Many progressives hold, with Douglass, that slavery is America’s “original sin,” and that the Founders are guilty because they allowed it.
From the dawn of mankind, every culture has had slavery. There was slavery in ancient Greece and Rome, in China, in Africa, and in India. American Indians had slaves long before Columbus arrived. What is uniquely Western is not slavery but the abolition of slavery. “No civilization once dependent on slavery has ever been able to eradicate it,” historian J. M. Roberts writes, “except the Western.”
in 1830 there were 3,500 American black slave-owners who collectively owned more than ten thousand black slaves.
When the Civil War broke out, most black slave-owners like Ellison joined their white counterparts in supporting the Confederacy.
Slavery became controversial for one reason: the influence of Christianity.
Slavery was widespread during the Roman Empire which lasted until the fifth century. This was the period of pre-Christian Rome. Then slavery disappeared in Europe between the fifth century and the tenth century.
It is a fact of great significance that only in the West—the region of the world officially known as Christendom—did anti-slavery movements arise. There is no history of an anti-slavery movement outside the West.
Even the atheists admit that the anti-slavery movements in England and America were led by Christians.
Christ’s golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Lincoln’s understanding of slavery was built on two principles: the principle of self-ownership and the principle of consent.
We own ourselves, so therefore we own our own labor and have a right to pursue happiness for ourselves. The means we employ is consent. We agree to sell our labor for a price that we agree upon, and we agree to be ruled by leaders whom we elect by our own free choice. In a representative democracy, consent takes the form of majority rule. In a free market, consent takes the form of agreement to work for a price, or contracts consented to by the parties involved. Without consent, there is tyranny. Slavery is wrong not because the work is hard and humiliating—immigrants in the North were doing work no less hard or humiliating—nor is it wrong because the slaves are not paid for their labor. I might agree to work for you and not be paid; this does not make me a slave. Slavery is wrong because the slave has not consented to the terms of employment. Against his will, he is made to work for free.
If Jefferson and the Founders knew that all men are created equal, why not outlaw slavery from the outset? The simple answer is that had they done so, there would never have been a union. Historian Eugene Genovese states the obvious, “If the Constitution had not recognized slavery, the Southern states would never have entered the union.”
So the choice facing the Founders in Philadelphia was not whether to have slavery or not. Rather, it was whether to have a union that temporarily tolerated slavery, or to have no union at all. The continent of North America might then have become an amalgam of smaller nations—vulnerable to the depredations of foreign empires—and slavery might have continued longer than it actually did.
the best anti-slavery program is not support for the grandest impractical scheme but rather “is that which deals the deadliest blow upon slavery that can be given at a particular time.”
It took a Civil War to destroy slavery, and some six hundred thousand whites were killed in that war, “one life for every six slaves freed,” historian C. Vann Woodward reminds us.
the slaves are dead and their descendants—this will be a hard pill for progressives to swallow—are better off as a consequence of their ancestors being hauled from Africa to America.
In the early 1970s Muhammad Ali fought for the heavyweight title against George Foreman. The fight was held in the African nation of Zaire; it was insensitively called the “rumble in the jungle.” Ali won the fight, and upon returning to the United States, he was asked by a reporter, “Champ, what did you think of Africa?” Ali replied, “Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat!”
Segregation therefore, represented a triumph of government regulation over the free market.