Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Lesson from History for the Modern Citizen: The Middle Passage

Near the beginning of the 19th century, Britain had just lost the war to America and there was talk of another war, this time with France, on the horizon. Britain was trying to carry on with work as usual, hoping that the revolution in France would not leak across the English Channel. However, there was an even greater horror going on within their own empire. Most people in Britain had heard of this horror in passing, but those who partook in it were careful to keep it far from the eyes and ears of everyday British citizens, for to bring this evil into the light could bring financial ruin for all involved. This horror was known as the Middle Passage.

 “The Middle Passage across the Atlantic was front and center in the slave trade's catalog of horrors. It was so named because it was the middle leg of the infamous 'triangle trade.' On the first leg, European goods were transported to Africa and there unloaded; on the second, the ship was filled with its human cargo, who during this 'middle passage' were transported to the West Indies, to be sold there; and on its final leg the ship carried West Indian goods back to Europe.” [1]

This Middle Passage consisted of unspeakable horrors. I feel it best to describe these horrors, as the author Eric Metaxas did in Amazing Grace (which I highly recommend reading), in the words of a surgeon who was on board a slave ship.

“The men Negroes... on being brought aboard the ship, are immediately fastened together, two and two, by handcuffs on their wrists and by irons rivetted on their legs... They are frequently stowed so close, as to admit of no other position than lying on their sides. Nor will the height between decks, unless directly under the grating, permit the indulgence of an erect posture... [On these decks] are placed three or four large buckets, of conical form... to which, when necessary, the Negroes have recourse. It often happens that those who are placed at a distance from the buckets, and endeavoring to get them, tumble over their companions, in sequence of their being shackled. These accidents, although unavoidable, are productive of continual quarrels in which some of them are always bruised. In this distressed situation, unable to proceed and prevented from getting to the tubs, they desist from the attempt; and as the necessities of nature are not to be resisted, ease themselves as they lie. This becomes a fresh source of boils and disturbances and tends to render the condition of the poor captive wretches still more uncomfortable... The place allotted for the sick Negroes is under the half deck, where they lie on the bare planks. By this means those who were emancipated frequently have their skin and even their flesh entirely rubbed off, by the motion of the ship, from the prominent parts of the shoulders, elbows and hips so as to render the bones quite bare. And some of them, by constant lying in the blood and mucus that had flowed from those afflicted with the flux and which is generally so violent as to prevent their being kept clean, having their flesh much sooner rubbed off than those who have only to contend with the mere friction of the ship. The excruciating pain, which the poor sufferers feel from being obliged to continue in such a dreadful situation, frequently for several weeks, in case they happen to live so long, is not to be conceived.” [2]

Often times, these conditions would lead to death. Also, there were cases in which the traders would throw overboard the sick, so as to save money through insurance as well as to lighten the load in harsh waters. There are many other accounts of the horrors endured in the Middle Passage, but the preceding quotations will suffice for the purpose of this article.

Now you might be thinking, “how could Britain put up with these horrors?”. One answer to that question is the fact that the Middle Passage was so far away from Britain that it just did not seem like a very real issue to them. Another answer is the amount of money and power that the slave traders and plantation owners had in order to persuade those who tried to stand against them. However, there were some in Britain who would not put up with these horrors, no matter what the cost.

One person who felt he had to do something was a young politician named William Wilberforce. Wilberforce had deep convictions that if he were not to stand up against this evil, he would be neglecting his responsibility as a Christian. So he, along with an interesting group of characters who shared the same desire to rid Britain of the slave trade, would spend twenty long years fighting for the lives of those in the slave trade through legislation in Parliament. They travelled across the British Empire collecting evidence, petitions, and abolitionists in order to open the eyes of the people to this great evil, hoping to win the support of the people in order to persuade Parliament to rid their nation of the slave trade. They wrote books, articles, and legislation that they continually presented to the public. Eventually, their efforts paid off when in 1807, Britain passed the Slave Trade Act, abolishing the slave trade throughout the British Empire, as well as subsequent legislation in 1833, in Britain abolished slavery itself with the Slavery Abolition Act. Wilberforce and his men had fought the good fight, and Wilberforce was able to see the results of that fight a few days before his death.

Now many of you may be thinking that this is a great story, that if you were in their shoes, you would be doing the same thing to defend the lives of those in need. Which leads to another question: what is an equivalent of the Middle Passage in our day? I am convinced that the answer to that question is abortion.

Like Britain, most people know of the horrors of abortion, but we have been kept so far from it by the media and fear tactics that most of us do not think that we need to do anything about it, because it doesn't affect us. Most abortions are done quietly, with not many people hearing about their close friends and loved ones who have chosen this action. Those who support it have been able to persuade the people of this nation that it is not as bad as it seems, that it is just a normal part of society that doesn't have any bad consequences and is morally right. However, I know that if the American people actually stopped what they were doing for a moment and looked at the issue of abortion, they would see that it is not much different than the Middle Passage.

