Friday, February 23, 2007

The Little Known History of Slavery, Part Two

Anachronistic Morality
Moral principles may be timeless but moral choices can be made only among the options actually available at particular times and places.

We cannot assume twenty-first century options, or even present-day knowledge, when judging decisions made in the 19th century. Nor can we assume that we have superior knowledge of the social realities of an earlier era that we never lived through, compared to the first-hand knowledge of those who confronted those realities daily and inescapably.

Moral Questions about slavery have been, almost exclusively, Western moral questions.. Non-Western societies had neither moral concerns about slavery nor, in most cases, the power to decide on the continuance or extinction of the institution for themselves during the era of European imperialism, when slavery was suppressed over most of the world by the West. Not only has the West's crucial role in the destruction of slavery around the world gone largely unnoticed, standards applied almost exclusively to the West have been used to condemn European and European offshoot societies for having once had slavery.

Even those Western leaders who sought to end slavery are condemned by critics today for not having done it sooner or faster. The dangers and constraints of their times have too often been either ignored or brushed aside as mere excuses, as if elected leaders operating under the constitutional law could simply decree whatever they felt was right.
-Thomas Sowell, excerpted from Black Rednecks and White Liberals

Previously, I pointed out Sowell's excellent book review on Professor Allen C. Guelzo's Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Take the time to read the book review, if you haven't. It illustrates in a nutshell, how flawed it is to judge the past by today's standards of morality, without understanding the context and constraints of the times.

To be sure, our heroic forefathers and larger-than-life leaders were flawed human beings; but to label them as hypocrites for such things as speaking out against slavery while being slaveowners themselves, when slavery was a centuries old, worldwide institution, is to apply anachronistic morality.
Even those slaveholders with aversions to slavery in principle were constrained by a strong tradition of stewardship, in which the family inheritance was not theirs to dispose of in their own lifetime, but to pass on to others as it had been passed on to them. George Washington was one of those who had inherited slaves and, dying childless, freed his slaves in his will, effective on the death of his wife. His will also provided that slaves too old or too beset with "bodily infirmities" to take care of themselves should be taken care of by his estate, and that the children were to be "taught to read and write" and trained for "some useful occupation".
This is an important point to highlight, because some like Jefferson (who I shall focus on in Part Three) and Washington understood that simply freeing slaves without giving them the necessary tools and means to survive in society was more like abandonment than liberation. They did consider the possibility of sending freed slaves back to Africa. But the reality was, many of these slaves no longer had ties to Africa, either.
One concrete result of the back-to-Africa movement was the establishment of the colony of Liberia on the West African coast, to which freed American blacks were sent during the administration of James Monroe, for whom they named their capital Monrovia. These first settlers were decimated by African diseases to which they no longer had biological resistance- which was just one of the problems of trying to undo the past.
Frederick Douglass himself, refused the offer to be sent to Africa, seeing himself as an American.
[Washington's] estate in fact continued to pay for the support of some freed slaves for decades after his death, in accordance to his will.

The part of Washington's will dealing with slaves filled almost three pages, and the tone as well as the length of it showed his concerns.
The language of the will was written in very legalistic terms; but when it came to speaking about what was to become of his slaves, he spoke with the passionate command of issuing an executive decree: "I do hereby expressly forbid the sale...of any Slave I may die possessed of, under any pretext whatsoever."

"There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it." Washington once said, in regards to slavery as a national issue. The moral question for him was easy; but how to carry it out with compassion and foresight planning was a complex matter. Only through legislation, did Washington see it as a realistic possibility to end the institution; and he said that the legislator who could achieve that, would get his vote.

During his public life, Washington was known to leave behind slaves he brought with him on his travels to the north, in effect, freeing them. His behavior as a slaveowner is also noted in Richard Brookhiser's Founding Father:
Beginning in the early 1770's, he rarely bought a slave and he would not sell one, unless the slave consented, which never happened. not selling slaves was an economic loss. Slave labor on a plantation with soil as poor as Mount Veronon brought in little or nothing...The only profit a man in his position would make was by selling slaves to states where agriculture was more flourishing. Washington would not. "I am principled against selling negroes as you would do cattle at a market..." From 1775 until his death, the slave population at Mount Vernon more than doubled.

