11 December 2008

The North's Role In Slavery

"Farai Chideya talks with Anne Farrow, co-author of the book *Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, which reveals the history of the Northern slave market, and the stories of many of those who were bought, sold and survived."

Listen to this NPR interview here.

It's important we remember all of our history. As the author notes, "history has been so hidden."

*This book was published in 2005 and you can read a review of the book here. . . "it is an effort to counter-balance a myth about Northern virtue." (Emphasis mine.)

Why does this myth yet flourish?

17 comments:

Robert Moore said...

Richard,

No doubt, this book tells about a part of the history of slavery that has vanished from memory; but by no means does it tell ALL.

I'd actually be more interested in seeing a closer examination of percentages of those involved in the North who promoted, prolonged, and, bottom line, profited from slavery the breakdown of the interests in slavery, and the percentage of those in the South who benefited from profit. The most difficult part of defining that in the South is that we typically are left with only the records of those who owned slaves. There isn't an appreciable amount of information regarding the hiring of slaves to non-slaveholders, and, in turn, how even non-slaveholders benefited from the institution. Yet, I've seen accounts where non-slaveholders hired slaves, and yet felt the institution was against the laws of morality. Overall, the whole situation is a tough nut to crack, far more difficult than this book accomplishes.

There were some "fat cats" who profited in the North and profited big. Brown University recently recognized the connection with the founding family to the institution. Still, the South wasn't exactly turning-down the sale of slaves, and over time, they learned the best ways to make it pay.

If we are to remember ALL of our history, then a number of books should be considered in the study, works by Morgan and Foner should be among them. - Robert

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

As the authors note, the book provides a counter balance to the notion that slavery was solely a Southern institution and that the North was somehow morally superior regarding the issue.

There's a deluge of books about Southern slavery, but slim pickins when it comes to the institution in the North. The authors of Complicity claim that 40 cents out of every cotton dollar ended up in the pockets of Northerners.

Robert Moore said...

Still, and more importantly, what percent of the Northern population was bagging that 40 cents out of every dollar?

Likewise, what percentage of the Southern population was bagging 60 cents out of every dollar?

This Northern consciousness of moral superiority as reflected through memory of the past needs to be examined beyond BOTH the role that SOME in the North played in the institution of slavery and the role that SOME played in the abolition movement.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Still, and more importantly, what percent of the Northern population was bagging that 40 cents out of every dollar? Likewise, what percentage of the Southern population was bagging 60 cents out of every dollar?"

I don't know. Actually, what's truly more important is the fact that one could not profit without the other.

The abolitionists were a small, but very vocal, minority. They were despised by many of the industrialists who were profiting from the slavery/cotton connection.

Robert Moore said...

"one could not profit without the other"

Yes, in BOTH the South and the North. As I said, there were non-slaveholders in the South who benefited as well, from slaves hired to them. The iron-ore business in the Valley benefited greatly from this practice. At the coming of the war, slaveholders typically pulled back their slave hires from the iron-ore business and the iron ore folks became desperate to find labor.

"The abolitionists were a small, but very vocal, minority. They were despised by many of the industrialists who were profiting from the slavery/cotton connection."

And I'm sure that Southern slaveholders and non-slaveholders (ultimately, whoever used slaves for financial benefit) were not very happy about the voice of abolition either.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

No disagreement there, but the topic for this post is about the North's connection to slavery.

The profits from slavery in both areas of the Nation had a "trickle-down" affect, Northerners buying stock in the slave-trading ships, the financing of the whole enterprise, etc. It touched everyone, to one degree or another.

Again, Southern slavery is what most CW sites focus on. I want to try to keep the discussion here on the North's connection to the institution as there is ample discussion of the South's role on many other sites.

Robert Moore said...

Sure, I'll keep to the parameters of the post.

