Why Didn't They Tell You?

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

that all Africans believe in the resurrection?

… that all Africans believe in the resurrection?

I believe the Africans brought to America over the two hundred years or so from 1620 to the early 1800’s brought a belief system with them that made it easy for them to embrace Christianity, when given the real deal. There were some things that all black Africans believed in, whether they came from West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, North Africa, or Southern Africa. These things were part of the world view of Africans that gave rise to that cultural unity that has been observed by eminent scholars such as Dr. John Hope Franklin, Basil Davidson, Drusilla Dunjee Houston, Egyptologist Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr. Theophile Obenga (linguist and Egyptologist), Chancellor Williams, and Egyptologist E. Wallis Budge. One of those commonalities was a belief in the resurrection.  

We cannot speak about the belief in a resurrection in a vacuum but must consider it in conjunction with their beliefs about God, eternal life, and final judgment. The scholarly British Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge wrote very persuasively about the unity in religious thought of Black Africans and Ancient Egyptians. Rather than try to paraphrase what he said, I will share several direct quotations from his book Osiris & the Egyptian Resurrection. What brought him to investigate religious thought in Black Africa was his quest to discover “… the source of the fundamental beliefs of the indigenous Religion of Ancient Egypt … “.1

After much search, including looking at Asia as a possible source, Budge states, “… I became convinced that a satisfactory explanation of the ancient Egyptian Religion could only be obtained from the Religions of the Sudan, more especially those of the peoples who lived in the isolated districts in the south and west of that region [Egypt], where European influence was limited, and where native beliefs and religious ceremonials still possessed life and meaning.”1. Budge examined the accounts of Arabs and Europeans explorers who traveled throughout Sub-Sahara Africa. The value of the explorers’ and travelers’ accounts was that they generally were objective enough to simply write down what they were told. Additionally Budge himself traveled to the country of Sudan to do personal investigations.

His conclusion was “All the evidence available suggests that Sudani beliefs are identical with those of the Egyptians, because the people who held them in Egypt were Africans, and those who now hold them in the Sudan are Africans.”1. At another point, Budge characterizes this Egyptian/African belief system as an, “… unchanging, persistent belief in the resurrection of the righteous and in immortality.”  When Budge says Sudan, he means Sub-Sahara Africa. Sudan is just the shortened form of the Arabic Beled-es-Sudan (Land of the Blacks). He found clear expression by African people of every element of Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs. In short, in the process of investigating the source of Ancient Egyptian beliefs, he ends up giving up valuable information about modern African beliefs.

What then was the African conception of God? Budge characterizes it as the belief in “the existence of One Great God, self-produced, self-existent, almighty and eternal, who created the “gods”, the heavens and the sun, moon and stars in them, and the earth and everything on it, including man and beast, bird, fish, and reptile.”1 That is consistent with the Christian conception of God.

Budge relates that a Mr. Wilson, “… says that there is no well-defined system of false religion in Western Africa which is generally received by the people. The belief in one Supreme Being, who made and upholds all things, is universal. The impression is so deeply engraved upon their moral and mental nature that any system of atheism strikes them as too absurd and preposterous to require a denial [author’s italics]. All the tribes met with by him have a name for God …”1. Clearly the African-American strong belief in God pre-dates the slave experience.

British explorer and travelers Mungo Park who traveled through Senegambia (Gambia, Senegal, and Mali) in 1795 and 1796 had this to say about the belief system of the people he encountered: “… I have conversed with all ranks and conditions, upon the subject of their faith, and can pronounce, without the smallest shadow of doubt, that the belief of one God, and of a future state of reward and punishment is entire and universal among them …”2 In other words, people will be judged for their actions on earth.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ would have been Good News for a people with the belief system described above because it tells them how exactly they can achieve the resurrection and eternal life they longer for, as beautifully expressed in John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” By his death and resurrection, Jesus, the man (though God in the flesh), conquered death and, therefore, we have the hope of the resurrection.

As an American of African descent, I thank my Heavenly Father for my African ancestors’ deep abiding faith in Him.

May You Have a Blessed Resurrection Day!

Sources

1. Quotations are from pages vi, xvii, 349, 361, 364 of Budge, E. A. Wallis (1911). Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection. London: Philip Lee Warner; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Accessed at http://www.archive.org/details/osirisegyptianre01budg.

