28 May 2009

Bearing A Shared Cross

"In effect, northern gradual-abolition laws have gotten the North off the hook, persuading historians who were educated and who taught in the North for more than a century that slavery was a southern problem rather than a national problem. The regional animosity associated with the Civil War also suffused the consciousness of northern historians, heightening their tendency to ignore the fact that slavery was not simply a southern problem in the post-[Revolutionary]-war era." ~ Gary B. Nash, “Race and Revolution,” Cambridge University Press, 1990, p.30. (Emphasis mine).

And that same attitude and perspective continues, in large measure, to this very day. Thus the negative emphasis on the South on many academic blogs. It is the alter-ego of the Lost Cause mentality in the South.

28 comments:

James F. Epperson said...

What about those historians who were not educated and did not teach in the North? What about writers who were not educated and did not write in the North?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

What about them? Name them.

Since most universities are consumed with political correctness, what's the surprise?

James F. Epperson said...

Well, let's go with Emory Thomas, Bud Robertson, and Shelby Foote.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I love Robertson and Foote . . . Thomas, not so much. Specifics? I don't recall these men specifically saying that slavery was solely a Southern problem, which was the original point made in the post.

James F. Epperson said...

I don't understand your complaint. I don't see Thomas, Robertson, or Foote writing anything greatly different from what, say, James McPherson would write about the coming of the war. Could you point me to an example of what raises your hackles? Either a blog entry or a passage in a book.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Who's complaining? I just stated an observation by a historian which I happen to agree with.

Read Levin's blog, as well as some (not all) of the academic blogs to which he links. You'll find all the examples you should need.

As I've stated before James, I don't have time to argue the obvious. There's no question that many of the academic blogs emphasize the negatives of the Confederacy and spend very little time critiquing the Northern perspective and politics involved in the WBTS, as well as the North's involvement in slavery.

I could suggest some books if you're interested in exploring this subject more.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but I would go even further. Slavery was more of a global issue than an American phenomenon, yet today's historians only point to the American South. Therefore, the South and in particular, the Confederacy, receive a disproportionate amount of blame for trying to retain former US policy.

People don't renounce the Union Jack like they do the Stars and Bars even though more slaves (10 million or more) were transported under that banner than any other in history. The vast majority of those slaves went to colonies or countries other than America and its South. Other countries, like Brazil, had slavery decades longer than the US and overall was exercised more cruelly than in the US. Yet the American South appears to get the majority of the blame resulting from "historians" seeking to build their CVs on partial interpretations of today's ethics, laws, and emotions.

I'll stop here, but of course, I agree with your point. In fact, so-called historians with these obvious biases are not simply entering interpretative "camps" of thought, rather they are doing themselves and their discipline a disservice.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Anon for bringing this all up. You're right on target.

James F. Epperson said...

"Who's complaining?" --- You were, when you mentioned "the negative emphasis on the South on many academic blogs." Your further comments to me are in the manner of a complaint about "academic blogs."

"Read Levin's blog, as well as some (not all) of the academic blogs to which he links." --- Very few of the blogs he links to are what I would call "academic blogs." In fact, the only two which I recognized as having academic input are Brian Dirck's and Mark Grimsley's. So I remain unconvinced that you have anything to complain about.

The reason so much emphasis is given to the American South in terms of slavery is that the South's possession of slavery led to a four-year war. Wars tend to get folks' attention ;-) If the South had been willing to go along with Lincoln's election, I suspect their image, historically, would be much better. But hindsight is often 20-20, alas.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Again, no complaint - just a statement of fact.

You missed a few on KL's links, but that's ok. I stand by the assertion.

"The reason so much emphasis is given to the American South in terms of slavery is that the South's possession of slavery led to a four-year war."

And "the South's possession of slavery" was facilitated by the North, which you failed to mention.

Thanks for making my point James.

James F. Epperson said...

"And "the South's possession of slavery" was facilitated by the North, which you failed to mention." --- Because I don't think it is as important as you do. To the best of my knowledge, no one put a gun to John Q. Planter's head and told him, "Go buy a bunch of slaves, or else!" Mr. Planter was quite happy to do so on his own because of the money he could make. Did others, many in the North, make money as well? Absolutely. But it was the planters who bought and used the slaves.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hmmm . . . "it was the planters who bought and used the slaves?"

James, this comment and blind spot is a text book example of the point Nash is making. You're ignoring the elephant in the room: Mr. Slavetrader also "bought and used the slaves."

No one put a gun to John Q. Slavetrader's head and told him "go buy and sell a bunch of slaves, or else!"

