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Myth: The U.S. Constitution Abolishes Slavery

Written by Gary North on November 11, 2014

It never has.

“But what about the 13th Amendment? It clearly abolishes slavery.”

It clearly does not.

Now you may be wondering: “Has North lost his revisionist mind?” No; I have merely read the text. But, unlike most people, I read what it says, not what high school history and civics teachers say it says.

What does it say?

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Whenever you see the word “except,” pay very close attention.

Fact: It is not unconstitutional to sell a person into slavery to raise money for him to pay the victims of his crimes.

“What? Victim’s rights? What wild judicial idea is this? Why, a criminal must pay his debt to society! We all know this.”

Here is the logic of this argument. The criminal owes a debt to society. As universally interpreted, this means that he owes prison time to the State.

Where did this idea come from? It’s not in the Bible, whose concept of civil government rests on the idea of victim’s rights. I wrote a book on this in 1990, which you can download for free: Victim’s Rights.

“Wait a minute! Are you saying that the various levels of civil government should shut down prisons and re-institute slavery?” Yes, I am. That’s what the U.S. Constitution authorizes.

I am saying that slavery in the private sector is better for the victims and the criminals than slavery in the public sector, which is what prisons are. Slavery in the public sector is inherently unproductive.

“But society needs to be protected!” Indeed, it does. First and foremost, it needs to be protected from the messianic State.

The actual text of the 13th amendment is rarely discussed in public, and never in public school textbooks. Why not? Because the text of the 13th Amendment flies in the face of the idea of the messianic State, the State that promises to make bad men good and good men better. The therapeutic state is the modern concept of the State. C. S. Lewis called this the humanitarian theory of punishment. He regarded it as a moral monstrosity, which is exactly what it is. The idea that someone should be sold into slavery, where he can earn his way out — the biblical system — is an affront to the defenders of the messianic State. “Criminals must pay their debts to society — at taxpayers’ expense!”

So, we have a gigantic prison industry, where taxpayers are charged on average about $29,000 a year to house criminals. (In New York City, where everything costs more, it’s about $168,000 a year.) Here, young people learn new trades from skilled professionals. When released, they go back into the job market as trained criminals.

This comes as a shock to those who defend prisons rather than slavery. So, they call for more of the same: longer sentences.

I prefer the Constitutional solution: slavery.

Yet they call me a revisionist! Why? Because I say: “Go back to the text.”

If all this comes as new information to you, then the public schools have done their number on you. The private schools have done much the same. Basically, you are Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.

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20 thoughts on “Myth: The U.S. Constitution Abolishes Slavery

  1. It used to be prisoners worked on chain gangs. Building roads, where ever physical labor was needed. This system was done away with because the bleeding hearts deemed this as 'cruel and unusual punishment.

    Now the prisoners have exercise rooms, TV privileges; all paid for by the tax payers.

    Some of the less dangerous to society prisoners do earn the right to learn job skills. This does enable them to be a productive member in society. Hopefully keeping them out of jail again.

  2. Recidivism is 75% over five years according to a 2005 study. That's just re-arrests. it doesn't count the ones who got away with it. How can this be called "justice" for society and the victims?

  3. How does a murderer pay back the victim?

  4. Gregory E. Young says:

    The primary victim in a murder is God – one of His images was illegally killed. He requires execution of the offender for immediate judgement in eternity. Certainly 5-15 in the pen, or even 30+ years on death row doesn’t pay back anybody, except the prison system games masters.

  5. A murderer would need to pay back the victim's family.

  6. Dr. Greg Belcher says:

    Kudos, Dr. North, on your 'revisionism' regarding the 13th. Would that you might administer such appropriate treatment to at least one other amendment. I speak of the nearly, universally misunderstood, 16th. In this case, the well-watered misunderstanding ultimately benefits the confiscatory State (which, of course, provides the necessary source of revenue fueling the works of the greater messianic). Please see: http://losthorizons.com/Documents/The16th.htm .

