Reparations that economically penalize modern Americans for ancient acts to benefit other modern Americans are not justified by any fair reading of history.
2020 Democrat presidential candidates immersed in race-obsessed identity politics (as a substitute for the class-based politics of pure Marxism) are pushing the for the Holy Grail of victimhood: Reparations for slavery. They are undeterred by the fact that reparations are wholly impractical, utterly immoral, and counterproductive in that they do not address the problems plaguing the lower socio-economic half of the black community.
This will be the second of several posts dealing with the issue of reparations:
Part II – History of Slavery & Equities
Part III – Practical Impediments to Reparations
Part IV – Need for Reparations?
Part V – Marxism versus Melting Pots
Part II – History of Slavery & Equities
The end game for those pushing reparations for slavery (who now include the top Democratic presidential candidates among their number) is to paint people with black skin as separate, permanent victims in a modern day America that is itself a hotbed of racism. That hotbed, they claim, is responsible for all of the problems of blacks. This is all part and parcel of the effort to destroy Western Civilization, starting with America, then to remake it into a socialist paradise. A necessary step in this endeavor is to delegitimize the Founders of this country, the Constitution, and the Judaeo-Christian religions.
Significantly, those who push for reparations for slavery in America almost invariably paint slavery as a sin unique to white Americans. No one ever seriously mentions the world-wide history of slavery, the American Civil War, or the unique role that white Americans and Brits — Christians, Jews and capitalists — played in ending slavery as both an American and a world-wide institution. Sadly (and dangerously) very little, if any, of that history comes to the attention of students in America today:
For 11 years, Professor Duke Pesta gave quizzes to his students at the beginning of the school year to test their knowledge on basic facts about American history and Western culture.
The most surprising result from his 11-year experiment? Students’ overwhelming belief that slavery began in the United States and was almost exclusively an American phenomenon, he said.
“Most of my students could not tell me anything meaningful about slavery outside of America,” Pesta told The College Fix. “They are convinced that slavery was an American problem that more or less ended with the Civil War, and they are very fuzzy about the history of slavery prior to the Colonial era. Their entire education about slavery was confined to America.” . . .
The world history of slavery and its equities.
Slavery didn’t begin in America nor did it begin with the African slave trade. To the contrary, slavery as an accepted practice in the world ended with the African slave trade. Slavery began with the dawn of civilization and it has involved virtually every race (very much including blacks in both Africa and America) at one time or another, alternately as slavers and enslaved. Indeed, slave-based agrarian economies have been the norm throughout much of the world’s history (hyperlinks omitted):
Evidence of slavery predates written records, and has existed in many cultures. . . . The earliest records of slavery can be traced to the Code of Hammurabi . . . and the Bible refers to it as an established institution. Slavery was known to occur in civilizations as old as Sumer, as well as almost every other ancient civilization, including Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Ancient India, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas. . . . Records of slavery in Ancient Greece go as far back as Mycenaean Greece. Two-fifths (some authorities say four-fifths) of the population of Classical Athens were slaves.
Slavery is also still practiced across vast swaths of Africa and the Middle East. It also crops up periodically in the West when those who currently practice slavery import it to their new countries.
The record of historic and current day slavery means that, if slavery is an original sin for which all races once slavers are to be held liable for their sins, and all races once slaves are to receive reparations, than the world has a lot of accounting and atoning to do, none of which will advance humanity in the slightest. Even our most vociferous race-baiters would find it unpalatable. Nevertheless, if they want to go that route — that is, alternately charging and compensating current generations for slavery hundreds or thousands of years old on the basis that slavery is an original sin that involves the collective responsibility of entire races of people, then who owes what to whom — and on a related note, do the people that ended slavery get a pass on reparations?
The word “slave” itself gives a clue to that institutions non-African foundations. The word “slave” is a derivation of “Slav” — as in the Slavic people who were enslaved in such number by European warlords towards the end of the Dark Ages and for the better half of the following millennium that their very name came to be identified with “slavery.” So can anyone with some Slavic blood get in on this reparations deal? Do they get to reach into the pockets of the Germans, Italians and Celts?
The Romans regularly took slaves as they marched across Europe and into the Middle East. If Europeans, Britons, and North Africans could trace their lineage back two millennia, probably everyone of European ancestry could find an ancestor enslaved by the Romans. Then there were the Mongols and Tartars who enslaved an estimated 3,000,000 people from Poland, Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Mongols have the economy today to grant large scale reparations. Maybe the Poles and Russians can hit them up for some free yurts?
