LINES OF THE DAY

". . . 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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Slavery, Martin Luther, Protestantism, Declaration of Independence, Secession and the Civil War

I complicated the opening pages of TASC by waking up this AM with the following on my mind.  And the final final absolutely final version of the text must be turned in by tomorrow.  No more changes, additions or subtractions!

The consolation is that el V insists this allows us to make more clear for the reader how this convoluted, looping imagery and thinking pervaded the slave holders' thinking about slavery, from the beginning of colonizing the New World. Why this didn't come to me earlier I don't know. I grew up reading Martin Luther's words,* and those with whom he agreed and disagreed, about religious dissent and religious wars with others and with our community's ancestors' own rulers. It was the context, the milieu of much of my earliest understanding of the past. We studied these matters in church all the time!

Slavery, the Reformation and the New World -- and the printing press --  collided simultaneously.  Before Henry's break with Rome slavery, freedom, bondage and liberty were not part of the English and European political vocabulary and imagery. After, they were constants.



As English and Americans our first concepts of slavery were formed in the crucible of European religious controversies that were the politics of the 16th and 17th centuries, and into the first decades of 18th.  Not coincidentally the 16th century is when the first slave ships out of Africa began servicing the plantations and mines of the New World. The initiation of Luther's Reformation generally is marked by the date of 1517.

The writings of Martin Luther and Milton consistently employ "free or slave" and "bondage and liberty" as the imagery with which both of them describe conditions of the soul, salvation, sin, their conflict with Church of Rome and the Pope, and with rulers, such as Charles I.  Kings too, as did James I, accuse parliament and dissenters of wishing to make the crown a slave to their will, as well as those who resorted to tobacco drinking as slaves to a filthy habit.


Describing those in opposition to oneself in terms of slavery and freedom was an ingrained trope of at least two centuries by the time of the Declaration of Independence. This imagery had been heard from the pulpits of every church denomination in both England and the colonies -- and in those days it was the law that members of a community had to attend established Church of England services or pay  fines or be imprisoned, put into stocks or even whipped (in New England compelled attendance was to which ever denomination church the dissenting colony had established). As late as 1862 a [i]The Baptist Young Man's Magazine's[/i] review of a book that glossed Milton's political writings admonished its young members to heed Milton's words or "forever truckle in slavery to sin."

Martin Luther during The Diet of Worms, 1521. "I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe." Soon after the Diet of Worms, the emperor declared Luther a heretic in his Edict of Worms. In the thinking of all protestants in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries there was no one more responsible for keeping Christians in slavery than the Pope. It may have been Luther who was the first of them to equate the Church with Revelations's Whore of Babylon.  See, not coincidentally in the King James (I) protestant Bible -- "And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
The component of free will in Luther's imagery of free vs slave had lasting repercussions for the African captives taken to the New World. As opposed to the slavery imposed upon Christians by the Church of Rome, his Reformation was to free Christians to operate by their own free will. Among their choices was to accept the salvation freely given by Christ's grace of forgiveness and redemption to every individual without any mediation by priest or church. If the individual refused Christ's salvation from sin and hell, it was his or her own choice.

From the beginning though, with protestant churches such as the Antinomians, Brownists and Calvinists this particular freedom was rejected in favor of the concept of collective predestination: the salvation of heaven or the condemnation to hell had already been pre-determined before our birth. Nothing we could do would change that. Entire communities -- even nations -- could be predestined to damnation.

However, we were bound to live and act as though we were saved. There were many signs that indicated an individual or community had been saved, such as faithful church attendance -- belonging to the right denomination -- prospering in one's endeavors, being good at what one did, and so on. Thus you were what you were. If you were a slave you were predestined to be a slave. That you were a slave proved you were slave. There was nothing to be done by yourself or anyone else to free you from the condition of slavery.  This kind of looping religious reasoning was very convenient to slave owners.

This is also why everyone from in the colonies complained that the metropolitan was treating them like slaves.  Most of the settlers whether in Virginia or New England were heir to this imagery starting in the reign of Henry VIII and only got stronger in political-religious discourses from the time of Queen Mary and through the hapless Stuart dynasty.

So Patrick Henry, inside his Richmond church,  holding his hands up as though in manacles, declaring, "Give me liberty or death,'  and then pretend-stabbing himself in the breast with his letter opener of death, was not only referencing Addison's perennially popular 1712  play, Cato, but centuries of political-religious writing.

Gads, I'm trying structure this into something that makes sense.  Plus I have to have quite a few citations. Fortunately much of what I want to cite is in English originally, such as Milton, or translated into English, such as Luther, and online.

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*  See, for a single example of very many, this, by Martin Luther, titled "Concerning Christian Liberty" -- available online, so appropriately!  at the Gutenberg site. The very first paragraphs are stuffed with "freedom," "liberty" and "slavery" and "slave" -- frequently those who are unrighteous, who are sinful, are called slaves:
We first approach the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what means a man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian; that is, a spiritual, new, and inward man. It is certain that absolutely none among outward things, under whatever name they may be reckoned, has any influence in producing Christian righteousness or liberty, nor, on the other hand, unrighteousness or slavery.

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