Is This a Time to Learn
Slavery is, yes is, not was, a horrendous thing. The buying and selling of human beings comes close to being the worst that mankind can do. There can be no question. Yet the great civilizations, Greece, Rome, the Muslim world, the African continent, India, pre Columbian America, China, and the British Isles and of course America, all not only tolerated this abomination but thrived because of it.
Slavery in one form or another still exists today. An estimated 30 million people live in servitude.
There were many excuses for slavery. Aristotle, for instance, wrote that civilization required it. He thought that slavery was a natural thing and that human beings came in two types – slaves and non-slaves. Plato, Homer, St. Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine, all believed that slavery was inevitable.
How do we justify the mere fact of slavery and the fact that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves, that it took millennia for the concept to be banned, that people who owned slaves actually fought against slavery during the revolution. Take Jefferson, for instance from Wikipedia:
Thomas Jefferson’s views on slavery are complex. Jefferson consistently spoke out against the turpitude of slavery and worked gradually to end the practice of slavery while he owned over 600 African-American people throughout his adult life and freed only seven.
In his writings on American grievances justifying the Revolution, he attacked the British for sponsoring human trafficking to the colonies. In 1778, with Jefferson’s leadership, slave importation was banned in Virginia, one of the first jurisdictions worldwide to do so. Jefferson was a lifelong advocate of ending the trade and as president led the effort to criminalize the international slave trade that passed Congress and he signed in 1807, shortly before Britain passed a similar law.
In 1779, as a practical solution to end the legal enslavement of humans, Jefferson supported gradual emancipation, training, and colonization of African-American slaves rather than unconditional manumission, believing that releasing unprepared people with no place to go and no means to support themselves would only bring them misfortune.
Those founders of our country deserve some credit. It took only 75 years to ban slavery, an institution that had cultural roots going back thousands of years. We fought a terrible war over it. Over three quarters of a million Americans died in that war.
But the problems didn’t go away. Like virtually every country on earth, we still have prejudice. Based on fear and ignorance, people who are unlike us, whether black, white, brown or yellow, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Buddhists, whether Irish, Italian, Latin, or Polish..people unlike us still can be held in disrepute.
Unfortunately it matters not which group you pick. There are those in that group who feel strong negative emotions to those in other groups. Does this stem from slavery and the treatment of minorities over the centuries? Some does.
But most often it stems from ignorance and lack of self confidence.
Are things better today than they were even 50 years ago – of course they are.
The ideas that permeated the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, even though written by slave owners, those ideas have remained strong. The concept that all men are created equal was something new in 1776. It took a couple of hundred years for it to change the culture or our country. And it has a ways to go.
The founders were on the right track. They had to look within and change their own beliefs. Not an easy thing. Thomas Jefferson’s words ring as true today as they did a quarter of a millennium ago
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.