In recent years, the U.S. leadership has been consistently portraying the United States as the “world’s oldest democracy” on the premise that the form of “democracy” that was established soon after attaining independence from Britain way back in 1776 was supposedly consistent with the present United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, this claim masks several uncomfortable truths: that suffrage for a long period was restricted to rich White men; that slavery was a legal institution in the U.S. until 1865; that elections held between 1876 and 1965, particularly in the South, were largely governed by racist “Jim Crow Laws”; and that women gained the right to vote only in 1920. That apartheid was legally practiced in the U.S. until 1964 also remains largely hidden. The fact is that universal franchise became a possibility in the U.S. essentially after the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which is “a critical step in dismantling the multiple impediments to voting that had been erected between 1850s and World War I”, took effect as late as 1995.
Contrary to popular beliefs, the landed-gentry and the bourgeoisie, who led the independence struggle and drafted the U.S. Constitution, did not gift freedom and democratic rights to others. Even the poor White men had to wage a determined struggle between 1790 and 1856 to slowly attain those rights. (However, again from 1871 till 1964, voting rights of these poor Whites were restricted in several states through imposition of “Poll Tax” until the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution finally prohibited such taxes.) The rest of the population of the U.S. – especially African-Americans, women and post-1867 immigrants – wrested those rights through hard fought anti-slavery (abolitionist) movement, the suffragette movement, the working-class movement and the civil rights movement.
In short, since it’s founding in 1776, it has taken well over 200 years of bitter struggle for the people in the U.S. as a whole to get an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights. And, when it did appear that they would begin to do so, the enactment of the PATRIOT Act following the 9/11 attack (and a series of similar draconian laws that followed), ensured that such high hopes of unfettered and universal exercise of democratic rights would continue to remain a distant dream! In fact, there was increasing concern that the U.S. was fast turning into a police state. Moreover, far from being the “world’s oldest”, universal franchise has still not been instituted de jure in the U.S., i.e., till date, the right of suffrage is not guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, whereas in India, for example, Article 326 of the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to all adult citizens. Although by 1995, the voter registration process was simplified and potentially all adult citizens could register to vote, the electoral process in the U.S. is still overshadowed by the role of money power and a highly partisan and corporate controlled media that primarily projects the interests of the wealthy class.
The U.S. establishment’s self-congratulatory campaign conceals several other uncomfortable truths as well: that the “world’s oldest democracy” had no qualms about perpetuating its self interest through imperialist conquests; by supporting despotic regimes or by overthrowing democratically elected governments! That the “world’s oldest democracy”, which can afford to spend 3 trillion dollars to teach 28 million Iraqis the rudiments of “democracy”, has little concern for the basic democratic rights of 45 million poverty-stricken U.S. citizens! That the top 20 per cent U.S. households own nearly 85 per cent of the total privately held wealth! That even in 2008 just 12.4 per cent of the workforce in the “world’s oldest democracy” could join unions and exercise their democratic rights at their work place; the union membership remaining at the same level as it existed a century ago! That 40 to 60 per cent of the eligible voters never participate in the electoral process! These staggering facts are pointers to the real nature of “democracy” that is prevalent in the U.S. today. It, thus, brings forth the question as to whose interests was the U.S. Constitution actually designed to serve.
A Notable Incident
On 03 March 2006, during a public address to the people of India, President George W. Bush began his speech at the Purana Qila (Old Fort) in New Delhi by saying that he was “honored to bring the good wishes and the respect of the world’s oldest democracy to the world’s largest democracy.”1 President Bush tried his best to use the occasion to rave about the vibrant traditions of “freedom” and “democracy” in the U.S. (and in “our two great democracies”) in order to impress Indians about what is often passed off as the 200-plus-year old “American Creed.”2
During President Bush’s visit, a few Indians also had the misfortune of learning the true essence of “freedom,” about which Mr. Bush was waxing eloquent, through a small incident that took place on 02 March. It so happened that the U.S. First Lady, Laura Bush, who had accompanied her husband to India, chose to pay a visit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity orphanage situated near a South Delhi residential colony in order to shower compassion on orphaned children. Using the opportunity to register indignation at the dismal plight of children in Iraq, one of the residents of the colony, Bela Malik, and her friends hung a banner at her residence that read “Laura Bush, How About A Photo-Op With the Orphaned, Maimed, Dead Children of Iraq.”
