- Slavery transformed America into an economic power. Enslaved
men women and children labored to make millions for their masters-and apparently
this tradition has continued to the present moment, despite the collapse
of the pillars upon which this Republic was supposedly built. Just how
much 'slavery' actually went into creating this consumer fantasy?
- The seeds of this destruction were planted with the birth
of a nation built upon the labor derived from slave-wages and the contradiction-in-terms
produced by claiming freedom and democracy while owning and profiting from
slavery at the same time.
- "It was the age of cotton: A time when a third of
all Southerners lived in bondage: An era of extrodinary wealth sustained
by unimaginable brutality.Millions of enslaved people were bought and sold.
In the Cotton-Kingdom it seemed that slavery would last forever."
- It was a crime in the south to teach the enslaved to
read or write. But the cruelty of slavery went far beyond the needs of
everyday work. It became for many an almost sadistic ritual that forced
the enslaved to deal with demands upon their person that exceeded all the
laws of civility or religion; because at its core were the raw animal desires
of some to possess in every way the youth and beauty of the enslaved; because
as slaves; the enslaved had no human rights at all. "Mulattos, wrote
a slave-holder's wife, are as common as blackberries." It was impossible
for a white man to be convicted of raping a slave, because the owner's
owned the enslaved entirely, almost without exception. The courts did not
- "It's obscene, it's perverted, it's incestuous;
but it was 'normal' and it was legal." 'In 1831 Nat Turner, a black-minister,
who was also a slave led an up-rising throughout the south, and the lives
of many of the enslaved were forever changed. In that uprising slaves began
to cite the Bible to their former owners to justify the violence of their
rebellion in which white men, and women and children were killed. There
was of course a white backlash. The fear which the rebellion had instilled
among the white community made the white owners much more dangerous to
their slaves. Many slaves were beheaded, and their heads were posted on
the roads as a warning to others that their rebellions could never succeed.'
Brutality by the owners increased as 'a necessity' to prevent uprisings
in the future.
- The leaders of the country knew that tobacco had depleted
the soil and with it, the usefulness of slaves had been in decline. But
in 1803 President Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase, and doubled
the size of the nation; which affected the usefulness of slaves once more.
Four new States, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas together
were known as the Deep South, joined the union as slave states. Jefferson
called his acquisition "An Empire for Liberty across America".
However it turned out to be an Empire for Slavery. The Nineteenth Century,
in the years after the Louisiana Purchase would be the period of the greatest
expansion of American slavery ever. The new land was an ideal match for
a new invention; the Cotton Gin.
- The combination of the Louisiana Purchase and the Cotton
Gin made the production of cotton unbelievably profitable. The Cotton Gin
increased the amount of cotton that a single slave could produce in a day,
by fifty-fold! "What this meant was that growing cotton was incredibly,
incredibly profitable." In 1808, just as cotton was creating an insatiable
appetite for slave-labor, congress abolished the importation of slaves
from Africa. "Now an already vibrant domestic slave-trade would flourish.
In the upper South the selling of slaves became more profitable than the
growing of tobacco.
- "Slaves vary widely in value from fifty dollars
to two thousand dollars depending on who they are, how old they are, but
the valuable ones are very, very valuable. The slave trade develops its
own language; it's the language of Big-Bucks; it's a language of wenches.
Of course this entire language is meant to separate the black-people from
the common run of humanity. It's a language of de-humanization; it's a
language of bestiality to say that these people are in fact like animals.
Slave auctions became a common sight even in the nation's capital. If a
young woman was put on the auction-block, one of the things that they wanted
to make sure she could do, was to have children."
- The specter of the auction-block haunted the lives of
enslaved people. Slave-mothers knew that this moment might come and they
knew that their children might have to face the action block and this idea
haunted the women that might lose their children to that fate. More than
a million people would be sent to the deep south; nearly twice as many
as were brought to America in all the years of the African slave trade.
