March 23, 2015 – Utah Reauthorizes Use of Firing Squad for the Death Penalty

On this day in history, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed legislation reauthorizing the state to use the firing squad in the event that the drugs required for lethal injection are unavailable. Prior to this, the firing squad was an option, but was only allowed for inmates who chose this method prior to its elimination in 2004.

Lethal injection remains the primary execution method for Utah and the 31 other U.S. states that allow the death penalty as a punishment for certain murders.

Between 1973 and January, 2017, 157 people were exonerated from Death Row according to the Death Penalty Information Organization (DPIC). (You can check their website for updates.)

For Inclusion on DPIC’s Innocence List, defendants must have been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either-
 
a. Been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row, or

b. Had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution, or

c. Been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.

No one from Utah is on their list; most of the persons on the list are from the South.

Resources for Women’s History Month

The internet has excellent resources on women’s history. One is a site for the history of U.S. woman’s suffrage, created by the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM). It features primary source documents, lesson plans, speeches, photographs and more related to the long struggle for voting rights for women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing c. 1880-1902 Library of Congress

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing
c. 1880-1902
Library of Congress

The website Status of Women in the States provides up-to-date data on women’s progress in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the United States overall, in five key areas: Employment, Education, & Economic Change; Democracy & Society; Poverty, Welfare, & Income Security; Work & Family; and Health & Safety.

From the section on Reproductive Rights

From the section on Reproductive Rights

The University of Virginia has a site that has digitized biographies of women. You can search or browse by name.

Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and a women’s right activist throughout her life

Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and a women’s right activist throughout her life

Many resources focus on women’s legal history. Just a small sample includes:

A Legislative History of Women’s History Month from the Library of Congress

A Timeline of Women’s Legal History in the United States (from Stanford)

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One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage: An Overview

The History of the Equal Rights Amendment

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Women’s Law Project

Women’s Stats Project

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List of and Links to Articles on Women’s Legal History

Resources on Marriage and Coverture

Has equal opportunity in the U.S. been achieved? You can access some of the latest stats are here and here.

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March 13, 1925 – Idaho Legislature Passes an Act to Facilitate Involuntary Sterilization

Eugenics is a form of selective breeding by which society, not nature, determines who is fit to reproduce. Following the promulgation of Darwin’s theories of evolution, eugenic principles became widely popular. As a result, many countries adopted eugenic policies meant to improve the genetic “stock” of their countries.

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As one scholar explained:

Applied eugenics deals with a conscious effort for improving the human race by such methods, as immigration regulation, birth control, restrictive marriage legislation, and human sterilization legislation.” (J. H. Landman, The Human Sterilization Movement, 24 Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 400, 1933-1934)

Dr. David Pfeiffer reported that in 1907, Indiana enacted the first involuntary sterilization law in the country. By 1911 four more states had enacted involuntary sterilization laws. By 1930 a total of thirty three states had enacted such laws although in three states – New Jersey in 1913, New York in 1918, and Indiana in 1921 – the laws were struck down as unconstitutional. In Michigan a law was enacted, but struck down in 1918.

In 1919, Idaho passed the state’s first compulsory sterilization bill targeting the “feeble-minded, insane, epileptic, moral degenerates and sexual perverts” who were inmates of public institutions. [Note that “sexual perverts” included homosexuals.] The governor vetoed the bill, even while lauding the bill as “meritorious,” on the grounds that it did not apply to all such persons, but only those already confined in public institutions “the persons in fact who by reason of such confinement are the least menace to society.”

The Northern Idaho Sanitarium built in 1905 at Orofino, Idaho with a capacity of 250 beds.

The Northern Idaho Sanitarium built in 1905 at Orofino, Idaho with a capacity of 250 beds.

Thus, on this day in history, the Idaho Legislature passed another act “. . . to create a state board of eugenics; to provide for the sterilization of all feebleminded, insane, epileptics, habitual criminals, moral degenerates and sexual perverts who are a menace to society, and providing the means for ascertaining who are such persons.”

