“The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret”

by Erik Curren

Comedian John Oliver recently joined the chorus denouncing America’s founding fathers as unworthy of admiration because of their connection to slavery. This time, the target was George Washington.

Commenting on an episode of ABC’s morning talk show The View, in which Joy Behar said that statues of Washington deserved to stay up not only because he’d won the Revolution but also because he’d freed his slaves, Oliver sided with a show guest who said that Behar was wrong, and that Washington was actually a “horrible slaveowner.”

White people like Behar seeking out “misleadingly comforting versions of history is a pattern we’ve seen again and again this year,” said Oliver.

Should Americans topple statues of George Washington? You bet, implied Oliver.

Since I share Oliver’s liberal political bent, I usually find his humor and political satire hilarious. But not this time. I was sad to see that Oliver has apparently jumped on the Twitter bandwagon to judge and condemn figures from the American past using current standards of “woke” social justice activism but employing very little actual history.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. In trying to pander to a youth audience, Oliver has made a complex story too simple.

I predict that Oliver will soon learn, as his countrymen King George III and Lord Cornwallis did back in the Revolution, that if you want to take down George Washington, you’d better deploy heavy artillery. And even then you may fail, as those estimable Englishmen did at Yorktown. John Oliver is no Cornwallis, and his ill-informed finger wagging was like a puny musket that appears to have gone off in his own face.

It would be a cheap shot to refer Englishman Oliver to the story that Abraham Lincoln used to tell about Ethan Allen visiting England just after the American Revolution. Allen wound up dining at the home of a British aristocrat who thought it would be clever to hang a portrait of George Washington in his outhouse. I’m sure Oliver would enjoy Ethan Allen’s reaction to his host after returning from the loo. For a laugh, watch Daniel Day-Lewis deliver the punchline in this short clip from Steven Spielberg’s wonderful biopic Lincoln.

Fortunately, to get to the truth about Washington and slavery without trendy simplifications, there’s no need for cheap shots. Mary Thompson, librarian at Mount Vernon, has condensed 30 years of research on George Washington’s relationship to slavery in her detailed but readable book “The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret”: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon.

Thompson’s book is a primer on the economic and social life of the white and black community at Washington’s plantation home in the second half of the 18th century, covering such subjects as crops grown, farming innovations, white indentured servants, overseers (both white and black) and changes in the economy.

Thompson offers this context to tell a story of George Washington more nuanced than a social media meme or a punchline from a comedian.

Balancing Rigor and Care

Even if you’re talking about George Washington, there was no such a thing as a “good” slaveowner. Slavery was inherently about making people work for free, torturing them when they didn’t obey and separating families.

Thompson is clear that she admires Washington, referring to him as “one of the greatest men” who ever lived. But she does not candy coat Washington’s participation in slavery, which Thompson considers to be America’s original sin:

“Was George Washington a good slave owner?” or “He was good to his slaves, wasn’t he?” To anyone looking at this book to provide those answers, let me just say upfront that some of the worst things one thinks about in terms of slavery — whipping, keeping someone in shackles, tracking a person down with dogs, or selling people away from their family — all of those things happened either at Mount Vernon or on other plantations under Washington’s management.

According to European visitors, former slaves and members of the Washington family alike, George Washington balanced expectations for long days of hard work with a concern for the happiness and good health of his enslaved workers.

Expecting others to embrace his own work ethic and punishing daily schedule, Washington was not an easy man to work for, whether you were black or white; a soldier, a free tradesman or an enslaved worker. But George Washington also cared for his people, especially at Mount Vernon, where one foreign visitor wrote that Washington dealt with his slaves “far more humanely than do his fellow citizens of Virginia.”

Thompson’s conclusion is clear: Washington was not a horrible slaveowner but a better-than-average one. And there’s plenty of evidence that the Father of Our Country also may have been a father of the budding abolition movement, in a quiet but especially effective way.

Thompson provides context that shows just how complex was the story of Washington and his enslaved workers. To judge the man, you must understand at least some of this context.

Her most interesting point is that, against all odds, over the course of his lifetime, Washington learned to hate slavery and decided to work for its end.

Slavery was thousands of years old by the time Europeans brought it to the New World, and Americans inherited the peculiar institution from the British.

It may be hard to understand today, where freedom is the norm and slavery is illegal in every nation on earth, but before the American Revolution, here and everywhere, freedom was the exception and unfreedom was the rule. As many as 75% of people who immigrated to the 13 British colonies that became the United States may have been unfree laborers, either slaves or indentured servants.

As a member of the Virginia gentry, Washington was born into a world where most work was done by bound workers and where most people thought that unfree labor, organized in a hierarchy with white householders at the top, wives and children in the middle and indentured and enslaved people at the bottom, was an eternal part of society.

Yet, letters and other documentary evidence that Thompson presents show that as George Washington matured, he learned to hate the institution of slavery and developed a strong desire to see it end on a national level.

To a visiting British actor, the retired president explained,

Not only do I pray for it, on the score of human dignity, but I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union, by consolidating it in a common bond of principle.

Seeing how impractical abolition was during his lifetime, Washington at least wanted to free as many enslaved people under his control as he could.

This history is little known. And as more and more places take down statues of Confederate generals and other figures from history, Washington has become a target of renewed criticism for his role as a slaveowner.

Answering the Charges

As to the common criticisms leveled at George Washington today for alleged abuses of enslaved people, Thompson mostly exonerates Washington:

  1. His Dentures Used the Teeth of Slaves

Yes, Washington did use teeth from enslaved people in his dentures. He bought teeth only from people who were willing to sell, a gruesome but common practice for poor people of all races in the 18th century. In the days before payday lending, people without property had few options to raise cash quickly. Poor people continued to sell their own teeth at least into the 19th century, as readers of Les Miserables can attest.

  1. He Didn’t Free Slaves in His Will

This is wrong — Washington freed all the slaves he could in his will. Only in a narrow technical sense can anyone argue with this: Only one enslaved person, William Lee, who served as attendant to Washington during the Revolution, was freed on Washington’s death in December of 1799. But 123 others at Mount Vernon were granted freedom in Washington’s will to be emancipated on Martha’s death. However, following advice from friends, Martha decided to free all these people while she was still alive, about a year after Washington’s death. Another 40 slaves at a plantation in Tidewater Virginia controlled by Washington were ordered to be freed on a gradual schedule.

