“Again and again in [United States] history, whites in the north and the south . . . compromised their differences by sacrificing the liberty of blacks.” Henry Clay was “universally” revered as the Great Compromiser. But, of course, these compromises ignored the wisdom of King David. Henry Clay was not paying the costs for the sacrifices his “compromises” required. (2 Samuel 24:21-24). Henry Clay wouldn’t even have considered a compromise that turned him and his family into slaves.
A story about King David used to puzzle me. But now I understand how David’s wisdom applies in our lives and in our civilizations.
In Ancient Israel, King David wanted to “build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” (2 Samuel 24:18). Araunah told him, “Let my Lord the king take whatever he wishes . . .. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and . . . wood.” (2 Samuel 24:22).
Araunah offered to “give[ ] all this to the king.” (24:23).
King David refused this generous offer. He told Araunah: “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24).
I used to think it foolish to turn down a chance to get someone else to pay for my sacrifices. But now I understand why it is wise that the person making a sacrifice pays the cost of the sacrifice—whether in money or in deeds.
This principle arises in common place situations such as letting my wife clean up after our meal, instead of me cleaning up after our meal.
This principle arises in environmental degradation such as a business letting people suffer from lead poisoning or air pollution or global warming, instead of the business paying the cost to prevent its pollution and to clean up the effects of its pollution.
This principle arises in the history of slavery and Jim Crow.
When I was being taught United States history, we learned about a series of compromises between the North and the South before the Civil War.
My teachers taught us that these compromises were good things.
But, of course, we were only taught the ways these compromises were good for white people. I do not remember ever being taught the ways these compromises were bad for slaves.
“Again and again in [United States] history, whites in the north and the south . . . compromised their differences by sacrificing the liberty of blacks.
In 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, whites compromised by permitting the slave trade to continue for at least another 20 years.
In 1820, whites compromised by permitting the South to add new slave states and by promising the North that slavery (and cheap black labor) wouldn’t spread to the North.
In 1850, whites compromised by agreeing that the North would increase its efforts to return runaway slaves to their masters in the South.”
In 1861, whites failed to compromise, leading to the bloody horrors of the Civil War.
This failure by the whites to compromise led to freedom for all the slaves.
This failure by the whites to compromise led to three amendments to the U.S. Constitution that guaranteed freedom for all people in the United States.
The 13th Amendment ended slavery.
The 14th Amendment ended racial discrimination by guaranteeing equal protection of the laws.
The 15th Amendment guaranteed the right of everyone to vote, including former slaves and all people of color.
But by 1876, whites again were compromising at the expense of people of color. The North agreed that Federal troops would no longer go into the South to enforce the 13th Amendment, the 14th Amendment, and the 15th Amendment.
The result for people of color was predictable. And devastating. Jim Crow!
People of color were exploited economically so that they were little better than slaves.
People of color were denied equal protection of the laws, resulting in:
—separate and inferior education; and
—separate and dehumanizing bathrooms, water fountains, diners, hotels, movie theaters, and bus seats.
People of color were denied the right to vote.
Normally, I am a big fan of compromises. What was wrong with these compromises about slavery and Jim Crow?
Substantively, no compromise can bargain away any human’s rights to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.
Procedurally, no compromise should adversely impact someone who was not included in the negotiations. In terms of King David’s wisdom 3,000 years ago, I should not let anyone pay the cost of my actions—whether the costs are expressed by money or by deeds.
I should talk with my wife before shirking my responsibilities around the house. I should reach a mutually agreed upon compromise with my wife before I implement any reduction in my tasks. For example, if I don’t clean up after our meal today, I could both cook our meal tomorrow and clean up afterwards.
If my business is hurting people with lead poisoning, air pollution, or global warming, my business needs to “negotiate” a compromise with those who my business is hurting. As a practical matter, this means that laws, regulations, and class action lawsuits must represent the interests of these hurting people. This includes the loss of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness:
—by children suffering and dying from lead poisoning;
—by people suffering and dying from asthma and lung cancer; and
—by unborn generations suffering and dying from climate catastrophes.
And, if our civilization is exploiting people, denying people equal protection of the laws, or denying people their right to vote, these people need to be included in any “negotiations” about securing their unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Henry Clay was a United States Senator from Kentucky. He played a key part in averting civil war by negotiating the Compromise of 1850. That was the year whites compromised by agreeing that the North would increase its efforts to return runaway slaves to their masters in the South.
Henry Clay was “universally” revered as the Great Compromiser.
But, of course, these compromises ignored the wisdom of King David. Henry Clay was not bearing the costs for the sacrifices his “compromises” required.
Henry Clay wouldn’t even have considered a “compromise“ that turned him and his family into slaves.
Henry Clay wouldn’t even have considered a “compromise” that:
—confiscated all his wealth;
—forced him to work for nothing;
—tortured him with whips;
—intimidated him with vicious dogs;
—raped his wife and daughters; and
—sold his wife and other members of his family to plantations where he never saw them again.
Nor would Henry Clay even have considered a “compromise” with the evils of Jim Crow, if he and his family were going to be victims of Jim Crow.
If you think about it, the Wisdom of King David is another way to express the Wisdom of the Law of Moses and the Prophets that Jesus fulfills (Matthew 5:17):
“Love your neighbor as yourself”. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:40).
“[I]n everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).
Or, as I like to put it: “In everything, do for others what you would want them to do for you.”
Pick up after the meal.
End lead poisoning, air pollution, and climate change.
End economic exploitation.
End the unequal protection of the laws.
End the denial of the right to vote.
To read more about how the unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness cannot be bargained or compromised away, please read my blogs “Building Houses on Rock: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and “Nationalism Is Patriotism Gone Astray”; and please read the chapter “The Declaration of Independence” in my book Visions of America (published together with Visions of the Church), at pages 28-30.
For the immense hypocrisy of the United States boasting about our freedoms while getting rich by exploiting slaves, please read the chapters “Frederick Douglass and Harriett Beecher Stowe” and “Sojourner Truth and Harriett Tubman” in my book Visions of America (published together with my book Visions of the Church), at pages 61-68).