich friends. He scares white Americans who follow him with hate rhetoric while he picks your pocket.

  106. I'll bet the "caravan" members might just object to your so cavalierly calling them "people of color." Most Hispanics, after all, identify their race as white. And America's founders would surely object to your far-out contention that the rights of Americans should somehow extend to homeless persons living in poor countries worldwide. What I'll bet the Founders would agree upon, however, is the need for American harmony and shared purpose. And the only man preaching those values today is President Trump.

  107. @Rolf The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the united States is not about what THEY are. It's about who WE are! We are a nation that believes ALL men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights and among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These documents define how we treat all people- no matter where they're from and no matter what color they happen to be. That's what it means to call yourself an American and mean it. Trump and his sycophants are not Americans. These rights are human rights and they extend to everyone- they are not reserved exclusively for American citizens. God doesn't recognize flags.

  108. The founders were the useless hypocrites who got us into this ugly situation in the first place. If the English had defeated those traitors, we'd be in a much better country today, say, Canada.

  109. Rolf, Trump may be preaching values, but he ain't livin' em.

  110. Excellent essay, except for one thing -- and this has an impact on the election. Slaves were forcibly brought to the U.S. This is a very different category than immigrants voluntarily coming here, even if out of desperation (some of which we even have responsibility for. Of course, all these people are people and should be treated as humanely as possible. At the same time, we know we cannot have open borders. Our current world cannot handle that. So we have to distinguish various groups of prospective new residents here. We have criteria for that and may need to revise it and enforce it more humanely. But we cannot do without it. We can even do more. We can help our neighbors and others around the world make life more bearable. My point? Any discussion about immigration to the U.S. that sounds like it is advocating open borders will be used by the Republicans to demonstrate the folly of the Democrats. Saying "abolish ICE" or saying that "ALL deserve to live a life of liberty and pursuit of happiness IN THE U.S." will be ridiculed and distorted. So be precise when discussing "how to respond to people of color desperate to escape inhuman conditions." It would be wonderful to offer everyone a good life here. It just is not possible now. Speak up about what we can and should do in the world we live. We can do some things short-term for some, and we can do some things long-term for many. Let's spell it out.

  111. I agree that we need actual borders and sensible immigration policies. No one industrialized nation can suck up the world’s poor. Not to mention our moral obligations to our own poor and disenfranchised. However, there is a painfully significant gap between instituting sensible immigration law and ripping toddlers out of the arms of their mothers at the borders, then losing them somewhere in the country. This President has bastardized the Republican Party and used it to validate a personal war of hate. My concern is that by the time the power-drunk overlords of the GOP realize what has happened to their party it will be too late to repair.

  112. Ask Americans if they'd like to escape THIS oppressive nation and go somewhere else. I'd go to Canada, if it wasn't for the horrible quarantine laws for pets.

  113. We all have "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" but the disproportionately wealthy have much more of these gifts. And the reason is that it does not matter so much who we vote for, but (bottom line) who exactly is counting those votes. Call me cynical about the vote-counting dynamics, but please admit to being naive. God help us.

  114. The Declaration of Independence lists only three “rights” but makes it clear that we are all endowed with “unalienable rights AMONG WHICH are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Voting is such a right. A living wage is such a right. Healthcare is such a right. Food, clothing and shelter are such rights. And refugees too have such rights. Let us never forget that - while only 3 rights were enumerated - the Declaration makes clear that these 3 rights are AMONG SUCH INALIENABLE RIGHTS. It is a sad time, when “self-evident truths” are fought over yet [email protected]

  115. @TheraP: One reason I think there is so much distance between left and right in the US are comments like yours. Your position has significant internal inconsistencies. If healthcare, food, clothing and shelter are your inalienable rights, it will require the government to take from someone else to pay for those rights. Yet to take from others will violate their inalienable rights, such as the pursuit of happiness (unless they refuse to pay their taxes, in which case they'll lose their right to liberty since they'll be in jail). I think the founders were wise enough to see that you can allow people to pursue their own happiness, but you can't force them to pay for other people's "happiness."

  116. @Greg General welfare does involve cooperative work and effort, and that is enshined in the Constitution. And for non-egoists, pursuit of happiness can include helping others - otherwise we would not have paramedics, firemen, nor legions of volunteers, all of whom may put their very lives on the line (think Doctors without Borders in war zones). And yes, governments are better equipped to create a system of distribution - that's why we entrust governments to have standing armies, no small feat of administrative skill: feeding, clothing, training and housing many thousands of people and their sophisticated - and lethal-equipment. You are not paying for their happiness; you are paying for their opportunity to pursue it - and in doing so, you will reap benefits, because such pursuits create the Edisons, the Einsteins, the computer coders, the Amazon explorers that provide(d) new medicines and foods. Philanthropy is not enough for a systematic use of a population's talents. None of that comes from starving in the gutter; although sometimes art does.

  117. Wonderful article, which I read with special interest as I gaze on physical memories of the Underground Railroad outside my window here in Concord. You remind us that fugitive slaves, with their indomitable courage, taught us what it means to be American.. The inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness must be universal or cannot be at all.

