In the great and proud history of the United States, no failing, no appalling ideology, no perverse institution—no national tragedy—compares to the American sin of chattel slavery. Codified in the nation’s founding documents in a grotesque mockery of the Declaration’s self-evident truth that “all men are created equal,” the 250-year bondage of black Americans was an uninterrupted reign of savage violence, capricious brutality, and never-ending dehumanization. At its peak in 1860, one in eight people in the United States was the “property” of another American; in the South, five million whites owned four million blacks. Those slaves didn’t just constitute the single largest asset in the entire U.S economy; the institution of slavery was central to the development and expansion of American industrial capitalism. And sustaining the entire enterprise was an all-encompassing ideology of white supremacy bolstered by the complicity of Christian churches which split South from North precisely to perpetuate the “peculiar institution.” What Vice President Alexander declared “the great truth” that was “the cornerstone” of the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis proclaimed divinely mandated:
“We recognized the negro as God and God's Book and God's laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him. Our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude.”
Under the American slavery regime, the man, woman, or child “fitted expressly for servitude” was not to be considered human at all. Deemed property that could be arbitrarily bought and sold, abused and raped, tortured and killed, the slave was denied any notion of autonomy. Barred from moral agency, slaves simply had no right to make choices in any aspect of their lives. (As Chief Justice Roger Taney infamously stated in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case, blacks were “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”) In the most elemental sense, the slave was not the sovereign of his or her own body. The nature of her toil, the fates of her children and even the sanctity of her body itself would be decided by her master alone.
Simply put, state-sanctioned slavery justified by a dogma of religious paternalism is a monstrous crime unequaled in American history. All of which is why analogizing any political controversy to slavery isn’t merely wrong, but obscene. Nevertheless, today’s Republicans routinely compare slavery to Obamacare, gun control, the national debt, the social safety net, and just about any other political development they hate. And as their wave of draconian bans in Georgia, Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and other states shows, the Republicans equation of abortion to slavery is the most insidious of them of all.