This new legislation was specifically constructed to avoid challenges made on the basis of unequal application. It created a Eugenics Board which was composed of the superintendents of the state institutions in charge of the care and housing of people with mental disorders with the responsibility of making decisions about whether residents of the state institutions should be sterilized. Such decisions were to be based on whether the residents were at risk of either reproducing children with certain undesirable traits (e.g., epilepsy, insanity, feeblemindedness), whether they were a menace to society, or whether they might become or were a burden to the state (Gen. Laws of the State of Idaho, ch. 194, No. 203, 359).

Although this legislation required consent from either the patient or their legal guardian, if consent was not given, then sterilization could still go occur provided that the board’s decision was affirmed by the district court. Tellingly, the legislation also stipulated that neither the board nor the physicians performing the sterilizations could be held legally responsible for their participation in operations.

According to Elyce Zenoff Ferster (Eliminating the Unfit–Is Sterilization the Answer?, Ohio State Law Journal: Volume 27, Issue 4, 1966), over 63,000 persons were involuntarily sterilized in the United States for genetically related reasons from 1921 to 1964.

In total, there were 38 victims in Idaho.  Of the 38, eight were male and 30 were female. About 32% were deemed mentally ill and about 66% “mentally deficient,” with 1 of the 38 victims classified as “other.”

In 1931 the Idaho upheld the 1929 law in State v. Troutman (50 Idaho 673) citing the Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927), asserting that “if there by any natural right for natively mental defectives to begat children, that right must give way to the police power of the state in protecting the common welfare, so far as it can be protected, against this hereditary type of feeble mindedness.”

Photograph of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Photograph of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Idaho law on compulsory sterilization was repealed in 1972.

Coercive and involuntary sterilization has now been recognized as a crime against humanity and condemned by a variety of international organizations.

March 10, 1863 – The Supreme Court Decides Prize Cases as Reported by “Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War” by Mark E. Neely Jr.

The subtitle of this book on Lincoln, “Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War,” is much more descriptive of its content than the main title. Only the first third of the book deals with Lincoln’s actions, and even then, much of the constitutional analysis applies to the writings of Lincoln’s contemporaries like Horace Binney, William Whiting, and Sidney George Fisher. In any event, the book’s focus is on the constitutional issues faced by not only the North, but also the issues faced by the Confederate States under their own constitution. It gives considerable coverage to the major constitutional issue adjudicated by the Supreme Court during the Civil War, i.e., Prize Cases, as explained below.

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The first important question faced by both the North and the South was whether the Southern states could constitutionally withdraw from the Union. Unfortunately, the Constitution itself had nothing to say on the matter. By contrast, even the “feeble” Articles of Confederation had claimed the Union was perpetual. In his inaugural address, Lincoln skirted the constitutional issue, and relied instead on a legal argument: if the Union was merely a contractual arrangement among the states, the South could not unilaterally rescind that contract by secession—it required the assent of the other parties to the contract. Lincoln also contended that the nation antedated the Constitution:

Having never been states, either in substance or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of “state rights,” asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself?…The states have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law, and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase the Union gave each of them whatever of independence and liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the states, and, in fact, it created them as states.”

This claim had the advantage of adopting the Declaration of Independence, with its expression that all men were created equal, as a founding document. Famously, Lincoln solidified this vision at Gettysburg, declaring that the nation was created “four score and seven years ago” (the time of the Declaration of Independence) rather than “three score and sixteen years ago” (the time of the adoption of the Constitution).

Lincoln’s construction was not without precedent. In fact, the first Supreme Court Justice, James Wilson, wrote in Chisholm v. Georgia (2 US 419, 465, 1793):

Whoever considers, in a combined and comprehensive view, the general texture of the Constitution will be satisfied that the people of the United states intended to form themselves into a nation for national purposes. They instituted for such purposes a national government, complete in all its parts, with powers legislative, executive and judicial, and in all those powers extending over the whole nation. Is it congruous that, with regard to such purposes, any man or body of men, any person natural or artificial, should be permitted to claim successfully an entire exemption from the jurisdiction of the national government?”

Lincoln also was savvy enough to be aware of the cultural negotiation of both history and memory, and that he could use his facility with words to reframe both of them.

Lincoln deliberately avoided subjecting the question of secession to any court rulings. Instead, the constitutionality of secession was to be decided in presidential speeches, spirited newspaper editorials, widely read pamphlets, and on the battlefield.

