The influence of slavery on US Elections
- Jesse Kumin
Where did our election issues originate?
If we analyze the creation of US government and electoral systems inside the context of how they were formed, it leads to a clearer understanding of why and how today's unrepresentative government and distorted, inaccurate election results were created and why they persist.
Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761 - 1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760 - 1825)
lived with Lord Mansfield at the time he decided Somerset v. Stewart.
"How can you learn from your mistakes if you can't remember them?"
"Westworld" on HBO, a series written by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, takes place in an expensive, very sophisticated adult amusement park, populated by role playing androids and human guests, interacting, set in the old West, circa 1870's. In Season 1 the androids experience frequent destructive events, after which, they're patched up and fixed. Each incident that put them in the lab is wiped from their memories. The androids think they're humans living in the old West; they're always in character. Park administrators don't want them dwelling on what happened, how they may have lost a body part, but have it back the next day, least they become self aware of their android status, or think about self-determination. In one episode a leading character, Bernard Lowe, an android behavioral specialist and park administrator played by Jeffrey Wright, says to Maeve Millay, an android prostitute played by Thandie Newton: "How can you learn from your mistakes if you can't remember them?" Let's extrapolate on that a bit.
Walking through the Looking Glass of US History, as taught in US public schools.
History can be changed or erased; it's happened many times before. There are multiple narratives to the United States creation story, not just one. If your experience was like mine, your introduction to US History through public schools presented just one narrative, similar to this. We were taught "The Founding Fathers relationship with slavery was not that important, because the "Constitution is Great" narrative. Forgetaboutit. The American Revolution happened due to the urgent need to replace the mad, evil tyrant King George III. His policy of onerous tea taxation without representation in Parliament was unfair. The Colonists wanted liberty and freedom from British oppression and tea taxes. The US Constitution was presented as a document designed by wise, prophetic geniuses, perfect in its creation - similar to the Bible, created by heroic "Founding Fathers" - just one rung below Jesus. The lack of a Bill of Rights was a small oversight, quickly corrected.
As a child, into adulthood, I believed this narrative; I walked through the Looking Glass of US History as taught in US public schools, to the only reality I ever knew. My guess is that many if not most of my fellow classmates and beyond are still on that side of the Looking Glass, unaware there's another narrative, another creation story that's more credible and compelling. That may be changing, there's a link below with research results by 8th graders.
"Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country."
- George Mason, owner of several hundred slaves
I suspect my experience growing up in the US as a 1950's and 60's baby boomer was typical. We were never taught the Tea Act imposed no new taxes and actually lowered the cost of tea in the Colonies. The curriculums did not stress how the ruckus over tea in Massachusetts was all about money, how the Tea Act adversely affected local merchant business. The British weren't listening, they had excluded stakeholder feedback from their decision making, they did react very badly to the Boston Tea Party. Was it enough to revolt over?
What else did they leave out of the curriculum? We were not taught that 41 of 56 signers (73%) of the Declaration of Independence were "Slavers". They were called a much more benign and genteel "Planters". None of my elementary, middle school or high school US History teachers, the multiple times I was exposed to US History, taught "The Slavers were morally compromised individuals; slavers turned out a morally compromised document as a result" narrative. They never mentioned that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were three of the largest and wealthiest slavers in the Colonies at the time of the revolution. They didn't identify Jefferson as a serial rapist who started raping his slave girl Sally Hemmings when she was 14, that Jefferson kept his own children with Sally in slavery, or that the Constitution indirectly legitimized Jefferson's raping a young girl. They didn't frame slavery as the most extreme, barbaric, onerous form of capitalism, a means of keeping labor costs low. It probably wasn't in the curriculum and they never gave us many details about slavery, what the lives of slaves were like, what was the life expectancy of a slave on a Louisiana sugar cane plantation, how slaves were treated by many slavers as expendables, or what slavers did to force the cooperation of their slaves.
This is an important part of what they left out of the "Founding Fathers Slavers are Great" narrative. They never taught us that the voting majority of the delegates at the US Constitutional Convention were slavers acting out of self interest, embedding their greedy, racist method of self enrichment, preserving slavery in the US Constitution, shortly after it was abolished in England. They never mentioned or stressed the dominant role played by the institution of slavery in the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. Most importantly, they never mentioned the words "Somerset v. Stewart". I had no knowledge of this court case until I turned 62. It's not unusual; most lawyers I mention Somerset v. Stewart to have never heard of it.
How can we learn from our mistakes if we were never aware of them?