What of the Jews? The Old Testament makes clear that they owned slaves and made slaves of other tribes in the Middle East. But the Jews may have an out. The Jews themselves were enslaved, during various times, by the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans. So can the Jews just tell whomever they owe to pick up the IOU’s in Cairo, Baghdad, Athens, and Rome, and then call it even?
Now how about this for a question? If reparations are to be based on race or skin color, what do blacks owe to people of British, Irish, Portuguese, Spanish or Italian ancestry. Many were enslaved by African and Arab Islamic pirates who for centuries made raids to capture white Europeans as slaves. The Africans would also enslave the crews of any ships they captured — including American ships (and thus two of our earliest wars as a young nation, The First and Second Barbary Wars):
Reports of Barbary raids and kidnappings of those in Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland as far north as Iceland exist from between the 16th to the 19th centuries. It is estimated that between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by pirates and sold as slaves during this time period. Famous accounts of Barbary slave raids include a mention in the Diary of Samuel Pepys and a raid on the coastal village of Baltimore, Ireland, during which pirates left with the entire populace of the settlement.
One and a quarter million Western Europeans enslaved by Africans during the time frame slavery in America was also in practice? To put this into perspective, note that only an estimated 645,000 Africans were sold by fellow Africans into slavery, then imported into the United States, and that includes during the colonial era. That means that Africans enslaved nearly two times as many whites as did whites in America import Africans as slaves.
Moreover, those European whites enslaved by the Africans never had the benefit of Africans rising up in a civil war to end their slavery. Indeed, most of the male European slaves were worked to death and had no opportunity to pass on their genetic lineage to people alive today. Regardless, does this mean that all people of African origin are morally culpable for enslaving whites? Can people of white European stock get two times the reparations from people of African origin today? Taking the reasoning of those pushing reparations for blacks to its logical conclusion, the answer to both questions should be “Yes.”
When our nation was founded in 1776, slavery was a normal institution throughout the world. It involved people of every race. As to North America, a distinct minority of people on the continent owned black slaves, but that distinct minority included not merely white Europeans, but a significant number of free Blacks and American Indians as well. Moreover, as to the supply side of the African slave trade, the people capturing and selling blacks into slavery were rarely, if ever, white Europeans. Instead, the hunters and traders were almost invariably African blacks and Arab Muslims.
Abolition, America’s Founding and the “sin” of owning slaves
Before 1776, wherever slavery was extinguished, it fell due to changed economic or geopolitical circumstance, not because of morality. The Romans did not stop enslaving people of other cultures because they recognized that slavery was immoral, but rather because, after 476 A.D., they no longer had the power to conquer other nations. The Vikings did not stop enslaving Northern Europeans because they recognized that slavery was immoral, but because, by circa 1060 A.D., they stopped having the advantage in strength and tactics to conduct seaborne raids against lightly protected coastal European kingdoms. The Arab Muslims did not stop enslaving African blacks or European whites because of morality, but because . . . well, they have never stopped.
The very first notable moral challenge to slavery came about in 1381 A.D. during the Peasant’s Revolt in England. The Black Death — which landed in England in 1348 and killed roughly a third to a half of the population — had vastly changed England’s economic conditions. With few workers available for a a surfeit of empty, arable land, feudalism no longer made economic sense. The serfs, who were effectively slaves under feudalism, supported by a surprising number of nobles and clerics, rebelled to end their bondage.
The ideological leader of the rebellion was Father John Ball, a priest who preached that slavery was an abomination to Christianity and that all humans, as descendants alike of Adam and Eve, should be treated equally. The revolt, like all of history’s other slave revolts (but for the Haitian Revolution of 1804), was brutally suppressed, though the changed economic conditions in England led to serfdom’s natural extinguishment by 1500 A.D.
It took another three centuries after King Richard II had Father Ball hanged, drawn, and quartered before the world’s first sustained, and ultimately successful, moral challenge to slavery appeared — and it arose out of Christianity during the Enlightenment. The first person of note making the argument was the physician and philosopher, John Locke. In his 1689 book Two Treatises of Government, Locke set forth a Judaeo-Christian based philosophy of government that was adopted as the foundation of our Constitutional government. Locke, in Chapter IV of his 2nd Treatise, applied his arguments to slavery and concluded that chattel slavery was unsupportable. All men, after all, are created equal by God, with the same rights to life, liberty and property. He therefore concluded that no one can take legitimately and permanently take away those rights.