2. Park, Mungo (1799). Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa. W. Bulmer and Co.: Pall-Mall, England. Reprinted in 2000 by Duke University Press: Durham and London, p. 247.

that Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs had the same bone structure as Black American males?

… that Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs had the same bone structure as Black American males?

Sometimes one piece of evidence is enough to settle an argument. I believe that the evidence demonstrating that Egyptian pharaohs of the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom all had the same bone structure as Black American males is enough to settle the unnecessary controversy over the race of the Ancient Egyptians. Since most Americans of African descent trace most of their ancestry to West Africa, this amounts to saying that the Ancient Egyptians had the same osteology (bone structure) as West Africans. What is the evidence?

During and after WWII, the United States faced the problem of identifying the remains of repatriated Americans killed during the war. One piece of evidence that is of great value in identifying remains is the height of the living individual. Generally length of the cadaver is not sufficient to estimate the living stature of the individual. Therefore, researchers developed equations for estimating living stature from the length of long bones (the tibia, fibula, and femur in the leg and the humerus, ulna, and radius in the arm). Given these equations, forensic specialists can plug in the length of the long bone to get an estimate of the height of the living person. Researchers Trotter and Gleser developed separate equations for Negroes (that was in the 1950s) and Whites because of “a failure of the formulae of one race to give satisfactory prediction results for the second [race].”1 Physical anthropologists hit upon the idea that they could use these equations to estimate the living stature of Egyptian pharaohs using the lengths of long bones obtained from mummies.

Some scholars interested in using the equations developed by Trotter and Gleser acknowledged that “the physical proportions of Ancient Egyptians had negroid affinities2; nevertheless since they were certainly not negroes, the use of the negro equations to estimate their stature has generally been avoided.”3 In other words, they preferred to remain ignorant (of the true height of these pharaohs) rather than shatter their false notion that Ancient Egyptians were white. Thus we have here a perfect example of prejudice and racism retarding the advance of science and knowledge. Please note that these were not “rednecks” doing this but august members of the intellectual establishment.  

Robins and Shute, who used the Negro equations to estimate the living height of pharaohs of the 18th and 19th Dynasties, which included King Tut, observed, “Such equations only yield acceptable values for stature if the unknown population group [Egyptian Pharaohs] to which they are applied had similar physical proportions … to the group [American Negroes] from which the equations have been derived.” Robins and Shute decided to estimate the living statures of New Kingdom (18th and 19th dynasty) kings since Robins had already shown for the Middle Kingdom that “for males, at least, plausible estimates of stature that are reasonably consistent when different long bones are used only result from the negro equations”.3

Robins and Shute showed that using the white equation to estimate the living heights of New Kingdom Pharaohs was not a good fit and gave rise to unrealistic and unacceptable predictions. The authors, therefore, concluded that, “From a practical point of view, the conclusion must be that the Trotter & Gleser (1958) negro equations can be applied satisfactorily to ancient Egyptian material as they stand.”3 Using the Negro equations, the authors were able to estimate the living heights of fourteen (14) kings4 of the 18th and 19th dynasties and in the process dispel the notion that Thutmose III was excessively short.

In plain language, “Negroes” have longer lower legs than whites. If you compare a black man and a white man of the same height, generally the black man’s lower leg (his tibia), from his knee to his ankle, will be longer than white man’s tibia. That is what Black People mean when they say someone has a high “booty”. That is also why the equations derived from a white population would not work for estimating the living heights of Egyptian Pharaohs of the New Kingdoms. They were black, and not white. A perfect example of this body type is Narmer (See picture below), first Pharaoh to unite Lower and Upper Egypt, sometime between 3,000 and 3,300 B.C. Still today most scholars in the august academies of the world do not want to acknowledge this truth.

Are there other scientific verifications of the race of Ancients Egyptians we could allude to? Yes there are. Just to give one that is close to home. Eighty-six percent (86%) of my DNA comes from Sub-Sahara Africa, mostly from West Africa. My male chromosome is designated as Sub-Saharan African, E1b1a. Rameses III, the last great warrior pharaoh of the New Kingdom (20th Dynasty) also had the E1b1a male chromosome.5 Indeed, 23andme.com says that we share a common ancestor. Specifically it says “You and Ramesses III share an ancient paternal-line ancestor who probably lived in north Africa or western Asia.”  (See picture below of Rameses III).

