• Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Oppressed

In a country where all men are created equal with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there seems to be an awful lot of gender inequality and economic and social misery in mid-19th century America.  The oppressed, women, free laborers and slaves, are everywhere and the oppressors, depending on your point of view, are men, the ruling elite, capitalists, socialists and/or organized religion.  Women, tired of second class citizenship, are demanding the vote and equal treatment under the law.  Champions of the working class are calling for socialist revolution, a violent overthrow of capitalism. Others see all of this leading to anarchy and call for an even stronger government to keep the peace. The oppressed are everywhere.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton uses the wording of the Declaration of Independence to make her case that God has entitled women the right to vote and equal treatment under the law.  She makes her most effective argument in comparing the rights of women to the rights of slaves.  Stanton says the slave has no name other than the one assigned by his master.  Women, she argues, also have no name, other than the one designated to them by marriage. Women and slaves have no right to their children. Women, like slaves, have no legal existence. “The prejudice of color, of which we hear so much, is no stronger than that against women.”(Cummings, 253) Stanton pledges the suffrage movement will use both the pulpit and the press to effect change at both the state and federal level.


Orestus Brownson envisions violent revolution as ultimately freeing what he sees as America’s most oppressed people, the working class.  He actually argues that slaves are better off than free laborers because their masters take care of their every need.  Free laborers, on the other hand, have to fend for themselves in a capitalist economy that exploits them at every turn. “The laborer at wages has all the disadvantages of freedom and none of its blessings, while the slave, if denied blessings, is freed from the disadvantages.” (p. 225) Brownson sees an unholy alliance of organized religion and the ruling elite working hand in hand to keep the working class focused on the hereafter rather than the here and now. The system, he says, must be  destroyed, including what he calls hereditary monarchy and hereditary nobility.  A man’s power over his property ends when his life ends.


George Fitzhugh believes we are all in this together.  He says both North and South are engaged in a wage-slavery system. He agrees with Brownson that the free laborers are actually worse off than slaves because they are “overburdened with the cares of family and household, which makes his freedom an empty and delusive mockery.” (p. 277) Fitzhugh incredulously says because the slaves are not burdened with these worries, they are”the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world” (p. 278) Rather than socialist revolution, he advocates a return to a feudal society of virtually no property owners where a few rule over all.

What strikes me is how each argument attempts to diminish the cruelty and immorality of slavery.  Stanton appears to see slavery only in the context of women’s rights.  Both Brownson and Fitzhugh argue the slaves don’t really have it that bad.  After all, they don’t have to worry about where the next paycheck is coming from or meeting mortgage payments.  What a life!

Brownson’s call for an end to wealth inheritance brings to mind today’s arguments over the death taxes, the income gap and redistributing wealth.  Is his approach too radical, or do you see some merit to it?



William Lloyd Garrison’s approach to the anti-slavery movement was admirable in the sense that he went so far as to burn a copy of the constitution, in an effort to condemn a document that within in it allowed a people to be treated as less than human.

“But those, for whose emancipation we are striving-constituting at the present time at least one-sixth of our countrymen-are recognized by law, and treated by the fellow-beings, as marketable commodities, as goods and chatels, as brute beasts; are plundered daily of the fruits of their toil without redress; really enjoy no constitutional nor legal protection from licentious and murderous outrages upon their persons; and are ruthlessly torn asunder-the tender babe from the arms of its frantic mother-the heartbroken wife from her weeping husband-at the caprice of pleasure of irresponsible tyrants.”

His failure to put forth a plan (other than you’re on your own, figure it out) or consider the immediate and future realities of freeing the slaves suggest his ideological views were inconsiderate and completely ignoring the social consequences of his notions. In not addressing the Puritan religious and social views of society during this era; he does not address the fundamental reason that slavery was ever accepted by a people and upheld by the law in the first place.

Frederick Douglass later approach was much more realistic and effective; by acknowledging the religious social and political views of the era he saw that a shift in perspective was necessary in order to achieve any real measure of freedom for the slaves.

“I do not know but the United States would rot in this tyranny if there were not some negroes in this land-some to clink their chains in the ear of listening humanity, and from whose prostrate forms the lessons of liberty can be taught to the whites. It is through us now that you are learning that your own rights are stricken down.”

