This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. And one of the things we love to do on this show is tell stories about our great American history.
Up next, a story courtesy of Vince Benedetto, founder, president and CEO of Bold Gold Media Group, on a story that he and I wrote together for Newsweek. It's entitled Lincoln's Greatest Speech Americans Have Never Heard. And the speech that we're talking about is the Cooper Union speech given on February 27, 1860, a critical point in America's history from before Lincoln was president or even on the radar of being one.
Without further delay, here's Vince with the story. It was early winter in 1860, and the country was at an inflection point that makes today's division seem trivial. It wasn't merely slavery that was on trial. Not quite two decades shy of our first centennial, the founding fathers vision itself hung in the balance. A growing segment of America's population were claiming that the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were fighting to advance the lives of only white men. The founders, a growing chorus of revisionists maintained, had no room in this new nation for black people. But one man took it upon himself to write the definitive response to these long simmering claims.
Though the world knows his Gettysburg address, it was Abraham Lincoln's speech at a new technical college in New York City that helped propel him to national prominence. In the mid 19th century, a large number of Americans, particularly those in the southern states, advanced an argument that our founding fathers never intended to end slavery or provide equality to anyone other than those born with white skin. They also accused Americans in favor of restricting or abolishing slavery of betraying the founders intention. Lincoln knew both of those claims to be false and set about proving it in his Cooper Union address.
His challenge was daunting because the founding fathers were themselves a large group of individuals with divergent views. Could we truly know their intentions regarding slavery and race? If they wanted to exclude black people, they surely would have written or said as much. If Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote the sacred words, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
Meant for only those words to apply to just white men? Why didn't he write it that way? Lincoln knew Jefferson was a man of precision when it came to choosing his words. So much so that Lincoln, in 1859, said this of Jefferson and the Declaration. All honor to Jefferson, to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth applicable to all men in all times, and so to embalm it there that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression. Lincoln understood that if the Declaration's only purpose was to make the case for separation from England, it didn't require the bold language of liberty and equality in its preamble.
It could have simply listed the grievances against the tyrannical king. Even prior, in 1857, Lincoln in his condemnation of the Supreme Court's infamous Dred Scott decision wrote this about the founders' intentions. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them.
In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all and revered by all, constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere. Far from being hypocrites, Lincoln believed our founders were forward-thinking visionaries. With all of that as background, Lincoln began his address by asking a question.
Who were our fathers who framed the Constitution? He then went about building an airtight case in defense of the founders, using a tool he'd used as a prominent trial lawyer, evidence. Lincoln prepared for months, with his primary source being Jonathan Elliott's multi-volume Debates on the Federal Constitution.
He scoured the official record of the proceedings of Congress. Like a detective, Lincoln followed the founders' actions to determine whether, after they affixed their names to parchment, they endeavored to limit or abolish slavery, or contribute to its preservation and expansion. He started by taking the audience back to 1784, to life under the Articles of Confederation, three years before the Constitutional Convention. The issue at hand was land in possession of the federal government known as the Northwestern Territory. And you've been listening to Vince Benedetto giving a rendering of the story we wrote about the Cooper Union address that Lincoln delivered in 1860 in New York at the aforementioned technical college that had literally just been minted.
He didn't give this speech at Columbia or Harvard or Yale, but the new forward-thinking university dedicated to technology by the industrialist Peter Cooper. When we come back, what happens next? What is Lincoln's case? What is the case for the founders?
The real case? We'll find out more here on Our American Story. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.
Go to hillsdale.edu to learn more. And we continue with Our American Stories and the story of Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union speech, a speech which more Americans should know about. And that's why we're telling this story.
Indeed, it's why this show exists. Telling the story is Vince Benedetto, the founder, president, and CEO of Bold Gold Media Group from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Vince is also an Air Force Academy graduate. When we last left off, Vince was telling us about Lincoln's desire to present the founders as forward-thinking visionaries on the question of slavery, rather than, as some were saying, wrong about the fact that all men were created equal. Let's return to the story.
