My brother is eternally at war with the useless rag known as the Post-Dispatch. Once the crown jewel of the Pulitzer empire, the leftist paper has suffered terribly from declining standards as a result of the very liberal policies advocated by the Past-Disgrace`s editorial board. Affirmative action, groupthink, an unwillingness to ``judge`` the writing skills of their own columnists and staff writers, ignorance of the topics they cover, etc. have all conspired to produce a newspaper comparable in quality to one put out by a public high-school. The paper is filled with typos, poor grammar, and is completely devoid of any logic; it reads like an adolescent wrote much of it. My brother is a professor of history who would not tolerate such shoddy work from his students, and he is constantly writing snippy letters to express his displeasure. (Frankly, I haven`t read the idiotic thing in years, and am the better for it as I am more cheerful and my blood pressure remains lower in it`s absence. I do occasionally get into the online version for the news items-what few there actually are.) We haven`t had a decent newspaper since the conservative Globe Democrat closed decades ago.
I actually do find the Post very useful in one regard-it makes a dandy fire starter! I take discarded copies to my luxury vacation house and they serves me quite well!
At any rate, Brian noticed this whopping error in a review of the movie ``Amazing Grace``, and he called them on it:Dear Mr. Williams,
In your review of "Amazing Grace", the new movie concerning William Wilberforce and the anti-slavery movement in Britain you mention that "The African slave trade was an abomination, yet it continued in America for almost a century after Thomas Jefferson declared that all men were created equal..." If you took the time to read the U. S. Constitution you would know that the African slave trade was constitutionally protected until the year 1808. (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1) The southern delegates reluctantly accepted the outlawing of the African slave trade after the stated year. The Congress subsequently passed a federal prohibition against the African slave trade and President Thomas Jefferson signed the measure into law, effective on January 1, 1808, the first day that the Constitution allowed such a law to take effect. Slavery continued in America until 1865, but the African slave trade ended fifty-seven years earlier on New Years Day, 1808.
With kindest Regards,
Brian E. Birdnow
He is, of course, absolutely correct; the reviewer had little understanding of the ``Peculiar Institution`` and the history behind it. Let me give a few details which are poorly disseminated or understood by many.
African slavery in the English Colonies got it`s start with the policy of indentured servitude; ship captains would rather pluck out an eye than make the long and perilous journey to the New World with a half-empty vessel, so if they were unable to fill up with willing white colonists they would take whomever they could grab-be they white or slave to the Arabs. America suffered from negative unemployment; employers were unable to find not just qualified people to work for them buy ANY people willing to sign on, since everyone who came to the New World dreamed of owning their own land, and could easily make that happen. As a result, employers would pay the passage of anyone interested in coming to work for them. The terms of indenture were generally a Biblical 7 years, after which the immigrant was free to pursue his own interests. Employers didn`t like it when ship captains delivered unwilling Africans, and so they demanded a longer period of indenture. This period continued to grow until it became 99 years, and then ``in perpetuity``. Slavery was born.
Slavery-and the slave trade-thrived on what was known as the ``Triangle Trade``; Ships carrying rum from New England went to Africa, where the rum was sold to Arab middlemen, who purchased prisoners of war from tribal chieftains to sell as slaves. The idea of the white slavers beating the brush to snag unsuspecting people is rubbish; the Arabs may have done this, but few (if any) white slavers bothered. They had a ready supply at hand. Black Muslims are fools for thinking Islam was their friend; the Arabs were far worse than the whites in this regard, as were their African ``brothers``.
Once a ship captain arrived in Africa, he traded his rum for a full hold of slaves, then set sail for the West Indies. There he traded his captives to sugar plantation owners for molasses, which he took to the distilleries in New England and traded for more rum. Thus a cycle of rum/slaves/sugar repeated endlessly.
The French began making rum right on the sugar plantations to get a jump on the English, and French rum was cheaper due to savings on transportation, so the New England distilleries began a long, steady decline. (It had often been wryly noted by men of the times that the North found her conscience after slavery stopped being profitable. They found it much easier to take bread out of the mouths of others than out of their own. ) Couple this with an honest religious movement aiming at abolish, and by the Revolutionary War it was thought slavery would die out. THAT was why the Founding Fathers seemed to kick the can down the road; they all believed slavery would expire in ignominy without anyone having to come to blows.
Eli Whitney ended all that; his invention of the cotton gin made slavery profitable (for a while, at least). The Southern states needed slaves now more than ever to produce ``King Cotton``. Still, it should be pointed out that less than 25% of Southerners owned any slaves at all, and only 1% owned 100 or more. Why? Slaves were expensive
! They could cost as much as $100,000 in Antebellum money! (That was why slave-owners rarely beat their slaves; marks on a slave lowered their resale value! The punishments inflicted on slaves tended to be much crueler-threats of selling off family members and loved ones was the principle method of keeping slaves in line. It`s interesting to note the absence of fathers in the black community today. Does this tie in with this particular suffering endured by generations of black men during the slave era?)