According to The Hindu (which apparently was the only newspaper that chose not to ignore the incident), well before Laura Bush’s motorcade arrived there, the neighbourhood was virtually taken over by U.S. secret service agents, sniffer dogs and Delhi Police personnel. The report stated that, Bela Malik had noticed that the Delhi Police were taking orders from the U.S. personnel and that the local residents were not being allowed to leave their homes. Soon, on the pretext of a routine security check, an Inspector from the Delhi Police along with a sub-inspector entered Bela Malik’s residence, where a constable had already been stationed on the balcony. Quoting Bela Malik, the report said: “The inspector asked me not to shout any slogans. We assured him that we did not want to shout any slogans or hamper Ms. Bush’s visit in any way. We just wanted our banner to be displayed.”3
Despite Bela Malik’s assurance, the Inspector ordered the constable and the sub-inspector to remove the banner. Outraged by the highhanded behavior of the security personnel, Bela Malik told The Hindu:
“We objected and said that this was a violation of individual rights because the banner was within my premises. But they confiscated the banner. When we objected, they began questioning the occupants in a threatening manner.” She further added: “In our own country, in my own residence, I am denied the right to speak the truth in a peaceful, non-aggressive manner. A white banner was security threat to the Bush establishment!”3
Thankfully, the Delhi Police did not go to the extent of slapping criminal charges on Bela Malik on some pretext. One wonders if this type of jittery reaction from the security personnel is any different from the way in which despotic regimes reportedly behave!
This incident cannot be dismissed merely as an act of over-zealousness on the part of the Delhi Police in a bid to please the U.S. establishment since it happened under the very directions of the U.S. security personnel. In the name of security concerns, muzzling of anti U.S.-establishment protest actions are not perceived as attacks on democratic rights! However, the same U.S.-establishment has been making tall claims about its commitment to promoting freedom of speech and expression! Just three months earlier, on 09 December 2005, in a proclamation issued during the Human Rights Week, President Bush had proudly stated:
“We are promoting democracies that respect freedom of speech …and freedom of the press …We are standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes and tyranny…. As we observe Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week, we renew our commitment to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law and where all people can enjoy freedom and dignity.”4
Contrary to the said laudatory precepts, Bela Malik and her friends had the bitter experience of knowing exactly how dedicated the U.S. Administration was in promoting freedom of speech and just how tolerant it was of dissent!
Even earlier, on 20 January 2005, during his Inaugural Speech at the time of assuming office for the second time, President George Bush had reiterated that human rights
are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty…. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you…. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof.George W. Bush, “Second Inaugural Address,” delivered 20 January 2005.
The words “freedom” and “democracy” appear incessantly – at least thirty to forty times – in each of President Bush’s major speeches, including his speech in Delhi. At the same time, one cannot help noticing that almost every speech of President Bush was replete with disparaging remarks about the lack of “freedom” and “democracy” in nations, which he considered were not part of the pro-U.S. camp. In the light of the above-mentioned gagging incident at Delhi, the hollowness of the U.S. establishment’s claim of being the flag-bearer of “freedom” and “democracy” in the world, thereby, stands completely exposed. In fact, after the enactment of the PATRIOT Act in 2001, and through similar laws that were enacted subsequently to curtail civil rights within the U.S., there was no way that the U.S. establishment could even pretend that it was the guardian of such lofty ideals! However, these retrograde steps have not prevented the U.S. establishment from indulging in doublespeak.
The myth that the U.S. is the “world’s oldest democracy” was reiterated yet again recently by the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, at the time of signing the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in Washington, DC, on 10 October 2008.5 However, the grave irony is that it was a person of Ms. Rice’s background, who has had first-hand experience of the ground realities that legally prevailed in the United States as late as 1995, who has repeated this tall claim. The truth was, in her childhood, Ms. Rice has had the ignominy of suffering the worst aspects of the apartheid system that was prevalent in her home town of Birmingham in Alabama, which was one of the notorious Southern states of the United States infamous for its racist prejudices. According to a news report: “A childhood friend [of Ms. Rice], 11-year-old Denise McNair, was one of the four young girls killed in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 [by a racist group].”6
Despite this personal tragedy, Ms. Rice never chose to get involved with the civil rights movement at any time although she had enough political acumen to subsequently become the U.S. Secretary of State. The same Ms. Rice, who has been totally indifferent to the racially discriminatory social conditions in her neighborhood, now unabashedly claims that the U.S. was the “world’s oldest democracy”! President Bush repeated this claim again on 29 November 2008 in the context of the terrorist attack on Mumbai when he stated that: “And as the people of the world’s largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the world’s oldest democracy to stand by their side.”7
It is in this background that an attempt is being made here to examine, with the aid of historical records, the veracity of Mr. Bush’s and Ms. Rice’s claims. Unfortunately for them and their ilk, the history of USA is rather well documented and the records are carefully conserved in numerous archives and libraries; several scholars have also carried out painstaking research and have placed a lot of that material in this regard in the public domain including on the Internet as well.
