Retired Duluth pastor David Tryggestad, in his commentary in the News Tribune on May 28 about unjust laws (Local View: “Humanity suffers from racist, unjust, immoral laws”), omitted historically relevant facts and advocated for what would amount to legal anarchy.
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, part of compromise measures of that year, merely reinforced a provision of the Constitution in Article IV, Section 2 which required the return of persons “held to Service or Labor,” any state law to the contrary notwithstanding. Without the original constitutional requirement, there may well have been no ratification of the compact. The so-called “liberty laws” attempted to nullify this provision, and the compromise measure required the federal government fulfill and execute this constitutional requirement. This was the origin of former Secretary of State Daniel Webster’s belief that in violating this provision of the Constitution, states were breaking the compact. Indeed, the breaking of this contract on one side was offered by southern states as one justification for their withdrawal from the Union.
Also, in pursuit of the chimera of equality, there is an oft-quoted misuse of the language in the Declaration of Independence asserting equality of creation, not equality of status. If this was not the case, why among the “crimes” of King George III was the attempt to create servile insurrection listed? Why were women not the legal equal of men? The answer is that the “men created equal” were the body politic, not the universal race or humanity. Through time, equality has been enlarged in its meaning, but this has occurred through legal action based on consensus of changing community standards.
The commentary’s final statement about the lack of immigrants in the South in 1850 may well be true. The complex factors that caused migrants to arrive and remain in eastern big cities are too many to enumerate, but clearly the lack of large urban centers to employ laborers was one of them. The ethnic homogeneity of the South may have been another. But how the disparity cited in the commentary caused a war resulting in 600,000 totally unnecessary deaths was not explained. Diversity does not inherently bestow strength.
The idea of every man’s conscience dictating his actions did not emerge until the Reformation. The effect and logical consequence of that change became apparent in time and often has led to violence, continuing to this day. For example, John Brown’s raid in Virginia, denounced by Congress at the time as criminal not only in what was done but also for the larger purpose envisioned, was such an act of conscience. The zeal of opponents of abortion that caused them to murder doctors who perform them is another example. When private conscience asserts a duty to disobey the law, we have government not of law but of men. In short, we have anarchy.
I am not sure from where the theory of “psychic violence” was derived, but it appears similar to the idea of a new right — that is, the right not to be offended by another’s actions, speech, or even public monuments. Aside from the obvious conflict with the guaranty of free speech, it is unclear how this can operate in such a large and diverse society.
It clearly was the commentary’s view that those who espouse the concept of a nation of laws are “(shielding) their fear and prejudice, to assuage their moral cowardice,” as was written.
Yes, we were a nation of laws in 1850, and at least in theory we remain so today. “With laws the land is built up” is an old Scandinavian proverb, as valid now as in the Middle Ages. Without law as our guide, when the winds of violent conflict blow, no man will be able to stand.
Laws may be imperfect, and democracy itself is a system fraught with conflict; but as consensus changes, laws change. There can be protest, there can be advocacy for change, but what there cannot be is disobedience of law.