Morale of this vignette: Distorting or not accepting the truth retards the development of science and knowledge. The true history of humanity cannot be written until academic racism is obliterated.

Sources

  1. p. 465, Mildred Trotter and Goldine C. Gleser (1952). Estimation of Stature from Long Bones of American Whites and Negroes, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, n. s. 10, 436-514.
  2. The late great Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop in his book African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality reports that the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius, based on objective measurements, reached “… the formal, major conclusion that the perfect Egyptian is Negritian. In other words, his bone structure is Negroid and that is why anthropologists say little about the osteology of the Egyptian.”, p. 64.
  3. Robins, G. and C.C.D Shute (1983). The physical proportions and living stature of New Kingdom Pharaohs, Journal of Human Evolution, Vol. 12, No. 5.
  4. 18th Dynasty Pharaohs: Ahmose, Amenhotpe I, Thutmose I, Thutmose II, Thutmose III, Amenhotpe II, Thutmose IV, Amenhotpe III and Smenkhkare; 19th Dynasty Pharaohs: Sety I, Ramesses II, Merneptah, Sety II, and Siptah.
  5. Hawass, Zahi and et al (2012). Revising the harem conspiracy and death of Ramesses III, British Medical Journal, Vol. 344 (17 December 2012).
Narmer, (or Menes) first Pharaoh to unite Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt about 5,000 year ago
Closeup of face of Narmer
from other side of palette
wearing the crown of Lower Egypt
Ramesses III
Last great warrior Pharaoh of the New Kingdom

… that the word mulatto is a very racist word?

… that the word mulatto is a very racist word?

The word racist is thrown around a lot nowadays, so much so that sometimes it is a stretch to accept some things that are called racist as actually racist. However, in the case of this word mulatto, there is no doubt that the label arose from a full-blown racist mind.

We have to thank the Spaniards for this word! The origin and etymology of the word mulatto, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the Spanish word mulato which comes from the Spanish word mulo which in turn came from the Latin mulus. Both mulo and mulus mean mule. English speakers anglicized the Spanish word by adding an extra t.

Now what is a mule? A mule1 is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse (the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse is not a mule, but a hinny1). The mule inherits the size and strength of his mother (the horse) but other traits from of his father (the donkey), such as intelligence, perceptiveness and sensitivity2. He is a work animal, a beast of burden. However, this offspring is not fertile; you cannot get another mule from a female mule and a male mule. This infertility is due to the fact that a horse and a donkey are not the same species but close enough to produce an infertile offspring; a horse has 64 chromosomes but a donkey only has 62. The implication of the word is quite clear: the offspring of a black and white union is like a mule, not quite human because, one party is human but the other party is not quite human. This brings to mind the comments of the ignorant slave owner Hammond in the Falconhurst novels (Mandingo is the first one) in which he refers to the mixed s laves who looked white as “mostly human”.  Clearly in the mind of the white racist, the black party is the not quite human one. Besides being racist, it is a lie. The offspring of a black and white union is completely fertile, even if one is a black Pygmy from the African rain forest and the other a tall, blonde, blue-eyed Nordic from Scandinavia because as the Bible attests, and science confirms, that all people are of one blood (Acts 17:26).  . 

The above discussion brings to mind a discussion that is going on right now, the discussion about Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals. During pre-historic times, Homo Sapiens out of Africa, in the view of some scholars, bred with Neanderthals from Europe and Asia and produced an offspring which was fertile, as evidenced by the fact that humans today who have their origin in Asia or Europe may have up to 4% Neanderthal DNA. Unmixed Sub-Sharan Africans have no Neanderthal DNA. I have a hint of Neanderthal DNA because I am 13% European. The passing on of Neanderthal DNA in the face of the extinction of the Neanderthal suggests that the mixed offspring was fertile. If so, were Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals of the same species? Needless to say, this is not a settled issue; not all scholars believe that Homo Sapiens bred with Neanderthals, which begs the question as to how Neanderthal DNA got into the human gene pool. But isn’t it ironic that in the early pre-historic encounter between the African and the European and Asian, the African is the true human?  

