Slave Narratives: It’s complicated

4 Feb

Though slavery, it is credibly argued, is intrinsically inhumane, slave narratives from interviews conducted early in the 20th century reveal a mixed bag about the treatment of slaves and how slaves viewed their own social condition.  In any case, I bet you can’t read just one!



"Who was your master Aunt Irene? Tell me about him."

"His name was Jeff Anderson Poole an’ he was de bes’ man in de world.
Mah ole miss was name Mollie. I was born on his plantation three miles
from Uniontown eighty five years ago.

"Mah pappy, Alfred Poole, b’longed to Marse Jeff an’ he bought mah
mammy, Palestine Kent, from another plantation ’cause mah pappy jes’
couldn’ do no work fer thinkin’ ’bout her.

"Marse Jeff paid fifteen hunderd dollars for my mammy an’ her three
little chillun. Marse Jeff was rich, he owned three big plantations an’
Lawd knows how many niggers. Dey was a hunderd head on our plantation.
He lacked to race horses an’ had a stable full o’ fine racers. I spec’
he made lots o’ his money on dem horses. Miss Mollie say when he win he
swell out his ches’ an’ stick his thum’s in de armhole of his ves’ an’
talk ’bout it, but when he lose he don’t say nothin’.

"Yas ma’am dere was always plenty to eat. A thousan’ poun’s o’ meat
wasn’t nothin’ to kill on our plantation. My mammy was de cook in de big
house an’ my pappy driv de carriage an’ went ’roun’ wid Marse Jeff when
he tuck trips. I was a house servant too. When I wasn’ nothin’ mo’ in a
baby, de oberseer’s wife tuck me to train, so I would know how to ac’ in
de big house.

"One day she started to give me a whuppin’. Us was out in de yard an’
when she bent over to git a switch I runned under her hoopskirt. When
she look ’roun’ she didn’t see me nowhar. After while she started on up
to de house an’ I runned along wid her under de hoopskirt, takin’ little
steps so I wouldn’t trip her up, till I seed a chance to slip out."
Irene threw back her head and laughed loud and long at this amusing

Asked then about her mistress she said: "Yas ma’am she was good. She
never punished me, she used to go ’roun’ de quarters eve’y mornin’ to
see ’bout her sick niggers. She always had a little basket wid oil,
teppentine an’ number six in it. Number six was strong medicine. You had
to take it by de drap. I always toted de basket. She gived me mah
weddin’ dress. It was white tarletan wid ban’s o’ blue ribbin. I sole de
dress las’ year but I can show you de pantalets she made me. I used to
wear ’em to meetin’ on Sunday when us had singin’ an’ de preacher said
words." Aunt Irene brought out the deep ruffled pantalets carefully
folded and yellow with age, she had treasured them for seventy-five

"No ma’am, Marse Jeff didn’t go to de war, I don’t know why. I guess it
was ’cause he was so rich. Now don’t you be thinkin’ he was gun shy,
'cause he wasn’t an’ he done his part too ’cause he took keer o’ five
widders an’ dey chillun when dey men got kilt in de war.

"My pappy lef de night de Yankees tuck Selma. It was on Sunday, an’ I
ain’t seed him since.

"After de surrender us staid on with Marse Jeff. Us didn’t keer nothin’
'bout bein’ free ’cause us had good times on de plantation. On Sadday
dey had corn shuckin’s an’ de niggers had a week at Chris’mas wid
presents for eve’ybody. Camping at de big house an’ mo’ to eat in one
day den I sees now in a year.

Reuben Fitzpatrick

Reuben Fitzpatrick, of Eugene Street, Montgomery, was born Jan. 9, 1854,
(83 years old). He says:

"My Marster was Mister Gholson frum Bullock county. He had lots uv
slaves ’cause he was a rich man. I was jes’ a boy ten years ole an’ he
was a squire dat tried cases, so he rode all over de country to dif’funt
places. I rode wid him to hole his horse. He wore a high top black hat
and had a buggy wid a top dat let back. When we went we was gone a long
time an’ when night come he would fix it fer me to sleep wid some uv de
niggers in de quarters where we stopped. I sho’ lacked to go ’bout wid

"My mother was de cook. She had rule over all the cookin’. She spinned
thread an’ reeled it off too.

"When de Yankees come through de country I seed ’em all runnin’ so I
thought it was jedgment day an’ I runned an’ hid under de chimney an’
stayed dere ’tel night. Dey didn’t tarry long, but dey drove de horses
right up on de piazza, and throwed ever’ thing out de houses, eben
knocked down de smoke ’ouse doors. Dat’s de trufe’.

"One time I was taken to the slave market and I was screwed on the block
and Mr. Martin bought me and my Mamma. The man that was selling us would
holler, "Who’ll bid? Who’ll bid?" We was supposed to be spry and fidgety
so as to make the men want to buy us. My fust Marster was Wash Jones. He
wan’t good to us. He would hit us wid his cane jes’ as if it had been a
switch. Ben Jones didn’t like the way Marse Wash treated us niggers. He
bought us for his son.

"We didn’t have no doctors much in dem days, but us had a horn us use
when we got sick. If us had the headache that horn would go right over
the spot and it wouldn’t be no time ’fore the pain’d be gone. We’d use
that horn anytime we was ailing an’ it’d sho’ do the work. I used to
have the horn but I don’t know jes’ where it is now."

Clara Davis

*Interview with Clara Davis*
    —_Francois Ludgere Diard_


"I was bawn in de year 1845, white folks," said Aunt Clara, "on de
Mosley plantation in Bellvy jus’ nawth of Monroeville. Us had a mighty
pretty place back dar. Massa Mosely had near ’bout five hundred acres
an’ mos’ near to one hundred slaves.

"Was Marse Mosely good to us? Lor’, honey, how you talk. Co’se he was!
He was de bes’ white man in de lan’. Us had eve’y thing dat we could
hope to eat: turkey, chicken, beef, lamb, poke, vegetables, fruits,
aigs, butter, milk ... we jus’ had eve’y thing, white folks, eve’ything.
Dem was de good ole days. How I longs to be back dar wid my ole folks
an’ a playin’ wid de chilluns down by de creek. ’Tain’t nothin’ lak it
today, nawsuh. When I tell you ’bout it you gwine to wish you was dar

"White folks, you can have your automobiles an’ paved streets an’
electric lights. I don’t want ’em. You can have de busses an’ street
cars an’ hot pavements an’ high buildin’ ’caze I ain’t got no use for
'em no way. But I’ll tell you what I does want. I wants my ole cotton
bed an’ de moonlight nights a shinin’ through de willow trees an’ de
cool grass under my feets as I runned aroun’ ketchin’ lightnin’ bugs. I
wants to hear de sound of de hounds in de woods atter de ’possum, an’ de
smell of fresh mowed hay. I wants to feel de sway of de ol’ wagon
a-goin’ down de red, dusty road an’ listen to de wheels groanin’ as dey
rolls along. I wants to sink my teeth into some of dat good ol’ ash
cake, an’ smack de good ol’ sorghum offen my mouth. White folks, I wants
to see de boats a passin’ up an’ down de Alabamy ribber an’ hear de
slaves a singin’ at dere work. I wants to see de dawn break over de
black ridge an’ de twilight settle over de place spreadin’ a sort of
orange hue over de place. I wants to walk de paths th’ew de woods an’
see de rabbits an’ watch de birds an’ listen to frogs at night. But dey
tuk me away f’om dat a long time ago. ’Twern’t long befo’ I ma’ied an’
had chilluns, but don’t none of ’em ’tribute to my suppote now. One of
'em was killed in de big war wid Germany and de res’ is all scattered
out ... eight of ’em. Now I jus’ live f’om han’ to mouth; here one day,
somewhere else de nex’. I guess we’s all a-goin’ to die iffen dis
'pression don’t let us ’lone. Maybe someday I’ll git to go home. Dey
tells me dat when a pusson crosses dat ribber, de Lawd gives him whut he
wants. I done tol’ de Lawd I don’t want nothin’ much ... only my home,
white folks. I don’t think dat’s much to axe for. I supposed he’ll sen’
me back dar. I been a-waitin’ for him to call."

