Why Didn't They Tell You?

Dr. FRANK MARTINS COMMENTARY ON HISTORICAL, SOCIAL & ECONOMIC ISSUES OF OUR TIME

… 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/.

10 thoughts on “Why Didn’t They Tell You…

  1. Samuel Martin says:

    It’s as if my hunger and yearning has been mystically detected by today’s blog. I recently began my little investigative research into the African slave trade, mainly the issue of being sold by one’s own people. I thank you for a book to read on the subject and be ordering it soon.

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    1. Interesting way of putting it! Some of the things in Stilwell’s book are shocking, but it is very informative and well written. If you find that the book is a bit pricey, you can access it online.

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  2. Dr. Nadesan Permaul says:

    There is no doubt that the South forced the Continental Congress to remove any reference to slavery in the Declaration before they would agree to sign the document, and there is no doubt that they dominated the discussions around representation at the Constitutional Convention, insisting on the Federal Ratio, the federal structure delegating authority to the Federal government and granting the rest to the states. But they did so specifically to protect slavery, and is well documented controlled the House of Representatives and the Electoral College up to the election of 1860. The notion that 60,000 free blacks were considered “equal” is naïve at best and deliberately misleading at worst. Any study of the rules in both state constitutions at the time, or local laws treated free blacks as if they were little better than slaves. The subsequent history of the treatment of Africans in America, brought here as property and used as a social benchmark for white Americans to measure themselves against [as Mark Twain brilliantly captured in Huckleberry Finn in the portrait of “Pap” Finn], is undeniable. The Black Lives Matter movement has merely asked the American people to recognize fact, not attempt to contrive a continuing fiction.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. I did not assert nor do I believe that Americans of African descent were treated as equals in all, or most, respects at the time of the drafting of the U. S. Constitution. I do, however, maintain that in some states they voted and, therefore, were part of “We the People” and were not counted as two-thirds of a person. In his scholarly and comprehensive work, From Slavery to Freedom, John Hope Franklin said “In some states the constitutions written during the revolutionary period did not exclude free Negroes from voting. They voted to a considerable extent in Maryland, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania for several years” (p. 220).
      Justice Benjamin Curtis asserted in his brilliant dissenting opinion in the Dred Scott decision (delivered by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1857),“At the time of the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, all free native born inhabitants of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina, though descended from African slaves, were not only citizens of those States, but such of them as had the other necessary qualifications possessed the franchise of electors, on equal terms with other citizens”. Justice Curtis adds three states to Dr. Franklin’s list of states where Black People voted (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New Jersey), bringing the total to seven. Justice Curtis was countering the racist argument of Chief Justice Taney that People of African descent were not included in the Constitution because, among other reasons, they had not part in establishing it.
      It is interesting that those maintaining that People of African descent were excluded from the Constitution are siding with the racist Justice Taney. What strange bedfellows!
      When Black Lives Matter starts to speak out as forcefully against the carnage (perpetrated by Black People against Black People, for the most part) that occurred in New York City, Chicago, and Atlanta over the weekend as they do against the police, then I will consider giving them some respect. Included among the victims were three babies, three beautiful, innocent black children. Don’t their lives matter?

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  3. Mark W. Frisbie says:

