Tag Archives: slavery

What do you do with your freed slaves? (4)

Sooooo.

Not only have you managed to compose the sentence:

All men are created equal …….endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But you have understood it.

And then you have decided to act upon it. Unless you do this, there’s very little point in expressing these fine sentiments anyway:

slaves

But in practical terms, just what do you do with all these people who are, at a stroke, suddenly given their liberty ? The only figure I have been able to find on the Internet comes from the History Channel, who say that there were four million or more slaves suddenly granted their freedom. And the USA wasn’t the only country to have this problem to deal with.

Tsarist Russia called them “serfs” but they were to all intents and purposes no better off than the slaves in America. In this photograph, lucky Russian women are doing the work of an English horse, pulling a coal barge up a river, probably the Volga:

serfs

The serfs were all freed in 1861 but were then discouraged from moving away from their owner’s  estates. Indeed, they had to stay and work for the landlord in the normal way for two years.

The land, too, was divided up. The nobility were allocated almost all the meadows and the forests. The state paid all their debts.

The poor old serfs, though, they had to pay over the odds for the land they were allocated. On average, it was 34% extra. In the north, it was 90% over the odds and it was 20% more in some of the so-called black earth regions in present day Ukraine and southern Russia.  In what is now Poland, the Tsar wanted to harm the Polish landowning classes, so the peasants paid nothing extra for their land.
None of this worked, of course. The poor old serf farmed his land but saddled with huge debts, he couldn’t make ends meet. He only received 50% of his total income from his own usually tiny farm. The rest he got by continuing to slave away on his landlord’s farm. As a result of this stupid, short sighted iniquity, many of the serfs moved to the cities to work in the factories there. And that process did end in tears:

Lenin-Hooray

In England, slaves were kept but really only as domestic servants. It was too cold to grow cotton. Within the British Empire, though, slaves were used in very, very large numbers to cut sugar cane in the West Indies:

west injdies plantation

Britain, of course, was a country owned and run by the extremely rich, for their own benefit, and in a way which would ensure that they remained extremely rich. Many of them were large scale slave owners. How could they possibly be made to free their slaves and impoverish themselves?

hogarth1

In the next article, all will be revealed.

 

 

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What do you do with your freed slaves? (3)

I suppose that the major problem with abolishing slavery is knowing what exactly to do with this newly created army of probably uneducated people, who may well be quite ill fitted to deal with an independent life. Jefferson, the man who coined the expression “all men are created equal” seems to have supported a gradual process, with slaves being first educated and then freed as they reached adulthood:

Thomas_Jefferson_Regular_Issue_1968-1c

Apparently he later realised that this would created an inadequate return on the slave owner’s investment, if that’s the word, and altered the age of freedom to 45. After that, they would be taken back to Africa:

Repatriationxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Overall though, mainly for various personal reasons, Jefferson did not have a lot to say about slavery.
He did recognise one dilemna though.

The difficulties of freeing the slaves and the difficulties of not freeing the slaves:

“There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from (slavery).
We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other”

Jefferson was not the only one to have worries about “safely letting go” the country’s slaves.. In 1806, the Virginia General Assembly grew so concerned about the number of free black people living in the state that they changed the law to make freeing slaves more difficult.  From 1790-1810 the population of black people there had risen from virtually nothing to more than seven percent. In Delaware, they too were worried about freeing their slaves. By 1810, 75% of the state’s slaves had been given their liberty.

Many of these politicians were equally worried about the influence Haiti might have on the thinking of black people in the USA. Around this time, of course, Haiti was a revolutionary state on an island in the Caribbean to the south of the USA. A little like a black Cuba rather than a red one:

revolution in haiti

And presumably, the Americans did not want similar scenes of bloody revolution in their own southern states:

haiti

In 1801 President Jefferson was delighted to see the French intention to take back the island and thereby stop it becoming a base which might foment black revolution in the United States. He loaned the French $300,000 “for the relief of whites on the island.”

The southern slave owners in the US, of course, were just as scared of similar rebellions in their own states as President Jefferson. He said of this dilemma:

“If something is not done and soon, we shall be the murderers of our own children.”

But, in practical terms, what could be done?  Another article to follow in the near future.

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