If you listen to some white people tell it, America always intended to end enslavement, always making small steps toward that end until they did.
“In 1794, just nine years after the first Congress, America passed its first anti-slavery act, The Atlantic Slave Trade Act. It was rapidly followed up in 1800 by the Slave Trade Act of 1800, and in 1807, by the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves in 1807. The truth is sir, that from its very beginnings, America moved toward eliminating slavery.” Brian Wilson (Internet Historian)
When white people (and a few Black ones) try to explain American history to you that makes white people look good, beware. The base objection to Critical Race Theory (CRT) which isn’t being taught in grade schools and most colleges except at the graduate level, is that it will make white people feel bad. Truth is, there probably isn’t an accurate version of American history that shouldn’t evoke some bad feelings about what took place. The end result is they take a few factual events and rewrite them to at least say they meant well. There are some white people of the time that did much better than others. That’s only a positive if you grade on a curve.
Abraham Lincoln didn’t mind the institution of slavery and never would have issued the Emancipation Proclamation except as a tactic to weaken the Southern economy and keep France and Britain from siding with the Confederacy. Patrick Henry, who famously uttered, “Give me liberty or give me death,” couldn’t believe that he couldn’t rid himself of enslaved people due to their convenience.
“Would any one believe that I am master of slaves by my own purchase? I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not — I cannot justify it, however culpable my conduct.” — Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry had a few words for the good Christians of the day who supported and profited from enslavement.
“It is not a little surprising that Christianity, whose chief excellence consists in softening the human heart, in cherishing and improving its finer feelings, should encourage a practice so totally repugnant to the first impressions of right and wrong. What adds to the wonder is that this abominable practice has been introduced in the most enlightened ages. Times that seem to have pretensions to boast of high improvements in arts, sciences and refined morality, have brought into general use and guarded by many laws a species of violence and tyranny which our more rude and barbarous, but more honest ancestors detested.
Is it not amazing that at a time when the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision, in a country, above all others, fond of liberty — that in such an age and such a country we find men professing a religion the most humane, mild, meek, gentle and generous, adopting a principle as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive to liberty? Every thinking, honest man rejects it in speculation. How few, in practice, from conscientious motives. — Patrick Henry
In answer to the first quote from Brian Wilson which imagines America was always on a gradual path to end enslavement. I referred him to the Constitution of the United States, which explicitly prohibited the end of the International Slave Trade for at least twenty years. The goal was never part of a plan to end slavery but to ensure Southern states, South Carolina in particular, that the practice of slavery would go on without fear of being eliminated by voters from Northern states. It was a promise that got Southern colonies to join the Union. One for vastly different reason was never intended to be kept.
Mr. Wilson pointed to the Atlantic Slave Act of 1794 as proof America planned to end enslavement. In truth, the act only prevented America from exporting slaves to other countries. Any slave in America could not be legally sent elsewhere. I inquired of Mr. Wilson how that possibly would reduce enslavement in America. I have yet to receive a response.
Brian Wilson also pointed out the Slave Trade Act of 1800 as further proof of America’s benevolent intentions. That act only prevented Americans from transporting slaves from one foreign country to another, doing nothing to stop the importing of enslaved people to America. These acts were never intended to reduce slaves coming to America but to eliminate competition and keep the prices of domestic slaves (those born in America) high.
The end of the International Slave Trade came in 1807 but it wasn’t intended in any way to reduce or eliminate enslavement. It was a protectionist measure intended to prop up the price of home-grown slaves, and America was doing all they could to increase the production of slaves born here while reducing those imported from abroad. The term “increase the production,” might have slipped beneath your notice. What that meant was forced breeding and rape of enslaved women to maximize slave births so the product (babies) could be sold further South to plantations desperate for workers.
This coincided with an excess of enslaved people in states like Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware because they’d ruined their farms by failing to rotate crops and utilizing other known methods to protect the South. Thomas Jefferson, who got the International Slave Trade banned on his watch, was a primary beneficiary of the higher prices given the 600+ enslaved people he owned during his lifetime.
There is no nice version of American history, the westward expansion where Manifest Destiny declared that God intended white people to claim all of America from ocean to ocean. America at one time considered conquering Mexico but refused because there were too many Mexicans, according to John C. Calhoun, a prominent South Carolina Senator. He said that America was never intended for anyone except “free white people,” in a speech heralded before Congress.
“I know further, sir, that we have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race — the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race. The greatest misfortunes of Spanish America are to be traced to the fatal error of placing these colored races on an equality with the white race. That error destroyed the social arrangement which formed the basis of society. The Portuguese and ourselves have escaped — the Portuguese at least to some extent — and we are the only people on this continent which have made revolutions without being followed by anarchy. And yet it is professed and talked about to erect these Mexicans into a Territorial Government, and place them on an equality with the people of the United States. I protest utterly against such a project.” Sen. John C. Calhoun
America finds itself in the position of honoring its founders, making them heroes, while simultaneously erasing their actions so as not to make white children feel bad. Revisionist history is filling textbooks while actual history is being banned from the classroom. Even when these wannabe historians have a couple facts right, they lack context and have no clue as to the real intentions. Others are worse, offering false explanations to cover up undesirable truths, like naming rape and forced breeding as “natural increase.”
Or hiding the fact Thomas Jefferson (there goes that man again) has teen enslaved boys whipped in his nailery at Monticello.
America’s history needs to be told, not with the intention of making white children feel bad but to be certain we don’t repeat the mistakes of old. Based on the continued practices of voter suppression and mass incarceration, I think we still have things to do.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
You may also like these posts on The Good Men Project:
|Escape the Act Like a Man Box||What We Talk About When We Talk About Men||Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race||The First Myth of the Patriarchy: The Acorn on the Pillow|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock