THAT GHOST MOANING AND RATTLING CHAINS IN
THE NIGHT COULD BE OUR OWN HISTORY
"No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened around his own neck."- Frederick Douglass
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the introduction of African Slavery in what would become the United States. This is important history and the readers of this blog are directed to the 1619 Project to read about how slavery played a role in the building of our nation. It is a terrible legacy to contemplate and those who wish to understand American history must never forget the lessons of what this nation was like when people could own other human beings and the failure of thisnation to heal the wounds this condition created.
When African slaves were introduced to the North American colonies the United States of America was almost two hundred years in the future. Slavery is part of our heritage of being a former colony of European States. Ancient Rome is estimated to enslaved roughly one-quarter to one-third of all the people in the empire. All of the states which grew out of that empire maintained slavery well into the age of reason and some beyond. This reliance upon the forced labor of humans is found in China, India, Japan, Russia.. you get the picture. Empires, city-states, kingdoms, states, churches, provinces, counties, prefectures, military districts, etc. all included slaves in the mix. Lest we get too complacent, there are slaves working in the dark underground shops of many modern cities, providing labor for the sex industry, serving as unwilling combatants in wars, and performing back-breaking labor in fields. It's tough to put an idea as pernicious as slavery into the grave it deserves.
Slavery in the colonies that would become the United States was a mixed bag. Indenturing of labor for decades provided as many as half of the immigrants to the colonies. Prisoners, exiles, debtor-peons, and even kidnapped persons were part of the mix. Indenturing was not ownership but had many of the horrors of slavery. Indenturing continued until the First World War. Ultimately the majority of indentured persons were still considered to be persons and in some locations had rights. This could not be claimed for the trans-Atlantic African slave-trade. The cheaper workers from Africa were property first and, as the trans-Atlantic trade became choked off, livestock. This is a huge difference. This factor had an enormous impact on the assimilation of former servants into society upon their releases from bondage.
When Admiral Columbus first came to his "New World" there already existed tribes which enslaved people. Columbus was quick to ship Native American captives back to Spain for inclusion in the slave economy of the Spanish Kingdom which continued until 1811 (except in places like Cuba where it lingered until 1862). The initial trickle of captives grew in size and for a time the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a two-way street. Spain ended the slavery of Native Americans in 1530 but allowed forced labor to continue under the Encomienda system. The trans-Atlantic trading of Native American slaves ended in 1528. This pattern of abolishing the trade in slaves well before abolishing slavery itself was repeated in most slave-holding nations. Economics
South America predated that in North America by more than a century. African slaves were shipped to Spain and thence to South America by 1510. King Charles V established a monopoly in the trading of African slaves Spanish colonies in 1518. African slavery in Portugese had been major importers of African slaves to Europe by 1444 and built a permanent slave trading post on the African coast in 1482. The African slaves imported to Virginia in 1619 were part of an extended chain of events where economic gain was prized over human suffering.
Great Britain did not abolish slavery until 1833 with the passage of the Abolition of Slavery Act. Britain had abolished the Atlantic Slave trade in 1807 (an act that was followed by its former colonies in the United States in 1808). France abolished slavery in 1848 (trading slaves in 1817). The Kingdom of Sweden abolished slavery in 1813 and the Netherlands in 1814. There were hundreds of abolition declarations, treaties, laws and amendments all aimed at correcting this flawed choice by the many peoples who chose to employ slave labor. Once it officially was ended it rarely came back, as when Napoleon I reestablished slavery on French sugar plantations in the early 19th century. However, when made illegal, slavery continued to thrive in the shadows. Profits from cheap labor are difficult for many to resist.
Mexico abolished slavery when their first president of African descent, Vincente Guerreo, took office in 1829. In one of the great WTF moments of North American history Ute warriors serving with Kit Carson's expedition against the Navajo sent many captured Navajo south to the Mexico as slaves. Accordingly an army of a nation which just issued an emancipation proclamation for slaves held in rebellious states sent prisoners of war as slaves into a country where slavery was abolished."
The United States won their independence in 1783. The break-away British colonies had economies that included chattel slavery and other forms of servitude. The new republic helped fuel the peak years of importation of African slaves to North America. It is entirely hypocritical that a nation that announced it's cutting the ties with the mother country by declaring all men created equal, would embrace slavery. Jefferson originally included a rebuke to King George about fostering slavery in the colonies but this was removed by delegates with financial interests in the slave industry. Instead there is an oblique reference to "domestic insurrections" (a.k.a. slave rebellions). It is of note that Vermont in 1777 banished slavery while the issue of their own independence was in substantial doubt, as Burgoyne's British army was sweeping south out of Canada. Freed from England's control, America was unable to ween itself of the cheap labor provided by slavery until 1865. The sudden and violent destruction of the slave economy did not end the struggle for the former slaves. A new struggle sprang out of the ashes of the Confederacy and continues to this day.
The 1619 project of the New York Times does an admirable job in detailing the numerous lost opportunities to incorporate the former slaves into society as fully functioning members. The African slaves were treated as non-persons during their bondage and freedom in the 1860s did little to change that. It has been a constant struggle to obtain basic civil rights, economic access, educational access, health care, and equal protection under the law. There is still a lot of work to do. We all need to roll up our sleeves.