Here again is Vince Benedetto. He started by taking the audience back to 1784 to life under the Articles of Confederation three years before the Constitutional Convention. The issue at hand was land in possession of the federal government known as the Northwestern Territory. Four of the eventual signers of the Constitution were present, and three of the four voted to prohibit slavery in the new territory.
In their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in federal territory. Three years later, the issue again came before the Confederation Congress. Two more of the eventual signers of the future Constitution were present.
Both voted to prevent slavery in the Northwest Territory. Soon afterward, during the first Congress under our new Constitution, Jordan reveals... The bill for this act was reported by one of the 39, Thomas Fitzsimmons, then a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.
It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and finally passed both branches without yeas and nays, which is equivalent to a unanimous passage. In this Congress, there were 16 of the 39 fathers who framed the original Constitution. George Washington, another one of the 39, was then President of the United States and, as such, approved and signed the bill.
During Jefferson's presidency, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 was a big deal. Two constitutional signers, Lincoln noted, were present in that Congress as the government further restricted slavery. Lincoln moved to the Missouri Question of 1819 and 1820 with two signers of the Constitution in Congress. One voted to prohibit slavery and one voted against prohibition. By Lincoln's calculations, 23 of the 39 signers of the Constitution had a voting record on the issue of slavery. Of the 23, 21, an overwhelming majority, voted to prohibit or limit the expansion of slavery. Of the remaining 16 signers with no voting record, Lincoln's research revealed strong anti-slavery sentiments. If we should look into their acts and declarations on those other phrases as the foreign slave trade and the morality and policy of slavery generally, it would appear to us that on the direct question of federal control of slavery in federal territories, the 16, if they had acted at all, would probably have acted just as the 23 did. Among that 16 were several of the most noted anti-slavery men of those times, is Dr. Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris. Well, there was not one known to have been otherwise unless it may be John Rutledge of South Carolina.
Lincoln was just getting started. But what about the argument that preventing slavery violated slave owners' property rights under the Fifth Amendment or the rights of states under the Tenth? Lincoln's argument was devastating.
It is surely safe to assume that the 39 framers of the original Constitution and the 76 members of Congress, which framed the amendments thereto, taken together to certainly include those who may be fairly called our fathers who framed the government under which we live. In so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever in his whole life declared that in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority or any part of the Constitution, forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. Lincoln, with those words, destroyed the notion that our founders intended for slavery to expand in America.
Further, the notion that they did not intend for the federal government to use its power under the Constitution to prevent such expansion was false. A Congress that voted concurrently to prevent slavery in the new lands of America and for the Bill of Rights decimated the Southerners' claims. Lincoln demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that our founders attacked slavery as a moral wrong. Neither the word slave or slavery is to be found in the Constitution, nor the word property even, in any connection with the language alluding to the things slave or slavery.
This was done intentionally, Lincoln noted, to exclude from the Constitution the idea that there could be property in man. Though a product of compromises and consensus, Lincoln surmised the Constitution and the Declaration were designed to be great freedom documents and weapons against tyranny. A great 20th century visionary concurred with Lincoln. On July 4, 1965, a Southern preacher delivered an important sermon in his home church in Atlanta.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he preached, "...never before in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality." We can and should debate how we apply the founders' vision to our modern society, but for anyone interested in the founders' intention on slavery and race, read Lincoln's Cooper Union Address. The man who prosecuted the war with the Southern States and emancipated the slaves made the most authoritative case in American history.
It remains as true today as it was when he made it in 1860. And that is why Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Address is his greatest speech that Americans have never heard. It's the speech that made Lincoln president. It's the speech that saved America once.
And it's the speech that can save us again. And a terrific job on the editing, production, and storytelling by Monty Montgomery. And a special thanks to Vince Benedetto, the founder, president, and CEO of Bold Gold Media Group from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And he's also an Air Force Academy graduate. And no, not a PhD in history, knows as much about history as any PhD and has a passion for this material. And a special thanks to Newsweek for allowing us to perform the piece that Vince and I wrote there. It's available at newsweek.com. And by the way, all of our histories are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College who teach all the things that matter in life and all the things that are good in life.
