Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 3432, the bill to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the U.S. slave trade, by unanimous consent.

However, before the bill was passed, Sen.Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) objected to funding the commission, and so the bill’s authorization for funding was stripped out. Therefore, if the amended version is passed by the House, which passed the original legislation in October, the commission and the activities established by the bill cannot be funded.

Update: On January 22, the House agreed to the amended version of the bill, without the authorization of funds, after passionate remarks in favor of the bill by Reps. Payne, Poe, and Jackson-Lee.

6 Responses to “Status of H.R. 3432”

  1. The Other Mike S says:


    Thanks for stopping by my blog today. I have a couple of questions, if you don't mind, on this slavery topic.

    I checked out the summary for HR 3432. Help me understand how anyone in America could be helped by spending money on this commission.

    Even our most rudimentary civics classes cover slavery in great detail. I don't know of anywhere in our country where slavery is thought to be a good thing. In fact, it is universally despised.

    We don't need some new commission for this.

    Their last item of raising awareness of slavery around the world is not a job of the US Federal government. Their powers are very clearly delineated in the Constitution, and Raising Slavery Awareness in America, let alone around the world, is not one of them.

    This is an issue for the private sector. Have you spoken with the NAACP? This would seem to be a natural for them, yet I can find nothing whatsoever on slavery on their web site.

    Again, thanks for dropping by. I look forward to your input on other issues and posts.

  2. James says:

    Thanks for taking the time to engage with me, Mike, on an issue where you obviously see things a little differently.

    I agree that our schools generally teach that slavery was an evil institution, and I once assumed that everyone learned its scope, as well. But I now know, from extensive experience, that many people in this country say that they didn't realize that the north was fully engaged in slavery and the slave trade, or how important slavery was to building this nation and its economy, or how directly the legacy of slavery and discrimination affected the status of blacks in this country today.

    But this puts an entirely negative spin on the meaning of the bicentennial. We have commissions to commemorate many important events in U.S. history. Why not the moment when the U.S. took a leading role, along with Great Britain, in ending the transatlantic slave trade? This action helped to bring about the end of slavery in most of the world, and is generally recognized as being a formative event in the development of international human rights norms and practices. The U.K., by comparison, has spent a great deal of money on commemorating the bicentennial, which has been taught this year in schools, debated at conferences and public events, and recognized at ceremonies involving the queen and prime minister, among other public figures.

    I don't think we really need to debate here the constitutional powers of the federal government, which are widely understood to encompass, at a minimum, public education about the activities of the federal government itself. As for the private sector, I agree that the most appropriate entities to address this issue would be private civic, educational, and service organizations. But I'm not sure why the NAACP, with its stated mission, would be the most natural choice.



  3. The Other Mike S says:

    Yeah, I guess we'll just agree to disagree.

    The federal government is restricted in its powers by the Constitution. The Tenth amendment makes it very clear that if it's not specifically granted a power or an authority, the power or authority is granted to the states or the people.

    In practice, this has been bastardized, and our country is literally paying the price.

    Regarding why the NAACP would be the natural choice to head up a private celebration seems clear to me: Their status as the preeminent black-rights organization.

    Who would you suggest?

  4. James says:

    Mike, it's true that the powers of the federal government, as enumerated in the Constitution, have been interpreted far more liberally in recent generations than they would have been in the time of the founders.

    But if we want to explore that issue, there are far more important abuses of the Tenth Amendment than federal efforts to inform the public of important historical events in our nation's history. I do have to wonder why you're raising that issue here, in connection with such obviously innocuous legislation, and not simply shrugging at this one example and focusing on the larger problem or more harmful examples.

    As for the NAACP, this isn't an issue of black rights. This is about an historical event that took place 200 years ago, with broad implications for the development of the nation, for the global economy and for international legal standards and practices surrounding human rights and trade issues. Blacks in the U.S. weren't freed by the abolition of the slave trade, would remain in bondage for more than half a century longer, and wouldn't achieve even legal equality for a century and a half.

    I would suggest that in addition to the national and state governments, and historical and civic organizations, the proper organizations to lead this effort would be those institutions which benefited from the slave trade two centuries ago and which still exist today. They are, in many ways, well-positioned to speak of the pervasive impact of the slave trade and the significance of its disappearance from history.



  5. The Other Mike S says:

    Interesting perspective on unconstitutional activities.

    I raised it in this discussion because this type of behavior by our elected officials has become the norm.

    From my perspective, when you stay silent on the small stuff, it is easier for the big stuff to get through. We become numbed to the abuses, label them 'innocuous' and move further away from the law.

    If you want the fed to be able to constitutionally erect 'feel good' or historical or self-flagellation committees, get an amendment to the constitution passed.

    Hmmm. I find it odd that you say this isn't an issue of black rights so the NAACP needn't spearhead this effort, then you go on to list all of the civil rights abuses… done to blacks.

    I guess we'll have to continue to disagree on who should be involved in this issue. It is not the function of any governmental body to provide history lessons to its citizenry. That's why we have schools and civic organizations.

  6. James says:

    If you want the fed to be able to constitutionally erect ‘feel good’ or historical or self-flagellation committees, get an amendment to the constitution passed.

    I guess I just don't see how these governmental powers aren't already available to Congress, without the need for an amendment.

    For instance, you suggest that the bicentennial is fundamentally a matter of "black rights." That's not unreasonable, so let's run with your approach. In that case, the 14th Amendment provides protections for all citizens on the basis of race (among other distinctions), and specifically grants Congress the "power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

    That phrasing is standard in the Constitution, as you're probably aware, and is intended to grant Congress the power to legislate broadly in a particular area to support the purposes of particular provisions.

    So, under established Supreme Court precedents, if this program of education about the abolition of the slave trade serves the cause of "black rights," then it would fall under Congress' power in section 5 of the 14th Amendment.

    Whether commemorating this historical event amounts to nothing more than "feel good" activity, or to self-flagellation, and therefore whether Congress ought to have passed H.R. 3432, is another matter.

    you go on to list all of the civil rights abuses… done to blacks.

    Interesting. I didn't think of the abuses I listed — slavery, and the period of official discrimination and Jim Crow laws — as related to contemporary civil rights concerns. Perhaps I should have, but I find it interesting that you still think of this as primarily an issue of "black rights," despite the fact that I also listed other major consequences of the abolition of the slave trade, which were unrelated to black Americans.

    It is not the function of any governmental body to provide history lessons to its citizenry. That’s why we have schools and civic organizations.

    You've referred repeatedly to leaving the teaching of history to the private sector, and keeping the government out of that activity. And I've said that I'm sympathetic to that leaning.

    But most history education in this country takes place in public schools, does it not? Those are governmental bodies, so it seems to me as though our government is inextricably caught up in the teaching of history. I think the issue is whether the history will be taught well or poorly, whether it will be balanced or biased, etc. And I've found that many Americans learned this history well in school, while others say that much of it is actually new to them, and changes their thinking about history and our society today.

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