Apparently, even Senator Barak Obama, in the midst of his campaign for presidential nomination, made the politically correct statement that: “The world’s oldest democracy [USA] and the world’s largest democracy [India] are natural partners, sharing important interests and fundamental democratic values.” Senator Obama stated this in an article that he wrote for India Abroad (a magazine published in North America) on 29 February 2008. Senator Obama, a mulatto born in 1961, had spent his childhood in Hawaii and Java and had grown up in the White household of his maternal grandparents in Hawaii. Yet, from 1971 onward he did experience racial prejudices and understood what it meant to be an African-American. After his graduation, he chose to become a civil-rights activist and, therefore, is seemingly well versed in U.S. history, especially about the civil-rights movement. Under the circumstances, Senator Obama’s claim that the U.S. is the “world’s oldest democracy” does not gel with the realities on the ground as is described below. (The state of the “world’s largest democracy” will be discussed separately.)
Early Phase of “Democracy” in the U.S.
The history of USA is not that old since immigrants from Europe had founded it only in 1776. These immigrants had started settling along the east coast of North America from the beginning of the 17th century after forcibly driving away its earlier inhabitants – the Native American-Indians – further west. The original country consisted of thirteen former British colonies, which was bound on the north by the then British Canada, on the south by the then Spanish Florida, on the west by the Appalachian Mountains, and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and covered an area that was less than six per cent of what it is today.
By the latter half of the eighteenth century, the economic structure of the British colonies in North America was composed of slave and free labour, of pre-capitalist and capitalist forms and forces of production, which was largely controlled by the landed gentry and the emerging bourgeoisie. In 1764, in an attempt to offset Britain’s war debt brought on by its war against the French and American-Indians and to help pay for the expenses of running its newly acquired territories, Britain began to levy additional taxes on its American subjects and increase duties on British goods imported to America. Britain’s decision to raise additional revenue by such methods was highly resented by the colonists, who found it an opportune movement to oppose British domination. Thus began the successful decade-long movement for independence. The Declaration of Independence on 04 July 1776 was followed by the adoption of the U.S. Constitution on 17 September 1787, and the ratification of the Bill of Rights on 15 December 1791. These steps supposedly signalled the establishment of freedom and democracy in USA. If that was so, the terms “freedom” and “democracy” had totally different connotations then than what they have assumed at present because at that time only a tiny minority of its then 2.5 million population directly benefited from such laudatory precepts.
The Declaration of Independence had proclaimed that: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Indeed, all men and women are created equal! However, the astonishing fact, which has gone largely unnoticed, was that for over 200 years after the U.S. Constitution was adopted neither were all men nor all women ever treated as equals in the United States. As far as Native American-Indians and African-Americans were concerned, throughout this period the bulk of them had a hard time trying to ensure their very survival and to fend off threats to their personal safety. Under constant life-threatening situations, the question of exercising “unalienable Rights” such as “Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” had remained a rather far-fetched dream for most of them. The utter incongruousness between laudatory precepts on which the United States was founded and actual practice since it’s founding is what is sought to be unravelled in this essay.
It is apparent that most of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. “democratic” system were more anxious about safeguarding the interests of the big landowners (the Patroons, the Manor lords) and the bourgeoisie and less bothered about addressing the concerns of the vast majority of the people within the United States then. In the initial period following independence, a mixture of property and residency requirements had drastically restricted suffrage rights. When the first presidential election was held in 1789, the electorate that elected George Washington as President were mostly landlords or bourgeoisie, who were exclusively White males. (Reportedly, only about 38,818 adult White males voted in the 1789 election, which apparently constituted about 1.6 percent of the then total adult population of those states casting electoral votes.8 ) Between 1790 and 1856, these restrictions were slowly relaxed, and the electorate expanded to include nearly all the long-residing adult White males. However, it was only after poor sections of adult White males launched agitations that they managed to secure their voting rights. In addition, these restrictions were relaxed not because of altruistic motives; it was more out of compulsion and for safeguarding the self-interest of the elites.
