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.

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4 Responses

  1. Darrell Miller says:


    I had a similar reaction, but did not get a chance to share it beyond the minority list-serve (mostly to vent).

    Thanks for highlighting the irony. It’s a truth that needs to be told.


  2. “it was Black freedom which lost out in 1877…the nation’s political leaders sold the South to a century of Klan rule.”

    The Klan ruled the South until 1977? Well, that would dovetail nicely with its switch from being a Democratic stronghold about that time…

    At its peak, the Klan was probably much more an anti-Catholic organization and its political influence post-1930 has been sporadic to the point of being laughable.

    …and as to America’s bad foreign policy decisions for Haiti – are you referring to the Kennedy cut-off in aid or Clinton’s military response in the 90’s? (Both of which I believe were probably correct moves)

  3. keepitprivate says:

    Kaimi: I have no sympathy for Pat Robertson, but you really should stop responding to every right-wing comment by reminding us of slavery. What does slavery have to do with Haiti or with Robertson’s wacky personal views on sin and god’s punishment? Robertson already opined that god punished America for various sins too, so you aren’t actually contradicting him on this.

    Generally, an American obsession with bringing up slavery at every political discussion is getting tired. Serfdom (a close sibling of slavery) was in place in much of Europe until mid-19th century, but I can hardly imagine someone raising it in a current political debate in Austria, Spain, or Russia. Responding to Robertson by reminding everyone of slavery is like responding by calling him a Nazi. It simply doesn’t help. Once again, I have no sympathy for him whatsoever; I am just tempted to say, with friends like you, who needs enemies?

  4. Darrell Miller says:

    This is the point:

    Haiti was the Western Hemisphere’s first black republic (albeit short-lived). It was founded by people who really were slaves, not some kind of metaphorical/rhetorical “don’t tax my tea” slaves. The people of Haiti had far more moral right to revolution than did the American Revolutionaries, and yet Robertson dismisses the Haitian Revolution as the result of a deal with the devil. The fact that Robertson can make such a claim without a trace of irony underscores the fact that some (perhaps many) Americans cannot reconcile two indubitable facts (a) the United States was founded by smart, forward-thinking men who (b) acquiesced in a terrible evil to do so.