The Invention of Negroes


On February 11, 1859, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech. It was called “Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions”. He talks about Young America. He talks about the great benefits that have flowed to her from around the world. He talks about the discoveries and inventions that have set her apart as the greatest nation with the greatest future. Then he says something else almost as an afterthought about this young 83-year old country.

He said “ is but justice to the fruitfulness of that period, to mention two other important events – the Lutheran Reformation in 1517, and, still earlier, the invention of negroes, or, of the present mode of using them, in 1434.” It caused me to sit up straight in my seat. The truth will do that.

He mentions “the invention of negroes in 1434” along with, the art of writing, the printing press, patent laws and the Protestant Reformation as the foundations of the greatest nation in the world. The “invention” statement is startling unless one knows the history of Unpaid Labor Contribution. We know that Lincoln did. But why did he use the term invention? Why did he use the date 1434? We know from history that slavery existed long before 1434. But, before 1434, it was based upon conquest, on war, or even on consent. It carried no racial or ethnic stigma. However, all of that changed in 1434.

Professor Stephen B. Smith of Yale University offers some insight in his work entitled “Lincoln’s Enlightenment”. It is a chapter in the book Principle and Prudence in Western Political Thought by Christopher Lynch and Jonathan Marks. Professor Smith says that, in 1434, the Portuguese started the modern slave trade by capturing Africans and selling them in Spain. After the European’s conquest of America, they began selling slaves into the Americas and the 13 original British colonies. That’s when the category of Negro was created to describe the enslaved group. So Lincoln’s phrase “the invention of negroes” hints at a new kind of slavery based on “racial” categories and distinctions which themselves are inventions. They are inventions so massive that the Unpaid Labor system that resulted would become the indispensable factor in the United States of America becoming the most successful nation in modern history.

This is the story of Unpaid Labor. This is the story of Contribution. This is the story that lets us know how important the Unpaid Labor system, and the people that labored in it, were to the birth, growth and survival of the most successful nation in modern history.