Friday, February 3, 2017

Why Slavery Could Not Be Resolved Through Politics (Part II)

The 1790 census (the first U.S. census) showed that there were nearly 3.9 million soles living in the United States and slave population was nearly 700,000 (18%)! About 60 thousand blacks lived as Free persons throughout the union. About 40% of the population in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia were slaves. This was disheartening information for many northern lawmakers because it showed that slavery was growing so fast that they believed the opportunity to fix the issue had passed because it would be too cost prohibitive (just as the South argued). If each slave was worth 150 dollars compensation, that would cost the government 105 million dollars. In 1790, the federal government budget was 7 million per year and the national debt was about 75 million. Freeing all slaves would be a huge economic impact on the young nation. And there would be the cost of colonizing African-Americans somewhere out west, or possibly sending them back to Africa. Most people at the time did not consider this point to be racist. It was unfortunately a reality back in 1790. This colonization policy was not much different than US federal policy towards Native Americans in the 1800’s when they were placed on reservations. It is also not much different than segregation policies that dominated the 100 years after the Civil War. And it is actually not much different than the segregation that takes place today. Think about it; most African-Americans live in big cities with the lone exception being many rural locations in the south. Not much has changed in terms of segregation in the U.S. in two centuries. The bottom line is that a political solution to resolve slavery had become cost prohibitive. Legislators again realized that the new nation could not compromise on the issue without it destroying the union.

The resolution created for the 1790 petition to end slavery ended with the following result: “That Congress have no authority to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them within any of the States; it remaining with the several State alone to provide any regulation therein, which humanity and true policy may require”. In other words, the slavery issue was over and Congress could NEVER act to end slavery or stop slave trade. In an effort to keep the Union whole and safe from succession, the House decided that our country, especially in its infancy, could not handle the issue of slavery. Slavery was no longer a political issue, but it would remain alive as a religious issue within the Churches of America – Catholics, Methodist, Protestants, and other Christian denominations kept the dream for the abolition of slavery alive until the Civil War.

The question of Virginia on slavery is an interesting story to say the least. Virginia leaders and former presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison were all slave owners. However, in public debate and in their writings their views were very much in line with northerners wanting to abolish slavery. Jefferson and Madison were in favor of moving freed-slaves into colonies whereas Washington’s views were much different and did not believe that segregation was necessary. Washington freed all of his slaves following the death of his wife. Jefferson and Madison were more reluctant to free their slaves because they felt they could treat them better than the discrimination they would face even in Free states. But Virginia and its lawmakers did nothing to end slavery because they feared it would mean the demise of the union. Jefferson did make it a federal law to end slave trade in the United States when the twenty-year moratorium placed in the Constitution ended. This did little to curb the growth of slavery and slave trade in the United States. Slave trade became a highly profitable “black market” as slaves were smuggled from Africa to Southern states.

Roger Taney is one of the most hatted men in history for his ruling as Chief Justice for the Dred Scott case in 1857. However, even if Taney and the court sided with Scott, this would not have ended slavery. In fact, had Taney acted differently it may have changed history for the worse. Would Lincoln have been elected president? Would the Civil War have happened? Would slavery ended within 7 years of the Taney decision? The Taney decision only further infuriated northern abolitionists to end slavery. When our founding fathers remained silent on the issue of slavery or worse yet protected the practice, there was no longer a political solution to end slavery. So, yes, Taney’s ruling was bad, especially his reasoning, but our anger towards Taney is misplaced because hundreds of great men before Taney also failed. Taney, ironically, freed all of his slaves in Maryland. Without Taney’s ruling, it is quite possible that slavery may not have ended until the industrial revolution when big farm equipment became available to eliminate the need for slaves.

Slavery, of course, remained an issue between the early 1800s and the Civil War. One such issue was the Missouri compromise which did the following: “In 1820, Missouri was admitted as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Furthermore, with the exception of Missouri, this law prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line. In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Three years later the Missouri Compromise was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.” This was a political solution for US Territories, but Congress avoided the issue of slavery among any of the states already in the union. Unfortunately, the only way slavery would end while preserving the union was through a violent conflict.

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