Sunday, June 24, 2018


In essence, Plaintiffs' Complaint is a claim for reparations rooted in the historic injustices and the immorality of the institution of human chattel slavery in the United States. To elucidate the nature of this institution, the court undertakes an analysis, necessarily brief, of the historical events surrounding slavery, including the monumental event that ended the institution of slavery in the United States, the Civil War.

A. A Definition of Slavery

In January of 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union forces, along with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, met with former slaves. Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African–American Slaves 2 (2003). The conversation focused on two questions: from the point of view of the freed slave, what was the nature of slavery, and what was the nature of freedom? Id. Garrison Frazier, a sixty-seven year old former slave, explained that “[s]lavery ... is receiving by the irresistible power the work of another man, and not by his consent.” Id. Freedom, Frazier indicated, “is taking us from the yoke of bondage, and placing us where we could reap the fruits of our own labor, take care of ourselves and assist the Government in maintaining our freedom.” Id. Frazier's definition reminds us of the essential unfairness of slavery: the slaveowner takes, by sheer violence and force, the slave's freedom and labor in order to place himself at the top of a society's economic hierarchy. Id. at 3.

B. A Brief History of Slavery in the New World

While slavery seems to have been a part of human history since the “dawn of civilization,” African slave trafficking in the New World began in the year 1502. Robert William Fogel, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery 17–18 (1991). Europeans were historically drawn to Africa for two reasons: gold and slaves. Edward Reynolds, Stand the Storm. A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 28 (1985). Those who journeyed to Africa seeking slaves for the New World sometimes simply kidnapped individuals who appeared before them by happenstance. Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade 103 (1999). However, historical evidence indicates that a great deal (perhaps even the majority) of the slave trade was made possible by African leaders who sold African slaves to European slave traders. Id.; see also Reynolds, supra at 33–46 (providing a detailed explanation of the African slave market, and the economic mechanisms used to facilitate the sale of slaves from local African chiefs to slave traders). Local African leaders acquired these slaves in several different ways: captives were taken in local wars or raids, those imprisoned for crimes or indebtedness were often forced into slavery, and large states would exact slaves as “tribute” from smaller tribes under their control. See Klein, supra at 117.

Upon their sale to slave traders, slaves were shipped to the New World in what became known as the “Middle Passage.” Slaves' heads were shaved, their bodies were branded and stripped naked, and their ankles were shackled. See Reynolds, supra at 47. They were then led into the holds of slave ships, where they were laid down alongside each other for the journey to the New World. Id. at 48. The prevalence of disease, lack of sufficient food and water, and constant confinement took its toll, with up to one-quarter of the slaves on any given ship dying during the “Middle Passage.” Id. at 48–53.

African slaves in the New World were initially sold into small sugar production operations in Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, the British West Indies, and Dutch Guyana. Id. at 20–21. Other African slaves were set to work producing such crops as cocoa, coffee, hemp, tobacco and rice.Id. at 21. By the 1680s, the small farm with its traditional methods of operation had given way to more efficient means of production, and the concept of the large “plantation” was born. Id. at 23. Inefficient methods of farming had been “replaced by large gangs of slaves, working in lock step, and moving methodically across vast fields.” Id. With this change came an increase in the size of slave operations. By the early part of the 1800s, many plantations in Jamaica and the West Indies contained up to two hundred and fifty slaves. Id.

Slavery in North America began more slowly than slavery in South America and the Caribbean. In 1680, there were 7,000 slaves in the British North American colonies. Id. at 29. Slavery as an economic institution in North America, however, rapidly gained momentum over the next fifty years. By the 1730s, roughly 120,000 slaves had been brought to the colonies and forced to work in such industries as farming, tobacco production and domestic service. Id. By the middle of the 1700s, the institution of slavery in the United States began to concentrate in the Southern states. It was in these states that plantations emerged, ready to take advantage of the inexpensive labor slaves provided in the production of such crops as tobacco, rice, sugar and cotton. Id. at 31.