Instead of advocating to throw out the constitution all together he took the document as an opportunity to secure legal protection from slavery by exposing the hypocrisy of interpreting the constitution in any way other than acknowledging the reality that slaves were every bit as human and deserving of inalienable rights as their oppressors.

” Building on the ingenious arguments of the 19th-century legal theorist Lysander Spooner, Douglass argued that the passages in the Constitution’s text that admit of some ambiguity, such as the clauses commonly held to concern slavery, must be interpreted in light of the larger ends or “objects” of the Constitution as set forth in the Preamble. Above all, the Constitution must be interpreted in light of its commitment to secure the blessings of liberty for all. This commitment not only appears in the Preamble, but also reflects a bedrock rule of legal interpretation—a rule “as old as law” itself, Douglass observed, and grounded in the very nature of law, according to which a legal instrument “must be construed strictly in favor of liberty and justice.”[17]

In Douglass’s argument, these interpretive principles yielded powerfully anti-slavery results. In fact, he contended, the Constitution was more than merely anti-slavery. It did much more, that is, than convey the Framers’ general disapproval of slavery and their design to recognize slavery only as a local institution, to tolerate it only as a necessary, temporary evil, and to contain its expansion to the end of promoting its eventual abolition. This latter, of course, was the position of Lincoln and of the moderate center of the Free Soil and Republican parties during the 1850s. The position of Douglass and constitutional radicals, by contrast, was that the Constitution was in the strict sense abolitionist. Slavery, in their view, was simply unconstitutional; the Constitution delegated to the federal government both the right and the duty to abolish slavery immediately, everywhere in the Union.[18]


William Loyd Garrison

William Loyd Garrison was a rare breed of his time, he was what many considered a ‘radical’ abolitionist. He founded a abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and also co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. In Garrison’s piece the “Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society” he connects religion with the constitutionality of slavery; he makes what I feel to be a most compelling statement about this:

That all those laws which are now in force, admitting the right of slaver, are therefore, before God, utterly null and void; being an audacious usurpation of the Divine prerogative, a daring infringement on the law of nature, a base over-throw of the very foundations of the social compact, a complete extinction of all the relations, endearments and obligations of mankind, and a presumptuous transgression of all the holy commandments; and that therefore they ought instantly to be abrogated (P.219).

Garrison later acknowledges the sovereignty the states have and that Congress cannot intervene on the matters of slavery in the states where it was legal; but because the slave trade was occurring between states Congress has the right to ‘suppress’ the trade. I found this to be an interesting statement because it immediately reminded me of the Interstate Commerce Act which was passed 54 years later, giving the federal government the right to regulate trade occurring between states.

The hypocrisy of the abolition movement

Abolitionists could agree that the end goal of their movement be the freedom of slaves. The movement held a strong belief that men were created equal, could not be owned another man, and had the right to their own labor and from the violence of the oppression of slavery. The how, when, and who of the movement were subject to more debate. Frederick Douglass, a former slave who taught himself to read a write and escaped his master, into freedom, advocated for violent rebellion. While Abolitionists in the same thought as William Lloyd Garrison advocated for non-violent resistance to the institution of slavery. (Cummings, 217)

“Their principles led them to wage war against their oppressors, and to spill human blood like water in order to be free. Ours forbid the doing of evil that good may come, and lead us to reject, and to entreat the oppressed to reject, the use of all carnal weapons for deliverance from bondage; relying solely upon those which are spiritual, and mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” (Cummings, 218)

There were arguments within the movement as to whether slave-holders should be compensated for loss of property when their slaves were freed, by some who probably believed it was necessary and would make it easier, and some who believed that compensating slave owners would be contradicting to their beliefs on abolition.

“We maintain that no compensation should be given to the planters emancipating their slaves: Because it would be a surrender of the great fundamental principle, that man cannot hold property in a man…:Because the holders of slaves are not the just proprietors of what they claim; freeing the slaves is not depriving them of property, but restoring it to its rightful owner; it is not wronging the master, but righting the slave- restoring him to himself” (Cummings, 218)

And there were arguments, perhaps the most hypocritical of a movement for human rights, about women’s place in the movement. The movement was split on it’s acceptance of women as members and leaders. In the 1830’s, the abolition movement’s treatment of women provided the fodder for early feminists to launch a movement for women’s suffrage. Angelina and Sarah Grimke, called for women to “participate in the freeing and educating of slaves.” Lucretia Mott, an educated Bostonian, was one of the most powerful advocates of reform, who acted as a bridge between the feminist and the abolitionist movement and endured fierce criticism wherever she spoke. And at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, Elizabeth Cady-Stanton was turned away from the floor to observe from the gallery, and returned to America and organized the first Women’s Rights convention in Seneca Falls, which resulted in the Seneca Falls Declaration calling for improved laws regarding child custody, divorce, and property rights, equal wages and career opportunities in law, medicine, education and the ministry, and women’s suffrage.