To claim that Washington didn’t free slaves in his will based on the timing when the manumissions went into effect is fundamentally dishonest. The truth is, he freed more than 160 slaves in his will, which was a huge accomplishment not only because of the financial value lost to his heirs but because it was so unusual among Virginia planters to emancipate so many people at once. As Thompson explains, at the time, this rare act attracted criticism from influential white people, who thought that Washington had acted rashly. By contrast, prominent black leaders were overjoyed.

  1. Fine. Even if He Did Free Slaves in His Will, Why Did He Wait Until He Was Dead to Do It?

According to Thompson, it wasn’t greed or hypocrisy but lack of funds that prevented Washington from acting on his documented desire to free slaves during his lifetime. After the Revolution, during which he worked for eight years without a salary, Washington came back to a nearly bankrupt farm operation at Mount Vernon with failing crops and mounting debts. As he worked to fix his finances, Washington also brainstormed various schemes to transition his enslaved workers from slavery to freedom. In the end, his will proved to be the best instrument to accomplish the emancipation project he’d planned for more than a decade.

  1. He Fathered A Black Child

There’s no evidence that George Washington fathered West Ford, who claimed to be his son by an enslaved woman named Venus, or any children at all by women in the enslaved community of Mount Vernon. Mixed-race children there were fathered by white overseers, tradesmen and workers on the estate or else by white men living in the neighborhood.

  1. He Relentlessly Hunted Down Escaped Slave Oney Judge

Washington did in fact hunt down escaped lady’s maid Oney (or Ona) Judge, going so far as to enlist government officials to locate her in New Hampshire to which she had fled, and urge her to return. Washington did not pursue Judge out of spite or greed. Other slaves who had escaped from Mount Vernon were sought with far less vigor than Judge.

Her case was special because Judge was Martha’s special favorite and also because Judge, as part of Martha’s “dower” slaves that she and George held in trust for the heirs of Martha’s first husband Daniel Parke Custis, George and Martha stood to suffer a large civil penalty if they lost any of the dower slaves. Washington’s death in 1799 did not lift fears that Custis heirs might try to recapture her, but Judge remained free, enjoying a long life in New Hampshire until her death at age 75 in 1848.

  1. He Was a Racist

Compared to other founding fathers and certainly compared to other Virginia landowners, Washington can hardly be called a racist. His views on slavery changed as he matured, and his respect for black people grew as he had contact with them in different situations especially as soldiers in the Revolution, where he not only agreed to accept black enlistment but then went on to desegregate the Continental Army. His famous meeting at his headquarters in Cambridge with the enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley in 1776, whose work he praised and who he addressed in a letter as “Mrs. Phillis,” shows that Washington was ready to recognize the humanity and even accomplishment of enslaved people.

  1. Compared to Hamilton and Adams, Washington was Compromised by Slavery

Thompson doesn’t deal much with this issue, but it’s become common for people today to compare Washington with northern founders who didn’t own slaves, so I wanted to share here what I’ve learned from other sources.

No founding father had entirely clean hands when it came to slavery. Even Alexander Hamilton, famous for denouncing the peculiar institution, made compromises with the slave economy in his work as an attorney in New York City. While serving his term as president, John Adams, who never owned any enslaved people and also often criticized slavery, may have rented slaves from local owners in the District of Columbia to work at the White House.

As to Ben Franklin, in 1775 he helped start the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, but years earlier, as a young printer in Philadelphia, Franklin owned two slaves, George and King, who worked as personal servants. His newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, commonly ran ads to buy and sell slaves.

And of course, these three, along with all other signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution from the North, acceded to the compromise with South Carolina and Georgia necessary to keep the nation together. It was a reluctant compromise though, not just for northerners, but also for George Washington, who applied the natural right of freedom to both whites and blacks and wanted slavery put on the road to quick extinction.

What if Washington Was Really an Abolitionist?

Was Washington a quiet activist to end slavery, not only at Mount Vernon, but throughout the United States? Thompson’s book might make you think so.

After 1775, Washington stopped buying new slaves, according to financial records for decades of operations at Mount Vernon. Letters confirm that he did this because he did not want to commit himself further to an institution he wanted to get out of. Later, when he had money problems and began looking for assets that he could sell for ready cash to pay debts, Washington resisted selling off enslaved people as he thought it cruel to separate families.

After the war and during his presidency, Washington knew that with the high visibility of his public persona, he could not come out publicly for abolition. That would scare away South Carolina and Georgia whose representatives had made it clear that they would only join and stay in the federal union if they were allowed to buy and own slaves without interference from other states.

As Thompson explains,

If he had any doubts before about where the country stood on the issue of slavery, Washington could have had none after the Constitutional Convention: if the issue of abolishing slavery was pushed, the country would dissolve. While he could never bring himself to publicly lead the effort to abolish slavery, probably for fear of tearing apart the country he had worked so hard to build, Washington could, and did, try to lead by setting an example and freeing the people over whom he had control.

Yet, letters show that Washington quietly lobbied for an end to slavery — gradual and legislated by government rather than immediate and done by individual slaveowners because it would be more acceptable politically. Washington feared that slavery would destroy the American union, and wanted the troublesome institution gone.

Though he was born and raised in the Virginia gentry, Washington identified more with states that were ending slavery, as six northern states did after the Revolution, than with those states that sought to continue it. According to Thomas Jefferson, Washington told Attorney General Edmund Randolph that if disagreements about slavery ever brought America to a civil war in the future, Washington said he’d side with the North over the South.

Washington even entertained several projects to gradually manumit his slaves during his lifetime, including an idea to start a plantation for freemen in the South American colony of Cayenne (today’s French Guiana) with the Marquis de Lafayette.

Explaining the quote in the title of Thompson’s book, Washington wrote near the end of his life about his own connection to slavery,

The unfortunate condition of the persons, whose labor in part I employed, has been the only unavoidable subject of regret. To make the Adults among them as easy & as comfortable in their circumstances as their actual state of ignorance & improvidence would admit; & to lay a foundation to prepare the rising generation for a destiny different from that in which they were born: afforded some satisfaction to my mind, & could not I hoped be displeasing to the justice of the Creator.

