A New Hampshire lawmaker has come under fire for comments he made arguing that past presidents who owned slaves were not racist because slavery was not racist, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
The lawmaker, Republican state Rep. Werner Horn, stood by his comments in multiple interviews on Wednesday and Thursday. “Human beings have been owning other human beings since the dawn of time. It’s never been about race,” Horn told HuffPost on Thursday.
The incident began when a former state Senate candidate named Dan Hynes posted a comment on Facebook in support of President Donald Trump amid ongoing national criticism of the president’s racist attacks on four progressive minority congresswomen. In the since-deleted post, Hynes linked to an article describing Trump as tied for “most racist president in American history” and asserted that “this is why no one believes the media.” He added, “If Trump is the most racist President in American history, what does that say about all of the other Presidents who owned slaves?”
Horn commented, “Wait, owning slaves doesn’t make you racist….”
Hynes replied: “I guess not. Which is surprising since everything else makes someone a racist. I have been called a racist plenty of times by Democrats.”
Horn backed up his argument in another comment: “It shouldn’t be surprising since owning slaves wasn’t a decision predicated on race but on economics. It’s a business decision.”
When asked by the Union Leader on Wednesday to elaborate on his comments, Horn clarified that he wasn’t making the argument that slavery was “moral,” but he did believe it wasn’t inherently racist. “They weren’t enslaving black people because they were black,” he said. “They were bringing in these folks because they were available. … What they were looking at was whether they were fit enough to do the demanding work that needed to be done. It was an economic reality.”
(Hynes, unlike Horn, did not stand by the comments in that first post. “Some people are inferring I believe slavery was not racist,” he wrote on Facebook on Thursday night. “I thought my comment was clearly sarcastic as could be seen by the context of my comments. Since that is not the case, I have removed the post since I fully believe slavery in America was based on racism. And I do not wish to have people use my comments as a basis for support of either slavery or racism.”)
While the state Democratic Party condemned Horn’s remarks and blamed the state’s Republican leadership for allowing those kinds of comments to be made, Horn refused to back down. “It’s never OK to own another person,” he told HuffPost. “But to label the institution as racist is a false narrative.”
Horn went on to try to challenge the notion of connecting slavery to race by arguing that by the same logic, the lesser value placed on female slaves could be called sexism. “Unless you’re going to try to tell me those plantation owners were so in the dark ages that they delighted in being also sexist and ageist—practicing age discrimination and sex discrimination when they bought slaves—I don’t see how you can say they’re being racist because they bought black slaves.
“My comment specifically was aimed at a period of time when that was how you survived, that’s how you fed your family,” Horn said. “It wasn’t, ‘I want to own a black person today.’ It was, ‘I need to feed my family; I need five guys who can work stupidly long hours in the sun without killing themselves.’ ”