CWL---Defending Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Old South
One of The Bedford Series in History and Culture series, Defending Slavery places the words of Southerners in the hands of the reader. Beginning a small portion of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia(1787)and concluding with Josiah Nott's Instincts of Races (1866), this book displays the knowledge and opinions that Southerner's held regarding slavery and blacks. In a forty-four page introduction, Paul Finkelman outlines the legitimacy of slavery in the classical world, colonial America, Revolutionary America, and the early national period. He makes the case that the first defenses of slavery that were based upon races appeared after the American Revolution and were an attempt to reconcile the Declaration of Independence with the fact of perpetual forced labor. Outlining antebellum proslavery thought, Finkelman sets forth the racial theories and ideologies promoted by Southerners. Primary documents reveal the historical and classical defenses of slavery and the religious, economic, legal, political and racial defenses of slavery.
The economic, legal, political rationales are provided by famous men in Southern and Confederate history. In an 1837 senate speech John C. Calhoun argues that slavery is indispensable for the peace and happiness of both whites and blacks. Edmund Ruffin argues that slavery treats blacks better than the North treats wage laborers. Thomas R. Cobb states that slavery is essential for blacks because there are no examples of blacks achieving prosperity outside of forced servitude. James Henry Hammond understands that wage labor and slavery are necessary for a prosperous culture which needs a mudsill people to perform onerous tasks. Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens declares in 1861 that slavery is the cornerstone of the Confederate nation and culture.
Ministers reflect upon the duties of Christian masters, the Bible's presentations of slavery, slave marriages and divine revelation. Judges and courts weigh in on the definitions of slavery and its foundation in natural law. Diseases particular to blacks, physical peculiarities of Negroes, and the instincts of the races are forcefully and bluntly states by Southern doctors and naturalists.
Finkelman's introductory essay and his selection of documents are approachable for the student, the layman and the specialist. With a clear and concise narrative style and a precise use of vocabulary, Finkleman develops both the context and the content of the Southern frame of reference for the institution of slavery.
Given America’s sad history with slavery and the shame with which it is regarded today one might think that defenders of Roe v Wade (1973) would be a little more cautious about the rhetoric they use in defense of what they regard as an absolute right to abortion. The two are connected. Recently, defenders of Roe v Wade (1973) submitted enough requests to the State of Nebraska to justify a license plate that reads, “My Body, My Choice.” They did so in response to a pro-life plate that said, “Choose Life.” The rhetoric “My Body, My Choice” is essentially identical to one of the defenses for chattel slavery as practiced by Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. Slave owners argued that slaves were their property and it is no one else’s business what they did with their property. Paul Finkelman writes, “[th]roughout the Revolution, southern politicians argued that slaves were property, not persons” (p. 113). Were human beings capable of being property, that would be true but it begs the question to assume that humans can be property. In order to justify this way of thinking both pro-abortionists and slavers had to deprive the slaves and infants in utero of their humanity. The pro-abortionists do this with the slogan, “My Body, My Choice.” Like their slave-owning forebears, they too must deprive the humans within their bodies of humanity. There is no question, of course, whether the pregnant woman is involved in having a baby. What is in question is the status of the baby. The slogan, “My Body, My Choice” assumes what must be proven, that the infant developing within the pregnant mother is a mere appendage of the mother.
All of the evidence of what I am aware is to the contrary. As has been noted before in this space, in the study of human biology, we are said to develop from an embryo (a zygote , i.e., a fertilized ovum then to a blastocyst) in the first 8 weeks to a fetus, which covers the remaining 7 months. To borrow a bit more from that earlier essay, infant humans are humans. Humans conceive human embryos. Those embryos develop into human infants. Our English word embyro is just the Greek word ἔμβρυον (Embyon) for foetus (fetus) and Foetus is Latin for infant. From a biological perspective, all the stuff that determines what we become is already present. From a logical perspective, it makes no sense to say that we become human either in utero or after. Who says? On what basis? Any answer is bound to be either entirely subjective or self-serving.
So, from all that most of us know about basic human biology tells us that the premise of the slogan, “My Body, My Choice” is false. There are, in fact, two bodies in question here: the woman’s and the baby’s. Yes, the woman’s body is intimately involved in the process, so much so that (ordinarily) without the assistance of the mother, that the infant cannot survive without her. Nevertheless, the baby is also a human person. Whatever ignorance beclouded the minds of the majority in Roe and Doe in 1973, such ignorance is no longer possible. We know too much. Anyone who has ever watched the credits of the old Drew Carey Show arguably knows more about human development than did Justice Blackmon in Roe.
The facts will not permit us to grant the premise. It is not “My Body” alone in question. Therefore, the question of whether to end that second, helpless, infant life is not merely “My Choice” anymore than it was ever the slaver’s choice to buy, sell, rape, or murder slaves. Notice the attached poster. They were being sold as if they were a commodity. They were dehumanized and commodified in the same way that rice and fabrics were sold as commodities.
In the few occasions I have had civil discussions with defenders of abortion on demand I have been struck both by how similar their rhetoric is to that of the American slavers and by how unconscious they are of that relationship. Were I to ask them in they are willing to buy and sell their neighbor or, to press the analogy, to take their unconscious, sleeping neighbor to a clinic to have them dismembered, they would be justifiably horrified but at least some of them, are positively proud of their decision to do the same to their unborn children. It does not appear to have occurred to them that they are using the same rhetoric and logic of the slavers whom they rightly abhor. They speak about unborn persons in the very same categories used by the slavers of the 18th and 19th centuries. They treat unborn humans as bad or worse than the slavers did their slaves.
Just as human beings are not mere appendages (your liver does not have its own DNA, if left in safety, a human embryo develops into a mature human, that is not true of your heart) so too human beings are not like rice and beans. The stealing, buying, and selling of humans is a great evil. Certainly man stealing is a sin (Ex 21:16) and the “peculiar institution” of slavery as practiced by Americans in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries was sinful. To the best of my knowledge, it was not exactly like slavery practiced in the ancient near east, which is reflect in scripture, or even like the slavery practiced in the Greco-Roman world, with which Scripture is familiar.
The point here, however, is that the same folk who rightly decry the evil of human trafficking, who denounce heatedly the shameful American history of slavery, nevertheless speak (and apparently think) about unborn humans in the same categories as the slavers they deplore. It is your body but it is not only your body. All that we know from science and experience tells us that human developing within you is a person, endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights. It is one of the great wonders of our deeply confused age that so many are so self-deceived that they cannot or will not see it.