Abolition Academy: The “Slave State vs. Free State” Concern

Cannon at Gettysburg National Military Park | photo by Humane Herald staff

The Abolition Amendment was designed to be passed and ratified at the federal level, thereby ending slavery and emancipating all animals throughout the United States of America.  But with a simple modification of the text, the Abolition Amendment can also be enacted at the state level.  The Humane Party, which published the final draft of the Abolition Amendment in 2016, expressly encourages activists to pursue abolition at the state level, even before sufficient numbers have been attained to achieve victory at the national level (and notwithstanding the concerns expressed below).

However, as the Compromise of 1820 (“Missouri Compromise”) marks its 200th anniversary, a concern associated with the state-by-state approach is worth examining.

History of state-by-state progression in the proto-abolition movement

The first section of the Abolition Amendment is based on that of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), which ended human slavery throughout the U.S. and was itself based in part on the text of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.  But before proto-abolition had been achieved at the federal level, a number of individual states had already abolished human slavery, while other states continued to keep human slavery legal.

Over time, a particular type of crisis, emanating from the federal structure set forth in the U.S. Constitution, arose.  Specifically, as the number of “free states” (i.e., those in which human slavery had been abolished) came to equal the number of “slave states” (i.e., those in which human slavery was still legal), representatives of the slave states realized that they could soon be in the minority in the U.S. Senate.  If and when that power shift occurred, the free states could then outvote the slave states, using this advantage to end or severely limit human slavery throughout the U.S., a prospect that slaveholders and their political representatives feared and vehemently opposed.

This situation gave rise to, among other things, the Missouri Compromise, through which slave states were allowed to maintain numerical parity with free states in the U.S. Senate.  Nonetheless, many lawmakers recognized that such compromises—a similar event happened in 1850—were simply postponing a day of reckoning with this issue rather than achieving any lasting resolution of it, and many foresaw that the issue had the potential to tear the country apart.

With the rise of the Republican Party and the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 to the U.S. Presidency, the writing was on the wall.  Unable to abide election results, disgruntled Democrats—America’s ironically named, home-grown party of genocide, slavery, and racism, whose “black codes” and “Jim Crow” laws served, some decades later, as a model for the Nazi Party’s own racist legal regime—responded by leading a pro-slavery secession movement.  The Democrats created their own fake country (the so-called “Confederate States of America”), elected a fake President (Democrat Jefferson Davis), created fake—but nonetheless violent—armies with fake generals (e.g., Democrat Nathan Bedford Forrest, who, once Democrat-led forces had been defeated on the battlefield, continued their fight by way of the Ku Klux Klan), and printed their own fake, ultimately worthless currency (featuring likenesses of the Democratic Party’s favorite sociopaths, Andrew Jackson—whose reputation as a proudly belligerent, ignorant, and stubborn “jackass” gave the Democratic Party the symbol that represents them to this day—and John C. Calhoun).  The Democrats’ fake government was never formally recognized by any foreign country and may, in a way, be regarded as the deepest—and most destructive—“deep fake” in U.S. history.  But this mother-of-all-fake-news had real consequences: a civil war (1861-1865) that resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 loyal U.S. soldiers died in combat against Democrat-led forces.

The potential to repeat the slave-state, free-state problem

This history highlights a significant risk of a state-by-state approach to abolition.  Specifically, as more and more states pass the Abolition Amendment at the state level, a situation could again arise in which free states and slave states approach numerical parity.  For instance, using the current number of U.S. states, a scenario could arise in which there are exactly twenty-five (25) free states and twenty-five (25) slave states.

The prospect or actuality of a recurrence of such a scenario could, in turn, cause significant internal strife and precipitate another slavery-induced crisis, giving rise to explosive events similar to those that occurred in the context of the proto-abolition movement less than two centuries ago, our federal structure being the same now as it was then.

“Business” relocation

Envisioning the path that could lead up to such a moment can be helpful.  Imagine, for instance, that an initial state achieves a “shot heard ’round the world” breakthrough as it becomes the first U.S. state to end slavery, in all its forms, by passing and ratifying an amendment to the given state’s constitution.  Upon such amendment, all slavery-based “industries” in that state would be immediately and permanently wiped out, including all meat, dairy, egg, leather, vivisection, horse-racing, rodeo, and other such “businesses” in the given jurisdiction.

Rather than completely go out of “business,” however, some animal-exploiting corporations might relocate their operations to one of the remaining slave states, where they could continue to exploit and kill thousands of victims each day.  Some time later, when their new home state also succeeded in abolishing slavery, the given animal-killing companies would simply retreat again, moving operations to another of the remaining slave states.  Through this rolling retreat, the density of slaves, slavery-based “businesses,” and slaveholders in the remaining slave states would increase, and these slave states would, accordingly, grow more invested and entrenched in their commitment to perpetuate slavery.

