A Nation Founded on the Institution of Slavery

Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents

by Margaret Kimberley

Truth to Power (2020)

Book Review

This book should be required reading in all US high schools and colleges, along with Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and Roxane Dunbar Ortiz’s Indigenous People’s History of the United States. It will make absolutely clear to all history students that the main purpose of the US War of Independence and the US Constitution were to preserve the institution of slavery in North America.

It was to preserve slavery the nation’s capitol was moved in 1791 from Philadelphia to a coastal swamp between Virginia and Maryland. Traveling to a national capitol in a northern state was too embarrassing for slave holding presidents like Washington. It meant having to rotate slaves between Philadelphia and Virginia – any slave remaining in Pennsylvania longer than six months automatically won their freedom.

Kimberley also totally demolishes the mythology around America’s “shrewd and brilliant” slaveholding founding fathers. Even northern presidents who favored emancipation (including Lincoln who only did so for political expediency) held profoundly racist beliefs about the innate inferiority of Africans. In fact, they sought to forcibly expel them to offshore colonies.

As Kimberley ably demonstrates, no US president has ever supported social justice reforms benefiting African Americans except in response to massive grassroots pressure.

For me the most interesting part of the book concerns Fannie Lou Hammer and her battle to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The 1968 Democratic National Convention, would ultimately seat them – leading to the breakaway of Storm Thurmond’s Dixiecrats. This wholesale defection of Southern whites would ensure a Republican presidential victory (for Nixon) the same year.


* Lincoln, who fervently believed in keeping the US white, worked on a number of colonization strategies to forcibly deport freed slaves, first to Île À Vache near Haiti and later to Panama.

 

The BBC Does Colonialism

The History of the World Part 5 – Age of Plunder

BBC (2018)

Film Review

This episode concerns the role of  plunder (ie colonialism) in the founding of the capitalist economic system. The major weakness of the fifth episode is its promotion of two notorious myths about Columbus that historians debunked several decades ago. The first maintains that most of Europe regarded the Earth as flat prior to Columbus. Untrue. Europeans sailors had known for centuries that the Earth was round from the way a ship disappears over the horizon (hull first and sails last). The other myth is that Columbus died believing he had reached India. This myth, traced to an 1828 biography by Washington Irving, is debunked by the explorer’s own writings.*

The primary outcome of Columbus’s voyage to the new world was the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans and the pilfering of 45,000 tons of gold and silver (valued at £10 trillion in modern currency). The precious metals would be used to decorate churches and noble palaces and to fund religious wars during the Protestant Reformation.

The Catholic Church obtained their share of these riches (used to build St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican) by selling “indulgences,” paper certificates that guaranteed Catholics entry to eternal life. It was mainly opposition to this corrupt practice that led Martin Luther to break with the Church in 1517.

In 1580 Ivan the Terrible hired Cossack warriors to invade Siberia, which was still ruled by a descendant of Genghis Khan. His goal: plundering 5,000 Siberian pelts from traders. With the start of the 300 year Little Ice Age in 1530, there was a thriving market for furs in Western Europe.

In the early 17th century, the Dutch East India Company captured and enslaved the Banda spice islands in South East Asia for their nutmeg crop. Believed to be a cure for plague, it was the most valuable commodity in the world. As the British East Indian Company also claimed the spice islands, this would lead to four Anglo-Dutch wars beginning in 1652. In 1667, the wars ended when the Dutch agreed to trade Manhattan Island for the main nutmeg islands.

The fifth episode ends with the creation of the world’s first stock exchange in Holland in 1608 and the resulting speculation in tulip bulbs. The world’s first recorded speculative bubble burst in 1637, ruining thousands of Dutch investors.


*Both myths are debunked in James Loewen’s 1995 Lies My Teacher Told Me

 

How the Irish Saved Civilization

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe

by Thomas Cahill

Hodder and Stoughton (1995)

Book Review

This book covers the history of Ireland from the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century to the sacking of most Irish monasteries by Viking invaders in the 11th. It mostly focuses on the life of St Patrick (aka Patricius), a Romanized Britain kidnapped into slavery by Irish pirates in 401. In Ireland, he was forced to work as a shepherd for six years until he heard God’s voice telling him he was free to leave.