According to U.S. historian, Alexander Keysser:
Between 1790 and 1835, from Southeast to Michigan, voteless [White] men petitioned legislatures and constitutional conventions to broaden suffrage requirements. Maryland’s early decision to drop property qualifications was hastened by years of agitation by propertyless residents (including many “mechanics”) of politically dominant Baltimore; in the 1840s, men who could not meet North Carolina’s sensational freehold requirements held mass meeting to demand the right to vote in all elections, while German and Irish aliens petitioned for their own enfranchisement in Milwaukee.9)
Ultimately, pure self-interest was a major factor. With the growing threat of slave rebellion, under the guise of White solidarity, enfranchising all White Southerners was a safe way of ensuring that the poor Whites would serve in the militia to protect the slave owners. Economic interest also played a role in expansion of franchise. As newly acquired territories began to organize themselves into States, inhabitants of those sparsely populated regions opted for White adult franchise in order to attract new settlers, a move that would potentially raise land value, encourage economic development and increase tax revenues. Male immigrants from Europe, who came in large number, were enfranchised in this process (until their suffrage right was again restricted through the introduction of the “poll tax” in 1871.) However, according to Keyssar:
…to the extent to which the working class was indeed enfranchised during the antebellum era [pre-Civil War period] (and one should not ignore that women, free blacks, and recent immigrants constituted a large portion of the working class), such enfranchisement was largely an unintended consequence of the changes in the suffrage laws. The Constitutional conventions that removed property and even taxpaying requirements did not deliberately intend to enfranchise the hundreds of thousands of factory operatives, day laborers, and unskilled workers who became such a prominent and disturbing feature of the economic landscape by the mid-1850s…. Indeed, the broadening of franchise in antebellum America transpired before the industrial revolution had proceeded very far and before its social consequences were clearly or widely visible.10
Women, American-Indians, African-Americans, Hispanics and those of Asian origin continued to be denied the right of franchise.
Pre-eminence of Slavery
Another notable feature was that the Founding Fathers were totally indifferent to the fate of the slaves, who were imported from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries (and early 19th century as well) and who constituted 19 per cent of the total settler population of about 4 million at the time of the first U.S. census in 1790. In the prevailing “democratic spirit” of the times, slavery was legally permitted in the “world’s oldest democracy” under various provisions of the U.S. Constitution, clearly demonstrating the extent of influence wielded by the slave-owners in framing that Constitution. However, it is interesting to note that the Founding Fathers were too embarrassed to use the word “slave” or “slavery” in their debates or in the Constitution itself. Instead, they opted to use euphemisms such as “other persons” and “persons held to service or labor”, which clearly revealed the duplicity of the Founding Fathers in this regard. Explicit reference to slavery was first incorporated into the U.S. Constitution only on 06 December 1865 through the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
The initial convoluted reference to slavery appeared in the 1787 U.S. Constitution in Article I, Section 2, Paragraph iii, which afforded states seats in the House of Representatives according to population, with each slave being counted as “three-fifths of a person.” Not only did this arrangement allow slavery to continue, but it also meant that slaveholders would have disproportionate influence. While the slaves themselves were denied all democratic rights, effectively one slave-owner who owned 100 slaves enjoyed the same degree of representation in the U.S. Congress as 60 non-slave-owning citizens did. Since most of the slaves were confined to the big plantations in the South, the Southern states wielded far more clout in the decision-making process than the Northern states despite the majority of the U.S. citizens then – bulk of whom were non-slave-holders – being residents of the North.
The next allusion to the institution of slavery was in Article I, Section 9, Paragraph I, which stipulated that:
The Migration and Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
This clause prohibited the U.S. Congress from banning the import of slaves into USA before the year 1808 with the proviso that even if a tax or duty is imposed on such importation, it should not exceed ten dollars for each slave. Thus, not only did the U.S. Constitution completely protect slave trade, it also explicitly barred the U.S. Congress from attempting to substantially raise the import duty on slaves as a way of discouraging and ending the slave trade before the year 1808.11
The last indirect reference to slavery is found in the 1787 U.S. Constitution in Article IV, Section 2, Paragraph iii. This was essentially the “fugitive-slave” clause that ordained that:
No Person held to Service or Labor in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labor, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom Service or Labor may be due.
