Slavery in the United States

Karl Marx, Republican

Via a Tweet from Ned Resnikoff, this letter from Karl Marx, congratulating President Lincoln on his re-election. We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery. From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver? … The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of...

Obama a Descendent of the First Slave

Is President Obama a descendent of the first American slave? According to a team of geneologists, working with Ancestory.com, Obama is an 11th generation descendent of John Punch, an African indentured servant sentenced to slavery. Moreover, these roots come by way of his mother , a white Kansan whose roots contain at least one African forebearer. The New York Times explains : The Ancestry.com team used DNA analysis to make the connection, and it also combed through marriage and property records to trace Mr. Obama’s maternal ancestry to the time and place where Mr. Punch lived. The company said records suggested that Mr. Punch fathered children with a white woman, who passed her free status on to those children, giving rise to a family of a slightly different name, the Bunches, that ultimately spawned Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. […] The Ancestry.com group traced two major Bunch family branches, one that lived as white and stayed in Virginia for generations and another that...

Health Care Is Slavery?

Rand Paul’s debut on the national stage was marked by a firestorm over his comment that he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act, on account of the fact that it intruded on a business’s “freedom” to discriminate against black people. Since then, Paul has been circumspect about commenting on anything related to civil rights. However, it seems that the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act has caused the Kentucky senator to throw caution to the wind. Via ThinkProgress : In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision, can you still argue that the Constitution does not support ObamaCare? The liberal blogosphere apparently thinks the constitutional debate is over. I wonder whether they would have had that opinion the day after the Dred Scott decision. Think of how our country would look now had the Supreme Court not changed its view of what is constitutional. Think of 1857, when the court handed down the outrageous Dred Scott decision, which said African Americans...

The Madwoman in the Attic

Awhile back, I wasted an evening watching the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre , something that every former lit major should avoid. I loved the novel for its depiction of the vivid, rich inner life of a proud introvert who is passionately engaged in her life despite the fact that she knows it to be outwardly pathetic. The movie, unable to reproduce the character's inner liveliness, reduced the story to a melodramatic and utterly unlikely romance between a poor orphan and an arrogant nobleman. I had wasted marital chits on a movie that I hated as much as my wife knew she would. (Sports movies, here we come. Sigh.) Watching the movie sent me back to Jean Rhys’s astonishing Wide Sargasso Sea , which I remembered as an imagining of Bertha Rochester’s backstory, asking how, exactly, did the madwoman in the attic get there to begin with? I’ve lately been stripping my bookshelves, getting rid of novels I know I won’t read again, like Rhys’s earlier sharply drawn portraits of women I have no...

Are You Eating Fish Caught By Slaves?

(Flickr/sarahalaskaphotographs)
According to sociologist Kevin Bales, who founded and directs the new abolition group Free the Slaves , an estimated 27 million people are enslaved around the world today—more than were ever enslaved at any single time in history. The United Nation's International Labour Organization estimates are a more modest 12.3 million —which is still a shocking number of people forced to labor against their will, unable to walk away, for no compensation. Much of the reporting on this phenomenon has been on women forced to work in the sex trades. But the U.S. State Department reports that many more people are enslaved in far more ordinary endeavors: mining coltrane, growing cotton, domestic servitude, and fishing in the south Pacific. Ben Skinner , whom I'm honored to call my colleague at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, is the foremost reporter on the particulars of this horror. His book A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face With Modern Slavery , offered an in-depth look at both...

Bachmann And Lincoln

There's a pretty vigorous discussion thread on my Bachmann post , but I want to follow up with a couple of points. Some folks argued that the fact that Bachmann endorsed the authors in question doesn't inherently mean she shares their distorted view of slavery. This is a mistake, as Ryan Lizza explains that to whatever degree she agrees with each individual point, she certainly agrees with the idea that slaveovers who refused to free their slaves might do so for "benevolent" reasons. Bachmann’s comment about slavery was not a gaffe. It is, as she would say, a world view. In “Christianity and the Constitution,” the book she worked on with Eidsmoe, her law-school mentor, he argues that John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams “expressed their abhorrence for the institution” and explains that “many Christians opposed slavery even though they owned slaves.” They didn’t free their slaves, he writes, because of their benevolence. “It might be very difficult for a freed slave to make a...

Bachmann's Views On Slavery Are Worse Than You Thought

Months ago, there was a small controversy over Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann signing a pledge put forth by social conservatives in Iowa that stated "black child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA's first African American President." However well intended, many people were understandably offended by the implication that black people were better off as property. But this isn't the first time Bachmann has put forth a perspective on slavery that is at odds with the historical record -- previously she "suggested that the Founding Fathers "worked tirelessly" to end slavery, before citing John Quincy Adams as an example (he was a child at the time of America's founding). Ryan Lizza's profile of Bachmann reveals that Bachmann's odd perspective on slavery isn't a series of gaffes, but rather "a world view." Lizza explains that Bachmann...