1861 tribute to commander of Union forces Gen. Winfield Scott, shown as the mythical Hercules slaying the many-headed dragon or hydra, here symbolizing the secession of the Confederate states.

1861 tribute to commander of Union forces Gen. Winfield Scott, shown as the mythical Hercules slaying the many-headed dragon or hydra, here symbolizing the secession of the Confederate states.

Lincoln did not trust the Supreme Court at that time. The Court was led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the architect of the infamous Dred Scott decision, about which Lincoln had bruited powerful critiques. Lincoln wanted to avoid giving Taney the opportunity to turn the Court’s authority against him, because the constitutionality of other important issues loomed as well, such as the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the power to emancipate the slaves, and the power of the federal government to conscript members of the state militias. Taney had expended significant thought on some of these issues, and Neely says he was “itching to weigh in” on them. He never had the chance, however, because none of them ever reached the Supreme Court during the war.

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

During the Civil War, the writ of habeas corpus was used to attempt to free two groups of prisoners: (1) “political prisoners,” those jailed for inciting desertion by troops or otherwise “hurting the [Union] army” and (2) underage soldiers who changed their minds about serving in the army. Article I, section 9, clause 2 of the Constitution stated: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” It does not, however, say who or which branch of government (e.g. Congress, the President, Courts) is authorized to do the suspending. Lincoln simply arrogated the power. In the process, he ignored the opinion of Chief Justice Taney in the Ex parte Merryman case, in which Taney opined that only Congress, not the President, could suspend the writ. [Note that Merryman was not an opinion of the full Supreme Court; rather it was simply a writ issued by Taney pursuant to the Court’s original jurisdiction in habeas corpus cases for federal prisoners.] Lincoln’s decision to ignore Taney’s opinion was never tested in court. It became moot at the end of the war.

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Lincoln believed emancipation of the slaves was important for the war effort. However, the Constitution seemed to recognize slaveholders’ property rights in their slaves, and the 5th amendment guaranteed those rights could not be abridged without due process of law. Arguably, the war powers clause authorized the president to commandeer the property of the nation’s opponents, but that right was thought to be limited to actions necessary for victory or the safety of the soldiers. Lincoln could not prove that emancipation was necessary—only that it was useful. Nonetheless, the Proclamation was issued as soon as Lincoln thought it was politically feasible, and it was never challenged in court.

Interestingly, Lincoln feared that the racism of his own troops might render the Proclamation a disadvantage to the Union cause. In the event, the nationalism of the troops trumped (temporarily, at least) whatever racism was prevalent, and the Proclamation did not sow significant dissension in the ranks.

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The Union’s power to confiscate Confederate ships pursuant to its blockade was the constitutional issue that was ruled upon by the Supreme Court during the war. Prize Cases of 1863 (67 U.S. (2 Black) 635) questioned whether Lincoln acted within his presidential power when he ordered the blockade of Southern ports in April of 1861, authorizing the seizure of vessels from which revenues could not be collected on account of the “insurrection.” The owners of merchant vessels affected by the blockade sued for the restoration of their property on the ground that blockades were only legal in wartime, but no war had been declared by Congress, as mandated by the Constitution. Lincoln himself refused to recognize the conflict as a “war” (with its implication of two sovereign nations in dispute) rather than a “rebellion” or “insurrection.” In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the hecatomb taking place could not be ignored. It was just too massive. War may not have been formally declared, but the Court claimed to know a war when it saw one. In the words of Justice Robert C. Grier, “As a civil war is never publicly proclaimed eo nomine against insurgents, its actual existence is a fact in our domestic history which the court is bound to notice and to know.”

Justice Robert Cooper Grier

Justice Robert Cooper Grier

Neely calls this decision “the most important Supreme Court decision of the Civil War.” Not only did the Court opine that the war could not be ignored as a fact, but it also disagreed on whether a civil war had to be publicly declared by Congress. James M. Carlisle, representing the ship-owners, insisted that “a war was something declared by Congress, period.” He averred:

The matter then comes back necessarily to the pure question of the power of the President under the Constitution. And this is, perhaps, the most extraordinary part of the argument for the United States. It is founded upon a figure of speech, which is repugnant to the genius of republican institutions, and above all, to our written Constitution.”

