A Story to be Proud Of

Ayers the Guilt Monger: “And we did enslave people for 250 years”

In the recent debate between Ayers and D’Souza on "The Kelly File", with Ayers, former anti-Vietnam war activist and sometime mentor of President Obama, representing the leftist ashamed-to-be-an-American crowd and D’Souza, defending American exceptionalism, Ayers claimed that Americans should be ashamed of their record of 250 years of slavery.

It is not clear whether Mr. Ayers is claiming that Americans today should feel personally to blame (guilty) for slavery in America or just that the period of American history when slavery was de facto a legal institution is a shameful period of American history.

The personally-to-blame argument is silly. The Italians and Irish who immigrated to the U.S. in the 18th and 19th century and worked in factories and railroads and dams and bridges are to be blamed for slavery? And their descendants to boot?

In the 1860 census about 1/3 of all Southern families owned slaves. What about the other 2/3ds? Are they and their descendants to blame? And in the Northern states where slavery was virtually nonexistent in 1860? Are they and their descendants to blame? What about descendants of families that ran the underground railroad? 

Or lets take an extreme case. Suppose I am a descendant of a slave master who routinely viciously flogged his slaves -- some half to death. Am I to blame? Am I supposed to feel guilty? Now I suppose if I am the sort that brags about my ancestry only to find my ancestors are nothing to brag about then I deserve a good horse laugh. But being responsible for the actions of my ancestors -- despite Moses maintaining that God will bring punishment for the “iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations."  -- is absurd. How can I be responsible for actions that I could not possibly have controlled? Silly stuff, Mr. Ayers.

Now as regard the 250 years that the institution of slavery was legal? America was not America until 1776. America the idea and the actuality was officially born in 1776. The Emancipation Proclamation was in 1863. That means that slavery was de facto legal in most of the newly born nation for 86 years. It took 86 years to delegalize the inherited institution of slavery. The piecemeal dismantling of slavery began in what is now the U.S. in 1653 when it was banned in Providence Plantations. It has been a long struggle. Here is a partial timeline:

  • 1777:  Constitution of the Vermont Republic partially banned slavery.
  • 1780:  Pennsylvania passes An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, freeing future children of slaves.
  • 1783:  Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules slavery unconstitutional, a decision based on the 1780 Massachusetts constitution. All slaves are immediately freed.
  • 1783:  New Hampshire begins a gradual abolition of slavery.
  • 1784:  Connecticut begins a gradual abolition of slavery, freeing future children of slaves, and later all slaves.
  • 1784:  Rhode Island begins a gradual abolition of slavery.
  • 1787:  The United States in Congress Assembled passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 outlawing any new slavery in the Northwest Territories.

It was a long struggle that culminated in the Civil War.

No, it is nothing to be proud of that the institution of slavery took root in the colonies. But that is a story that precedes the American story. The American story after 1776 is in part a story about the struggle to destroy an establish institution inherited largely from the Spanish and French Colonies largely motivated by commercial interests. A struggle that culminated in the Civil War. Is that not a story to be proud of? That such an institution could be destroyed overnight is ridiculous.

What is shameful is man’s inhumanity to man. That is hardly an American story. In fact the American story is just the reverse. This is what Ayers and his kind overlook.