Many of the enslaved were compelled to march the entire distance. For some
this was as much as a thousand miles. To some observers the procession
of the enslaved resembled nothing so much as a funeral march. It took all
they had to keep going, and we need to remember that some people didn't
make it. There was a lot of loss along the way.
- While slavery was expanding in the south the northern
states were abolishing it, staking their future on free labor. The nation
was becoming two separate societies. The Missouri compromise of 1820 was
designed to maintain a balance of slave and Free states; yet the cotton
Juggernaught would be unstoppable.
- Cotton became the key crop, the key cash producer in
the life of the nation. For a period of time, there are more millionaires
along a narrow band of land along the Mississippi River than in the entire
rest of the nation combined. This is a terribly profitable crop that we're
talking about. By 1840 the value of cotton exports was greater than everything
else the nation exported to the world combined! And that made slaves the
most valuable thing in the nation beside the land itself. As the price
of slaves soared, slave-traders began to roam the north, abducting free
black people. By April of 1841, the kidnapping of free black people had
become more frequent: Free black men were stolen from their lives and sent
into slavery; because the color of one's skin could mark you as a potential
- Slave bins lined the streets of Washington D C, and slave
auctions were a daily occurrence. Chained human beings were marched routinely
in front of the Capital. "Think about the contradiction: Here you
have the federal capital of the United States, the nation 'dedicated to
the proposition of human freedom' tolerating and profiting from,
the selling of human beings into bondage." This practice corrupted
white people as well. Throughout this saga, black families were ripped
apart for profit, for vengeance and for the perverted pleasures of their
owners. But slavery also corrupted the white owners in a myriad of ways;
some of these corruptions are still part of the bedrock of American life
- The leisure of the new white aristocracy was purchased
by the back-breaking labor of others. "At harvest time the average
daily task of a slave during the cotton-picking season was 250 pounds or
more and all those who did not come up to the required amount would get
a whippin." Slaveholders thought about people as machines: you had
to keep your slaves working at top speed for as long as possible.
- Having made their fortunes in the deep south, planters
turned their attentions to politics; becoming congressmen, governors and
presidents. "Cotton and the slave-labor force that made the production
of cotton possible was incredibly powerful economically and politically
in the Nineteenth Century as in the Twenty-First Century-economic power
translated into political power."
- "In the seventy-two years between the election of
George Washington and the election of Abraham Lincoln, fifty of those years
sees a slave-holder in the White House." It is the slave-holders who
write the laws, it is slave-holders that adjudicate those laws; it is slave-holders
that enforce those laws. "The United States is truly a slave-holding
- In the north, though they had abandoned slave-labor in
their own region, northerners were making huge profits from slavery. Cotton
generated an extensive textile industry in New England. Insurance companies
insured slaves as property (much as they do today, when corporations are
allowed to insure their workers). "Many Wall Street firms got their
start as middle-men in the cotton trade. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts
called it [Wall Street] 'The Lords of the Loom and the Lords of the Lash."
To survive slaves made families out of strangers, to replace what was no
longer present by blood alone.
- In the north there were a half-million runaway slaves
that had left the south, many by way of the Underground Railroad. Most
had to leave their loved-ones behind. But what the runaways discovered
in the north was a world still very divided by race, in which black people
were second or third class citizens. Black men could not vote, unlike white
men. It was still a hierarchical white supremacists' world in the north.
Fredrick Douglas, the abolitionist, was at the time working as an anti-slavery
speaker. Douglas, also a fugitive slave, was one of the most powerful voices
for black freedom in the country. African-Americans together with White
Abolitionists were building a growing Anti-slavery movement.
- "America would have ignored the contradiction of
a freedom-loving nation tolerating slavery if they could have. But what
free blacks, and what slaves did in conjunction with white allies who were
committed to anti-slavery was to make it increasingly difficult for the
nation to ignore this great glaring contradiction."
- The new immigrants too brought more pressure on slavery.