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., for the government, countered with the winning argument that war was “a state of things” and “not an act of legislative will.”

It’s a fascinating case, and still is relevant today. [For example, does the current threat by terrorists trigger the president’s war powers?]

The Democrats also mounted an attack on the government’s war measures in state courts, where they expected a friendlier reaction than in federal courts. Their effort was unsuccessful, according to Neely, because the war ended before the cases could be resolved. He states, “[T]he nation was saved from violent confrontation with willful judges by the slowness with which the wheels of justice turned in the middle of the nineteenth century.”

More than 30% of the book is devoted to the issues faced by the Confederate states under their constitution. The Confederacy was formed by a process nearly identical to the process that formed the original United States. Each rebellious state held a “constitutional convention” that was outside of and in addition to its established state government. Neely asserts that the elections for the secession conventions were especially clean by the standard of the time, with a distinct absence of fraud or strong-arm tactics. The movement to secede, in Neely’s words, was “profoundly democratic.” [It might be suggested that because of the near unanimity of the sentiments of those attending the conventions, there was no need for fraud. However, fraud returned to southern elections in full flower after the war ended, especially with the prospect of freed black men and other republicans gaining political office.]

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Although the Confederate constitution borrowed heavily from the federal constitution, each seceding state retained more autonomy under it than it had under the federal constitution—no surprise there. The government that resulted was not highly authoritarian, as one might expect from one led by slaveholders. Rather, it was very democratic in the sense the modern Israeli government is democratic: its constitution speaks of giving all its adult citizens equal rights [the Confederacy limited those rights to males], yet it blithely ignores the presence of a large minority who live within its jurisdiction, but who are accorded few if any rights.

The secession conventions produced constitutional crises of their own. Both the formerly legitimate state governments and the secession conventions continued to act, each ostensibly the sovereign power. Thus, every southern state had two separate governments claiming ultimate authority. Nevertheless, with the exception of South Carolina, the states resolved the problem pretty much without rancor and never with violence. Neely writes,

…some states simply enjoyed the fruits of the emergency actions of the conventions, including the democratization of war by ensuring that the men who fought for the slaveholding republic…could vote in [military] camp….Had the Confederacy prevailed…it would doubtless celebrate that period of government by secession conventions as the United States does today the 1787 Philadelphia constitutional convention.”

Neely raises interesting questions in comparing the Confederate and federal constitutions. For example, why did the Confederacy chose to emulate the federal form so closely? (The President even had a “white house” of his own.) He also notes that Jefferson Davis, like Lincoln, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and even (near the end of the war) – out of desperation – considered arming at least some of the slaves.

White House of the Confederacy in Richmond

White House of the Confederacy in Richmond

Part of Davis’s problem was that the central government of the Confederacy was not as strong or centralized as that of the Union. Although there were Confederate national courts, there was no Supreme Court. The founders of the Confederacy were always troubled by their need to accommodate state rights with an expanded federal authority necessary to fight a war. Southern governors jealously guarded their state militias, and did not necessarily want them subject to conscription into the national army. The issue of conscription was tested in several state courts. Some lower courts found conscription illegal, but all the state supreme courts upheld its legality on appeal. Curiously, the Confederate national courts seem never to have organized a reporting system; thus their national courts never could exert their proper influence on state decisions.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Neely observes that the Confederacy faced issues remarkably similar to those faced by the United States in the War of 1812. There, the New England states opposed the use by the federal government of New England militias to launch an invasion of Canada.

He concludes by exhorting his fellow historians to begin a “series of titles, beginning with ‘Constitutional Problems under Madison’ and stretching through all of our wars until we have accumulated a shelf of volumes that reconsider the role of the Constitution in America’s wars.”

Evaluation: In only 349 pages, this book contains some very meaty legal analysis. Moreover, even though there is a paucity of case law during the relevant time period, the book also contains some very thoughtful constitutional analysis of issues faced by both the Union and the Confederacy. Interestingly, much of the contemporary analysis came from newspaper editorials and impressively trenchant political pamphlets. Neely’s scholarly prose is readable despite the density of his subject matter, and he avoids sounding too lawyerly. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a serious interest in our constitutional history.