On his return to Britain, he undertook religious studies to become a priest and bishop and returned to Ireland as a missionary – the first in Church history to minister to so-called “barbarians.” He was also the first person in history to speak out against slavery.

In addition to converting Irish Celts to Christianity, St Patrick played a crucial role in establishing a network of Irish monasteries. As Ireland lacked significant population centers prior to the Viking invasions, these monasteries served as hubs of wealth, art and learning.

As barbarian hoards overran most of the former Roman Empire, most European libraries were burned and “copyists” who had copied classical texts (mainly for the wealthy Roman elite) vanished everywhere except in Irish monasteries.

The Irish invented the “codex,” a method of producing books as multiple pages of parchment rather than a single scroll. Like the Jews before them, the Irish enshrined literacy as a central religious act. Irish was also the first vernacular language to be used (written down) for popular literature, at a time when books elsewhere in Europe were all in Greek or Latin.

 

Fighting Globalization by Rebuilding Local Economies

White Widows

Directed by David Straub (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns work by the Indian-German Peace Foundation to assist rural Indian villages in diversifying their economies. The goal is to make them less vulnerable to exploitation by the global commodities market. The village featured in the film is Dahnoli, which produces cotton. The Foundation is assisting local farmers in constructing a textile facility based on hand looms.

Most of Dahnoli’s current economic problems stem from the introduction, in the 1990s, of Monsanto’s BT resistant cotton seed. Although this genetically engineered seed initially increased yields, over time the cotton plants lost their resistance to BT and other pests and required increasingly heavy application of pesticides. As yields plummeted, farmers sought to return to traditional cotton seed, but it was no longer available.

Owing to the higher costs of patented seed and pesticides, many farmers became indebted to money lenders. Nationwide more than 300,000 farmers committed. Thousands of others have died from pesticide related health problems.

At present 65% of India’s population works in agriculture. When crops fail, many move to the big cities – where a total of 8 million live in slavery.

 

The Forgotten Black Settlers Who Helped Settle the American Midwest

The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America’s Forgotten Black Pioneers & the Struggle for Equality

Anna-Lisa Cox

Hatchette Book Group (2018)

Book Review

This is a fascinating book about the freed African American slaves who helped settle the Northwest Territory* and the vicious white backlash that deprived many of them of their farms and, in some cases, their lives. Interesting how the vital role of African Americans in settling the Midwestern United States has totally vanished from modern history books.

African American scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois was the first to note, in 1906, the important role role of freed slaves in settling, defending and clearing the dense forests of the Northwest Territory.

The 1787 Northwest Ordinance both banned slavery throughout the Northwest Territory and allowed African Americans to vote in local and territorial elections.

Cox’s book traces the gradual prohibition of slavery in all northern states after the the trans-Atlantic slave trade ended in 1807 (except New Jersey, where slavery persisted until the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation). In nearly every case, legislation ending slavery followed on from favorable court rulings when slaves sued to win their freedom.

Cox also examines the pressures leading slaves, having purchased their freedom, to migrate to the Northwest Territory. Southern Blacks were fleeing the constant threat of whites kidnapping and re-enslaving them. Northern Blacks came to escape deadly mob violence (in which white mobs burned Blacks out of their homes, churches and schools) that plagued Northern cities with large African American populations.

The white backlash that eventually stripped Black Northwest Territory settlers of civil rights they had enjoyed for decades was driven by a number of factors: 1) the 1799-1815 Napoleonic Wars, during which France sought to reinstate slavery in all  its colonies, 2) the rabidly racist leadership of Ohio’s first governor William Henry Harrison (who unsuccessfully campaigned to make Ohio a slave state), President Andrew Jackson and his Vice-president Martin van Buren (who openly encouraged white mobs to attack Black farmers in Ohio and Indiana), and the outright greed of land developers who sought to profit from slave labor in converting Northwest and Louisiana Purchase territory into prime agricultural land.

In the end, all Northwest Territory states (except Wisconsin) enacted Black Code Laws that required African American settlers to post $500 bond – which they forfeited if white farmers attacked them. As each of them achieved statehood, their new state constitutions stripped Black settlers of their right to vote and their right to testify against whites in court. The latter made it impossible to convict whites for mob violence. Eventually Indiana, Ohio and Illinois banned all new immigration of Black settlers.