  118. @Sunspot: As courageous as the fugitive slaves most certainly were, the freedom of all the enslaved would not have been assured without a very high cost in blood of many thousands of Union soldiers. I would be overjoyed if the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were universal. But sadly, the reality is that for that to happen there will be a steep price to be paid in places light El Salvadore and Honduras. For reasons I do not fully understand, the citizens of those countries have so far decided to not pay the price.

  119. @Greg I very much appreciate your point about the Union dead. What I meant was that the principle must be universal: all human beings have equal dignity and an inalienable right (literally, a right that cannot be sold or parted with) or everyone of us is endangered. For example, to withdraw birth-right citizenship (the only legitimate claim that any American family has ever had, except for 100% Native Americans) endangers us

  120. @Greg Try looking up 'The Conversation' that provides data on the number of civilians killed per year in places like El Salvador and Honduras.

  121. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.... These seven words we see defined in many different ways and too often there is the association but misnomer that certain aspects of life should be "free" to me and on your dime. But what about equality some will yell for a living wage , healthcare, free higher education and on and on..... On face value these aspects are excluded, yet the hysteria surrounding and behind many issues today the naïve view is these are rights protected..... Dream on and remain … Or understand and adapt

  122. If the past several years have taught us anything, it's that human evolution does not follow a straight line. It does not follow the arc of improvement or justice in a linear sense. In fact, it would appear that it goes backwards at times. Very sad and disheartening. I was naive enough in the early 90s as a young college student to think that perhaps we had outgrown wars and would henceforth look to diplomacy to solve problems. Silly me. Now I see that we will have to continue to fight against even the concept of racism. We cannot even apply what we've learned to economic strategies--science and data, abounding. I'm ashamed and embarrassed by humanity.

  123. Those truths are not self-evident and enforcing them especially outside the USA has often led to great evils.

  124. In recent times and since the Franklin Delano Presidency during the 40's, the Republican Party has been gritting its teeth and working to dismantle the reforms Roosevelt inaugurated during his tenure. And let's toss in for good measure, Roosevelt was almost solely the guiding hand of the remaining 'powers that be' who was responsible for ridding the world of the Third Reich and its dream to take over all of Europe. Roosevelt, and his wife Eleanor, did so much for the common man on the street, and now it is so sad to witness the unwinding of so much of their artful, caring designs to make things right for all mankind and not solely the advantaged class like we are witnessing during the Trump Administration,

  125. As many commenters have noticed in the past years, we are in a reenactment of the battle for ideas, first started in the Constitution, then leading to the Civil War, reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement, and now we are at it again. Except of course that the rebels twisted democracy to take control of the federal government. To the North, to California, to NY and Boston, to Michigan: the federal government can be a force of good. But think twice about making it too big, because one day it can be used for evil. It seems that now we are there. We will see if voters or the check and balances work.

  126. I find it rather peculiar that such a varied organism (if a nation could be so characterized) should be examined as if it were an individual. It is common understanding that the USA not only declared wonderful ideals as to the relationship of the individual to its governing body but that the fundamental group who established the founding documents were hugely uneasy about a completely democratic form of government and saw to it that women and individuals who owned little if any property were not included in the voting public. It took a very long time to remedy these lacks and others in the original concept and the forces in favor of those limitations still operate with great power in the country. Behaviors common to the history of the country still vary hugely and are not accepted by all as commendable. Where a soul may be in this very mixed combination is not obvious.

  127. The "rhyming" with history part of this essay is about the actions specified in the first paragraph: how the United States under the current President is responding to persons within an illegal citizen status. The essay is highlighting that dehumanization as a tool of intimidation is not new in our history. Suggestions in other comments that the author is calling for open borders or doesn't understand illegal immigrants are illegal are arguing a question that isn't asked by the author. Immigration policy is complex and requires a menu of remedies including documentation and control of our borders. But the treatment of people in detention, the removal of children from their parents, the threat to our Constitutional government by attacking birthright citizenship, the threat of destabilizing countries of origin of the folks seeking refuge by removing foreign aid rather than working with these governments as partners to improve conditions in their own countries -- all of these actions are dehumanizing and done in our names. I'd argue we don't want to do the hard work of enacting comprehensive immigration reform because it's not in someone's interests: either people who benefit from the compliant illegal workforce desperate people provide or the political parties that benefit in elections from the emotional arguments about building walls or creating false visions of invading hordes.

  128. @Rosemary Galette Also apparently not in the interests of those who lump all immigrants together in order to garner the votes of those immigrant citizens who are here legally. President Trump rails against people breaking our laws, illegal immigrants, and those on their way here intent on breaking our laws. As far as birthright citizenship goes it is inconceivable to me that the authors of the 14th amendment meant to reward criminals by giving their offspring the most valuable of all things American.... citizenship.

  129. @Rosemary Galette Thanks for clarifying this so well! I was trying to think of a response to some of the comments that appear to have had a knee-jerk reaction to this essay and have misinterpreted the author's major point.