Rating: 4/5

Note: The author won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for his book The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. This book was awarded the Lincoln Group of New York Award of Achievement for 2011.

Published by The University of North Carolina Press, 2011

March 2, 1861 – President Buchanan Signs the Corwin Amendment

On this date in history, President James Buchanan affixed his signature to a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the 36th Congress. If ratified, the amendment – to be the 13th – would have shielded “domestic institutions of the states” (i.e., slavery) from the constitutional amendment process and from abolition or interference by Congress. Specifically, it read:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

Over 200 resolutions dealing with slavery were proposed in the 36th Congress, most having the intent of averting a Civil War. This particular amendment was introduced by Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio in the House of Representatives and Senator William H. Seward of New York in the Senate. The House approved Corwin’s text on February 28, 1861, and the Senate adopted it with no changes on March 2, 1861. Outgoing President James Buchanan signed it the same day.

Representative Thomas Corwin, 1831-1840 and 1859-1862

Representative Thomas Corwin, 1831-1840 and 1859-1862

Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, said of the Corwin Amendment:

I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service….holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Although we like to pretend this particular 13th Amendment never was passed, and/or never endorsed by Lincoln, in fact both events occurred. History professor Daniel Crofts has argued that Lincoln wished, in his inaugural address, to challenge the key Southern claim that the North was bent on destroying slavery.

Abraham Lincoln delivered his first Inaugural Address on the East Portico of the Capitol

Abraham Lincoln delivered his first Inaugural Address on the East Portico of the Capitol

Ohio and Maryland’s legislatures ratified the amendment and Illinois’ state constitutional convention did the same. Had the Civil War not intervened, the proposed 13th Amendment would likely have been ratified by the required three-quarters of the states.

February 26, 1885 – General Act of the Conference at Berlin on the Disposition of African States

On this day in history, an Act was passed “In the Name of God Almighty” by plenipotentiaries of Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Norway, Turkey and the United States respecting the following:

(1) FREEDOM OF TRADE IN THE BASIN OF THE CONGO;
(2) THE SLAVE TRADE;
(3) NEUTRALITY OF THE TERRITORIES IN THE BASIN OF THE CONGO;
(4) NAVIGATION OF THE CONGO;
(5) NAVIGATION OF THE NIGER; AND
(6) RULES FOR FUTURE OCCUPATION ON THE COAST OF THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

Note that although this Conference was held to negotiate rights in Africa, no representatives of Africa were present.

The map on the wall in the Reich Chancellery for the Conference of  Berlin was five meters (16.4 feet) tall.

The map on the wall in the Reich Chancellery for the Conference of Berlin was five meters (16.4 feet) tall.

The signatories were after wealth, cheap labor, and lebensraum. While some of the elements of the Conference sound liberal – for example, the agreement to interdict and suppress the slave trade – as human rights writer Edwin Black points out, part of the motive was to keep able-bodied Africans in Africa in order to serve as slaves for the colonizing powers.

Black also reports on the conditions in the four territories colonized by Germany (Togoland, the Cameroons, Tanganyika, and today’s Namibia). He writes:

Once entrenched, the German minority established a culture of pure labor enslavement. Tribeswomen were subjected to incessant and often capricious rape—and not infrequently, their men were killed while attempting to defend them. Whites routinely stole the possessions of natives, such as cattle, and found ways to seize ancestral lands over trivialities. Confiscation was often facilitated by predatory European lending practices enforced at gunpoint by the German military.”

Germany wasn’t the only bad actor in this play, unfortunately. The Congo “Free State” was established at this Conference, by which this area was confirmed as the private property of the Congo Society. This allegedly philanthropic society was founded in 1876 by King Leopold II of Belgium.

Belgium's King Leopold II dividing up the spoils  of Africa and claiming the Congo as his own private state.

Belgium’s King Leopold II dividing up the spoils of Africa and claiming the Congo as his own private state.

