Were Slaves Immigrants? The Truth Of The Matter

Dr. Ben Carson came under quite a bit of fire  last month for remarks he made calling slaves immigrants while speaking to Housing and Urban Development employees Monday about his vision for the department’s future:

“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,” Carson said, speaking about immigration.

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

“And do you know of all the nations in the world, this one, the United States of America, is the only one big enough and great enough to allow all those people to realize their dream. And this is our opportunity to enhance that dream.”

Poor Dr. Carson! Not only did he challenge the Perpetual Hymn of Eternal Black Grievance, but he actually had the unmitigated gall to challenge its very heart, that unlike anyone else brought to the New World, blacks were brought against their will. And he even implied that blacks coming to America, even as slaves, was something that ultimately benefited them and their descendants.

The hate that exploded on Twitter was amazing. Actress Leslie Jones actually threatened Dr. Carson with violence, saying she wanted to punch him out:

Actor Samuel L. Jackson weighed in as well:

OK!! Ben Carson….I can’t! Immigrants ? In the bottom of SLAVE SHIPS??!! MUTHAFUKKA PLEASE!!!

And that& always amusing font of information, Chelsea Clinton :

And those were some of the calmer, more polite comments. Are they right?

Let’s ignore the fact that a certain Barack Hussein Obama said pretty much the same thing and no one said ‘boo’ about it. Let’s ignore that both Ms. Jones and Mr. Jackson have a history of making remarks that a lot of folks would consider racist. Let’s even ignore the obvious hypocritical political factor involved since Dr. Ben Carson is being attacked mostly because had the strength of character to get off the Democrat plantation and take the job offered to him by his friend President Trump, putting himself in a position where he can actually improve the lives of black Americans.

Instead, let’s simply look at what was said and see if there’s any truth to it.

Slavery started in America around 1619, and the importation of slaves ended in the early 1800’s after America outlawed it in 1804 and had the American Navy, along with the British crack down hard on the slave traffic. Actually, most colonies outlawed the importation of slaves as early as 1770, well before America won its independence. What isn’t remembered is that for much of that period slavery was multi-racial. And so was ownership.

Britain’s economy was flourishing during that time, but very little of that wealth trickled downhill. There were a lot of Britain’s population who barely made ends meet and that often led to petty crime. The English Civil War of the mid-seventeenth century also led to the creation of a lot of political ‘undesirables’, people who were considered traitors to the Crown. The people of these two groups who weren’t hung were frequently sentenced to transportation as indentured servants.It was a cheap, convenient and easy way of getting rid of them and actually making a profit on the deal. There are many recorded historical cases of people being sentence to transportation and indentured servitude for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread or a handkerchief.

Rest assured that these people were brought to America against their will. And the conditions they faced when being brought to America were hardly different then black slaves from Africa. The idea, just as with black slaves was to get them to America or the West Indies as cheaply as possible where someone would buy them at auction. And those someones included free blacks, at least until the 1720’s and in some colonies even later.

Another inconvenient fact that frequently gets glossed over was that as the trade developed, far more care was taken transporting black slaves than whites, because blacks were more in demand and fetched a higher price.The reason was simple – they could take the climate in places like Georgia, the Carolinas and the West Indies far better than whites from England or Ireland could. As larger plantations were established in these areas for sugar, rice,indigo and cotton, black slaves  fetched a higher price not just for the above reasons, but because the method of obtaining them was different from white bond slaves and far more costly.

Dealing in white English bond slaves involved very little outlay or overhead beyond the actual cost of sailing the pond and some meager provisions to keep the merchandise alive. That’s why white bond slaves sentenced to transportation were frequently chained up and  thrown into the hold of cargo ships making the trip anyway as an ‘extra.’ The money on these bond slaves was made on selling them and their indentures at auction, from which the Crown took a nice percentage that was paid after the return to England. Aside from them not being used to the climate, another reason white slavery died out gradually while black slavery didn’t was because there was far less money to be made.

