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Slavery Transformed America
Part Three -The Seeds of Destruction

Jim Kirwan
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 recognize it.
"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.
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 today.
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 Republic."
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 to exist
any longer; anywhere!
1) Slavery & the Making of America, Part 3 ­ video
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