Slavery also destroyed the Southern economy, because all of the low-end jobs were taken by slaves. Businesses couldn`t compete against free labor, so the poor were generally unemployed or worked seasonally at very low wages. As a result, the South lacked a strong middle class. Furthermore, slaves consumed food and wore clothes, thus driving the price of necessities up, while they did not purchase much else, thus depressing the higher-end market. The plantation economy was wrought with problems (and we`re going to see these same problems
with the illegal immigrant economy in the near future.) and the South slipped behind the North in virtually all economic indicators. This is a primary reason why the North won the Civil War.
Since cotton was the principle commodity driving the Southern economic engine, everyone worked diligently to produce more of it. This lowered the market price, forcing the planter to grow ever more to make ends meet. It was a vicious cycle; the more they grew, the less money they made, and the more slaves they needed.
The issue of slavery proved to have no answer, at least none that could be implemented without great hardship. As was noted by Thomas Jefferson;
``Maintaining slavery is like holding a wolf by the ears; you don`t like it but you don`t dare let go.``
There were serious practical considerations-would the freed slaves become citizens, or be held (unconstitutionally) as subjects? How would they be housed once free? Fed? Would the states have to pay to educate them (as none were allowed to be educated by law)? Slave owners had a considerable amount of money tied up in their slaves; would Washington pay for this eminent domain taking, would the states, or would the slaveholder be out of luck? Abolitionists hated slave holders, and refused to spend a nickel of non-slaveholder money to free the slaves, instead demanding that the owners be punished for their sins. The Southerners who didn`t own slaves weren`t interested in funding abolition, and of course the slaveholders had no idea what they would do if abolition came. No Southerners were willing to place their former slaves in a position of equality. (Northerners, to be sure, were willing to place former slaves in a position of equality with Southerners; it all depends on whose ox is being gored.) There were some ideas about a mass exodus of slaves-to Mexico, or back to Africa, but that was plainly impossible to move so many people.
So slavery was not as cut-and-dried as many people believe, and the final solution left much to be desired. An entire section of the Republic had to be destroyed, a very bitter enfranchisement of slaves while disenfranchisement of former masters had to be imposed, a system of segregation was born whereby freed former slaves were still denied their rights and given second class citizenship, poor education, and little opportunity has warped and twisted the fabric of America for over a century. Had a political solution been found America-both white and black-would have been far better off. Unfortunately, things did not work out that way.
Abraham Lincoln certainly lost the peace; he had good plans for reconstruction, but few ideas on what to do with the liberated slaves. (People accuse GEORGE BUSH of failing to plan for the peace...) The chaos following the war, with freed slaves suddenly roaming about with no money, no food, and no idea what to do next lead to epidemic crime, and the Ku Klux Klan was formed as a vigilante group to restore order-and order the Union Army cared little for, since the suffering caused by the post-war chaos fell on those dirty rebels. The Klan was illegal, since the Confederacy was supposed to have surrendered all arms and been disenfranchised, but the need for civil stability was too great, and the Klan grew throughout the South. Later it would become an instrument for white domination of blacks.
Much of this history is not being taught in schools today, and too many people have a fictional view of genteel plantations with hoop-skirted women ordering their secret black lovers whipped to death to keep them silent, or of top-hated white aristocrats ordering the torture of slaves for their own amusement. Not true; mistreatment of slaves was evidence of low breeding, and a bad slaveowner would be shunned in polite society. Often the slaves and masters lived together quite amicably, although the slaves hated their station and yearned to be free. Slaveholders frequently loved their slaves, but always feared being massacred in a slave uprising by `other people`s slaves`. Of course, many slaves stayed on with their former masters as paid servants-where else could they go? It`s very easy to say ``you are free`` but hard to learn to live as free men.
All of this is lost on modern Americans, and so you have statements like that made by Mr. Williams in his review of ``Amazing Grace``. Now, it may be that Mr. Williams made a casual error, which is something we have all done, in which case I apologize for being overly harsh. In all likelihood he simply wasn`t aware that the African slave trade ended in 1808, because nobody ever told him.
Britain, of course, had it easier, but slavery was a ball-and-chain as much for the master as the slave, and Wilberforce was certainly someone worthy of the respect and admiration he received. I think Mr. William`s complaints about the movie are petty (I`ll admit, I haven`t seen it.) because the issue of British abolition was debated and adjudicated entirely by white Brits, many of whom had never even seen a slave. Out of sight, out of mind! Wilberforce fought for the invisible oppressed, was a voice for the truly voiceless.
At any rate, America will never solve the race issue in this country until the majority of Americans take a good, honest look at the issue of slavery and it`s aftermath. Unfortunately, few Americans know history in general, and even fewer understand the complexities which faced people at the time. What seems a simple issue to us has to be analyzed not by today`s standards but by the standards of the times, has to be looked at in light of the prejudices, problems, and lifestyles of the people who had to deal with them. Americans are terrible at this. We can`t even understand foreigners; we too often think they are Americans with funny accents. How many people in this country understand the Islamic threat? How many television programs asked ``why do they hate us?`` If we can`t understand our neighbors, how can we understand a culture which vanished over 140 years ago?
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Americans have ignored history for a long time; will we repeat it (albeit in another way) with illegal immigrants?
Just a thought.