And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses. Indeed, I learned more about the Constitution taking their Constitution 101 course than I did with three years at the University of Virginia School of Law. It is that good. Every family, every kid in this country should know the story of the Constitution. And of course, the Cooper Union speech says it all, debunking the argument that our founders, even in contextual history, were for slavery.
It's simply not true. The story of Lincoln's Cooper Union speech here on Our American Story. And we continue with Our American Stories. Our next story comes to us from a mother of two living in Virginia, but it begins far from there.
Let's take a listen. I am Maryam Ibrahim. I was born on November 3rd in 1987 in a refugee camp in the city of Qadarif from Sudan. My mother flee war from Ethiopia when she's 10 years old with her sister. They lost all their families and they are the only survived member of the family. And they settled in a refugee's camp. When my mom was 16, she met with my father and they got married. My father originally from Darfur. The background of the story is that he killed a man from a different tribe, but the man is an honor killing because the man is in a relationship with my aunt, my father's younger sister.
So my father find out about them they meet and know each other. So he gets so angry and he went on and killed a man. And when he came to this faraway area just to hide because the other family are seeking revenge.
So that's why he met with my mom. Later after my youngest sister was born, the situation get really very bad. I remember lots of the fight where she'd been beaten and when we came, my father and I went in the middle to stop the fighting.
We're beaten also. So he left and they got divorced. We decided to move from the refugee's camp. I always have many question about my father's family. When we moved to that place, she have to change our last name and everything because I didn't know this until later on the time that I always question her like, why you don't want us to know my daddy's family? Why you don't want us to be connected to them?
So she run that actually for our protection. So we moved to that city and it's actually a lot of Muslims groups in that area. So I have my youngest brother, his name is Hassan and the younger sister. So my brother was totally different than my mom and I because he's extreme Muslim. And then when we moved to the big city, he really fell to the trap of the imams. My mom was really upset for him. Like if she ever tried like to stop him or do she get immediate, get killed. So she tried her best to convince him.
I did try my best, but he didn't help. So in Sudan and many Muslim countries, all students, no matter what's your religion, do you have to pass those four subject, Arabic, English, math, and Islamic study. Islamic study include study Agira, Quran, and Sunnah. Quran, you study Quran full Quran, okay? You memorize the scripture.
Sunnah about the life of Muhammad and then Agira about the life of the Sahaba and how we supposed to do married in business. And they have a structure for everything you do. Even the way like use the bathroom, marriage, the way you communicate with unbeliever, the way you do a wall, the way you do business with bank account, managing money, everything.
So we have to do that. Like I have all the knowledge about Quran. And then in that situation, I was targeted by my teachers because we are Christian and I sitting next to Muslim student and you hear the teacher, you know, say it louder and you have to repeat after her the verses that are saying how to treat the unbeliever and how God will punish them and how bad they are, you know, how they go to hell. And it was like, I don't want to repeat after her. So they start like talking to me.
No, you have to follow this. You have to say this because Allah said and Muhammad said, and I just don't want it. Like I don't want it. The same time when I come home, I tell my mom that, Oh no, don't do that. They're going to kill you.
That's what my mom would say. And I'm like, I have seen these people always respond to the aggressive behavior of imams and Muslims and leaders. They respond from the religious minority is that we got to do what they want to be in peace. Like that is in peace, that's weakness.
And I always argue with them. So close to my graduation, I lost my sister first. And then few months later, my mom passed away. She had a restaurant on the highway between the city of Galabat border and Gadarif. And one of the things she does, she helped.
There's a lot of human traffic and smuggling in that area. And one of the things my mom did is when the smuggler bring in those girls, she questioned them. She sees them like nine, 10 years old. So she, when she questioned them, she offered them help if you needed help. So, and she went on a report that, but the corrupt officers went on and told the smuggler, this woman, you have to be careful about this one because she started talking to the girls you guys bring in girls and boys. So I get to know her. She was not, there was an accident as I was told it was.
