Sunday, January 5, 2014

Slavery, the Civil War, and the Fifth Amendment

Originally written in October 2010,
Re-published 1-5-2014

At the beginning of the Civil War, the taking of slaves had been outlawed in the United States for about half a century. Ongoing possession of slaves, however, had not yet been outlawed.
In the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant's Union military forces fought a seceding Confederate army formed by the several Southern states. States may secede either when a majority of the states consent, or unilaterally through revolution.
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation executive orders of 1862-1863 freed slaves in the Southern states. This amounts to ineffectual action, since the law ostensibly affected territories which were not under the control of Lincoln's Union government. Many neglect to mention that slavery still existed in the North even after the proclamation.
The Civil War lasted four years and resulted in over 640,000 deaths, the majority of which were on the Union side.
This begs the question: Could the Civil War and the resulting deaths have been prevented, and if so, could they have been prevented through action which was completely legal?

Considering that slaves were still legally the private property of their owners as of the beginning of the war, the North could have reimbursed slave owners on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line for the market value of their slaves. In fact, if, before the war had broken out, the United States had resolved to end slavery only through legal means, they would have acknowledged that this meant they were constitutionally obligated to do just that, and would have preceded with this legal route to abolition.
The North didn't seek this legal route because it was envious of how much wealth the South stood to generate thanks to the capital it possessed in the form of slaves and plantations. The North also would have had to pay an additional 50% tariff on all goods coming from the South as a foreign country. The Union knew it had the military might necessary to accomplish Southern slavery abolition through force, and the apportioned taxes it levied stood to disproportionately under-favor the South due to the three-fifths clause.
During the Civil War, a slave was defined as three-fifths of a person, and thus not entitled as a full person to due process or just compensation for the taking of his liberty or property, i.e.; his status as an unpaid, coerced laborer was constitutionally justified.
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that “no person shall… be deprived of… property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
The Fifth Amendment certainly applies to this case because these slaves were "private property... taken for public use". First, the slaves were, indisputably, privately-owned property possessed by their white plantation-owner masters. Second, slaves were taken for public use, as evidenced by the many cases in which black children have been taken from their families by social services and made into practically orphaned wards of the state, as well as the obvious example of all the coerced prison labor performed by black inmates (whom are disproportionately jailed) throughout the history of this country.
Whatever your view of secessionism and states' rights, it seems that both the Union and the Confederacy had in mind the same goal: to own blacks as property, be it publicly or privately, in order to generate wealth for those who possess them.

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