White Critics and Black Fans

While a few of his fellow white people approved of Washington’s unusual decision to free all the slaves he could in his will, other prominent white leaders criticized Washington for acting rashly.

Pennsylvania jurist Horace Binney wrote that “no good had come from [manumission] to the slaves, and that the State of Virginia was compelled to place restraints upon emancipation within her limits, for the general good of all.” Years later, in a history of the Washington family, a distant relative described Washington’s decision to free his slaves as “the…worst act of his public life.”

Some white writers claimed that Washington’s enslaved workers were better off in slavery and that they floundered in freedom. But Thompson explains that the people who settled near Mount Vernon in Fairfax County created a settlement called Free Town that became a model for black success in the 19th century.

That was partially due to the experience of working for George Washington. As Thompson writes, “Through a largely undocumented and largely unrecognized high pressure stint of learning by doing, Mount Vernon’s enslaved laborers became some of the most skilled mixed-crop farmers, fisherman, and stock breeders in the region.”

Many of the enslaved people freed by Washington had fond memories of Mount Vernon, and some freemen actually returned for years to volunteer their time to care for Washington’s tomb.

In a famous eulogy on Washington’s death in 1799, Rev. Richard Allen, a formerly enslaved Methodist minister in Philadelphia, recognized Washington as a leading ally for black freedom, “Our father and friend.”

Allen was one of the most famous black leaders in America at the time. Seventeen years later, in 1816, Allen would go on to found the first national black church in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

As Allen put it in his eulogy in 1799, because Washington opposed public opinion and instead followed this conscience by freeing his slaves in his will, he

…dared to do his duty, and wipe off the only stain with which man could ever reproach him…he let the oppressed go free…and undid every burden…the name of Washington will live when the sculptured marble and the statue of bronze shall be crumbled into dust — for it is the decree of the eternal God that ‘the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.’

Revisionist History, Revised

Thompson shares Richard Allen’s admiration for Washington’s actions against slavery and ultimately to free his own enslaved people. Yet, her sober prose style and abundant historical evidence makes a credible case that, along with everything else we’ve been taught about George Washington, the first president may turn out to be an unsung hero of abolition and even civil rights.

John Oliver says that Americans need a more accurate understanding of our history. If he really means that, then Oliver should get one of his staffers to read Thompson’s book and write him up a summary. Then, Oliver should go back on TV and apologize to Joy Behar and the rest of us for lecturing us to go back to history class when it turns out that Oliver was really the slacker who hadn’t done his homework.

The rest of us don’t need to wait for John Oliver to rework his sloppy oral presentation and try for a better grade. As students of American history, we should all do our own homework and listen to historians rather than social media. Then we’ll see that there’s no comparison between statues of historical figures that really should come down, like Confederate generals, and statues of George Washington and other founding fathers that should stay up.

Southern rebels like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis started a war to destroy the United States and to guarantee white supremacy for all time. Washington did the exact opposite. He fought to start and preserve the United States, the world’s first country dedicated to the idea that “all men are created equal.” Then, as his political ideas matured, Washington started working to apply revolutionary ideals of human freedom and dignity to Americans regardless of race.

As we reassess all dead white guys on horses from the American past, we may just find that George Washington’s reputation will rise, giving his story a new relevance for the problems of the 21st century. The founding father who seemed stiff and cold for so many years may turn out to have had a surprisingly warm heart and a soul with a thirst for justice.

Erik Curren writes about energy and the environment. This piece is republished with his permission from History News Network.

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49 responses to ““The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret”

  1. Wait. So, he said, “misleadingly comforting versions of history is a pattern we’ve seen again and again this year,” and you inferred that this meant “topple statues of George Washington”?

    I mean this is a nice, well document defense of Washington against some of the nefarious, but legal, behavior of his time, and it’s nice that you’ve written it and all, but are you really going to start from the position that Oliver was implying topple Washington’s statutes from just that statement?

    I’ve read on this blog many defenses of Matthew Maury. Yes, he was a great engineer and scientist, but the dude had some horrible ideas and took actions to put them in place. But, he’s no more worthy of a statue for his scientific endeavors than is William Shockley, and for the same reasons maybe he shouldn’t have one.

    There really is an Attaboy to Awshucks ratio Goodguy threshold. After all, I can personally attest that the Autobahn is a great road, but… a statue mightn’t be all that good of an idea.

    No doubt Washington, Jefferson, and others are well above the aforementioned threshold (for now), but there are those who will come up short.

    • Hi Nancy_Naive. In the Oliver segment (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsxukOPEdgg), at 2:47, Oliver says “Just watch Joy Behar explain why statues of George Washington should be left alone.” So it’s fair to conclude that Oliver is also commenting on statues, the big topic of history today.

      They did already pull down George Washington in Portland. And at W&L, some faculty and students are demanding that not only Lee but also Washington be removed from the school’s name, which is similar to taking down a statue. It’s not really deleting history, because you don’t need a statue or a place name to remember someone. But that would be removing a commemoration, which in this case, I think is unwarranted by the historical facts.

      Vigilantes should not take down statues on their own. Along with restraining troublemakers in the midst of mostly peaceful demonstrations, I hope that activists will learn the difference between a Confederate and a founding father.

      They’re pretty much the opposite — founding fathers wanted to build up the U.S. as a land of freedom and equality and Confederates wanted to tear all that down. So Maury coming down is no excuse to also take down GW.

      • Wow… you have to really stretch his admonishment of Joy’s (Americans, in general) lack of historical knowledge to implying that the statues come down. That whole episode was on historical fairy tales, nothing more.

        BTW, one interesting thing to note, Washington’s Will would have been invalid in a time when a wife were not also considered chattels. I shall have to research that. When did “controlling from the grave”, i.e., placing conditions on inheritors or inherited property, become an invalid bequest?

        • yes. How do you “release” your slaves upon your death but then turn them over to someone else?

          “History” is so complicated when we can’t even decide what “released” means…

          • You really have to watch the video. Apparently, according to one of The View hosts/guests. Washington spent his last years trying to persuade/secure at least one runaway slave’s return… what definition of “anti-slavery” is that?

            True, he could have compelled by the courts and the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act and the courts.

            More importantly the slaves never were freed. They would up with the Curtis properties, all of them.