Nannie Bradford
Tell me something about yourself and your family, Nannie," I said.
"Dere ain’t nothin’ much to tell ’cep I was born in slav’y times and I
was ’bout twelve year old in May when ’mancipation come. My Pa and Ma
b’longed to Mars James and Miss Rebecca Chambers. Dey plantation was
jes’ on de aidge of town and dat’s what I was born. Mars James’ son
William was in de war and old Miss would send me to town whar all de
sojers tents was, to tote sompen good to eat to dem. I don’t ’member
much ’bout de war ’cep de tents and de bum shells shootin’. I was little
and couldn’t do much but I waited on Miss Liz’beth, my young Miss, and
waited on table, toted battie cakes and sich like. No ma’am I don’t know
nothin’ ’tall ’bout de patterollers or de Klu Kluxers but I know all
’bout de conjer doctors. Dey sho’ kin fix you. Dey kin take yo’ garter
or yo stockin’ top an drap it in runnin’ water and make you run de res’
of yo’ life, you’ll be in a hurry all de time, and if dey gits holt of a
piece of de seat of yo’ draw’s dey sprinkles a little conjer powder on
it and burns it den you can’t never set down in no peace. You jes’ like
you settin’ on a coal of fiah ’till you git somebody to take de spell
offen you."

"Nannie, were you glad when the war was over and you were free?"

"What I keer ’bout bein’ free? Didn’t old Marster give us plenty good
sompin to eat and clo’s to wear? I stayed on de plantation ’til I
mah’ied. My old Miss give me a brown dress and hat. Well dat dress put
me in de country, if you mah’ie in brown you’ll live in de country."

Mingo White

"I was born in Chester, South Carolina, but I was mos’ly raised in
Alabama," Mingo said. "When I was ’bout fo’ or five years old, I was
loaded in a wagon wid a lot mo’ people in ’hit. Whar I was boun’ I don’t
know. Whatever become of my mammy an’ pappy I don’ know for a long time.

"I was tol’ there was a lot of slave speculators in Chester to buy some
slaves for some folks in Alabama. I ’members dat I was took up on a
stan’ an’ a lot of people come ’roun’ an’ felt my arms an’ legs an’
chist, an’ ast me a lot of questions. Befo’ we slaves was took to de
tradin’ post Ol’ Marsa Crawford tol’ us to tell eve’ybody what ast us if
we’d ever been sick to tell ’em dat us’d never been sick in our life. Us
had to tell ’em all sorts of lies for our Marsa or else take a beatin’.

"I was jes’ a li’l thang; tooked away from my mammy an’ pappy, jes’ when
I needed ’em mos’. The only caren’ that I had or ever knowed anything
'bout was give to me by a frein’ of my pappy. His name was John White.
My pappy tol’ him to take care of me for him. John was a fiddler an’
many a night I woke up to find myse’f ’sleep ’twix’ his legs whilst he
was playin’ for a dance for de white folks. My pappy an’ mammy was sold
from each yuther too, de same time as I was sold. I use’ to wonder if I
had any brothers or sisters, as I had always wanted some. A few years
later I foun’ out I didn’t have none.

"I’ll never forgit de trip from Chester to Burleson. I wouldn’t ’member
so well I don’t guess, ’cepin’ I had a big ol’ sheep dog name Trailer.
He followed right in back of de wagon dat I was in. Us had to cross a
wide stream what I tuk to be a ribber. When we started ’crost, ol’
Trailer never stop followin’. I was watchin’ him clost so if he gived
out I was goin’ to try to git him. He didn’t giv’ out, he didn’t even
hab to swim. He jes’ walked ’long an’ lapped de water lack a dog will.

"John took me an’ kep’ me in de cabin wid him. De cabin didn’ hab no
furniture in hit lack we has now ’days. De bed was a one-legged, hit was
made in de corner of de room, wid de leg settin’ out in de middle of de
flo’. A plank was runned ’twix’ de logs of de cabin an’ nailed to de
post on de front of de bed. Across de foot an’ udder plank was runned
into de logs an’ nail’ to de leg. Den some straw or cornshucks was piled
on for a mattress. Us used anythang what we could git for kivver. De
table had two legs, de legs set out to de front whilst de back part was
nail’ to de wall. Us didn’t hab no stove. Thar was a great big fireplace
whar de cookin’ was done. Us didn’t hab to cook, though, lessen us got
hungry after supper been served at de house.

"I warn’t nothin’ but a chile endurin’ slavery, but I had to wuk de same
as any man. I went to de fiel’ and hosed cotton, pulled fodder and
picked cotton wid de res’ of de han’s. I kep’ up too, to keep from
gittin’ any lashes dat night when us got home. In de winter I went to de
woods wid de men folks to ho’p git wood or to git sap from de trees to
make turpentine an’ tar. Iffen us didn’t do dat we made charcoal to run
de blacksmif shop wid.

"De white folks was hard on us. Dey would whup us ’bout de leas’ li’l
thang. Hit wouldn’t a been so bad iffen us had a had comforts, but to
live lack us did was ’nouf to make anybody soon as be dead. De white
folks tol’ us dat us born to work for ’em an’ dat us was doin’ fine at

"De nex’ time dat I saw my mammy I was a great big boy. Dere was a ’oman
on de place what ever’body called mammy, Selina White. One day mammy
called me an’ said, Mingo, your mammy is comin’.’ I said, ’I thought dat
you was my mammy.’ She said ’No I ain’t your mammy, yer mammy is ’way
way from here. I couldn’t believe dat I had anudder mammy and I never
thought ’bout hit any mo’. One day I was settin’ down at de barn when a
wagon come up de lane. I stood ’roun’ lack a chile will. When de wagon
got to de house, my mammy got out an’ broke and run to me an’ th’owed
her arms ’roun’ my neck an’ hug an’ kiss me. I never even put my arms
'roun’ her or nothin’ of de sort. I jes’ stood dar lookin’ at her. She
said, ’Son ain’t you glad to see your mammy?’ I looked at her an’ walked
off. Mammy Selina call me an’ tol’ me dat I had hurt my mammy’s
feelin’s, and dat dis ’oman was my mammy. I went off an’ studied and I
begins to ’member thangs. I went to Selina an’ ast her how long it been
sence I seen my mammy. She tol’ me dat I had been ’way from her sence I
was jes’ a li’l chile. I went to my mammy an’ tol’ her dat I was sorry I
done what I did an’ dat I would lack fer her to fergit an’ forgive me
for de way I act when I fust saw her. After I had talked wid my real
mammy, she told me of how de family had been broke up an’ dat she hadn’t
seed my pappy sence he was sold. My mammy never would of seen me no mo’
if de Lawd hadn’ a been in de plan. Tom White’s daughter married one of
Mr. Crawford’s sons. Dey lived in Virginia. Back den it was de custom
for women to come home whenever dey husbands died or quit ’em. Mr.
Crawford’s son died an’ dat th’owed her to hab to come home. My mammy
had been her maid, so when she got ready to come home she brung my mammy
wid her.