Africa in the 17th and early 18th century was a huge unknown to most Europeans except for certain coastal areas.  To obtain those more desirable black slaves, you had to front the overhead for a ship to travel to the West African Coast and hope there was merchandise waiting for you. That’s where the slave traders, predominantly Arabs, would bring black slaves to market after collecting them in the interior by either buying war captives from local tribal chiefs or raiding the villages themselves. If no merchandise was there, you waited until it was. Then, you had to shell out money to the slave traders and buy your cargo, as well as more provisions to make it to your destination.. So there was a lot more overhead paid out before seeing any profit, hence the higher price. And hence, the incentive to get as much of your cargo alive to your destination as possible. Yes, there were those horrific times slaves were thrown overboard, particularly after the American and British navies started cracking down. But losing a cargo like that not only meant a major  financial loss for the ship’s owners but likely apermanent end to employment for any captain who was caught in that situation. Again, the idea was to get as much of the slave cargo to its destination in reasonably good condition as possible.

Given what sailing was like at that time in history, it was no pleasure trip for the crews, let alone their human merchandise,white or black. And the existence of a slave was miserable if you managed to survive the trip no matter what color you were. Anyone doubting this ought to read something like The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, which tells in detail exactly how British ‘criminals’ sentenced to transportation, particularly young women were treated in Australia, another dumping ground for the Empire’s unwanted.

And ponder this. Let’s say that no black slaves had come to America. What would their lives and the lives of their descendants been instead?

True, they would have been free in a sense. But that ‘freedom’ would also have included freedom to starve, freedom to be killed in Africa’s never ending wars,  being subjected to rule by corrupt,  despotic regimes, famine, disease, living in dire poverty and in general an existence for most of them that would make even the most poverty stricken lives in America’s ghettos look luxurious by comparison. A good indication of how true this is is that only a handful of former slaves left for Africa after the Civil War, even with the Freedman’s Bureau offering them free land in West Africa, free passage and financial assistance once they arrived. And to be honest, I don’t see many American blacks making that choice either, do you?

The promise of America is that one can, with sweat, endurance and a little favor from the Almighty live a better life than the one you left behind. It may take some time or even a new generation, but the promise is there. And it’s largely been kept.

They may have been unwilling immigrants, but immigrants they were. And believe it or not, that unwillingness was shared by most of America’s non-black immigrants as well.

The great wave of migrants in the mid to late 19th century  was largely sparked by various revolutions in Europe, charming episodes like the Potato Famine in Ireland, The Highland clearings, violent pogroms and oppression in Eastern Europe, crop failures and dire poverty in southern Italy and famine and wars in China.

Most of the people who came to America came because the alternative was starvation, death or prison, depending on where you happened to be situated. Most of them came in the aptly named steerage. And while they weren’t chained, no huge effort was made to ensure them a safe passage. Ditto once they came here. America had no huge welfare state then, so these people our immigrant forefathers were often rolling the dice.At best, they might have had a family member, relative or some one they knew from back in the old country to give them a slight helping hand. If they didn’t, they either found a place for themselves or starved, and in American society at that time there weren’t many people who particular cared all that much which it was.

Most of those non-slave immigrants who made their way here came not because there was any hunger to be Americans,  but because there was no life worth living where they came from. And at least in America, if you could get in, offered something of a fresh start, rough as the transition often was. And millions of immigrants parlayed that fresh start into a better life for themselves and for their children. The same thing applies to many blacks who have come as immigrants  to America from places like Haiti, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Nigeria and other far away places. And it applies to many black Americans whose ancestors once were slaves,just like Dr, Carson said.

Immigrants were they all, from all races who came to America.

Ben Carson, of all people has reason to understand that, coming from the background he did.  He knows full well it’s a land of dreams and opportunity indeed.

Rob Miller

Rob Miller writes for Joshuapundit. His articles have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Examiner, American Thinker, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The San Francisco Chronicle, Real Clear Politics, The Times Of Israel, Breitbart.Com and other publications.