"The Irish wage-laborers who built those railroads, who dug the canals,
were the first wage-labor working class in America. And the growth of that
working class is going to become a major social development of Nineteenth
Century America." [yes it was only just over a hundred and years ago
that we even had a real working class, instead of the slavery that proceeded
it-and now that middle class has fallen back into non-existence once more,
because we allowed this to happen again!] There was this notion that
wage-labor and slave-labor could not exist side by side. That slave labor
would drive out and would devalue free labor.
- "With victory in the Mexican War bringing vast new
territories into the union, the conflict between slave states and free
stateswould explode. The South wanted room to grow, the North saw a promised
land for free labor. As violent confrontation loomed in the West, congress
devised the compromise of 1850. California would be admitted as a free
state; and in return the South would get the most severe fugitive slave
law in the nation's history."
- "The Fugitive slave law of 1850 said that a person
could be 'accused' of being a fugitive slave and that person would have
NO RIGHT OF SELF-DEFENSE, No right to speak on his or her own behalf. NO
RIGHT TO A LAWYER, NO RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL. Think about it." [Is
this where Cheney-Bush got their doctrine for how to treat terror-suspects]?
"The law was a resounding defeat for abolitionists. Local officials
would receive the hefty sum of ten dollars for every African-American handed
over to slave catchers. It was the beginning of a reign of terror for the
colored population that afflicted blacks in both the south and the north,
because this threw the clock back to the darkest days of slavery.
- "Nearly two-hundred and fifty years after Africans
were first landed on America's shores; the Supreme Court of the United
Stateswould proclaim that 'blacks by virtue of their race were not persons
before the law.'In 1857 (152 years ago) in a landmark decision the Supreme
Court ruled in the Dread-Scott case that "congress had no authority
to limit the spread of slavery to any territory." The Chief-Justice's
words stunned African-Americans. 'Black people generally "had not
been, were not then, could never be citizens of the United States and as
such have no rights which white men are bound to respect.'
- Northerners were furious. "Wherever our flag float"
protested one newspaper editor "it is the flag of slavery." When
abolitionists sought ways to circumvent the Dread-Scott ruling; slave holders
pressed for a slave law. By the late 1850's the Southerners are demanding
that the federal government pass the Slave Code for all the territories
it had acquired in the West, and Northerners are not about to accept this
kind of thing. The battle over slavery was crippling the political process.
- Violence was erupting in the halls of government and
on the streets of Washington, involving our lawmakers. People are coming
to sessions of the House of Representatives and the US Senate, armed. In
fact one letters said "the only people who aren't coming with two
guns are those with who are coming with two guns and a knife."
- In the midst of the turmoil the 1860 Republican nominee
and free-soil candidate Abraham Lincoln, the 'rail-splitter' from Illinoiswas
elected without carrying a single Southern state. "Lincoln was elected
as being committed to not interfering with slavery anywhere; he was only
committed to restricting its expansion. But at that point the slave-holders
had become so convinced that the North was taken over by these lunatic
abolitionists and that was the way they viewed Abraham Lincoln's election-no
matter what Lincoln said." Even before Lincoln took office seven Southern
states withdrew from the Union. Enslaved southern people were heartened
by the news because it represented the first ray of hope for freedom.
"Woe be unto the country where the Sun of Liberty has to rise out
of a sea of blood. The United States had come apart over slavery; and the
nation was at the brink of civil war." (1)
- This deadly and bestial enslavement of an entire race
has had much in common with the rights of Native people, Women's rights,
the Apartheid movement in South Africa as well as the 60 plus years of
open slaughter in the slave-camps of Palestine; because slavery is above
all anti-human and an assault against all human and civil rights among
enlightened people anywhere and everywhere.
- History matters, but because it is written by the victors,
most Americans have been denied the truth of this dark part of our history
for far too long. This film series ought to be required study, for everyone
in junior highschool. Instead we have virtually erased this history that
was so much a part of the founding of the nation; and along with its disappearance
we inherited this star-crossed Fascist-Empire that can never be allowed
- any longer; anywhere!
- 1) Slavery & the Making of America, Part 3