"Hit was hard back in dem days. Ever’ mornin’ fo’ day break you had to
be up an’ ready to git to de fiel’. Hit was de same ever’ day in de year
'cep’ on Sunday, an’ den we was gittin’ up earlier dan the folks do now
on Monday. De drivers was hard too. Dey could say what ever dey wanted
to an’ you couldn’t say nothin’ for yourse’f. Somehow or yuther us had a
instinct dat we was goin’ to be free. In de even’t when de day’s wuk was
done de slaves would be foun’ lock’ in dere cabins prayin’ for de Lawd
to free dem lack he did de chillun of Is’ael. Iffen dey didn’ lock up,
de Marsa or de driver would of heard ’em an’ whupped ’em. De slaves had
a way of puttin’ a wash pot in de do’ of de cabin to keep de soun’ in de
house. I ’members once ol’ Ned White was caught prayin’. De drivers took
him de nex’ day an’ carried him to de pegs, what was fo’ stakes drove in
de groun’. Ned was made to pull off ever’thang but his pants an’ lay on
his stomach ’tween de pegs whilst somebody stropped his legs an’ arms to
de pegs. Den dey whupped him ’twell de blood run from him lack he was a
hog. Dey made all of de han’s come an’ see it, an’ dey said us’d git de
same thang if us was cotched. Dey don’t ’low a man to whup a horse lack
dey whupped us in dem days.

"After my mammy come whar I was I ho’ped her wid her work. Her tas’ was
too hard for any one person. She had to serve as maid to Mr. White’s
daughter, cook for all of de han’s, spin an’ card four cuts of thread a
day an’ den wash. Dere was one hundred an’ forty-four threads to de cut.
If she didn’t git all of dis done she got fifty lashes dat night. Many a
night me an’ her would spin an’ card so she could git her task de nex’
day. No matter whut she had to do de nex’ day she would have to git dem
fo’ cuts of thread, even on wash day. Wash day was on Wednesday. My
mammy would have to take de clo’s ’bout three quarters of a mile to de
branch whar de washin’ was to be done. She didn’t have no wash board
lack dey have now ’days. She had a paddle what she beat de clo’s wid.
Ever’body knowed when wash day was ’case dey could hear de paddle for
'bout three or four miles. "Pow-pow-pow," dat’s how it sound. She had to
iron de clo’s de same day dat she washed an’ den git dem four cuts of
thread. Lots of times she failed to git ’em an’ got de fifty lashes. One
day when Tom White was whuppin’ her she said, ’Lay it on Marsa White
'case I’m goin’ to tell de Yankees when dey come.’ When mammy got
through spinnin’ de cloth she had to dye it. She used shumake berries,
indigo, bark from some trees, and dar was some kind of rock (probably
iron ore) what she got red dye from. De clo’s wouldn’t fade neither.

"De white folks didn’t learn us to do nothin’ but wuk. Dey said dat us
warn’t ’spose’ to know how to read an’ write. Dar was one feller name
E.C. White what learned to read an’ write endurin’ slavery. He had to
carry de chillun’s books to school fer ’em an’ go back atter dem. His
young marsa taught him to read an’ write unbeknowance’ to his father an’
de res’ of de slaves. Us didn’ have nowhar to go ’cep’ church an’ we
didn’ git no pleasure outten it ’case we warn’t ’lowed to talk from de
time we lef’ home ’twell us got back. If us went to church de drivers
went wid us. Us didn’t have no church ’cep’ de white folks church.

"After ol’ Ned got sech a terrible beatin’ fer prayin’ for freedom he
slipped off an’ went to de North to jine de Union Army. After he got in
de army he wrote to Marsa Tom. In his letter he had dose words:

"’I am layin’ down, marsa, and gittin’ up, marsa;’ meaning dat he went
to bed when he felt like it an’ got up when he pleased to. He told Tom
White dat iffen he wanted him he was in the army an’ dat he could come
after him. After ol’ Ned had got to de North, de yuther han’s begin to
watch for a chance to slip off. Many a one was cotched an’ brung back.
Dey knowed de penalty what dey would have to pay, an’ dis cause some of
'em to git desp’rite. Druther dan to take a beatin’ dey would choose to
fight hit out ’twell dey was able to git away or die befo’ dey would
take de beatin’.
Mary Elda Gray
"De war come when I was a big gal. I ’member dat my uncle an’ cousin
jined in wid de Yankees to hope fight for de freedom. De Yankees come to
our place an’ runned Massa Jim away an’ tuk de house for a horsepittil.
Dey tuk all of Massa Jim’s clothes an’ gived dem to some of dere
frien’s. Dey burned up all de cotton, hay, peas an’ ever’thing dat was
in de barns. Dey made de white folks cook for de colored an’ den serve
'em while dey et. De Yankees made ’em do for us lak we done for dem. Dey
showed de white folks what it was to work for somebody else. Dey stayed
on our place for de longes’. When dey did leave, dere warn’t a mouthful
to eat in de house. When de war was over, Massa Jim told us dat we had
to find som’ers else to live. Co’se some of my folks had already gone
when he come home. Us lef’ Massa Jim’s an’ moved to anudder farm. We got
pay for de wuk what we did on dis yuther place. Raght atter de war de Ku
Klux got atter de colored folks. Dey would come to our houses an’ scare
us mos’ to death. Dey would take some of de niggers out an’ whup ’em an’
dose dat dey didn’t whup dey tied up by dere fingers an’ toes. Dese Ku
Klux would come to our windows at night an’ say: ’Your time ain’t long
acomin’.’ De Ku Klux got so bad dat dey would even git us in de daytime.
Dey tuk some of de niggers an’ throwed ’em in de river to drown. Dey
kep’ dis up ’twell some folks from de North come down an’ put a stop to


Emma said the first whipping she ever had, was after the Surrender,
given her by her own father when they left Alabama and went to live near
Columbus, Miss.

She had always lived in the house with the "old Miss" and her young
Miss, and when she had to leave them, she cried and so did they.

Her grandmother Lucy Linier nursed "Miss Ann"; Lucy’s daughter Patsy
nursed "Miss Ann’s" children, and was the special property of Fannie
Montgomery Curry, who married a Mr. Sidney Lipscomb and whose children
Emma helped to look after, so the three generations were interwoven.

Emma only wishes she could go back to plantation days. All her trials
and suffering came after she left "Ole Miss," and went to live with her
father and mother, George and Patsy Curry, who had fourteen children and
of which Emma was the eldest. Her father who was a quadroon in cast was
cruel to his family, and especially so to her. He made her work like a
man, cutting timber, splitting rails, digging, planting and all work of
the farm.

Now, Emma is the only member of her family left. She married three
times, having only two children, a girl and a boy, these by her last
husband, Frank Chapman, now dead, and Emma has no knowledge of her
children’s whereabouts. She gave them an education so they could write
to her if they wanted to. The girl married and left Mobile, the boy went
to Chicago, was chauffeur for some rich folks. His last letter several
years ago, in which he enclosed $25.00, stated he was going on a trip to
Jerusalem with one of the young men of the family.

"Our dresses was homespun cloth dyed wid indigo, an’ us didn’t have very
many clothes. But us kept plenty warm in de winter; an’ in de hot
summers us didn’t need mor’n a thin li’l ol’ dress."