  130. So in this person’s mind, every single person south of the border who is living in horrible conditions has an absolute right to live in the United States. 1 billion people around the world want to come to America. Am I just like a slave master for not wanting to let all 1 billion in? Yep, according to this guy I am because I am forcing “people of color” to return to the horrifying conditions they are fleeing. The truth is, most of the non-white world is pretty horrifying and I can’t really help that. Logic suggest that if we could have made the non-white world more like the white world, it wouldn’t have already happened by now, given the several hundred years we colonized them. So literally all that can happen is them coming here and making this country worse. Don’t believe me? The top ten countries in terms of quality of life are all white countries plus Japan. Most of these white countries are European countries that never had slavery or much colonization. The worst quality of life countries are places like Guatemala and Hondorus. So you want to bring their horrible and low quality way of life here and the fact that I don’t makes me just a slave master who owned people as property? You are going to have to run that one by me again. Also, I am a slave master but the corporations who want the migrants here so that they can pay them nothing and work them like slaves aren’t slave masters? I think that your moral compass is a bit off.

  131. @Bob Unfortunately Bob you like a lot of your fellow patriots cling to the mythic belief that everybody in the world wants to live in the USA. Most of Europe does not want to - why give up their socially progressive countries, Canadians certainly do not want to and I would bet that citizens in Asia, Africa, South America and Australia do not want to. Why move from countries that believe in the future want to move to a country that under your present "leadership" seemingly longs for the "good old days"?

  132. @Bob...."So in this person’s mind, every single person south of the border who is living in horrible conditions has an absolute right to live in the United States"....No one should be permitted to enter the U.S. illegally. No one should be permitted to stay in the U.S. without proper documentation. But that does not justify using bigotry, hatred, and division to rally people to vote. Trump is unfit to be President and his supporters need to wake up and start acting like Americans.

  133. @Bob "Most of the non-white world is pretty horrifying"? Dude you need to get a passport and get out to see what lies just beyond our border and beyond. Maybe you will return with a different perspective. Sure there are some rough spots but also much wonder to be enjoyed if you can open a mind to accept that other cultures do some things differently.

  134. Nah, that struggle is over. The good guys lost.

  135. Keep in mind that what was thought to be “self evident” was “that all” white, Protestant “men” of property “are created equal.” That was then, and to today’s GOP, it is now again. That is why every Republican, of office high or low, needs to be voted out.

  136. As Paul's Epistle to Philemon shows, early Christianity spread among the slaves of the Roman Empire as well as among the free peoples. Likewise today the faith of those from south of thi Rio Grande is the same faith as Christians, especially Catholics, everywhere. WWJD? Yet, desparate to win at any cost, Trump and Fox News and his hangers-on deny rights to some, votes to many, and even identity to LGBTQ citizens. I am proud of those who vote to stop this miscarriage of the American Dream, and hold on to hope that the system our Founders created will rebound from even this. All People are Created Equal and entitled to Equal Justice Under Law. Love Thy Neighbor.

  137. Can any responsible democratic expouse that we should have open boarders and allow any person who wants to come to America to be a citizen? Therefore the immigration problem and slavery are different. Parts of the dynamics may be similar but the core issues are much different.

  138. @dave Refugees fleeing terror and desperate poverty inflicted upon them by the Republican-protected NRA-enabled gun running down from our Southern border, and drug consumption in the US, are entitled to a hearing, not to be put in cages and to have their children kidnapped. The millions spent on cruel treatment of these good people who aspire a better life for their family, could better be spent on stopping the flow of guns to their countries, and helping them to build their economies, which could provide a strong market for our goods in addition to letting them stay in their otherwise beautiful home countries.

  139. @dave Completely open border support is a fringe opinion and not the position of the Democraric party or most of its members. There is a huge amount of space between open boarders and shooting would be immigrants who throw stones at men with guns.

  140. @dave. this country was built by immigrants. But our history contains a repeated story: every time a group of immigrants arrives and settles here, they want to pull up the ladder to deny the next group. Typical sign in a New England Help Wanted sign, c. 1820: No Irish need apply

  141. Andrew Delbanco's review of American culture is well worth reading for anyone not already familiar with the main elements of that history. Understandably, given the present focus on those who want to enter the US from Mexico, Delbanco focuses on those seen as nonwhite. But the Trump administration also received Supreme Court approval of his banning asylum seekers on the basis of the country from which they come, including these where the population is predominantly Muslim: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. The Court accepted the Trump argument that he was not banning people on the basis of religion but rather because they might be terrorists. The US Census Bureau classifies people from all but Somalia as "white by law", a practice I can be sure is not accepted by American neo-Nazis or the euphemistically designated alt-White movement. The USCB actually considered bringing its archaic system "up-to-date" by creating a new "race", the MENA "race" including all people with roots in the Middle East and North Africa. This proposal was dropped after the CB saw that neo-Nazis strongly supported creation of MENA. I am considering writing to professor Delbanco to ask him if he would approve of the proposal by Kenneth Prewitt, former USCB Director, to end classification by race and ethnicity. We are all of the only race, the human. I can ask you, if you have read this, what your view is. Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com Citizen US SE

  142. @Larry Lundgren Sometime around 200,000 years ago early humans began to migrate off of the African continent into Europe, Asia and Siberia. Since then our ancestors have been constantly on the move, searching, it is supposed, for sustenance, shelter and safety. It is a testament to their intellect and tenacity that we, homo sapiens, are here today at all. We owe them all that we are. Our DNA, for better or worse, evolved from their eternal struggle for survival. Now our brothers and sisters are begging our assistance. They desire only what all humans desire. Life, liberty and the persuit of happiness. Do we turn them away? Someday it might well be us.

