John Bingham and Martin Luther King
posted by Gerard Magliocca
I’m beginning the final set of edits on the Bingham biography–publication is scheduled for August–and I’ve noticed a fascinating connection between the author of the Equal Protection Clause and the man who gave it life a century later. I’m going to try to do something with this fact in my revisions.
In 1856, Bingham gave a widely publicized antislavery speech in New York. He argued there that the Founders intended that slavery “should die, as they had found out the great truth that a lie cannot live forever.” Indeed, Bingham often used this line about “a lie cannot live forever” to attack slavery. At first I thought that this was a Biblical reference, but it actually comes from the Scottish writer/philosopher Thomas Carlyle.
Why is this interesting? Because Martin Luther King Jr. famously used this phrase to describe racism in his speech at Selma in 1965. He said “[n]o lie can live forever,” but he was also quoting Carlyle. I don’t think, though I’m not sure, that this was a common refrain in rhetoric. It may just be a curious coincidence that these two great civil rights leaders happened to latch on to the same phrase. Can anyone shed any light on this?