Hattie called her master "a good Christian-hearted man who did de bes’
he could for de niggers."

"I ’members," she said, "dat all de chilluns was good, too, ’ceptin’ two
of de boys. Dey was bad uns for sho’ an’ was arguin’ an’ fightin’ all de

"Honey, Ol’ Marster sho’ly did lak to sing, an’ he was pretty good at
dat. I ’members dat he useter git out in de back an’ sing to de top of
his voice: ’I’se Gwine Home to Die No More.’

"What I ’members most, dough, was de quiltin’s an’ spinnin’ frolics dat
de women-folks had. Den, on Sattidy nights, dere was Sattidy night
suppers an’ dances. All de peoples sho’ly did cut de high step at de

Hattie beamed as the trend of conversation turned to Christmas on
Southern plantations.

[Illustration: _Hattie Anne Nettles, Opelika, Alabama_]

"Dat was a time!" she exclaimed. "Us had to go to mornin’ prayer, but
atter dat us went back to de cabins, dressed in our Sunday bes’, an’
went up to de ’Big House’ fer some foolishness. An’ it was sho’ly real
foolishness, too.

"When I was growed up I married Bill Lockhart an’ us had fifteen
chilluns an’ eight gran’chilluns. In de ol’ days niggers axed de white
marster for de bride an’ no license was needed. Iffen dey lef’ de
plantation, de other white marster bought ’em so de girl could go wid
her man.

"Our ol’ marster was as good as he could be like I done tol’ you. He
looked atter de slaves when dey got sick an’ sont for de doctor. In dem
days dey would draw blood. Dey would draw almos’ a quart from de body,
an’ you usually got well, too."

Hattie recalled one night of terror on the plantation when the Ku Klux
Klan raided a prayer meeting where a large number of Negroes had

"De Klansmen beat up lots of dem," she said. "If a nigger didn’t behave,
dey’d nigh ’bout kill him."

Hattie lives in Opelika with a daughter. Flowers dot her clean yard and
her old days are full of happiness.

Nicey Pugh

But all and all, white folks, den was de really happy days for us
niggers. Course we didn’t hab de ’vantages dat we has now, but dere wus
somp’n’ back dere dat we ain’t got now, an’ dat’s secu’aty. Yassuh, we
had somebody to go to when we was in trouble. We had a Massa dat would
fight fo’ us an’ help us an’ laugh wid us an’ cry wid us. We had a
Mistis dat would nuss us when we was sick, an’ comfort us when we hadda
be punished. I sometimes wish I could be back on de ole place. I kin see
de cool-house now packed wid fresh butter an’ milk an’ cream. I can see
de spring down amongst de willows an’ de water a trickling down between
little rocks. I can hear de turkeys a gobblin’ in de yard and de
chickens a runnin’ aroun’ in de sun, an’ shufflin’ in de dus’. I can see
de bend in de creek jus’ below our house, an’ de cows as dey come to
drink in de shallow water an’ gits dere feets cool.

[Illustration: _Nicey Pugh, Prichard, Alabama_]

"Yassuh, white folks, you ain’t neber seed nothin’ lak it so you can’t
tell de joy you gits f’um lookin’ for dewberries an’ a-huntin’ guinea
pigs, an’ settin’ in de shade of a peach tree, reachin’ up an’ pullin’
off a ripe peach and eatin’ it slow. You ain’t neber seed your people
gathered ’bout an’ singin’ in de moonlight or heered de lark at de break
of day. You ain’t neber walked acrost a frosty fiel’ in de early
mornin’, an’ gone to de big house to build a fire for your Mistis, an’
when she wake up slow have her say to you: ’Well, how’s my little nigger

"Nawsuh, jus’ lak I told you at fus’. I was bawn a slave, but I ain’t
neber been one. I’se been a worker for good peoples. You wouldn’t calls
dat bein’ a slave would you, white folks?"

Allen Sims

"I ’members lots ’bout slavery times; ’cause I was right dar. I don’t
'member much ’bout de war, ’cause I was too little to know what war was,
and de most I seed was when de Yankees come through and burnt up de Big
House, de barns, de ginhouse and took all Old Marster’s hosses and
mules, and kilt de milk-cows for beef. They didn’t leave us nothing to
eat, and us lak to starve to death.

"Our folks, de Simses, dey come fum Virginny. My pappy and mammy was
borned dere. Dey names was Allen Sims and Kitty Sims. My Old Marster was
Marse Jimmie Sims, and my Old Mistis was Miss Creasie. Some of Pappy and
Mammy’s chillun was borned in Virginny, and some of ’em in Alabama. I
was de baby chile, and I was borned right on dis very place whar us is
now. Dey had a whole passel of chillun. Dere was Chaney, Becky, Judy,
Sam, Phoebe, King, Alex, Jordan and Allen—dat’s me.

"Us lived in a log house in de quarter, wid a board roof and a ol’ rock
fireplace wid a stick and dirt chimley. We had plenty wood, and could
build jes’ as big fire as we need, if de weather was cold. Mammy, she
cook ash-cake in de fireplace, and it was de bes’ bread I ever eat,
better’n any dis store-bought bread. You ain’t never eat no ash-cake?
Umph, Missy, you don’t know what good bread is lak!

"Old Marster was good to his niggers and all of ’em, big and little had
plenty to eat, and it wa’n’t trash neither. Us had ash-cake, hoe-cake,
pone-bread, meat and gravy, peas, greens, roast-neers, pot-liquor, and
sweet ’taters, I’ish taters, and goobers—I spec Old Marster’s niggers
live better dan lots of white folks lives now.

"Aunt Mandy, what was too old to work, looked atter all de little nigger
chilluns, whilst dey mammys was working, and she whip us wid a brush, if
we didn’t mind her; but she fuss more dan she whip, and it didn’t hurt
much, but us cry lak she killing us.

"When us got sick, Old Mistis looked atter us herself, and she gin us
oil and turpentine and lobelia and if dat didn’t cure us, she sont for
de doctor—de same doctor dat come to see her own fambly. Sometime a old
nigger die, and Old Marster and Old Mistis dey cry jes’ lak us did. Dey
put ’em in a coffin and bury ’em in de graveyard, wid de white preacher
dar and nobody didn’t work none dat day, atter us come back fum de

"Our beds was bunks in de corner of de room, nailed to de wall and jes’
one post out in de flo’. De little chilluns slep’ crosswise de big bed
and it was plum’ full in cold weather.

[Illustration: _Allen Sims, Lee County, Alabama_]

"Our clothes was osnaburg, spun and weave’ right at home, and it sho’
did last a long time. De little niggers jes’ wore a long shirt, ’twell
dey got big ’nough to work in de field, and us had red shoes made at de
tan-yard to wear in winter time; but us foots was tough and us went
barefooted most all de winter too. Us played games too, ginerly, jumping
de rope and base.

"De grown niggers had good times Sadday nights, wid dances, suppers and
wras’lin. De corn-shuckings was de biggest time dey had, ’cause de
neighbors come and dey laughed and hollered nearly all night.

"Old Marster and Old Mistis lived in a big two-story white house. Dey
had ten chillun, five boys and five gals, and dey all growed up and
married off. De old carriage-driver was name Clark, and he sho’ was
proud. De overseer was Tetter Roberson, and he was mean. He beat niggers
a lot, and bimeby Old Marster turned him off. He used to blow de horn
way befo’ day to git de niggers up, and he work ’em ’tell smack dark.

