Posts tagged Frederick Douglass

Re: You Say You Want a Revolution

TGGP: Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the “country party” of England the Tories and the “court party” the Whigs?

Other way round. The Tories were known as the “Court Party” for their political loyalties to a powerful and interventionist Crown; the Whigs distinguished themselves as the “Country Party” in opposition to the royal court. (Cf. WikiPedia: British Whig Party, etc.)

ajay: I was with you until that point… why shouldn’t slavery have continued in (say) the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia etc? Obviously not on the same scale without the ex-French states of the Deep South, but the “died of strangulation” argument doesn’t really ring true.

Well, a few reasons.

First, it’s not clear that plantation slavery would have remained economically viable without expansion into the Deep South and the old Southwest. In the upper South (Maryland and Virginia especially) unsustainable farming practices had already stripped much of the land, and the slavers’ livelihoods had become substantially dependent on the American slave trade — “selling down” slaves to the Deep South or to the Caribbean — rather than on actual planting. (This is part of the reason why Virginian slavers like Jefferson and George Mason pushed so hard for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade: not because they wanted to roll back slavery, but rather because they wanted to eliminate foreign competition.) Had it not been for the expansion of U.S. territory, and the slavocracy along with it, into the Gulf states, slavery might well have died out for economic reasons, at least in the upper South.

Second, without the centralized system created by the Constitution there would have been no enforceable federal Fugitive Slave laws. The Southern slavocracy depended on the federally-assured cooperation of the free states, and without those assurances — with freedom beginning not at the Canadian border, but rather at the Mason-Dixon line — individual refugees and coordinated efforts like the Underground Railroad, operating without any fear of slave-catchers or federal judges, would very quickly have made slavery unsustainable even in those states where it would otherwise have remained economically viable.

Third, on a similar note, without Union bayonets and cannon, and without the Slave Power’s expansionist program, there would have been no Seminole Wars, and far more territory outside of the U.S. for fugitive slaves to flee to and establish maroon communities. This threatened to dramatically destabilize the slave system in the Carolinas and Georgia prior to the Seminole Wars, and would have had a profound effect had it not been for the subjugation of Florida by the Federal military.

Note that it’s for precisely these reasons that many radical abolitionists — most famously William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and, early in his career, Frederick Douglass — argued that the Northern states should secede from the Union, and that the Constitutional system of compromise and political centralization was one of the chief bulwarks holding up the slave system in the Southern states.

Re: Gene Callahan Joins the Smearbund


But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.


In a perfect world, in a world of the theoretical, of course he is correct.

Actually, part of Spooner’s point, if you’re paying attention, is that here in the real world, the strategy of using paper constitutions to limit the invasiveness of governments is demonstrably impractical. There’s little if any evidence that his views on the theoretical, in-principle relationship between the natural law and the U.S. Constitution changed substantially between The Unconstitutionality of Slavery and No Treason No. 6. (For details, see Roderick Long’s paper.) What did change was that he became convinced, in light of the recent triumph of bayonet-point Unionism, that it was practically useless to go on citing the Constitution as a basis for attacking tyrannical laws, and that a new strategy was called for. Hence the shift to arguments explicitly based on natural law and directed against all forms of government authority, including governments based on paper constitutions.


Far better for us all if these great men would have ENGAGED more and FOUGHT more than they did.

Frederick Douglass:

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? … The time for such argument is past. At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.


I can’t prove it, but I’d wager you anything you like, at any odds, that If we took a plebiscite on whether people wished to live under the Constitution or not, that they would vote in the affirmative, and so would the rest of the world.

Well, so?

I can’t for the life of me see what this has to do with Spooner’s explanation of the criminality of government legislators, judges, executives, etc. My point is precisely that Spooner’s argument have nothing at all to do with the outcome of majoritarian voting games.

