Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Who Should Pay Reparations?

In attempting to advance a case for reparations, Elisabeth Vodola blurs what should be a bright line between the U.S. and Britain. Her examples of New England slaveholding primarily predate American independence, so are properly a British liability. 

Among the reasons Americans objected to British rule was King George III's repeatedly blocking, directly by dissolving colonial legislatures or indirectly through his appointed colonial governors' vetoes, efforts to curtail the slave trade.  Massachusetts' legislature voted in 1767 to abolish the slave trade, but the King’s appointee, Colonial Governor Bernard, vetoed it; the legislature repeated in 1768, but the colonial governor instead dissolved the legislature; again in 1771 the legislature voted to abolish the slave trade, but Colonial Governor Hutchinson vetoed it; and again in 1773 the legislature passed a resolution against the slave trade, only to find it nixed. Then in 1774, the Massachusetts legislature escalated, passing a bill calling for total abolition; Colonial Governor Hutchinson had had enough and simply shut down the elected government, which soon was replaced by British Army occupation.  https://americansystemnow.com/guess-who-insisted-on-slavery-in-colonial-america/?print=print. Surely, just like nowadays, the folks with means, which in those days having "lifetime servants" would suggest, impressed upon the King and Governor what a burden such legislation would bring, especially to Massachusetts' leading export manufacture and shipping industries.

John Adams was so impressed with Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence that he paraphrased some of its concepts in the Massachusetts constitution drawn up after independence, including, “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties,” which enabled black slave Elizabeth Freeman (aka Mum Bett) to sue for her freedom in 1781. Relying on this phrasing, her case prevailed before Massachusetts' highest court in 1783 and served as legal precedent. By 1790, the U.S. census recorded no slaves in Massachusetts. Another lawsuit in 1781 enabled blacks to obtain the right to vote in Massachusetts by relying on “no taxation without representation.” www.baystatebanner.com/2018/08/08/massachusetts-a-leader-in-the-abolition-of-slavery/

In 1769 Richard Henry Lee, who would, at the Second Continental Congress, make the motion to declare our independence from Britain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Resolution, persuaded the Virginia legislature to place a heavy tariff on the importation of slaves, but the British Crown suspended the action as harming a major source of British revenue.  The Virginia legislature did the same in 1774, after a debate in which George Mason argued that not only should thecolony not have the slave trade, but that Virginians should not profit from slavery, but the King blocked it.  In 1787 the U.S. Constitution abolished the slave trade effective in 1808, a quarter century before Britain ended its own slave trade. 

If reparations for northern slavery are due, Britain -- not the U.S. -- would be responsible for paying them. 

Dino Drudi

Alexandria

Log in to comment