Thursday, February 28, 2008

Formal Congressional Apology for Slavery

They are at it again...a formal congressional effort to issue a formal apology for American slavery. Five states -- Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama and New Jersey -- have already issued their formal apologies.

Spearheaded by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) (and a dozen or so other Senators), the forthcoming proposal will be designed to apologize for slavery and for the Jim Crow laws.

The practice of slavery ended in this nation 150 years ago. Besides some fringe groups, who in this nation is in favor of slavery? There is no pride in the fact some of our states and families were slavery proponents in the 16th-19th centuries. Were not 600,000 deaths during the war between the states apologetic enough? Were they in vain?

Sure we still witness prejudices in society. We always will. However, we have laws against slavery. We have laws against racial discrimination. Apologetic legislation is not going to improve any one's lot in life or their opportunities to succeed and enjoy life's freedoms. These elected official are merely pandering.

Slavery has existed from the beginning of mankind. It still exists today in some nations. It is a crime against the conquered, the poor, the distraught. Saint Patrick was a slave -- a white man from Roman Britain enslaved by the Irish. Joseph, Jacob's son, was a slave in Egypt. They overcame without government intervention. The practice is detestable.

Why do we need government legislation on this topic when we no longer practice it? It is going to accomplish nothing. It will probably lead to more victimization. Is this the precursor to slavery reparations? You can bet on it.


James said...

JH, this is a very thoughtful post, and you seem to care deeply about this issue.

But could you help me see why, exactly, you oppose an apology from Congress, for the laws which it passed to keep millions of people enslaved?

I'll grant you that it's been an awfully long time. But Congress has never apologized for its actions as an institution, and the effects of slavery and Jim Crow are with us to this day. (Just ask any economist or sociologist.)

You mention several facts about history and about our society today, but I don't see how those facts argue against an institution choosing to finally acknowledge its past wrongdoing.

For example, so what if an apology won't "improve anyone's lot in life"? When you or I do something wrong, do we refuse to apologize because our words won't change anyone's life? It's still the right thing to do, and may be good for the person we've harmed.

You also mention two historical facts which are, at a minimum, highly debatable. I bring this up only because, with many people (including historians) not viewing history the way you do, there are going to be people who wouldn't understand the full force of your argument.

You say that "some of our states and families were slavery proponents in the 16th-19th centuries." I suppose that's true, if by "some" of our states you mean all of them, at least until late in that period, when the U.S. began admitting some states on condition that they not have slavery. All the original colonies and states had slavery until the 19th century, and most people, north and south, supported slavery even if they didn't own any themselves. (Just consider how widely accepted slave trading was, and that business was run out of the northern colonies/states.)

As for the 600,000 deaths you cite, historians still argue over the various causes of the Civil War, but few, if any, believe that the war was fought by the North to end slavery. This is a cause which was adopted during the war, and which the North promoted afterwards to help justify the war and northern treatment of the southern states during Reconstruction.

In any event, with regard to those deaths, I think that few people see stopping an evil practice as equivalent to apologizing or atoning for it.

Thanks for listening. I know this is a tough topic!


JH said...

Thanks for the comments James.

Slave trading was rampant all over the world -- their were those involved in the supply side and those on the demand or consumer side.

I agree that that most of the Union soldiers were not fighting to end slavery. Most probably fought out of duty, not ideology.

If we examine Lincoln's second inaugural address on March 4, 1865 -, he did not use the "apology" word but it sure sounds like one.

We can all agree that Congress wastes time on issues that are not important. I just happen to feel this is one of those unimportant issues in 2008.

The action will not accomplish anything positive. Some supporter feel it will moderate discord in various parts of Africa, including Darfur. Only fools would buy into that rhetoric...but maybe fools are the entended audience.

I am most fearful of the follow-on arguement of reparations. Another entitlement program.

James said...

It sounds as though we're mostly in agreement, JH.

I still don't see quite why you believe that this is an unimportant issue, though, or why it's a waste of Congress's time. It seems to me that it's worth a hearing or two, and a voice vote, to finally make a clear statement on this subject.

You say that an apology "will not accomplish anything positive." Yet, to this day, many Americans don't believe that the country regrets the institution of slavery and the legalized discrimination which lasted well into the lifetimes of people alive today. I think that's worth clearing up, don't you?

However, I have no idea how an apology might "moderate discord in various parts of Africa." I agree with you that whoever says that seems like a fool. :-)