"Atter de Yankees burned up everyt’ing ’cept de cabins, us jes’ stayed
right dar wid Old Marster when us freed. Old Marster built a new house
for him and Old Mistis, but it wa’n’t much better dan our cabin and dey
lived dere ’tell dey died.

Stepney Underwood

"My mammy belonged to the Johnstons and my pappy was owned by the
Underwoods," he continued; "dey lived next to each other on two big
plantations in Lowndes County. Dey was good peoples—dem Underwoods. I
remembers dat dey use to think I was as funny as a little monkey. De
massa usta laugh his head off at me, and when dere was parties, de
guestes would always say: ’Whar Stepney? We wants to see Stepney dance.’
I usta cut many a [...] pigeon wing fur ’em.

"One day atter I finish’ my chores, I slip off an go across de line to
see my mammy. When I was a-comin’ back th’ough de woods, I met up wid
two pattyrollers. Dey stop me and say: ’Nigger, who you belong to?’

"’Massa Jim Johns’on,’ I answers.

"’Whut you a doin’ out here, den?’ dey say, all de time a slippin’ a
little closer so’s to grab me.

"I don’t take time to gib ’em no mo’ answers kaze I knowd dat dis meant
a beatin’. I starts my legs a-flyin’ an’ I runs through de fores’ lak a
scar’t rabbit wid dem pattyrollers right behin’ me. My bare feets flew
over dem stones an’ I jus’ hit de high spots in de groun’. I knowed dem
two mens didn’t have no chance to kotch me, but dis sho meant a whuppin’
when I got home.

[Illustration: _Stepney Underwood, [TR: Birmingham], Alabama_]

"But I didn’t go home dat night. I stay out in de woods and buil’ me a
little fiah. I laid down under a sycamo’ tree a-tryin’ ter make up my
min’ ter go an’ take dat beatin’. I heered de panthers a screamin’ a way
off in de fores’ an’ de wildcats a howlin’, an’ how I wished I coulda
been wid my mammy. Eve’y now and den, I could see eyes a shinin’ in de
darkness an’ rustlin’s in de bushes. Warn’t no use of me a-cryin’ kaze I
was a long way fum home an’ dere warn’t no one to could hear me. Eve’y
thing seem to be agin’ me. Far off across de ridge I heered a screech
owl a-callin’, an’ I knowd dat meant death. I was glad I had my overalls
on so’s I could turn my pockets inside out’ards to stop him. Atter I
done dis, he sho-nuf stopped. Den my lef’ ear it commence to ichin’, and
I knowd dat someone was a-sayin’ somethin’ mean about me. Probably dat
oberseer dat was a-goin’ to whup me when I got home. Soon I fell slap to
sleep on a bed of moss. De nex’ day I was awful hongry, an’ long ’bout
de time de sun was a-comin’ ober de ridge, I heerd some mens a-comin’
through de brush. It was de massa, de oberseer an’ some mo’ mens. I runs
toward de massa and I calls as loud as I could: ’Massa Jim, here I is.’

"He come up wid an awful frown on his face and de oberseer, he had a big
whup in his han’.

"’You little bur-head Nigger debil’, de massa say, ’I teach you ter run
away fum yo’ place. Come on home; I’se gwine give you a good breakfast
an’ fix you up in some decent clothes. I’se got visitors a-comin’ an’
heah you is out in de woods when I needs you to dance.’ Den de massa, he
smile lak I ain’t done nothin’ wrong. ’I guess you wants yo mammy, you
little lonesome pickaninny. Well, I s’pose I hadda go ober and buy her.
You little debil you—now git on home.’"

What has Augustine to do with Neoclassical Economics?

3 Feb

From John Mueller (full article):

I’m grateful to my old friends at the Tocqueville Forum and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, Patrick Deneen and Steven Brust, and pleased to join John Médaille and Barry Lynn for this discussion of “Economics at the Crossroads.” Though also disconcerted to find myself on this side of the podium. I’ve attended the Tocqueville Forum so often that Tara Jackson said she was surprised I had never submitted an IRS W-9 form. Yet, as Walker Percy warned in Lost in the Cosmos, “a charade was being played” with “William Faulkner, doing a morning’s work, then strolling in the town square to talk to the farmers and have a Coke at Reed’s drugstore…. Though Faulkner went to great lengths to pass himself off as a farmer among farmers, farmer he was not.” Or take “Søren Kierkegaard, who, every hour, would jump up from his desk, rush out into the streets of Copenhagen, and pass the time with shopkeepers. . . ..[B]y his own admission, he was playing the game of being taken for an idler at the very time he was writing ten books a year.” Now I too must admit, every month, by jumping up from my desk, rushing out into the streets of Washington, and passing the time at the Tocqueville Forum, to have been playing the game of being taken for an idler, at the very time I was churning out a book every ten years!

The thesis of my book is straightforward: The most important element in economics is missing, and its rediscovery is priming a revolution the likes of which has occurred just three times in more than 750 years.

I must begin with a simple but widely overlooked fact: the logical and mathematical structures of scholastic, classical and neoclassical economics differ fundamentally. Yet few economists today are aware of the differences because American university economics departments, led by the University of Chicago in 1972, abolished the previous requirement that students of economics master its history before being granted a degree. This calls for a brief, structural history of economics.

What is economics about? Jesus once noted — I interpret this as an astute empirical observation, not divine revelation — since the days of Noah and Lot, people have been doing, and until the end of the world presumably will be doing, four kinds of things. He gave these examples: “planting and building,” “buying and selling,” ‘marrying and being given in marriage,” and “eating and drinking” (Luke 18:27-28). In other words, we produce, exchange, give, and use (or consume) our human and nonhuman goods.

That’s the usual order in our action. But as St. Augustine first explained, the order is different in our planning. First we choose For Whom we intend to provide; next What to provide as means for those persons. Finally, Thomas Aquinas latter added, we choose How to provide the chosen means, through production (always) and exchange (almost always), both of which Aristotle had described.

So, economics is essentially a theory of providence: it describes how we provide for ourselves and the other persons we love, using scarce means that have alternate uses. Human providence is a synonym for the cardinal virtue of prudence. Aristotle had divided moral philosophy into ethics and politics. But he also aptly described humans as “rational,” “matrimonial,” and “political animals.” So Aquinas redivided moral philosophy into three, distinguishing personal, domestic, and political prudence — or equivalently, “economy” — according to the social unit described.

Scholastic ‘AAA’ economics (c.1250-1776) began when Aquinas first integrated these four elements (production, exchange, distribution, and consumption) into an outline of personal, domestic, and political economy, both positive and normative, organizing Aristotle’s contributions according to Augustine’s framework. The scholastic economic theory was taught at the highest university level for more than five centuries by every major Catholic and (after the Reformation) Protestant economic thinker before Adam Smith — notably Lutheran Samuel Pufendorf, whose work was used by Adam Smith’s own teacher to teach Smith economics, and also highly recommended by Alexander Hamilton.

Classical economics (1776-1871) began when Adam Smith cut these four elements to two, trying to explain what he called “division of labor” (specialized production) by production and exchange alone. Smith was addressing the main drawback of scholastic economics, which lay not in the theory itself, but the routine assumption that the economy did not grow in the long run — which had been true on average for about two millennia. To explain growth, Smith and classical followers like David Ricardo undoubtedly advanced the two elements Smith retained. But it was on oversimplification.

