Saint Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell sends New Years greetings to the city – with a challenge (to which I’ve added emphasis):

Happy New Year, Everyone!
As we embark on another trip around the sun, I want to take a minute to thank each of you for the friendship, support, advice and adventure we’ve shared over the past year.
And this year, I want to try something new. For a change, I want to make a resolution that’s actually achievable (unlike my previous resolutions related to exercise and weight loss—which have obviously failed …).
For some time now, I’ve been troubled by a clause in the Minnesota State Constitution. It involves the word slavery, which doesn’t reflect our state values.
Article I, Section 2 reads:
“There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”
This means that even today, 162 years since the State of Minnesota banned slavery and servitude, there is still an exception in our Constitution that allows it.
Slavery is not a Minnesota value.
Words matter. That’s why I’m making it my 2020 resolution to raise awareness of this clause to ignite a movement among people who care about doing what’s right—a movement to champion an amendment removing slavery from the Minnesota State Constitution.
This document, the original of which is kept right here in Saint Paul, is wonderful in so many ways. It protects our rights, defines and limits government power, and guides us as we address emerging issues and concerns.
It’s also supposed to reflect our values. And here in Minnesota, they include equity, freedom and respect for all people. It’s time we amend our constitution to make that clear.
As a Minnesotan, at the start of the 2020s, it is my belief that it is time – beyond time – to move forward together and strike out slavery from our shared constitution.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you have a safe New Year’s Eve and a new year filled with happiness and health.

I’m an English major, so let’s briefly re-read the sentence. The constitution bans slavery and involuntary servitude except as a result of a criminal conviction – referring to the “involuntary servitude” to the state known as prison.

The Chief is right – words have meanings.

So does history.

In 1859, banning slavery in a state Constitution was a solid, courageous statement. Minnesota was admitted to the union during the run-up to a war this nation fought, entirely over slavery and its side-effects. That clause was a pretty stark line in the sand in its day; the new state committed itself to human freedom.

Does this effort – which has garnered the support in the House of the estimable Representative and profile in courage John Lesch – merely respond to the current trend of erasing the most trivial reminders of history, while repeating its mistakes wholesale?

I mean, fine – erase the word “slavery”. Does that mean Minnesota has joined the 20th Century 12- years late?

Or will it erase the principled stance of a generation for whom principle was a matter of life, death, blood and lost years?

We live in a generation that is forgetting its history. You know the rest of the sentence, right?

10 thoughts on “Resolution

  1. Democrats: Hey! as long as we’re modifying the Constitution for this triviality, can we also make some more changes? Significant one. Maybe something about clips with big rounds or buybacks of dangerous looking weapons? I mean, as a start.

  2. Minnesota Constitution, Article I, Section 2 (establishing Minnesota as a Free State and not a Slave State): There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.

    HA! It’s a TRICK! Slavery is still allowed as punishment for a crime. Chief Axtell says so, based on the wording of our state constitution. No wonder crime is out of control. Not his fault at all.

    13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, Section 1 (abolishing slavery throughout the United States): Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    Well, that’s completely different.

  3. If they amend that phrase, it seems like it won’t accomplish anything. I mean, if they amend it to remove the word slavery, will that mean that slavery will be legal, but not involuntary servitude? 🙂

  4. “It’s also supposed to reflect our values.”
    This is a hackneyed statement. If it means what I think Axell thinks that it means, the MN constitution should be made up of platitudes.
    BTW, Blacks make up 5% of the population of Minnesota, and more than 35% of inmates in MN state prisons. Maybe the Sheriff could address that?

  5. Wait a second. If the clause is removed, and for some bizarre reason the 13th Amendment were revoked, wouldn’t slavery become legal in Minnesota?

    Yes, it would. Thank God the 13th does not appear to be in imminent danger, but what the good Police Chief proposes is the legalization of slavery here. In doing so, it would remove a fairly significant remedy for those forced into prostitution.

    I like to joke about Democrats being, then and now, all in favor of slavery and racial discrimination, but I shudder to see actual evidence for that. Yeesh.

  6. but what the good Police Chief proposes is the legalization of slavery here.

    The move is trite and frivolous, but I’m pretty sure the 13th Amendment, which is incorporated via the 14gh Amendment, forbids slavery nationwide, whatever the state Constitutions do or don’t read.

    Unless, of course, Chief Axtell’s virtue-signal really takes off, and they erase the term from the 13th Amendment…

  7. A couple years ago we did a home swap with a visiting professor from Hungary who was coming to the U for a semester. He and his family initially rented an older home in South Minneapolis. We met with them a couple of times before the swap, and his wife was quite taken with the rooms in their rented home that were originally “the slave quarters”. I had to tell her a few times that they were “servant’s quarters”, and there was a big difference, especially here.

  8. Mitch; that’s why I put the 13th Amendment qualifier in there. Granted, it’s not terribly likely that anyone would ever seek to overturn it, though at times with proposals like “mandatory volunteerism”, I’ve had to wonder.

    The parallel that came to mind is how pro-life activists often seek to enact or retain provisions in the law that will come to force if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.

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