Today I am reposting some historic facts of which all Americans should be aware. Slavery is a blot on our history, but it is our history. Today, there is a strong movement to eradicate every visible vestige of this history.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu had a Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee monument removed last month. Former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton wants the statue of Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as the graves of Forrest and his wife, removed from the city park. In Richmond, Virginia, there have been calls for the removal of the Monument Avenue statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart.
If carried to its natural conclusion the Washington Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial would also need to be removed. Both Founders were slave owners.
The US Civil War was the only time in the history of the world that slavery was ended by war. The American Civil War was the largest, bloodiest and most costly war ever waged in the Western Hemisphere. We have great concerns over those Americans who lost their lives fighting in Iraq, as we so rightfully should. But it is worth knowing that more American combat soldiers died (or were wounded) in the morning of the first Battle of Antietam than died in Iraq and Afghanistan combined to date. Also, more Americans died at Gettysburg (3 days), not including those that died later from the diseases the carnage wrought, than in the entirety of the tragic Vietnam War.
No American is proud of our history of slavery. But it is ill advised to attempt to eradicate it from public view. Please read the following history.
Liberty is rendered even more precious by the recollection of servitude.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
If there ever are great revolutions there (in the USA), they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto.
Alexis de Tocqueville
Any power must be an enemy of mankind which enslaves the individual by power and by force… All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded to the individual.
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God cannot retain it.
If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.
“We had a little slave boy whom we had hired from some one, there in Hannibal. He was from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and had been brought away from his family and his friends, half way across the American continent, and sold. He was a cheery spirit, innocent and gentle, and the noisiest creature that ever was, perhaps. All day long he was singing, whistling, yelling, whooping, laughing – it was maddening, devastating, unendurable. At last, one day, I lost all my temper, and went raging to my mother, and said Sandy had been singing for an hour without a single break, and I couldn’t stand it, and wouldn’t she please shut him up. The tears came into her eyes, and her lip trembled, and she said something like this – ‘Poor thing, when he sings, it shows that he is not remembering, and that comforts me; but when he is still, I am afraid he is thinking, and I cannot bear it. He will never see his mother again; if he can sing, I must not hinder it, but be thankful for it. If you were older, you would understand me; then that friendless child’s noise would make you glad.’ It was a simple speech, and made up of small words, but it went home, and Sandy’s noise was not a trouble to me any more.”
Why am I writing about slavery in a political blog? I’m not sure I have a good answer, but I know exactly why I am compelled to write this blog. First, everything contained within is the result of the education bestowed on me through Professor Thomas Sowell. As I was reading Black Rednecks and White Liberals I came to his chapters on slavery. I was embarrassed that I knew virtually nothing of what he was teaching me. I literally was ashamed of myself. Here I am, an educated American with an advanced degree. Further, I pride myself on the fact that my “education” didn’t stop when I finished my schooling. Yet I was clueless about something that has, in so many ways, shaped America both in the past and today.
Let me state at the outset that I do not believe in collective guilt. Collective guilt is a political tool that has been used effectively by collectivist/statist proponents. It irritates me that the collectivists are so adept at their game and I am not. They are masters at controlling the conversation. Nowhere have they been more effective than in making today’s Americans feel lingering guilt over slavery and using that guilt to manipulate them. Did America have slavery? Indeed we did to our everlasting shame. However, I have never owned a slave. My father never owned a slave. No living American has ever owned a slave. Yet, through the mantra of collective guilt, we are made to feel as though we are personally responsible for this horrible past. One cannot read the quotes above without feeling immeasurable remorse that humankind ever engaged in the ownership of men, women, and children. Moreover, we should regret that the Constitution we so dearly love used slavery as a bargaining chip for its ratification, such that slaves were given the value of “three fifths of all other Persons” for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives (Article 1: Section 2). How sad!