That is to say, even if a slave escapes to a free state with laws prohibiting slavery, he/she still must be returned to his/her rightful owner to whom he/she owes his/her services in the slave state. He/she was still a slave no matter where he/she was, as long as he/she belonged to his/her master. It is very much obvious that specific clauses for protection of slavery were ingrained into the original U.S. Constitution without ever using the words “slave” or “slavery”!
Vermont, which broke away from New York to form a separate state in 1777, became the first State in the U.S. to constitutionally abolish the institution of slavery within its borders, with the State of Pennsylvania soon following its lead in 1780. (The only state to abolish slavery before independence was Rhode Island in 1774.) Although all other Northern states took similar steps by 1804, the gradual emancipation laws prolonged the actual process of abolition of slavery even in most of the Northern states well into the 1850s.
Unmindful of the developments in the Northern states, the U.S. Congress decided to toughen the disguised “fugitive slave” clause in the original U.S. Constitution. On 12 February 1793, it adopted the Fugitive Slave Act, 1793 that not only made it a federal offence to assist an escaping slave but also created a legal mechanism by which escaped slaves could be seized and returned to their masters. Under the Act every escaped slave was made a fugitive-for-life, liable to recapture at any time anywhere within the territory of the United States. Soon slave-catching developed into an organised industry in the “world’s oldest democracy” with hardly any mechanism even to restrain unscrupulous slave-catchers from unlawfully seizing free Blacks and selling them into slavery. The terrifying impact that the Act had on the daily lives of the African-American population all over the United States may well be imagined.
Fifty-seven years later, the pro-slavery laws in the “world’s oldest democracy” was further reinforced when the Fugitive Slave Act, 1850 was adopted by the U.S. Congress on 18 September 1850 to make any law-enforcement official who fails to execute an arrest warrant issued for the arrest of an alleged runaway slave liable to a fine of $1,000. Officials everywhere in the United States were now duty-bound to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave on the basis of nothing more than a claimant’s sworn testimony of ownership. The person suspected of being a fugitive slave was left with no means of self-defence, since Section 6 of the Act had clearly stated that: “In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence.” In addition, any person – whether Black or White – aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was to be subjected to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. On the other hand, officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to monetary benefits in the form of a fee for their work. Ultimately, the sheer brutality with which the despicable witch-hunt was conducted all over USA impelled the abolitionists to redouble their quest for speedy abolition of slavery.
Impact of Slave Revolts
Although for a long time, the potential threat from slave insurrections were underplayed and given little attention, fear of insurrection was ultimately an important motivating factor behind the opposition to slavery. According to U.S. historian Herbert Aptheker’s study titled American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), there were at least 250 recorded cases of slave revolts in the U.S. Notable slave insurrections such as the ones led by Gabriel Prosser in Virginia (1800), Denmark Vesey in South Carolina (1822), and by Nat Turner in Virginia (1831) instilled fear into the slave-owners, who tried to tackle the problem by intensifying repressive measures. In addition, the freedoms of all “free” Black people in the Southern states were not only severely curtailed but also an official policy was instituted that forbade questioning the slave system on the grounds that any discussion might encourage similar slave revolts. Since Turner was literate and had claimed he had got his inspiration from the Bible, all literate slaves were perceived as potential insurgents. Thus, the Nat Turner rebellion also became a convenient excuse for passing anti-literacy laws.
That growth of literacy among slaves posed a potent threat to the institution of slavery was exemplified by the writings of David Walker (1785-1830), who was born free, of a free mother and a slave father in North Carolina, one of the Southern states. He was fortunate enough to learn to read and write and to have had the opportunity of studying a variety of subjects. Around 1815, he left the South to settle in the Northern State of Massachusetts, where slavery had been effectively abolished in 1783. In 1829, Walker published a pamphlet titled “Walker’s Appeal”, which bitterly denounced the institution of slavery along with all those who profited by it and all those who tolerated it.