Neoclassical economics (1871-c.2000) began when three economists dissatisfied with the practical failure of Smith’s classical outline independently but almost simultaneously reinvented Augustine’s theory of utility, starting its reintegration with the theories of production and exchange.

Thus Adam Smith’s chief significance is not what he added to, but rathersubtracted from economics. As Joseph Schumpeter noted in his History of Economic Analysis, “The fact is that the Wealth of Nations does not contain a single analytic idea, principle or method that was entirely new in 1776.”

Neoscholastic economics (c.2000-). I argue that Neoscholastic economics is already and will continue to revolutionize economics in coming decades, by replacing its lost cornerstone, the theory of distribution.

This historical analysis offers a framework for analyzing other schools of economics. But I will not pursue these lesser differences unless someone asks.

Since Smith essentially “de-Augustinized” economic theory, a re-evaluation is overdue and quite likely for Adam Smith but especially Augustine. So I’ll consider Augustine’s contribution to both scholastic and today’s neoclassical economics, then give an example of the problems in today’s neoclassical economics caused by the failure to restore them, and close with a word about the world views implicit in each theory.

A. Positive scholastic theory. To explain the Two Great Commandments, Augustine had started from Aristotle’s insight that “every agent acts for an end” and his definition of love — willing some good to some person. But Augustine drew an implication that Aristotle had not: every personalways acts for the sake of some person(s). For example, when I say, “I love vanilla ice cream,” I really mean that I love myself and use (consume) vanilla ice cream to express that love (in preference, say, to strawberry ice cream or Brussels sprouts, which reflects my separate scale of utility). Augustine also introduced the important distinction between “private” goods like bread, which inherently only one person at a time can consume, and “public” goods (like a theater performance, national defense, or enforcement of justice) which, at least within certain limits, many people can simultaneously enjoy, because they are not “diminished by being
In other words, Augustine’s crucial insight is that we humans always act on two scales of preference — one for persons as ends and the other for other things as means: personal love and utility, respectively. Moreover, we express our preferences for persons with two kinds of external acts. Since man is a social creature, Augustine noted, “human society is knit together by transactions of giving and receiving.” But these outwardly similar transactions may be of two essentially different kinds, he added: “sale or gift.” Generally speaking, we give our wealth without compensation to people we particularly love, and sell it to people we don’t, in order to provide for those we do love. Since it’s always possible to avoid depriving others of their own goods, this is the bare minimum of love expressed as benevolence or goodwill and the measure of what Aristotle called justice in exchange. But our positive self-love is expressed by the utility of the goods we provide ourselves, and our positive love of others with beneficence: gifts. Hate or malevolence is expressed by the opposite of a gift: maleficence or crime.

The social analog to personal gifts is what Aristotle called distributive justice, which amounts to a collective gift: it’s the formula social communities like a family or nation under a single government necessarily use to distribute their common (jointly owned) goods. Both a personal gift and distributive justice are a kind of “transfer payment”; both are determined by the geometric proportion that matches distributive shares with the relative significance of persons sharing in the distribution; and both are practically limited by the fact of scarcity.

That’s “positive” scholastic economics in a nutshell: describing what is, not necessarily what ought to be.

B. Normative” scholastic theory. We naturally love ourselves, Augustine pointed out. All other moral rules are derived from the Two Great Commandments because these measure the degree to which our love is “ordinate”: rightly ordered. If a good were sufficiently abundant we could and should share it equally with everyone else. But with such goods as time and money, which are “diminished by being shared” (i.e., scarce), this is impossible. Therefore “loving your neighbor as yourself” can’t always mean equally with yourself: “All men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all,” Augustine concluded, “you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.”

The (neo-) scholastic model is a powerful tool of analysis. In the book I suggest several important applications, which I’m willing to discuss at the drop of a question. In view of our severe time limits, though, I will focus here on one simple and striking example: the inverse tradeoff between fatherhood and crime.
In a famous paper co-authored with John J. Donohue and later featured in his book (and now movie) Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt argued that after abortion was legalized by several states starting in the late 1960s and nationwide by Roe v. Wade in 1973, millions of fetuses were killed who, when old enough, would have been disproportionately likely to commit crimes. Abortion’s culling of them should therefore have lowered crime rates. To prove this, Levitt and Donohue looked at crime rates 15-18 years after Roe and claimed to have found the drop they had predicted.

However, Levitt and Donohue actually found their results indistinguishable whether they used 1970s or 1990s abortion rates to try to explain overall ’90s crime rates. When both were included the models went statistically haywire (“standard errors explode due to multicollinearity”). Failing to uncover any statistically valid evidence for either a 20-year lag or for no lag, Levitt and Donohue replaced the missing facts with an arbitrary assumption: “Consequently, it must be recognized that our interpretation of the results relies on the assumption that there will be a fifteen-to-twenty year lag before abortion materially affects crime.”
They justified their assumption by quipping that “infants commit little crime.” But nearly all violent crime is committed by men (women are equal only in nonviolent crime) precisely the ages of the fathers of aborted children. In short, the missing variable is “economic fatherhood.” (“Economic” fatherhood is defined not by biological paternity nor residency with but provision for one’s children.) The relationship between economic fatherhood and crime is a straightforward application of Augustine’s personal “distribution function” to the most valuable scarce resource of mortal humans: our time.

Including “economic fatherhood” as a variable not only invalidates Levitt’s claim but reverses it. As far back as data exist, rates of economic fatherhood and homicide have been strongly, inversely “cointegrated” — a stringent statistical test characterizing inherently related events, like the number of cars entering and leaving the Lincoln Tunnel. Donohue and Levitt’s correlation is thus shown to be a “spurious regression,” which was misspecified by omitting a crucial variable: the one describing Augustine’s personal “distribution function.” Legalizing abortion didn’t lower homicide rates 15-20 years later by eliminating infants who might, if they survived, have become murderers: it raised the homicide rate almost at once by turning their fathers back into men without dependent children-a small but steady share of whom do murder. The homicide rate rose sharply in the 1960s and ’70s when expanding welfare and legal abortion sharply reduced economic fatherhood, and it dropped sharply in the ’90s partly due to a recovering birth rate, but mostly because welfare reform and incarceration raised the share of men outside prison who were supporting children. [This scenario didn’t occur to Levitt not because of a lack of ingenuity or data but because of the inherent weakness of the theory he was trying to apply, which Nobel Prize-winning economists George J. Stigler and Gary S. Becker, Levitt’s mentor, called the “economic approach to human behavior.” Levitt was unable to see the true correlation between abortion and crime because he was among the first victims of the epic change in the teaching of economics orchestrated by Stigler with Becker’s support].

The choice of 1776. What I call “Smythology” (with two y’s) is the myth that Adam Smith invented or is somehow indispensable to understanding economics. By far the most influential piece of “Smythology” was Milton Friedman’s linking in Free to Choose of “two sets of ideas — both, by a curious coincidence published in the same year, 1776…. the economic principles of Adam Smith…and the political principles expressed by Thomas Jefferson.”Like many others, I found Friedman’s argument persuasive and incorporated it into my own views, until I discovered that the “choice of 1776” was actually a divergence, not a convergence, and of three, not two world views. The third event of 1776 was the death of Smith’s dear friend, the Epicurean skeptic David Hume.

