Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Prophetic Voice

I'm reading an interesting book about the first couple decades of our nation's history entitled Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. The author is looking at several major events that shaped our infant nation. One chapter is entitled "the dinner" and it talks about how James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were able to compromise on the federal government taking on states debts and where the new capital would be located.
But in the middle of that huge months long debate, a Quaker introduced a bill to eliminate slavery. Southern states tried to ignore it at first, but it was eventually signed by Ben Franklin, giving the bill prominence. This chapter is entitled "Silence" and it talks about how the Constitution was (ingeniously) written in an incredibly ambiguous way in which slavery wasn't promoted but wasn't outlawed either. It was this elephant in the room that no one wanted to address. The constitution actually made it a law that the slave trade (without using that actual title) couldn't be outlawed until 20 years from the writing of the Constitution, 1808.
What strikes me is how the Senators from South Carolina and Georgia defamed the character of the Quaker that brought up the issue. They used all the same arguments that we often hear today, "unpatriotic", "moralist," etc.
There was a belief among some northern senators that the wording of the Declaration of Independence combined with the northern states getting rid of slavery meant that slavery was beginning to die a slow death. But as hindsight tells us, that didn't happen. As the population of slaves grew and the southern economy became even more dependent upon slave labor, slavery became more and more entrenched into the American way of life.
So 1790, when this Quaker stood up to slavery, was actually the best possible time to address the issue. It seems like this Quaker was speaking prophetically, with the Spirit's inspiration. It would've been very difficult to eliminate slavery in 1790, but it would've been possible. By 1810, it was no longer possible to eliminate it through legislation. So we argued over it for 70 years until we were ripped apart by Civil War.
Wow, if only we'd listened to the Spirit speaking through a Quaker in 1790...

1 comment:

Derin Beechner (Durk Niblick) said...

Wow, what a great story about our American History! Thanks for sharing!