Thursday 25 June 2015

Slavery in Romania and Liverpool

I showed my article (blog post sounds inelegant but little essay sound precious) on American slavery to a friend of mine, who commented interestingly:

I also come from a slave owning family…yes…gypsies were slaves..and by the way the largest slave owner was the Orthodox Church, being the largest landowner in the Romanian principalities up to Romanian unification

Do I feel guilty about it?  How could I since it was not me but my ancestors who indulged in the practice?  Furthermore, anyone with a sense of history knows that what is deemed “moral” changes all the time (although I am not a moral relativist and I certainly do not condone slavery today).  However, the fact is that “gypsy owners” at the time did not perceive that they were doing anything wrong. I am also proud that we were apparently the first Wallachian family to voluntarily give up their gypsy slaves, which interestingly enough happened almost at the same time as slavery was abolished in the US (though there was no direct linkage at  the time, unlike today where what happens in the US reverberates round the world)

It is sad that politically correct people focus on historic slavery, whereas the practice continues today throughout many developing countries, especially Africa and the Middle East.  People with a grudge to bear do not seem to care about the current practice of slavery, but focus on what happened over 200 years ago, which in any event cannot be undone.  There is also quasi-slavery throughout the developing world which is economic exploitation to a degree that is slavery in all but name. Another interesting point is that for all the achievements of the European Enlightenment, it is not liberal political theorists like Locke to whom we owe the abolition of slavery, but to dedicated Christians who lobbied against the practice, leading to its abolition in the British Empire'
He is right that people talk about slaves owned by whites two hundred years ago but  do not speak of slavery today. Today very many of the slave-owners are Muslims. It is not slavery that upsets people today but whites oppressing non-whites.

I doubt if Locke and the Whigs disapproved of slavery. Whigs are heartless people. It was Low Church Tories like Wilberforce and Lord Macaulay’s father Zachary who persuaded the political class in the UK that slavery had to be abolished. Interestingly, W. E. Gladstone when he was the rising hope of the stern unbending Tories, made his maiden speech justifying slavery. He was a Liverpudlian – Liverpool was a city that waxed fat on slavery – and his father Sir John Gladstone made his fortune in the slave trade. 
W.E. Gladstone was also High Church. He later, during the American Civil War when he was a leading Liberal politician, described the American Confederacy as 
A nation rightly struggling to be free.
I think, by the way, that Gladstone was right about this, but he said it at a time when Lancashire cotton girls, made out of work by the Royal Navy's embargo of the Confederacy, were nevertheless backing the North.


I did some research after writing this - it took five minutes, so wonderful a thing is the internet - and found that Locke wrote about slavery. He thought it only legitimate to enslave people if they were prisoners of war. It was legitimate for a just conqueror to enslave them because slavery is
but the state of war continued, between a lawful conqueror and a captive.
I am indebted to Eric Brandt for telling me that John Locke invested money in the slave trade and helped draft the Constitution of the Carolinas, which provided for slavery.

I dislike Locke and the Whigs and all the shabby crew of American rebels and love Tories, like Dr Johnson, who said 
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes? 

The Old Testament approves of slavery ('Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's slave') and Jesus did not condemn it, unlike divorce. Still, it was the Bible that in the end brought about the abolition of slavery, not Locke, Hume, Voltaire or Rousseau and certainly not the Koran.


  1. The comment is correct. What your friend did not mention was that gypsies were either domestic staff or allowed to roam free along the country in exchange of paying a yearly "tax" to their Owner. They were not doing hard work as labourers or farmers, these were the tasks of the serfs, all of them ethnic Romanians. Those who make a fuss about gypsies being slaves conveniently forget that most Romanians were serfs at the time. They were legally the property of the landowner (legat de pamant) who could be sold by landowners exactly like the gypsies. in Russia the situation was exactly the same until XIX century, just read "Dead Souls" by Gogol. For most of the time, there was not much of a difference between the gypsy slaves and the Romanian serfs.

  2. Another thing that is not mentioned is that social status was linked to ethnicity. At the bottom were gypsy slaves (robi) and ethnic Romanians as serfs (rumâni) who few rights and both could be sold during the sale of the land. Note the transformation of an ethnicity into a (low) social status during the history. The Owners/landowners were largely Greeks via donation to the Greek orthodox monastic organisations in Greece or by acquiring large properties during Phanariotes times in Muntenia/Moldova. They were ethnic Hungarian/German in Transylvania where Romanians were treated as "tolerated population" and deprived of rights after Unio Trio Natiorum of 1438. Romanian ethnicity was almost equal to serfdom, a status which was no better than gypsies' slavery for hundreds of years. Romanians are probably the less to blame for the gypsies' slavery.

  3. People do object to slavery as it exists today -- forced labor, indentured servitude, and human trafficking. Organizations protest these practices and try to put an end to them. They may not get a ton of press, but they will in time.

    People in the US feel uneasy about slavery because reminders of it linger and can make life in America very uncomfortable for white AND black people. Only the most blinkered and pedantic person could fail to understand this, or maybe someone who only visited the US for five hours ;)

  4. Cu prostul nescolarizat
    Te lupti putin ... si ai scapat
    Dar duci o lupta colosala
    Cu prostul care are scoala

  5. Locke repeated a very old understanding of slavery, which Aristotle mentions without endorsing. And Locke was read with at least as close attention in Massachusetts, which alone of the states had no slaves at the time of the first census, as in Virginia; in J.Q. Adams's first term at Harvard, every fourth week was given primarily to Locke. (Though it sounds as if they were working through An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.)

    Franklin emancipated his own slaves during his lifetime, Washington in his will. Neither was radically abolitionist, and as nationalist neither could be. The Constitution could not have been ratified with stronger provisions against slavery that the possibility of forbidding importation of slaves after 1808. Jefferson I suppose to have had his emancipationist tendencies cooled not by his reading, but the influence of his world, as slaveholder and neighbor and relation to slaveholders.

    Within the US, the relationship to slavery did not fit comfortably into other ideological patterns. I think that the same was the case in England: the Lancashire mill girls, and Bright and Forster were not more Tory than Gladstone.