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Friday, July 5, 2024

Slavery, Racism, And The Demonization Of The South - All White Men Must Pay

American progressives like to hammer the South for its slave-owning past.  Unlike the Holocaust  ('Never Again') and Je me souviens', (Great Britain's 18th Century take over of French Quebec) any and all traces of the Old South must be expunged, removed, and forgotten. Unlike Israel and Quebec which insist on remembering the past so that it will never happen again, progressive activists are intent on eliminating it, thus removing any chance of learning lessons from it. 

Historical censorship, however, is not enough.  It is only through insistent, perpetuating hatred of the South that punishment can be meted out.  In an extraordinary display of revisionist conflation, all white men must be called to account for slavery.  It wasn't so much that the South was responsible for slavery, it was whiteness - an insidious, pervasive, presumptively arrogant sense of racial superiority - that was behind the institution, the ethos that was the foundation for its growth. 

Of course nothing could be farther from the truth.  The African slave trade started in tribal Africa.  If it hadn't been for local warring tribes who took, kept, and bartered prisoners as slaves among themselves and then realized the lucrative business of selling them to European traders, the trans-Atlantic slave trade would never have prospered as it did. 


Slavery has been a going concern since the first human settlements, common in the Paleolithic era, Ancient Greece and Rome, Persia, India, China, and Japan. It wasn't a white thing but a human thing. Enslavement of a captured enemy was fitting punishment and a reward for the victors.  Later in the age of empire, conquest of land and people was the currency.  Progressives themselves like to point to child labor, trafficking, and economic exploitation as modern day slavery.  The Communists insisted that the working class was enslaved by capitalists and in revolt they had nothing to lose but their chains. 

Slavery has always been successful, and it was no different in the South.  Historian Seymour Drescher has written:  

What makes the success of that movement especially amazing is the extraordinary strength, vitality, productivity, profitability, and transferability of racial slavery in the New World. By the late 1600s the sugar-producing Caribbean colonies had created the most profitable economy, per capita, in the world. Their exports were worth two and a half times those of the partly free-labor economies of North America, and colonists with the highest incomes now lived in the West Indies. And despite the emergence of liberal and radical ideologies in the Age of Revolution, despite the rise of antislavery organizations in Britain, America, and France, despite the disruptions of the American, French, and Haitian revolutions, the African slave trade reached its peak between 1783 and 1793 and could hardly have been more vigorous and profitable when outlawed in 1807 by Britain and the United States.
The value of British West Indian exports to England and of imports in the West Indies from England increased sharply from the early 1780s to the end of the eighteenth century.  The British West Indies’ share of the total British overseas trade rose to high peaks in the early nineteenth century and did not begin a long-range decline until well after Parliament deprived the colonies of fresh supplies of African labor.
After assessing the profitability of the slave trade, which brought rewards of around 10 percent on investment, and the increasing value of the British West Indies, the British slave system was expanding, not declining, at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The Civil War was fought over economic competition between North and South (with Britain, the biggest consumer of Southern cotton in the mix), The defense of ‘free labor’ – a philosophical principle derived from the Enlightenment and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – was made even more compelling because of US colonial history.  Americans were slaves of a sort to their colonial masters, unable to profit from their own labor, and therefore philosophy grew practical, political teeth.  

Slavery was indeed a 'peculiar institution', for slaves were both labor and capital.  As such slaveowners went out of their way to protect their investment.  While there may have been Simon Legree overseers in Southern plantations, owners (who kept careful records available to historians) invested significantly in food, lodging, clothing, and health care.  Slave labor was conditional on optimum performance and reproductivity. 

Slavery was a successful, productive, and viable system which for centuries produced great returns and it would not have collapsed on its own write Drescher and the economic historians Fogel and Engerman (Time on the Cross).  It was not the universally brutal and exploitative regime portrayed by the Abolitionists and modern day ‘Progressives’.  It was a business to be managed like any other.  

