America and Slavery

May 2021

Slavery was NOT an American invention. Virtually every civilizations since recorded history began had slaves - including Africa. African kings practiced chattel slavery and African slavery was as bad as everyone else's slavery.(1) African kings grew rich selling people from other tribes into slavery abroad. Some blacks who came to the US had been slaves in Africa. They just traded owners. American Indians, Muslims and other cultures openly traded and owned slaves. Incredibly, there have been black slave auctions in Libya as late as 2018.(2) The Spanish brought the first slaves to the New World in 1519. The first slaves into what became the U.S. was in 1619. To single out the US for eternal condemnation over slavery that was common around the world at that time is wrong.

America INHERITED slavery from the British and then fought a horrific Civil War to end slavery. The US is responsible for slavery from 1781 - when the Articles of Confederation formed the new US government - until 1865, when the Civil War ended. Prior to 1781, the French, British, Portuguese and Spanish were responsible for slavery in the New World.

This push by the political left to banish early Americans who owned slaves is profoundly misguided. Should the Founders have waited until slavery was abolished before writing the finest Constitution in world history? What if future circumstances made a rebellion against the King of England impossible? The Constitution would never be written and world history would be changed catastrophically for the worse. Thousands of inventions by Americans would not have been invented. Slavery was an entrenched institution in 1787 and there was no possibility that slavery would be outlawed in the foreseeable future. 

The Founders were brilliant men - but not perfect men. To condemn the Founding Fathers for having tolerated a society that allowed slavery was to expect more from them then they were able to attain in that time period - when the abolitionist movement was in its infancy. 

Critics of the Founders are not interested in an honest inquiry into these men. Their motives are to destroy by only looking for the bad and ignoring the good. These critics would not have a clue how to write a Constitution for a free society. 

Writing the Constitution, Bill of Rights and establishing a Republic was an unrivaled accomplishment in world history - and the Founders  should be honored for this. Because some Founders owned slaves does not negate the brilliance of what these men accomplished. 

The greatness of America was in progressing past slavery. The Founding Fathers acknowledged that slavery violated the core principles of the American Revolution - not one of them ever publicly praised it. But their highest priority was unity among the colonies, which prevented them from making a bold move against slavery. If the south didn’t join the revolution against the British, there was little hope of winning the war. The slavery issue was pushed back for another generation to deal with.

There never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians - Englishmen and Americans - created one. The Founding Fathers set in motion social action by Christians who made slavery morally reprehensible in much of America and around the world. The critical importance of our founding document is that it gave a moral legal basis to the eventual eradication of slavery, not only in America but around the world. 

While the Founding Fathers couldn’t end the institution of slavery, they did make every effort to keep slavery from spreading, banning slavery in the Northwest Territory in 1787. Congress abolished the importation of slaves into the US in 1807. Great Britain also banned the African slave trade in 1807.

Slavery was a pervasive reality of life in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 90% of the approximately 10 million enslaved Africans brought to the New World were taken to Latin America and the Caribbean. The trade of African slaves to Brazil and Cuba continued until the 1860s.(3) 

Were slaves considered three-fifths of a human?

The three-fifths clause is often misinterpreted to mean that African Americans were considered three-fifths of a person. Not true. The three-fifths clause was part of a series of compromises enacted by the Constitutional Convention of 1787 over how slaves states would be represented in the House of Representatives.

Slave states wanted blacks counted with the white population. Northern states opposed slaves being counted as they had no right to vote. This would also give slave states a much larger representation in the House and encourage slave states to add more slaves so they could get even greater representation in the House. 

The compromise was to determine the slave population of each slave state and then take 60% of the slave population and add it to the white population to determine how many representatives slave states would have in the House.

The three-fifths clause was abolished when the 13th Amendment (Dec. 1865) freed all enslaved people in the United States, the 14th amendment (Jul. 1868) gave them full citizenship, and the 15th Amendment  (Mar 1870) granted black men the right to vote.

Some blacks chose to go back to Africa 

Between 1820 and 1864, 11,000 African Americans emigrated to Liberia (4,000 free blacks and 7,000 former slaves who gained freedom by agreeing to emigrate to Liberia). Over 3.5 million did not leave.

Conclusion

No country in history has had a more positive impact on the world then the United States. America is such a great country that since 1790, over 76 MILLION people have immigrated to the United States. We should feel proud to be an American and salute our flag.

 
Sources:
1. An adventurer named Mungo Park toured central Africa between 1795 and 1797 and wrote a detailed account of his travels. His book, Travels in the Interior of Africa, Volume 2, also shows that the slave trade among Africans pre-dated major European involvement in the trade. Download book at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5305
 
2. https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/03/21/595497429/migrants-passing-through-libya-could-end-up-being-sold-as-slaves
 
3. https://www.theroot.com/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us-1790873989
 
 

May 2021