Historical Guilt - Slavery

Some argue that we should assume guilt for past actions of our ancestors or culture. In particular for the United States, we are supposed to assume guilt for slavery. Some presume that we should pay reparations to slave descendants because we benefited from slavery. Let us examine the historical situation.

For thousands of years slavery was a normal aspect of every tribe and civilization*. African slaves were first brought to Jamestown, Virginia Colony in 1619 from the Caribbean. Jamestown was an English colony. The America of the Declaration was still 150 years in the future. At first the slaves were treated as indentured servants because no law concerning slaves yet existed, and slavery was illegal in England**.

Later laws allowed various kinds of slavery in the English colonies of North America. Slavery grew slowly into the 1700's. Several colonies tried to abolish slavery, but were prohibited by the King. After the Revolution, all the northern states banned slavery (a complaint against the King in the Declaration). The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 forbade slavery in new states formed in the Northwest Territories. In 1808 Congress banned importation of slaves, as provided by Article One Section 9 of the Constitution. England had banned the slave trade in 1807, and had begun suppressing the Atlantic trade. Everyone assumed that slavery would fade away.

In 1794 the invention of the cotton gin greatly improved the profitability of cotton agriculture, and consequently the demand for slaves in the South. The struggle in Congress over slavery filled the 1800's as plantation owners wanted to expand slavery into new territories. None of these plantation owners was a Founder***. With the election of Lincoln in 1860 by the anti-slavery Republican Party, many of the Southern States seceded from the Union.

The ensuing Civil War allowed Lincoln and the Republicans to abolish slavery. 600,000 Americans died in that war, the US was in debt for decades, and the South's economy was destroyed for a hundred years.

No other people on Earth have paid such a heavy price to end the slavery of others!

We are fully paid up.


* The largest slave trading culture was Scandinavia (Vikings). For about 1,000 years, they captured Europeans and sold them down the Volga and Dniester to the Mediterranean and Middle East civilizations. Most were Slavic, hence our word "slave". When Central American sugar planting became available, European slaves were no longer available, but the Portuguese had just opened trade with West Africa. The West Africans had been trading slaves locally and to the Middle East for a thousand years. So that slaves in the Americas were black was an accident of history not a racist choice. The original "slave" labor in North America were European indentured servants.

** The Jamestown House of Burgesses was established in 1619. No law regarding slavery was recognized until 1640. Until then, the "slaves" were treated as indentured servants. Many survived their tenure and were freed in accordance to indenture practice.

*** The earlier slave holding Founders, voted to stop or prevent the expansion of slavery whenever they could (see Lincoln's address at the Cooper Institute on February 27, 1860).