The Slavery Blame Game
Seizing upon the tragedy of yet another loser white boy killing strangers, the black politicians─great and small─are on the rampage against all things, symbols, and persons, reflecting the Confederate side of the American Civil War. According to them, the Confederate Battle Flag, the statues of Confederate soldiers, and their names denoting places must be erased from American history. In the furtherance of their cause, they and their pals among the white historians even go so far as to smear the name and disparage the character of General Lee─by adopting the phony story of his whipping the bare back of a female slave.
Strangely, though, in the excitement and alarm of their endeavor, do you notice how they do not attack the name of Washington? How they turn their heads away from where their agenda leads them, to the destruction of the cult of Washington; to the dismantling of his monuments; to the stripping of his image from the Capitol; to its name being changed to Lincoln, D.C.
The Capitol Rotunda
Amazing it is that the black politicians seize upon Lee─a professional soldier who never bought or sold an African, indeed who hardly owned anything but his reputation─as the inspiration for their vendetta against the truth of history. And ignore Washington, who spent his lifetime amassing one of the great Virginia fortunes on the backs of hundreds and hundreds of slaves he bought and sold. If Lee is to be attacked, smeared, erased, why not Washington, too? Is it that the black politicians lack the moral courage to attack the ultimate symbol of the nation’s origin as a slave monger, or is it simply that they lack the moral courage to face the ultimate fact of slavery head on: that its existence in the America of 1860 had nothing to do with bringing on the Civil War and everything to do with a pervasive, virulent strain of racism that infected the minds of almost all white Americans; a racism in the bloodstream of the nation its taken almost four hundred years to cleanse.
The tradition is that thousands of years ago a people called “Hottentots” came with their cattle from the Sahara down the west coast of Africa and pushed the native Africans away from the coastal plain and into the central highlands. Another wave─generally known as the “Bantu─and also connected to cattle, came into Africa from the Fertile Crescent, filtering into East Africa and populating Central Africa, trending toward the south. They traveled in family groups, at the pace of the cattle, and they moved this way and that as the pressures of circumstance pushed them. The movement was slow and confused, so that as the centuries passed the groups as they rooted, grew apart in language, culture and even physical characteristics as the main populations continued to move on.
Each of these ethnic groups was composed of aggregates of clans, and each clan in turn was composed of families of varying number, all of whom claimed descent from a common ancestor. The clans were ordinarily ruled by hereditary chieftains, and were confederated in groups that ranged from a few hundred to many thousands. Polygamy was the communal practice─the wives being bought with cattle─and slavery in different forms, including the concept of property in man, was the political rule. Africans bought and sold other Africans as personal slaves to perform menial, domestic labor, to serve as wives or concubines, or to enhance the economic status of the slave owner.
From the 7th Century to today, Africans have been selling other Africans to Arabs, sending thousands of their fellow men and women each year to North Africa and parts of Asia. And, from the 15th to the 19th century, Africans sold other Africans to Europeans who brought them as slaves, first, to South America, and, then, beginning in about 1650, to Virginia.
Arabs With African Slaves
In ancient African society, slavery represented one of the few methods of producing wealth available to common people. Land was typically held communally by villages or large clans and was allotted to families according to their need, ownership being retained by the hereditary chieftain. The amount of land a family needed was determined by the number of laborers that family could marshal to work the land. Driven by self-interest, as all human beings are, the family invested its surplus wealth in the purchase of their fellow Africans, to gain the economic benefit of their labor which, in turn, increased their share of the communal land. As with all things human, the poor fellows winding up slaves were those too weak to defend themselves against aggression. The principle that might makes right is not limited to the African race, but is universal in the history of humanity on earth, codified as it is in the holy books of the main religions, the Koran and the Bible.
The self-interest that drives the existence of slavery in Africa today, is the same self-interest that drove the Englishmen of the British King’s colony of Virginia to tolerate the importation of Africans, through the Crown-chartered monopoly called the London Company, into their community as chattel slaves.
How It Happened
In 1607, in the reign of King James, the first colonists from the King’s chartered London Company landed near what is Cape Henry on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. When Indians began creeping toward them in the forest, they returned to their ships and sailed through Hampton Road and into James River where they established themselves in a fort they called Jamestown. Ten years later, the forests on both sides of the river adjacent to the town had been cleared and tobacco crops were growing and the first African was arriving on a Dutch vessel, to be promptly made an indentured servant.