    Forgive me for my naivete, but I don’t understand why most African Americans are still so much poorer, sicker, less well educated, and generally disadvantaged now, 155 after the end of the Civil War, if they generally have “equal opportunity” and “freedom to pursue happiness,” as you believe is the case now. From what I have read, the disparities have only been increasing for the past 50 years. I doubt you believe that the disparities are due to inherent differences in intelligence and abilities between the races. So I have to wonder how you see the “truth” underlying those facts.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. Over the 155 year period since the end of the Civil War, People of African descent have racked up impressive achievements in every area of life, economic, social, and political. It was especially rapid during the first four decades after 1870. The gap between black and white earnings narrowed up until about 1979 when, on the average, black males earned about 80% of what white males earned (black-white income ratio) and black females 95% of white females. What is the reason for the gap? Differences in productivity factors (education, age, and industry/occupation, geographical location, etc.) account for some of the gap. What’s left is unexplained and generally has been taken as a measure of discrimination (This methodology underlies my dissertation A Disaggregated View of Technical Change: Contribution of Decreased Occupational Discrimination, 1960-1970, Tulane University, 1977). Education, and industry and occupation were the most important factors in explaining the gap. Please note that there may be factors other than discrimination that explain the remaining residual. One factor often mentioned is quality of education, especially in terms of the market value of the degree. A BS in engineering has greater market value than a BA in education or social work. However, it is true that by 2016 the black-white income ratio had fallen to 70% for males and 82% for females. Furthermore less of the gap was explained by productivity factors in 2016 than in 1979.
      What is the reason for the relative retrogression (absolute earnings for blacks did rise over these four decades)? I believe that non-race specific, economy wide factors were at work but I do not believe there was an increase in racism. Over this period, wage growth for unskilled workers flattened. Public policy may have played a role. Changes in labor demand relative to the skill set of black workers may have played a part. Consider some of the things that happened over this period. Barack Obama was elected President of the United States for two terms. Americans of African descent became majors and police chiefs of many American cities, many of which are not majority black. Oprah, Jayz, and Kanye West became billionaires. The position of quarterback in professional football was opened up to black players culminating in Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, just having been given a half billion dollar contract. Black entertainment superstars (Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Spike Lee, Halle Berry, Danny Glover, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Tyler Perry, Viola Davis, Wesley Snipes, to name a few) abounded. Black people became CEO’s of major non-black owned corporations. Black people on television became ubiquitous. I could go on and on citing examples of People of African descent participating in all areas of American life at all levels. Thus it seems clear that opportunities for advancement for People of African descent have been expanding, not contracting. In America today we of African heritage are, indeed, “free to pursue happiness” under conditions of “limitless opportunities”. I will continue to tell our young people, “Yes you can”, not, “No you can’t”. That is the truth.

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      1. Mark W. Frisbie says:

        Thank you taking the time to reply, Dr. Martin. Without a doubt, opportunities for African-Americans and other minorities are greater now than they have ever been, and quite a few, yourself included, have utilized those opportunities to accomplish much. I would never suggest that anyone, anywhere, say “No, you can’t” to any American who wants to pursue happiness and improve his or her life. But I also don’t readily accept the notion that “If I can do it (or he or she could), then you can, too.” I think you recognize that there have been differences in achievement among the races over the past several decades, but I am not clear about your view of the relationship between racism and the various economic factors you identify. For example, if educational achievement and degree affect earning power, and racism affects educational opportunity, why would differences that you describe as “educational” not also be attributable to racism, notwithstanding the ability of an exceptional few to overcome that disadvantage? I would agree that racism is not the only factor at work and that on the whole racism has not increased, but that is far short of saying that racism is an insignificant factor. If the “skill set” of black workers has historically been limited by racism, how can we not also attribute the consequences of that limitation in the face of economic changes to racism? Which, of course, raises the broader question of “what is our social responsibility to the disadvantaged in our society?
        In any event, thank you for the courtesy of your thoughtful reply and the opportunity to engage in respectful dialog with you about it.

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      2. You bring up some interesting points. For most of my life, I rejected the idea, “If I can do it, then you can, too” because I realize that everybody is not going to react to circumstances similar to mine in the same way I did. My 15 brothers and sisters did not react the same way I did, though we were sired and raised by the same mother and father; however, all of our circumstances were not the same. I never knew my two oldest brothers until we moved from the Mississippi Delta to California. Some of my brothers and sisters accomplished great things in their lives. In many ways I don’t measure up to them. What bothers me is that racism is too often used as a crutch or excuse. I hear too many young blacks say, “If I was white, then I could do this or that”. I do not buy into that way of thinking.
        With respect to the idea that racism today, or in the recent past, hinders Black People from achieving the same level of education as White People is a complicated issue. If one is thinking about the level of funding of schools and the subsequent material conditions of the school for blacks, it is not clear that that difference can explain the difference in achievement. My attending segregated schools the late 40’s and early 50’s in rural Mississippi and getting hand-me-down books from the white schools, often with missing pages, until the 8th grade did not prevent me from achieving a basic mastery of the 3 R’s by the time I was 8 or 9. And I could say the same for most of the other children I attended school with. Though we had to walk 3 miles to school while the few white kids who lived in the area hollered at us and called us niggers from the buses they were being transported in did not inflict psychological damage on us. We hollered back and called them “peckerwoods”, and that was the end of it. Gilbert Academy in New Orleans and Dunbar High School in Washington, D. C. produced graduates who excelled in every area of endeavor during the Jim Crow era. Something else was more important than the physical surroundings, things such as discipline, desire to learn, respect for teachers, and stable homes.
        Did you know that if you look at different white and non-white ethnic groups (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP), Polish, Italians, Japanese, West Indians, Wet Africans, Ukrainians, etc.), there are great variations in economic well-being, as measured by variables such family income, among the white ethnic groups and that the non-white Asians do much better than whites as a group? If the WASP is considered the benchmark white group that should have the most privilege, why do we find them are at the bottom of the white ethnics? Are they discriminated against? Those blacks of West Indian origin do much better than native born American blacks. The brilliant economist Dr. Thomas Sowell has done extensive work in this area. In short there is more to it than hits the eye.
        Again I thank you for the feedback. However, we cannot go on with this back and forth forever! I have blogs to write! I don’t expect an answer to the question in the last paragraph. It’s sort of rhetorical.
        Thanks.