My final observation is this: given the undisputable fact that mulatto is a very racist word, I suggest that you not categorize or describe anybody as a mulatto. If a person is half white (half black), then say that. The person is biracial but not a mule!

References and Notes

1. Mule and Hinny compared. A mule is bigger than a hinny. From the picture, you can see that they inherit a different set of traits from their parents.

Mule
Hinny

2. See Maura Wolff, “How to tell the difference between a mule and hinny”.  Accessed at   https://animals.mom.me/tell-difference-between-mule-hinny-9758.html

                         

                                      

… that the real Uncle Tom of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not an Uncle Tom?

… that the real Uncle Tom of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not an Uncle Tom?

Being called an Uncle Tom is one of the worst things a black person can be called. An Uncle Tom is as bad or worse than a Benedict Arnold. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, Uncle Tom is a disparaging term applied to a black person who is overeager to win the approval of whites or who is overly subservient to or cooperative with authority1. The term comes into the English language after the appearance of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that was so influential that Abraham Lincoln credited it with having started the Civil War2. Is this characterization of Tom of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fair?

If you have not read the novel, you probably have an image of Uncle Tom as looking like Uncle Remus singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bWyhj7siEY) in the Disney movie Song of the South, the furthest thing from the appearance of Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Based on physical descriptions of him and illustrations in the book3, Tom is a big, virile, stalwart man in the prime of life and the father of three small children. It is true that he is the perfect servant: intelligent, organized, and obedient in carrying out his duties as a slave. His material circumstances were comfortable and easy to deal with under his first two owners. His second owner, who had every intent to free him, was unexpectedly killed in New Orleans. He was then sold to the infamous Simon Legree.

Simon Legree had a cotton plantation in the Louisiana swamps where he drove his slaves beyond the point of human endurance. Because of Tom’s perceived abilities, Simon Legree wanted to make Tom his overseer and wanted him to become the Uncle Tom that Tom is accused of being. Legree was determined to harden Tom and break him. After deciding that a young girl should be beaten, he said to Tom, “You see I telled ye I didn’t buy ye jest for common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and tonight ye may jest as well begin to get yer hand in. Now, ye jest take this gal and flog her; ye’ve seen enough on’t to know how.” Tom’s reply was, “It’s what I ain’t used to – never did- and can’t do, no way possible.” After this response, Legree begins to beat Tom and asks him, “… now, will you tell me ye can’t do it?” Tom’s reply “… this yer thing I can’t feel it right to do; and, Mas’r, I never shall do it – never!4 (p. 327) [Italics added].

The exchange between Tom and Legree continues with Legree saying, “… So you pretend it’s wrong to flog the gal!”, to which Tom replies, “I think so, Mas’r, … Mas’r, if you mean to kill me, kill me; but, as to my raising my hand agin anyone here, I never shall – I’ll die first!” Legree presses on, saying, “Ain’t yer mine, now, body and soul?” Tom’s reply is “No! no! no! my soul ain’t yours, Mar’r! You haven’t bought it – you can’t buy it! It’s been bought and paid for by one that is able to keep it; no matter, no matter, you can’t harm me!” (p. 328) [Italics added]. At that point, Legree brings in his two black goons, Sambo and Qimbo, who beat Tom almost to the point of death. However, he does recover with the help of Cassy, who knows how to maneuver about the place and who has a certain amount of influence over Simon Legree.

By now Tom is the acknowledged spiritual leader of the slave community. Indeed, Cassy begins calling him Father Tom, not Uncle Tom. Tom tells Cassy that she and the young girl Emmeline must find a way to escape. He, however, must stay because the plantation is his mission field. Cassey and Tom concoct a scheme that results in Cassy and Emmeline escaping with Tom’s help. After their escape, Legree asks Tom to tell him how they escaped. Tom does not deny having knowledge of the escape but refuses to tell Legree anything, at which point he decides to beat him to death. Tom’s response was, “O, Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than ‘twill me! Do the worst you can, my troubles will be over soon; but if you don’t repent, yours won’t never end!” Tom died after this brutal beating by the same two goons, Sambo and Quimbo, but not before they repented.