In 1624, the King revoked the charter of the London company as manager, and brought the colony of Virginia, which at that time stretched from north of the Potomac to what is now Florida, under his direct control by appointing an advisory council of favored few─the House of Burgesses─to be ruled by a procession of royal governors: Berkeley, Spotswood, Culpeper, Fairfax, Dunsmore etc.
From 1624 to about 1670, there was much political turmoil in England─a king beheaded, Cromwell in power, Cromwell deposed, wars; then a new king in place─in the course of which Maryland and the Carolinas are formed, a society emerges in Virginia composed of a small group of aristocrats who own large tracts of land stretching back from the river into the wilderness, and a large group of yeomen and indentured servants, and a few African slaves are standing by.
Thirty years later, William and Mary are on the throne and there are 70,000 people in Virginia and 20,000 of them are African slaves. Like their forbearers, the Africans were there because the availability of cheap land created the economic opportunity to produce huge quantities of product that could be sold, for huge profits, if there was available the labor force to do it. The last of the convict-felons arrived in 1678. London had burned down and was being rebuilt with English laborers. Laboring Englishmen as volunteer immigrants were getting harder and harder to come by. To the extent newcomers appeared, they were French Huguenots, Germans, and Scotch-Irish who, for the most part, settled in the wilderness of the Blue Ridge Mountains and in the Shenandoah Valley where the labor feature of slavery was of little practical value.
During this same period, on the Eastern Shore, the Northern Neck, and the Tidewater country of Virginia, from about one million pounds in 1640, the tobacco crop increased to 18 million pounds by 1688, rising annually until it reached 20 million in 1731. And it is this that drove the Englishmen to bring the Africans forcibly to their world.
The farms around the African Krall were small change compared to what these English aristocrats, Washington among them, were now hauling in from the backs of slaves. There is a bit of evidence that the Virginia colonists were forced by the King to accept Africans as slaves in their community, but, from an objective point of view, the protests were too few and came much too late in the game to be taken seriously.
In 1772, for example, as years of political struggle with the king over the self-serving issue of taxation were heating to the climax of revolution, the Virginia House of Burgesses sent King George this petition:
And Jefferson, waxing poetic about the equality of man in his drafts of the Declaration of Independence, wrote a paragraph that, to gain unanimity among the colonies, was deleted. Jefferson wrote that the king,
Census figures, Mr. Jefferson do not lie.
Comparison of White and Black Populations
By 1754, the record shows the ratio of Englishmen to African in Virginia was about 60/40. Now, given the objective circumstances of the case, as they existed in the real world of men, can any black politician of today, President Obama included (an outstanding president by the way) seriously think that, suddenly, like the gentle rain of heaven falling on the ground beneath, the white race might open its arms in love to the black race, the former embracing the latter as equal partners in a common government, in a common society?
An incredible event had occurred in the course of human history. The hand of God (or, perhaps, just chance) had lifted up two hundred thousand Africans from their kraals and set them down as slaves among eight hundred thousand Englishmen, in a land foreign to them both. Was it a divine experiment in amalgamation, or, perhaps, simply a natural experiment in determining how long the process of amalgamation might take? The answer is: Three hundred and fifty years.
Washington and His Slaves
In 1759, when the French and Indian War was over, Colonel of Virginia Militia, George Washington, married the widow Martha Dandridge Custis and took her with her two small children to Mount Vernon. At this time, in addition to Mount Vernon, Washington owned a tract of 500 acres in Fairfax County, a tract of timberland in the Great Dismal Swamp straddling the North Carolina-Virginia border, leased nine other tracts in Virginia and managed his wife’s land on the Pumunkey River. Summing up all the Africans working for him in the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of tobacco hills laid out on these tracts, Washington held about one hundred slaves who produced for him that year, 147,000 lbs. of crop.
Slaves at Mount Vernon
By the time of his death, in 1799, Washington had accumulated over three hundred slaves and sixty-six thousand acres of land. Of these, ninety-two hundred acres were about Mount Vernon, seventy-five hundred more in tidewater Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley (Custis property), a thousand acres in Maryland, four thousand in the Dismal Swamp, twenty-three thousand on the Great Kanawha River between Charleston and its mouth, plus houses and lots in Alexandria and Winchester, VA, and in Washington. D.C.