Slaveholders would protect these remaining bastions by supporting the election campaigns of meat-and-dairy politicians seeking state and federal office, hoping thereby to ensure that the given state remains slave and that pro-slavery representatives are sent to the U.S. Senate, House, and Presidency.  Through such accumulation, in short, the remaining slave states would likely become even more pro-slavery and pro-violence than they were previously.

Population migration

Population migration would soon follow.  Normal people—a special word for “vegans” will no longer be needed—would, for obvious reasons, leave slave states to become residents of free states in large numbers.  They would understandably prefer to be around other normal people and to enjoy the social and psychological benefits of living in a community free from the violence and ignorance of slaveholders and animal-killers.  They would also naturally want to reap the economic and environmental benefits of a post-abolition economy and to avoid the risks of zoonotic disease transmission that animal exploitation facilitates, as the current coronavirus pandemic has made clear.  Meanwhile, those states that remained slave would become magnets for violent, sadistic, and predatory individuals seeking a “safe” place to indulge these perversions.  The end result would be a sort of self-selected segregation of the human population into two groups who are both geographically and psychologically distinct.

Geographic segregation

This geographical distinction would recreate the very conditions that gave rise to the Underground Railroad in the 1800s and thereby engender open conflict.  Anti-slavery activists (e.g., Animal Liberation Front) would, for instance, undertake to rescue animals from slave states and re-home them in free states.  These liberation activities would be regarded as “theft” by slaveholders, who would then pursue reactionary legislation, analogous to the Fugitive Slave Act (1850); indeed, Democrat-Republican politicians have already united behind such legislation (e.g., their “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act,” “Dairy Pride Act,” and “Ag-Gag” laws).  Slaveholders’ response could also turn violent; after all, these “businesses” literally kill for profit.  Meanwhile, science-minded individuals, aware of the climate and biodiversity crises driven in large measure by the animal-exploitation industries, would grow increasingly resentful of science-denying states and political parties.

This division would continue to widen and worsen until numerical parity is achieved.  At that point, the remaining twenty-five slave states would have accumulated all of the animal-killing “businesses” fleeing from the free states, reaching a sort of maximum density at the very edge of falling into the minority.  Such a circumstance would recreate the highly volatile situation that produced the Compromise of 1820 and, decades later, exploded into a full-blown secession movement and civil war.

How to avoid a recurrence

To put it mildly, civil war is something to be avoided, and we must use the utmost of our mental and emotional strength, patience, and perseverance to prevent it.  Here are some ways the possible train of events described above can be prevented or at least its negative consequences minimized, even while the state-by-state approach to abolition is pursued.

  • Remain focused on the ultimate goal—abolition at the federal level—throughout the process.  Rather than wait until a twenty-five vs. twenty-five standoff comes to pass, animal rights activists should aim to achieve abolition at the federal level far before any such crisis point is reached.  Achieving that goal means hitting the magic numbers in the U.S. Congress and, then, in state conventions.
  • Ensure transparency in political contributions.  Exposing slavery-based companies’ and their owners’ use of money to influence elections and legislation may help to minimize their influence and undermine their ability to elect pro-slavery puppets to state and federal government.
  • Build and maintain a strong abolitionist voice even in those states that haven’t achieved abolition yet.  As noted above, normal people will have a strong desire and incentive to migrate to free states as soon as such jurisdictions become available.  But, in doing so, they will unwittingly accelerate the entrenchment of pro-slavery interests in the jurisdictions they leave behind.  Thus, unpleasant as it may be, normal people should resolve to “stay home,” where they can use their voices, votes, and contributions to at least partly mitigate the impact of those of slaveholders, thereby opening the door to abolitionist victory at the federal level before any national crisis arises.
  • Provide immediate, effective training to displaced workers.  Many laborers undergo the unspeakable horrors of working at a slaughterhouse or other animal-exploitation job only because they feel that they have no other way to make a living.  Such workers, once abolition is achieved in a given state, may feel forced to follow their employer when it relocates to one of the remaining slave states.  This migration can be prevented by providing no-cost job-training and -placement for workers impacted by abolition.  Retaining these workers in their original state will drain resources away from slaveholders who attempt to relocate their “businesses.”
  • Encourage and enable slaveholders to practice manumission rather than relocation.  History indicates that, unfortunately, some slaveholders will never change.  But history also provides many examples of slaveholders who experienced a profound personal transformation and chose to manumit their slaves (see Amazing Grace for a dramatized view of one such convert, that of the author of the famous hymn).  The above relocation of slavery-based “businesses” might be avoided in some cases by teaching slaveholders the financial, environmental, and social benefits of voluntarily converting their exploitation-based activities to exploitation-free operations and emancipating the animals they “own.”

Through such efforts, the slave-state vs. free-state dynamic that resulted in the Missouri Compromise and ultimately brought about the Democrat-led war against the U.S. can be avoided and the transition to a post-abolition society achieved in a peaceful, orderly, and collaborative manner.


Image: Cannon at Gettysburg National Military Park | photo by Humane Herald staff