            Maybe he only wanted to appear to be anti-slavery, after all, he was a politician.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Douglas Southall Freeman’s massive 7 volume: George Washington, is the last word on the “indispensable man”. From 1945 to 1953 he worked 9 hours a day while still working as a newspaper editor and twice daily radio broadcasts to create this biography. Perhaps America’s greatest biographer.

    “Character is that quality of mind which makes truth-telling instinctive rather than strange.”

    DSF

    PS: Don’t be lazy and read the abridgement. You’ll miss half of the fun.

  3. Washington also stopped breaking up families of his enslaved via sale from the Revolution on. I wonder how much Lafayette influenced his growing anti-slavery sentiment. Though this is a more proper term than abolitionism since he didn’t favor government action to end slavery. Admirable in the context of the times, nevertheless.

    The finest academic contemporary biography of Washington is HIS EXCELLENCY: GEORGE WASHINGTON by Joseph Ellis.

    The conclusion in which Ellis compares him to other revolutionary leaders—Cromwell, Napoleon, Mao—and proves that unlike them Washington thought about how future generations would think of him, rather than merely his own ambition like the other men mentioned. This aptly illustrates why Washington should continue to be held in high esteem.

  4. Do you want to save the statues of the slave-owning founders?
    Then pay attention this time.

  5. For all the talk here lately about “indoctrination” of students with “radical left” ideas, what have we actually taught students for decades about Washington, Slavery, and Washington and his slaves that is not tantamount to lying and misinformation – truly revisionist history?

    Telling African Americans not to judge Washington so harshly because, after all, he was a “typical” slave owner of the times, who even though he did beat them and sell their family members, it was “okay” back then.

    I DO distinguish between UDC/Jim Crow “memorials” to the war over the “right” to keep owning slaves versus Founding Fathers who owned them but say they “thought it wrong” – though I’m a bit of a skeptic because had they really believed that perhaps we would have never had a Civil War to start with.

    No, I do not want to see statues of Washington or Jefferson taken down but at the same time why do we continue with having white guys defend the practices rather than admitting it was wrong and worse, even more wrong to ignore and misrepresent it in the way we taught history – for generations.

    Think about it – we have folks worried about how we “teach” history in the schools today – but seldom a complaint from the same folks, about how we “taught” about our own founding fathers history with slaves and the institution of slavery.

    There are no good answers here but I think continuing to defend is probably not effective.

    I’m hoping we’ll somehow find some reconciliation but I’m not optimistic given the current state of politics and attitudes about race.

    • Old white guys continually find themselves defending the slave-owning founders because they won’t fix the appearance of systemic racism today.

      Problem? What problem?

  6. “Appearance” ? geeze

    must be some variant of “woke” ?

    • Yes, appearance. If you say existence then the drum beating begins. Systemic police racism is tough to prove. The nation’s PDs are independent and virtually all of them have flaunted Federal laws passed in the 90s to report police shootings and use of force.
      https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=84

      It looks impressive, but the keynote is at the bottom. Participation seems to have devolved to 17 States.

  7. Don’t care. Tired of this argument. Slavery has been deeply embedded in human existence for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of years. The Enlightenment in Western Civilization ripped it out of our culture, not without issues or struggles, but it is gone. Both the American and then the French Revolutions sealed its fate, but not without a fight that lasted a while longer. G. Washington ranks with the greatest men and women who ever lived. Feel free to list all the great leaders in any field with no blemishes on their characters, or who escaped all the sins of their times. I have read of only One. If you know of others, take all the space you need….

    Me, I’d be more interested in eradicating slavery where it still exists. These recent reports of federal agents freeing young women from slavery right here in the USA are of more importance.

    • It’s much more than slavery in a new country whose founding ideals were stated by the founding fathers as:

      ” We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

      Slavery was not the end of it.

      That’s why we’re still at it.

      Comparing us to other cultures and other countries in the light of our Founding Fathers “visons” … some folks actually thought we were supposed to be different. Still having that discussion.

    • I agree. Let’s discuss a more enlightening subject than the history of American slavery and racism. How about fox hunting? Do you ride?

    • I would think much higher of those seeking to apply 21st century standards on leaders from long ago if they had an objective standard for judgement and applied that same standard to all.

      In one of the pictures of Richmond protests around the statue of Robert E Lee, I noticed someone waving the flag of the Rastafari. I thought that was interesting, given the position of Haile Selassie to the Rastafari.

      “It is preferable for the Abyssinian Negroes and the Negroes of the world to work for the restoration and freedom of the country without the assistance of Selassie, because at best he is but a slave master. The Negroes of the Western World whose forefathers suffered for three hundred years under the terrors of slavery ought to be able to appreciate what freedom means. Surely they cannot feel justified in supporting any system that would hold their brothers in slavery in another country whilst they are enjoying the benefits of freedom elsewhere. The Africans who are free can also appreciate the position of slaves in Abyssinia [Ethiopia]. What right has the Emperor to keep slaves when all the democratic sections of the world were free, when men had the right to live, to develop, to expand, to enjoy all the benefits of human liberty?”

      – Marcus Garvey

      https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520072084/the-marcus-garvey-and-universal-negro-improvement-association-papers-vol-vii

    • I already thought that Washington was one of the greatest figures in history because he refused to mount a military coup to make himself king after the Revolution and instead returned his commission to Congress and went home to Mount Vernon. After learning more about his relationship to slavery — not a simple one, but in the end, he was certainly anti-slavery — I admire Washington even more.

      It’s also true that slavery didn’t really end with the 13th Amendment in the US, Brazil’s abolition in the 1880s or even the last nation to make slavery officially illegal, Mauritania, in 1981. Illegal slavery still persists there, and around the world, even in the U.S. Tragically, there are more slaves today even though the institution is outlawed everywhere than there were when slavery was legal.

      Writes the Guardian: “Experts have calculated that roughly 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries; today, an estimated 40.3 million people – more than three times the figure during the transatlantic slave trade – are living in some form of modern slavery, according to the latest figures published by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation.” (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/25/modern-slavery-trafficking-persons-one-in-200).

    • Slavery existed in many societies long before British Colonial America and the US, this is true.

