This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy. This column is the first segment of a three-part series dealing with Christian perspectives on slavery to the state.
According to the dictionary, a slave is “a person who is owned by someone” or “one who is abjectly subservient to a specified person or influence.” Many libertarians, constitutionalists, and patriots claim that modern Americans are slaves. They reckon that Americans are not truly free.
In order to work, Americans often need to get a permit, credential, or license from the state. If they own their own business, such regulation is even more egregious. They are further compelled to forfeit roughly half of their earnings to the state through various taxes—which are then spent to support the welfare state, pagan seminaries (public schools), and many other objectionable policies. They can be conscripted into military service against their wills, forced to expend their labor for the state and risking their lives by fighting the aggressive wars it sanctions. They do not truly own their lands and homes but merely have the privilege to use and possess them—so long as the “fee” (property tax) is paid and all the state’s rules are complied with. Americans are also compelled to use a fiat currency—which singularly enjoys legal tender status—instead of privately-issued notes or commodity money (i.e., gold or silver), forcing them to participate in the welfare state debt and funding racket. The state even requires couples to obtain its permission prior to marrying. While the War Between the States was not primarily a conflict to end Negro slavery, it did mark the beginning of the part-time enslavement of all Americans.
In the starkest terms, an American actually differs little from a feudal serf in his legal standing, economic freedoms, and personal liberties. Sure, technology and knowledge have significantly changed since A.D. 1300, rendering slave life more convenient. But an onerous tax system tantamount to the feudal tenement and fee system remains—along with myriad manorial (state) rules to govern serf behavior and living. Most areas of life are regulated by the state: education, medicine, finance, business, fishing, gun ownership, house building, driving, safety standards, emergency preparedness, and so on. While Americans are told that they are “free”, the reality is quite the opposite. It might be more accurate to say that Americans are slaves who are allowed to obtain periods of freedom by paying bribes, rendering service to the state, and being compliant. (Note that such free time encourages peaceful compliance as it helps most American slaves “feel” free.) Perhaps more than half of an American’s life and labor is spent in either indirect or direct service to the state. So, at the very least, Americans are part-time involuntary servants.
The fact that Americans voted themselves into slavery does not make their condition less deplorable. Accordingly, the bondage decried by libertarians, constitutionalists, and patriots is plausible—at least in the abstract. However, from America’s inception, the idea of involuntary servitude has been repugnant. Slavery is the antithesis of the principles of the Founding Fathers. John Quincy Adams wrote: “The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Thomas Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day.” (1) Benjamin Franklin said: “Slavery is…an atrocious debasement of human nature.” (2)
Stephen McDowell remarks: “As the Founders worked to free themselves from enslavement to Britain, based upon laws of God and nature, they also spoke against slavery and took steps to stop it. Abolition grew as principled resistance to the tyranny of England grew, since both were based upon the same ideas.” The Declaration of Independence says 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.” Even though many people today scorn this political doctrine, American Christians can stand firm for the truth and the principles of liberty. Surely in America we have a legal rationale for revolting against enslavement!
(1) John Quincy Adams (1837), An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at Their Request, on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple), p. 50.
(2) Benjamin Franklin (1789), “An Address to the Public from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery”, in Franklin, Writings (New York: Library of America, 1987), p. 1154.
Originally published in The Times Examiner on August 10, 2005.