  143. Our two original sins—genocide of natives, then slavery—demand penance. Instead we march toward economic collapse, living far beyond our means. The irony in this is that the descendants of those we so wronged have further to fall, once we are a has-been superpower.

  144. The self-evident truth that all people deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a matter of common sense and conscience evolution that realizes what Thomas Paine stated, "Soon after I had published the pamphlet 'Common Sense' [on Feb. 14, 1776] in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion... The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." AMEN on that as amen literally means 'so be it'!

  145. Equating people who were enslaved prior to the Civil War with people who desire to immigrate to the US without the public's consent is a false equivalence. That our nation did allow for the enslavement of people was indeed dehumanizing and immoral. That our nation now wants to control the flow of immigration and to decide who is allowed to immigrate is completely justifiable.

  146. @Greg - We have laws governing application for asylum in this country. No one is saying throw open the borders and let everyone in. But we ARE saying we should follow the laws, and when asylum seekers come to the border, they should be able to apply to have their claim heard. They should NOT be greeted with armed troops at the border and turned away before they have a chance to make their legal claim.

  147. @GregEquating people who were enslaved prior to the Civil War with people who desire to immigrate to the US without the public's consent is a false equivalence. This, perhaps, is now the crux of the problem which is usually never stated outright. Should a person wanting to come into the United States and become a citizen by subject to the approval of the "public's consent?" I am in no way advocating open borders. I just question if it is the "public" who decides, or our laws. And which "public?" A state, city, neighborhood or North, South, Middle country? This seems to be Trump's underlying theory: his followers only want immigration from certain white rich countries. And Presidential decree is the decider. Just a question for thought---

  148. @MegWright....Neither should voters be urged to express bigotry, hatred, and division. Trump is unfit for office.

  149. Professor Ivory Tower gives a history lesson then jumps to an unsubstantiated claims that: "But if we’ve learned anything in the age of Trump, it’s that rights can also be constricted and rescinded. The self-evident truth that all people deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a long way from settled in the American mind. The question of who is considered fully human has returned with a vengeance." How so? Because many disagree with you that liberty & happiness = whatever you want it to be.

  150. @Bob How so? you ask? Try suggesting to most American Christians that Jesus (being middle- eastern) was not technically the very white man he's portrayed as in posters. Then step back...

  151. @Bob Professor Delbanco is an intelligent, rational, and informed man who has written an essay that is historically and currently accurate. The fact that you don’t like his conclusion in no way negates his valid point.

  152. @Bob Self appoint as everyone's moral leader Bob: how about you pick? You decide what constitutes happiness and right and wrong. We'll go along. I don't care if you pray or don't pray. You do care if I do or don't, and will force your beliefs on me, on all of us.

  153. I read history and there have been some excellent books published in the last years. Revolution Song looks at 5 people who were contemporaries of George Washington. At the end of our “revolution”, who had their freedom? Native Americans/, women, black people? I also finished “Bound for Canaan, a history of the Underground Railroad. Really, this was our precursor to women’s rights, civil rights, and worker’s rights. Harriet Tubman opened the door, and women stepped through the threshold to political action. We see these struggles repeated over and over. What kind of country do we want to be?

  154. @Joan And Quakers. Never forget the influence of the Society of Friends and other dissenting religious minorities who saw so much more clearly than the majorities with their vested interests.

  155. Why the vitriol from some of the conservatives here who disagree with the essay? Why not just say, slavery was horrible, but it's not the same thing as being against unrestricted illegal immigration? Even better, why not take it a step further and say, but I understand the author's concern that, in the current climate, some folks are being treated as less than fully equal humans, even if I may not agree with him? Would that be so hard?

  156. @Jim Norman separating families with little to no hope of reunification is indeed treating some as less than equal. We should be universally ashamed.

  157. @Jim Norman I was thinking, maybe we should always point out that there is no such thing as "unrestricted illegal immigration", whenever we see it mentioned. It's just a sick fantasy. But it's mentioned so often, as if it was a real option on the board, that pointing it out every time would be an endless project...

  158. When the founders held equality to be self evident they were of a small minority of enlightened citizens in the world. The country they started went on to great success under that credo. That alone ought to verify and validate the original concept. Not good enough for the modern American Republicans, they would gladly redact that phrase from our founding documents.

  159. Yes, people with black skin were considered "livestock" and treated like property. We've Come A Long Way, Baby! WE THE PEOPLE - the vast majority of Americans - agree with Martin Luther King's famous words - a man (person) is honored by the content of his (and her) character, not the color of their skin. Nor, I might add, their gender. Every single citizen in OUR United States of America has a vote as strong as the wealthiest people in OUR country. Democracy is NOT a spectator sport and WE can only be free and live the kinds of lives WE want to live if we VOTE intelligently - in every election. Get off the bench, Good People of America. Help preserve/restore true democracy in OUR America with YOUR vote.

  160. @njglea "Every single citizen in OUR United States of America has a vote as strong as the wealthiest people in OUR country. " Except in Georgia, apparently. And Kansas. And Ohio. And...