      But to be fair, there are many different kinds of slaveries and race based chattel slavery as practiced in the Americas was a particularly nasty kind—though conditions in the US were better than Brazil or the Caribbean.

  8. foxes? hell no… 😉

  9. I don’t give much weight to navel-gazing, America-hating speeches from a couple of rich, white Democrats like you two sixty days before an election. This is just electioneering.

  10. Andrew Roesell | December 26, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Reply

    Thanks, Reed, but I am but a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants, and by a mother who raised me “not to be a member of the herd” of cattle that she remembered from an old cowboy movie, where the startled bovines head over a cliff, one after another after another, to destruction.

    Sincerely, Andrew

    Reed Fawell 3rd | December 26, 2017 at 7:05 pm | Reply

    Andrew

    One of those of giants on whose shoulders you stand is Martin Luther King, apparently. … A few snippets of Dr. Kings words found there are:

    “From the very beginning there was a philosophy undergirding the Montgomery boycott, the philosophy of nonviolent resistance … nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist… (but) is nonaggressive physically (and) is strongly aggressive spiritually … the nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding … the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community… so … the nonviolent resister seeks to attack the evil system rather than individuals who happen to be caught up in the system.

    … The struggle is rather between justice and injustice, … so (the struggle) not only avoids external violence or external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. And so at the center of our movement stood the philosophy of love.

    … God grant that as men and women all over the world struggle against evil systems they will struggle with love in their hearts, with understanding good will … But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things …”

    The wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King is sorely needed today. Andrew, thank you also for reminding us of that truth back in February of 2016, too.

    Acbar | December 27, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Reply

    We’ve learned a lot this year. One thing learned is that thoughtful people are concerned about causation, whereas reactionaries at both ends of the spectrum care only about results. History has no significance, even relevance, for people who don’t care why we are the way we are, but simply wish (demand) that we be different. We see this in the occasional deliberate choice to erase history — remove the statues, rename the schools — rather than learn from it. We see it in government measures of hiring discrimination — or college admission — that simply disregard the nature of the talent search or the profile of the applicant pools. We see this in the denigration of main stream media for persisting in their concern for factual accuracy, because who cares about accurately representing the past if your sole intent is to eradicate it (and you don’t see any predictive connection between past and future)? Yes, those who ignore history may be doomed to repeat it.

    But another thing learned is that there is ugliness in our history. There are statues that were erected not in heartbroken memory of the generation of young men who died in vain, but in the renewed militance of Jim Crow. There are schools that were named to intimidate, not for leaders we wish our students to emulate, but to remind them to stay in their place. There were good people who were incidentally products of their times; but also there were people whose primary focus was to preserve what even they knew was evil. We’ve learned there is inertia to preserve history today merely to avoid reexamining the past. And there are people who say hateful things to incite a reaction, and even if their right to say those things is important, they have no right to incite others without a consequence for themselves.

    God grant us the wisdom to admit the difference, and to deal with the latter as they deserve.

    Reed Fawell 3rd | December 27, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Reply

    Acbar says:
    “We’ve learned a lot this year. One thing learned is that thoughtful people are concerned about causation, whereas reactionaries at both ends of the spectrum care only about results. History has no significance, even relevance, for people who don’t care why we are the way we are, but simply wish (demand) that we be different. We see this in the occasional deliberate choice to erase history … Yes, those who ignore history may be doomed to repeat it … But another thing learned is that there is ugliness in our history … God grant us the wisdom to admit the difference, and to deal with the latter as they deserve.” End Quote.

    I’ve come to believe that learning important aspects of history in a true and meaningful way, and applying that learning to our world today, is far more difficult, complex, and demanding than I had ever imagined. The task demands all of our powers and their immense efforts. For anyone doing such task well, and thus having an impact that might change reality, will encounter fierce resistance from the present.

    This is why so many great books of history (or art or science) are written in varying degrees of code on so many levels, if only to keep the writers neck, or his work, off the chopping block.

    This is also why so much great history (like art and science) has been intentionally destroyed. Or buried, even if its creator lives to die of natural causes. It is the reason so many are in exile.

    The truth is that the present hates to hear the truth about today, and it hates to hear the truths of history that brought us to where we are today. Truth is the perennial orphan, particularity truth having relevance to today’s world.

    Why?

    Much of the truth is very ugly. Most of the truth is novel, quite strange, mostly unknown. Most truth is very uncomfortable, even under the best of circumstances, and it is very significantly different, far different, often quite the opposite, from what the reader may have thought or believed to be the truth before uncovering the truth. Particularly so as the truth is only as good and deep as the searcher powers to uncover, judge, and appreciate it, a journey during which he or she must overcome many obstacles. Even then, the truth will die unless the searcher finds a way to keep that true alive.

    Take for example the work that Andrew mentions in Bye, Bye, Birdie – Plato’s Book VIII of the Republic. See: Book VIII of _The Republic_ http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.9.viii.html

    This book cost Socrates his life.

    How many died in Rome citing that book as the authority for what was in fact going on in Rome for 500 years after the fall of the Roman Republic? Ask Cicero how many before they chopped off his hands. No, the better question is who cited Book VIII and lived to see the sun rise again.

    The truth that Socrates (through Plato) taught mankind about itself brings to us just as much bitterness today. And it is just as misunderstood today as it was in ancient Rome. Thomas Jefferson despised the book. John Adams “built his Church up its rock.” Disputations over its meanings and conclusions fueled perhaps the most vicious and vitriolic presidential campaign in American history. That between Jefferson and Adams in 1800. During those bitter times, it unfairly damaged and destroyed reputations of fine men up until this very day, and indeed threatened our Federal form of government in its infancy.

    This morning, thanks to Andrew, I read Book VIII front to back for the first time in a decade. I saw it in a wholly different light, given what I have learned in the last decade.

    Why?

    Because like Andrew says, the Book helps to explain much of the ugliness of history and how it is borne along through time on the wings of the dark aspects of human nature, and the systems that men and women build and operate to promote and protect those dark instincts of their human nature.

    There is a great paradox here, one that is the great gift of history. The more the searcher for the truth of history uncovers the more he must confront the ugliness of history. But here to is where the great gift arises. For the more ugliness he or she can confront and work through and appreciate, the more he or she comes to appreciate the good and noble acts of men and women who endure that ugliness with their goodness intact and so often overcome it in ways large and small, and even reverse that dark side of history and human nature.

