Has Slavery In America Really Been Abolished?
By James Donahue
Every school child knows the story about Abraham Lincoln and the great American struggle to free the
What the text books don't teach, and most adult Americans don't understand, is that slavery was never
really abolished in America. What happened was a shifting from a landowner relationship with his "owned" workers, to an industrial
relationship of controlled workers in a capitalistic system.
The Civil War was a battle over political ideologies. The question of freeing slaves was not the issue.
The war was fought over the right of states to maintain autonomy, and decide for themselves issues like slavery, as opposed
to controls under a strong central government. That the Union Army won this battle, and opened the door for cheap labor to
serve the industrial revolution, appears to have been a wrong turn in American history.
Even Lincoln's famous Emancipation Proclamation, that many believe was a declaration that led to the
end of slavery, has been misinterpreted.
Ron and Don Kennedy, in their book "The South was Right," wrote: "A reading of the proclamation will
show that Lincoln declared free those slaves who were held 'within any state or part of a State the people whereof shall be
in rebellion against the United States.' In other words, he declared free those slaves over whom he had no control."
The Kennedys go on to say: "Indeed the six parishes of Louisiana that were at that time under Yankee
control were specifically excluded from this great document of freedom, as were the forty-eight counties designated as West
Virginia! The proclamation states that these excepted areas are 'left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued'."
A key to the thought processes going on among the American aristocrats at the time may be found in
the knowledge that Ulysses S. Grant's wife kept personal slaves throughout the war. Her slaves were not freed until the 13th
Amendment was enacted. Grant was quoted as saying that the slaves were maintained in his home because "good help is so hard
to come by these days." I wonder if he started that thread-worn cliché.
Indeed. The issue has always been cheap labor to do the work of the few wealthy individuals who own
and operate affairs of the nation.
The development of a workable steam engine prior to the Civil War launched the industrial revolution.
Coal miners, fruit pickers, factory workers and a wide variety of other laborers were needed. This demand intensified after
Henry Ford invented the concept of assembly line production.
My father, who grew up just after the turn of the Twentieth Century and lived through the Great Depression
years, talked about painting barns and picking strawberries in Kansas for a dollar a day. He worked 10-hour days, and thought
it was good money.
Indeed, a dollar seemed to buy a lot in those days, just as a wage of $100 a day seems good to some
When you look at the whole picture with an objective eye, however, you realize that slavery still
exists in America, but in a more subtle way than it did in 1861.
Slaves in those days, who were lucky enough to be placed in a good home, had their needs provided
for them. They worked without pay, but were given a place to live and sleep, they were fed and clothed. A smart slave owner
wanted his work force to be healthy and happy so the farm work was done on time. Unfortunately, not all slave owners were
benevolent and kind and the horror stories about the things that happened on these plantations are still remembered.
Setting human wickedness aside, the technical difference between "owned" slaves and "free" laborers
is that contemporary workers must spend the wages they earn to provide for themselves. Often, with both husband and wife holding
full-time jobs, and the children farmed off to day-care centers and public schools, families still lack the means to buy food,
clothing and shelter. The extra cost of buying a badly needed automobile to get people to and from their jobs, paying taxes,
insurance, and paying doctor bills, can be overwhelming.
True, the "free" worker has the independence to quit one job and seek another, when economic times
are good. And if he or she gets lucky, the new job might pay a few cents more an hour than the old one, or offer a better
health insurance package. But that is about the best we can hope for. Because of the current economic slump those jobs are
drying up for all but the most skilled workers and wages have not been keeping up with the rising cost of living.
The concept of real freedom . . . the freedom that we can only dream about . . . used to be dangled
like the proverbial carrot in front of the mule. We called it retirement. What most people never realized was that retirement
benefit programs, including the federal Social Security system, were designed to provide only a few months of payment before
the "average" retired person died.
In other words, the slave system keeps everyone's noses to the grindstone until we are worn out and
of no more value to the masters we serve. We spend our lives slaving for a wealthy few that own and control the corporation
we labor for. There is little time to pursue our personal bliss.
That the life span of Americans has been on the increase in recent years has stirred our government
to push the time for drawing Social Security benefits a little farther out on the stick. While I was eligible to draw Social
Security at 62, my wife, who is two years younger than I am, had to wait until she was 65. New proposals are on the table
to force workers to stay on the job until age 70 before they can fall into the social security net.
How many great artists, writers or inventors have been so caught up in the rush to earn enough badly
needed cash to provide for their families, they never get time to bring their creative talent to fruition?
With this thought in mind, I ask if Lincoln was really the Great Emancipator? Did the Civil War free
anybody? True, the outcome of the Civil War set the stage for equality among the blacks, but even that turned out to be a
lie. The blacks continue struggling for the things they were promised even to this day.
The concept of equality has been a fairy tale.
After the attacks of September 11, most Moslems and certainly people of Middle Eastern origin are
clearly not equal in the United States. We singled out the Japanese Americans and placed them in concentration camps after
the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Ask the American Indians about equality. Or the Chinese and Irish laborers who slaved for big business
interests as the nation's railroads and factories went into production.
People who come to this country from other lands still pledge allegiance to our flag and proclaim
their gratitude. Indeed, living conditions for the masses are much worse in other parts of the world. But they could have
been so much more here.
All that we think we are as Americans, is an illusion.