Washington’s farming, milling, distilling, fishing and flour-making operations at Mount Vernon alone involved the services of over three hundred slaves─half his and half his wife’s dower slaves. Others, under the supervision of overseers, lived on or adjacent to the various tracts scattered over the breadth of the colony. The record shows that Washington bought Africans directly from slave ships and put them to work on these far flung tracts, including the Dismal Swamp which was, indeed, dismal. And he sold them.
To a ship captain he wrote in 1766: “Sir: With this letter comes a Negro (Tom) which I beg the favor of you to sell, in any of the Islands you may go to, for whatever he will fetch, and bring me in return for him: one hogshead of best molasses, one of best Rum, one barrel of Lymes if good and cheap, … and the residue, much or little in good ole spirits…That this Fellow is both a rogue and a Runaway…I shall not pretend to deny. But . . . he is exceedingly healthy, strong and good at the Hoe… which gives me reason to hope he may, with your good management sell well (if kept clean and trim'd up a little when offered for sale… [I] must beg the favor of you (lest he should attempt his escape) to keep him hand-cuffed till you get to Sea."
Inventory List of Washington’s Slaves
As a commentator recently put it, “Washington tended to view slavery as a commercial enterprise. It was simply an integral part of his desire to make profits from tobacco and grain cultivation and keep debts to a minimum. In this sense, slaves were his chattels, his human property. The language he used in buying them might be applicable to livestock. He wished "all of them to be strait limbed, & in every respect strong and healthy with good Teeth." As the historian John Ferling notes in his often perceptive but essentially critical study of Washington, "He was not moved to express hatred or love or empathy for his chattel. They were simply business propositions, and his comments regarding these unfortunate people were recorded with about as much passion as were his remarks on wheat rust or the efficacy of a new fertilizer."
Washington’s Advertisement in 1761
A story told by G.W.P. Custis, in his memoirs of Washington, published in 1859, gives a view of Africans that certainly rings true. The primary complaint Washington expresses in his correspondence about slavery is that the Africans trapped in it are naturally lazy when not under the immediate supervision of an overseer. Of, course, this trait of character ought to be no surprise as anyone trapped in slavery anywhere lacks the natural incentive to work.
In Custis’s five hundred page reminiscence of Washington nothing else is said about slaves.
Washington the Slave Whipper
Unlike with General Lee, there is objective evidence that, at least in his middle years if not at his end, Washington ordered Africans, female Africans included, to be whipped. In his words, “if the Negroes will not do their duty by fair means, they must be compelled to do it." In another letter, he wrote that "[I] must have by fair means or by coercion (the first is vastly more agreeable to me).” When confronted by a slave who refused to work, Washington is on record as directing his overseer to give the slave “a good whippin." The record shows, also, that female slaves felt the whip as well. Washington wrote an overseer: "Your treatment of Charlotte was very proper, and if She, or any other of the Servants will not do their duty by fair means, or are impertinent, correction (as the only alternative) must be administered."
Washington’s basic attitude toward physical punishment of slaves for insubordination is seen in glaring light, in what he wrote another overseer. “Let Abram get his deserts when taken, by way of example; but do not trust to [Hyland] Crow to administer it as he is swayed more by passion than judgment in all his corrections." Or again, "As for Waggoner Jack, try further correction accompanied by admonition and advice." Washington wrote one of his plantation managers to warn a young slave named Ben that if he did not shape up, "I will ship him off as I did Waggoner Jack for the West Indies where he will have no opportunity to play such pranks." In a final example, he had a manager tell a slave that, "if his pride [!] is not a sufficient stimulus to excite him to industry, & admonition has no effect on him, that I have directed you to have him severely punished and placed under one of the Overseers as a common hoe negro."
Washington the Slave Chaser
A final example of Washington’s mind-set toward Africans in general and his right of property in them in particular, is the story of the slave girl, Oney Judge. Oney’s father was an Englishman who worked at Mount Vernon as an indentured servant for four years. Her mother was one of Martha Washington’s dower slaves. Oney was born with a white complexion and became the childhood playmate of Martha’s grand-daughter, Nellie, who eventually married Washington’s nephew, Lawrence Lewis, Lawrence inheriting from Washington half of the tract of land that made up the Mount Vernon plantation. For Oney’s part she became hand maiden to Martha and she accompanied the Washingtons to Philadelphia when they took up residence there during Washington’s presidency.