    And then also comes the second great gift, that is one that Martin Luther King shines his light on – how also the searcher for the truth so often comes to see that the real evil is often built into not only “the systems within human nature, but also the systems that human nature builds and operates to generate so much evil in the world we all must live in and deal with.

    Some people far more than others must deal directly with and confront this dark reality. This is why the good warrior, the good teacher, and the good scholar are so precious to us all. Our Civilization depends on these good people to an inordinate degree, and we, the rest of us, reap the great benefits the bestow on us.

    Andrew Roesell | December 28, 2017 at 8:52 am | Reply

    Dear Reed,

    Thanks for the citation of Adams & Jefferson. The latter I vaguely remembered did not like Plato, but the former I did not know admired him and _The Republic_. Thanks for sharing.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

    Reed Fawell 3rd | December 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Reply

    A more apt description of Jefferson’s view of Plato’s Republic was that it amounted to indecipherable nonsense for the reason that it was the polar opposite of Jefferson’s official version of his views on politics, while in fact Plato’s Republic described quite aptly Jefferson’s oligarchic (aristocratic) lifestyle, including his treatment of slaves.

    As for Adams, his core political beliefs – his fear that the excesses of the oligarchic (aristocratic) class and also of democratic rule could be tempered only by a powerful and long tenured executive grows directly out of Plato’s Republic whether directly or indirectly received. Yet, Adams was ambiguous at best on these obvious origins of his most deeply held political beliefs. This likely grew out of his plain puritan New England lifestyle and upbringing, all in stark contrast to the imperial lifestyle of Jefferson in his actions as distinct from his words.

    Adams, however, late in life in a letter to Jefferson chided Plato in an obsequious effort to curry Jefferson’ favor. The most honest and direct, industrious and fearless and competent of men, Adams nevertheless could on occasion be socially insecure around Jefferson and his ilk. Another human, like us all, including Jefferson.

  11. Some of the neighborhoods here in NoVA the are formerly owned by the Washington or Lee family members or both, and where I live probably was the fox hunting grounds, I am guessing. William Lee was reportedly extremely talented riding horses fast through woods and rough terrain, and lead the hunts. But they did not catch all the foxes apparently.

    Seems to me we have a lot of revisionist history going on various forms. We must teach our children political correctness is the only way forward. Where “forward” is taking us, not sure.

  12. Digging deeper into history seems reasonable. But why does the digging stop at the western end of the Atlantic Ocean? The role of African “nations” is an essential part of the story.

    When the Slave Traders Were African; Those whose ancestors sold slaves to Europeans now struggle to come to terms with a painful legacy, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, WSJ 9-20-19

    This August marked 400 years since the first documented enslaved Africans arrived in the U.S. In 1619, a ship reached the Jamestown settlement in the colony of Virginia, carrying “some 20 and odd Negroes” who were kidnapped from their villages in present-day Angola. The anniversary coincides with a controversial debate in the U.S. about whether the country owes reparations to the descendants of slaves as compensation for centuries of injustice and inequality. It is a moment for posing questions of historic guilt and responsibility.

    Legacies of Slavery

    * The Long History of American Slavery Reparations

    * An Ancient Practice Transformed by the Arrival of Europeans

    But the American side of the story is not the only one. Africans are now also reckoning with their own complicated legacy in the slave trade, and the infamous “Middle Passage” often looks different from across the Atlantic.

    Records from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by historian David Eltis at Emory University, show that the majority of captives brought to the U.S. came from Senegal, Gambia, Congo and eastern Nigeria. Europeans oversaw this brutal traffic in human cargo, but they had many local collaborators. “The organization of the slave trade was structured to have the Europeans stay along the coast lines, relying on African middlemen and merchants to bring the slaves to them,” said Toyin Falola, a Nigerian professor of African studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Europeans couldn’t have gone into the interior to get the slaves themselves.”

    The anguished debate over slavery in the U.S. is often silent on the role that Africans played. That silence is echoed in many African countries, where there is hardly any national discussion or acknowledgment of the issue. From nursery school through university in Nigeria, I was taught about great African cultures and conquerors of times past but not about African involvement in the slave trade. In an attempt to reclaim some of the dignity that we lost during colonialism, Africans have tended to magnify stories of a glorious past of rich traditions and brave achievement.

    But there are other, less discussed chapters of our history. When I was growing up, my father Chukwuma Nwaubani spoke glowingly of my great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, a chief among our Igbo ethnic group who sold slaves in the 19th century. “He was respected by everyone around,” he said. “Even the white people respected him.” From the 16th to the 19th centuries, an estimated 1.4 million Igbo people were transported across the Atlantic as slaves.

    Some families have chosen to hide similar histories. “We speak of it in whispers,” said Yunus Mohammed Rafiq, a 44-year-old professor of anthropology from Tanzania who now teaches at New York University’s center in Shanghai. In the 19th century, Mr. Rafiq’s great-great-great-grandfather, Mwarukere, from the Segeju ethnic group, raided villages in Tanzania’s hinterland, sold the majority of his captives to the Arab merchants who supplied Europeans and kept the rest as laborers on his own coconut plantations. Although Mr. Rafiq’s relatives speak of Mwarukere with pride, they expunged his name from family documents sometime in the 1960s, shortly after Tanzania gained independence from British colonial rule, when it was especially sensitive to remind Africans of their role in enslaving one another.

    Yunus Mohammed Rafiq in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, Aug. 6. PHOTO: Jonathan Torgovnik for The Wall Street Journal

    The need to keep his family’s history secret intensified after Mr. Rafiq left home in his 20s to study at Indiana University and then at Yale and Brown for graduate work. “Truthfully, with my African-American colleagues, I never revealed this aspect,” he said. “Because of the crimes, the pain, the humiliation that I saw them suffer in the United States, I thought talking about this legacy of Africans selling themselves is just piling another wound in a body that is already very shot through, fractured, broken down by other things.” He decided instead to highlight the beauty of Tanzanian music, architecture and poetry and, at Indiana, worked with the black students’ union to organize events that would build bonds to Africa. “Knowing this legacy and what we have done, it put so much pressure on me,” he said.

