by Khalil Abdul-Malik, Newark Academy Humanities Faculty
To the People of the State of New York:
Earlier I stated in Federalist No. 54, that “the case of the slaves should be considered a peculiar one.” We had agreed that the negro slave would be regarded as “inhabitants, but as debased by servitude below the equal level of free inhabitants, which regards the SLAVE as divested of two fifths of the MAN”[i] My colleagues proposed this compromise because we felt it was the most just idea. In Federalist No. 54 I point out that the federal Constitution would view slaves in their truest character, which is “in the mixed character of persons and property” because that is how they are in fact viewed in the laws under which they live. [ii] But I also stated that if the laws were to restore the rights which have been taken away, the negroes could no longer be refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants” [iii]
But this begs the question: what shall be given to the slaves when the day comes that the laws do change and the rights of the slaves are restored? Will they truly be given an equal share of representation by the federal Constitution? And what will we owe the negro slave when he has been freed from bondage and a life of “mixed character”, humiliation, and degradation? For do we owe a reparation for acting in a derelict, murderous and rapacious manner towards another who now has the full rights of a citizen. The answer is yes!: they are owed reparations. The bible and our own great ancient philosophers, who have assisted in helping us shape this glorious Constitution mandate that reparations will be paid to the negro slaves when the laws change and their rights are restored.
As a slaveholder myself, I deeply understand the incredible wealth that slaves can generate for their owner. Depending on when you visit my plantation [Montpellier] in Virginia, you will see that I control the bodies and souls of hundreds of black negro slaves. These men, women and children are compelled to labor not for themselves but for me, their master. This compelled labor has made my family one of the wealthiest in Virginia. Yet, my slaves share no benefit from the immense wealth that their endless labor in the soil and in the shops on my plantation, brings to my family and I. And not only do I benefit financially from their labor. I also, benefit from knowing that as a free, landowning white man I have a sacred status in this Union’s caste system. This position alone could perpetually enrich my emotional wellbeing even if I were to lose my blessed land and all of my slaves.
Many of our slaves fought on the side of the Continental Army and local militias during the war for independence. Why? Because these men and women heard our plea for liberty, and being slaves themselves, sympathized with our fight for freedom. Some slave owners did manumit a few of their slaves because they served the Confederacy courageously throughout the war and helped us gain ultimate victory at Yorktown. But if we are to be serious in our emphasis on liberty and if we want to avoid future revolts by the negro slaves we should change the nature of property laws and universally restore the rights to the negroes.
But when this restoration of rights occurs, the former slave needs to receive reparations (in the form of hard federal currency and land) for their plight and compelled labor. The reparations are critical because they will decrease the chance that the former-slaves, although with full rights, will remain a miserable faction or permanent outcastes, that lack property and protection under federal, state and local law. Also, the reparations will reflect that by being counted as 3/5’s a MAN who had no rights, the slave missed out on the benefit of federal funds and contracts that were sent to each state prior to their manumission.
And my brethren, being strident Christians, we do recognize that the Bible instructs us on what to do after the negro slaves have their lawful rights restored. Deuteronomy 15:12-15 states emphasizes that reparations are required for the enslaved individual who is newly free:
when thou sendest him [your slave] out from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him” [iv]
Just as we have used the biblical story of Hamm and Noah to justify the enslavement of the negro. Let the same holy book be our guide when the negro’s rights are restored.
And lastly, the great philosophers have been our guides while fighting for our independence and constructing this Constitution. So, they shall remain our guides when ending the peculiar social/political existence of the negro slave. For would not the great philosopher of the Enlightenment, John Locke, also demand reparations for the negro? In his Second Treatise, our hero and instructor on the nature of man, John Locke says,
Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.[v]
Our great nation has inherited the torch of civilization from the creators of democracy, the Athenians. And like the Athenians, we too have slavery as a hallmark of our society. Morally we are obliged to end this peculiar institution of slavery. Otherwise we will find our country split into two great factions and like the Athenians we will meet a bloody demise. But we also need to be sure that the Constitution requires that the former slaves be given reparations so that they can truly fully participate in government affairs after their rights are restored. Otherwise, the former slave’s rights will be stolen, they will be murdered and terrorized if they resist this theft; they will be segregated like the Jews of Venice; they will be victims of corrupt politicians; they will be targets for forced labor by judicial courts; and they will be restricted from working where they desire. Who will benefit from this negative occurrence? Some will. But in the long term our nation and all of its citizens will suffer.
By committing to this recommendation of reparations when the negro slaves are freed we will be a much happier and stronger Union. We will be a shining light on a hill for all other nations to follow. And it will be much less likely that we ever utter the solemn words of the doomed poet, “FAREWELL! A LONG FAREWELL TO ALL OF MY GREATNESS.”[vi]
[i] Federalist 54 p. 169
[ii] Ibid, 168
[iv] Coates Jan. 16
[vi] Federalist 2