Alexis de Tocqueville was prophetic in his prediction about “revolutions on American soil.” However, that “revolution” was not our War of Independence but our Civil War. What I did not know, and what I predict that most of my readers also do not know, is that the United States Civil War was the only time in the history of the world that slavery was ended by war. Oh, of course, you may argue that slavery was not the “issue” in the War Between the States, but it was, and denying it does not do justice to the vast number of Americans who lost their lives in the pursuit of this end. Yes, secession was the “reason” for the Civil War, but slavery was the “reason” for secession. [“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war… He (God) gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came…Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address.]
As Professor Sowell points out, slavery has been know on every part of the globe and has existed for the entire length of recorded history with ample evidence that it existed before recorded history. This “institution” was culturally accepted by virtually everyone on planet Earth. It existed for 18 centuries after the Sermon on the Mount. Not a single religion or moralist questioned the existence of slavery during those 18 centuries! Indeed, Christian monasteries in Europe and Buddhist monasteries in Asia owned slaves. Even Saint Thomas Moore’s ideal society, Utopia, had slaves. So the bigger question is how and why did something that endured unabated for millennia and that was universally accepted end and who ended it? No other institution of human design of this magnitude has ever disappeared. So how did it happen that slavery ended?
When an American thinks of slavery they envision a white master in a southern state and a black slave. There is an unambiguous racial overtone to this vision. However, little attention is given to the fact that enslavement of people of a different race or even a different heritage was a “modern” phenomenon in the history of slavery. What caused one person to enslave another was not a difference in race or religion, but a difference in vulnerability. For thousands of years before the first black slave was transported to America, Europeans enslaved Europeans, Asians enslaved Asians (China was one of the largest markets trading in humans), Africans enslaved Africans, Pacific Islanders enslaved Pacific Islanders, Aborigines enslaved Aborigines, and Native Americans enslaved Native Americans long before Columbus made landfall. It is unlikely that ANY civilization (or uncivilized enclave) was without the sin of enslaving others of their own ilk. It mattered little who the enslaved individual was, all slaves of all races and cultures were viewed with disdain by their owners – could one human “own” another human without convincing oneself that the slave “deserved” their disdain (and true enough, in America that disdain was unambiguously racially enshrined. But “racism was neither necessary nor sufficient for slavery…racism was a result, not a cause for slavery” – Thomas Sowell). The reason for slaves being taken from relatively near localities is technological and nothing more intriguing than that. It took ships capable of transporting a large cargo of humans across an ocean before white Americans could enslave black Africans. Obviously, this technology did not exist for most of human history.
The word “slave” comes from the word “Slav” because the Slavs were the most enslaved peoples (proportionately) of all time, and Slavs were Europeans. Indeed, approximately a million Europeans were enslaved in Africa, many more than the number of Africans transported as slaves to the United States – by a factor of more than double. Also, many more Africans were enslaved in the Islamic world than in the United States. Even at the peak of the slave trade to the Americas and the Muslim world, Africans kept more slaves for themselves than were transported abroad. Remarkably relevant to the image of the black slave and white master, the last remaining places on earth where slavery survived were Mauritania, the Sudan, and Nigeria. These are African nations where black masters enslaved black men, women, and children (footnote).
Most importantly, no one, and especially not me, is arguing that slavery was remotely justified nor am I trying “to spread the blame.” To repeat the quote from Lincoln, “if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Americans participated and those that did were wrong to do so and those that turned a blind eye share in the culpability. However, what is also “wrong” is to assail Americans of today with the vision that it was their country that was the “great enslaver,” and that they too are culpable. Indeed, it is this vision that is the root of the modern political utility of slavery. But that is for a bit later in our discussion.
The end of slavery was not the Civil War. It was not even the beginning of the end of slavery. The remarkable effort to end slavery “was one of the most momentous dramas in the history of the human species” (Thomas Sowell) yet little is written about it and I was (almost completely) unaware of it. Ending slavery required a sustained action at great cost over many generations. Who provided that “action” and who bore the “costs”?
