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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Payne (Dolley Madison's Father): A PARRHESIASTES Who Helped Start the Abolition of Slavery Movement

No Image for John Payne, Dolley Madison's  Father
History has given us Dolley Madison with her bravery in the White House as it was pillaged and burned by the British in the 1812 War. She saved Stuart's painting of George Washington.
COURAGE LIGHT as Zizek might say.

But what her father did has been lost in the folds of history.
 He was a Parrhesiastes like Edward Snowden.
And like Snowden, he with others began a national debate.
William Penn was given Pennsylvania as a land grant. As a Quaker Penn forbid the trafficking of slaves in Pennsylvania and fair purchase prices for Native American land. Philadelphia was already established when he got it and Pennsylvania was to be a haven for Quakers to practice their religion with freedom from persecution.

A number of Quakers left Pennsylvania for the Carolinas (liberal Constitution) and Virginia where land was cheap, the weather milder, and slave ownership possible. But the slavery debate continued in the Quaker meetings.

Anyone who was involved in the Viet Nam war protests in the 60's and 70's in Philadelphia was aware of the leadership of the Quakers in the Resistance Movement. No longer in any kind of political control the Quakers were a moral force at that time and a center for attracting revolutionary minded dissidents and draft resisters.

In  other words THEY WERE DANGEROUS!
And they were dangerous in the time of the colonies also. So much so in Virginia that in 1760 Virginia passed this law on slavery:

In 1760 in Virginia the Law as passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses read "that it was illegal to emancipate a slave in Virginia except by Government act. Virginia Quakers and their meetings could oppose slaveholding and support emancipation, but they were prohibited by law from freeing their slaves. If a slave was freed, by a Quaker or anyone else, he or she could be captured and sold as a runaway."

The Law reads what you can't do. You can't free your slave. Assuming you are a decent person if you want to free your slave, what are the consequences if you do this. Capturing/kidnapping and being resold to the highest bidder, and very likely a far worse situation from which you are freed. 

You can beat, maim, kill, rape, torture, breed, set dogs on, force fights to the death, well just about anything the perverse imagination can come up with, you can do. 

The only thing you can't do is FREE  this slave. And if you do this slave will never really be free. This slave will always be looking over her/his shoulder as there are stories of abductions and disappearances. 

This Law also has an emptiness. The only thing you are not allowed to do is FREE your slave. 

Dolley Madison's  father was disturbed by the fact that he owned slaves to work his plantation in Virginia. About 50 of them. A large holding. He had converted to the Society of Friends after he married Mary Coles who had been disowned by the Quakers for marrying him, an Anglican. He becomes more Quaker than a Quaker as converts often are wont to do. And his conscience is troubled by the fact that he owns slaves. 

It is a colonial law of the colony of Virginia. There are certainly similar laws in Alabama,Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, etc. But this is Virginia, the place where Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe all have family plantations with enslaved workers. And these men are 4 of our first 5 presidents. I am stunned.

At the base of our legal system by 1760 is pure sophistry. A Law by Pharisees. It contains a poison pill. It puts the person of integrity in a CATCH-22 situation. Unable to keep a slave or free the slave. It forces hypocrisy. 

Now who is responsible for this law? Does anyone think that the largest plantation owners in Virginia, the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Madisons, and Monroes were innocent of this law? We know James Madison's grandfather served in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1761-1769. He would have had to have known of this law. Who formulated it like this? And why? 

And why this law at this time? Foucault teaches to look at what else is going on. To look at the intersections of different "comings to be" and in this case it is the influx of Quakers from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas (liberal Constitution) and Virginia to farm large tracts of cheap land through the use of slave labor. Quaker meetings are not about listening to someone give a sermon. They involve silence and the necessity someone feels to speak to the group. So one can expect there were many raised discussions about slavery, and surely the well known founding fathers of the Anglican persuasion knew about these dissenting discussions, as these meeting books were impounded during the Revolution as they looked for traitors. The Quakers refused to bear arms. Most of them anyway. They were found innocent.

Virginia was a bastion of slaveholding.  In 1765, the Quaker minister John Griffith wrote that "the life of religion is almost lost where slaves are numerous....the practice being as contrary to the spirit of Christianity as light is to darkness." (p. 64) By 1769 the Paynes had come to believe that slaveholding was morally indefensible.  Three months after the Declaration of Independence was signed, John Payne, Dolley's father freed one of his slaves in a formal declaration leaving no doubt as to his intent. Then he freed the rest of them. In defiance of Virginia Law. 

In Full:

I, John Payne of Hanover County, Virginia, from mature, deliberate Consideration, and the Conviction of my Own mind, being fully persuaded that Freedom is the A Natural Condition of all mankind, and that no law, moral or Divine, has given me a right Or property in the persons of my fellow Creatures; and being desirous to fulfill the Injunction of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by doing unto Others as I would be done by; do therefore declare that having Under my care a Negro man Named Cuffe, aged about Twenty-four years, I do, for myself, my heirs, Executors and Administrators, hereby release Unto him the said Cuffe all my right, Interest and Claim Or pretension of Claim  whatsoever, as to his person, or to any Estate he may hereafter Acquire, without any Interruption from me, or any person Claiming for, by, or under me. In Witness whereof I have Hereunto set my hand and Seal this third day of the Twelfth month in the year of our Lord One thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Six. (p. 65)

This is both a statement and an act of PARRHESIA, following from the time of Socrates in the Western World - and only in the Western World. It is our heritage and our tradition. 

Frankness:The word parrhesia, then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. …in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people’s minds by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.

…..To my mind, the parrhesiastes says what is true because it is really true. The parrhesiastes is not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth. He says what he knows to be true. The second characteristic of parrhesia, then, is that there is always an exact coincidence between belief and truth.

If there is a kind of “proof” of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous — different from what the majority believes — is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes.

Danger: Someone is said to use parrhesia and merits consideration as aparrhesiastes only if there is a risk or danger for him in telling the truth. …when a philosopher addresses himself to a sovereign, to a tyrant, and tells him that his tyranny is disturbing and unpleasant because tyranny is incompatible with justice, then the philosopher speaks the truth, believes he is speaking the truth, and, more than that, also takes a risk (since the tyrant may become angry, may punish him, may exile him, may kill him.) And that was exactly Plato’s situation with Dionysius in Syracuse….

So you see, the parrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk….Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger; it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the “game” of life or death.
Quotes from Foucault
It is because the parrhesiastes must take a risk in speaking the truth that the king or tyrant generally cannot use parrhesia; for he risks nothing.
When you accept the parrhesiastic game in which your own life is exposed, you are taking up a specific relationship to yourself; you risk death to tell the truth instead of reposing in the security of a life where the truth goes unspoken. Of course, the threat of death comes from the Other, and thereby requires a relationship to the Other. But the parrhesiastes primarily chooses a specific relationship to himself: he prefers himself as a truth-teller rather than as a living being who is false to himself.
I am saying that John Payne is a PARRHESIASTES of his time.

His risk was great as he defied the law. It began the beginning of financial ruin for him. He would never recover from the loss of about $45,000 and in 1776 that was a huge sum. And yet history does not record his courage. Only the online internet has been able to protect Edward Snowden and keep him safe and known throughout the world due to Assange's work with wikileaks. Snowden will not be forgotten as John Payne was. He is buried in the Free Quaker Cemetery in Philadelphia. I cannot find a gravestone image. Perhaps someone will send it to me or post it in a comment. He was a great man who is only known as the father of Dolley Madison.

For more on this reading through 12 Years A Slave LINK because the capture and reselling continued for almost 100 years afterwards as the law had no teeth. New York Law got Northup back to his family and it was a complicated legal process to free him.