Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 19: Slavery and the exploitation of labor

I've been using portions of Charles Sumner's Barbarism of Slavery speech of 1860 because it's an excellent contemporary analysis of and judgment against the slavery system. In it, he listed five major inherent aspects of the system that were inherently evil. The fifth he described was this one:

Slavery paints itself again in the appropriation of all the toil of its victims, excluding them from that property in their own earnings which the law of nature allows and civilization secures. The painful injustice of this pretension is lost in its meanness. It is robbery and petty larceny under the garb of law; and even its meanness is lost in the absurdity of its associate pretension that the African, thus despoiled of all his earnings, is saved from poverty, and that for his own good he must work for his master, and not for himself. Alas! by such a fallacy is a whole race pauperized! ...

... [A] celebrated traveler through Russia, more than a generation ago, describes a kindred spirit, who, while on his knees before an altar of the Greek Church, devoutly told his beads with one hand, and with the other deliberately picked the pocket of a fellow-sinner by his side. Not admiring these instances, I cannot cease to deplore a system which has much of both, while, under an affectation of charity, it sordidly takes from the slave all the fruits of his bitter sweat, and thus takes from him the mainspring to exertion.
And he summarizes this part of his case against slavery:

Such is Slavery in its five special elements of barbarism, as recognized by law; first, assuming that man can hold property in man; secondly, abrogating the relation of husband and wife; thirdly, abrogating the parental tie; fourthly, closing the gates of knowledge; and fifthly appropriating the unpaid labor of another. Take away these elements, sometimes called "abuses," and Slavery will cease to exist, for it is these very "abuses" which constitute Slavery. Take away any one of them, and the abolition of Slavery begins. And when I present Slavery for judgment, I mean no slight evil, with regard to which there may be a reasonable difference of opinion, but I mean this five-fold embodiment of "abuse" - this ghastly quincunx of barbarism - each particular of which, it considered separately, must be denounced at once with all the ardor of an honest soul, while the whole five-fold combination must awake a five-fold denunciation.

But this five-fold combination becomes still more hateful when its single motive is considered. The Senator from Mississippi [Mr. DAVIS] says that it is "but a form of civil government for those who are not fit to govern themselves." The Senator is mistaken. It is an outrage where five different pretensions all concur in one single object, looking only to the profit of the master, and constituting its ever-present motive power, which is simply to compel the labor of fellow men without wages! [my emphasis in bold]
The New York Times has the text of the speech online. I rely here on the text from the version published in 1863 as Barbarism of Slavery.

No comments: