12-02-2004, 03:59 PM #1
BG Roundtable #4: Slave ownership and the legacy of the founding fathers
Simple question that, in being answered, must be defended on some level through intelligent thought and elaboration: does the fact that an overwhelming majority of the founding fathers owned slaves in any way mitigate or tarnish their legacy? In short, what we might abstractly be answering here is whether or not it is fair to judge an individual on the norms and ethics of a time period in which they did not exist. In doing so, we also must confront the idea of whether or not some values transcend ALL time and culture.
To put this in perspective, imagine that in a few hundred years it becomes the 'norm' that anyone who consumed meat was an absolute barbarian with no respect for life. Would it be fair of history to judge the meat eaters of today based on that development? That is actually, in my estimation not nearly the wild analogy that it would appear. If you read aristotle, for example, he tackles all kinds of ethical dilemmas, but, despite being one of the greatest minds in human history, it never even occurs to him to consider the morality of slavery - it was truly as normal and accepted then as having a burger or chicken breast is today...even moreso in many regards.
12-02-2004, 04:07 PM #2
Man you are coming up with some tough ones. Reality is relavent to your world and surroundings. Just as you stated. For instance tree could mean FU*k but it means tree.
Slavery had been around since the beginning of time in some form. As we have evolved as human beings our perspective has changed to see that all life is equally as valuable as any other. (at least I hope so) Humanity is growing up and still growing up, we are much less than our potential. Who knows if we will ever reach it.
12-02-2004, 06:29 PM #3
Ethics change with time. It is difficult to judge the ethics which you hold versus the ethics of old. Of course, if you asked some of their slaves I'm sure they would not have agreed that these were great men, for in giving liberty to some, they clearly steal it from others.
Yes it's true, everything is relative. For example: I can apply general relativity to problems that Newtonian physics cannot touch. As such, I have a firmer grasp on gravity and such things which Sir Isaac Newton was only scratching the surface on. In short -and don't take this too far out of context now- I know more about physics than Isaac Newton ever did. But obviously that doesn't lessen his mind at all. I am no where near the intellectual that he was. Human knowledge grows with time, and with new knowledge comes responsibility. Responsibility is partly to credit for the abolition of slavery.
So the obvious question arises, were the founding fathers irresponsible, or were they just going along with the consuetude of their era? If the later is true, then it seems fit to reason that going with the flow -if you will- denotes unethical yet accepted behavior. So then what is ethics? Is it what is accepted at the time, or what is inherently just? If the later, who is to decide what is inherently just, as what is right and wrong has clearly evolved throughout time?
I have no answer for you, only questions.
12-02-2004, 07:04 PM #4
Mr.Garisson in southpark has a slave.
12-02-2004, 07:30 PM #5Anabolic Member
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A hateful, detestable person can do or create something good, just as a person who is morally beyond reproach in almost every deed and intention can do or create something absolutely evil. So...
Does the fact that an overwhelming majority of the founding fathers owned slaves in any way mitigate or tarnish their legacy?
Tarnish it? Yes. Mitigate it? No.
The Founding Fathers (FFs) attempted to create something good and fair for all who had rights (or were considered whole men). Once the lists of rights and protections is applied evenly to everyone, then one can plainly see that what the FFs created is wonderful.
Another way of looking at it:
If Hitler had created a foundation which developed the cure for cancer, would that cure be any less appreciated 50 years later? The history of the cure would be tarnished but the effectiveness of the cure wouldn't be mitigated (lessened).
Last edited by BASK8KACE; 12-02-2004 at 07:36 PM.
12-02-2004, 10:27 PM #6Swellin Guest
There are things that are so inherently foul that being judged by those in any time seems reasonable. While most of us would agree that cannabalism is absurd and wrong, it is condoned and practiced as a must in some cultures...this very day.
Can thinking one man's worth is less than another and considering said man to be property be as dastardly as the ceremonious consumption of a neighbor? I don't think so.
People grow and change. As such, societies change. The thing we must realize is that if it were not for the forward thinking of these forefathers, slavery might be a practice condoned today. While they may have been guilty of this very attrocity, they might be the reason it no longer exists.
I say "no" to both questions of tarnish and mitigation. I think that we can perceive it as tarnishing; however, that is rather self-righteous IMO.
