The Daily Caller's Phony Assertion That Hillary Clinton Compared Marriage, Childhood To Slavery

The Daily Caller misrepresented an academic essay Hillary Clinton penned in 1973 to suggest that the former secretary of state views marriage as a valid comparison to slavery. However, the context of Clinton's essay makes clear she was discussing the evolving legal status of various groups such as women, slaves and children over time. 

Clinton's 1973 essay for the Harvard Educational Review “raises serious questions about what kind of America Clinton foresees,” The Daily Caller claimed on June 9, because in it Clinton “compared the institution of marriage and the dependency of childhood to slavery.” As evidence, the conservative blog pointed to where Clinton discussed how the “basic rationale for depriving people of rights in a dependency relationship is that certain individuals are incapable or undeserving of the right to take care of themselves” and noted:

Along with the family, past and present examples of such arrangements include marriage, slavery, and the Indian reservation system.

To claim Clinton was comparing the institution of marriage to slavery is a gross misrepresentation of the essay, which highlighted how the legal status of minorities like women, slaves, and Native Americans evolved over time as an example for how children's rights might evolve.

Clinton's article examined “the changing status of children under the law” and focused in part on the “specific direction [children's right's] reform might take.” Contemplating how the law might logistically abolish minority status, Clinton referenced how the “abolition of slavery and the emancipation of married women” did not automatically bestow these groups with full-citizenship rights, citing Henry H. Foster, Jr. and Doris Jonas Freed, who argued that the children's rights movement presented “the same arguments that were advanced over the issues of slavery and the emancipation of married women.”  The full context of Clinton's article (emphasis added):

Age may be a valid criterion for determining the distribution of legal benefits and burdens, but before it is used its application should be subjected to a test of rationality. Assessing the rationality of age classifications could be expedited by legislative abolition of the general status of minority and adoption of an area-by-area approach (as has already been done to a degree, for example, in the motor vehicle statutes).

It could also be accomplished by judicial declaration that the present classification scheme is over-inclusive, after which the state would bear the burden of justifying its restrictions on infants. As Foster and Freed point out, "... the arguments for and against perpetuation of minority status have a familiar ring. In good measure they are the same arguments that were advanced over the issues of slavery and the emancipation of married women." The abolition of slavery and the emancipation of married women did not automatically invest previously “inferior” persons with full adult citizenship rights, but the state at least had to begin to rationalize its treatment of those groups. The abolition of minority, more justifiably, need not mean that children become full-fledged miniature adults before the law. Their substantive and procedural rights could still be limited or modified on the basis of supportable findings about needs and capacities at various ages.

The Daily Caller's misrepresentation of Clinton's essay is a decades-old attack. As The Los Angeles Times pointed out in 1992, Clinton's reference to marriage referred not to women's rights in the modern institution, but to women's historical struggle for legal identity outside that of her husband:

At various times in history--including ancient Greece, some of the years of the Roman Empire and even 19th-Century England--a wife was considered in the power of her husband, usually incapable of making contracts or governing her financial affairs.