For whom are reparations due?

There exist some who call for reparations for those wronged in connection with the institution of slavery in America.  Reparations are the making of amends for a wrong done by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged. 

Certain pertinent questions need to be asked about this issue, which is somewhat more complicated than meets the eye.  For example, to whom should reparations be paid?  And who should be responsible for paying them? 

But it's more complicated than that, so more questions need to be answered.  For example, by what standard are we to measure who qualifies to receive reparations?  How are we to calculate how much should be paid to those who qualify?  Who, if anyone, should be excluded from receiving them?  And are reparations to be paid in cash only? 

It's certainly more complicated than a black and white issue.  In fact, although millions of slaves were owned in America, they were owned by a very small minority of the population.  And although most slave-owners were white, free blacks owned black slaves in a few Southern states until 1865. 

There was certainly no consensus among white Americans on the institution of slavery.  It is true that certain courts sided for long with slave-owners on the issue of holding blacks as property.  But it is equally true that the country fought a civil war in which hundreds of thousands of whites fought to defeat the Confederacy, by the end of which the institution of slavery was abolished. 

Many will say the Civil War had little to do with slavery but was about states' rights.  The constitutions of the states of the Confederacy, however, legalized slavery until the end of the war, when those constitutions vanished along with that institution.  So to say that all of America was equally responsible for enslaving blacks would be an unsupportable assertion, given the immense number of states and people who opposed slavery and who fought to abolish it. 

For those who might think soldiers of the Civil War, or the population of America, in general, had no consciousness of the issue of slavery, consider a few lines of one of the Christmas carols of the 19th century, "O Holy Night," the English lyrics to which were composed in 1855:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; 
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Those involved in or supportive of the abolitionist movement incurred no responsibility for slavery.  Neither did those who never owned slaves or supported the institution.

Since so many fought to abolish slavery, while most Americans never owned slaves, it seems unjust to place the burden of paying reparations on the descendants of those who never owned slaves, never supported the institution, and fought to end slavery.  It should also seem unfair to pay reparations to descendants of blacks whose free black ancestors owned slaves.

So to whom are reparations due?  It might not be easy to answer that question in a way that could satisfy everyone.  Nor could all agree on from whose revenues reparations should come.  Not all Southerners supported slavery.  Not all Northerners opposed slavery.  But only a small minority of people of any kind owned slaves. 

Another element of the issue to take into consideration is that slaves, until 1808, were imported into America from Africa.  Black Africans participated in the horrors of rounding up victims to be sold to men of all kinds from various geographical locations, including Europe and the Middle East, who then transferred those enslaved blacks to all over, including to America, Latin America, and the Middle East.  Slavery was popular in Africa and is still practiced in a handful of African countries.  So it seems that responsibility for the enslavement of black Africans is to be shared.  And many murders took place, as well, during the process of rounding up those who would be sold into slavery.  Africa was bathed in blood.

Reparations should be paid by parties responsible for the wrongs done to parties who suffered the wrongs.  It might be argued that modern descendants of slaves, who have suffered negative residual effects of the enslavement of their ancestors, deserve reparations.  If that is determined to be true, it is just as true that reparations due should not be paid by descendants of those who have not benefited financially from the enslavement of the victims of their ancestors, nor by descendants of those who bore no responsibility for supporting the institution of slavery. 

Asking anyone to pay reparations for a wrong for which he bears no guilt, nor for which he benefited either directly or indirectly, would be unjust.  Injustice against anyone is wrong. So to commit such a wrong would incur the need for reparations. 

Some might say that, since the government of the United States was, for a period, responsible for perpetuating the institution, then the government of the United States should pay any reparations due. The government, however, was split on the issue, which led to the split in the nation, resulting in the Civil War, paid for from public revenues, which led to the emancipation of every slave; and that those who fought to free the slaves might also be considered as potential recipients of reparations, or their descendants should, since many of them gave life or limb to achieve that emancipation. Those responsible for perpetuating the institution of slavery, after all, who fought to maintain it, were those responsible for the life or limbs of those who fought to free the slaves.

The issue is clearly more complicated than some present it. It's more complicated even than what has here so far been taken into consideration. But some might say that it's simple. And some might only be concerned with getting a slice of the pie, regardless of from whose pie they get it, or whether they actually have a case for deserving any pie at all.

There are certainly people in need. But to determine whether anyone's need came to exist as a result of prior wrongs is sometimes an onerous task. Reparations are not social services to be distributed on the basis of need alone, but on the basis of the substantiated existence of an un-righted wrong.

However America proceeds on the matter of reparations, America should proceed with caution, with clarity, and with a focus on justice, remembering that the public treasury does not exist to be drained according to the whims of anyone, and that reparations for any wrong should be made by those in some way responsible for the wrongs related to them.