Quoted passages taken from Thomas Sowell's Black Rednecks and White Liberals

Previous entry:

The Little Known History of Slavery, Part One

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12 Comments:

Blogger J_G said...

Word, I have had extensive conversations with some of my black friends about slavery. One friend in particular has talked to me about reparations and some of the actions that have taken place here in Philadelphia recently.

A bank (used to be First Union (F-U Bank) now Wachovia) and an insurance company (Aetna) has apologized for their role in the slave trade. OK I can go along with that, those companies made a profit off of insuring and financing the slave trade. Apology accepted.

My friend thinks I have no standing in accepting their apology. I do think I have plenty of standing as just as much as he does. The slave trade ended in the US in the 1808. That is 199 years ago. Slavery was put to end in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation but for practical purposes in April of 1865 when Lee surrendered to Grant was slavery officially over.

Anyway my point is this; my friend's ancestors were held as slaves and that was wrong, it was dead wrong and I would have opposed slavery back then as I do now. It is a stain on the history of country and I am ashamed that such a thing went on. My family sent people to war to end the practice of slavery many of my family's friends and neighbors died a horrible death to end the practice.

I do not ask anything of those companies or from the descendants of those people that earned a profit from the practice of slavery to compensate my family in any way for the losses we suffered fighting to end the practice of slavery. I only ask that corporations and Banks never involve themselves in any activity such as slavery ever again.

The American Civil War ended slavery 153 years ago. Life goes on the country has made legislation preventing such a thing to happen again. Since the end of slavery civil rights legislation has been passed to make us all equal and its intention was to make us equal not to make any one us special. Use the gifts God has bestowed upon all us, each in their own way to make something of your life but don't let the past weigh you down.

My ancestors in Ireland ended up there because after being sent to invade England on Spanish ships sent by Prince Phillip they could swim and run like the dickens. Do I send the bill for wet clothes and the doctor bills for treatment of blisters on their feet from fleeing the Celts waiting there to kill them as they swam ashore? I think not. Move on, life goes on, make the most of it. Life is short. I’m not certain my friend agrees with my assertions and conclusions.

One other thing Word; thanks for the varied posts, I'm having fun again discussing things with reasonable people.

Friday, February 23, 2007 9:30:00 AM  
Blogger J_G said...

Correction:
Do I send the bill for wet clothes and the doctor bills for treatment of blisters on their feet from fleeing the Celts waiting there to kill them as they swam ashore to the current government of Spain or Prince Phillip's acestors?

Friday, February 23, 2007 9:37:00 AM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

jennifer, I think I told you before how much I love your comments. Here and elsewhere, across the blogosphere.

There are many reasons why reparations is a bad idea, foremost among them is the one you illustrate.

If true justice is to institute reparations for every wrong done in the history of mankind, everybody on the planet would owe everybody else. Whose ancestors somewhere down the line weren't visited upon with injustices, pillaging, murder, enslavement, etc. by someone else's ancient ancestors?

Then there's the problem of someone who has only 1/8th the bloodline of a slave ancestor coursing through his veins. The rest of him could be Irish, German, Chinese, native West African (whose ancestor here might have even captured and sold slaves to white Europeans), Bangladesh, Polish, Russian, Lebanese. So, does that mean he gets only 1/8th the amount in reparations that a pure-blooded slave descendant would get? Are those Americans whose ancestors didn't even live here at the time of slavery reparations tax exempt? How about the ones who are descendants of slaves? How do you realistically sift through and partition "radicalized fairness"?

Injustices are part of living in this world. You do the best you can to set things right; but at a certain point, it's time to move on. To get over it. To be hung up on it only harms yourself and society. The best cure is to put the past behind us and make the most of the present for a better future.

Friday, February 23, 2007 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Always On Watch Two said...

Sort of on topic....I've seen some lengthy clips from the film Amazing Grace, which is being released to theaters today. Yes, the film has an evangelical tone. But judging from the clips I've seen, I see that the film also graphically shows the evils of slavery. Of course, slavery is still in practice today--in the Middle East.

Friday, February 23, 2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger WomanHonorThyself said...