During the years 1780 to 1810, the rapid expansion of these industries was accompanied by a significant increase in the number of slaves imported from Africa. Id. at 32. The increase in the importation of slaves, along with the natural increase in the slave population, soon gave the United States a dubious distinction. By 1825, the population of slaves in the United States was roughly 1,750,000, making the United States the “leading user of slave labor in the new world.” Id. at 33. Slavery had become the dominant economic force in the Southern United States. Historians cite numerous factors for this development, but it seems that two factors are the most significant. First, slave labor was inexpensive compared to other sources of labor. Id. at 34. Second, slave masters in the Southern states were willing to expend an “enormous, almost unconstrained degree of force ... to transform ancient modes of labor into a new industrial discipline.” Id. This “new industrial discipline” was based on a division of labor scheme, enforced by brutality, and legally sanctioned.

C. Slavery and American Law

This violent and oppressive system was supported by the United States legal system for a long period of time. Thus slavery was historically more than simply a social and economic institution. It was also an established legal institution.1 For instance, Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution has been traditionally understood to limit Congress' power to regulate slavery.2 It is thought that this Article meant that Congress was denied the power to regulate the “internal slave trade, leaving only importation from Africa to be prohibited after 1808.” Walter Berns, The Constitution and the Migration of Slaves, 78 Yale L.J. 198 (1968). Also, in 1850, Congress passed a statute supporting the rights of slaveowners to capture escaped slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act provided that:

[W]hen a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such labor or service shall be due ... may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person ... [and may] take and remove such fugitive person back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped as aforesaid.

The Fugitive Slave Act, ch. 60, 9 Stat. 462 (1850). This Act also provided for fines and/or imprisonment for those who aided escaped slaves, and stipulated that both law enforcement personnel and ordinary citizens were bound by law to aid in the capture of escaped slaves. Id. Finally, in the infamous case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, Scott, a slave, brought suit to gain his freedom. 60 U.S. 393, 19 How. 393, 15 L.Ed. 691 (1856). The Supreme Court of the United States held that since Scott was a “negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves,” he could not be a citizen of the United States, and hence had no standing to bring suit in a United States court. Id. at 403–04, 19 How. 393.

D. Slavery and Morality

The immorality of the institution of slavery is obvious. However, scholars have attempted to explain exactly what it is about this institution that offends moral sensibilities. Two moral indictments of the institution are significant. First, “slavery permitted one group of people to exercise unrestrained personal domination over another group of people.” Fogel, supra at 394. The slave was subject to abject cruelty, both physical and psychological, by his or her masters in order for the master to maintain domination. Id. In one sense, “[t]he extreme degree of domination required by this system ... is the essential crime.” Id. Second, the slave was denied the fruits of his or her labor. Id. at 395. Slaves were forced to work physically grueling tasks for very long hours without pay, thus it was impossible for the slave to improve his or her economic position within society. Id. The simply had no resources or “opportunity ... to rise on the economic ladder by acquiring land, labor skills, and other forms of capital.” Id.

E. Slavery as a Cause of the Civil War

Historians have long debated whether slavery was the single driving force behind the regional tensions in the United States that eventually led to the Civil War. “Although some scholars have held that slavery was the cause [of the Civil War], others have developed complex analyses that draw distinctions between immediate and ultimate causes and that explore a variety of ways other than war that could have settled or at least contained the issue of slavery.” Id. at 411. This much, however, is clear: by 1861, tensions had escalated to the extent that maintaining peace would have required that the Northern states allow the permanent “existence of an independent confederacy dedicated to the promotion of slavery.” Id. at 413. In other words, by 1861, tensions between the North and the South had increased to such a pitch that the only way slavery would be abolished throughout the entire nation was through armed conflict.

A great deal of the tension between the North and the South had to do with the Northern states' promulgation of Personal Liberty Laws. “In his annual message to Congress of December 3, 1860, James Buchanan warned that the South ‘would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union’ if northern states did not repeal their Personal Liberty Laws.” Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North 1780–1861 202 (1974). These laws were devised and implemented by many Northern states to make it very difficult for slave owners to capture escaped slaves who had taken up residence in those states.

The court does not claim objective knowledge of the ultimate cause of the Civil War. Certainly, however, tensions marked by the North's moral outrage at the institution of chattel slavery, and the South's indignation at the North's promulgation of Personal Liberty Laws, contributed significantly to the advent of war.