Yeah. So the, now here, my mom died and spend a lot of time with Zenons. I get to know my, my sister-in-law she's in a wheelchair and my priest would like you, Mary, I'm the only person I would trust. So that's how we became friends.
And then I get to know her brother. I get married to him. So after I have my oldest, my first child, when I, my husband left, he was in, he live in the United States.
So come on, go to Sudan. So after our marriage, he, he came to United States and I was, he left me pregnant with our first child. So I started my own business that my mom left a farming land and she left the house and she left some saving for me. So I used that and I started business. I sold her restaurant.
I did very well on that. And then out of the sudden, I, my husband also went back to Sudan at that time. My son was crawling. And then I started receiving this phone call about family members that are looking for me. And then we come from them to police.
See the phone call, have to go to the police station. Question, this is your family and they want you back. And I'm like, that's why my mom always not wanted me to connect with you guys. So, and I find out they know where I live and everything. I'm like, why don't you guys come and lock my door because we know you're living a wrong life.
So what do you mean? Because we know you go to church and you're married to Christi. And I'm holding my son. I told the officer, I have a family of my own now.
Why are they? That's not family. It's family don't bring their daughter to the police station. So he said, no, this is their family and they want you to back. And they are right. The officer said they are right because if you're their daughter, your father's a Muslim, you're not supposed to be living this life. So you break too many laws. I said, really? I'm like, who did they kill? Who did they hurt? So I'm like building a business is that providing jobs for many people, including even like refugee people in that area.
So like, no, you are committing adultery. When you've been listening to Miriam Ibrahim share her story of life in Sudan before he came to America to live in Virginia. When we come back more of this remarkable story here on Our American Stories. And we continue with Our American Stories and with Miriam Ibrahim's story. And so many millions of Americans end up at our shores suffering from some type of persecution, religious or otherwise.
Let's pick up where we last left off with Miriam and her story. So September 2013, go in back to court every day, just question who you are. They say their name, Muslim name. And I say my Christian name. And I say I'm Christian. They said she's a Muslim. So the judge wanted me just to say, accept what they said. And, you know, I said, okay, you're Muslim. Go to your family. I said, what's what's going to happen to my children, my child.
At the time, I didn't know I was pregnant. So my child, we have to go see the orphan because he's a little child. And then you're going to get flogged hundred lashes and go to your family. And on Christmas Eve of 2013, I was sent to jail because I responded like, you know, you can't respond as a girl, as a woman. You don't dare to open to look at the judge's face or talk to him. You can't do that.
So you just be bowing your head down and covering your face, your hair and just quiet, not even breathing like, you know, then even. So I'm before I go to jail, I have to go through to do medical tests and then including pregnancy. And I really wasn't prepared to have a second child at that time. Martin is young, but this started happening and I don't think was a good time.
I mean, but God's have a different world. They said, you're pregnant. I'm like, well, I'm going to jail getting a news that I'm pregnant. I supposed to be really happy. I was happy, but like, well, hell, I mean, just, you know, I'm very confused and I'm very upset and freaked out. So I was sent there and these other women, when I walk in all this face bruises and so sad and horrible situation, I'm holding my son.
So somehow Martin was long day. He just fell asleep and I just closed my eyes and said, let me pray. Soon out of the sudden I hear this deep voice.
You are not alone. And I opened my eyes and I'm like, what did you say? Who you are?
Where are you? I'm like, so the other women in the cell start laughing and they call the office and say I'm crazy. They put chance on my feet, chance because my crime is in adultery and apostasy. Now I'm supposed to receive this sentence for apostasy and a hundred lashes for adultery, but it didn't read the sentence.
Give me three days to judge. So I remember on my, on the track back from court to prison, I was praying and I was like, okay, God, three days. And it just like, Oh, Jonah was in the well for three days. Jesus was in the tomb for three days. This have to be miracles that I really, you really have for me.
