I haven’t read the book and I know next to nothing about DeSantis but I’m going to guess that a guy with statewide and ultimately national political ambitions did not, in fact, author a book “justifying slavery.” And it’s telling that this canard has been repeated ad nauseam in left-wing media over the last few weeks, ultimately becoming a talking point for Andrew Gillum himself, with the alleged slavery-justifying passages in the book going almost entirely unquoted. Typically when a politician says something ridiculously inflammatory, the quote is reprinted everywhere to hang him with his own words. With DeSantis you’re asked to take it on faith that he’s guilty of what he’s been accused of. Gillum mentions it to Trevor Noah so casually and fleetingly that I almost don’t fault Noah for failing to challenge him on it. But for future reference: The next time a politician tells you his opponent supports slavery, you might want to pause and drill down for specifics.
On the Daily Show, Mayor Gillum falsely claimed DeSantis "authored a book justifying slavery." That section was edited out of the interview that aired on TV, but he did say it, as the clip below shows. pic.twitter.com/2oVOTL2MQx
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) October 30, 2018
One progressive outlet did see fit to directly quote the offending passage in DeSantis’s book. Brace yourself.
Frighteningly, DeSantis argues it was OK for slavery to remain legal in the 1780s because the U.S. Constitution was allegedly so smart and revolutionary that its positive provisions outweighed the part where it legalized enslavement, mass torture, and killing of kidnapped Africans.
In short, DeSantis believes approving one of the greatest atrocities in human history was fine because the rest of the Constitution was so good:
“This is why there was no real chance that the Convention would abolish the peculiar institution of slavery. Some of the notorious compromises that demonstrated a toleration of slavery, such as the ‘federal ratio,’ which allowed the slave-holding states to count 5 slaves as the equivalent of 3 free citizens (the free states did not want slaves counted at all because they did not want the political power of slave states to be enhanced), were even thought to be necessary to ensure ratification. Hamilton, a counselor to the New York Manumission Society, later lamented that without such a compromise “no union could possibly have been formed.” Similarly, Benjamin Franklin, who served as president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, declined to read a letter to the Convention delegates from the Society that denounced slavery on religious and republican grounds. Franklin did not want to derail the Convention by further inflaming the delegates over the issue of slavery, and believed that the United States could not last without a new federal government, for, as he wrote in his final Convention speech, “our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats.” For anti-slavery delegates like Hamilton and 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.”
Anti-slavery Founders made a Faustian bargain with the pro-slavery wing to bring them into the fledgling country. Get them to sign onto the Constitution by avoiding any immediate confrontation over slavery, the abolitionists calculated, and then hope that the new constitutional order would gradually and peacefully steer the practice into disuse. That calculation … did not work out, but it did make national union possible in 1787. That gamble was worth taking, DeSantis is saying, given that it ensured the formation of the United States and that slavery in the south would have gone on even if the southern states had refused to ratify a new, strictly abolitionist Constitution. If that amounts to DeSantis “justifying slavery,” you could claim by the same logic that Gillum and his progressive fans believe the United States should never have existed.
Which would be an awkward position to be in for a guy running to be governor of America’s most electorally important southern state and maybe someday president.
On the already long and still growing list of Gillum’s cheap race-baiting, I think this episode is instantly top five. It’s not quite as sweet as him insisting that questioning his ethics makes you something of a racist but it’s more entertaining than him insinuating that DeSantis calling him “Andrew” is some sort of racial putdown. American politics 2018, man: It’s demagogues all the way down.