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High horse and high court


If you run the phrase "high horse" through any online search engine you will get a fairly consistent definition: a haughty attitude or temper; a contemptuous manner. These are not flattering words. No sane person would want to be the recipient of another person belittling them with, "Get off your high horse and deal with the facts!" Few among us would want to be accused of such ignorance and arrogance. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence starts: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men 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." Here is a lesson about one man who was closer to the tail of a horse and another who so righteously called him out on it over a century later. Upwards of 617,750 Americans died during the Civil War. Slavery was the prime reason for this epic struggle. Many families and communities were destroyed in the process. The framers of the U.S. Constitution had ensured that slavery would not continue in perpetuity by substituting the phrase "pursuit of happiness" for "property." Additionally, on March 2, 1807, President Thomas Jefferson signed into law: "An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States." These were forceful steps taken to permanently end the practice of "owning" another human being. President Lincoln, a Republican, signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the third year of the Civil War. This historic document infused the Union Army with a moral certitude that helped to assure not only their victory, but also the victory of the country in ending slavery. This allowed for an interesting juxtaposition in which almost 200,000 former slaves, who were freed, joined the Union Army and then freed others. As with many bold turning points in history, numerous challenges awaited. The period of time following the ending of the war, known as Reconstruction, was especially vitriolic and violent. This is where we learn about Benjamin Tillman. Tillman was a self-avowed white supremacist. He fought in the Confederate army and upon the ending of the war carried out acts of terrorism, which undermined South Carolina's reconstruction governmental apparatus. He was a Democrat who served South Carolina as both governor and United States senator. He was instrumental in adopting Jim Crow laws in the state and preventing blacks from voting. One concept that was a threat to his ideology was the money being donated to opposing candidates by out of state businesses. These corporations were supportive of those who did not believe in racist policies. Benjamin Tillman proposed the Tillman Act of 1907. This barred banks and corporations from donating money to candidates. This effectively assured one party dominance of South Carolina for decades. On February 5, 2010, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was speaking to a group of law students in Florida about Citizens United v. FEC which was decided on Jan. 21, here is a portion of what he said: "Go back and read why Tillman introduced that legislation," Justice Thomas said, referring to Senator Benjamin Tillman. "Tillman was from South Carolina, and as I hear the story he was concerned that the corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward blacks and he felt that there was a need to regulate them." It is thus a mistake to applaud the regulation of corporate speech as "some sort of beatific action." (I had to look up the definition of beatific for myself and this is what I found: showing or producing exalted joy.) Last week, many ideologues reported that corporations did not have a right to free speech or to contribute to elections. In perhaps the ultimate high horse hypocrisy, some were reporters of news corporations, which have an exemption to this type of legislation! It would be wise to reflect upon the reason for the Tillman Act in the first place. Please stop using legislation and regulations to stifle free speech. Truth and wisdom will prevail; they always do. Thank you, Justice Thomas, for explaining the majority opinion of the "high court," the United States Supreme Court. (Rick Dow, his wife and three children live in Havre.)


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