How you frame history to impressionable young people is important. One impression is created if slavery's influence on the US Constitution is marginalized. People, including me, will likely grow up not understanding its continued influence on our current government. If the guys who created our original government are glorified, then we grow up thinking they were visionary geniuses. If the byproduct of their work at the Constitutional Convention, slavery as an institution safeguarded for another 93 years, is marginalized, we grow up not understanding slavery's role in the drafting of the Constitution.
If these details about slavery are left out of our K - 12 education:
• The existential threat to the "Founders" disproportionate self enrichment through slavery posed by Somerset v. Stewart.
• The timely revolt in the 13 Colonies shortly after Somerset v. Stewart abolished slavery in England.
• The over-representation of a wealthy slaver elite and their control of the American Revolution and Constitutional Convention.
• The institutionalization of slavery in the US for 93 years after it was abolished in England.
• The rebranding of slavers to a more benign "Planters".
• 4 of the first 5 Presidents were Virginia slavers spanning 32 of the first 36 years, 10 of the first 12 Presidents were slavers.
• How slaver Presidents stacked the Supreme Court with more slavers, producing the Dred Scott decision.
• How slavers property rights of owning other people trumped the human rights, health and safety of the people they owned.
• How slavers' property rights trumping human rights served as precedent for gas drillers property/fracking rights trumping the health and safety of people near industrial drilling platforms placed near residential neighborhoods and schools.
• The philosophical connection of predatory self enrichment through slavery to the predatory self enrichment of the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, Jeff Bezos, modern corporations and other plutocrats who control the US government today.
• That 94% of the population came out of the slavers' constitution either disenfranchised, taxed without representation, or as permanent chattel slaves.
If all this is left out of our education, we're less likely to arrive as voting adults suspicious of the slavers' motives and the product of their work, the US Constitution. We won't understand how slavers distorted elections to return predetermined results favoring themselves. We won't think to challenge the quality and content of the electoral system recipe bequeathed to us by previous generations and slaver elites. This is how the game is played. Don't try to change the rules; we've made them really difficult to change anyhow (Article V of the Constitution). Those that go along, get along.
Slavers were far less nobel than we were taught. They were not watching out for our interests so much as their own. They laid the foundation for the vast majority of unresolved issues in this country today, bequeathing to us government and elections designed to exclude people. If we want a true democracy in this country, we need to throw out archaic 18th Century structural impediments preventing accountable government, and replace them with institutions and election methods designed to fulfill the promise of Jefferson's fine words in the Declaration of Independence.
In "1984", in the creation of a false national birth narrative taught to modern day mind controlled serfs, Orwell exaggerated and dramatized what the slavers did in 1776 - 1787. The narrative slavers created was the American Revolution had nothing to do with slavery. They sold the revolution and government as a shiny, new vehicle called liberty and freedom, while enslaving 18% of the population. In slave states like Virginia, base of many of the Revolution's leadership, slaves were 39% of the population. What kind of person enslaves 39% of the people around them, cynically uses enslaved people to boost his state's weight in Congress with the so called Three-Fifths Compromise and the Electoral College to control the government, denies them the most basic human rights and treats them worse than farm animals?
Why should we accept James Madison's value system of self enrichment through slave labor as ours? Why should we live with the consequences of their purposefully exclusionary outcomes?
The first step to resolving a problem is acknowledging it exists, defining what it is.
Why is considering the slave centric origin narrative critical? It explains why we're in the mess we're in today. Understanding what happened assists us in applying appropriate remedies. If we know the government and electoral system were gamed from the start to concentrate power and wealth for an opulent elite, and exclude everyone else, it helps us make informed decisions. Perhaps when enough people realize how and why we were conned, we can get together and change the electoral system so it meets our needs, not slavers' (wealthy elites) needs. If the US Constitution is framed more from the "Slavers who created the Constitution were morally compromised rich, racists, with questionable motives and methods of disproportionate self-enrichment" perspective, people might grow up thinking the Constitution is potentially flawed and needs fixing. Even in liberal Massachusetts, the only state that voted for George McGovern in 1972, I was socialized to believe the glorified Founding Fathers narrative, not what really happened.
Somerset v. Stewart
Lord Mansfield, presiding over the King's Bench, the Supreme Court of England and Wales (at the time) decided Somerset v. Stewart in 1772, peacefully abolished slavery in England and Wales, 4 years before the US Declaration of Independence. Judge Mansfield found no basis in British Common Law for one person to own another. Somerset v. Stewart was well publicized in the North American colonies. Within a year, slaves started suing in Colonial courts and winning their freedom (reversed by British appointed Governors).