Now I ask you, the reader, does this sound like an “Uncle Tom”, in the sense that we use that term today? The fact is, Tom is a Christ like figure. Indeed, he sacrificed himself for the two women who escaped to freedom; he saved their lives. Tom felt that they would not survive if they did not find a way of escape.

Why has Uncle Tom been so badly maligned? I do not have a satisfactory answer. It may partly be because some influential abolitionists felt that Harriet Beecher Stowe did not go far enough; they felt that she should have outright called for the abolition of slavery. Nonetheless, her book undoubtedly strengthened the opposition to slavery, a point of view supported by both Abraham Lincoln and historian Dr. John Hope Franklin. Some people may be offended by her strong advocacy for Christianity. Indeed, you could say that Harriet Beecher Stowe was an apologist for Christianity. Strangely enough, another factor that may have worked against her acceptance by some was her strong positive view of the black race. It runs throughout the book. Furthermore, it is evident that she had a good knowledge of the true history of Black People, from ancient times up to her time. I could nitpick but I cannot bring any charge against Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Notes and Referenes

1. “Uncle Tom.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Uncle%20Tom. Accessed 19 Mar. 2020.

2. On a visit to the White House in 1862, President Lincoln allegedly said to her, “So this is the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war.”, quoted in (1991), The World’s Best Reading, Reader’s Digest

3. Drawing from page 35 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Tom & his Baby

4. All the quotation are from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Reader’s Digest edition. Page numbers are indicated at the end of the passage.

… about Justice Curtis’ dissenting opinion in the Dred Scott decision?

… about Justice Curtis’ dissenting opinion in the Dred Scott decision?

One of the most famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, and controversial decisions of the United States Supreme Court was the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Dred Scott, a black slave, “who had lived in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin before moving back to the slave state of Missouri, had appealed to the Supreme Court in hopes of being granted his freedom.”1 The Supreme Court was presided over by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who also was the Chief Justice when the Amistad case was decided sixteen years before (1841).

Justice Taney framed the issue in the following way: “The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution….?”

In the 7-2 majority opinion, Justice Taney answers the question with these words: “The question before us is, whether the class of persons [people of African descent] described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people [who established the Constitution] , and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”1[Italics added]. The suit was dismissed on the grounds that the court where the litigation began, a U. S. Circuit Court, had no jurisdiction to try this case. Additionally, in the view of Justice Taney, people descended from Africans brought to the United States as slaves could not become citizens of the United States and, therefore, could not bring suit in a U. S. court.

The Chief Justice had many disparaging and denigrating things to say about people of African descent in this majority opinion which throughout was laced with racist remarks, the likes of which I had never read. There was a hue and cry against this ruling throughout the North, especially in abolitionist circles. Nonetheless, coming from the U. S. Supreme Court, the ruling had the force of law.

One of the voices of dissent was Associate Justice Benjamin R. Curtis who delivered an incisively brilliant dissenting opinion. To convey an idea of the thinking of the founders at that time, Justice Curtis looked at a debate in 1778 on the drafting of the Articles of Confederation, the governing document preceding the Constitution. In the words of Justice Curtis,

“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 citizens2.

In debates on the drafting of the fourth article (The free inhabitants of each of these States, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice, excepted, shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States.), delegates from South Carolina moved to amend the article by,

 “…inserting after the word ‘free,’ and before the word ‘inhabitants,’ the word ‘white,’ so that the privileges and immunities of general citizenship would be secured only to white persons. Two States voted for the amendment, eight States against it, and the vote of one State was divided. The language of the article stood unchanged, and both by its terms of inclusion, ‘free inhabitants,’ and the strong implication from its terms of exclusion, ‘paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice,’ who alone were excepted, it is clear, that under the Confederation, and at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, free colored persons of African descent might be, and, by reason of their citizenship in certain States, were entitled to the [60 U.S. 393, 576] ] privileges and immunities of general citizenship of the United States.”2

In light of the above quotation, we do not have to speculate whether the framers of the Articles of Confederation intended to include free people of African descent among the recipients of citizenship rights. The record makes it plain and crystal clear. When the South Carolina delegation tried to make the article only apply to White People by changing ‘free inhabitants’ to ‘free white inhabitants’, the delegates decisively rejected the proposed change.

