"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become prey to the active. The conditions upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt." ~ John Philpot Curran
Home of the Slave, Land of the Fee
Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
My Fourth Edition of Black’s Law dictionary defines “slave” thusly: “a person who is wholly subject to the will of another.” The phrase “will of another” sounded familiar. I checked the same dictionary for “statute,” and found it defined as the “written will of the legislature.” You might come to suspect that a person subject to the legislators’ will—i.e. the “law”--is a slave of the legislators. Ah, no! That couldn’t be, in the Land of the Free!
An online dictionary gave the following definition of “slave”: “one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence.” It then gave an example of the use of the word: “Do it yourself. I’m not your slave.” You might conclude that someone performing some task when compelled by another, for the benefit of another, is a slave!
It might seem preposterous to compare modern Americans to the slaves of the plantations, two centuries ago. After all, the two definitions given use terms like “wholly subject” and “completely subservient.” We certainly are not “wholly subject,” and “completely subservient”! But were the slaves of the plantation? I’m sure they could sing and dance if they pleased. Presumably, when not working, they could walk about the place, do a little whittling, maybe play some simple musical instrument, tell stories, take a nap. They were, after all, valuable productive assets, and had to be maintained as such. They couldn’t be expected to produce much for the master if they were overly discontent, or starving. It was to his advantage to keep them fit and reasonably happy.
Moreover, a slave could occupy his dwelling, although he couldn’t own it, and was only allowed to stay there if he produced enough for the master to justify his room and board. We, on the other hand, own our homes and don’t have to turn over any of our productivity to anyone in return for the right of occupancy, do we? (Scratch that, bad example.)
A slave was assigned tasks by his master, and could expect some punishment for not accomplishing them according to the orders he’d been given. There are some among us today, for example, who are compelled to keep specified financial records, collect monies, and forward them to the master (er, correction—to the appropriate official) on a schedule of the official’s making. But these individuals are surely not slaves, and would laugh at any assertion to the contrary. The difference is obvious--isn’t it?
No slave would openly spread any unflattering information about the master for fear of punishment, whereas those among us who publish unpleasant truths about our rulers are treated with honor and respect, right?
Education was not provided for the slaves, thus keeping them ignorant and uninformed; whereas, in contrast, our children are treated to many years of schooling, from which they emerge with astonishing erudition and knowledge of the world, as shown by the intelligence tests at which they shine, and a political savvy and awareness of history that amazes!
The slave of yesteryear could keep only as much of his own production as the master allowed, but, by contrast, we can keep all of what we make! (Wait a minute—that didn’t come out right.)
We are often told that our system of taxation is based on voluntary compliance. That certainly distinguishes us from the black slave, although the taking of his production by the master was, arguably, the result of voluntary compliance, inasmuch as the slave could have refused to produce! But there the similarity ends, for if the plantation slave had refused to volunteer his services, he would have gotten a severe beating, whereas if we decline to volunteer, our wishes are respected! (Did I get that right?)
Anyway, it’s grotesquely inappropriate to compare modern American life with that of a plantation hand of the mid-19th Century! Isn’t it?