  7. a murderer once convicted pays back by getting out of the way via capital punishment

  8. Ah well said.

  9. With his or her life! That is the best deterrent to violent crime that can be had. Which in most states is not legal to do any more. Pity!

  10. This cannot and probably should not work. People today have neither the means not the wherewithal to own and supervise slaves. In fact, I find it repugnant to even have to write that. If they were even willing, that would put criminals of varying degrees of brutality out into situations where they couldn't be controlled. I cannot decide whether to call this insane or inane. See my blog at http://cranky-conservative.blogspot.com

  11. "People today have neither the means not the wherewithal to own and supervise slaves… If they were even willing, that would put criminals of varying degrees of brutality out into situations where they couldn't be controlled."

    This is very much a think outside the box concept. It really isn't hard to account for safety, and no one said the victim would need to supervise the slave personally. The first commenter mentioned the old chain gangs. The state or a private company could maintain security over a chain gang, with the prisoners not receiving the wages for their labor. Instead the checks are mailed to the victim, or the victim's family.

  12. It was done away with because it competed with union labor. Both the states and the federal government contracted with private entities to run their for profit prisons, both before and after the 13th amendment. The profits of the prisoners labor have always gone to either the state or to crony capitalists, never to "victims", as North suggests.

  13. rodney burke says:

    slavery is not meant for crimes like murder. Murders should NOT be imprisoned for life, they should be executed and save the taxpayer money. Life without the possibilility of parole is utter nonsense. If a criminal is not fit to EVER function in society, they are NOT fit to live either. WTH are we paying a prisoner to live better than many of US law abiding citizens are? The money we spend on housing lifers could be used more productively. Let's start doing that. If it takes slavery to correct the wrongs of society, then I say we DO it! Someone in a Federal pen is not "paying back society" they are leeching OFF society. Hey you wanna win the war of poverty, take the money we spend on most prisons and spend it on programs to get the poor OUT of being poor and back to being productive members of society. Another set of LEECHES on the back of productive Americans.

  14. This leaves a large gap for "victimless crimes" for which too large a portion of the population is now incarcerated. To whom should go the wages of a convicted pot smoker?

  15. Obviously once you switch to a legal system based on justice for victims, it defines crime based on the victim.

    Thus victimless crime is no longer crime.

  16. Stuart Shepherd says:

    Fantastic idea. Slavery in the Bible was used by God as a symbol of our DEBT (symbolically and really- sin). If a man owed another man money and could not/did not repay it, the debtee was legally entitled to assume the debtor as a slave of indefinite length of servitude. God used the example of Philemon in the New Testament as a symbol of Christ's sacrifice to "pay" our debt of sin (death) when Paul asked that he be returned from slavery (which was "eternal") and, of course, the entire story and reality of the Hebrew slaves' bondage and redemption from it in the Old Testament is a symbol of the coming Christ. Great idea- pay your debt to "society" or, better yet, the person or persons you actually harmed- at THEIR mercy, with the 13th Ammendment enforceable by the 2nd! I love it!

  17. Tim Mayeaux says:

    GENESIS 9:6 makes it very plain. You pay with your life. This "law" or edict was given soon after GOD killed EVERYONE on the (HIS) planet. Telling Noah, HE wanted US to know life is precious. The other "laws" were to come later. Murder was wrong in the beginning of GENESIS too. Cain/Able.

  18. Tim Mayeaux says:

    not to mention killing innocent people that have NEVER done anything to society. And once again, WE the Sheeople funding the wickedness, damning millions to HELL. Will "we" ever wake up? doubt it….

  19. Tim Mayeaux says:

    you know nothing about the section 8 housing YOU pay for, do ya ?

  20. Phillip the Bruce says:

    Right David, it does not say turn the criminal over to the victim as a slave. It says sell him into slavery and use the proceeds to reimburse the victim.