Image credit: Picryl.

There exist some who call for reparations for those wronged in connection with the institution of slavery in America.  Reparations are the making of amends for a wrong done by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged. 

Certain pertinent questions need to be asked about this issue, which is somewhat more complicated than meets the eye.  For example, to whom should reparations be paid?  And who should be responsible for paying them? 

But it's more complicated than that, so more questions need to be answered.  For example, by what standard are we to measure who qualifies to receive reparations?  How are we to calculate how much should be paid to those who qualify?  Who, if anyone, should be excluded from receiving them?  And are reparations to be paid in cash only? 

It's certainly more complicated than a black and white issue.  In fact, although millions of slaves were owned in America, they were owned by a very small minority of the population.  And although most slave-owners were white, free blacks owned black slaves in a few Southern states until 1865. 

There was certainly no consensus among white Americans on the institution of slavery.  It is true that certain courts sided for long with slave-owners on the issue of holding blacks as property.  But it is equally true that the country fought a civil war in which hundreds of thousands of whites fought to defeat the Confederacy, by the end of which the institution of slavery was abolished. 

Many will say the Civil War had little to do with slavery but was about states' rights.  The constitutions of the states of the Confederacy, however, legalized slavery until the end of the war, when those constitutions vanished along with that institution.  So to say that all of America was equally responsible for enslaving blacks would be an unsupportable assertion, given the immense number of states and people who opposed slavery and who fought to abolish it. 

For those who might think soldiers of the Civil War, or the population of America, in general, had no consciousness of the issue of slavery, consider a few lines of one of the Christmas carols of the 19th century, "O Holy Night," the English lyrics to which were composed in 1855:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; 
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Those involved in or supportive of the abolitionist movement incurred no responsibility for slavery.  Neither did those who never owned slaves or supported the institution.

Since so many fought to abolish slavery, while most Americans never owned slaves, it seems unjust to place the burden of paying reparations on the descendants of those who never owned slaves, never supported the institution, and fought to end slavery.  It should also seem unfair to pay reparations to descendants of blacks whose free black ancestors owned slaves.

So to whom are reparations due?  It might not be easy to answer that question in a way that could satisfy everyone.  Nor could all agree on from whose revenues reparations should come.  Not all Southerners supported slavery.  Not all Northerners opposed slavery.  But only a small minority of people of any kind owned slaves. 

Another element of the issue to take into consideration is that slaves, until 1808, were imported into America from Africa.  Black Africans participated in the horrors of rounding up victims to be sold to men of all kinds from various geographical locations, including Europe and the Middle East, who then transferred those enslaved blacks to all over, including to America, Latin America, and the Middle East.  Slavery was popular in Africa and is still practiced in a handful of African countries.  So it seems that responsibility for the enslavement of black Africans is to be shared.  And many murders took place, as well, during the process of rounding up those who would be sold into slavery.  Africa was bathed in blood.

Reparations should be paid by parties responsible for the wrongs done to parties who suffered the wrongs.  It might be argued that modern descendants of slaves, who have suffered negative residual effects of the enslavement of their ancestors, deserve reparations.  If that is determined to be true, it is just as true that reparations due should not be paid by descendants of those who have not benefited financially from the enslavement of the victims of their ancestors, nor by descendants of those who bore no responsibility for supporting the institution of slavery. 

Asking anyone to pay reparations for a wrong for which he bears no guilt, nor for which he benefited either directly or indirectly, would be unjust.  Injustice against anyone is wrong. So to commit such a wrong would incur the need for reparations. 

Some might say that, since the government of the United States was, for a period, responsible for perpetuating the institution, then the government of the United States should pay any reparations due. The government, however, was split on the issue, which led to the split in the nation, resulting in the Civil War, paid for from public revenues, which led to the emancipation of every slave; and that those who fought to free the slaves might also be considered as potential recipients of reparations, or their descendants should, since many of them gave life or limb to achieve that emancipation. Those responsible for perpetuating the institution of slavery, after all, who fought to maintain it, were those responsible for the life or limbs of those who fought to free the slaves.

The issue is clearly more complicated than some present it. It's more complicated even than what has here so far been taken into consideration. But some might say that it's simple. And some might only be concerned with getting a slice of the pie, regardless of from whose pie they get it, or whether they actually have a case for deserving any pie at all.

There are certainly people in need. But to determine whether anyone's need came to exist as a result of prior wrongs is sometimes an onerous task. Reparations are not social services to be distributed on the basis of need alone, but on the basis of the substantiated existence of an un-righted wrong.

However America proceeds on the matter of reparations, America should proceed with caution, with clarity, and with a focus on justice, remembering that the public treasury does not exist to be drained according to the whims of anyone, and that reparations for any wrong should be made by those in some way responsible for the wrongs related to them.

Image credit: Picryl.