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and 1857 (Supreme Court) Dred Scott decision made life for freed slaves in the Northwest Territory even more precarious. The former made it possible for whites to kidnap free African Americans in the North and sell them into slavery in the South. The latter decreed that no person of African descent could ever be considered a US citizen.


*The Northwest Territory encompassed most British pre-war colonial territory west of the Appalachians, north of the Ohio River and south of the Canadian border  – ie the modern day states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and the eastern part of Minnesota.

 

 

Hidden History: How 13 Million Kidnapped Africans Built Global Capitalism

Slavery Routes – Part 2 From Sugar to Revolution

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of Slavery Routes covers the so-called “Sugar Wars”* and the entry of the rest of Europe (Holland, Prussia, Denmark, England, Spain, France)  into Portugal’s lucrative slave trade. It also explores the role of European banks and insurance companies in making this expansion possible. Slave traders always undertook cross-Atlantic voyages on credit, which meant they had to be insured against losing their “cargo.” Insurance companies (Lloyd’s of London was the most prominent) were happy to ensure an enterprise in which a trader stood to triple his stake.

In this way, the slave trade provided the financial capital for both European and American capitalism.

Too Valuable to Kill

Rebellions by captive slaves were continual on both sides of the Atlantic. Because it took four years of plantation work to pay off the price of a captive, rebellious slaves were too valuable to kill. Instead ship captains and plantation owners became quite ingenious in devising brutal methods to compel submission.

In 1685 Louis XIV of France (funny I majored in French history and they never mentioned this) enacted the Code Noir, which made it legal to beat slaves but not torture them or mutilate their limbs.

The European Abolition Movement

By the late 1780s there was growing awareness and opposition in European society against the brutal conditions of the Middle Passage.** Britain’s abolition movement gained considerable momentum following the 1783 lawsuit in which a slave trader sued his insurance company for refusing to reimburse him after he threw his cargo of 133 living slaves overboard.

The English outlawed the slave trade in 1807. By 1815 there navy was strong enough to prevent other European nations from engaging in slave trading.

In all, 13 million Africans were kidnapped to the New World between 1520 and 1815.

The video can’t be embedded but can be seen free at the following link:

From Sugar to Revolution


*”Sugar Wars” refers to a series of naval conflicts between European nations seeking the upper hand in the slave market.

**The Middle Passage was the stage of the triangular trade (resulting in large exports of sugar to Europe) in which millions of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic as slaves.

Reclaiming Our History: The Myth of Celtic Purity in Ireland

The Story of Ireland: A History of the Irish People

BBC

Film Review

This is the first (of five) episodes in the BBC documentary series on the history of Ireland, which provides a comprehensive history of the use of (English and Scottish) settler colonialism to subdue the indigenous population. This model which would be copied in North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and by Israel in the displacement of the indigenous Palestinian population.

Part 1, covering the period 8000 BC to 1100 AD, dispels the myth of Celtic purity in Ireland.

It describes the first human settlers arriving in Ireland immediately after the last Ice Age. They would begin farming around 4,000 BC, and there is clear evidence of trading with the Baltic region and Iberian peninsula from 2,500 BC on. Contrary to more recent mythology, ancient Irish inhabitants weren’t genetically distinct from Celtic settlers in Britain or northern France.

During the Roman occupation of Britain (55 BC to 383 AD), the early Irish exported cattle and leather products to British elites.

Following the departure of the Roman legions in 383 AD, Irish raids on the west coast of Britain increased. Britons were captured as slaves to fuel Ireland’s thriving slave trade. St Patrick, who is credited with bringing Catholicism to Ireland, was a Welshman initially brought to Ireland as a slave.

Ireland’s feuding tribal kings welcomed the advent of Christian monasteries to help them consolidate their power. The monks developed a written alphabet for the Celtic language, and Irish monasteries became a global center of learning as literacy declined on the European continent.

Over the 8th, 9th and 10th century, Ireland was hit by a series of Viking raids and invasions. The latter, who had trade routes extending as far as the Baltic Sea and Constantinople, established the city of Dublin as Europe’s largest slave market.

By the 11th century, the Vikings had thoroughly integrated into Celtic society through intermarriage and conversion to Catholicism.