“We further maintain- that no man has a right to enslave or imbrute his brother- to hold or acknowledge him for one moment, as a piece of merchandise- to keep back his hire by fraud or to brutalize his mind, by denying him the means of intellectual, social, and moral improvement. The right to enjoy liberty is inalienable. To invade it is to usurp the prerogative of Jehovah. Every man has a right to his own body- to the products of his own labor- to the protection of law- and to the common advantages of society.”

Were women not fighting for the same freedoms that the slaves were, just not from the accepted physical brutality of slavery? The laws of the time treated women as the property of their father and husband. The practice of coverture erased a woman’s social and political identity. As slave-holders were allowed to vote three-fifths of his slaves, a husband/father was to vote for his female wards. Women could not own property or work for their own wages, as it was a husband loosing time and access to his wife. Women could not go to school for careers that men were welcome. Women were fighting for the same rights the slaves were but were turned away from the movement and spoken over for the rights of newly freed men. The arguments that were made in the Abolition Movement are some of the same that were used in early Women’s Rights Movements, but when Abolitionists said men, they did not mean people.


William Lloyd Garrison

I thought William Lloyd Garrison’s Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society was a really interesting read. He brought up many good points as to why, aside from obvious reasons, that slavery was an issue, and also pointed out why economically, it didn’t make sense. A couple of quotes stood out to me. The first being when he quoted the Temple of Freedom and said it was founded based on the idea that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness” (Cummings 217-218). I think in this he’s definitely making a point that the country is in fact not following this “guideline” considering people are enslaved, which is why liberty is capitalized. Another quote that stood out to me was “We further believe and affirm – that all persons of color, who possess the qualifications which are demanded of others, ought to be admitted forthwith to the enjoyment of the same privileges, and the exercise of the same prerogatives, as others; and that the paths of preferment, of wealth, and of intelligence, should be opened as widely to them as to persons of a white complexion.” (Cummings 219). I was watching the Oscars last night, and this quote stood out to me because the song Glory from the Martin Luther King Jr. movie, Selma, won an award for best original song in a film. While this itself, or the movie anyway and its ideas, can be tied to this idea of Garrisons, equality, it was the acceptance speech given by Common and John Legend that I thought really related this issue presented by Garrison to the modern day issue of inequality. John Legend specifically makes reference to slavery in 1850, and brings up that the fight for freedom and justice is still present today, everywhere. I’ve attached the transcript and a video of the speech below.



The Anti Slavery Movement

During the time leading up to the end of slavery, there were many people known as “abolitionists” who were fighting for the end of slavery. Many famous abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison paved the way and sought for equality for African American slaves. However, I want to focus on Fredrick Douglas, who was in my mind one of the most influential people in getting slaves their right as free individuals. Douglas sought not only rights for slaves and an end to slavery, but also worked for women’s rights too, saying “together with the leaders of the feminist movement, that the issues of equality applied equally to women and blacks” (Cummings, p. 253).

In Fredrick Douglas’ speech at the Anti-Slavery Association, he questions slaveholders as well as the morality of some these cruel people in their desire to retain slavery. He also touches on the topic of not being able to speak up and stand out in the United States. “Sir, I have been frequently denounced because I have dared to speak against the American nation, against the church, against the northern churches” (Cummings, p. 254). I want to make the argument that the United States in this time, especially in the south, was looking to keep the “status quo”. Some people must have felt like abolishing slavery would throw the balance off, since it would have been such a dramatic shock. “A union with no slaveholders” as Garrison said, and the south eventually became the Confederacy, separating from a union with out slavery. “All men desire Liberty” which was Douglas’ first line in his Various Stages of Anti-Slavery, which is a statement that I believe holds very true (Cummings, p. 257). The driving force behind the powerful resistance for the slaves becoming free was racism. White men are able to be free so why not colored people? It boggles my mind when I think about it since I believe being human is the same for everyone, so that means everyone should have the chance to be free.