Sowell is brilliant..truly.....Do I send the bill for wet clothes and the doctor bills for treatment of blisters on their feet from fleeing the Celts waiting there to kill them as they swam ashore to the current government of Spain or Prince Phillip's acestors?..now that just says it all too!..great insights Word!..Have a beautiful weekend!..:-)

Friday, February 23, 2007 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

aowt, scroll down a couple of posts, and you will see that Part One of my "Little Known History of Slavery" was tied around the release of that movie today. And Sowell places emphasis on the fact that the first anti-slavery movement was begun in the West, amongst religious Christians. And nowhere else.

angel, Sowell is one of my all-time favorite conservative thinkers.

Friday, February 23, 2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger J_G said...

Thanks again Word, I like coming to your site because your topics are interesting and gosh, you get the best cartoons!!! I send them to my liberal friends and that spikes em good. I've also been accused of bloviating much of the time:-)

The one thing that I always emphasize is that we study and learn history so we don't repeat the grevious errors that have been made before we came along. I truly believe slavery was an abomination and we should never, ever let that happen here in America again and we should work to end it in other parts of the world too.

I think I've changed the tone of the discussion with my black friends. I refuse to identify myself as Irish-American, I refer to myself as American of Irish decent. I am proud of my Irish herritage and I honor the things that should be but I am an American first and foremost. I was born an American, I served my country as an American, I live and I will die an American. I think that is finally having a positive effect with my conversations with people that have a differing opinion.

Friday, February 23, 2007 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

jennifer, I like your way of thinking.

I too, for the most part, have ditched referring to myself as a hyphenated American. It isn't that there's anything wrong with it, in and of itself; it's just a statement against the pc notions of diversity and multiculturalism.

After over 3 decades of it, it's starting to get old for me to hear people- especially kids- ask me "where are you from?" "I'm from America. Where are you from?" I'll ask back.

Then there might be a response back, "But you look Chinese."

*rolleyes*

In the next few days, I'm going to do a couple of posts of a personal nature, as I approach my 39th birthday.


In regards to your friends, I lived with two brothers who are black, for 6 years during my college years, and right after. They were also teammates of mine. They come from a middle class family in New Mexico, and both became doctors. When we were still in college, one student asked my roommate Greg if he had been to any ASU meetings, lately. Greg responded, "Oh, yeah; we competed there recently." Greg thought the guy meant Arizona State University, where we regularly went each year for gymnastics competitions. The guy shook his head, thinking my roommate was so out of touch, as he was referring to the African Student Union on campus.

It is discouraging and demoralizing to my American psyche, that my roommates in some circles, are ostracized by other blacks as being "whitewashed" and "oreos" (black on the outside, white on the in) the way that I would be considered a twinkie (yellow on the outside, white on the in). Simply because they choose to speak good English and embrace middle American culture, rather than segregate themselves off from mainstream society by changing their "slave" names to Afro-Muslim names, and by not embracing pseudo-black Kwanzaa-style culture. They chose to follow the example of Bill Cosby, and not Ron Karenga. They chose not to be victims with a chip on their shoulders; instead, they worked hard to live successful lives.

My former roommates aren't Africans. They are Americans.

UCLA is supposed to be a bastion of diversity. But I used to be turned off by the student groups. When you walked to class down Bruin Walk, the ASU would all mingle together on one side; the Chinese Student group would all loiter around the steps of Kerkhoff. And they'd all basically segregate themselves.

I understand the yearning some have to find commonality and find a support group that shares your background and celebrate cultural heritage. But groups like MECha and La Raza did nothing but be separatists, in my opinion. They fuel racism and conflict.

I once attended an event hosted by the campus Pilipino student group. And it was a big turn-off. If I were white interested in learning about Filipino culture, all I would have learned is about how another leftist diversity group feels victimized and oppressed by white American imperialism. Unbelievable! I think (and I could be wrong on this) usually it's the first generation immigrant parents who come here that appreciates America; and it is their children indoctrinated in our liberal school systems that become activists against the idea of American Exceptionalism in favor of the Noam Chomsky-Ward Churchill worldview that sees America as the world's oppressor.