The more you argue against my point, the more you make it. Please, keep it coming.

James F. Epperson said...

"James, this comment and blind spot is a text book example of the point Nash is making. You're ignoring the elephant in the room: Mr. Slavetrader also 'bought and used the slaves.'" -- He certainly did. Why? Because he was a mean and ugly SOB? Probably not. He did it because he could make money doing it, i.e., because folks were willing to buy the slaves from him. And most of those folks (insofar as the U.S. is concerned) lived in the South. I didn't ignore the existence of the slave trader; I chose not to mention him because I don't think he is as important as you do. (I also was trying to keep things brief.) Slavery did not exist in the American South simply because the slave trade had at one time existed. (Remember, the international trade into the US mostly stopped in 1808.) Slavery existed because people believed they could make money using it.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I chose not to mention him because I don't think he is as important as you do."

Which, again, goes to Nash's point and my agreement with it.

"Slavery existed because people believed they could make money using it."

I agree. And those people resided on both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

James F. Epperson said...

"I agree. And those people resided on both sides of the Mason-Dixon." --- Not in 1860, nor in 1850, 1840, 1830, 1820, or 1810. Well, let me back up a bit. There were Northern owners of Southern plantations, and the Northern mill owners. All those folks made money off of slavery. I would submit, however, that the vast majority of the profits were earned by Southern planters.

As for Prof. Nash, I think he is overstating his case; most histories of the war and what led to it, including the one by the leftist McPherson, acknowledge Northern involvement with slavery, both in terms of the slave trade and slavery in the North?

Question: What do you want? What would satisfy you on this point?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Vast majority of profits earned by Southern planters"? I don't think so James.

"For the half century before the Civil War, cotton was the backbone of the American economy. It was king, and the North ruled the kingdom.

"From seed to cloth, Northern merchants, shippers, and financial institutions, many based in New York,controlled nearly every aspect of cotton production and trade.

"Only large banks, generally located in Manhattan, or in London, could extend to plantation owners the credit they needed between planting and selling their crop. If a farmer [plantation owner] wanted to expand his operation during those boom decades, he required the deep pockets of Northern banks to lend him the money to buy additional equipment as well as additional labor. Slaves were usually bought on credit." ~ From "Complicity ~ How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery" - page 13

And . . .

"Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the iconic abolitionist novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, said this was slavery the way Northerners liked it: all of the benefits and none of the screams." ~ Complicity, page xxvi

As the post title suggests, slavery in America is a shared cross we all bear. You seem to be defending the North's involvement as a lesser evil.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the best anecdote for the double-talk from the revisionists would be to admit that had the South either never fought or ceased to fight, then slavery would have been sustained and protected under the US Constitution as it was since the formation of the Union when slavery existed in basically every state.

I cannot describe how insane it sounds for the left hand to try and blame the right hand on this issue. I recently saw a theater production of 1776, and the script got it right. When John Adams and Thomas Jefferson criticized the South for not revolting against England unless an anti-slavery passage was stricken from the Constitution, the southern representatives ripped the hypocrisy of northerners who profited from the import trade and cheap manufacturing materials resulting from slave labor. Of course, it was pointed out that Jefferson, the author of the anti-slave passage, himself owned slaves. From the public's applause for that scene, they clearly understood the northern complicity.

James F. Epperson said...

"'Vast majority of profits earned by Southern planters'? I don't think so James." --- Well, I do. Nothing you posted really speaks against that claim. "With only 30 percent of the nation's free population, the South furnished 60 percent of the nation's wealthiest men." (McPherson, 'Ordeal by Fire,' p. 28 --- This is a college-level text which is generally rich with many of the things you say modern academics omit.)

Let me repeat my question: What do you want?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Anon:

It is such an obvious morality play - as Nash notes and as "Complicity" meticulously points out.

Isn't it odd that so many of the "critics" continue to focus on the South's involvement in slavery while ignoring the North's? Are they trying to refute the mythology of the "Lost Cause" or defend the mythology "Holy Cause?"

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"With only 30 percent of the nation's free population, the South furnished 60 percent of the nation's wealthiest men."

That does not mean anything about the total wealth in either region. If we're going to pull out the scales and weigh the gold, I'm not sure which region held more wealth at the onset of the WBTS. I'm sure someone has researched that, but I don't know. That's not the point. The point is BOTH were motivated by profits from slavery and BOTH region's economies were built on slavery. Do you disagree?

"What do I want?" Nothing really. I don't understand the question.

James F. Epperson said...