As for your claim that the same cabal of usurpers who, under the auspices of the United States Constitution, claimed the right to pass fugitive slave laws and crush the Whiskey Rebellion by force of arms, somehow believed that the Constitution allowed for a right of individual dissenters to freely withdraw from the political obligations that they sought to impose (!), I guess your understanding of the Constitutionalists is different from mine. As it is from the understanding of Spooner, who never made such a risible claim about the motives or expectations of the minority faction who wrote and signed off on the Constitution. (He did believe that the legal meaning of the text sometimes conflicted with their motives and expectations in writing it; but that’s an entirely different claim.)


Yeah, [enslaving hundreds of people] was pretty shitty of Jefferson. He was also a hypocrite, a rapist, and President of the United States, all of which I think were pretty shitty of him. What’s your point?


As much as any single man in history, he was the force, a goddamned genius of liberty, the POWERHOUSE behind what freedoms we DO have today.

Maybe so. Certainly, if the dude is the best there is on offer by way of concrete historical achievements towards liberty, then I guess that could help explain why we’re in such a sorry state today.

In any case, my point is that the presumption that anarchists would just have to recognize and respect the obvious merit of a slaver, rapist, hypocrite, and President is a pretty weird presumption from which to start your argument.


You seem to be presuming that trying to get somebody elected President of the United States is the only way to get “things [to] improve”. But it’s not the only way. It’s not the best way, either, or even a particularly plausible way. Or, at least, if you think that it is, that’s certainly not a self-evident truth that you can just presuppose. It’s a tendentious claim that you’ll have to justify with some kind of argument.


At least you qualified this with the words “seem & “presuming”, otherwise that’s exactly what you would have been doing. The argument you suggested for me; that WOULD be a pretty stupid argument I made, eh?

I charitably suggested that you might be presupposing that premise, or something like it, because if you’re not presupposing that getting Ron Paul elected President is the only way to improve the situation, all you have the following argument:

  1. These folks here aren’t contributing to efforts to get Ron Paul elected President. (given)
  2. Therefore, these folks here aren’t contributing to improving the political situation. (conclusion)

… which is a flat non sequitur. As yet there’s no reason at all to suppose that (2) follows from (1). If you add the extra premise I suggested, then you’ll have:

  1. Getting Ron Paul elected President is the only way to improve the political situation. (implicit)
  2. These folks here aren’t contributing to efforts to get Ron Paul elected President. (given)
  3. Therefore, these folks here aren’t contributing to improving the political situation. (conclusion)

Not all of these premises are true (the implicit premise 0 is clearly false), but it is at least formally valid; if all the premises were true, the conclusion would have to follow.

If I was being too charitable, well, I’m sorry. I take it back. If you’re not actually presuming what I said you seem to be presuming, then your conclusion isn’t supported by question-begging premises; it’s not supported by anything at all.


Doctor Paul, inspired THOUSANDS of people like me to go out and fight these degenerates.

Yep. Let’s all measure the inputs to the allocation process instead of measuring the outputs.

But, well, I guess when you’ve got a prior commitment to methods that require enlisting tens of millions of other people and harnessing tens of millions of dollars, which don’t even operate but for a few months out of every four-year cycle, and which operate on winner-take-all rules that require you to win just about everything before you can win just about anything — methods which, in short, have no plausible hope of even minor progress on the margins for decades to come — measuring the inputs is about all you can do. There are no outputs to measure, and there won’t be in the forseeable future.


… big thinkers like Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Ayn Rand, and the like …

May I suggest that Thomas Jefferson be excluded from consideration, along with any other so-called “liberal” or “libertarian” who unrepentantly presumed to dominate his fellow human beings and force them into an abject condition of chattel slavery?

As for genuinely libertarian heroes, off the top of my head, I’d like to recommend Thomas Paine, Henry David Thoreau, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, Sarah Moore Grimké, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lysander Spooner, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Ezra Heywood, Angela Tilton Heywood, Benjamin Tucker, William Graham Sumner, Mark Twain, Dyer Lum, Voltairine de Cleyre, Emma Goldman, Randolph Bourne, Murray Rothbard, Karl Hess, and Samuel E. Konkin III.

For what it’s worth, to-day is the 200th birthday of Lysander Spooner, one of America’s foremost radical libertarian heroes.