And I'm just waiting for that miracle. We're back again to the end of the trial. I walk in, I was put up in the cage and there's like 50 officer around the cage, big like it.
And there's pension there. The imam came in and then the judge came in. He asked me to stand up and he was very angry.
The judge was very angry. So he asked me again, I'm going to ask one more time, are you Muslim or Christian? And he would say my Islamic name, Abrar. And I said, I am a Christian.
I was always Christian and I always be. So because a lot of people really can see in their eyes, they wanted me to, they wanted me to say what he said really, because death, you're going to die. But they don't see what I see. Like they don't see what I see. Like I see fear onto his eyes, but that wasn't on me. That's what's on my heart.
And I do, I do that moment really felt so, so bad for him to be in that position. And I just remembering that the word Jesus had said on the cross that when he was crucified, Father forgive them for they did not know what they are doing. So I received my sentence that day, but the end of his word, because you are pregnant, and that was my miracle, because you are pregnant, you're given two years. You give birth and as a child, I give birth two years and as a child. And then after the child turned two years, they took him to the orphan and they held my execution. So my church is involved. That's how the Vatican get involved.
And then my husband is a U.S. citizen, my children are U.S. citizen. The first thing we start asking before we get sent to jail, we knock the embassy's door and we ask for help. It just happened that they was called into the office and I was told to bring all my items, my stuff. I wasn't even given a chance to say bye to the other inmates and the ladies I know. So I left prison.
From prison, I was asked to go find a safe place because my house is no longer safe place. And U.S. embassy is almost like our site, Khartoum City. So we stayed at the embassy for a month.
And then that night, just we've been called. I left Sudan to Italy. I said they asked for it for one sentence in Italy. And I really wanted to come to the state because that's what I feel.
It's my children where they belong to. So, yeah, I was told to escape Sudan before during my trial and everything. And I said, no, I'm not going to do that. Like I'm not, you know, going to do that. That's why I was called crazy. I was called stupid. I'm not smart.
I don't know how to, you know, to play well. But it just wasn't easy for me because my faith and my beliefs is not like a jacket or a mask I would wear when I'm safe and then take off. It's the way I would live my life, the way I made a decision that knowing my relationship with God is not involve anyone else.
It's between me and him. That's the thing that my mom would tell me. She'd tell me, like, don't let anyone to put fear into your heart, because if it does happen, that's how that's how you control you. I mean, you know, but fear and come control with fear, come control. So and and God said don't fear.
And I know he I wasn't afraid of the threat of the enemies of that. No matter how they try to think themselves are big and strong. But I see them weak. I see them terrorists. I see them. They use terror.
They use fear. But I don't comply with that because none of not my life or my future or anything that is not in their hands, in God's hands. So yeah, I'm here today.
I'm in the United States. My children Martin is nine months, nine years old, from nine months old in prison to nine years old now. My daughter is seven. They love Jesus. They go to Catholic school.
They serve Martin as an altar server at the church. Maya want to do music when she get her first communion. She gonna get her first communion on May. So she want to do music ministry. And she love to sing. She do ballet. She do Martin do basketball. They do karate. They're Cub Scout. We I volunteer a lot on the community with the woman shelter.
So they help me with stuff like that. There's a lot of good stuff. And a terrific job on the production and storytelling by Greg. And a special thanks to Miriam Ibrahim for sharing her story, her family story. The book is shackled one woman's dramatic triumph over persecution, gender abuse, and a death sentence. And you can get it at your local bookstores or wherever you buy your books. What a trial scene this is.
It's better than anything in the movies that I've seen. And I'm almost visualizing what this was like for her to sit there and have to answer. Are you a Muslim or a Christian? And in America, we don't do that. George Washington wrote a letter to a synagogue in Rhode Island assuring them religious bigotry would not be sanctioned in this country. And he wrote these words for happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry, no sanction to persecution, no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions, their effectual support. And those words are true. It's why Miriam brought her family to the United States, a story of religious persecution. And in the end, a story of courage and triumph. Miriam Ibrahim's story here on Our American Stories.
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