The Mennonites and Quakers in Pennsylvania next picked up the Judaeo-Christian moral argument against slavery. These were the first stirrings of the abolition movement, but the Mennonites and Quakers always a small fraction of the colonists. The abolition movement picked up steam among other religions in America and Britain with the First Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival movement of the mid-18th century — though even there, it was only at the end of that movement that the leaders began fully and forcefully to come out against chattel slavery. George Whitefield, the preacher who began the Great Awakening in the 1730’s, was himself a slave owner. It remained for Rev. John Wesley, the final great name associated with the First Great Awakening, to unconditionally condemn chattel slavery in his 1774 pamphlet, Thoughts Upon Slavery.
The bottom line is that, at the time of the Revolutionary War, the movement to abolish slavery as immoral was based in the Judaeo-Christian religions, it was nascent and disorganized and, outside of the failed Peasant’s Revolt, it was unprecedented in world history. Still, by the time the Revolution ended, it had wrought a profound change on some of the people most associated with the Revolution: Ben Franklin had became President of the nation’s first abolitionist organization; George Washington was privately calling for abolition of slavery, though he saw it as a state responsibility; and Thomas Jefferson calls for abolition were legendary, although he never had the courage to undermine his own economic situation which was predicated on an institution he understood was immoral.
Many of the other Founders also agreed that there were severe problems with chattel slavery and that it needed to be gradually abolished in America. The reason for “gradual” abolition (as found in, for example, legislation Pennsylvania passed in 1780) was to create a window of time within which to educate slaves and their children and to teach them skills and professions that would enable formerly slaves to integrate smoothly into American civil society:
An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery . . . prescribed an end for slavery in Pennsylvania. It was the first act abolishing slavery in the course of human history to be adopted by a democracy. The Act prohibited further importation of slaves into the state, required Pennsylvania slaveholders to annually register their slaves (with forfeiture for noncompliance, and manumission for the enslaved), and established that all children born in Pennsylvania were free persons regardless of the condition or race of their parents. . . . Pennsylvania’s “gradual abolition” . . . became a model for freeing slaves in other Northern states.
So it was that, a few years later, in 1787, when our Founders gathered together in Philadelphia to craft our Constitution, what they crafted was a document that did two things. For all free Americans, they crafted a limited government of checks and balances that would best serve their needs, allowing for the people (not the Courts or the President by fiat) to make changes to the Constitution as need arose.
As to slavery, the Founders crafted a document that set the seeds for its gradual abolition. Those who supported slavery wanted to see the institution protected against government intervention. To that end, they wanted to count all slaves in each census to maximize the slave state’s representatives in the House. They did not get their wishes.
Those Founders opposing slavery limited those items in the Constitution. They allowed for the federal government to outlaw importation of slaves after a period of twenty years (Art. 1, Sec. 9) and, as to apportionment to the House of Representatives, they limited the power of the slave states by providing that each slave only be counted as 3/5 of a person (Art. 1, Sec. 2). Moreover, many of the same people involved crafting the Constitution in 1787, including George Washington, also passed the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, then reaffirmed it under the new Congress of the United States in 1789:
[The Ordinance] created the Northwest Territory, the first organized territory of the United States, from lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains, between British North America and the Great Lakes to the north and the Ohio River to the south. The upper Mississippi River formed the territory’s western boundary. . . . [The ordinance prohibited slavery and indentured servitude in the territory, thus having the practical effect of] establishing the Ohio River as the geographic divide between slave states and free states from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River (an extension of the Mason–Dixon line). It also helped set the stage for later political conflicts over slavery at the federal level in the 19th century until the Civil War.
Among those opposed to slavery before 1794, several years after the Constitution came into being, the general belief was that, just as slavery ended in other parts of the world due to changing economic conditions (see the discussions about Roman and feudal slavery, above), so too would it end in the new American states. The most famous of those holding such a belief was George Washington, who found that the cost of maintaining slaves was becoming prohibitive by the latter half of the 18th century. What they could not foresee was that Eli Whitney would invent the cotton gin in 1794, making slavery profitable again in the South.
Fast forward to today and you have the Left relentlessly portraying our Founding Fathers as uniquely sinful for having practiced slavery, even though they were no more sinful in that respect than anyone else in the history of the world, including blacks themselves. Moreover, you have people who wish to destroy our society relentlessly trashing America and the Constitution on the grounds that these white slave owners wrote the Constitution.
