“Persons of mean and vile condition.” Who is Zinn referring to with the title of this chapter?
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They were selling indentured servants the same way that they were selling slaves. They advertised them in newspapers like a local farmer's market, “Healthy Servants, Men Women and Boys.” And many of the children were poor children that had been “gathered up by the hundreds on the streets of English cities to be sent to Virginia to work.”
“More than half the colonists who came to the North American shores in the colonial period came as servants.”
One of the immigrants who had come as an indentured servant wrote a letter from America saying, “Whoever is well off in Europe better remain there. Here is misery and distress, same as everywhere, and for certain persons and conditions incomparably more than in Europe.”

Here is a clause from the U.S. Constitution which serves the purpose of creating law and order around the control and ownership of human beings: “Persons held to Service or Labor in one State...escaping into another...shall be delivered up...”

Abbott Smith did a careful study and concluded from it that colonial society “was not democratic and certainly not equalitarian, it was dominated by men who had money enough to make others work for them. Few of these men were descended from indentured servants, and practically none had themselves been of that class.”

Anyone in Elizabethan England onward who was a casualty of commerce and capitalism -- had been displaced by wealthy landowners and was without a means for making a living, was considered a rogue and a vagabond and if, “found begging could be stripped to the waist and whipped bloody, could be sent out of the city, sent to workhouses, or transported out of the country.”

“In the 1600’s and 1700’s, by forced exile, by lures, promises, and lies, by kidnapping, by their urgent need to escape the living conditions of the home country, poor people wanting to go to America became commodities of profit for merchants, traders, ship captains, and eventually their masters in America. Abbot Smith, in his study of indentured servitude, Colonists in Bondage, writes: “From the complex pattern of forces producing emigration to the American colonies one stands out clearly as most powerful in causing the movement of servants. This was the pecuniary profit to be made by shipping them.””

I feel inclined, to say that the persons of “mean and vile condition’ Zinn was referring to are the profiteers, opportunists and those consumed by arrogance and greed. But what creates a climate or allows for people to be consumed with such feelings? What fundamental belief system breeds such desperation and disparity and fosters people to rationalize and take such actions? We can say simply, ‘survival’, but was it survival or preservation of profits, of status, of power, of identity? And how, each day, as we go forward from here - a time in which we see many of the same sorts of things happening: all varieties of slave labor being employed, poor children still being kidnapped off of the streets and sold into labor, situations being discussed from an economic or political standpoint rather than from a humanistic standpoint -- how do we keep clear on what is guiding our actions? And how do we recognize where our daily decisions/actions/behaviors/purchases either condone or reject these sorts of mean and vile conditions and behaviors?

Please tell me what you are thinking. About this post. About the history we are reading. About how you keep yourself alert to what is guiding your own actions.




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