    Like Mr. Rafiq, I also felt apprehensive before deciding to write about my own family’s history. I live in Nigeria but have extended family all over the U.S. How would black Americans respond to the descendants of a man who sold some of their ancestors into slavery? And if my own background was tainted with inhumanity, what authority would I have to lend my voice to the human rights issues in Nigeria and around Africa that cause me such grave concern?

    Some families feel no qualms about publicizing their own history. “I’m not ashamed of it because I personally wasn’t directly involved,” said 58-year-old Donald Duke, a lawyer who ran for president in Nigeria’s 2019 elections. He is from the port town of Calabar, home to the Efik ethnic group of Nigeria’s Cross River state. In the 18th century, some 1.2 million slaves were sold through Calabar, according to the Tulane University historian Randy J. Sparks. The Efik were mostly stevedores and middlemen. They negotiated prices between the white traders and their African partners from the hinterlands, then collected royalties. “Families like mine benefited from that process,” Mr. Duke told me.

    Donald Duke in Lagos, Nigeria, Aug. 1. PHOTO: Lakin Ogunbanwo for The Wall Street Journal

    Mr. Duke was elected governor of Cross River state in 1999, and his administration built the Slave History Museum near the point on the coast from which slaves were shipped. One of its exhibitions depicts various currencies of the slave trade, such as flutes, Dane guns and brass bells. “It is not a glorious past, but it is the truth,” Mr. Duke said. “That is why I went out to document it.”

    The Zambian pastor Saidi Francis Chishimba also feels the need to go public with his family’s history. “In Zambia, in a sense, it is a forgotten history,” said the 45-year-old. “But it is a reality to which history still holds us accountable.” Mr. Chishimba’s grandfather, Ali Saidi Muluwe Wansimba, was from a tribe of slave traders of the Bemba kingdom, who moved from Zanzibar to establish slave markets in Zambia. He grew up hearing this history narrated with great pride by his relatives.

    In 2011, he decided to see the place of his ancestor’s origin and traveled with his wife to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. As they toured a memorial in what used to be one of the world’s largest slave markets, the photos of limbs amputated from runaway slaves and the airless chambers that once held dozens of slaves at a time shocked him into silence. “It brought a saddening in my heart that my own family lines were involved in this treatment,” he said. “It was so painful to think about.”

    Mr. Chishimba decided that this gruesome history should be openly acknowledged and has since become popular in Zambia for his sermons, radio talks and articles on the impact of the slave trade. He uses them as an opportunity to “demonstrate the grace of God” even in so wicked a practice. He believes, for example, that mixing the races was always in God’s plan and the slave trade was an effective device for dispersing black people from Africa to other parts of the world. “What the devil meant for evil, God used it for good,” he said.

    Saidi Francis Chishamba in Ingombe Ilede, Zambia, Aug. 8. PHOTO: Jonathan Torgovnik for The Wall Street Journal

    Some families feel cursed or burdened by their history and wish that they could be rid of it. “What our ancestors did wasn’t right,” said 48-year-old Teddy Nwanunobi, a journalist from southeastern Nigeria. “If they had thought about the consequences, they wouldn’t have done those things.” His great-grandfather was an Igbo slave trader, and Mr. Nwanunobi and his male relatives think that their own failure to produce children, in a patrilineal society, is a result of their family’s role in bringing other people’s lineages to an end. “I didn’t think twice about believing it,” Mr. Nwanunobi told me. He quoted a portion from the Book of Exodus, which refers to God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children…to the third and fourth generation.”

    Similar Bible passages have become popular in certain religious circles in Nigeria. The pastors encourage their congregations to identify patterns in their afflictions and to investigate their histories for root causes, then to ask God for forgiveness, usually after a period of fasting. In collaboration with his younger brother in England, Mr. Nwanunobi is now making arrangements for priests to visit the family and advise on what steps to take to free them from their past. “If not, the family will continue to go down,” he said.

    My own family held a similar intervention in January 2018, organized by my father, who, at 79, is the oldest male and head of the extended family. Members of the Nwaubani family in Nigeria and around the world participated in the three days of prayer and fasting. On the final day, a few dozen who lived nearby gathered in my father’s home, then accompanied him to the local Anglican Church, where a priest invoked God’s mercies on us. In December, my father organized another ceremony. Hundreds of family members who were home for the Christmas holidays joined in the thanksgiving service. This time, we dressed in our Sunday best and danced merrily to the altar to present a special money offering as a token of gratitude to God for granting us a new beginning.

    Still, my father does not believe that the descendants of those who took part in the slave trade should now pay for those wrongs. As he points out, buying and selling human beings had been part of many African cultures, as a form of serfdom, long before the first white people landed on our shores. And though many families still retain the respect and influence accrued by their slave-trading ancestors, the direct material gains have petered out over time. “If anyone asks me for reparations,” he said sarcastically, “I will tell them to follow me to my backyard so that I can pluck some money from the tree there and give it to them.”

    Mr. Chishimba takes a similar view. “Slavery was wrong, but do I carry upon my shoulders the sins of my forefathers so that I should go around saying sorry? I don’t think so,” he said. Mr. Duke doesn’t believe that Africans should play much of a part in the American reparations conversation, because the injustices the descendants of slaves suffer stem primarily from their maltreatment and deprivation in the U.S. “The Africans didn’t see anything wrong with slavery,” he said. “Even if the white man wasn’t there, they would still use these people as their domestics. However, because the white man was now involved and fortunes were being made…that was when the criminality came in.”

    Mr. Nwanunobi wishes the matter were as straightforward as paying reparations in cash. He says that he would be willing to hand over all his family’s land and houses to anyone that suffered from his grandfather’s slave trading, whether in Nigeria or the U.S. “I am happy to give anything as long as it would bring an end to this suffering,” he said. “I will do whatever it will take to appease anybody, if only I can identify the particular people we offended.”

    As for Mr. Rafiq, he agrees that Africans owe something to the descendants of slaves in America—a forthright acknowledgment of their own complicity in the trans-Atlantic trade. “Educated Africans need to rewrite their history, especially postcolonial history, which was a kind of restorative history that tended to marginalize issues like slavery,” he said. “Part of the compensation is telling the story of our part in what is happening to African-Americans today.”

