Florida GOP candidate for governor made excuses for slavery in anti-Obama book

Florida gubernatorial nominee can't stop dog-whistling, even if this latest example is several years old

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 11, 2018 6:00AM (EDT)

Ron DeSantis (Getty/Drew Angerer)
Ron DeSantis (Getty/Drew Angerer)

Republican Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis' little-read 2011 book "Dreams From Our Founding Fathers" included a bizarre defense of slavery in the U.S. Constitution.

The political-opposition research group American Bridge highlighted portions of DeSantis' book, which was aimed at then-President Barack Obama, who the former Florida congressman implied was a secret Marxist with “Muslim roots.”

The book includes a section in which DeSantis takes issue with former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the high court, for calling the founding fathers hypocritical because they formed a “free” state that allowed slavery.

DeSantis claimed that Marshall's comments were “misguided from the start” and “miss the mark.” He argued that it was unfair to criticize the founders for keeping slavery legal because they designed the Constitution in a way such that slavery was eventually “designed to fail.”

He argued that the infamous "three-fifths compromise" – which counted black people as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of Congressional representation – actually “benefited anti-slavery states.” This is historically false.

In reality, the deal allowed slave-owning states to have more congressional representation despite not allowing black people to vote. States where slavery was forbidden got nothing out of the “compromise.”

DeSantis went on to argue that the Founders were correct to allow slavery in the Constitution because “there was no real chance” it would be abolished at the Constitutional Convention.

“For anti-slavery delegates like [Alexander] Hamilton and [Benjamin] Franklin, abolition of slavery would be a moot point if a failure to erect a functioning government snuffed out the ideals of the American Revolution in their infancy; then, the future of all Americans, the free as well as the slave, would eventually be as serfs to a despotic government,” he wrote.

DeSantis is far from alone in the Republican Party in his whitewashing of slavery. His argument echoes conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, who received a pardon from President Donald Trump earlier this year after he pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions.

“The three-fifths laws was about slavery, and it had to do with an argument between the North and the South over representation,” he said in an appearance on Fox News. “Ironically, the North, which was the anti-slavery side, wanted blacks to count for zero because they wanted to reduce the representative power of the slave states. The South wanted blacks to count for a full person. So the three-fifths law, which was usually presented to show that the founders didn't consider blacks to be fully human, doesn't actually show that at all."

As actual historian Mike Duncan points out, this is a horribly bad faith argument.

“The South wanted enslaved Africans counted as persons AFTER it was decided population would be the basis of political representation,” he wrote. “But remember, there was a period where it seemed like WEALTH might be the basis. At that point, the South wanted them all counted as property.”

Other Republicans have also downplayed the evils of slavery in recent months.

Former Alabama U.S. Senate candidate and state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore said at a rally last year that the last time America was “great” was during slavery.

“I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another,” Moore told a black audience member, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In a speech to his staff last year, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson called slaves “immigrants” who came to the country on “slave ships.”

“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,’’ he said. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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