The “S” Word

The Official Medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society

I’ve been wanting to do a post about Slavery for a long time.  Leave it to me to want to handle a topic as complex and controversial in Anglo-US history as Slavery in a blog post.  It’s not a topic I haven’t waded into before even if in questionable taste with my posts Using Dred Scott as precedent in Second Amendment cases!, On Blaming White Folk For Slavery, and Did Thomas Jefferson use the “N” Word???.  Let’s face it how can you deal with a topic that is as fucked up and ignored as the trade in and possession of human beings?  It will raise ire no matter how delicately one tries to handle the topic.

There are a bunch of things swirling around my head since I received a copy of my National Trust Magazine with the cover story on Slavery in Britain, but hearing the story of Monticello on Studio 360 was the final impetus to write something, anything, on this topic. I’ve already pointed out that Jefferson had a sick attitude toward this issue since I can’t see his relationship with Sally Hemmings as anything other than seriously perverted: even if it is a male sexual fantasy to have a woman as a slave.

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”–Samuel Johnson

One of the many forgotten aspects of the War for American Independence is slavery.  Quite a few of the “founding fathers” were slave owners and at least two of them were screaming about Liberty while holding human beings as property (Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson).   Unfortunately, people would prefer to forget about Slavery and how much of an influence it may have been on the North American Independence movement.  After all, Thomas Arne wrote Rule Brittania! in 1740 and the Colonists did consider themselves Britons demanding their rights as Britons:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves.

The nations not so blest as thee,
Shall in their turns to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves.

Likewise, Lord Mansfield issued the opinion in Somersett’s Case (1772) which was widely taken to have held that slavery was illegal in England:

The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it’s so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.

Did the colonials see the handwriting on the wall that the institution of Slavery’s days were seriously numbered? The problem is that Slavery was an issue on both sides, Tory and Patriot, in the War for Independence from the above belief that “Britons never will be slaves”. Slavery went on to cause problems in the US. In Britain, William Wilberforce formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. Wilberforce led the parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807. He continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which he lived to see in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

Of course, that is an incredibly simplified version of events and slavery has caused all sorts of problems since its inception. Likewise, it is something which has been neglected the way someone’s insane or convict ancestor is forgotten even though it contributed a vast amount of money to the world economy. The problem is that this is a topic which needs to be acknowledged and addressed, but the topics of slavery and subsequent racial discrimination are serious problem children. There is too much emotion and anger here when what is needed is reasoned discourse.

Which is far more than one blog post of close to 700 words will allow.

See also: www.bloomingtonwilpf.org/localagenda/jamessomersett.pdf

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