F. The Civil War

Fort Sumter, located in the Charleston harbor, South Carolina, was one of just four Federal fortifications left in Confederate territory. Shelby Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville 44 (Vintage Books 1986) (1958). In 1861, the government of South Carolina made protests to Washington regarding the presence of a Federal fortification within its borders, but those protests were ignored. Id. Instead, Washington decided to reinforce Fort Sumter with men and supplies. Id. However, when local gunmen opened fire on a Union steamer attempting to bring these reinforcements to Fort Sumter, the steamer was forced to turn away. Id. By March of 1861, Fort Sumter was surrounded by Confederate forces, and was cut off from fresh supplies. Id. By April of that year, the Federal forces inside Fort Sumter were in danger of starving to death. Id. at 48. The time had come for Washington to make a decision–abandon Fort Sumter or again attempt to resupply it. Washington was aware that another attempt to bring supplies to Fort Sumter might well provoke an attack on the forth itself. Id. at 47. This time. however, the attack would not come from local gunmen, but from Confederate forces. Id. Washington decided not to cave in to Confederate pressures, and to attempt to bring fresh provisions and reinforcements to the fort. Id. at 47. On the morning of April 12, 1861, with Union supply ships within sight of Fort Sumter, the Confederacy fired the first shot of the Civil War. Id. at 49.

The four-year Civil War was fought by means of a series of pitched battles, each one seemingly more horrific than the last. The first true battle of the war, the battle of Bull Run, resulted in the deaths of roughly 2,700 Union soldiers and 2,000 Confederate soldiers. The Price in Blood, Casualties in the Civil War, at http:// Other battles, at places like Wilson's Creek, Spotslyvania, Cold Harbor, and Franklin, Tennessee took the lives of tens of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers. Id. The final campaign of the war, fought in the vicinity of Appomattox, Virginia, resulted in a combined 17,500 battle deaths. Id.

Following the Appomattox campaign, on April 9, 1865, Union General Ulysses S. Grant received Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, where the two generals agreed upon the terms of Lee's surrender. Shelby Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative: Red River to Appomattox 945–51 (Vintage Books 1986) (1974). Shortly thereafter, Grant rode out towards his headquarters, where Union batteries were firing in celebration. Id. at 950–51. Grant insisted the batteries stop firing, worried that the noise might spark a skirmish between his troops and the nearby, and still armed, Confederate soldiers. Id. at 951. There was, however, another more important reason Grant considered it “unfitting” for his troops to be firing their weapons at that point: “ ‘The war is over,’ he told his staff. ‘The rebels are our countrymen again.’ ” Id.

All in all, approximately 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War; Union forces fighting to end slavery suffered 360,000 of these deaths. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era 854 (Oxford University Press 1988). There were 178,975 African–American Union troops that fought in the Civil War, and 36,000 of those troops died during the war. The Price in Blood, Casualties in the Civil War, at http:// An analysis as brief as this cannot do justice to the tremendous sacrifices made by both Union and Confederate soldiers in this war. Since the Civil War, America has been involved in a number of armed conflicts, but the casualties America suffered in the Civil War exceeds the total number of casualties America has suffered in all its other wars. Id. The Civil War, the war that ended the institution of chattel slavery in the United States, was truly America's bloodiest war.

G. The Abolishment of Slavery

On January 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. That document reads in part: “I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within the designated States ... are, and henceforward shall be free....” Abraham Lincoln, The Emancipation Proclamation, Exec. Proclamation No. 17 (Jan. 1, 1863), reprinted in 12 Stat. 1268 (1963).

Following the war, Congress acted to formally abolish slavery by proposing the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865. Section 1 of that Amendment reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” U.S. Const. amend. XIII, § 1.

Also, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868. Section 1 of that Amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State in which they reside.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. In effect, the Fourteenth Amendment overruled the Dred Scott decision, making freed slaves citizens of the United States.

Following the Civil War, the South was bankrupt, and an estimated four million African–Americans assumed the responsibility of freedom as nationalism emerged. These lingering effects led to the Reconstruction era, a significant period in our Nation's history, which addressed the numerous issues raised by the abolition of slavery and the war fought to achieve that end.


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