Saturday, July 7, 2018

"the difference as to the State was imaginary only"

Thinking more about the text I posted yesterday, I would have say I slightly disagree with this statement which is especially consequential for us as we face a fascist domination of the Supreme Court which we unwisely accept as having the authority to define what the Constitution means. 

the Constitution was meant to be, what it has always been esteemed, a compromise between slavery and freedom

If you read the actual words of the Founders that Wendell Phillips presents you find that the situation was more complex than that and the compromise was largely  one between those two groups of aristocrats and it was clear from their deliberations that while freedom or liberty might have been discussed, the relevant compromise was between aristocratic privileges by people intent on maintaining their privilege against most other people.   The privileges of the aristocrats won, largely and in the case of Black People and Native Americans it was at the cost of all of their freedom and as to Poor Whites, much of theirs.   That is why the only thing inspirational about American history is the struggle of Black People, of Native Americans of poor and working White People, Women, especially, against the theft of their labor and their subjugation for the benefit of those the Constitution and subsequent Supreme Courts and Congresses and Presidents have mostly favored, the descendants of the original congress of aristocrats that imposed the corrupt and otherwise flawed document on the country.

That's probably easier for a lot of  White people to understand if they read the language of how even the tiny percentage of officially anti-slavery Founders talked about working people, both Black and White.   The first chapter in the book and the discussion of "free" as opposed to slave labor and the laborers who do that labor will probably take some White readers back a bit, though they wouldn't be surprised to hear the "Founders" talking that way about Black laborers.

Extracts from Debates in the Congress of Confederation, preserved by Thomas Jefferson, 1776.

CONGRESS proceeded the same day to consider the Declaration of Independence * * * 

The clause reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa was struck out, in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it.   Our Northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures;  for though their people have very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others, *  -  p. 18. 

* [The clause was as follows:  "He [viz.,   King George 3rd]  has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him,  captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere,or to incur a miserable death in their transportation thither.  This piratical warfare the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN King of Great Britain.  Determined to keep a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce." -  EDITOR.]

NOTE:  I will put footnotes after the paragraph in which they are signaled, book pages being irrelevant to the form of a blog post.

On Friday, the twelfth of July, 1776, the committee appointed to draw the articles of Confederation reported them, and on the twenty-second the House resolved themselves into a committee to take them into consideration.  On the thirtieth and thirty-first of that month, and the first of the ensuing, those articles were debated which determined the proportion or quota of money which each State should furnish to the common treasury and the manner of voting in Congress. The first of these articles was expressed in the original draught in these words: - 

Article 11.  All charges of war, and all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defence or general welfare and allowed by the United States assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several Colonies in proportion to the number of inhabitants of very age, sex, and quality, except Indians not paying taxes, in each Colony, a true account of which, distinguishing the white inhabitants shall be triennially taken and transmitted to the Assembly of the United States 

Mr.  [Samuel] CHASE (of Maryland) moved, that the quotas should be paid, not by the number of inhabitants of every condition, but that of the "white inhabitants."  He admitted that taxation should be always in proportion to property;  that this was in theory the true rule;  but that from a variety of difficulties it was a rule which could never be adopted in practice.  The value of property in every State could never be estimated justly and equally.  Some other measure for the wealth of the State must therefore be devised,  some standard referred to which would be more simple.  He considered the number of inhabitants as a tolerable good criterion of property, and that this might always be obtained.  He, therefore, thought it best mode we could adopt, with one exception only.  He observed that negroes are property, and as such cannot be distinguished from the lands or personalities held in those States where there are few slaves.  That the surplus of profit with a Northern farmer was able to lay by, he invests in cattle, horses, &c. ' whereas, a Southern farmer lays out the same surplus in slaves. There is no more reason, therefore, for taxing the Southern States on the farmer's head and on his slave's head, than the Northern ones on their farmer's heads and the heads of their cattle.  That the method proposed would, therefore, tax the Southern States according to their numbers and their wealth conjointly, while the Northern would be taxed on numbers only;  that negroes, in fact, should not be considered as members of the State more than cattle, and that they have no more interest in it. 

MR. JOHN ADAMS (of Massachusetts) observed, that the numbers of people were taken by this article as an index of the wealth of the State, and not as subjects of taxation. That as to this matter, it was of no consequence by what name you called your people, whether by that of freemen or of slaves.  That in some countries the laboring poor were called freemen, in others they were called slaves:  but that the difference as to the State was imaginary only.  What matters it whether a landlord employing ten laborers on his farm gives them annually as much money as will buy them the necessaries of life, or gives them those necessaries in short hand?  The ten laborers add as much wealth annually to the State, increase its exports as much, in the one case as the other.  Certainly, five hundred freemen produce no more profits, no greater surplus for the payment of taxes, than five hundred slaves.  Therefore the State in which the laborers called freemen, should be taxed no more than that in which are those called slaves.  Suppose, by any extraordinary operation of nature of of law, one half the laborers of a State could, in the course of one night, be transformed into slaves, - would the State be made the poorer, or the less able to pay taxes?   That the condition of the laboring poor in most countries, - that of the fishermen, particularly of the Northern States - is as abject as that of slaves.  It is the number of laborers which produces the surplus for taxation;  and numbers, therefore, indiscriminately, are the fair index of wealth.  That it is the use of the word "property" here, and its application to some of the people of the State, which produces the fallacy.  How does the Southern farmer procure slaves?  Either by importation or by purchase from his neighbor.  If he imports a slave, he adds one to the number of laborers in his country, and proportionably to its profits and abilities to pay taxes;  if he buys from his neighbor, it is only a transfer of a laborer from one farm to another, which does not change the annual produce of the State and therefore should not change its tax;  that if a Northern farmer works ten laborers on his farm, he can, it is true, invest the surplus of ten mens labor in cattle ; but so may the Southern farmer working ten slaves.  That a State of one hundred thousand freemen can maintain no more cattle than one of one hundred thousand slaves;  therefore they have no more of that kind of property.  That a slave may, indeed, from the custom of speech, be more properly called the wealth of his master, than the free laborer might be called the wealth of his employer;  but as to the State, both are equally its wealth and should therefore equally add to the quota of its tax. 