  161. In France: liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity). In Sweden: frihet, jämnlikhet, trygghet (liberty, equality, security). In America: liberty, with naiveté.

  162. If I dont agree with everything liberals say than I'm a racist. Now this article tells me that because of slavery I need to let everyone who wants to come to America in. If I want to control immigration in any way then I'm no better than a slave owner. Immigration and slavery 150 years ago are not related. It's like everything that ever happened in America is because of slavery. I never hear anything good about America from liberals, just how horrible we are and have been and evidently will continue to be no matter what. It's like to only goal liberals have is to ensure that white people get punished for the actions 150 years ago by ancestors most of us aren't related to. My family was a poor farming family who was hurt by slavery and the economic effects it had on people who didnt own slaves. They were disadvantaged and a lot of my family died young as a result. But liberals never allow that. To them my poor Irish ancestors were the same as the rich English slave owners. There is no separation. EVERY white person is evil. Will letting in 1 million refugees make up for the actions of my ancestors? No it wont. The argument then will be exactly the same. It will be the same if we let in 10 million refugees. It will be the same if we gave our jobs and houses to refugees. And how does immigration affect black peoples wages? Is having 10 million more Hispanic people in this country going to cause a better quality of life for black people?

  163. @Jacqueline...."Immigration and slavery 150 years ago are not related." ....But the use of bigotry and hatred to rally the Republican base is exactly the same. Ever hear of Dixiecrats? Ever wonder why the South is solidly Republican?

  164. @Jacqueline If you read the article again, you'll notice that a lot of it was in praise of Americans -- those fleeing from slavery, and the ones supporting those fleeing from slavery, the ones opposing the slave system and finally doing away with it. It sounds like your ancestors might well have been among those given credit for opposing slavery. I think if you look at the words of people like Delbanco, you will find plenty of recognition of the distinctions you put forward.

  165. Dear J from Colorado, Please think with me, and tell me how you and I can talk with each other to arrive at clear and respectful understandings of each other — and maybe even agree. Your reaction to this opinion column and my reaction were as if we had read two entirely different articles. I read nothing about allowing a large group of people enter and settle in this country. I read about how there are similarities between events in our country's past and events today. The columnist wrote of views of residents some years ago, former laws, and how societies acted during former times. I thought the columnist invited readers to compare past and present, to better understand current events. So, what's a good way for people with different reactions to an article to talk? From M from Florida (Note that we both come from states where a previous language had been Spanish. There must have been interesting events during the transition times to speaking English!)

  166. Umm. On the dark side of this soul searching, I sense that a majority of Americans want a gun. I say, "OK, but just one and not an automatic, and so long as you are not insane." Doubt that will help, but just suggesting.

  167. I know America is such a nasty place. Then why do so many Central Americans want to come here? And all the academics like this author want to remain in this country. It is a mystery to me.

  168. Easy question to answer: When desperate people have to choose between nastiness and being tortured, raped, starved, jailed, forced to join gangs, land no hope for their future, etc. they’ll choose to endure nastiness. More economic assistance, more encouragement for democractic lawmakers, and less support for authoritarian regimes would greatly reduce the influx of desperate people. Most of these folks don’t want to leave home, family, and friends. They leave because they’re desperate.

  169. @Californian--People want to come here because in spite of how "nasty" it is, it's still better than the places they are coming from. And, academics like Mr. Delbanco stay here because staying, trying to understand what makes us so nasty, and attempting to improve on that is what those who love their country do.

  170. @Californian - America is the nearest wealthy country available to them. They are people so desperate to escape terrible conditions in their own countries that they are attempting to walk over 1000 miles just for a chance at something better. The fact that this is a mystery to you is a mystery to me.

  171. "Apparently, the self-evident truth that all people deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is far from settled." Andrew, you sweet, gullible soul. People like you will be the death of us. Under Trump and his Republican minions it is far from evident that all people are people. There are some among us unworthy even of the lives God gave us. It is a clear, repeated, and deeply held belief on the Right. One they refuse to correct or disown.

  172. @oogada--Let's not forget that the the Supreme Court endorsed corporate personhood — holding that business firms have rights at least to religious freedom under federal law. Whether they can pursue happiness hasn't been settled yet, but we'll see what the future brings.

  173. @Ms. Pea One of the consequences, long established, of corporate personhood is that they can be sued as a corporation. Take away personhood and you will be suing the individual assembly line worker for your unsafe car.

  174. Wow. Thank you, Professor Delbanco.

  175. The US likes its high minded, noble sounding words but far too often fails to live up to them. What the Constitution really means is that all wealthy, white men are created equal. Women, darker skinned Americans and anyone else who they don't approve of, not so much.

  176. @Jim Dickinson....When Americans struggle to live up to the promise - that all men are created equal. That is when America is great

  177. We get it, slavery was a cruel system. Mr. Delbanco's erudition would seem to indicate that he would know that not only was & is slavery cruel in the first years of American history, but in any part of the world it was or is practiced. Cruelty has always gone hand in hand with any system of involuntary forced labor. Mr. Delbanco's erudition would further seem to indicate that he might know that impoverished white people in most European countries were not treated much better. You don't need to dig further than an episode of Poldark to learn that a man could hang for poaching a bird for his starving family in the early 19th C. Maybe liberals & their SJW troops should realize that they've won. Perhaps Trump voters or 'colonists,' as some call them, just want to tell people like those in the approaching caravan, grow up, fix your own problems. Stop asking Americans to do it for you.