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      3. Dr. Nadesan Permaul says:

        You continue to look for exceptions to the rule. The only reason that African Americans have achieved in the categories where you mention their names is for their commercial value as entertainment. President Obama’s election was the product of what one of the candidates for the Republican National Committee in 2008 termed “the magic Negro”; i.e. the hope that the myth of social equality would be demonstrated by electing a black man. The day after his election, Mitch McConnell announced that his whole goal for the next four years was to make Obama a one term president, and after the midterm elections any progressive change was dashed outside of the ACA except by executive action, not by consensus. If you can look at the current spate of public policy implemented by the Trump administration, and the conduct of the U.S. Senate, and still speak of “limitless possibilities” you must be reading a different set of facts. The impact of the pandemic and the financial crisis it has spawned has overwhelmingly hit under-represented communities. Your reference to John Hope Franklin and the dissent in the Dred Scott decision belie the overwhelming evidence of treatment of black Americans at the time, once again your use of exception to be the rule. Finally, your statement regarding Black Lives Matter fails to address why their is violence in black and brown communities in our society, the precise reason the movement was established. Why don’t you call for increased taxes to eliminate the roles of police in what are otherwise social issues currently imposed on police? That way those who believe that it is important to maintain police services can do so by adequately supporting the social services that have been left to them? Finally, the emphasis on a military style policing is part and parcel of the historic use of police that has lead to the moment the nation faces. One way to address that is to remove the impact police unions have on disciplining police, and so effect who seeks employment in police departments. Black and brown communities recognize they face issues within their communities, but have few resources to address them. That comes from the privileged like you and I who can afford the tax base that would make our society more equitable.

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      4. The term “Magic Negro” as a description of Barrack Obama did not originate with the Republican National Committee but with an African-American cultural critic David Ehrenstein who explained in an op-ed in the L. A. Times (https://www.latimes.com/la-oe-ehrenstein19mar19-story.html) that the term had been coined by sociologists in the 20th century.
        Every opposition party to the party of a first term president wants to make him a one-term president.
        There is nothing that has been done by the Congress or the President to limit the possibilities of African-Americans in achieving their dreams. Indeed the President supported and signed into law three initiatives that are more likely to expand rather than limit opportunities for people of color: the First Step Initiative, Opportunity Zone Initiative, and Minority-serving institutions Initiative which funnels $2.5 billion into the institutions over the next ten years with $850 million earmarked for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s). Interestingly all three initiatives were bi-partisan endeavors. Until COVID-19 hit, the unemployment rate of African-Americans was lower than it had been in many decades.
        Do I need to repeat that Black People voting in seven states around the time of the drafting of the Constitution did not mean that they were treated equally in all respects? They were not. But since they voted, they were part of “We the People” who “ordained and established” the U. S. Constitution.
        There is no justification or excuse for Black People killing Black People on the scale that we see it happening. This sort of thing was not happening during the first half of the 20th century.
        In 1960, it was newsworthy when one black person appeared on television. Jet would announce it in its weekly magazine. Today we are all over the television. And thank God that many are making mega bucks because of the “commercial value” attached to their appearances.

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