As regards the inclusion of people of African descent in the Constitution, Justice Curtis had this to say:

It has been often asserted that the Constitution was made exclusively by and for the white race. It has already been shown that in five of the thirteen original States, colored persons then possessed the elective franchise, and were among those by whom the Constitution was ordained and established. If so, it is not true, in point of fact that the Constitution was made exclusively by the white race [Italics added]. And that it was made exclusively for the white race is, in my opinion, not only an assumption not warranted by anything in the Constitution, but contradicted by its opening declaration, that it was ordained and established by the people of the United States, for themselves and their posterity. And as free colored persons were then citizens of at least five States, and so in every sense part of the people of the United States, they were among those for whom and whose posterity the Constitution was ordained and established [Italics added).2

Reading the above words, it seems that Justice Curtis was not just writing for his contemporary audience but also for the time we live in today, when so often we hear it said that the U. S. Constitution was not meant Americans of African heritage. So the question is, whose report are you going to believe, as regards the Founders’ intentions, Justice Taney or Justice Curtis (and don’t forget John Quincy Adams)? As for me, I believe the report of Justice Curtis.

Since the Civil War started in 1861, four years after the Dred Scott ruling in 1857, and the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was ratified in 1868, granting citizenship rights to the newly freed Americans of African descent, the impact of this heinous ruling was nullified 11 years after its issuance. Remembering that Supreme Court rulings carry the force of law, passage of the 14th Amendment assured that the Dred Scott ruling could not be used to deprive Americans of African heritage of their citizenship rights. The amendment trumped the ruling. And that is a big deal.

References

  1. Dred Scott case: the Supreme Court decision. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2933.html   
  2. https://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Dred_Scott_v._Sandford/Dissent_Curtis&oldid=7429747

Next Post: Why didn’t they tell you that the real Uncle Tom of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not an Uncle Tom?

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that President John Quincy Adams believed that the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were also for People of African descent?

that President John Quincy Adams believed that the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were also for People of African descent?

Implicit in the often heard, and erroneous statement, that the U. S. Constitution made a Black Person three-fifths of a person is the idea that the high sounding ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were not meant for Black People, understanding that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution go hand-in-hand. It follows that if a Black Person is considered to be only three-fifths of a person, surely he cannot be deemed to be created equal to a White Person. By appealing to the actual words of the Constitution, my last blog demonstrated, I believe, that the U. S. Constitution did not define a black person as three-fifths of a person. Since it is written in 2 Corinthians 13:1b, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established”, I shall now bring forth the 6th President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, as my second witness, along with several other witnesses.

Since John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States, was there when the Constitution was ratified, his testimony should carry a lot of weight. Born almost ten years before the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, he was the eldest son of the second President of the United States, John Adams. He was twenty years old when the U. S. Constitution was drafted in 1787 and twenty-two when it was ratified in 1789 and a law student at the time.  He was involved in the battle to ratify the Constitution, having initially opposed its ratification but later came around to supporting it. In short, John Quincy Adams surely has the standing, so to speak, to speak to the issue at hand.

Adams, having returned to Washington as a member of the U. S. House of Representatives after his stint as President, agreed to represent the African captives in the Amistad case before the U. S. Supreme Court in 1841. At one point in his argument before the Court, Adams asserted that, ““The Constitution nowhere recognizes them [slaves] as property. The words slave and slavery are studiously excluded from the Constitution. Circumlocutions are the fig-leaves under which these parts of the body politic are decently concealed. Slaves, therefore, in the Constitution of the United States are recognized only as persons, enjoying rights and held to the performance of their duties (italics added)”1. Eureka! On reading this passage, I understood why the words slave, slavery, or Negro were not mentioned in the original Constitution, something I had pondered on for years. Pivotal to Adams’ argument on behalf of the captured Africans was the conviction that these captured Black Africans were due the same consideration as whites in enjoying the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and, therefore, had the right, given to them by their Creator, to overthrow their captors on the slave ship Amistad, which they did.