  178. @C.H. Perhaps if America, and other first world nations (like mine) did not meddle so much when no one asks them to (remember the Contras? The ‘War on Drugs’? The United Fruit Company?), people would not ask for help when they really need certain extent the cause, isn’t it fair to ask that they take part in the solution? Canada, America, the rest of us wealthy nations really do owe a lttle something. Besides, imagining that we can stop the mass migrations of current days with anything less than tragic Pyrrhic violence is misguided—is that what we realy want?

  179. @C.H....."Perhaps Trump voters or 'colonists,' as some call them, just want to tell people like those in the approaching caravan, grow up, fix your own problems."....If that is true, then why don't they use those words? Seems to me they are more interested in selling bigotry, hatred, and division. And Trump is their cheerleader. If you are an American you need to wake up.

  180. @C.H. I’m reading all the responses however I’m not familiar with the phase “SJW” troops, please identify for my understanding. Thanks, Toby

  181. Our country has never shaken the stain of slavery. It sticks to our national character with no cleaning agent able to dissolve it. All the pundits thought, with the election of President Obama--that we were in a post-racial society---even Chief Justice Roberts proclaimed that racism was not an issue anymore. In fact, the election of a black President did the exact opposite---it awakened our racists sleeping dog---Admittedly, I did not predict we would elect an outright avowed racists---maybe a racists lite---but here we are---back to those dark days of reconstruction.

  182. Neither my enslaved black African American Georgia ancestors nor my free-person of color black African American South Carolina and Virginia ancestors ever lived a life that mattered as much as the lowest class caste white European American person. Being a physically identifiable color aka race inextricably intertwined caste and class in and among black African Americans. Unlike gender identity,national origin, ethnicity and faith there is no camouflage nor closet for color aka race in America. America defined color aka race as being one -drop aka 1/32nd of African blood ancestry. That was the difference between being black enslaved property and separate and unequal in America. Despite my genetic and historically documented white European, black African, brown Native and yellow Asian heritage, I am all and only black in America by historical convention. The biological DNA genetic evolutionary fit human reality is that there is one and only human race species that began in Africa 300, 000 years ago. Color is related to producing Vitamin D and protecting genes from damaging mutations due to varying levels of solar radiation at altitudes and latitudes in ecologically isolated human populations. Color is a malign socioeconomic political educational demographic historical white supremacist American myth meant to legally and morally justify black slavery and Jim Crow.

  183. Loved this reply. For me, it conjures up the silliness and dangerousness of the “23 and Me” movement. These genetic tracers only take you back so far, as if to deny our common African ancestors.

  184. @Blackmamba True. But, nature is cruel: Another genetic variant results in larger amygdalas in some brains which predisposes those to more fear, hence wildly different perceptions of "others". It's evolution's way of keeping things unsettled. Google "St Bartholomew's Day Massacre"

  185. In this brave new disenlightenment period we’re entering, “self evident” truth is a term to high fallutin for the common man. After exposure to endless equivalencies, “self evident” becomes less evident and thereby denatured. Your self evidence is now different than my self evidence, as competing narratives of truth polarize the public mindset .

  186. Some souls are deemed less worthy of rights. Problem using a 2,000 + year old book as your sole guide is that it does not take into account the progress of science. Sexual/gender identity are inborn as proven by science now - it's not a choice.

  187. @AG Thanks for the utterly gratuitous snark about the "2000 + year old book," as if the exact same "2000 + year old book" were not the primary inspiration for so many who laid down their lives in the cause of freedom and human dignity, and as if scientific progress had not played any kind of role in the terrifying efficiency of the Third Reich, in the wholesale death-dealing of the atomic bomb, and in the technology-enhanced capacity of humans in the anthropocene to destroy our own planet for the convenience and greed of the few. (Which destruction and economic injustice, by the way, the Bible repeatedly and utterly condemns.)

  188. @AG Y'mean "The Goatherders Guide To The Universe" ?

  189. Andrew Delbanco thank you for reminding us that direct actions against tyranny by masses of people are the things that cause laws to change. Nasty people have to think twice when confronted by a variety of methods that stop them in their tracks.

  190. Central Americans are fully human. But that does not entitle them to the rights and privileges of persons inside the United States. It is the difference between here, and there. No border. No country.

  191. @Frank You misunderstand or even purposefully misrepresent this essay. This article in no way argues for "no borders". This article challenges Americans to ask if our laws and policies actually uphold the very high standard set by the founders of this country. "All men are created equal" is a revolutionary stance for a nation. It is also, as our own history has shown, a very difficult standard to live up to. Obviously, no one argues for "no borders". The real question is how do we treat people who interact with our borders. Do we live up to our ideals? Or, do we fall short of the challenge of our Declaration of Independence?