Adam Hochschild, an award-winning author of history, describes in gory detail the mass murder in the Congo that took place under the aegis of Belgium’s King Leopold II, mostly between 1890 and 1910, in the book King Leopold’s Ghost. Greed for ivory, land, and rubber was behind the drive by Leopold that is thought to have reduced the population of the Congo by half: an estimated five to ten million lives. This figure does not include the numerous people subjected “merely” to amputation of hands and/or feet, an apparently common punishment meted out to family members of recalcitrant workers. (Cutting off hands was also the practice subsequent to executions to prove one had not “wasted” ammunition on nonhuman targets. Children were often killed with the butt of guns, also to save ammunition.)

King Leopolds ghost

Inhabitants were used as porters – taking luggage, wine, and pâté inland for the white overseers, and bring back ivory and rubber. They also had to harvest the ivory and rubber and process it prior to transportation. Porters were generally chained together by the neck, so that, for example, if one fell into the Congo while working on a bridge, the whole line would be dragged in as well, meaning certain death for all of them. Women were imprisoned and chained (and often raped) while the men were out gathering rubber, to ensure their return. Food allotments for workers were not generous, and punishment was meted out with the chicotte, a whip made out of dried hippopotamus hide cut into a sharp-edge strip. Beatings could be fatal. It was also not unusual for whole villages to be burned and their inhabitants executed as ‘examples” to other villages.

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The author maintains that Europeans of Leopold’s time thought of Africa “as if it were just a piece of uninhabited real estate to be disposed of by its owner.” But more than that, the black inhabitants were regarded as less than human beings. Hochschild pauses in his tale of horror to ask:

What made it possible for the functionaries in the Congo to so blithely watch the chicotte in action and … deal out pain and death in other ways as well? To begin with, of course, was race. To Europeans, Africans were inferior beings: lazy, uncivilized, little better than animals. … Then, of course, the terror in the Congo was sanctioned by the [white] authorities. For a white man to rebel meant challenging the system that provided your livelihood [as well as a very good livelihood for your superiors. Leopold himself is estimated to have taken some $1.1 billion (in today’s dollars) in profits]. Finally when terror is the unquestioned order of the day, wielding it efficiently is regarded as a manly virtue, the way soldiers value calmness in battle.”

While most of his book focuses on the Congo, Hochschild’s last chapter summarizes the situation in some of the other colonial possessions. The French Congo, for instance, has a similar legacy:

In France’s equatorial African territories…the amount of rubber-bearing land was far less than what Leopold controlled, but the rape was just as brutal. Almost all exploitable land was divided among concession companies. Forced labor, hostages, slave chains, starving porters, burned villages, paramilitary company ‘sentries,’ and the chicotte were the order of the day.”

Congolese villager being whipped with chicotte (a whip made with dried hippopotamus skin having razor sharp edges), likely for not meeting his rubber collection quota.

Congolese villager being whipped with chicotte (a whip made with dried hippopotamus skin having razor sharp edges), likely for not meeting his rubber collection quota.

And what is the legacy of this exploitation and violence in Africa? For one, the arbitrary carving of Africa into nation states by the European colonial powers divided ethnic groups and helped create war and civil unrest. Further, economic impoverishment and years of dictators supported by the West (mostly to advance Cold War priorities) have left a solid foundation for political instability as well as social, political and criminal violence.

An article by Anup Shah points out:

Even as colonial administrators parted, they left behind supportive elites that, in effect, continued the siphoning of Africa’s wealth. Thus has colonialism had a major impact on the economics of the region today. Various commentators, mostly from the third world observer that colonialism in the traditional sense may have ended, but the end results are much the same.”

An interview with former Tanzania President, Julius Nyerere, is illustrative of the problems endemic to this post-colonialism region:

I was in Washington last year. At the World Bank the first question they asked me was “how did you fail?” I responded that we took over a country with 85 per cent of its adult population illiterate. The British ruled us for 43 years. When they left, there were 2 trained engineers and 12 doctors. This is the country we inherited. . . .”

Anup Shah also explains how IMF/World Bank policies have basically resulted in a continuation of the colonial situation in Africa, and created an “immense burden of debt has further crippled Africa’s ability to develop.”

Bob Geldof, a member of the Africa Progress Panel, Geldof explained in a 2004 lecture:

. . .existing patterns of farming were wiped away and huge plantations of single non-native crops were developed, always with the need of European processing industry in mind.