Some contemporary views of the issue are expressed by several commentators in the documentary Liberty and Slavery. Henry Wiencek, author of Master of the Mountain, opined that Jefferson meant to include black men when he said “all men are created equal” and many other scholars think so too. Author K. Carl Smith believes that what the Founding Fathers said has to be taken at face value. In this documentary, Travis Hickens expressed the belief that Jefferson intended all races to be included. He notes that it is significant that Adams (father of John Quincy Adams) and Jefferson changed the phrase from “life, liberty, and property” to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”. Furthermore, “They were not enshrining slavery [mention of the word was studiously avoided]; so it could be changed”. In actuality, “They were planting a time bomb in the Declaration”. Martin Luther King used that time bomb when he appealed to the Declaration of Independence in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Why did they resort to these circumlocutions – the use of many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive2? I believe it was because they wanted to set up a new government and, therefore, they did not want to antagonize the slave-holding interest, who could have sabotaged the whole undertaking. As another commentator in the Liberty and Slavery documentary pointed out, this was a fragile time and it was not a “foregone conclusion that it [this new Republic] would work.” Eighty-four years after the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, referred to America as an “experiment” that was being tested by a bloody and horrible Civil War. Meanwhile the lofty ideals of equality and liberty for all races is there in the founding document but is not stated directly in the Constitution; it is covered up by the fig leaves of language, waiting to explode.

When the Supreme Court rendered a 7 to1 (Justice Philip Barbour died in his sleep during the trial) decision to uphold the rulings of two lower courts, the majority opinion was written and read by Associate Justice Joseph Story. The Chief Justice, Roger Taney, voted with the majority of 7 to free the captured Africans. The Africans were freed and returned to Sierra Leone, West Africa.

I believe that the Amistad decision was one of the most important decisions of American jurisprudence. It shouted out loud that the lofty ideals of the Declaration of Independence also applied to people of African descent who are part of the human race, something that apologists for slavery tried to deny. One of their supports had been knocked from under them. Twenty years later (1861), the Civil War would start with the secession of eleven slave states and the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. This was the beginning of the end to slavery.

My next blog will discuss the Dred Scott ruling for which Chief Justice Taney wrote the majority opinion and the incisively brilliant dissenting opinion written by Associate Justice Benjamin R. Curtis

References and Notes

1. John Quincy Adams’ argument in the Amistad case can be found at https://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/amistad_002.asp. This particular quotation is found on page 38.

2. Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary. Accessed at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slave

… that the Constitution of the United States did not define a Black person as three-fifths of a person?

… that the Constitution of the United States did not define a Black person as three-fifths of a person?

There is an assertion that one hears over and over again, namely, that the U. S. Constitution made Black people three-fifths of a person. It is, indeed, an assertion that has no factual basis. In fact, the paragraph in the Constitution where this idea comes from does not use the term Black, Negro, or African. The passage lists all those included in determining a state’s representation and taxation and ends with the phrase “three fifths of all other Persons” (read the wording of Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 below). We know that the phrase refers to slaves since everybody else had been listed, including exclusions, in determining representation, and we know that 99+ percent of all slaves were black (there may have been a few enslaved Native Americans). You might as well say 100%.

So the reasoning goes like this. One hundred percent of all slaves were Blacks; a slave was counted as three-fifths of a person in determining the state’s representation in Congress. Therefore, a black person was made to be three-fifths of a person. It should be clear that this is faulty reasoning. Why? Well, though 100% of slaves might have been black people, not a 100% of Blacks were slaves. Though a small minority (about 60,000 (8%) when the Constitution was written), there were some free black people in the United States who had exercised their right to vote before and after the Revolutionary War.(I refer you to John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom for confirmation.) They were counted in the “whole Number of free Persons” referred to in the passage and, therefore, counted as whole persons.

Was this failure to mention color or race an oversight on the part of the framers of the Constitution? I think not. The founders of our country were well educated, thoughtful people. Indeed, I submit that not mentioning color or race was quite intentional. Is this important? I say yes. It is very important in demonstrating that the U. S. Constitution was not just written for white people! They said exactly what they meant to say and meant what they said.

This three-fifths rule worked to the disadvantage of the slave owning ruling class of the South since it had the effect of diluting the political power of the slave states, such as South Carolina and Mississippi which had majority black populations well into the 20th century. Nonetheless this is little consolation given the enormity of the evil of chattel slavery.

Next time I will give you President John Quincy Adams’ take on this issue.

References and Notes

Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution reads:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Click on the above paragraph to go to America’s founding documents (Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other resources)