“A Fatal Tendency of Mankind…common among people. When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others…The annals of history bear witness to…religious persecutions, universal slavery, dishonesty in commerce, and monopolies. This …desire has its origin in the very nature of man…[the] primitive, universal, and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.”
It’s common for the left to paint the picture of oppression in modern day America and to stereotype our founders as phobes of diversity. However, history tells a different story. Our nation was founded on ideas far ahead of its time.
It is important to recognize the world as it was when America was colonized in the 15th century. Slavery, indentured servitude and serfdom were the lot of the people throughout the world. The ruling elites throughout the world dominated:
• Religion – Suppression by state-sponsored religions of heretical sects, other theologies and secularism; the absolute belief that their way to God is the only way and that anyone who doesn’t believe must be converted (by reason and/or the sword), so that the religiously ignorant can be uplifted to the true path.
• Property – Ownership of property by the rulers and established elites. Ownership of land, thoughts and the efforts of the people. Ownership of the hoofs, feathers and fins that inhabit the forests, streams and lakes, and ownership of the tools, machines and weapons necessary to work and protect the land.
• Life – Opulence for the rulers and established elites. Subsistence for the people. Equality of misery for the masses. The ruling elites have total control over the laws and the ability to manipulate the law to their advantage. The ruling elite control who will live and who will hang.
• Liberty – Liberty for the ruling elites; virtual or actual slavery for the people. There is no liberty for the average man and there are no rights that do not exist at the whim of the ruling elites. The people are beasts of burden, whose sole purpose is to provide for the ruling elite.
Slavery in one form or another was the lot of humanity until the 1700s when the Enlightenment brought the idea of abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude into the mainstream thinking of the Western World.
The abolition of slavery and indentured servitude in the New World started to become part of the political thinking of many of the colonists based on the growing recognition by the great thinkers of Europe (John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, Hobbes, Rousseau, etc.) that mankind’s rights are inherent, endowed by the creator and precede government; that government’s powers are granted and limited by the people; that all people are created equal before God and the law; and that the law should protect the people’s property, rights, and safety.
These ideas, while slow to take hold in Europe, resonated with the colonists in America. The northern colonies took Jefferson’s “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” at face value, and started the abolitionist movement.
Although slavery, in various forms, existed throughout all of the colonies and the world, New England colonies started to emancipate slaves and indentured servants in 1777. New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania commenced abolishing slavery in 1799. By 1804, the northern colonies had abolished slavery. In 1808 (the earliest date allowed by the Constitution), the U.S. abolished the slave trade. For context, the United Kingdom ended the slave trade in 1807 and in 1834 abolished slavery.
The southern colonies, along with Maryland and Delaware, maintained slavery to work their tobacco and cotton plantations. The plantation owners, in many cases, were closer to England in thinking than to our Founding Fathers.
Slavery remained in the South until three things occurred:
1. 1863 – President Lincoln emancipated all slaves in the United States of America and its territories.
2. 1865 – The South lost the Civil War.
3. 1865 – The 13th Amendment was ratified, making slavery and involuntary servitude unconstitutional.
America and its colonies were among the first jurisdictions to abolish slavery. In fact, North America, South America and Europe led the world in the abolition of slavery and indentured servitude. Much of the rest of the world to this day still indulges in actual or virtual slavery (or both).