Before I get branded as a racist for saying so, I have Cherokee ancestry...the caucasians treated the Cherokee worse than any other race to set foot on this soil. Am I bitter and consider it a tarnishing act? No to bitter...no to tarnishing. Embarassing? Hell yes. Am I embarrassed about our actions in slavery...a resounding hell yes.
However, none of us have "walked a mile in their moccasins." These horrible acts were the norm throughout history. As our freedoms changed, so did social taboos. we bagan to realize certain wrongs and attempted to correct them. We cannot blame those who lived in different times for their actions which were condoned during that day.
12-02-2004, 10:35 PM #7Originally Posted by Swellin
12-02-2004, 11:17 PM #8Swellin Guest
You said it...confounding and hipocritical.....confounding to me...hiposcritical by today's standards. The tyranny they fought against was the religous control of the common man. As horrid as it was, they felt as though the slaves were not of equal footing and not to be considered common men. You do realize that not just Africans were slaves here right? The racial issue began when the colonists began importing slaves. The humane issue began by simply "owning" them.
My point is that to these people, a slave was not a man. Neither was a woman, for that matter. Whilest this is off-topic, I think there is more discrimination against women today than against all of the racial minorities combined.
These people simply believed the slaves were not of equal value. to control them was nothing, while controling a free man's right to religion was wrong. Absurd? Hell yes! Were they judged accordingly in their day...no. While it sounds absurd and it is incredibly horrible to imagine, it is a simple fact that if you or I were living in those times, we might very well have been slave owners ourselves....and judged as being moral....in that day!
We cannot foresee the rights and wrongs of tomorrow. We only have our current laws (be them moral, ethical, legal, or religious) to guide us and our actions. e cannot be bound to the social will of those 100 years from now. As such, we cannot be judged by that society.
12-02-2004, 11:27 PM #9Anabolic Member
Originally Posted by swellin
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If you say you can accept what America did because it was just a matter the values of that age, then talk about France's lack of race issues at that time. France, a country where Frederick Douglass went for a bit of rest from even the Northern Americans.
No one's going to call you a racist, bro. I'm a mix too: of African and Native American (to name two of 4 of my major ancestry lines).
If you find the conduct of the founding fathers embarrassing, then that means to me that you fidn the image country slightly tarnished. To say otherwise is to argue over semantics.
It's certainly not self-righteous to have a negative opinion about a part of our history that is shameful and caused terrible pain and suffering for many races to say the least. I hear people constantly talk about the holocaust as though it is the greatest display of evil ever (I'm not going to debate that here). But I will say, no one would bat an eye if someone said Germany's history is tarnished. So, America's histroy is tarnished too. Whether you call it embarrassing or an utter shame, it's still an awful spot in history that we'd all rather just forget about and shove under the rug. But, we can't just forget it because those who forget history are in danger of repeating it.
Last edited by BASK8KACE; 12-02-2004 at 11:44 PM.
12-03-2004, 12:13 AM #10Originally Posted by BASK8KACE
One thing though, the catholic countries at that time had "prohibited" slavery. Although tremendous abuses where commited in other ways, that could be called slavery, it was supposedly illegal. My point is that people knew at that time that slavery was wrong. They knew that the only differance from blacks was skin color. To think that the founding fathers didnt know this, is absurd. I think Washington(not sure) freed his slaves before dying. Why?
Just think, blacks were barely allowed to vote in the 20th century. Did we know this was unethical? you bet.
Where the founding fathers great. No doubt. Did they know slavery was wrong. No doubt. Where they bad people? I dont think so. Where they saints? No way.
12-03-2004, 12:15 AM #11Anabolic Member
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- May 2002
Exactly. Good post, marka.
12-04-2004, 09:16 AM #12Writer
Originally Posted by BigGreen
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If you read aristotle, for example, he tackles all kinds of ethical dilemmas, but, despite being one of the greatest minds in human history, it never even occurs to him to consider the morality of slavery - it was truly as normal and accepted then as having a burger or chicken breast is today...even moreso in many regards.
Quoting from Aristotle:
""Whenever a thing is established out of a number of things and becomes a single common thing, there always appears in it a ruler and ruled. . . . This [relation] is present in living things, but it derives from all of nature." (1254a28-32)
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