However, in that interview that you linked to, it sounds like the focus of discussion was more on colonial-era situation in the North (including the height of slavery in the North, which amounted to about 40,000 slaves) than it was on the subject of Northern industrialists (from the 1800s) benefiting from slavery without owning slaves.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks. Yes, I believe you're correct regarding that NPR interview, though the book follows the subject right up through the war years. The writers, all New England natives, were shocked to learn of the North's depth of involvement in the slave trade. I think that it is quite telling and supports the notion that when it comes to this sad era in our history, there is this "myth" of the North's superior position regarding the morality of their "opposition" to the institution; which almost always overlooks the economics involved.

It is my belief that both sections of the country are equally guilty when it comes to the moral implications of slavery - that is the point the authors of the book make.

Border Ruffian said...

RM-
"I'd actually be more interested in seeing a closer examination of percentages of those involved in the North who promoted, prolonged, and, bottom line, profited from slavery the breakdown of the interests in slavery"
==================================

It would be quite extensive-
Cotton mill owners and workers. Ship builders, owners & crews (cotton was the #1 export of the United States). The rag barons of New York City...etc, etc...a long list.

And of course we cannot overlook the illegal slave trade (1808-1860) of which Boston and NYC were considered the capitals. The primary destination of the slaves was Cuba and Brazil. Very few were sent to the United States.

Robert Moore said...

"The writers, all New England natives, were shocked to learn of the North's depth of involvement in the slave trade. I think that it is quite telling and supports the notion that when it comes to this sad era in our history, there is this "myth" of the North's superior position regarding the morality of their "opposition" to the institution; which almost always overlooks the economics involved."

No argument about some in the North having forgotten about the role that some Northerners played. I think that the "myth," as adopted by some (though I can't account for how many) may have a number of "root-systems." The first coming from the general line of belief that (because of Northern-based abolition movements, the emancipation in the midst of the war, and the general opposition to the idea of the expansion of slavery in the "border states") as a region, the "North" was interested in the freedom of slaves.

That said, however, the movement of the Northern states in the latter 1700s and early 1800s to abolish the institution in the North may be the strongest "root" behind why there may be an idea of "the North's superior position." As a society, the North got rid of slavery as a practice, and yet the South did not. After the society cleared the institution from its own states, did those Northerners who continued to profit from Southern slavery truly represent the North as a society? I don't think it did.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BR:

"Quite extensive." You are correct. New York City was built on the Southern cotton/slave economy.

Again, my main point is that the notion of the North being in a superior moral position when it comes to slavery is, as the authors point out, a myth.

cenantua said...

And, adhering to the parameters of this post, I will refrain from addressing speculation and keep my focus to the development of the myth.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I agree Robert, except for your last point. I'm not so sure. Most likely, the majority of Northern society couldn't have cared less - not unlike the fact that many of our Chinese bought goods in America are manufactured by slave labor. Most Americans don't really care.

BTW, the first government in the modern world to criminalize the slave trade was the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1778.

What enabled the North to abolish slavery? Industrialization; which came about, in large measure, from the cotton/slave profits.

cenantua said...

I'm well aware of the slave trade laws and related stuff. I spent a hefty amount of time focused solely on the West African slave trade. Ultimately, blame extended well beyond the borders of the U.S. Europeans and even Africans had major roles in making the entire system "work."

But, you mentioned industrialization "enabling" the North to abolish slavery. Before giving such a large amount of credit to the industrialization of the North in Northern abolition, you should consider reading a bit more about early 19th century Northern society and its role.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

The industrialization comment was probably too much of a broad brushed approach. Allow me to clarify - industrialization played a role in enabling the North to abolish slavery. I realize there were many other factors. Thanks for your input.

chaps said...

Richard-

You ask the question "why does the myth persist?"

The answer, I think, lies in the guilty conscience of the north. Northerners wanted to believe that the War was a moral crusade to free the slaves rather than a war of subjugation designed to keep in place repressive tariff and taxation policies that transferred huge amounts of money from Southerners to the north for internal improvements and other things to advantage the north economically. The South's economic production did not attain 1860 levels until the 1930s... when the rest of the country was in a depression. The myth persists because the story of the heroic and selfless north has been pounded into school children's heads relentlessly. That's why the effort is so strong to suppress Southern pride and symbols. There can't be any countering the myth of the superior north.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you Chaps.