MR. [Benjamin] HARRISON (of Virginia) proposed, as a compromise that two salves should be counted as one freeman.  He affirmed that slaves did not work as much work as freemen, and doubted if two effected more than one.  That this was proved by the price of labor;  the hire of a laborers in the Southern colonies being from 8 pounds to 12 pounds while in the Northern it was generally 24 pounds.

That last claim by Benjamin Harrison should jump out at you, it obviously didn't occur to him that it was the price of work for poor whites in slave owning regions that was driven down by the presence of unpaid labor and that where workers were paid their employers were forced to pay them more because it increased their ability to keep more of what they produced, not the overall value of their labor. 

No doubt John Adams mentioning the deplorable conditions fishermen worked in was inspired by Samuel Chase being from Maryland, where there were many
slaves who worked in the fishing industry.  Adams' position as one of the very few of the Founders who never held anyone in slavery is intersting as is the fact that he and his son John Quincy Adams were the only two of the presidents before Lincoln who had never held anyone in slavery.

The pattern of these aristocrats trying to get out of paying taxes on their wealth was already well established, as was their taking for-granted that they had a right to the value of the product of other peoples' labor, granting them no more than a subsistence from any surplus.  Even John Adams seemed to figure there was nothing unusual about that.  And the curse of regionalism was there, exacerbated by the interests of slave-holding aristocrats, something that has persisted up till today, when official slavery is supposed to have ended almost a century and a half ago.  The Constitutional mechanisms demanded by the slave-holders to give them the advantage that was very real in the United States up to and after the Civil War were already in the works even as the ink was drying on the Declaration of Independence,  It would be two weeks after this debate when the document reached England.   In reality some of that had preceded the final draft of the document as slave-owners, including Benjamin Franklin working, watered down some of Jefferson's youthful enthusiasms for the ideals of freedom and equality on the basis that it would be unacceptable to Southern aristocracy.

But the jockeying by delegates from Northern States to get Southern States to pay what they saw as a fair share of taxes and the Southern States threatening to sink their joint scheme of aristocrats in the North to protect their financial interests only got worse in the Constitutional Convention.  Once the revolution was won, once the aristocrats who fomented the revolution got what they wanted,  all that inspirational talk of equality and freedom and rights, which they used to fuel their revolution, could be left behind.  Like other revolutions, the French, the Russian, etc. once the revolutionaries got what they wanted, they didn't need to keep their bargain with the common soldiers they suckered into doing the fighting.

That was what the Constitutional Convention was motivated by, the inconvenience to rich men of poor men demanding what they had been promised and the chance that having seen what the revolution they fought could do, they might impose that equality and freedom more literally than the "Founders" found gratifying.   It was a certainty that the Constitutional Congress had no intention of giving them more than they could get away with keeping for themselves.   They certainly didn't intend to live up to that "all men are created equal" "endowed by their Creator with rights" stuff in so far as it concerned Black People, Native Americans, and anyone else they could get away with stiffing, entirely.   Jefferson found his enthusiasm for holding Black People in slavery increased even as the Constitution was being written and Constitutional government was getting off the ground.  His youthful  - and useful - language about "all men" "endowed by their Creator" "inalienable rights" which fueled a revolution no longer necessary.

While poor White People have gotten stiffed significantly less than members of other minorities, men less so than women of all groups, they got stiffed in the corrupt bargain, too.

The period in which Wendell Phillips compiled and published his records of the words of the Founders was a period of incredible corruption and injustice and theft, what the Constitution produced.   Every measure of justice that working people, poor people, Women,  Slaves, etc. got was a struggle against the established Constitutional order and it still is.   We should all realize that hard fact of American history as the Roberts Court, enhanced by illegitimate members appointed by an illegitimate "president" the loser of an election, roll back as much of that progress won through two centuries of struggle and more.   We should realize that because it was the very mechanisms the slave-owners and Northern money men put into the Constitution to protect their privilege that gave us both Trump and McConnell. 


It also occurred to me in that discussion of the Article about insurrections in the introduction to the book I posted over the past two days, that there were plenty of insurrections by the slave power which were not put down effectively,  the one in which anti-abolitionists burned the printing press and murdered Elijah Lovejoy.  The insurrection of lynch mobs was effectively protected by the anti-democratic formulation of the Senate right up till this century. Anti-lynching laws were passed by the proportionally representative House of Representatives but were continually blocked by the neo-slave power in the Senate.   The anti-democratic constitution of the Senate was part of the compromise with slave-holders.  Lynch mobs were the successor of the slave patrols (protected by the 2nd Amendment) as are the continuation of that in the arsenels of automatic weapons that we all know the fascists have and which even Republican politicians have warned would be turned on us.  As John Adams said, using the abysmal conditions of even "free labor" at the time of the Constitution, calling the same thing by different names doesn't change the fact of what they are.

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