Speak of the Devil
Pat Robertson made headlines a few weeks ago with his claim that Haiti’s earthquake was the product of a centuries-old curse caused by a pact with the Devil. Of course that assertion is preposterous. In fact, Robertson was several hundred miles off course. Haiti never made a pact with the Devil; the United States did.
Our deal with the Devil, as abolitionist writers remind us, was the conscious choice made by American leaders, two centuries ago, to taint our most sacred national documents by writing racism and slavery into them. Revolutionary leaders had talked boldly of freedom and equality. The Declaration of Independence contained soaring promises: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But the constitutional framers ran into political trouble – and, as usual, Black interests were the first to be abandoned. Under pressure from Southern landowners, the framers agreed on a Constitution which left slavery untouched, and even let Southerners count slaves (as 3/5ths of a person) for representation purposes. The result was a Constitution which abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison rightly called “a covenant with death, an agreement with Hell.” Or in other words, a pact with the Devil.
The Civil War provided a chance for repentance, as newly freed Blacks slowly began to build communities and cautiously claim their rights. But once again political exigencies required a compromise, and once again it was Black freedom which lost out in 1877. For thirty pieces of silver – the disputed electoral votes of three states – the nation’s political leaders sold the South to a century of Klan rule. Again. The pact would formally last until 1964; its effects are still easily observed today.
Haiti’s situation is complex, and made more so by some very bad decisions in American foreign policy. As we focus on rescue and rebuilding, Robertson’s ill-advised words can be a reminder of Garrison’s more apt description, and a reminder of a very real centuries-old pact with the Devil made in this hemisphere.