    Ms. Nwaubani is a Nigerian writer and journalist. Her debut novel, “I Do Not Come to You by Chance,” won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book. Her latest novel is “Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree.” Reporting for this piece was supported by a Reporting Award grant from NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

    • The government of Ghana officially apologized for the role their region played in the Atlantic Slave Trade quite some time ago, haven’t heard anything from the other West African republics though.

  13. It’s sorta like white folks having a conversation among themselves about slavery, no?

    • I quoted Marcus Garvey. Look him up.

      • You did and to what real point – from a white person perspective?

        He apparently wanted to be king of all Africa and a black separatist?

        And this is important to white folks discussing the treatment of black people in the US how?

        When we said “all men” and equality, did we not mean black people and the solution to that is separate races?

        I don’t know.. maybe I got off on a wrong track here.. clue me in.

        • It really shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. Read my entire comment and think about it.

          If one were to apply the standards being applied now to Washington and others in American history, hardly any leader who lived in prior times would fair very well. That includes Haile Selassie, who some view as a god to Black people.

          Additionally, a little reading would show you that the ideals of the founders as expressed in the Declaration of Independence have produced the desired result over time. It was these ideals that influenced Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery.

          Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery were well known when he was elected President, and convinced the south that his election signaled the beginning of the end for slavery in the U.S. The Civil War was indeed about slavery.

          Haile Selassie eventually outlawed slavery in Ethiopia to join the League of Nations. Western nations including the U.S. were putting pressure on him.

          In 1962 slavery was finally outlawed in Saudi Arabia, largely because of pressure from the West, including the U.S.

          Nations, like people, are not perfect. But overall, the United States has been, and continues to be a force for good in the world.

          • re: ” the ideals of the founders as expressed in the Declaration of Independence have produced the desired result over time. It was these ideals that influenced Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery.

            so the Civil Rights act a hundred years after was not needed and, in fact, racist?

            and all the stuff going on right now is really virtue signaling and “woke”?

  14. Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is not a white person. She’s the one speaking.

    • The fact that Africans sold their enemies into slavery has little to do with why America wrote this :

      ” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.– That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”[

      and then bought slaves from others regardless of their color.

      It’s not about who sold slaves.

      It’s about why we bought them and refused them equality even though we founded the country based on that premise. Were we lying? Did we really not believe that all men were created equal.

      And why, as white people, we point to the fact that blacks sold blacks as slaves – in the first place if this country was founded on an “all men are equal premise”? What’s the real point? To evade the issue?

      If we had actually done what we promised, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would have been actually racist, no?

      • The point is: The issue is complicated. We were taught in school that white slavers landed in Africa and grabbed blacks with little resistance, herded them into dark overcrowded holds and sold those who remained alive into slavery. The last two parts remain true. The first is a purposeful lie. Blacks captured blacks from other tribes and sold them to Arabs, Europeans and New World residents. Slavery remains just as repulsive but the story is a hell of a lot more complicated than we learned in history class.

        Why does the unvarnished truth threaten you so? Blacks and whites worked together to create and operate a slave trade. Doesn’t make it right. Doesn’t excuse anyone. But, like most things in life, it was complicated. Why are African leaders owning up to their ancestors’ roles in American slavery?

        • I don’t have a problem at all with the truth about how slavery was done at all.

          How slaves came to be matters not one whit when we talk about this country and it’s promise of equality for all.

          It’s like.. ” yeah, we got this problem with equality but it’s really the fault of those who sold slaves to start with.”

          • Where did I say “It’s really the fault of those who sold slaves in the first place”? That’s the kind of statement we hear from the media.

            No doubt, this country treated a lot of people pretty shitty over the years. Blacks, women, Catholics, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Native Americans, Chinese, for example. And we did this with all the good words in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But, over time and after the shedding of a lot of blood, we’ve improved. Perfect, hell no. But if the U.S. were as bad as you suggest, why are people from all over the world, including members of the groups listed above coming here? Many sneaking. We are not done, but we are lot better than the filthy media suggests we are. Hell most of us tolerate them.

          • No you did not but what was the point of bringing it up to start with?

            In terms of “getting better” – were Jews and Italians forced to attend “separate but equal” schools or kept out of restaurants and motels or not allowed to drink at water fountains?

            Is that what you mean when you say we did bad things to all these groups and so we’re not “perfect”?

            The big thing here is do you believe the African Americans when they say we still have racial issues or do you reject it and instead talk about who bought and sold slaves originally?

  15. “In terms of “getting better” – were Jews and Italians forced to attend “separate but equal” schools or kept out of restaurants and motels or not allowed to drink at water fountains?”

    Yes, plus far worse, along with the Poles, the Irish, the Chinese, the Serbs, the Welsh.

    • I think those groups have more in common with the Hispanic experience in this country than the black one. They freely came as immigrants, not imported as slaves.

      • A 19th Century Irishman famously said he’d often wished he was a slave in America. They were typically treated better, and not so often worked to death, as were poor Irish, Chinese and Welsh, who were imported for hard labor. Jews were typically excluded from colleges, universities, many neighborhoods, jobs and professions, and “decent society, until 1960s. At the very same time, America was the most open and upwardly mobile society in world history and still is by far. That is why so many people of all kinds and sorts, rich and poor, wanted to come to America and still do by the millions. Oppression, slavery, and abuse of “others” is ubiquitous worldwide. It always has been, as long as human beings walked this earth.

  16. A Brit scolding American’s about our tarnished history?

  17. I was curious how Washington, Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers came by their wealth.

    Were they and their families wealthy gentry from England to start with or did they get land grants from the King or what?

    I’ve heard that both were surveyors and that at that time surveyors were in high demand and got land in exchange for their services.

    But I understand that Washington in particular was very wealthy even by today’s standards, no? Where did he get it?

    • Writing conservative pamphlets?

      • not really!

        My suspects are that many of the Founding Fathers (and others) received land grants but land without labor (which was scarce) led them to slavery as a means to clear the land and farm the land.

        They probably got their land from the King and then managed to keep it as the new country was formed although those who were loyalists often had their land taken and “re-distributed”.

        But when we broke away from England – the words to the effect that all men are created equal and have inalienable rights – was curious – who were they talking about that did not have those rights so that words to that effect were written? And certainly not some people at all.

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