There was a global transfer of foreign plants to facilitate this – tea, coffee, cocoa, rubber etc., The result was the erosion of the soil, forerunner of the desertification evident today. And with the erosion came steadily decreasing quantities of already scarce local food grown on marginal lands by labourers working for pitiful wages. This concentration on a few major cash crops or the extraction of an important mineral source left the countries on independence incredibly vulnerable to dramatic fluctuations in the prices of those commodities on the world market.”

“Decades of misrule,” Geldof continues, has “ left most African governments flat broke, so they [agree] to do whatever the IMF ask[s].”

Thus today, as Geldof lamented in a 2013 speech:

Away from the investment analyses and high growth headlines, some 40 percent of Africa’s one billion population still live on $1.25 per day or less. And, as UNICEF notes, in 2011 some 19,000 children under the age of five were still dying every day from deaths from preventable causes.”

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The easy access to natural resources to maintain and fuel rebellions (combined with corporate interests) makes for a nasty combination. A lack of support for basic rights in the region, plus a lack of supporting institutions, as well as the international community’s political will to do something about it and help towards building peace and stability has also been a factor. As Dambiso Moyo, a former economist at Goldman Sachs and author of Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa claimed in a 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal:

Africa remains the most unstable continent in the world, beset by civil strife and war. Since 1996, 11 countries have been embroiled in civil wars. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in the 1990s, Africa had more wars than the rest of the world combined.”

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A World Bank report declares that “Seven of the 10 most unequal countries in the world are in Africa, most of them in southern Africa.”

Many countries have promised aid to Africa, but most don’t deliver, according to Jeffrey Sachs. Moreover, much of this aid is attached to requirements, as summarized in a report by the Law Library of Congress, such as a commitment “to promote democratic values” or respect human rights.

Nevertheless, as Moyo stated:

Over the past 60 years [looking back from 2009] at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Yet real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population — over 350 million people — live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades.”

Furthermore:

. . . evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It’s increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest (the fact that over 60% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under the age of 24 with few economic prospects is a cause for worry). Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.”

The article cites rampant corruption, an inefficient civil service, foreign intervention, and lack of jobs as contributing factors. The author observes:

A constant stream of “free” money is a perfect way to keep an inefficient or simply bad government in power. As aid flows in, there is nothing more for the government to do — it doesn’t need to raise taxes, and as long as it pays the army, it doesn’t have to take account of its disgruntled citizens. No matter that its citizens are disenfranchised (as with no taxation there can be no representation). All the government really needs to do is to court and cater to its foreign donors to stay in power.”

Moyo insists “It’s time for a change.” But the consequences of so many years of exploitation and a legacy of abuse and corruption make change difficult. Western countries owe it to Africa to do a better job helping root out the poisonous legacy of The Conference of Berlin.

berlin-conference

February 16, 1847 – Missouri Outlaws Education of Black Slaves

The issue of statehood for Missouri triggered a national controversy as Congress debated the future status of slavery in the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. The “Missouri Compromise” allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state, thus keeping the balance of slave and free states equal in Congress.

MissComp

In 1825, Missouri passed laws imposing various restrictions on both enslaved and free blacks. The General Assembly also endeavored to prevent abolitionist influence on Missouri slaves, and in 1837 passed an act to “prohibit the publication, circulation, and promulgation of the abolition doctrines” with hefty fines and/or imprisonment stipulated for violators.

By 1840, nearly 13 percent of Missouri’s population was composed of enslaved black people, while free black people made up less than one percent of the state’s residents. Still, the mood in the country was volatile, and the white people of the state feared a possible rebellion [of their allegedly happy slaves].

On this day in history, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law stating:

… [n]o person shall keep or teach any school for the instruction of negroes or mulattoes, in reading or writing, in this State.” ‖ Act of February 16, 1847, § 1, 1847 Mo. Laws 103.

As explained on the website of the Missouri State Government:

An uneducated black population made white citizens feel more secure against both abolitionists and slave uprisings, although it probably did little to suppress the desire for freedom.”

The act also forbade the migration of free blacks to the state. The penalty for anyone violating any of the law’s provisions was a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars, a jail term not to exceed six months, or a combination of fine and jail sentence.