There is an awkward term used in academic circles to describe the application of contemporary moral standards to people who lived long ago. It’s called “presentism,” and it mercilessly subjects history and historical figures to contemporary social enlightenment. It is smug and self-satisfied and pats itself on the back for its own high-mindedness, but it is ignorant of context and erects impossibly high obstacles to which virtually no major figure can measure up. Certainly no one who had to endure the give-and-take of politics and the chore of dealing with people with whom they did not agree. Even the incomparable George Washington owned slaves. Perhaps the renaming of our capital should be the next target of the party leaders in the states where this cleansing ritual is taking place.
I don’t know who would buy tickets to the Elijah P. Lovejoy dinner. He was an admirable journalist who suffered for his advocacy of emancipation. John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, would probably make the cut, but he would inevitably be confused with his father, our second president.
The only prominent Americans of the 19th century with entirely clean hands in the matter of slavery are probably Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. And they were almost certainly not associated in any way with the Democratic Party, which, let’s face it, was then the party of slavery.