  192. @SB:"Obviously, no one argues for "no borders". The real question is how do we treat people who interact with our borders. Do we live up to our ideals?" Interact at our borders - that means no crossing of it illegally. That means waiting your turn for asylum or entrance. Mexico can hold them until that occurs, since they accepted them in the first place. That doesn't mean if an illegal makes it far north of the border, manages to drive a car and work illegally they are granted any sort of amnesty. The interaction at the border is Obama "deportation" - they are turned around immediately and sent back across the border. Everyone is created equal and they can wait their turn.

  193. @Frankit does if they enter the country lawfully, by presenting themselves at the border and seeking asylum.

  194. An Excellent Piece. Thank you. Those most often quoted words of Thomas Jefferson, speaking of the highest ideals remains largely unfulfilled. The self evident truth that All Men Are Created Equal has consistently and repeatedly been ignored and derided.

  195. Excellent, very well presented historical argument for vigilance and persistence as we struggle, under the Age of Trump, to maintain the rights won over the last 150 years, birthright citizenship being one (how this is even an issue demonstrates how debasing the far-right has been to our national dialogue). Freedom. It is precious. Freedom to vote. To love and marry. To chose whether or not to have a child. To leave atrocious conditions and seek refuge. Vote Democrat this year to put a check on Trump's attack on decency, equality and freedom. Freedom, let's take the word back.

  196. No one should be permitted to enter the country illegally. No one should be permitted to stay without appropriate documentation. Everyone should be treated humanly. No one who spreads division and encourages bigotry is fit to be President of the United States. Republicans in Congress are apparently more concerned about being reelected than they are about upholding our country's values and founding principles. Vote.

  197. @W.A. Spitzer It's one thing to say "no one should be permitted to enter the country illegally", but having said that, it is crucial that the laws involved be made with profound awareness of the shameful years when we turned away refugees from Nazi terror, and the shameful years we restricted immigration based on ignorant racism. Our pride should be our openness to refugees and opportunity seekers of all sorts. Any restrictions should be in the nature of minimal administrative procedures.

  198. The long accepted narrative in the coverage of the present day SCOTUS is that the battle is between "originalists," i.e, seeking the intent of the Founders, and those advocating a "living" constitution. This focus misses an essential and fundamental element which this brilliant piece evokes. Our struggle today, and what animates those advocating for a return to originalism, derives much more from the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. The Civil War ended the shame of slave laws with the South's military surrender and the North passing the amendments, but Jim Crow re-established the old order and prevailed for another century. Brown v. Bd, the Civil Rts and Voting Rts Act and all that came after were not about the original amendments, they were about enforcing and extending the 13th, 14th and 15th. With courts and Congress taking those amendments seriously, the arc of history seemed to be bending closer to justice. The past 50 years have been about forces that seek to reverse those gains using the chimera of "originalism" and preserving white culture. They have mobilized with ferocity and have been scarily successful. Prof. Delbanco beautifully reminds us that this struggle will always be with us, but that the actions of those who mobilize against evil can succeed. Voting on Nov. 6 is no different than gathering before court houses and jails to save the values the words of the founders gave life to.

  199. There are about 3 million illegal immigrants living in the US who are not from Mexico, Central America, India, China, Korea or the Philippines. In other words, they are from primarily White countries--Europeans and Canadians, Australians, even Scandinavians. I have yet to read one account of ICE raiding a business and taking away a British or Canadian person who overstayed a visa. I personally have known three such illegal immigrants-one from Ireland and two from Britain. All three lived and worked in the US for many years with no fear of deportation. Trump's immigration policy is nothing but racist, and when he tells us that illegal immigrants are harmful to the nation he means non-White illegal immigrants. He has recently told us that he is proud to be a 'nationalist', and we know what that means. His immigration policies cannot be understood as anything but an attempt to protect the White culture of the US. Until I hear that Homeland Security's racist policies been rescinded and its attention turns to deporting people that live in the US illegally from every country I will not support Trump's immigration policies.

  200. Many of the same states that were crying to have their slave "property" counted as population and created the very un-American Electoral College, now want the descendants of those slaves that they wanted counted, no longer counted for voting. Conservative hypocrisy has come through the centuries. They cannot give up their racism, and Trump used it and the Electoral College to win.

  201. clearer every day: the Civil War has not really ended, even now, and many hope the South will rise again. Southerners and their descendents, as Nixon realized, have spread cross the country, concentrated in what are today's red states, and their objectives are little chaged: a white, Christian America made up of independent States banded together for the common defense, with tje landed white men of each State enabled to make and uphold the laws that benefit themselves exclusively. the Confederate sympathizers continue to fight. will the descendents of the Union? or, should we all just call it a day, dissolve the USA, and revert to the 1750s as so many seem to want?

  202. Reviewing America's tortured path through slavery and restrictions on citizen's rights is critical 3 days before this election. We can read this essay and take from it what our own hearts and minds tell us is the truth and vote accordingly. Prof Delbanco has lifted the level of discourse and, like a good teacher, given us one take on its meaning. You are free of course to find your own truth here. And if you write your point of view well enough, he'll give you a good grade. Just don't forget the woman with 2 children and a rough M brand on her face.