It requires incredible historic ignorance to condemn our Founding Fathers for owning slaves in the 18th century. To the contrary, while by today’s standards we see their ownership of slaves as an atrocity, those are today’s standards and not applicable to other historical periods — unless you are a neomarxist proggie who wants to claim faux victimhood status. The truth is that it was the colonists alive at our Founding who, for the first time in all of human history, began to battle successfully against the institution of slavery as immoral and incompatible with the Jewish and Christian religions.
Post-1800 history of slavery and modern perceptions of the institution
The abolition movement that grew during the 19th century in the American colonies was, in many ways, part and parcel of the abolitionist movement then growing “across the pond” in the era’s great superpower, Britain. By 1810, both Britain and America had declared it unlawful to import slaves and began policing the high seas to end the international slave trade. Britain did the lion’s share in forcing both African nations and nations within Britain’s trading ambit that employed slave labor to end their practices while the U.S. fought two wars to end the scourge of Muslim piracy on the high seas.
Although modern Britons like to take the high ground about the lack of slavery in Britain as compared to America (forgetting that they brought it to America), it wasn’t until 1833 that Britain finally and fully ended slavery within its existing colonies — a decision again made easy, not just because of the changed moral climate in the Western world, but also by the fact that, in non-cotton growing regions, slavery was no longer an economically viable system. Only thirty-two years later, America decided against slavery by the bloodiest and costliest combat ever seen in this country. That war destroyed the wealth of the slave-owning South for over 100 years and was so costly to the North that, as economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out:
Sometimes it is claimed that slavery made a great contribution to the development of the American economy, from which other Americans benefitted, so that reparations would be like back pay. Although slaveowners benefitted from slavery, it is by no means obvious that there were net benefits to the economy as a whole, especially when you subtract the staggering costs of the Civil War.
A few final comments on the history of slavery and the people — white Europeans of Britain and America — who decided that it must end once and for all and then put that decision into effect. If one listens to the race hustlers pushing for reparations today, it is as if the end of slavery, African or other, came about by magic and at no cost. No credit is given those who ended slavery, nor is any mention made of the “staggering costs” they incurred in both blood and gold. To the contrary, in many cases, members of our modern progressive left do their utmost to downplay any credit due white Europeans of Britain and America for their role in ending African slavery. Moreover, having coopted for the Democrats the “civil rights” moniker, although the Democrats fought civil rights tooth-and-nail, they’ve successfully muddled history to the point that many believe that “Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat fighting slave-owning Republicans in the South.”
Critically, the progressive left has successfully written out of history Christianity’s and Judaeo-Christian theology’s utterly central role in creating and driving the abolitionist movement that ended slavery in the West. The only Christian voices that today’s progressives cite continuously are those in the pre-civil war Deep South who tried to raise competing theological arguments to counter the Christian-based abolition movement. For instance, last year, when then Attorney General cited Romans 13 for the proposition that the Trump administration was dutifully executing its responsibilities in enforcing immigration law, WaPo found some progressive donkey’s ass to point out that Romans 13 was one of the Biblical passages people in the pre-Civil War South used to defend slavery. That statement, standing alone and without all of the applicable context, is so false and defamatory as to be beyond obscene. It not only ignores Christianity’s role in creating and driving the abolitionist movement, it gives the impression that the Christian religion uniquely supported African slavery. Truly, screw these people.
So successful has the left been in its all-encompassing slander against Christianity that many associate the Christian religion with the institution of slavery itself rather than with the first and only moral rejection of slavery in world history. Thus, for the past fifty years, we’ve seen American blacks increasingly reject Christianity in favor of either secularism or Islam. Both are galling, but it is the latter that is galling beyond measure.
Why, you might ask?
Well, the Islamic faith explicitly embraces slavery as an approved practice. Mohammed was a slave owner and the Koran permits enslaving any and all non-Muslims. No race of people suffered more enslavement than black Africans at the hands of Arab Muslims. And while white Europeans and Americans ended slavery in their lands well over a century ago, instances of Muslim enslavement of non-Muslims still occur in the modern day, from the sex slaves of ISIS to the slave markets of Libya to the al Qaeda controlled territories in Mali.
The people pushing for reparations for slavery focus solely on African slaves in the West. By doing so, they take slavery wholly out of context for both American and world history. They further ignore the fact that white Americans of European ancestry fought and died in the bloodiest and costliest war (both in terms of lives and money) in our nation’s history in order to free blacks on American soil. I, personally, having never enslaved anyone — and being aware of history — feel no guilt for the slavery that occurred in America, nor do I look upon blacks in America today as victims because some of them have progenitors who were slaves in this country at some point in the distant past, well beyond living memory.