Toward the end of their Philadelphia residency, Oney learned that Martha intended to give her to Nellie as a wedding present, and, probably because of the embarrassment of being treated as a slave by a childhood friend, Oney─with the assistance of Quakers─fled Philadelphia on a ship that took her to Portsmouth New Hampshire. She married, had three children, and lived there, in some distress after her husband died, until she died in 1847.
Town’s Record of Providing Oney with Wood
Washington made a low key effort to get Oney back, by using one Mr. Whipple, the Federal Custom Collector at Portsmouth, to induce Oney to return. Oney offered to return, if in doing so Washington would give her her freedom (New Hampshire is a cold place.). But Washington refused, on the ground what would the other slaves say? The correspondence that passed between Washington and Whipple is a matter of public record.
Whipple to Washington
At the End Washington Frees His Slaves
Washington died on the evening of December 14, 1799. Before he died he directed his wife to destroy an old will and gave her his latest. “I die hard,” he said, “but I am not afraid to go.” Living at Mount Vernon at the time were Washington’s nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and Miss Eleanor (Nellie) Parke Custis Lewis, his wife, and their baby two weeks old, and George Washington Parke Custis, Nellie’s brother and Martha’s grandson, not yet twenty. In addition to these, there were two hundred and seventy slaves on the estate at Mount Vernon. One hundred and Twenty four were owned by him absolutely and the remaining one hundred and forty-six were the property of Martha’s deceased first husband, Daniel Parke Custis’s, estate. There were also sixty more who were leased for a year from a neighbor.
His will provided that Martha receive the use of his entire estate for life, the personal effects of Mount Vernon absolutely. His slaves, upon her death, were to receive their freedom, He gave the Mount Vernon mansion and its four thousand acres upon the death of his wife to his nephew, John Washington. To Nellie and her husband, Lawrence, he gave 4,000 acres adjacent to Mount Vernon, called Woodlawn. To G.W.P. Custis, Washington gave a tract of one thousand acres that adjoined the estate of Arlington which Custis had inherited from his father, John Parke Custis. He also gave Custis the entire block that he owned in Washington, D.C.
Note: Washington’s will lay undisturbed in the Fairfax County courthouse until the early days of the Civil War. In July, 1861, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, one Alfred Moss, took the will to Richmond and placed it in the hands of the Confederate Secretary of State. It was returned to Fairfax County in 1865 with the notation that it had been found among the papers scattered about the rooms of the Secretary’s offices by Union soldiers.
As it is generally with men who accumulate great wealth in life, Washington’s dying view of things is shown clearly by attention to the serious question, what was to happen to the Africans─the young, the old, the infirm─who had worked their lives away for him.
“IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN! I, George Washington of Mount Vernon, a citizen of the United States, and lately President of same, do make, ordain, and declare this instrument to be my last Will & Testament, revoking all others.
Upon the decease of my wife, it is my Will and desire that all the Slaves which I hold in my own right, shall receive their freedom─and whereas among those who will receive freedom according to this devise, there may be some, who from old age or bodily infirmities, and others who on account of their infancy, that will be unable to support themselves¸ it is my will that all who come under the first and second description shall be comfortably clothed and fed by my heirs while they live; and that such of the latter description as have no parents living, or if living are unable or unwilling to provide for them, shall be bound by the Court until they shall arrive at the age of twenty-five years; and in cases where no record can be produced, whereby their ages can be ascertained, the judgment of the Court, upon its own view of the subject shall be final. The Negroes thus bound are (by their masters and mistresses) to be taught to read and write, and to be brought up to some useful occupation; and I hereby do expressly forbid the sale, or transportation out of Virginia of any slave I may die possessed of, under any pretense whatsoever, and I do solemnly enjoin it upon my Executors to see that this clause respecting Slaves, and every part hereof be religiously fulfilled at the Epoch at which it is directed to take place, after the crops which may be then on the ground are harvested.
In this regard, I enjoin the Executors to see that a regular and permanent fund be established for their support so long as there are subjects requiring it; not trusting to the uncertain provision to be made by individuals.