I have already touched on the idea that it is quite hidden from the eyes of society, so let's look at how much money is backing abortion. Planned Parenthood's website states that the cost of the Abortion Pill is between $300 and $800 [3]. Their website also states that an in-clinic abortion costs between $300 and $950 in the first trimester [4]. Compass Care states that a second trimester abortion costs between $300 and $2000 [5]. Therefore, with America having over a million abortions a year, the abortion industry is at least a $300 million industry, taking the lowest number for all abortions. However, factoring in the amount of financial support that abortion providers receive from businesses, the government, and individuals, as well as the other costs for abortions, the abortion industry could easily be a $1 billion dollar industry. (See [6] for similar reasoning). That's quite a bit of money that companies like Planned Parenthood would be losing, possibly even putting them out of business. Wouldn't you think that they would do everything in their power to continue these abortions?

Now let's look at an actual description of an abortion. This comes from a student who, after this procedure, realized the horrors of abortion. This description comes from the abortion of a child that the student claims “must have been less than 13 to 14 weeks”, which is close to the border between the first and second trimester.

“When I entered the operating room, it felt like any other I had ever been in. On the table in front of me, I saw a woman, legs up as if delivering a child although she was asleep. Next to her was a tray of instruments for the abortion and a vacuum machine for suctioning the fetal tissues from the uterus. The doctors put on their gowns and masks and the procedure began. The cervix was held open with a crude metal instrument and a large transparent tube was stuck inside of the woman. Within a matter of seconds, the machine’s motor was engaged and blood, tissue, and tiny organs were pulled out of their environment into a filter. A minute later, the vacuum choked to a halt. The tube was removed, and stuck to the end was a small body and a head attached haphazardly to it, what was formed of the neck snapped. The ribs had formed with a thin skin covering them, the eyes had formed, and the inner organs had begun to function. The tiny heart of the fetus, obviously a little boy, had just stopped — forever. The vacuum filter was opened, and the tiny arms and legs that had been torn off of the fetus were accounted for. The fingers and toes had the beginnings of their nails on them. The doctors, proud of their work, reassembled the body to show me. Tears welled up in my eyes as they removed the baby boy from the table and shoved his body into a container for disposal.” [7]

Does that sound normal? Does that not bring back memories of the description of the slave ship? Do you really want to live in a society where this type of procedure is morally acceptable, regardless of the reason, even if it be mere inconvenience? I won't even go into the psychological affects that it may have on the woman, but I think we understand the point. Abortion is not much different than the slave trade. We say that we would have fought the slave trade if we had lived in that society, yet we choose to turn a deaf ear when we hear of the horrors of abortion.

Now I would like to ask a few other questions. What if William Wilberforce and his friends did not stand up against the evil that was the slave trade? Where would society be? We see in hindsight that what they did was a great and noble thing, but are we willing to take those same steps and risks in society today? Are we willing to bring to light the horrors that are hidden in our “Middle Passage”? Are we willing to go above and beyond, possibly to fight for twenty years or more before we are rid of this evil that has plagued our nation?

Luckily, North Dakota does not have to fight for twenty years. This November, the people of North Dakota get to make a stand against this evil by voting on a constitutional measure that will put in our state constitution that “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” [8] However, this legislation will not be passed if we sit idly by and hope that it will receive enough votes. We need to be opening the eyes of we the people to the horrors of abortion so that, just as it happened in Britain, the people will see no other choice but to rid our state and, eventually, our nation of this evil.

For those who said that they would stand with Wilberforce in the 1800's, are you willing to make a stand now, here in your own state? The time has come for the people of North Dakota to show the world that we defend those who cannot defend themselves. When else in history has a group of people been able to make such a substantial legislative decision? I hope that you will not finish reading this article unchanged, but that it would grip you and motivate you to fight this battle until we stand on the other side of history and say that we were a part of the great push for the abolition of abortion.

I want to leave you with a few staggering statistics. Although there is debate about how many slaves were transported across the Middle Passage, it is estimated that 14 to 20 million Africans either died or were sold due to the slave trade, of whom between 10 and 14 million made it across the Atlantic [9]. Although I feel Wilberforce would have fought for even one slave who was sent across this ocean, these numbers were definitely enough to push him to spend almost his entire political career fighting the slave trade. Here, the final question arises. Wilberforce was willing to fight for the lives of 20 million African men and women, most whom he had never met. Are you willing to fight for the approximately 50 million unborn children who have been killed since 1973 and the millions more who will be killed every year abortion remains legal? [10]

- Nathan Joraanstad
[1] Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, pg. 97. Written by Eric Metaxas. Published by HarperOne, 2007. Much of the knowledge of Wilberforce throughout this article relies on this book.
[2] Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, pg. 97-98, 100


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