In the said “Appeal,” for instance, Walker made apt references to the Declaration of Independence to expose the hypocrisy of the U.S. establishment in defending the institution of slavery. He argued:
See your Declaration Americans!!! Do you understand your own language? Hear your languages, proclaimed to the world, [on] July 4th, 1776 — “We hold these truths to be self evident – that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL!! that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!!” — Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us — men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation!!!!!!”12
The slave-owners were dumbfounded by Walker’s many such simple and straightforward but devastating arguments. They responded in a typically authoritarian-fashion by imposing a ban on the spread of literacy among the Black population. The legislatures in the Southern states actually went to the extent of passing legislations that made it a crime to teach Blacks – whether free or slave – how to read and write! These legislatures also offered a reward for Walker’s capture, $10,000 alive and $1,000 dead. As a result, Walker, when he was only 45 years old, was found dead at his home in Boston on 28 June 1830, under mysterious circumstances. Yet, Walker and those like him had made their contribution to the revolutionary task of abolishing slavery, which was finally achieved by force of arms in the ensuing Civil War that broke out some 30 years later.
Before their legal emancipation in 1865, most African-Americans were denied basic human rights, including the right to education. Even as late as 1860, less than 05 per cent of the slave population, which grew from 700,000 in 1790 to 4 million in 1860, was literate. It may appear incredible that in the sixteen Southern states and in some other states such as California of the “world’s oldest democracy”, anti-literacy laws were enacted and strictly enforced well until 1865. All those who were guilty of defying these laws by daring to give instruction to Blacks or Mulattos (progenies of mixed African/European parentage) were severely punished with hefty fines and/or brutal whipping. For example, Article 6, Section 10 of the Laws of the State of Alabama in force in 1833 had unambiguously stated that:
Any person or persons who shall attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, shall upon conviction thereof by indictment be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars.
Likewise, Article I, Section II of the Law of the State of Georgia, which was in force in 1848, had decreed that punishment for teaching slaves or free persons of color to read and write would be as follows:
If any slave, Negro, or free person of color, or any white person, shall teach any other slave, Negro, or free person of color, to read or write either written or printed characters, the said free person of color or slave shall be punished by fine and whipping, or fine or whipping, at the discretion of the court.
It was as though these abhorrent laws were taken straight out of the code of laws in Ancient India, the Manu Smriti or Manu’s Code of Laws, which included bigoted edicts that prohibited the acquisition of knowledge by the shudra (untouchable castes). Due to the anti-literacy laws and the intimidation and terror that ensued, there was a sharp decline in the literacy rate among slaves, which as per the census data fell from 15 per cent in 1830 to just 5 percent in 1860. By the 1850s, teachers from the Northern states, who were suspected of harbouring abolitionist views, were expelled from the Southern states and a ban was imposed on abolitionist literature there.
End of Part 1.
- Special Address by The Hon’ble President of the United States of America, March 3, 2006, New Delhi, India, FICCI. [↩]
- According to ‘The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,’ which is a section under the U.S. Department of State: “The values captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago.” In addition, in his Independence Day Radio Address to the Nation on 05 July 2008, President Bush defined the concept of “American Creed” as follows: “Two hundred and thirty-two years ago, our Founding Fathers came together in Philadelphia to proclaim that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…. This creed of freedom and equality has lifted the lives of millions of Americans, whether citizens by birth or citizens by choice…. Today, that light shines as brightly as it did in 1776.” [↩]
- Staff Reporter, “Jangpura bats for Iraq,” The Hindu. [↩] [↩]
- “Bush Proclaims December 10 Human Rights Day,” America.gov, 9 December 2005. [↩]
- “Full text: Condoleezza Rice’s speech,” NDTV Correspondent, 11 October 2008. [↩]
- “Condoleezza Rice,” NNDB. [↩]
- Deb Riechmann, “Bush pledges U.S. support to India,” Washington Post, 29 November 2008. [↩]
- US President – National Vote [↩]
- Alexander Keysser, The Right to Vote – The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, Basic Books, New York, 2000, p.35. (The book won the 2001 annual award instituted by the American History Association for the best book on the history of the United States. [↩]
- Keyssar, pp.68-69. [↩]
- As per the constitutional provisions, the U.S. Congress waited until 01 January 1808 before it imposed a formal ban on the importation of slaves into the U.S. One important contributory factor that led to the ban was the success of the 1791 slave revolt in the French colony of Haiti (then known as Saint-Domingue) and the declaration of independence by it on 01 January 1804. The developments in Haiti and its reverberations elsewhere in the Caribbean and in USA did induce fears of rebellion into the slave-owners, who became extremely weary of importing new “wild” slaves through the Caribbean. However, illegal importation of slaves into the U.S. went on for much longer. [↩]
- Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829: Electronic Edition. Walker, David, 1785-1830. [↩]