And to my mulatto man William I give immediate freedom; or if he should prefer it, on account of accidents that have befallen him, to remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so. In either case, I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life, which shall be independent of the food and clothing he has been accustomed to receive, which he is to continue to receive whichever course he takes, and this I give him as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was sixty-eight years of age at her second husband’s death and became a recluse, retiring to a room in the attic of the Mount Vernon mansion. Martha died on May 22, 1802. She had inherited a great deal of wealth from her first husband, Daniel Custis, and it passed to Washington as her husband, under the existing law, which made the husband and wife, one, and the husband that one. Yet, it is fair to say that, in the end, Washington, who at the age of eleven inherited a piece of land and ten slaves from his brother Lawrence, became a rich man in his own right and by virtue of his own efforts.
Shortly after Washington died, Martha heard the slaves talk of the good time coming to the ones to be freed as soon as she died. Some of them did not wait. Most remained in their places of service. Those that were able and wanted to go when Martha died were outfitted by the estate. Those that stayed on after, were fed, sheltered, clothed, nursed, and buried at the estate’s expense. A large amount of money was kept invested in bank stocks for their benefit for nearly thirty-three years until the last was gone. Six free men were then still living outside the grounds of Mount Vernon on rented land and brought back as their age and infirmities made it impossible for them to continue on their own. The last of these was buried in 1833.
Amalgamation of the Races
The black politicians may easily say that there is nothing noble in the man, “that he freed his slaves only when he could no longer use them for his benefit, when they could no longer serve his purpose of gain, when he was dead and gone.” His apologists might counter with the claim that all his life the slaves were a burden and a care, a charge upon his efforts and his estate, exceeding their value as servants.
The objective truth of history, though, lies in the plain facts of the matter. When George Washington was born King George II was monarch of England and through his ministers controlled the political and economic policies of his colonies. Through the royal acts of his predecessors, Africans had been introduced into them by the thousands. By 1759, when Washington left his wide ranging surveying and the Indian wars behind him, married Martha Custis and began building his empire through the labor of slaves, there was no other labor force available to him, to use in the endeavor. There were thousands of acres of land to cultivate and the Africans were there and he used them.
As time passed, and he found himself drawn into a long and onerous struggle with the King over the right of the colonies to set their own domestic policies, be governed by their own legislatures independently of interference by the Crown, he aged into a maturity that brought home to his mind the reality looming ahead─though slavery might last forever in Africa from whence it sprung, it could not possibly last within the Union he in large measure is responsible for creating.
Table of Population in 1787
During the period from 1733, when Washington was born, to 1799, when he died, the law of Virginia had been slowly evolving to construct a framework of rights and duties by and between Africans and Virginians. After his death, between 1800 and 1860 ninety one cases involving recognition of these rights and duties were decided in the Supreme Court of Virginia. One major recognition of the inevitable change that would eventually occur was reflected in the Virginia Legislature’s adoption of a law for regulating the emancipation of Africans from slavery, limitations on physical punishment, terms of imprisonment for those convicted of killing a slave, recognition of standing to sue on the basis of a claim of manumission given by will, deed, and even contract.
For example, in Pleasants v. Pleasants, the Virginia Supreme Court decided in 1800, that, despite the fact emancipation of slaves was prohibited in Virginia by the Act of 1748, which act was in force at the time the testator died having willed that his slaves be freed at the age of thirty if by then emancipation was allowed, the provision of the will was enforceable since the contingency happened in 1782, when the Legislature revoked the former law and replaced it with one allowing emancipation.
“To come now to the case before us as it really is. The contingency has happened, within the limits. The limitation over has henceforth become vested in interest in all the slaves under thirty years of age, their right to freedom is complete, but they are postponed as to the time of enjoyment.
What then, after the passing of the act, is the condition of the children born of mothers, so postponed in the enjoyment of their freedom? Are they, at their birth, entitled to freedom? Or are they, too, to be postponed, until the age of thirty? The condition of the mothers of such children is, that of free persons, held to service for a term of years, such children are not the children of slaves. They never were the property of the testator or legatees, and he, or they, can no more restrain their right to freedom, than they can that of other persons born free. The power of the testator, in this respect, has yielded to the great principle of natural law, which is also a principle of our municipal law, that the children of a free mother are themselves also free.
