… the truth about the founding of America?
… the truth about the founding of America?
For those of you who have been following my blog, you may notice that my writing about the events and issues coming out of the George Floyd protest is seemingly a deviation from my previous theme of correcting misconceptions or making known some unpublicized facts about the history of Africans and People of African heritage/descent. I will get back to that theme but due to the urgency of the crisis our country is going through, I feel compelled to make further comments on some of the pertinent issues, as I see them. However, there is a common theme in all that I have written and am writing: getting at the truth.
In this blog, I want to return to the founding of the United States of America. There is a persistent attempt to brand the U. S. Constitution as a racist document that excluded Black People along with a constant drum beat that the Declaration of Independence was not intended for Black People. Hence many people of African descent no longer celebrate Independence Day, July 4. The pulling down of statues has now come to include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant (the general who led the Union to victory over the Confederacy), all former Presidents of the United States. Andrew Jackson is now in their crosshairs. The reason they have become pariahs is because they owned slaves, with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt who became president after slavery was over. This is just the beginning because other Founding Fathers owned slaves also (They pulled down a statue of Ulysses S. Grant because somebody gave him one slave). If the statues of the founders of the country have to be torn down, the next logical step is to discredit and tear down the things they created, the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution; that process has already begun. If the whole edifice (the country) is built upon these two documents, it then follows that the whole country must come down so that they can start all over and set up a new system based on their vision of the just society with two of its cornerstones being socialism (Marxism) and atheism. Please understand socialism, Marxism, and atheism go together. There is no pretense at wanting to preserve capitalism and a market economy. Christianity also has to go. That is why the rioters had no compunction in setting fire to and vandalizing St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as the church of presidents. What an exquisite symbolic gesture, attacking a place of worship that slave-owning and reprobate presidents attended! One would have expected a hue and a cry to rise up against such a desecration, but it did not happen because the media controlled the narrative. Indeed, when the President took action to protect the church and the White House, he was attacked.
What we are witnessing is a move to delegitimize the United States of American as a country and as a civilization. Again I want to emphasize that if the people in the Black Lives Matter movement were really concerned about black lives, they would pay more attention to the carnage that is occurring every day in major metropolitan areas of the country, killings that blacks are inflicting upon blacks, and there seems to be no end to it.
Writers often grope for the right words to express an idea, a concept, or a thought. I groped for the right words to express the wrongness of judging and condemning people from the past by our contemporary standards for things that happened 250 years or more ago. Fortunately other writers have given me some appropriate language. There are “inherent constraints of circumstances” (a phrase attributed to Edmund Burke and referenced by Thomas Sowell in his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals1) that circumscribe the actions that can be taken at the time. Arthur Schlesinger called it “self-righteousness in retrospect” when we judge people in the past by our standards of today. We are today condemning the Founding Fathers for not abolishing slavery when the U. S. Constitution was drafted. I have dealt with this issue in a previous blog. In a sense, the founders were faced with a binary choice. They either formed a Constitution and a country with slavery recognized for the time being or try to abolish slavery then and get no Constitution, and the fragile country probably falls apart. The fact that they chose the former does not mean most of them were at peace with the compromise. One indication of this is the provision in the Constitution that the slave trade would be abolished in 1808, 20 years after the Constitution was drafted. If they had been at peace with the compromise, why put such a provision in the Constitution? Since they did not want to enshrine slavery in the Constitution, the word “slavery” does not appear in the original document. I assert this inference (that the framers deliberately did not use the word slavery in the Constitution) on the authority of none other than John Quincy Adams who was there when the Constitution was formed. The assertion that the Constitution defined a Black Person as three-fifths of a person is absurd and seems to reflect an inability to understand plain English. The provision applied to slaves, not all Black People; at least 60,000 Black People were, in fact, free at the time the Constitution was drafted, and they were part of “We the People” who ordained and established the Constitution, in the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis in a brilliant dissenting opinion in the Dred Scott case. Why do some people want to exclude those 60,000 Black People from “We the People” when the Constitution includes them when it specifies in Article 1, Section 2 that “the whole Number of free Persons” would be counted in determining a state’s representation? It says nothing about race or color.
Around the time of the drafting of the U. S. Constitution, something was happening in America and Great Britain that had not happened before in the whole history of humanity, namely, the questioning of the legitimacy of the institution of slavery. Throughout history, slavery had been a feature of most societies. It had been more important in some than others and had differed markedly through time and space. In the documentary Liberty and Slavery (2016), one commentator observed that, “Only during the past 250 years was slavery questioned as an institution, over a period of 10,000 years”. This began to happen in America in the latter half of the 18th century (1750-1800). However, it would be almost 150 years later (the first half of the 1900’s) before Africans came around to this way of thinking, i.e., questioning the institution of slavery2.
