H/t to Eric Foner, author of the book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (all citations listed as “Foner” refer to this book) and current events for inspiring today’s post.
First, some history. The fugitive slave clause of the Constitution came about at the behest of the SC delegation:
On August 28 the convention considered the fugitives from justice clause. Butler and Charles Pinckney attempted to amend this provision “to require fugitive slaves and servants to be delivered up like criminals.” Roger Sherman sarcastically countered that he “saw no more propriety in the public seizing and surrendering a slave or servant, than a horse.” James Wilson objected that this would cost the free states money. Significantly, this opposition came from two delegates who usually sided with the South. Butler wisely “withdrew his proposition in order that some particular provision might be made apart from this article.”57… …Immediately after this vote [on a commerce-related issue], Butler reintroduced the fugitive slave clause. Without debate or recorded vote, it too passed. 61 The last bargain over slavery had been made. The northerners who had opposed the fugitive slave provision only a day before were now silent. Source: The Covenant with Death and How It Was Made, Part 2
From the White House:
On Wednesday, the President travelled to the U.S. Capitol to deliver remarks at an event commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment. The President was be joined by Members of both the House and Senate, including Congressional leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus, in marking this historic event.
(President Obama delivers remarks at the U.S. Capitol to commemorate the abolition of slavery in 1865.)
We gather here to commemorate a century and a half of freedom — not simply for former slaves, but for all of us.
Today, the issue of chattel slavery seems so simple, so obvious — it is wrong in every sense. Stealing men, women, and children from their homelands. Tearing husband from wife, parent from child; stripped and sold to the highest bidder; shackled in chains and bloodied with the whip. It’s antithetical not only to our conception of human rights and dignity, but to our conception of ourselves — a people founded on the premise that all are created equal. […]
… for decades, America wrestled with the issue of slavery in a way that we have with no other, before or since …
At its heart, the question of slavery was never simply about civil rights. It was about the meaning of America, the kind of country we wanted to be –- whether this nation might fulfill the call of its birth: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” that among those are life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The president described the long struggle to move from freedom to full citizenship, paying homage to the civil rights leaders, and ordinary men and women who pursued justice for people of color. He cited the uneven progress, the ugliness that still “bubbles up” and concluded:
… our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others -– regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what their last name is or what faith they practice. (Applause.) To be honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth. To nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth. That is our choice. Today, we affirm hope.
Ignoring Haiti and its problems is par for the course in the United States, even when the U.S. has played a role in creating them. There was a flurry of concern around the time of the January 2010 earthquake, with monies raised by a variety of charities…some legit and some suspect, but Haiti news fell out of the headlines, and for the most part is ignored. Before the earthquake there were a host of problems and some have worsened since then. Such is the case of the “restaveks“, nearly 300,000 children who work in a state of indentured servitude which has been deemed modern day slavery by international rights organizations.
Restavek is a form of modern-day slavery that persists in Haiti, affecting one in every 15 children. Typically born into poor rural families, restavek children are often given to relatives or strangers. In their new homes, they become domestic slaves, performing menial tasks for no pay.