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FTWMI: The Cost of Freedom April 16, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Yoga.
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Blessings to anyone Counting the Omer or celebrating Easter and Eastertide / the Octave of Easter! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the holy month of Ramadān. (Keep your eyes open!)

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted today in 2020. Dates and related information (including links) have been updated. *UPDATE: I revised some language and added a quote in this post after the practice.

“Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down.”

– “Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Most people, I think, would agree that freedom is priceless. I mean, at least, I think we can all agree about that when we are talking about our own freedom. Things get a little twisted when we are talking about someone else’s freedom. How much do we value the freedom – or even the life – of someone we perceive as different from us? How much do we value the freedom – or even the life – of someone with whom we disagree about even the meaning of freedom?

What happens if you have to put a price freedom? What happens if you actually have to quantify the value of life, liberty, freedom (which is, ultimately, the pursuit of happiness)?

Did that last question take you back to the Constitution and the founders of the United States? Let’s really go back, get the full context, shall we?

“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.”

– excerpt from the Declaration of Independence as presented by the Committee of Five and approved and signed by the Second Continental Congress, 1776

Yes, yes; it’s inspiring and lovely – and I do love the sentiment: those are words to live and lead by.  And yet…. And yet…. Here’s one of the interesting and twisted things about all that: The founders of the United States, who created a country based on those highly virtuous concepts outlined in the Declaration of Independence, did so while simultaneously creating a country (that same country) that systematically declared women and certain people of color to not only not be equal, but to also not be entitled to the very rights which they said were “endowed by their Creator.” These men, for the Committee of Five and the signers of the Constitution were all men (so far as I know), were willing to fight in order to secure their freedom from Great Britain. Furthermore, they believed, as Caesar Rodney (the Gentleman from Delaware) famously put it when he cast his vote for independence, “As I believe the voice of my constituents and of all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, my judgment concurs with them; I vote for independence.” In other words, they believed they represented the voice of the People (i.e., other men) who were willing to lay down their lives for freedom: that was the cost of freedom.

“The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah. And his offering was one silver bowl weighing one hundred and thirty [shekels], one silver sprinkling basin [weighing] seventy shekels according to the holy shekel, both filled with fine flour mixed with olive oil for a meal offering. One spoon [weighing] ten [shekels] of gold filled with incense. One young bull, one ram and one lamb in its first year for a burnt offering. One young he goat for a sin offering. And for the peace offering: two oxen, five rams, five he goats, five lambs in their first year; this was the offering of Nahshon the son of Amminadab.”

– Bamidbar / Numbers 7:12 – 7:17

In the Hebrew Bible / the Christian Old Testament, G-d not only gave Moses instructions for how to deal with Pharaoh, but also instructions on how the Jewish people were to deal with the last days of the plague (in particular during the final plague); how to travel and camp; how to take a census (or accounting of the men); how to establish leadership; and how to build and dedicate a temple. G-d also instructed Moses that each Tribe of Israel was required to make a sacrifice, or offering, as a way to give thanks and offer devotion. In other words, according to what they were able and how many were in their tribe, each leader paid the cost of freedom.

Today in 1862, nearly nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. The act essentially ended slavery in the capital city (although it did not apply to fugitive slaves who had escaped from Maryland) and set aside over $100,100,000 as compensation for the 3,185 people who were freed.

That was the cost of freedom: over $1 million, plus an additional $100,000, for approximately 3,185 people.

But, let’s not get the facts twisted. The compensation was primarily for the slave owners who were “losing their property.” President Lincoln appointed a 3-person Emancipation Commission, which met 5 days a week, for months on end, in order to review 966 petitions and dole out compensation accordingly. Petitions included the name, age, sex, and “particular description” of the enslaved person in question and were made on behalf of black, as well as white, “slave owners.” Yes, that is correct. At the time, certain places within the Union – like the District of Columbia – were home to freedmen who had purchased their family members so that they too could be free. (I started to put purchased in quotes, but the reality is people paid to be free.) This act did not apply to any Confederate slaver owners or anyone who had aided the Confederacy’s (lost) cause. Furthermore, it made it a felony to “kidnap” or in any way re-enslave a freed person or formerly enslaved person.

The Compensated Emancipation Act paid Union slave-owners $300 per freed person and paid formerly enslaved people a resettlement or “emigrant” fee – not to exceed $100 each – if they chose to relocate to places like Haiti and Liberia. It established payment for the commissioners ($200,000 each); a clerk ($200 per month plus an occasional 25 cent processing fee); and paid a marshal “such fees as are allowed by law for similar services performed by him in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia.” It also stated, “that the Secretary of the Treasury shall cause all other reasonable expenses of said commission to be audited and allowed, and that said compensation, fees, and expenses shall be paid from the Treasury of the United States.” In July of 1862, an amendment was added which allowed formerly enslaved people to petition for compensation (on their own behalf) if their former masters had not already done so. The amendment did something even the Declaration of Independence and the original Act didn’t do: it gave equal weight and consideration to petitioners – regardless of their color or the color of the person who might challenge their petition.

Similar compensation was proposed, but never implanted in the rest of the United States. Today (April 16th), is Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia. It is a public holiday in the country’s capital city and yet, outside of D. C., most people don’t think twice about Emancipation Day – unless it falls on a Saturday or Sunday (like it does this year) and thereby delays the official federal tax day for a few days (so that people can have Monday off).

So, there are three examples of the cost of freedom. What’s the cost of your freedom? What, for that matter, does it mean to you to be free? And, what are you doing with your freedom – even when your movement/freedom has been restricted by the quarantine and social distancing?

“If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so.’”

– Ashtavakra Gita 1:11

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, April 16nd) at 2:30 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)



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