Though winning independence and adoption of the Constitution did not result in the abolition of slavery, a new dynamic had been created. John Hope Franklin concluded that the War for Independence brought about movements and actions to abolish slavery. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of black slaves were manumitted (freed) after the war. Petitions for freedom increased because the ideology of the struggle against slavery had broadened. Manumissions and anti-slavery societies became more widespread. The debate over slavery intensified. Also the opposition intensified. Harriett Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852 and dealt an enormous blow to the institution of slavery. People were emboldened to engage in actions which pushed the nation closer and closer to war. Various acts of Congress (the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act) sought to address the issue of the spread of slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act said that Kansas and Nebraska would be organized as territories and the territorial governments would decide whether or not the territory would become slave or free.3
Out of the opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act came the Republican Party in 1854. As stated by John Hope Franklin, this new Republican Party was “unalterably anti-slavery in its point of view”4. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the first Republican President. Lincoln’s anti-slavery position was a matter of record. For southern slave-owners, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The war was on. After achieving success in ridding the country of slavery, this party became the advocate for and protector of the rights of Americans of African Heritage, as laid out in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U. S. Constitution.
While these things were going on in America, slaving and slavery were alive and well in Africa, and the institution was not being questioned. Much has been written about slavery and slaving in Africa. One of the most comprehensive treatments of the subject is the book by Sean Stilwell, Slavery and Slaving in African History. He documents that not only was African slavery widespread throughout the Continent, it was not always mild and benign. Africans were willing participants in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Several African nations such as Dahomey were built on slavery and slaving. Often they initiated wars to capture people who would be sold into slavery. They (the African states and their rulers) were not innocent victims; of course, those who were enslaved were innocent victims. In his above referenced book on slaving and slavery in Africa, Stilwell puts it his way:
“Until the nineteenth century, Africans generally had the upper hand (with the exception perhaps of the Kingdom of Kongo). Europeans were militarily weak, remained vulnerable to tropical diseases, and were always at risk of having their food supplies cut off by angry Africans. Africans also demanded rent for the small parcels of land that Europeans occupied. Africans were in a commanding position to negotiate good terms of trade for commodities, and the prices of slaves rose accordingly.” (p. 48).
The Africans were the ones who captured the people who were sold into slavery. In other words, the Africans were willing participants in this evil enterprise. The Europeans could have done nothing without the help and consent of the African rulers and big men. The fact that the Africans had the upper hand for such a long time means that they could have kicked the Europeans out at any time during the first few centuries of the slave trade, if they had wanted to. But they did not want to. Why? Quite simply it was a lucrative business for the African leaders as well as for the European slavers. It was greed, the love of money. Africans are like any other humans; they too are capable of being driven by greed. The Bible is true when it states that “For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves [through and through] with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10, AMP). No race has a monopoly on evil, just as no race has a monopoly on good.
Should we condemn Africans forever and a day for having been willing and enabling participants in the evil enterprise of slaving and slavery? God forbid! We who are Christians are commanded to forgive. Additionally, we should not, and must not, forget the many wonderful contributions to humanity of Africans from the areas of the slave trade. They created well organized and stable societies that were not driven by slavery. The reports of early Europeans visitors to Africa tell of countries teeming with people and well organized down to the minutest detail. They domesticated crops, many of which were exported to Asia and the New World. They were known for their artisanry; they knew how to do things. All African people knew how to smelt iron ore and create wonderful works of iron. The Guinea Coast was initially known as the Grain Coast because of the abundance of grain produced by countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, and Senegal, going back to the middle ages. These were successful societies. The trans-Atlantic and Saharan slave trade was a major, if not the major, factor in the downfall of these civilizations, if for no other reason than the depopulation of areas that previously had teemed with dense populations.
The bottom line is this. If we are going to condemn America for slavery and slaving, consistency requires that we do the same for Africa. The Africans were knowing accessories to the crime. I suggest that we condemn neither. America paid the price with the Civil War and has repented for the 100 years of discrimination and oppression after the Civil War. We Americans of African descent need to forgive our country, the United States of America. Yes, I said “our country” for America is indeed our country. We are free to pursue happiness. Freedom to worship as we please is a very important part of the freedom we now enjoy. We also must forgive our brothers and sisters on the African Continent and pray that they repent for deeds of the ancestors, who are also our ancestors, so that God may heal the land.
The fight being waged by the Radical Left to destroy our country is not our fight. I believe it is still the case that we Americans of African descent simply want an equal opportunity to be able to partake of the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution, and I believe that we have that. Ben Marquis presciently stated in a 2017 article, “Today it is Confederate generals. Tomorrow it will be slave-owning presidents. How soon after that before they take down the “slave-built” White House, rip up the “slave-owner written” Constitution and Declaration of Independence, or — perhaps not as far-fetched as it may sound — start calling for the detainment or deaths of descendants of slave owners?”5 Three years ago he predicted what is happening today. It has already gone beyond Confederate generals. Do we want all of that which may ensue if the Radical Left has its way?
1. Sowell, Thomas (2005). Black rednecks and white liberals. Encounter Books: New York.
2. Stilwell, Sean (2014). Slavery and Slaving in African history. Cambridge University: New York, p. 178.
3. Franklin, John Hope (1967). From slavery to freedom: A history of Negro Americans, 3rd edition. New York: Alfred A Knopf, pp. 265-67.
4. Franklin, p. 167.
5. Marquis, Ben (2017). “1984” eerily sums up BLM, Antifa, and statue destroyers”. Accessed at http://conservativetribune.com/quote-1984-sums-up-blm-antifa/.