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Published on: December 2, 2009
John Brown Dead, Slavery Marches On

It is 150 years to the day since John Brown was hanged, and more Africans are being enslaved today than at the height of the infamous Atlantic slave trade. This at least is the conclusion that can be drawn from United Nations studies in ‘human trafficking’, as the slave trade is now being called.  Millions […]

It is 150 years to the day since John Brown was hanged, and more Africans are being enslaved today than at the height of the infamous Atlantic slave trade.

This at least is the conclusion that can be drawn from United Nations studies in ‘human trafficking’, as the slave trade is now being called.  Millions of people each year fall into the modern slave trade, according to UN officials.

“The precise number of people lured into trafficking is unknown. Between the smugglers’ efforts to avoid detection and the low priority given by most governments to monitoring and preventing trafficking, estimates vary widely, notes the UN human rights commissioner’s special rapporteur on human trafficking, Joy Ezeilo. She puts the total number of people trafficked globally last year at about 2.5 million, including more than 1 million children. It is also big business, earning the gangs upwards of $10 bn a year, reports UNICEF.”

Africa is the center of contemporary slavery; within Africa, children and others are enslaved as domestic workers.  Exported slaves, most often young women, fuel the sex industries of the ‘advanced’ countries, especially in Europe.

The best recent book on the global slave trade, A Crime So Monstrous by E. Benjamin Skinner, details a worldwide industry that destroys millions of lives each year.

John Brown

We like to think that our world is making progress, that as humanity develops technologically and economically we are also developing morally and socially.  The rise of the new slave trade challenges that easy, comfortable assumption.  True, slavery is not as economically important today as it was in the nineteenth century when the slave-dependent cotton industry provided cheap raw materials for the cutting edge textile factories that led the Industrial Revolution.  And it is also true that while there are more slaves today than ever before in world history, the percentage of the world’s population held in slavery seems to be in long term decline.

But slavery today is by some measures more brutal and more soul destroying than it was in the past.  The brothel industry in particular, subjecting millions of young women and children to repeated multiple rapes night after night for years at a time, is organized on a far larger and more extensive scale than it was in the past — and slaves make this industry possible.

As Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Booth looked on, John Brown was hanged 150 years ago today — on December 2, 1859.

It is worth recollecting the last speech he made at his trial — for the crime of treason against the State of Virginia:

“This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!”

Today the law is not on the side of slavery, and we can fight it in peaceful and legal ways.  The harsh and lonely path of John Brown is not the path we are called to take.  That should inspire and encourage us to fight slavery, but I am afraid most of us are content to sit back and ignore it.

150 years after the death of John Brown, slavery is still marching on; is the spirit of abolition still with us?

show comments
  • http://www.15grant.us/mrsizer mrsizer

    Where have you been living? Of course this doesn’t matter: It doesn’t fit the narrative.

    Slavery is a uniquely American/white evil for which we can never atone. Africa did not, does not, and never shall have anything to do with it – beyond being victimized by it, of course.

    Get with the program.

  • JPinTX

    Aside from outrage, one frightening thought I draw from the conditions you point out is the fragility of our concept of individual liberty and unalienable rights. It reminds me of the wisdom of our founding fathers in creating a governing system that has gone far towards protecting these. Regrettably, the political class of today seems to think first about what to promise in order to remain in power, and last, if ever, about their solemn duty to preserve, continue and protect the gift of our unalienable rights. Your article is evidence of the level to which human kind will sink when principles are not preserved.

  • http://gus3.typepad.com gus3

    Grenada.

    The Berlin Wall and the Warsaw Pact.

    Iraq.

    Hell, yeah.

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  • http://datechguy.wordpress.com datechguy

    With respect, as right as he was on the issue of slavery and as powerful an advocate he proved at and after his trial lets not forget that Brown was a murderer who butchered his victims without mercy.

    His hanging was completely justified and the deification of him is at the very least troubling.

    He had no remorse for the murder he committed for what he considered a higher cause. The fact that this is a cause I presume we all support doesn’t make his actions any less murder.

  • http://impearls.blogspot.com/ Michael McNeil

    Slavery is a uniquely American/white evil for which we can never atone.

    What parochial, ahistoric nonsense. Slavery has existed all over the world for millennia, where it affected many millions of people with its great evil, nor was America’s experience of the practice either qualitatively or quantitatively particularly worse than many places elsewhere and elsewhen.

    For instance, as Richard Hellie (Professor of Russian History, University of Chicago; author of Slavery in Russia, 1450-1725 and others) writes in Encyclopædia Britannica’s article “Slavery”:

    “Slaves have been owned in black Africa throughout recorded history. In many areas there were large-scale slave societies, while in others there were slave-owning societies. Slavery was practiced everywhere even before the rise of Islam, and black slaves exported from Africa were widely traded throughout the Islamic world. Approximately 18,000,000 Africans were delivered into the Islamic trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades between 650 and 1905. In the second half of the 15th century Europeans began to trade along the west coast of Africa, and by 1867 between 7,000,000 and 10,000,000 Africans had been shipped as slaves to the New World. […]

    “The relationship between African and New World slavery was highly complementary. African slave owners demanded primarily women and children for labour and lineage incorporation and tended to kill males because they were troublesome and likely to flee. The transatlantic trade, on the other hand, demanded primarily adult males for labour and thus saved from certain death many adult males who otherwise would have been slaughtered outright by their African captors. […]

    “More long-term was the slavery practiced in the Crimean Khanate between roughly 1475 and its liquidation by the Russian empress Catherine the Great in 1783. The Crimean Tatar society was based on raiding the neighbouring Slavic and Caucasian sedentary societies and selling the captives into the slave markets of Eurasia. Approximately 75 percent of the Crimean population consisted of slaves or freedmen, and much of the free population was highly predatory, engaged either in the gathering of slaves or in the selling of them. It is known that for every slave the Crimeans sold in the market, they killed outright several other people during their raids, and a couple more died on the way to the slave market. […]