But this is an extensive question, and if it were necessary to be now decided, which it is not, it would be proper to weigh the policy of authorizing or encouraging emancipation, a policy which, by the countenance of the Legislature, from the era of our independence, must always be dear to every friend of liberty and the human race.”
Four years later, in Charles v. Hunnicutt, the Supreme Court chose to interpret a will provision that was challenged as technically defective, so as to fulfill the testator’s intent his slaves be manumitted. The Testator had attempted to delegate the task to the Quaker Meeting he belonged to, but this was challenged by his heirs.
“But the word should is not imperative. It is merely expressive of the desire of the testator that his slaves might be manumitted. Will the court then, intend that his slaves should be manumitted at all events. The testator seems to have been aware that something was to be done by the meeting, in order to carry his intent into effect. He leaves the appointment of fit agents by whom it might be done at the meeting. Will the Court intend that he meant they should, without regard to law, proceed to execute this trust? Or wait, as they have done, until the time the general law would permit the thing to be done. Where, by any possibility a legal interpretation can be given to any provision contained in a will, surely we ought not to reject it.”
Many cases follow these, involving issues of whether the manumitted slave can be held responsible for the debts of the testator, and under what circumstances; how to prove the status of a slave as free who is in danger of being taken out of the state; injunction to the lower courts to record a deed of manumission; sustaining a jury verdict in favor of a slave who sued for freedom on the basis of being unlawfully brought within the state; how a slave might gain his freedom by contracting to pay his master a sum of money the master is willing to accept; whether a statute purporting to restrain the exercise of free speech in the matter of property in a slave can be violated by a person admonishing others to abstain from slavery─the point being, here, that not only was it becoming common among the class of Virginians Washington belonged to, to manumit their slaves, the law in its evolution was accommodating the trend.
Of course, one fact which explains this trend is that slavery was an inefficient means of production, becoming as the decades passed in Virginia less and less practical as a means of producing crops, much less maintaining working farms in good condition. Indeed, one must wonder how it could be economical for someone like U.S. Grant, when he was working a farm on the outskirts of St. Louis, in 1858, to purchase a slave as a laborer, instead of hiring one of the thousands of Irish or German laborers who had flooded into the city in the Forties. And yet, incredibly, not only were farmers of Grant’s stripe still willing to do this, though the big Virginia planters were backing away, free black farmers were doing it.
Loudoun County, Virginia
Loudoun County 1860
Loudoun County is the Union in a nutshell. After two hundred years of the African population of slaves multiplying in ratio with the English population in Virginia, there were about 6,500 blacks living side by side with 15,000 whites─separate and unequal, living under a banner streaming words of equality. Not a tenable situation in the long run and everybody knew it. But what could be done about it when the minds of the supra-majority of the white people of the Union were infused with brute feelings of racism; a racism the black people in their ancestral origin were themselves not immune to. In 1839, speaking from his desk in the Senate, Henry Clay summed the problem up.
“. . . And now allow me, Sir, to glance at the insurmountable obstacles which lie in the way of the accomplishment of liberating three millions of slaves held in bondage in these States, and at some of the consequences which would ensue if it were possible to attain it.
The first impediment is the utter and absolute want of all power on the part of the general government to effect the purpose. The Constitution never could have been formed upon the principle of investing the general government with authority to abolish the institution at its pleasure. It could never be continued a single day if the existence of such a power could be assumed or usurped.
The next obstacle in the way of abolition arises out of the fact of the presence in the slave States of three millions of slaves. They are there, dispersed throughout the land, part and parcel of our population. They were brought into the country originally under the authority of the King of England whilst we were colonies, and their importation was continued in spite of all the remonstrances of our ancestors. The slaves are here, and here must remain in some condition.
In the slave States the alternative is, that the white man must govern the black, or the black must govern the white. In some of these States the blacks outnumber the whites. An immediate abolition of slavery in them would be followed by a desperate struggle for immediate ascendency of the black race over the white, which would break out into a civil war that would end in the subjugation or extermination of one or the other. This is our true ground for the continued existence of slavery in the country.
A third impediment to immediate abolition is to be found in the immense amount of capital which is invested in slave property. This property is diffused throughout all classes and conditions of society. It is the subject of mortgages, deeds of trust, and family settlements. It is the basis of debts contracted upon its faith and is the sole reliance, in many instances, of creditors within and without the slave States. And now it is proposed, by a single fiat of legislation, to annihilate this immense amount of property! To annihilate it without indemnity and without compensation to the owners! Does any considerate man believe it to be possible to effect such an object without convulsion, revolution, and bloodshed?