Friday, February 23, 2007 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

Noam Chomsky, what a loser. I think I have mentioned a blog where I used to comment at on a few of my posts over at my place. The blog was a Linguistics Professor that was retired from Ohio State. I ran into plenty of Chomsky arguments for hating America first over there.

The Ohio professor told me he would testify as an expert witness for advertising firms or lawyers suing advertising firms for misleading advertising. I let him know where I stood with that; Nothing works better than alka-seltzer, so I took their advice and used nothing when I got indigestion and they were right, nothing does work better.. He was very suspicious of me after that. I call that kind of thing "weasel words".

The Ohio State professor would often refer to Chomsky and I really had no idea who he was talking about and so I started looking into it and about that same time Chomsky showed up over in Lebanon last year during the Hezbollah attacks on Israel. I got an education about that nut case pretty quickly.

It wasn't too long afterwards the Ohio State professor got tired of me contradicting him with reason and common sense. We had a discussion on English as the primary language of the US and he tried to say that it was unnecessary and attempted to give examples of multilingual success stories.

I replied back and pointed him to Quebec, Canada and how the French Canadians want to become a separate state and the animosity that is created by still fighting over a primary language. I also pointed out a few other success stories from around the globe including Spain itself where the Basques are actually dying to make their language called "Euskera" the dominant language.

After that he had about enough of me and booted me unceremoniously from his blog by sending me an email to the address I use from my blog. So much for open minded learning, glad I didn't pay money to go to his course.

I just look at people as individuals though. To me, people sound very ignorant when they generalize about races of people. Most of the generalizations are made up by people that whose aim is to denigrate that race to make themselves feel superior.

I evaluate a person by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. I didn't make those words up but I certainly use that valuable advice for all that it is worth and it has served me well.

It is fair though to point out that liberal ideology is non sense and the people that practice it are mor… er, I mean, challenged Ha-ha :-)

Friday, February 23, 2007 3:12:00 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

Very interesting post and comment thread. Jennifer is brilliant! :)

"But you look Chinese!" I can't believe even children would say that to you. How many children would say "But you look African!" or "But you look Mexican!" I find that really strange. The Chinese have been in America longer than my ancestors who came from England and longer than Walt's ancestors who came from Poland and Hungary. It really shows the lack of education in our schools today that children don't know how long that Chinese have been in America. I hope you don't hear that a lot!

Friday, February 23, 2007 6:20:00 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Jennifer is brilliant! :)

gayle, she is not only brilliant but she is very formidable in countering moonbats. I've seen her break lances countless times over at Marie's Two Cents; and it took me a while to realize that j_g and "Jennifer Gallagher" over at Mike's America were one and the same. I figured it out, because the comment style was the same, and I eventually clicked onto "Jennifer Gallagher" to find her homepage.

Jennifer, I was not very politically inclined in college; but in reflection, I now see which of my professors were leftwing ideologues. What they said at the time sounded brilliant, as I didn't know any better; but, somehow I avoided the indoctrination effect. In political science, I had a Marxist professor named Victor Wolfenstein. He'd show up to lecture in his tie-dyed or grateful dead t-shirts and sandals and jeans. One of my favorite American literature professors seemed really into minority causes. I'm glad I took their classes, but I wish I had the perspective and counter-knowledge that I have since acquired, back then. It would have been more interesting.

The Ohio professor sounds like your typical liberal professor.

gayle also wrote:

"But you look Chinese!" I can't believe even children would say that to you. How many children would say "But you look African!" or "But you look Mexican!" I find that really strange.

It doesn't happen that often out here in Los Angeles, which is pretty diverse; but it still does on occasion.

What's also irksome, is that anyone who actually has familiarity with Asia would be able to tell that I look nothing like a Chinese. I am Thai; so ethnically, my look is more Malay/Filipino/southeast Asian.

Friday, February 23, 2007 9:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

facts are that Africans and Arabs have been enslaving Africans for thousands of years and still do. It was not legally abolished by law in many Muslim and African countries until the later part of the 20th century. I am sick and tired of it all being blamed on white people. It is the Christians that finally started getting it abolished throughout the world.

Sunday, April 29, 2012 8:58:00 PM  

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