On March 4, 1858, United States Senator of South Carolina J. H. Hammond delivered a speech focused on the defense of slavery. For the purpose of defending it, he painted white workers of New York as white slaves, who were worse off than negro slaves ever were. Hon. J. H. Hammond found one of the most devastating weapons that could be used against the terrible damage caused on the poor white Northern workers during the industrial revolution in the United States.
White owners treat white factory workers worse than black slaves, he said. So the unemployed workers wander through the streets of New York like ghosts in the frantic search for work. They make life absolutely miserable, and are effectively abandoned. He continued his speech pointing out the terrible dangers that white slaves were preparing to conquer their rights. When white workers will understand the terrible and secret power of the “ballot box,” they will be crowned the overlords of their white masters who now enslave them. Now white slaves gather outside the Senate to demonstrate in support of their job demands, with guns blazing. But one day their white owners will be crushed under the weight of their votes.
Then he also said:
“The Senator from New York said yesterday that the whole world had abolished slavery. Ay, the name but not the thing; all the powers of the earth cannot abolish it. God only can do it […] The difference between us is, he continued, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated which may be proved in the most painful manner, at any hour, in any street, in any of your large towns. Why, you meet more beggars in one day in any single street of the city of New York, than you would meet in a lifetime in the whole South … Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race. The status in which we have placed them is an elevation. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them […] they are happy, content, unaspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations […] yours are white, of your own race, you are brothers of one blood. They are your equals in natural endowment of intellect, and they feel galled by their degradation. Our slaves do not vote. We give them no political power. Yours do vote and being the majority, they are the depositaries of all your political power. If they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot box is stronger than an army with banners, and could combine, where would you be?” (1).
Is everything he said a lie? There is a certain degree of truth in his speech, in connection with both the slavery of working hours, and the birth of social trouble-makers, but I don’t think that Southern slaves were “ of inferior race […] happy, content, unaspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness.” Hammond’s speech would seem (to many blacks, at least) both an intricate discussion and a web of deceit, simply because, since time immemorial, no one will want to remain under captivity.
But the debate on slavery is world-old. When Hammond stated that “all the powers of the earth cannot abolish it. God only can do it,” he offered us nothing more than the ancient Greeks had repeated. According to them, “slaves can find safety only in Divine Grace” (2). The ancient Greeks paid attention to slavery, and the Mycenaeans handed down to us the oldest names of the slaves, “do-e-ro” and “do-e-ra.” (3). According to the ancient Greeks, slavery could only be abolished when “automatos bios” (robots) will be invented; so they will release human race from hard work.
But slavery can have different shapes. So “slave,” in a broad sense, can be a man engaged in heavy manual work that the others refuse to do. Therefore, modern-day slaves can be free only when the humans will be “free” from any “physical strain works.” This utopian world has not yet been built. What have we got indeed from “automatos bios?”.
So far we have only had to deal with “technological unemployment,” and other “unliquidated” damages.
As R. A. Wilson said, “Working for wages, the modern equivalent of slavery very accurately called wage slavery by social critics—is in the process of being abolished by just such self-programming machines. In fact, Norbert Wiener, one of the creators of cybernetics, foresaw this as early as 1947 and warned that we would have massive unemployment once the computer revolution really got moving.” (4).
Well, with regard to this point, we can say that there is no human freedom outside the utopia. And that’s flat. As for “historical slavery,” whatever Hammond said, one can conclude that slavery is “morally repugnant,” by contrasting the most elementary forms both of social life and of modern societies.
Fine sounding words.
But today’s reality shows that slavery is rampant in the world. L. Bickerstaff remembered how young women, children sold by their families, people enslaved for debt face today serious forms of slavery (5). In short, our modern times take a step forward, two steps back.
We go back to past situations prevailed around the fourth and fifth centuries in Roman Africa, and illustrated by St. Augustine in his letters. At that time and place the “vicinus pauper” [poor neighborhood], owner of a small farm, could put in big trouble by a large landowner thanks to his connivance with Roman public officials, who unleashed against him an unbearable tax burden, forcing him to borrow more and more . St Augustine remembered the cases of “coloni” [settlers] too poor to provide subsistence for the family, so parents were forced to sell their children. We could almost say, given the world situation, that traditional Roman forms persist, with their vices and aberrations “above all.” (6).
I would like to conclude by saying that slavery represents not so much a subject for schoolchildren, but a “huge problem” for all contemporary states.
1) From the “Speech of Hon. J. H. Hammond, of South Carolina, in the Senate,” March. 4, 1858 (“revised by himself”) in “Appendix” to the Congressional Globe. Containing Speeches, Important State Papers, Laws, of the First Session , edited by John C. Rives, City of Washington. Printed at the Office of John C. Rives, 1858. 35th Cong. 1st Sess. Kansas-Lecompton Constitution – Mr. Hammond, Senate, p. 70.
2) L. Bertelli, “Schiavi in utopia”, in “Studi Storici,” ottobre-novembre 1985, n. 4, p. 891.
3) D. Musti, “Introduzione” a “La schiavitù nella Grecia antica”, in “Studi Storici,” cit., p. 841.
4) R. A. Wilson, “The Illuminati Papers,” Oakland, Ronin Publishing. Inc., 1997, p. 146.
5) L. Bickerstaff, “Modern-Day Slavery,” New York, The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2010, pp. 4-10.
6) D. Vera, “Terra e lavoro nell’Africa romana”, in “Studi Storici,” ottobre-dicembre 1988, p. 991.