When the Apostle Paul preached in the marketplace of Athens (probably in 51 A.D.), he prefaced the Gospel with a Biblically orthodox adaptation of Greco-Roman natural law. The evangelist Luke tells us that “some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him” (Acts 17:18). The same dispute has continued ever since, particularly among scholastic, classical, neoclassical, and now neoscholastic e

In (neo-) scholastic natural law, economics is a theory of rational providence, describing how we choose both persons as “ends” (expressed by our personal and collective gifts) and the scarce means used (consumed) by or for those persons, which we make real through production and exchange. By dropping both distribution and consumption, Smith expressed the Stoic pantheism that viewed the universe “to be itself a Divinity, an Animal” (as he put it in an early but posthumously published essay), with God conceived as its immanent soul, so that sentimental humans choose neither ends nor means rationally; instead, “every individual…intends only his own gain…and is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” By restoring consumption but not distribution, neoclassical economics expresses the Epicurean materialism that claims humans somehow evolved in an uncreated world as merely clever animals — highly adept at calculating means but not ends, since “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions,” as Hume put it. The three theories provide three views of both human and divine nature, but only the anthropology and theology of the scholastic theory are compatible with Christian orthodoxy.

As historian of economics Henry William Spiegel noted of the “marginal revolution” that ended classical and launched neoclassical economics in the 1870s, “Outsiders ranked prominently among the pioneers of marginal analysis because its discovery required a perspective that the experts did not necessarily possess.” I don’t underestimate the time or effort it will take. But I confidently predict that in coming decades, neoclassical economists now advocating the “economic approach to human behavior” will either become or else be supplanted by “neoscholastic” economists — who will find full employment rewriting neoclassical theory because they understand the original “human approach to economic behavior” of Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.

John Mueller is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Why Boys Need Mommies

3 Feb

Good one from Tim Challies:

Thinking back, I wonder if people thought I was a bit of a mama’s boy. I grew up in a stable home and loved and respected both of my parents. I regularly spent time with each of them. But I was always closer to my mother. If this was true when I was young, it was even more pronounced when I was a teenager. In those years I was a boy, a young man, who needed his mom.

Boys need their dads, we know that. Boys need their dads to model masculinity, to model the love and affection they ought to have for a woman, to teach them the kind of life skills they will need. Girls need their dads too. They need their dads to protect them, to be affectionate with them and in that way to display healthy physical boundaries. They need their dads to hold the boys at bay and, eventually, to give their blessing to that special one. Girls need their moms. They need their moms to model femininity, to teach and train them to be women, to model patience and wisdom. Books, blogs, and sermon illustrations abound for each of these relationships. But what about boys and their moms?

Read it all

The Truth About Inherit the Wind by Carol Iannone | Articles | First Things

27 Jan–36

Even if we have what they wrote, can we trust it? NT Reliability

21 Jan

I’ve written and taught on the issue of textual criticism of the bible (do our many manuscript copies of the bible reflect the original autographs; just search ‘textual criticism’ in the blog search engine). But there is the other question that must be addressed.  Can we trust what these copies say?  Can we trust the gospels?  Two lectures are worth your time on this from two NT scholars: Craig Blomberg and Peter Williams.


The Anti-Federalist Contributions

20 Jan

Assessing the Anti-Federalists

A free society needs both liberty and order. As Russell Kirk once put it, “order is the first need for any society—only then can liberty and justice be reasonably secure.” From September 1787 through July 1788, this principle of ordered liberty shaped Federalist arguments for, and anti-Federalist arguments against, the ratification of the Constitution. Contemporary Americans might be tempted to assume that the opposition does not deserve to be counted among the Founding Fathers and Framers. But not only do many anti-Federalists belong in both categories, their works need to be read alongside the more famous Federalist Papers and James Wilson’s oratory, if Americans hope to restore a sane balance between state and federal power.

Recent experience with tyranny shaped the Articles of Confederation, the United States’ constitution from 1781-1787. In an effort to avoid everything that had become instruments of tyranny in British hands, the Articles contained no national army, no executive branch, no national judiciary, and States had to vote unanimously for any tax. A unicameral Congress, with members elected by State legislatures and in which each State had one collective vote, oversaw all national matters via committees. In this highly decentralized Union, ensuring State sovereignty trumped concerns about individual liberty. Almost immediately, restrictions in the Articles, along with regionalism and factionalism, hampered commerce, foreign trade, and debt repayment. In May 1787, 55 delegates from every State but Rhode Island met in Philadelphia. Rather than amend the Articles, they instead began to draft a new constitution, starting with the Virginia Plan, co-authored by Edmund Randolph and James Madison. This plan was decidedly in favor of order through centralization. It called for proportional representation in a bicameral congress, and gave Congress a veto over State laws and the power to appoint the nation’s president and judges. By mid-September, delegates finally reached a compromise, which among other things, included equal representation for States in the upper house and proportional representation in the lower house. Madison opposed this, but was voted down. Following final approval of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, delegates presented it to the United States. Federalists and anti-Federalists went to work trying to influence the composition of the State ratifying conventions.

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts summed up anti-Federalist concerns when he predicted that the new Constitution would “produce a monarchy, or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy.” Other prominent anti- Federalists included George Clinton of New York, Virginians Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry, and Luther Martin of Maryland. Yet for reasons that will become apparent, the less famous Robert Yates of Pennsylvania and Samuel Bryan of New York also deserve a place on this list of important anti-Federalists. Bryan attacked the Constitution’s checks and balances, saying these would not protect liberty but only serve to obfuscate federal corruption. Bryan also argued that one representative in the House for 30,000 inhabitants was “too few to communicate the . . . local circumstances and sentiments of so extensive” a country. Like George Mason and other anti-Federalists, Bryan especially lamented the absence of a Bill of Rights. The people, Bryan said, had cried out for order amid the chaos of 1787 and the Confederation’s perceived “impotency.” The “wealthy and ambitious” had preyed on these fears, which Bryan thought were exaggerated, “not for the welfare of the country” but for “power and aggrandisement.” Bryan feared a congressional oligarchy more than a presidential monarchy: “a permanent aristocracy” unaccountable to “the great body of the people” because it was so far removed from them.

Although Bryan claimed that the United States’ size would produce tyranny while preventing Congress from understanding local needs, he still believed a decentralized republic could maintain the order needed to keep liberty secure. But New York Supreme Court judge Robert Yates disagreed, noting that only two countries in 1787 were as large as the United States: Russia and China. As Yates pointed out, autocrats ruled both. Historically, large territorial republics actually endangered liberty because there was no way other than coercion to balance their many regional and factional interests. “In so extensive a republic” as the United States, Yates said, “the great officers of government would soon become above the control of the people and abuse their power for the purpose of aggrandizing themselves.”

Yates singled out Congress’ taxation power and the Supreme Court as the most likely avenues to despotism. Since Congress could approve taxes to “provide for the common safety, and the general welfare,” taxation would be unlimited. “The government,” warned Yates, “would always say their measures were designed and calculated to promote the public good; there being no judge between them and the people, the rulers themselves must, and would always, judge for themselves.” Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, as constructed, would not to be guided at all by Natural Law, precedent, or any other law, just by its own whims and whatever precedents it might set.

Federalists posed counter-arguments to all these accusations. They claimed the “general welfare” clause actually limited the government’s range of power. Where anti- Federalists saw a future consolidated nation-state inherent in the Constitution, Federalists beheld a firm grounding for a lasting federal union that balanced liberty with order. This is exactly what Madison argued in Federalist #10 and #51, in which he flipped on its head the maxim that factionalism in large republics breeds disorder, followed either by tyranny or disunion. In a nod to what G.K. Chesterton later called that most provable Christian dogma, Original Sin, Madison acknowledged that the “causes of faction are sown in the nature of man.” Since the causes of faction cannot be removed, Madison noted realistically, to be free Americans required a polity founded on the principle of ordered liberty to control its effects.