I know there is a visionary dogma, which holds that African slaves cannot be the subject of property. I shall not dwell long on this speculative abstraction. That is property which the law declares to be property. Under all the forms of government which have existed upon this continent during that long space of time they have been deliberately and solemnly recognized as the legitimate subject of property.
If it were possible to overcome these obstacles, in the dreadful struggle that would follow abolition, vast numbers of the black race would migrate into the free States; and what effect would such a migration have upon the laboring classes in those States? The blacks would enter into competition with the whites, diminishing the wages of their labor, and augmenting the hardships of their condition.
This is not all. The abolitionists oppose any separation of the races. They would keep them forever pent up together in the same limits, perpetuating their animosities, and constantly endangering the peace of the community. They proclaim, indeed, that color is nothing; that the organic and characteristic differences between the two races ought to be entirely overlooked and disregarded. They would teach us to eradicate all the repugnancies of our nature, and to take to our bosoms and our board the black man as we do the white, on the same footing of equal social condition. This I say, that since God has made the races different, and has declared that by their physical structure and color they ought to be kept separate, they should not now be brought together by any process whatever of unnatural amalgamation.
I am, Mr. President, no friend of slavery. Wherever it is safe and practicable, I desire all to enjoy liberty. But I prefer the liberty of my own race to that of any other race. The liberty of the descendants of Africa in the United States is incompatible with the safety and liberty of the European descendants. Their liberty, if it were possible, could only be established by violating the incontestable powers of the States, and subverting the Union. And beneath the ruins of the Union would be buried, sooner or later, the liberty of both races.”
Henry Clay made this speech a generation after Washington’s death. In the twenty-five years that followed, not once did a senator or a representative stand up in their respective houses of Congress and offer a bill that would provide the slave States with economic assistance for the financial losses expected to result from the abolition of slavery; or a bill that offered economic assistance to the liberated Africans, to migrate into the Territories of the United States; or a bill that offered economic incentives to the Irish and German immigrants swarming into the Northern states of the Union, to seek residence and employment in the South; or a bill that offered incentives to the Northern states to open their borders and their communities to liberated Africans. As a consequence of this failure of Congress to act to induce change in the structure of American society, the Northern states used their emerging majority power to isolate the slave States, box them in, leave them to deal with the ultimate reality of the struggle Clay prophesized, alone.
Here is Lincoln, in 1858, revealing his sympathy with Clay’s expression of racism.
“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality; and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”
“I tell you frankly that I am not in favor of negro citizenship. . . Now, my opinion is that the different States have the power to make a negro a citizen under the Constitution of the United States, if they choose. If the State of Illinois had that power, I should be opposed to the exercise of it. That is all I have to say about it.”
“Let me ask a question: Have we ever had any peace on this slavery question? To be sure, if we plant the institution all over the nation, there will be peace. But how are they going to get the people to do that? They have been wrangling over this question for at least forty years. When is it likely to come to an end? At this day in the history of the world we can no more foretell where the end of the slavery agitation will be than we can see the end of the world itself. I say, then, there is no way of putting an end to the slavery agitation amongst us but to put it back upon the basis where our fathers placed it─to restrict it forever to the old States where it now exists. That is one way of putting an end to the slavery agitation.”
“I do not suppose that in the most peaceful way ultimate extinction would occur in less than a hundred years at least; but that it will occur in the best way for both races, in God’s own good time, I have no doubt.”
How then, in the face of this deep rooted feeling of white supremacy in America, did the African slaves become American citizens? Through the crucible of a horrible war between white men fighting themselves in furious frustration at the presence of Africans amongst them. It was the nature of war that liberated the Africans in America and nothing else. And, though liberated by war, yet it took another eighty years capped by another war for them to rise into the main stream of American life; and yet another twenty years and another war to shoulder their way into a legal, political, and social position of frank and absolute equality─an equality won ultimately by the hard fact of life that the white American soldier of Viet Nam could not have survived without the black American soldier standing at his shoulder pressing forward with him into the horrible maw of war. Who could have foreseen this would prove to be God’s good time?
Oh, but the black politicians on their high horse want us to be blind to the human reality of God’s good time.