America didn’t “end” slavery. We simply exported it.
If only it were true.
The recent fires that killed 112 workers in Bangladeshi sweat shops making garments for Wal-Mart and other American retailers show how we, today, are frankly more hypocritical and dishonest about slavery than was Jefferson himself.
As are those Libertarians who argue that the Bangladeshis were “willing workers,” when poverty is so severe in that country that working, chained into a firetrap factory, is essential to survival itself. To call the working conditions of much of the developing world anything less than slavery is to ignore the power relationships that keep workers behind fences, locked 24/7 in often-violent dormitories, and the companies that string nets outside windows to reduce worker suicides.
It’s to rationalize the role we play in this modern-day version of slavery, the same way 18th Century US slavery advocates (and some modern-day Southern Republicans) argued that slaves at least had free housing, food, and medical care as compensation for their labors.
As I point out in my book “What Would Jefferson Do?,” although Jefferson inherited land and slaves as a teenager when his father died, and more, including his wife’s half-sister Sally Hemmings, when his wife’s father died, Jefferson knew slavery up-front and personal, and worked much of his life to end it.
In April of 1770, Jefferson was practicing law and defended a slave who was requesting his freedom (Howell v. Netherland). In his arguments on behalf of the slave, Jefferson said that “under the law of nature, all men are born free, and every one comes into the world with the right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will.”
The year before, 1769, as a legislator in Virginia, he had written a bill to abolish the importation of slaves into that state. It was unsuccessful, and even brought down the wrath of many of his peers on him and his relative, Richard Bland, who Jefferson had asked to introduce the proposed legislation.
In his 1774 booklet, “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” Jefferson attacked King George III for forcing slavery upon the colonies, a charge that was repeated in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but deleted from the final draft in order to keep the representatives of South Carolina and Georgia willing to sign the document.
Yet how many of us would willingly free our slaves?
I’m looking into a camera and teleprompter filled with parts made in countries that use slave and prisoner labor. You’re watching me or reading this on a TV or computer filled with parts made in those same countries. Our rationalization is that no companies in America make many of those components any longer, but it’s just a rationalization, and no less hypocritical than Jefferson’s.
My birthfather’s name was Earl Bland, descended from the Northern Neck Blands of Virginia – and yes, some of the Bland’s were slave owners…The immorality of this will continue to haunt me… Lara/Trace