In a recent column, Is the Tea Party over?, I answered strongly in the negative, and presented the examples from recent history of Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. There are plenty of other lessons from history as well.
Wilberforce and abolition of slavery
William Wilberforce (1759–1833) was one of the greatest heroes of the last few centuries, with his decades-long campaign to get rid of the monstrous evil of slavery. It’s most instructive to read Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild (2005), because this shows that Wilberforce’s coalition would be denounced as greedy right-wing fundamentalists today, much like the Tea Partiers today. Thomas Sowell reviewed this book as follows:
… the world’s first anti-slavery movement, … began with a meeting of 12 “deeply religious” men in London in 1787. …
The anti-slavery movement was spearheaded by people who would today be called “the religious right” and its organization was created by conservative businessmen. Moreover, what destroyed slavery in the non-Western world was Western imperialism.
Nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today’s intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world.
There are many other similarities to today’s world. While I don’t suggest that today’s evils are as bad as slavery, there is a sense in which we are slaves to liberals. Economist Dr Walter Williams, incidentally an African-American, writes in Are Americans pro-slavery?
A good working description is: slavery is a set of circumstances whereby one person is forcibly used to serve the purposes of another person and has no legal claim to the fruits of his labor.
The average American worker toils from January 1st to the end of April, and has no legal claim to the fruits of his labor for that period. Federal, state and local governments, through the tax code, take what he produces. A small portion of the fruits of his labor is used to provide for the constitutional functions of government. Most of what’s taken, up to two-thirds, is given to some other American in the forms of farm and business subsidies, Social Security, Medicare, welfare and hundreds of other government handout programs. As in slavery, one person is being forcibly used to serve the purposes of another person.
Also, back then, slavery had been entrenched throughout the world, and neither the masses nor the leaders saw anything wrong with it. Today, we have entrenched special interests in keeping the big-spending programs and government bureaucracies, and far too many voters are indifferent to the wrongs of forced wealth transfer (so sadly, Jefferson and Madison would have no chance today). Wilberforce and his allies spent decades showing people the evils of slavery, and turning their hearts and minds against it. Similarly, we have quite a long way to go to convince Americans that it is wrong to take money from other Americans by force. As Dr Williams says:
For the Christians among us, socialism and the welfare state must be seen as sinful. When God gave Moses the commandment “Thou shalt not steal,” I’m sure He didn’t mean thou shalt not steal unless there’s a majority vote. And I’m sure that if you asked God if it’s OK just being a recipient of stolen property, He would deem that a sin as well.
See also his clip on Redistribution of Income:
Separation of religion and politics?
Another parallel is that the opponents of both Wilberforce and today’s social conservatives demand a separation of religion and politics. An example is the illustrious Lord Melbourne (1779–1848), a UK Prime Minister, speaking against the abolitionists:
Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.
Churchian leftists agree with such absurd separation. So of course, secular leftists merely need to designate more and more issues as “political” to exclude Christian influence.
Also, others were “pro-choice” on slavery: even if they were “personally opposed” to slavery but didn’t want to impose morality on the slave-owners and slaver traders (“Don’t like slavery? Don’t own slaves!”).
Personal attacks by the Establishment
Wilberforce and his colleagues also faced up to crass accusations of hypocrisy:
National hero, Admiral Lord Nelson wrote from his flagship Victory to condemn “the damnable doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies!” Admiral Lord Rodney declared that he had never known any slave to be ill treated in the West Indies. Lord Heathfield, the defender of Gibraltar, commented that a slave on the way to the Indies had twice as much cubic air space as a British soldier in a regulation tent! Admiral Lord St. Vincent declared that “the whole of society would go to pieces” if Wilberforce’s Abolition Bill went through! The Duke of Clarence asserted in the House of Lords that “the promoters of the Abolition were either frauds or hypocrites!”
And of course, one of the favorite charges of today’s left against conservative libertarians is “hypocrisy”, but see also Patriot column The Hypocrisy of Hypocrisy Charges.
There were also nasty personal smears. For example, James Boswell (1740–1795), the famous biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), wrote the following ‘poem’:
I hate your little whittling sneer
Your pert and self-sufficient leer.
Begone, for shame
Thou dwarf with big resounding name.
This of course has a parallel with the nastiness of the Left (see for example Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild by Michelle Malkin). Unfortunately, the ‘Gutless’ Old Party tends to go to water at the slightest hint that they might be demonized as “racists”. This explains their ineptness at winning over black voters, since they are afraid to offer a real alternative rather than a pale imitation (see also Patriot column Conservatives and blacks). And the current Congressional GOP is so cravenly afraid of being blamed for a government shutdown that they backed down on real spending cuts (see also Patriot column The Consequences of Cowardice).
Final lesson: patience
Many Tea-Party detractors mock them because they are not getting a lot of what they want this term. But they have influenced only one election cycle until now! And they have had great successes so far. Dick Morris, in his Patriot column A Budget Deal: Republican Suicide, reminds us to remember:
…the fates of Utah Senator Robert Bennett, Delaware Congressman Mike Castle and Florida Governor Chris Christie [sic: he meant Charlie Crist—ND]. And they need to note as well the legion of senior Democrats from seemingly invulnerable districts who lost their seats in 2010. That may well be their fate.
But Wilberforce had nothing like this initial success. As Hochschild documents, the world’s first anti-slavery movement began with a meeting of 12 ‘deeply religious’ men in London in 1787, including Wilberforce. It was 20 years later, March 25, 1807, that ‘An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ was passed. And even this didn’t abolish slavery per se, just trading in slaves. It certainly helped curtail slavery, since the British Navy declared slave transport as “piracy”, so captured slave ships and freed the slaves. Notice that this was “imposing Western morality” on the slavers!
It was still another 26 years before slavery itself was abolished in the British Empire: Wilberforce was already mortally ill when he learned that the ‘Slavery Abolition Act’ was passed on July 26, 1833; he died three days later.
Thus the Tea Party should take heart from this hero: even if there are some setbacks this term, or for many years. It took many decades to socialize America, and it may not be possible to undo this overnight.