28 May 2009

More On Bearing Our Shared Cross

". . . we already know the story of the South. The South's story is set on a plantation in Mississippi or Louisiana or any other Southern state where overseers brandished whips over slaves picking cotton. In contrast, the North's story is thought to be heroic, filled with ardent abolitionists running that train to freedom, the Underground Railroad. The few slaves who may have lived in the North, it has been believed, were treated like members of the family. And, of course, Northerners were the good guys in the Civil War. They freed the slaves. Not all of the above is exactly mythology, but it is a convenient and whitewashed shorthand."

And . . .

"The truth is that slavery was a national phenomenon. The North shared in the wealth it created, and in the oppression it required . . . By and large, the region's [North] relationship with slavery, though extraordinarily profitable, was a distant one. That distance allowed the North to minimize and even deny its link with the institution that fueled its prosperity." (Emphasis mine) ~ Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, pages xxv-xxvi

8 comments:

James F. Epperson said...

OK, there is a problem here. The authors, quite reasonably, tend to use "North" to denote the non-slave states. Perfectly reasonable, but there is a problem: Slavery had been legal within the Northern states that existed at the adoption of the Constitution, but, by virtue of Jefferson's Northwest Ordinance, slavery was never legal in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. (Caveat: There apparently was an effort to introduce slavery into Illinois after statehood; it failed.) In addition, these western states were not involved (so far as I know) in the domestic cotton industry. Their involvement with slavery would have been via absentee landowners, of which no doubt some existed (I have no idea how many). In the understandable effort to sell books, I fear the authors have oversold their case.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

You're missing the forest for the trees James. Have you read this book?

James F. Epperson said...

An historian whom I greatly respect (and who has posted here since I began to) said it was essentially old wine in a new bottle. Since I know this individual well, and value his judgement, I am more inclined to take his view than yours. So, no, I have not read the book. I've yet to learn of anything it discusses which I did not already know of, at least in broad outline. But if I am able to put a dent in my personal Mt. Toberead over the summer, I may look for it.

Feel free to point out the forest for me, if you are so inclined. I frankly don't see anything wrong in the problem I pointed out. It strikes me as a serious flaw in their apparent thesis.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Since I know this individual well, and value his judgement, I am more inclined to take his view than yours. So, no, I have not read the book."

Don't take mine or his. Read it and form you own.

All the best,
RGW

James F. Epperson said...

Well, there are only 24 hours in a day, 16 of which I'm asleep or at work. That leaves me only 8 hours to spend with my wife, my kids, my hobbies, etc. The point is that, like most of us, I need to be selective in my reading choices, simply for the sake of time.

I don't think I am missing anything; I'm pointing out problems in the book, based on your quotes from it.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I understand James. Again, thanks for your input.

RW

Anonymous said...

I have read "Complicity" and the book makes a valid point. Not only was slavery legal throughout the colonies/states, all colonies/staes profited from slavery. Slaves provided labor in all states, the importation of slaves was quite profitable, and the industrial processing of slave-produced commodities produced wealth in the North. Mid-western farmers found a ready market for their produce in the slave states.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Anon:

Precisely.