“A STAIN ON ALL MANKIND”
October 6, 2019
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
For more than three centuries, people from all over the world came to that part of North America that morphed into the United States of America. Many came to make a new start in a land of opportunity and fairness. In earlier days, some were brought as bondsmen and even some as slaves.
In a few days we will celebrate Columbus Day and later next month, we will once again celebrate Thanksgiving and recall that in the year 1620, the Mayflower landed its passengers at Plymouth, Massachusetts and began the official American experience with prayer and thanksgiving for a fresh start in a new world where all could worship God in the manner they chose.
The rest of the story — how we gained our independence, how our Constitution was written and the compromises that had to be made to get the then-13 states to ratify it — you probably learned about in grade school. We were taught that this story was good and true. But now we are reminded, correctly, that there is more to the story and that some of our bright history also had some very grim aspects.
In the year 1619, a scant year before the Mayflower landing at Plymouth, a Portuguese slave ship bound for Portuguese holdings in South America was taken by English pirates. (The Pope in Rome had issued a Bull that divided the territorial claims in the New World along the 40th meridian, with all claims falling to the east of that line belonging to Portugal, and all those to the west, to Spain.) Thus Brazil became a Portuguese territory and the rest of Latin America went to Spain. The Spaniards enslaved the native American Indians to work in gold and silver mines. The Portuguese bought their slaves from traders in West Africa and brought them what would become Brazil to work in cane fields and other arduous labors.
The pirates wanted money and didn’t want or need slaves, so they dropped off their human booty for sale in Southern Virginia. Thus, the acts of pirates became the impetus for The New York Times‘s cultural “reeducation” for us all. The stain of slavery on America’s history is indelible and undeniable. However, the vile nature of that stain was recognized early and often in the British Colonies and later as the US gained her independence. Abolitionists were active and fought long and hard to end the practice of slavery. The number of Americans who actually owned slaves was relatively small, and slavery was confined to the southern states whose warmer climates lent to economies resting on cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane – items that were in great demand throughout Europe. In contrast, the northern states relied on manufacturing, whaling, and commerce – enterprises that did not lend themselves to unskilled labor.
So, from the beginning there was tension between the North and the South over slavery. Of necessity, the Constitution incorporated rules that limited how the southern slave population could be counted in the census that would apportion the representation in the Congress. To not have done so would have given southern states more strength to fend off the strong abolitionist tendencies and efforts of the northern states.
To have attempted to outlaw slavery in the Constitution at its outset would have made it impossible to achieve its ratification. The abolitionist North, however, continued to fight tooth-and-nail to limit the spread of “slave states” as new territories were opened to settlement and eventually to statehood. That history is important to read and understand as it provides a necessary counterbalance to the inferences in the “1619 Project” that all of America and thus, every American today, is indelibly marked by the stain of slavery – a false claim that empowers those few among us who want us believe that “America was never that Great!”
Also missing from the “1619” narrative is the fact that slavery is a stain on ALL OF MANKIND and has been since we fled the Garden. It continues today, mostly in the Muslim world where Africans are still captured and bought and sold. Ancient Greeks took and held slaves and were themselves enslaved. The Romans took slaves from everywhere. The Children of Israel were enslaved by Pharaohs in Egypt. Slaves died by the thousands in the mines of Sicily — Spartacus (the real one), anybody? American Indian tribes routinely took one another captive as slaves when one tribe defeated another in battle.
Slavery was everywhere and it was terrible everywhere. In one singular way, however, the American experience was unique – we fought a bloody civil war that cost thousands of lives on both sides to end the horrid practice, once and for all, to prove the greatness of our multi-racial, multilingual, melting-pot country — America.
Remember this should you read or be lectured to about the “1619 Project.”