  203. I was dismayed that this piece didn't bring us into the modern, I guess the title was a bit misleading. America's greatest contribution to the entire world is probably the music that came out of this black experience- blues and jazz. You can argue whether rap and hip-hip belong, but their global influence is clear. Would like to see this mentioned more than another piece about slavery. Here in New Bedford, where slaves indeed found safety, the city's soul is still relevant in terms of diversity. A shared poverty so to speak of white and black and hispanic. But I hear that is changing. Re-pave the sidewalks and beautify the city so people in outside area won't bad-mouth it, and that will change. Anyways...

  204. A shocking history that every American should know and learn from it. Hopefully, history will not repeat itself.

  205. Mr. Delbanco says, “Who is — or isn’t — recognized as fully human?” I don’t see this as a question. Aren’t we all human? is the question.

  206. @Tracy Klinesteker Well then, since everyone on the glove is human, let's take in the whole human race if they want to come to the U.S. These kinds of arguments become idiotic. Why don't we solve our own problems of hunger and homelessness before inviting in the whole human race?

  207. In a weird kind of way it is encouraging to see how our country has tried to deal with and has survived our horrific past. I can't imagine how a civilized people could, as public policy, slaughter countless native people who inhabited the Americas; how a civilized people could enslave and then continue to denigrate an entire race of people. But survive we have, however imperfectly and battered our founding fathers ideals have been ignored and trampled upon. However hard sectors of our nation have tried and continue to try to foster hatred and fear of the less fortunate among us. How do people maintain, in defiance of everything moral and humane, their hatred? How can so many people demean themselves for the sake of hating a group of people they don't even know? And how can a nation that tolerates such immoral behavior maintain? Somehow the US does maintain. Is the US stronger for having survived our immoral past? I don't think so. I think these bouts with degrading our society weaken us. Weaker we may be but we still survive with the hope that maybe one day our better angels will rule. Unfortunately, it looks more and more like I will not be around to see it.

  208. We tend to think of things that happened and were happening 100/150 years ago as "history." When the modern version of the de-humanization of people is the subject of articles in the daily newspapers, the definition of "history" takes on a new meaning. The phrase "past as prologue" takes on a current modern significance as well.

  209. America, look and listen with your own eyes and ears. See and hear the present as it rhymes with the past. Our own politicians are once again questioning the full humanity of brown folk here and abroad. The merely deplorable is toying once more with the lies and violence of full blown fascism. The dark streets of the present echo with the marching boots of the Sturmabteilung and the broken glass of Kristallnacht.

  210. The struggle for America's Soul has been going on since July 4, 1776.

  211. The South has been on the wrong side of history, as long as there has been colonies in America. Why would now be any different? Twain was correct. "It rhymes."

  212. Tragic though it certainly is, it is also fitting that this nation is now dying on a cross of racism.

  213. This country has always been racist, as have all other countries. We rose above our racism with ideas.

  214. This is such a simple and yet profound statement of what is happening in our country. The screaming red-hatted mobs taking red meat from their "leader" and calling for incarceration and worse. Their innate bigotry given free reign by the man who manipulates them like marionettes. We are paying a heavy price for the compromises the founders made with evil to create this once-great nation.

  215. Every time Trump refers to the people who are walking through Mexico toward the U.S. Border as “the caravan” he denigrates them to “nobodiness” status. At no time does he acknowledge their circumstance, or the reasons they walked out of their country of birth with just the clothes on their backs. They are reduced to being invaders, criminals, mixed with “middle-easterners” just so Trump can whip his base up in to a frenzy. This is not about controlling immigration, (although that is Trump's mantra), it is about controlling the culture of your country.

  216. I see it like this. If you live in a nice house and there are starving people sitting on the sidewalk in front of your house, you’re under no legal obligation to feed them. You can even tell them not to dare cross your property line or you’ll forcibly expel them and you’ll be within your rights. That’s the United States dealing with the desperate people in the caravan. Meanwhile, every single day Colombia receives about the same number of refugees from Venezuela as are in that caravan, and somehow they manage to accept them, even though Colombia is a far smaller and poorer country than the United States is. The real question here is not what the United States must do in a strictly legal sense. Just as with fugitive slaves in the 19th century, the question is what type of human beings Americans truly are.

  217. This was a very moving and very apt piece. Apt for me, because today, this afternoon, I was having a nice conversation with a man in a hardware store. I suspected that he might be a Make America Great-ist, but he seemed friendly, so I decided to seek common ground. As we spoke we agreed that Americans just want to be free, and live their lives. Then he said this: "But, you take those Mexicans (sic) in that caravan. They just want to turn America into a 'Little Mexico'. I say just shoot 'em all. This is our country" My common ground turned quickly into quicksand. I didn't then, and don't now, know what I could have said. I think there are two kinds of people in this world...

  218. @Sera Tell him this: These people are coming to America because they believe that America is worth coming to. They admire what you, we - all of us - have been able to create. You should feel proud that they want to come here. Accept the hard work that they have to offer us. There is no need for you to be ashamed of your country, or fearful that you cannot live up to the expectations of those who want to come here. It’s American to think big. Don’t do yourself an injustice by thinking small.

  219. This is splendid writing with a stirring vision of the breadth of history. As Martin Luther King said, quoting Theodore Parker, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice". Please God that it may be true.

  220. Let them Secede, again. They will wither and DIE, without Blue State Welfare. Just like Kansas and Oklahoma, the logical endpoint of GOP governance. Seriously.