"The point is BOTH were motivated by profits from slavery and BOTH region's economies were built on slavery. Do you disagree?" --- Yes. Certainly there was some influence/dependence (not sure of the best word to use) on slavery in the Northern economy, but not *nearly* to the extent as in the South, and by 1860 the extent of the North's dependence on slavery was dwindling. The Midwestern grain crop was beginning to emerge as an export product of no small weight, and I don't see much connection with slavery there. Ditto the iron and manufacturing sectors.

"'What do I want?' Nothing really. I don't understand the question." --- You seem to constantly complain about the view of the South painted by modern academics. What do you want them to do that they aren't (in your opinion) doing?

I found it illuminating in this connection to rummage through "Ordeal by Fire" looking for that quote I used. The book was written as a college text at about the same time as "Battle Cry of Freedom;" it contains sections on economic colonialism and such things. What would you have had him (J. McP.) do that he didn't do in either book?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"The North held 3/4 of the nation's wealth, and 3/4 of the nation's railroad system."

http://www.course-notes.org/US_History/Outlines/The_American_Pageant_12th_Edition_Textbook/Chapter_20_Girding_for_War_The_North_

Just one source I found from a quick google search. Several other similar educational sites cited the figure of 70-75% of the Nation's wealth was in the North.

And, according to one of the authors of "Complicity"

"somehow in popular perception, slavery has been cut out of the trade triangle and transferred forward to the Civil War; where it became a moral problem to the South. Just as Connecticut was thought not to have "had slavery" because it did not have many slaves or Southern-style plantations, it was thought not to profit from slavery as much as the South did.

"The truth, however, which ought to have been plain, is that Connecticut derived a great part, maybe the greatest part, of its early surplus wealth from slavery."


"...What was true of Connecticut turned out to be overwhelmingly true of the entire North."

Pages xviii-xix

Now, what is it that you want?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Do you disagree?" --- Yes."

Then the discussion should end for the facts don't support your position. I would recommend "Complicity" to start.

I've already addressed the "complaining" complaint. Just read my first response to that.

"What do you want them to do that they aren't (in your opinion) doing?"

Frankly, I couldn't care less what anyone else does on the subject. But they could do much for their own credibility if they looked at the North's positions and history with the same critical eye with which they look upon the South. Not doing so makes them appear biased, agenda-driven, and narrow-minded.

The recent HNN letter about Obama and the wreath-laying issue is a prime example (which McPherson endorsed by the way).

Morality play. Hypocrisy. Divisive. Politicization of history and Memorial Day.

James F. Epperson said...

"Frankly, I couldn't care less what anyone else does on the subject." --- for someone who doesn't care, you sure do spend a lot of bandwidth on the subject ;-)

"But they could do much for their own credibility if they looked at the North's positions and history with the same critical eye with which they look upon the South." --- And my point is that they do. I think the problem is that, even though they look at these issues, they draw conclusions from them that are at odds with what you want them to draw. Isn't that allowed?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

James:
I didn't say I didn't care about the subject, I just don't care whether someone else "does" anything about it, which is what you asked me.

Well, I don't think they do, at least not with the same "passion" they critique the South. We'll simply agree to disagree, though I think it's quite obvious.

Yes, we are free, (at least until some historians get their way) to draw different conclusions without being prosecuted by government agents. Thank God for that and thank you very much for your input and keeping it civil James. It is a delight to discuss these things with you, though we rarely agree.

cenantua said...

Richard,

Just an observation, but I have to say that I'm rather happy to see you using of words such as "some" and other like words when making references to the actions and opinions of academics and historians.

Robert

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Robert. I try to make a conscious effort not to paint with a broad brush. Generalizations are often necessary--and sometimes applicable--but I certainly realize there are distinctions and diverse views within academia.

Anonymous said...

Richard, you are making perfect sense. I believe I read that NY state had more GDP than all of the South in 1860. I've never seen anyone propose that the war was about wealth distribution.

I also have to agree that there isn't enough focus on global and northern complicity in slavery, the same way the genocide of Native Americans doesn't get the same knee-jerk condemnation regarding national pride compared with the Confederacy.

The problem with historians like McPherson and Manning is that they ASSUME they know what the soldiers were fighting for given that their samples are biased and unrepresentative. I find it amusing that some debators require citations of written proof to acknowledge arguments as proper history, yet they themselves draw grandiose conclusions from thin air. An example would be a historian saying ALL Confederate soldiers fought for existing US slavery policy whether they said so or not based on a non-random biased sample with a frequency in low hundreds used to represent an army in the millions. History isn't science so these progressive historians ought not to treat it so by selling their opinions as proofs.