". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, February 25, 2013

Elite, Powerful, Wealthy British Families Received Fortunes in Compensation for Abolition of Slavery

Britain's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition
 David Cameron's ancestors were among the wealthy families who received generous reparation payments that would be worth millions of pounds in today's money

I ran into this article in the Independent yesterday, while looking up something else.  The database, "Legacies of Slave Ownership,"on which this article is based, will be available to the public here, starting on Wednesday (February 27, 2013). El V thought it mattered enough to make it today's Da List post.

How much did the slave owners get?
The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their "property" when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies in 1833. This figure represented a staggering 40 per cent of the Treasury's annual spending budget and, in today's terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5bn.
I wonder if this enormous payout of national resources to the sugar baronage, which had so long controlled Parliament, had a relationship to the horrible state of wages and opportunity in England during the 1830's, whether in the rural regions or the industrial manufacture regions. There labor unest led to riots -- riots over the price and availability of the most basic foodstuffs, for only a single example.  Though emigration opportunities had been curtailed, ironically prison transportation of economic protesters, along with so many other sorts of undesirables, increased.

The article is a long one, packed with information.  The two paragraphs below are the shocking conclusion.

Campaigning against slavery began in the late 18th century as revulsion against the trade spread. This led, first, to the abolition of the trade in slaves, which came into law in 1808, and then, some 26 years later, to the Act of Parliament that would emancipate slaves. This legislation made provision for the staggering levels of compensation for slave-owners, but gave the former slaves not a penny in reparation.
More than that, it said that only children under six would be immediately free; the rest being regarded as "apprentices" who would, in exchange for free board and lodging, have to work for their "owners" 40 and a half hours for nothing until 1840. Several large disturbances meant that the deadline was brought forward and so, in 1838, 700,000 slaves in the West Indies, 40,000 in South Africa and 20,000 in Mauritius were finally liberated.
I've never understood when so many felt so much compassion for slave holders losing their forced labor force (whether in Britain or the U.S.) there was so little compassion for those who lives were stolen.  There was enormous discussion here about levels of federal compensation provided the slave holders of the Confederate States of America after the Civil War -- something on which the dismissed "radical extremist emancipators" such as Thaddeus Stevens held the line against providing.  But the forty acres and a mule reparation for the former slaves received little or no serious consideration. What we did do here in the U.S. was compensate the Washington D.C. slave owners for emancipation -- from wiki:
It was called “compensated emancipation.” was a law that ended slavery in Washington, D. C. by paying slave owners for releasing their slaves. Although not written by him,[1] the act was signed by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862. April 16 is now celebrated in the city as Emancipation Day.
As mentioned at the top, it was one of those serendipitous moments, encountering by chance, this article when I'd just run into this, concerning John C. Calhoun, and his, by now long-matured strategy to make slavery universal as a system and accepted as right, moral and God's will:
Upon assuming his new office [Calhoun was appointed Sec of State by Tyler in 1844] Calhoun found an unanswered
letter from the British minister in Washington,
who explained that his government, having
abolished slavery in its own empire ( 1833 ) , was ready
to assist in abolishing it throughout the world. Calhoun
wrote and sent a remarkable reply. The United
States, he said, must frustrate the insidious aim of the
British and, to do so, must get possession of Texas.
Otherwise, Texas might be induced to emancipate its
slaves and thus, by setting a bad example and by extending
the free-soil border, might increase the difficulties
of preserving slavery in the United States. But
slavery must be preserved. It was the ideal institution,
for slaves no less than masters. To clinch his point, Calhoun
cited statistics from the latest federal census to
show that feeblemindedness and insanity were more
common among the free Negroes of the North than the slaves of the South.ftn 20 
No matter how long one studies these matters,  how deeply, how broadly one has already delved in these matters, every day still throws up something important about which I, at least, had no idea. Or, another way of putting it might be, one understands every day that no matter how much you know about our European - American centuries of the slave economic system, that was worse than you know or can imagine.

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