Follow the money: The Tea Act was a pretext for the American Revolution, a misdirection taught to us when we were gullible children. In 1773, with Colonial court cases starting to free slaves, it became evident the end of slavery was coming. Somerset v. Stewart terrified slavers; it was an existential threat to their means of disproportionate self-enrichment. The American Revolution was all about slavery and money. Calling it the Slavers Revolt would be more accurate. Within 4 years of Somerset v. Stewart, the wealthiest slavers in Virginia, rich guys with the most to lose, the most at risk by the abolition of slavery, led a revolt against the British. 73% of the signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. Most of the rest were Northern merchants who made money off the slave trade. Read “Slave Nation” by Alfred & Ruth Blumrosen for more detail. For another good take on this book, see this review by Scott Ainslie. Once you read this book, Slave Nation, it will forever change your understanding on why the United States is as fucked up as it is. If nothing else, just read the two review links above.
The Constitution, including the federal election system was hastily crafted 232 years ago, a complete system of government and an election system to glue it in place created in three months during the summer of 1787. 17 of the 55 delegates left before the final vote or were disqualified from voting. Rhode Island's one delegate never showed up. States like New York that didn't meet the quorum requirement for their state, only Alexander Hamilton was there until the end, were prohibited from voting. Slavery was still legal in 1787 in every state except Massachusetts. Even if they didn't own slaves themselves, many Northern merchants profited from the slave trade. At the end of the convention, 38 older, wealthy, white men, the majority of whom owned slaves, eventually voted on passage of the Constitution. James "(government should) protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." Madison, a third generation slaver, owner of 120 slaves, came in with a plan, the Virginia Plan. He guided the design of the Constitution and electoral system so that he and his cohort of slavers would consistently win control of the new government.
Slavers controlled the content of the Constitution and got everything they wanted. Virginia slavers subsequently won 4 of the first 5 Presidential races, spanning 32 of the first 36 years of Presidential elections.
"By 1793, slaveholding states had 47 congressmen but would have had only 33 if not for the compromise. During the entire period before the Civil War slaveholding states had disproportionate influence on the Presidency, the Speakership of the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Supreme Court because of the compromise. By the 1830s abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison of Massachusetts used the clause in their argument that the Federal government was dominated by slaveholders."
The slavers understood electoral system design determines election outcomes. To predetermine election outcomes, they designed their electoral system to:
1) Control who votes: Slavers defined a limited voter pool of white males, 25+ who owned property, 94% voter suppression.
2) Control who voters could vote for: candidate suppression. The first Presidential election in 1788 had only one candidate.
3) Control how voters vote: Winner take all systems dominated most states.
4) Control how votes are counted: plurality, Electoral College, 3/5ths Compromise.
5) Obstruct change to preserve slavery and an elite class of the "opulent" through institutionalized impediments, still in place, starting with Article V of the Constitution. "our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation."
"If you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu." - Sen. Elizabeth Warren
This was the slavers value system as expressed in the Constitution: In the first Presidential election in 1788 you had to be a wealthy, white male who owned property, over the age of 25, just like the Founders. The average life expectancy back then was 34. The equivalent age threshold now with age 78.7 life expectancy would be age 56. About 94% of the people were disenfranchised, excluded from the decision making proces, taxed without representation. Everyone except older white male landowners were excluded from having a seat at the table, from the feedback loop. Only 1.8% of the population voted for George Washington, the only candidate on the ballot. If they considered what Madison pulled off, modern day elitists would likely be jealous of his masterful control of electoral manipulation techniques.
The slavers model of capitalism: using torture, murder, the whipping post, rape, lynching, separating families and a host of other coercive tactics, was possibly the most extreme, onerous, barbaric form of capitalism at the time. Unlike England which rejected slavery in 1772, slavers legitimized and institutionalized it in the US. Slavery not only became our original sin, it became an enduring distortion of how we're represented. These morally compromised, wealthy, white men embedded their value system into law, into the Constitution. They made their system of government and elections extremely difficult to change, laying the groundwork for the Civil War. They delegitimized anyone who might have challenged their plan, excluded them from the feedback loop of elections. They didn't mind cheating. They were the philosophical predecessors of anyone who has ever designed a gerrymandered map or At Large system so their interest group/party would subsequently win. At inception, slavers institutionalized into law the concept and practice of predetermined elections through voter suppression and deliberately distorted counting techniques, setting a nasty precedent still in use today.
