James and Shawn (jbhicks) wrote,
James and Shawn

The First Drafts of American History, NYT

There is a good article by Adam Kirsch at the New York Times juxtaposing the new flava Mark Twain Classic "Huckleberry Finn" with the timid recitation of the Constitution in the House.

If the reading was meant to be a win for originalism, however, it stumbled out of the gate, over the text of Article I, Section 2. This deals with the apportionment of House seats among the states, which is said to be based on “the whole number of free persons” and “three-fifths of all other persons.” Rather than draw attention to this infamous euphemism for slaves, the Congressional readers decided to omit those portions, on the grounds that they had been superseded by the 14th Amendment.

It just so happened this conspicuous omission came days after a small publisher, NewSouth Books, announced a new edition of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” that will replace its uses of the word “nigger” with “slave.” Here, again, was a historic text clashing with contemporary sensibilities, and forced to submit.

Taken together, the two cases show the comedy of euphemism: trying to distract us from something ugly only makes the ugliness harder to miss. To the book’s new editor, the Twain scholar Alan Gribben, “slave” is less offensive than “nigger”; to the Constitution’s drafters, “all other persons” was less offensive than “slave.” By refusing to utter even that legalism, the House showed that euphemism can end only in embarrassed silence.

Perhaps Gribben should replace "slave" with "all other persons."

Read "The First Drafts of American History" at NYT.

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