I’ve just heard an anecdote from Donna Baran. According to the story, someone’s grandparents (perhaps back in the first half of the 20th Century) refused to get a birth certificate for one of their children. These grandparents allegedly claimed that they knew and remembered from their grandparents that birth certificates were originally issued as stock certificates for former [current?] slaves.
I’ve never before heard of this claim. I have absolutely no evidence or authority to support his claim.
But the idea that birth certificates were originally intended for slaves (or former slaves) instantly resonated with me. With nothing to go on but gut, I’ll bet that if someone could research birth certificates back into, say, the 1850’s in the Old South, I’ll bet they find that birth certificates were originally intended as a way of identifying the slaves, property, chattel, animals, and livestock owned by plantation owners.
If this claim that “birth certificates were originally issued as stock certificates for former [current?] slaves” is true, I’ll bet that someone who studies genealogy–especially of African-Americans might find evidence in pre-civil war archives that the earliest birth certificates were issued to slaves.
In the alternative, the alleged claim was actually written as “birth certificates were originally issued as stock certificates for former slaves”–I added the “[current?]” text because I suspected that the birth certificates would be issued for slaves much like you might issue a “title” to an automobile or a prize bull.
But maybe my notion of birth certificates for actual slaves prior to the Civil War was wrong. Maybe these birth certificates were only issued to former slaves, after the Civil War and after they were emancipated by the 13th and 14th Amendments. If so, evidence of these first birth certificates would be found after A.D. 1865.
The Dred Scott vs Sanford (A.D. 1857) case has been “vilified” for having caused the Civil War (A.D. 1860-1865) by refusing the “free” the slaves. Because the case has been vilified, no one bothers to read it.
But I read it–about fifteen years ago. I was not as competent a reader then as I am now. If I read the case today, I might interpret it much differently than I did then. But I remember reading Dred Scott and discovering that the Supreme Court justices, rather than being villains determined to keep slaves in bondage, were practically lamenting that they had no constitutional authority to elevate those persons who had previously been declared to be slaves and therefore property to the status of men and women. The Supreme Court essentially said “Our hands are tied by the Constitution; there’s nothing we can do unless the Constitution is amended.” And even then (if I recall the case correctly), the Supreme Court seemed to say that there might still be no way to turn “property” (slaves) into men and women.
Three years later, the Civil War ensued. That war ended in A.D. 1865 and the Constitution was amended by the 13th Amendment (prohibiting slavery) and the then the 14th Amendment (A.D. 1868) granting citizenship to former slaves.
But, while the 13th Amendment outlawed the ownership of slaves, it did not elevate former slaves to the status of free men and women. We might pass a constitutional amendment today that outlawed the ownership of horses. The horse would have to be turned loose to run free–but they’d still be horses. They would not be men and women made in God’s image and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.
Similarly, while the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to former slaves, it did not expressly declare them to be elevated from the status of property to the status of free men and women.
It is possible that while the institution of slavery was ended after the Civil War, the former slaves remained in the status of chattel (“things” and “property”) rather than men and women.
If so, it is conceivable (especially under the 14th Amendment that declares “All persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States”) that a former slave would need and want a “birth certificate” to “certify” that he had been “born in the United States” to elevate them from the status of mere “chattel” (property and “things”) to the status of “citizen of the United States”. For the newly emancipated slave, a “birth certificate” might be something like a “passport” that at least allowed him to “pass” for a “citizen”–but perhaps not as a “man”.
Whatever the truth of this matter may be, I’m hoping that some of you who read this blog may have sufficient interest and talent to ferret out whether the original birth certificates were intended for slaves or former slaves rather than free men and women.
If birth certificates began as a device to elevate slaves from the status of chattel to the status of citizens, it may well be that anyone who uses a birth certificate is thereby degrading his status from that of a man to that of a citizen or even a slave.