Federalists claimed the Constitution would restrain factionalism far better than had the Articles. How? Certainly not through coercion, Madison said. Nor would it depend on enlightened aristocrats, for “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” Madison predicted that the country’s diversity would prevent any majority from stepping on minority rights even as it mitigated Congressional attempts to pass unwise laws. In the same way a representative government was superior to a purely democratic one because of its greater ability to field temperate, prudent leaders, so would a large republic be superior to a small one. The difficulty for Madison was that his acknowledgement of American plurality conceivably could support anti-Federalist warnings about heterogeneous republics. Yet how diverse really was the United States? John Jay in Federalist #2 had already given the answer for this: Not so much, in the way that multi-ethnic, multireligious, and multi-lingual Russia and China were. In an overstatement even for 1787 (although not too much of one), Jay described Americans as “one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in manners and customs.” Put simply, when it comes to republics, the Federalists seemed to be saying that as long as citizens share common foundational attributes, “bigger is better.” Faction would balance faction. The government’s primary role in such a system was to be little more than a “dispassionate umpire,” Madison privately told Washington.

The U.S. Constitution won ratification on June 21, 1788, mainly because of promises to anti-Federalists that a Bill of Rights would be added as soon as possible. (Federalists had opposed the addition of a Bill of Rights on the grounds that listing Americans’ liberties in amendments might unintentionally limit them.) Another comforting thought was that George Washington, who had proven trustworthy with power, would be the first president.

There would be no violent counter-revolution in America, only a working out of anti-Federalist principles under the new U.S. government. In the 1790s, Lee, Yates, and Henry even became Federalists: Yates ran as a Federalist for New York governor against Clinton and Lee, as a senator from Virginia, fought to pass Hamilton’s economic program.

Having now taken into account both sides in the ratification debate, how should those who promote a free and virtuous society evaluate the anti-Federalists? Were their fears based on the Constitution itself, with its alleged inability to balance liberty and order and prevent the consolidation of power at the national level? They clearly believed this to be the case. Yet their fears about consolidated state power are those that anyone protective of liberty ought to have about any government, for they are rooted in an anthropology revealed both by Nature and by Revelation; namely, that the human person is fallible and capable of choosing evil over good. Given an analysis of past and present–the continued growth of the “nanny state” comes to mind–the likelihood is not small that some will choose safety, comfort, and a leveling equality over freedom and the life that is worth living. Still, anti-Federalists did correctly predict that the U.S. Constitution would become a much-abused instrument in the hands of those who wished to build a muscular, far-reaching government. They also foresaw that the judiciary might endanger liberty more than a quasi-monarchical president. Yates’ warnings about the Supreme Court and Congress certainly ring true today, as do Bryan’s predictions about politicians taking advantage of crises to pursue ideological or partisan ends. These processes tend to limit Americans’ liberties while chipping away at their virtue via government-constructed moral hazards. Indeed, as J. Budziszweski notes in The Line through the Heart, Yates’ “arguments seem even stronger today than they did at the time they were written.”

Does this mean, then, that the anti-Federalists ought to have succeeded in stopping the Constitution’s ratification? Far from it. The Federalists correctly criticized the Confederation for being unable to provide the minimum order needed so that Americans could flourish as a free people. Their arguments show they understood better than anti-Federalists the necessary balance between liberty and order. Had the anti-Federalists defeated the Constitution, the Union would have soon split into multiple confederations or divided into highly separate States. The consequences for liberty and human flourishing under these scenarios would have been worse than the most dismal anti-Federalist prediction about life under the Constitution.

This does not mean, however, that Federalists believed any governmental formula could, of itself, maintain a polity in which liberty and justice would be secure. They, like their anti- Federalist opponents, recognized the need for virtue in a free society. But while both acknowledged virtue as a precondition for republican government, Federalists were far less likely to expect it. “The few . . . who act upon principles of disinterestedness,” wrote Washington, “are, comparatively speaking, no more than a drop in the Ocean.” A rational Constitution, prudently drawing on Enlightenment liberalism and based on Americans’ own experience as a free people, would help bridge the gaps.

The anti-Federalists, though perceptive when identifying problems, tended to permit the perfect to be the enemy of the good. There was nothing inherent in the Constitution relative to a penchant for disorder and illiberality that is not present in the human person. The Federalists realized this; the anti-Federalists did not. Yet to understand the degree to which the American founders understood the balance between liberty and order necessary for a free people, one must not neglect the anti-Federalists. They were responsible for modifying what would have been a highly centralized government from the very beginning, had the Virginia Plan succeeded in toto, and had anti-Federalists like George Mason failed to secure a Bill of Rights.

Dr. Pinheiro is associate professor of history at Aquinas College in Michigan, and author of Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War.

Is Transgenderism based on science?

12 Jan

From Dr. Margaret Hagen

In recent months, there has been an explosion of highly controversial legislation, threatened executive edicts, and heavy-handed federal mandates regarding discrimination and public accommodation laws that require—among other things—public and private institutions, businesses, and schools to allow biological males who self-identify as females to use the toilet facilities and locker rooms of females (and vice versa). These developments have been accompanied by a chorus of pundits and editors expressing derision for “bigoted” opponents and cheerleading the valiant proponents of “transgender equality.”

What is missing from the conversation about these laws is any sound legal or scientific basis for the proposed changes. Who, exactly, are the groups who are supposed to be protected or accommodated? On what legal basis are those groups to be protected or accommodated? What are the consequences and implications for the larger society?

The Spectra of Nonconforming Sexuality

Lawmakers and commentators should grasp the variety of people who claim to be “nonconforming” to American understandings and expectations of sex and gender before leaping into action on their behalf. A continuing legal education program held recently in Massachusetts taught participants that nonconformists fall on various places on five different spectra of being, expression, and attraction:

1. Sex: “The sex you were assigned by the doctor in the hospital” at birth. Sex is either Male or Female—a binary distinction.

2. Gender Identity: The sex you know yourself to be. Gender is also Male or Female, but is a spectrum, not binary.

3. Gender Expression: A characterization of how you dress, talk, style your hair, accessorize, use makeup, and so on, which is described as being more or less Masculine or Feminine.

4. Sexual Orientation: The sexual attraction you experience, whether to those of the same sex, opposite sex, or people of both sexes.

5. Affectional/Emotional Orientation: The pattern of romantic attachments you form; whether you tend to “fall in love” with and  seek emotional closeness with men, women, both, or persons who see themselves as somewhere between or beyond the categories of male and female.

While there is no consensus even among transgender people on these distinctions and definitions, it seems abundantly clear that modern discrimination law based on dividing people into various subgroups is going to be under severe stress within such an extremely complex scheme. Is it possible or desirable for people with widely different types of “nonconformism” to be treated as a single identifiable group?

While the application of discrimination law to a particular individual can involve a complex analysis, “Nonstandard Sexuality” would be a protected group that truly makes a mockery of our already risible “protected” categories. Who, specifically, within the spectral clusters of nonconformist sexuality, is to be protected from discrimination? Should, for example, the simple desire to cross-dress place a man into a legal category of citizen “protected” against discrimination, or require businesses and institutions to accede to his request to use women’s facilities?

Full Article

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