There were two changes that brought slavery to its knees. First, more and more of the world became divided into nation states. Nation states usually have armies and, sometimes, navies making it expensive to take slaves in that geographic locality. The chance for retaliation was too great. Therefore, new areas for slave raiding needed to be found. The less developed African “nations” were prime targets in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the image depicted on “Roots,” by Alex Haley, was that of white Europeans clubbing and capturing black Africans in sub-Saharan Africa and dragging them to the western coast to be placed on slave ships headed for the United States. Indeed, they were clubbed and dragged to the western coast to be placed on slave ships, but not by Europeans. A European in sub-Saharan Africa had a life expectancy of less than one year because of the endemic diseases for which they had no immunity. Therefore, Europeans did not venture into the interior. In truth it was Africans who “clubbed and dragged” the more vulnerable, not racially different, co-inhabitants of Africa off to be slaves. As well, they did not take them only to the western coast for trafficking to the Americas (yes, that is correct, the West Indies, Brazil, and other South American nations had proportionally more slaves than the United States), but also to the eastern coast for trafficking to the Muslim world in great numbers.
However, the more salient change was occurring in the British Empire. In Great Britain, at that time, there was an outcry to end the slave trade, largely conducted by the British. Over time, the outcry became too loud for Parliament to ignore. The push came from religious groups that would today likely be called the “religious right” (Quakers and Evangelicals). Isn’t that a large pill to swallow for the “Liberal” establishment?
Slavery died fighting to the very end and its death knell was rung by one of the great imperial nations, the British Empire, and against their own pecuniary interests. Yes! European Imperialism, so reviled by the Liberal establishment (another pill to swallow), caused the ultimate demise of slavery. The British Empire occupied one fourth of the world and, as well, controlled one fourth of its inhabitants. Only a force this formidable could have had so profound an effect on history. Of course, as other western nations observed the efforts of the British gradually the western world joined the struggle including the United States and even Russia.
The British Navy interdicted the slave trade and sustained the effort for more than a century attempting to foil every ingenious effort by determined slave traders to continue their nefarious business. The numerous stories, as related by Dr. Sowell, of privation and bravery by British sailors and their personal commitment to the task are too numerous to detail here.
As well, the British freed all the slaves in Britain and its colonies. However, as it was legal to own slaves in the British Empire, the slaves’ freedom was purchased at a cost of 20,000,000 pounds sterling, a handsome price in the 19th century and approximately 5% of the gross national product of the British Isles at that time. To put that into perspective in modern American dollars it would have been a price of $730 billion – a nice stimulus package. Of interest, a bill was introduced into the US Congress to do exactly the same thing, that is, purchase the freedom of the American slaves. The bill was defeated. In the end, of course, the cost would have been far less in dollars compared to the Civil War costs, and neither does that include 618,000 dead, the utter destruction of the South, nor the century of bitterness that followed the defeat of the Confederacy.
As slavery came to an end under the constant efforts of the British over many generations two stories are of interest. The Brazilians ended slavery by emancipation and set a date for all slaves to be freed. Indeed, virtually all slaves were freed in advance of the date. However, when the day came for the emancipation the people went into the streets in great elation, the likes of which had never been seen in the history of their nation. By contrast, when the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire sent his representatives to read the declaration that slavery was to end, the messengers were murdered on the spot.
No one should be (and certainly I am not) an apologist for slavery. But that does not mean that one should “buy into” the current rhetoric that portrays slavery more along the vision of “Roots” than historical fact. The current political issue is the distortion of the history of slavery used to extract concessions. Black “leaders” like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton use black slave history to promote agendas more suited to their goals than those necessarily of their brethren. The political problem is twofold: they made white Americans “guilty” and they made black Americans “victims.” This served neither race. Quite to the contrary, I will later offer mounting evidence that this accrued to the detriment of both races. The vision of slavery generated by those that would use it to extract gain is a poor framework for resolving today’s issues of race in America.
Finally, please read Dr. Sowell’s Back Rednecks and White Liberals. This treatise does not begin to do justice to his painstaking research and cogent arguments.
Footnote: As a child I very much enjoyed movies about Africa. Tribes like the Maasai and their brave warriors were so heroic to me. However, the Maasai were fearsome slave raiders. It wasn’t just the lions who had reason to fear Maasai warriors.