My question is what would the Anti-Slavery movement have been like if some key abolitionists like Garrison and Douglas weren’t there to be the influence that they were? Would things have turned out quite differently or do you think slavery still would have ended when it did in 1865?

The consequences of being human in a religious world

The foundation of slavery was built upon Puritan religious ideals that justified the enslavement of others in the name of God. Its focus was preserving the social hierarchical order as mandated by God himself. During the Great Awakening period, Evangelical Christians began to question the authority of the clergy and a movement towards enlightenment through experience with God within oneself. The major tenant behind this thought process was that people began to see the paradox of Puritan ideals when applied to the economic realities of society.

“The covenants had envisioned peaceful, static, orderly communities marked by mutual love and deference to authority. That utopian dream faded as the society grew diverse and the economy complex.”(Morone, pg 93)

This new faction divided American citizens into two sects of Christianity; those who believe that they are preparing for the for the second Coming of Christ by practicing grassroots democracy, and those who believed in the authority of God coming from ordained clergy members. Each of this factions believed that their causes were justified by God and on the issue of slavery they eventually faced off. For Christians as a whole the act of slavery was justified by God as a necessary evil to create a land which would serve as an example of pure Christian morals; that surely the rest of the world would use a template of what a “good” society looks like and aspire to become.

“Yet beneath the sharp class differences lay profound similarities. The screaming western itinerants and the grave Yale divines were unwitting partners in a grand American project: bringing a kind of liberal individualism to the nation’s religious life. Together the different preachers pushed the same four moral innovations, which added up to religious democracy.”(Morone, pg 126)

However, during the Second Great Awakening Evangelicals realized that for the sake of the religious purity in the future of America; Slavery was no longer the method in which to create a pure society. It was time to make changes to prepare for the second coming of Jesus. This laid the ground work for industrial capitalism and wage labor.

“The new benevolent societies steadied individuals in their battle with sin. And just in time note labor historians, to negotiate the transition to industrial capitalism.”(Morone, pg 127)

The quest for religiously justified capitalism is still seen in America today. Slavery still exists, though some may say to a lesser degree in the practices of wage labor. There is still a hierarchical order in society and a pushback from those at the bottom of the pecking order, who fight for equality in the name of God. It has evolved significantly yet the core remains the same, America is united in furthering Christian ideals into the rest of the world and preserving the powers that be.

How can we as a society fight for justice for those who are not privileged, without furthering American purist ideals?

Through the Looking Glass: What Slavery REALLY Looks Like

The presentation of historical material can and/or will be distorted through time to make it more palatable.  When taking a quick look back into the history of our nation and what I was taught at an early age, a quick comparison to the stories of colonization and construction of our nation have a different picture painted to masque the truths of the horrors that accompany a “great nation” such as this.  So many look to the founding fathers for guidance today through the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but to me I see their pen quills scrolling the “Fathers” good intentions onto parchments with the blood of other nations people, their lives, and their work.  Reading William Lloyd Garrison’s piece opened the door a little wider to an already cracking door to the animosity that I carry with the founding of this nation.

The Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society starts with,

“More than fifty-seven years have elapsed…  (Since running from the tyrannical rule of Brittan)

…At the sound of the trumpet call three millions of people rose up from the sleep of death, and rushed to the strife of blood; deeming it more glorious to die instantly as freemen, than desirable to live one hours as slaves.”

It blows my mind that a people running from oppression and persecution of their “masters” refer to their lives lived as lives lived in slavery.  What really bothers me is that once the people (this nations founders) were free from their shackles of oppression they turned to different men and women and enslaved them for their own gains.  When taking a critical look at the slavery that occurred before the escape to a “new land” and the slavery that occurred within the new land it appears as though the “New Americans” needed to do it bigger and better…

SO I must ask.

Why was it intolerable to  feel like a slave under Brittan’s rule but engage in the acceptable practice by these once “enslaved people” to turn and kidnap, torture, murder, and steal another mans labor and life for personal gains of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Frederick Douglass, the Original Malcolm X

There is no doubt that alone, Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X are regarded as integral to black history. They both have their respective places in the Abolitionist Movement and Civil Rights Movement. However, little connection is ever made between the two. Which is confounding, because both men seem to overlap somewhat in the context of their own times in history.