What slavers did at the Constitutional Convention
Article I, Section 2-3 and Article II, Section 1-3 deliberately skewed elections to favor slave states. Article IV, Section 2 gave slavers previously denied authority to hunt down runaway slaves in non-slave states (a little provision Washington later used). Article V gave slavers/slave states veto power over any changes to the Constitution, protecting slavery from abolition. Madison and his slaver cohort were in a hurry, anxious to protect their "property". Slavers covered all their slavery needs and interests in the first five articles of the Constitution. The pretext for the revolution: Individual rights, "freedom and liberty" were not quite so important, left for the second draft. In Madison's first hurried document, the US Constitution, he left out Freedom of Speech and the entire Bill of Rights. The second draft was forced when many states wouldn't accept the first draft without the Bill of Rights. In the first draft, without the Bill of Rights, slavers wrote their priority 1787 values into election law, disenfranchising 94% of the population, discriminating against and excluding women, minorities and non-property owners, legitimizing and institutionalizing permanent slavery for 18% of the population. The electoral system they devised was the glue to hold the new government's arrangement in place, to keep wealthy elites in power, in perpetuity.
As a direct result of provisions slavers inserted in the US Constitution, 10 of the first 12 Presidents owned slaves. They in turn, packed the US Supreme Court with more slavers, producing decisions like Dred Scott. Slavery persisted in the US for 93 years after "Somerset v. Stewart" peacefully abolished slavery in England in 1772. During those 93 years of legitimized slavery, there were an incredible number of inhumane, evil acts committed. What kind of individual justifies all the horrors of slavery they commit so they can disproportionally enrich themselves?
Anyone who makes 39% of his state's residents slaves so he and his
wealthy friends can get richer, has a fucked up value system.
Why is Madison a hero? Why must we live with the slavers' value system?
More than any other man, James "(government should) protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." Madison is the single most responsible individual for enabling the evil committed during the 93 years slavery persisted in the US after Somerset v. Stewart, the deaths of 625,000 people during the Civil War, all the suffering slavers committed while they had dominant control of the US Presidency. I stopped worshiping James Madison as a demi-god some time ago, after I found out what he did and why he did it, the morally compromised slaver narrative.
Our values have changed, but electoral systems haven't.
Slaver control of the Presidency and the Civil War were both direct results of Madison's Constitution; they were designed results of Madison's electoral system. Over the past two decades, the same system, still in use today, the Slavers' System, aka the Electoral College, gave us 2 of our last 3 Presidents, George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. The Spoiler Effect, another feature, gave us Bill Clinton in 1992 and decided Florida (sort of, along with his father's appointed Supreme Court justices) in 2000 throwing the election to Bush. None of these elections were designed to accurately reflect voter intent, and they didn't.
Why aren't we fixing a broken election system, a known problem, that doesn't reflect voter intent? The two headed Cartel doesn't want the problems fixed. The current system concentrates power and excludes all the other parties. Republicans and Democrats like that. Changing the system that keeps them in power would mean sharing power (and money), not what they or the folks that bought them want to do. They don't care about voter choice, accountability, competitive elections or fair representation.
In 2019, our goals and values are significantly different than slaver goals and values of 1787, but their legacy electoral systems remain extremely entrenched and difficult to change. There have been over 700 attempts to abolish the Electoral College, so far, none successful. More recently developed state and local election systems were also designed for a bygone era, not 2019, and are also extremely difficult to change. It took 133 years for women to attain the right to vote and 100 years to abolish Jim Crow. The ERA was introduced in 1923 and still hasn't passed. Changes in the United States happen slowly, because all the systems were designed by powerful elites to concentrate power, exclude voters and obstruct change. Over the past 232 years, at great cost, our predecessors have abolished slavery, reversed many of the slavers' exclusions and made elections much more inclusive. However, even with today's more inclusive electoral systems, most are designed to concentrate power, exclude most stakeholders from the decision making process, and result in predetermined, uncompetitive outcomes. There's more work to be done.
Why election systems should change.
In much the same way Jim Crow was institutionalized into laws and regulations, entrenched election laws and regulations at the national, state and local levels still present tremendous obstacles to more accurate representation of the electorate. Hopefully without the violence involved in the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow, we can peacefully acknowledge known election issues like gerrymandering, and resolve them. Archaic obstacles to fair elections should be identified, removed and replaced with more representative electoral systems and methods. Our country needs Champions of Democracy. Learn about the Issues and the cures: Proportional Representation, Single Transferable Vote and Direct Democracy.