One of the points of contention in recent textbook battles in Texas is the issue of slavery and how it will be explored in classrooms. Those opposed to revision argue that it will be whitewashed.
Actually, if the complete history of slavery were explored, those purists might be surprised at what they find. For one thing, few texts even mention the enslavement of Christians by Muslims. “The Barbary pirates, using what would now be called a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as their pretext, regularly kidnapped Christian livestock from Italy, Malta, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica and from the ships of all nations sailing the Mediterranean,” historian Paul Johnson wrote in The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830. “In the 17th Century their corsairs had cruised in the waters of Northern Europe as well and at one time Algiers had held as many as 25,000 white Christians as slaves.”
“In late August 1816, a combined British and Dutch fleet under the command of Lord Exmouth (formerly Sir Edward Pellew) followed the example of Commodore Stephen Decatur, forcing a peace at the mouth of a cannon,” historian Joshua E. London writes in Victory in Tripoli: How America’s War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U. S. Navy and Shaped a Nation. “This armada unleashed hell upon Algiers, destroying most of the coastal side of the city, as well as most of its navy and marina.”
“The dey accepted all of Lord Exmouth’s demands.” The deys were potentates who ran Algiers. “More than eleven hundred Christian captives were released from slavery, and the dey agreed to abolish Christian slavery in Algiers forever,” London reports.
One thing that the enslavement of whites had in common with the more widespread bondage of blacks: the general merchant class that captured and sold the slaves. Unfortunately, African tribal chiefs were too frequently complicit in the slave trade.
“Large-scale slave trading by highly organized Arab bands led a growing number of native kings to go to war in pursuit of slaves,” Johnson wrote. “The influence of Arab predation was felt as far south as the Cape, where the generic term for blacks was kaffir, the Arab-Islamic expression for ‘unbeliever.’”
Johnson claimed that the British tried to discourage this practice. “You will endeavor by every means in your power to impress on [the ruler’s] mind the very great advantages he will derive by putting a total stop to the sale of slaves…[which] will cause him to be ranked among the benefactors of mankind,” Lord Bathurst of the Colonial Office instructed Henry Clapperton, who was setting out on an expedition on July 30, 1825.
Opposition to slavery was more widespread than we have been lead to believe as well. “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil,” Robert E. Lee wrote in 1856, before the Civil War even began.
“Slavery is a violation, by law, of liberty,” French philosopher Frederic Bastiat wrote in the mid-Nineteenth Century. “The protective tariff is a violation, by law, of property.”
“It is a most remarkable fact that this double legal crime — a sorrowful inheritance from the Old World — should be the only issue which can, and perhaps will, lead to the ruin of the Union. It is indeed impossible to imagine, at the very heart of a society, a more astounding fact than this: The law has come to be an instrument of injustice. And if this fact brings terrible consequences to the United States — where the proper purpose of the law has been perverted only in the instances of slavery and tariffs — what must be the consequences in Europe, where the perversion of the law is a principle; a system?”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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