They both became self educated through adverse circumstances. Malcolm X poured over books during his prison sentence, Douglass taught himself to read and write whilst living under a master as a slave. This self education led them to a mentor of sorts, who they both eventually broke away from. Douglass originally followed William Lloyd Garrison’s views of anti-slavery, but found his approach of passivity not helpful and thus advocated a stronger movement. Malcolm X went under the wing of Elijah Muhammad and the Black Muslim Movement, but eventually became disillusioned once he found Elijah Muhammad was mired in scandal.

While Malcolm X originally believed in going back to Africa, he eventually changed note to believing African Americans must stay in America and build themselves up. Douglass too rejected the notion of slaves returning to Africa because slaves held the right to stay in the land they had been born in, and believed that African American men and women had much to offer to the United States that whites did not realize. “I do not know but the United States would rot in this tyranny if there were not some Negroes in this land-“, he seems to speak of both those who “clink their chains” and speak out, those who have something to teach the white man. Regardless, this is an integral pillar to their ideologies.

While not everything these two men said or did is synonymous, they still hold many parallels that can garner attention. Do you think that black history has many individuals who mirror each other throughout different points? How many times has black history repeated itself?

The Peculiar Institution

“They are Abolitionists, as they seek to abolish any system of Oppression which has them for its victims, even though they trample their own principles in the dust, when the Rights of others are invaded. This is neither just nor generous. No man should crave the possession of that which he assiduously endeavors to withhold from another.” (257)

Fredrick Douglass discusses the reason Slavery is against the principles of the our American ideals when you tie it to the Declaration of Independence. He was a vocal leader in the fight to end Slavery in America through the efforts of the Abolitionists, even if it meant violence. Oppression an unfortunate act that plagues America from its inception up until today. I keep re-reading that last sentence in the quote and think about our society today.

Capitalism is always about profits. If you can get rid of costly burdens you gain more profits. Sure we pay people money nowadays compared to Slavery in the South or even Free Labor in the North. But can anyone survive off of $7.25 or $2.50 an hour? And what about the clothes we are and purchase from our favorite stores?

In the book, The Corporation, Joel Bakan writes, “Despite the Fair Labor Standards Act’s clear injunctions against them, sweatshops exist in North America, and every one of them is a fire disaster waiting to happen. ‘Sweatshops were wiped out of the United States in 1938,’ says Charles Kernaghan, but ‘they are back now, with a vengeance.  Sixty-five percent of all apparel operations in New York City are sweatshops. Fifty thousand workers. Forty-five hundred factories out of seven thousand. And we’re talking about workers getting a dollar or two an hour.” (Bakan.74)

Sweatshops. Sweatshops in America? Many would say that only happens in third world countries or China. But they are happening right in our backyard. They might not resemble the same violent tendencies of Slavery, or do they? Have you even been in a sweatshop or know someone who worked in a sweatshop? I can say I have not, but I am sure if I spoke to my friends in New York City they could tell me what the working conditions are like or point me in the right direction to someone who works in a sweatshop.

Bakan goes on to write in his book The Corporation and provides a statistic, “a U.S. Department of Labor survey found, ‘the overall level of compliance with the minimum wage, overtime and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act is 33 percent’– in other words, 67 percent of the garment industry workplaces did not comply with the law.” (Bakan. 75)

Douglass continues in his writing The Various Phases of Anti-Slavery, “The idea of the slave righting himself, presupposes his ability to do so, unaided by Northern interference. O no! the slave cannot “right himself” any more than an infant can grapple with a giant. He must receive the effective aid of those who, at the North, are, despite their denial, the members of the confederacy, and, as such, “verily guilty concerning their brother.” (259)

Fredrick Douglass did everything by himself; reading and writing, which gives him power to inspire others to fight for their freedom. In 1855, he spoke of the abolishment of slavery and equal rights for everyone. Yet, America continues to mask their slavery tendencies through working conditions and wages. We have to pay into a system that provides us healthcare, food, and housing. Though we scrap by on these bare necessities while the majority agrees with free market capitalism, working for low wages because it builds character. In the end we are all slaves to the system because everyone would rather give their silent obedient consent than speak out.

Is slavery really gone from American society?