    “Other prominent Islamic slave societies were on the east coast of Africa in the 19th century. The Arab-Swahili slave systems have been well-studied, and it is known that, depending on the date, 65 to 90 percent of the population of Zanzibar was enslaved. Close to 90 percent of the population on the Kenya coast was also enslaved, and in Madagascar half the population was enslaved. […]

    “Among some of the various Islamic Berber Tuareg peoples of the Sahara and Sahel, slavery persisted at least until 1975. The proportions of slaves ranged from around 15 percent among the Adrar to perhaps 75 percent among the Gurma. In Senegambia, between 1300 and 1900, about a third of the population consisted of slaves. In Sierra Leone in the 19th century close to half the population was enslaved. In the Vai Paramount chiefdoms in the 19th century as much as three-quarters of the population consisted of slaves. Among the Ashanti and Yoruba a third were enslaved. In the 19th century over half the population consisted of slaves among the Duala of the Cameroon, the Ibo and other peoples of the lower Niger, the Kongo, and the Kasanje kingdom and Chokwe of Angola.”

    Etc. etc. — and that’s just absolutely the tiniest introduction to a few of the massive slave trafficking networks that existed in history.

  • Just Bill

    To datechquy,

    Is there ANYTHING that you consider worth fighting and possibly dieing for?

  • Jabba The Tutt

    Slavery is a uniquely American/white evil for which we can never atone.

    Hey, Michael McNeil – the above comment was a JOKE. mrsizer was making fools of the politically correct, multi-culti, nitwits, who never bring up the information YOU presented. That’s the point.

    To people like Barack Obama, all cultures are equal, except for American culture, which is uniquely evil.

    Where are we wrong on this?

  • Pat

    To equate trafficked individuals as the UN does is a mistake. The receiving countries describe them as illegal immigrants. They pay a high price to criminal organisations in order to be transported around the law to counties with better opportunities than they have at home. And since two major police operations in the UK have failed to find any sex workers trafficked under the UN definition I doubt that the proportion trafficked for sex work is anywhere near correct.
    Western countries could of course solve this by allowing free immigration- at the cost of destroying their cultures.
    May I propose that building the economies of poor countries such that their people no longer have such an incentive to leave is the best answer- especially since it helps everyone.

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  • Maureen

    So if I signed up to be an illegal immigrant — or a legal one — down in my village in Mexico, but when I got to America I found myself locked in a room with thirty other girls who didn’t speak English, servicing truckers for no pay, that wouldn’t be slavery? Because I had consented to crossing the border, everything the coyotes did afterward was fair game?

    How about the blind and deaf and crippled people from remote villages whom the FBI found, who had been told they were having their medical care in Mexico City paid for by a charitable foundation, and then found themselves locked up in containers, shipped across the border, and forced to beg for no pay? Are they also just illegals, in your estimation, and therefore not able to be counted as slaves?

    How about the American citizens who got kidnapped by a very small cult and forced to sell magazines door to door for no money? (Yes, I wish I were joking about this one. Another very interesting FBI report, I’m sure.) Weren’t they slaves?

    Will you at least allow that the Saudi diplomats who brought their slaves to the US under the guise of thoroughly legal folks brought in to work as servants and then got caught at it, should have their slaves counted as slaves, not covered up?

    Every year, CSPAN has on the head of the Dept of State’s human trafficking office, for his annual press conference on the state of human trafficking throughout the world, including in the US. Every year, the stories get more horrifying and widespread. We have a MAJOR problem with human trafficking in the West, and we can’t just close our eyes to it and hope it goes away.

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  • sestamibi

    Michael McNeil–

    It’s called “sarcasm”. Look it up.

    Having said that, mrsizer is right insofar as the forces of PC have a problem only with white slaveowners and non-white slaves. Any other combination is merely the expression of another culture, and after all, who are we to judge them by western standards?

  • FeFe

    As you use John Brown and his belief in God and the need to spread Christianity, do you not see the persistence in slavery among peoples where proselytizing is outlawed or punishable by death?

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  • http://Yahoo S. Beach

    Kidnapping , torture, and sexual slavery is illegal. What drives the demand? Public beheadings of these Satanists might cure what ails the sex offender.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    For those interested there is an interview in this week’s Forbes.com magazine online with Peter Berger: “Is Religion an Essential Driver of Economic Growth?” (May 29 issue).

    If the Mortgage Bubble was a secular version of “inner world profligacy” then its antidote might be “inner world aestheticism” as discussed in Forbes interview with Berger.

  • roastytoasty

    In the 2000+ years since God walked the earth as a man among men, much of traditional, man-made religious practice in Christianity has moved farther & farther away from the original mission. Regarding the work of His Spirit, the words of the LORD Christ himself are instructive: Gospel of John, chapters 14, 15, 16 & 17: http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Jhn&c=14&v=1&t=KJV#top
    A contemporary example of the Holy Spirit at work:
    http://www.worldinvisible.com/avlib/html_series/What-is-the-Baptism-of-the-Holy-Spirit.html

  • Jim__L

    Another article from the self-confessed “incurable” but curiously asymptomatic Lutheran…

    “I will not speculate about this here, except to suggest that developments extraneous to religion (mostly political and economic) will greatly influence the direction taken by religion in all countries.”

    Doesn’t Berger’s bland statement here constitute a complete rejection of Pentecostalism, and perhaps even Christianity itself? It’s hard for me to see how Luther’s “Sola Gratia” principle coexists with Berger’s “extraneous developments”.

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