"States' Rights"

As part of Ta-Nehisi Coates' " Effete Liberal Book Club ", I'm reading Chandra Manning 's What This Cruel War Was Over , a social history of the Civil War which mostly focuses on the motivations of soldiers as they served in the Union and Confederate armies. A large portion of the first chapter is devoted to events leading up to the war, and Manning does a nice job of illustrating the extent to which the slaveholding South was utterly power-hungry: Threats to slavery meant secession and war for many reasons. For one thing, they made the privileged place that southern states held within the Union insecure, and without a dominant role for the South, the Union seemed less valuable. Louisianan Rufus Cater agreed with his cousin Fannie that “the United States government was once a glorious and prosperous one,” under which white Southerners profited. For most of the nation’s existence, the South had masterfully used the Constitution and political structure of the United States to dominate...

Real Talk Monday, Continued: The Founding Fathers.

Michele Bachmann has interesting ideas about the Founders and slavery: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) had an interesting take this weekend on America's first European settlers, who she said "had different cultures, different backgrounds, different traditions." "How unique in all of the world, that one nation that was the resting point from people groups all across the world," she said. "It didn't matter the color of their skin, it didn't matter their language, it didn't matter their economic status." "Once you got here, we were all the same. Isn't that remarkable?" she asked. Speaking at an Iowans For Tax Relief event, Bachmann (R-MN) also noted how slavery was a "scourge" on American history, but added that "we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." I have neither the time nor inclination to mock everything in Bachmann's speech, so I'll just say this: Bachmann is indulging in the common right-wing...

The Simple Explanation for Republican Refusal to Read the 3/5's Compromise.

Over at Greg Sargent 's blog, Adam Serwer has a great post on the GOP's "Huck Finn-ing" of the Constitution: Earlier this week, there was an uproar over a publisher's plans to release an edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that would replace the N-word with the word "slave" in order to make the book more "appropriate" for schoolchildren. This kind of political correctness offers no justice to the descendants of slaves -- it merely papers over a terrible ugliness that is an essential part of American history. Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the "three fifths compromise," which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of...

Your Daily Dose of History.

Via Sociological Images, by way of The New York Times , is the last slave census taken in the United States, dated 1860: The shading indicates what percent of the county's population was enslaved, with darker shades indicating a higher percentage of enslaved people. As you can see, some counties along the coasts and near the Mississippi have slave populations as high as 80 percent. The map also included information on the overall population and percentage enslaved on a state level. You can see that image here . The numbers are astounding, to say the least; in Mississippi and South Carolina, slaves were 55.1 percent and 57.2 percent of the population, respectively. In raw numbers, Virginia had the largest population of slaves -- 490,887 enslaved persons -- but they were "only" 30.7 percent of the total population. You can safely say that fear -- as much as ideology -- drove Southern planters away from the Union. If anything else, emancipation meant a huge population of former slaves,...

Slavery and the Confederacy, Cont.

As a quick addendum to last week's post on the Confederacy and slavery, I wanted to highlight a few passages from the Constitution of the Confederacy, which is mostly like the United States Constitution, with a few important differences. Namely, slavery. Here is Article I, Section 9: No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed. Article IV, Section 2, clause 1: The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired. Article IV, Section 2, clause 3, which makes the Dred Scott decision a foundational part of Confederate law: No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or...

"Our Position Is Thoroughly Identified With the Institution of Slavery."

Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and while some white Southerners have chosen to commemorate it with an acknowledgment that the war was absolutely about slavery, others would rather revel in the fantasy that the "peculiar institution" had nothing to do with it: Jeff Antley , a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust, is organizing the secession ball in Charleston and a 10-day re-enactment of the Confederate encampment at Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the war were fired on April 12, 1861. He said these events were not about modern politics but were meant to honor those South Carolinians who signed the state’s ordinance of secession on Dec. 20, 1860, when it became the first state to dissolve its union with the United States. [...] “We’re celebrating that those 170 people risked their lives and fortunes to stand for what they believed in, which is self-government,” Mr. Antley said. “Many people in the...

The Little Picture: Emancipation Day.

Today, Washington, D.C., celebrates Emancipation Day. The Freedman's Memorial in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood has an insanely interesting history -- if you're interested in some weekend reading, check out Kirk Savage 's Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves .

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery."

As a follow-up to Adam 's post below, here's a useful roundup of quotes from Confederate Declarations of Secession -- unlike their latter-day apologists, they made no pretense that secession wasn't about slavery. And as Katrina vanden Heuvel notes , the "states' rights" excuse becomes even more feeble when you remember that Southern political elites were perfectly happy with broad constructions of federal authority when they supported the slave interest. ( John Calhoun started his career as a strong nationalist.) The placement of the fugitive slave clause in Article IV of the Constitution implies that the relevant powers were a state responsibility, but when Congress and the Supreme Court construed the clause as giving the federal government the power to regulate fugitive slaves, oddly people who would eventually become advocates of "states' rights" didn't object. None of this is surprising -- for all intents and purposes nobody really cares about "federalism." One's belief in the...

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