This was a day in which Lisa was truly privileged. It wasn't often she was permitted, let alone invited, to watch television with her mistress, but on this day Madam Colette granted Lisa the privilege of kneeling in front of the screen—naked as always, except for her slave-collar, as clothes were such an unnecessary luxury—while her mistress searched for the relevant news channel. When she selected it, the current story was a report on the Party Caucuses that were a prelude to the upcoming Presidential elections. But this wasn't what Madam Colette wanted her slave to watch. What possible relevance could it have for Lisa? No society would ever enfranchise its slaves. Emancipation has to precede enfranchisement and, however much Lisa's mistress might campaign for her rights, there wasn't much likelihood of that happening any time soon.
It wasn't this news item, nor the one that followed regarding the scandalous murder of a Senator's daughter, but the next feature in which Lisa's mistress, Colette Tuchman-Lee, was once again interviewed for her views on the matter for which she'd campaigned for so many years. And this was especially pertinent to Lisa, as it related to slaves' civil rights and their owners' legal responsibilities. Lisa was fortunate indeed in being the property of a mistress who was in many ways the model slave-owner; one, moreover, renowned throughout the Union for her restless campaigning on behalf of the rights and welfare of slaves. This was bold of her as it was a matter generally regarded as the private concern of their owners. What does ownership mean if you can't do precisely what you want with what you own? Property rights surely took precedence over moral scruples. And where would the economy be if the net benefit of slave labour became the net cost of managing unemployed human resources?
Lisa speculated that Madam Colette's concern with the complex issue of slavery and human rights might have originated from the fact that, like the original slaves shipped over from Africa, her mistress was Black. And, although the majority of slaves in America were still mostly Black, Asian or Latino, Lisa was White. She was legitimate booty from the United States' overwhelming victory in the recent war against the former British colony of Newfoundland. Lisa was sometimes tempted to agree that the briefly independent nation into which she was born was less prosperous than its aggressive neighbour simply because it still adhered to the moral scruples of the much diminished British Empire.
But for now, Lisa had to hold her breath and not fidget during the panel discussion her mistress was so intent on her seeing. And the topic of this was Colette Tuchman-Lee's current campaign to transfer the terms of slavery from life-time servitude to limited-term indenture.
"I know you mean well, Colette," said John Murray, the man chosen to represent the opposing view, as he puffed clouds of smoke from his pipe into the television studio. "Who wouldn't want to improve the lot of those few poor wretches who suffer from unwarranted maltreatment by a reprehensible minority of slave-owners? But we must consider carefully the unintended consequences of any supposed reform to a successful economic model. Recall the reforms made early last century that repealed the practise of mandating children into a state of slavery if their parents were slaves. Although this resulted in such children being freed from inheriting the servitude of their parents, as happened to your ancestors..."
"Is this so, Colette?" interrupted the host, Emily Blackwell, whose towering bouffant hair dominated the centre of the screen.
Colette nodded. "I'm a third generation African-American citizen."
" ... But this policy," John Murray continued, stabbing the stem of his pipe in the air. "This policy had the unintended effect of boosting the international slave trade which had become almost moribund when the Europeans and Antipodeans quit their role in the traditional triangular trade. There was now a huge demand for fresh labour from the traditional African sources and, with the European Empires so weakened after the Eurasian Wars, the United States were able to take full advantage of the bountiful supply and thereby revive the flow of human traffic. And now, of course, there are more nations in the world who practise and benefit from the commerce than ever before."
"So, Colette," said Emily Blackwell turning away from the puffs of pipe-smoke to her right. "How do you answer those who say that the American economy can't hope to prosper if there's any further liberalisation in the conditions of mandatory servitude? Can slave-owners be expected to shoulder further burdens on top of the property-owning taxes and regular slave inspections? What about those whose livelihood relies on unhindered human trade from Africa, Asia and South America?"
"I'd be the last one to deny that there's been progress in recent years," said the Colette on television while Lisa was aware that the Colette on the sofa behind her was watching her slave's reaction as much as her own image on the screen. "Slaves are now permitted to have sexual relationships with one another: even same sex relationships. The ban on casual racism against free citizens has been extended to apply to slaves, however little practical difference this has made. And it may well be that the institution of slavery will be here for many years to come..."
"And are you relaxed about that?" asked the host.
"Relaxed?" said a clearly startled Colette. "Of course not. The institution is barbaric and inhumane. It should have ended centuries ago. How can it be right for one person to be born free and the other to become another person's property?"
"And you claim that you're not a socialist?" John Murray interceded. "That is communist talk. You want to liberate the slaves and then what are they to do? Starve? You want to annul the contract between employer and employee which is different only in kind from that between a slave-owner and his property. There'd be riots in the streets of New York. Taxes would become even more excessive. The American economy would be in a tailspin."
"I've said this many times before and I don't know why I have to keep saying it," said Colette. "I am not a socialist or a subscriber to any kind of un-American activity. But I do believe in a compassionate and ethical relationship with regards to slaves..."
"And this is why you're campaigning for further legislative reforms to limit slavery to a fixed term," said Emily Blackwell in an obvious attempt to steer the discussion away from the general towards the specific. "Do you have political support for this?"
"I have bi-partisan backing from both sides of the House for a review of the terms of indenture and Presidential Candidates from both the Democratic-Republican and Federalist Parties have agreed to back my proposal to institute a State Pension for slaves that absolves the slave-owners' obligation of care for their property once it becomes economically unproductive..."
" ... Paid no doubt by yet more and higher taxes!" interjected John Murray.
"And how do you answer criticism that your reforms only further penalise hard-working slave-owners who're already struggling to make ends meet?" asked the host with an inflexion in her voice that suggested she was about to bring the discussion to a close. "That you represent only the interests of property and not of property-holders?"
"That's ridiculous," said the Colette on television firmly while Lisa's mistress in the living room patted her slave on the head. "As a slave-owner myself, how can it be said that I don't represent the interests of both sides?"
"Indeed," said Emily Blackwell as the camera focused on her. "Well, thank you, Colette. And, of course, thank you also, John. And now we return to the fast-developing story of the hunt for John Booth, the alleged killer of the daughter of Federalist Senator Boston Corbett..."
"Well, Lisa, what do you think?" asked the Colette on the sofa as she set the television sound to mute. "You may speak frankly."
Lisa had long ago discovered that diplomacy was always required when addressing her mistress. Although she wouldn't be admonished or punished for saying something Miss Tuchman-Lee disagreed with, she was sure that the next time she incurred her mistress' displeasure and earned a beating, her apparent disloyalty would be repaid in extra welts and bruises. However enlightened Colette was with regards to the slave-owner's responsibility of care, she also was a firm believer in the merits of discipline.
"I'm sure that limited-term indenture would be a great step forward, Madam," said Lisa, although she'd much prefer to earn her freedom a long time before the end of her term of economic utility.
"And you don't think Murray is right to accuse me of being a socialist?" Colette asked with her eyes slightly narrowed.
.... There is more of this story ...