What is conveniently ignored by today's revisionists is the role the North played in slavery. While slaveholding in the North was minor compared to the South, it was common and widely accepted. 

Slaves were auctioned openly in the Market House of Philadelphia; in the shadow of Congregational churches in Rhode Island; in Boston taverns and warehouses; and weekly, sometimes daily, in Merchant's Coffee House of New York. Such Northern heroes of the American Revolution as John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin bought, sold, and owned black people. William Henry Seward, Lincoln's anti-slavery Secretary of State during the Civil War, born in 1801, grew up in Orange County, New York, in a slave-owning family and amid neighbors who owned slaves if they could afford them. The family of Abraham Lincoln himself, when it lived in Pennsylvania in colonial times, owned slaves (Slavery in the North, Andrew Harper)

Second, while slaveholding in the North might have been relatively small compared to the South, huge wealth was generated by its participation in the slave trade. In 2006 a team of Hartford Courant journalists wrote a series called Complicity in which they chronicled the North’s role in slavery.


New York slowly and reluctantly abolished slavery; federal census figures showed slaves in the state until 1850. But the death of slavery in New York scarcely impeded the city’s business in the slave trade. In the peak years of 1859 and 1860, two slave ships bound for Africa left New York harbor every month. Although the trade was technically illegal, no one cared: A slave bought for $50 in Africa could be sold for $1,000 in Cuba, a profit margin so high that loss of slave life was easily absorbed. For every hundred slaves purchased in Africa, perhaps 48 survived the trip to the New World. By the end of the voyage, the ships that held the packed, shackled and naked human cargo were so filthy that it was cheaper to burn some vessels than decontaminate them (Reported in The Northern Slave Trade, Phyllis Eckhaus, In These Times)

The slave trade in particular was dominated by the northern maritime industry. Rhode Island alone was responsible for half of all U.S. slave voyages. The DeWolfs may have been the biggest slavers in U.S. history, but there were many others involved. For example, members of the Brown family of Providence, some of whom were prominent in the slave trade, gave substantial gifts to Rhode Island College, which was later renamed Brown University (Traces of the Trade – A Story from the Deep North)

Money was certainly made by the transatlantic shipping of slaves; but the greatest Northern wealth was generated from the cotton trade.  Northern textile mills flourished in the antebellum period largely because of Southern, slave-picked cotton.  Industrialists in the booming New England and Mid-Atlantic states thrived, and the basis for a vigorous American capitalism was established.

“King Cotton” was to antebellum America what oil is to the Middle East. Whole New England textile cities sprang up to manufacture cloth from cotton picked and processed by millions of slaves. In 1861, the United States produced more than 2 billion pounds of cotton, exporting much of it to Great Britain via New York (Eckhaus).

Those Northern traders, industrialists, and shippers invested the money realized from the slave and cotton trade back into America.  Wall Street made millions thanks to the investment of New England and New York capitalists, and lent that money out to thousands of large and small entrepreneurs throughout the rapidly growing country.  In other words, slave money infiltrated everywhere in the new United States. Looked at from the modern PC perspective of disinvestment, we should boycott everything.

Given this complex of factors - the historical persistence of slavery as a going economic system, its universality and commonality, and the very basic human instincts of control, exploitation, and economic self-interest - the particular calumny and hatred levied at the South is surprising.  It should be enough that the cyclical forces of economic competition, philosophical differences, and moral rectitude provoked the Civil War and ended slavery.  If one were to look at history through a moral lens, one would turn away at level of brutality, deprivation, and sheer aggression that have persisted throughout the ages. 

History has shown that there is no such thing as right and wrong, only victory and defeat. The moral judgment of world affairs is a recent phenomenon, and it seems to have reached its apogee - or nadir, depending on one's perspective - today.  Not only do modern progressives want to ignore history, but based on a stubborn moral rectitude, wish to expunge it and replace it with their own version of past events. 

It is convenient for progressives to use the South and slavery as the basis for a universal indictment of white men, white society, and white culture. Revisionism at its very worst. 

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