Celebrating the Defeat of the Slave Power at Appomattox

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Actually, I’m a few days late; a defeated Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. The historian David Blight writes:

The “Union,” and all that it meant to northerners as a kind of shield for liberal democracy against oligarchy and aristocracy, survived. It was transformed through blood and reimagined for later generations. The first American republic, created out of revolution in the late 18th century, was in effect destroyed. A new, second republic took its place, given a violent birth in the emancipation of four million slaves and the re-crafting of the U. S. Constitution in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Those Amendments—ending legal slavery forever, sanctifying birthright citizenship and establishing “equal protection of the law,” and creating black male suffrage—in effect re-made the United States Constitution. This comprised a second American revolution.

Necessarily, the ruling class of the previous Constitutional order — the “slave power” that sought to survive and thrive as the Confederate States of America — was destroyed, as the master-slave relation on which its rule rested was destroyed when it lost its war of independence. (How that members of that class reconstituted themselves as a truly repellent regional oligarchy is, perhaps, a topic for another time.)

In this post, I’m going to annotate passages from Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese’s The Mind of the Master Class, to remind us what the stakes in the Civil War really were, and to see some of the ways in which the past illuminates the present. I chose the passages for vividness of expression; in no way is this post meant to be a systematic treatment. I should also disclose my priors: I’m mostly Yankee, and partly Canadian.

A Genuine Slave Society

From the “Preface” of The Mind of the Master Class, pp. 1-2:

This book is about white Southerners, and it is not about their “whiteness” — whatever that term may mean — It exlpores the ways in which they reflected on the world they lived in and on the meaning of histroy and Christian faith on their lives as masters in a slaveholding society. We take the ground that the Lower South and large parts of the Upper constituted not merely a society that accepted slavery as part of its social order but a genuine slave society — that is, a society based upon slave labor…..

Much as our own society is based on wage labor, our own ruling class having similar concerns (“Doing God’s work”).

During the first half of the nineteenth century, as today, the richer the family, the better their children’s chances of receiving a good education and enjoying the leisure to express thoughts, whether for publication or privately in letters, diaries, and journals. Since slaves produced the crops that afforded the primary source of wealth, the more slaves a family owned, the more highly educated its members were likely to be and the greater their leisure to read and think and write. … Ruling classes enjoy disproportionate opportunities to shape the values and worldview of their societies, although none does so completely or unilaterally.

Indeed, and indeed.

Today, almost everyone views slavery as an enormity and abolition as a moral imperative. Yet as recently as two or three hundred years ago, the overwhelming majority of civilized, decent people would have have agreed: Indeed, they would have found such notions surprising. Before the eighteenth century, and especially before the dramatic revolutions with which it closed, most Europeans would have viewed the principle of free labor as surprising, if not alarming. Slavery, like other forms of unfree labor, had existed throughout history. Neither Judaism, nor Christianity, nor Islam, nor other religions condemned it at the time. The current recognition of the horror and intolerability of slavery represents a rare example of unambiguous moral progress….

It may be that at some point, human rental (the Genoveses characterize wage labor as “free labor”) will be regarded with the same horror and moral repugnance as human sale (through slavery). Time will tell!

The Role of Religious Practitioners

From “History as the Story of Freedom,” pp. 236-237:

The emancipationists did score modest successes in the South, relying principally on economic and political arguments, but the cogency of these waned as the sectional struggle waxed. Most Southerners remained confident in the scriptural sanction of slavery. Even Robert Breckinridge, an orthodox Old School Presbyterian, W.C. Buck, editor of a Baptist journal, and Alexander Campbell, leader of the Disciples of Christ, denied the inherent sinfulness of slavery, although they questioned whether Southern slavery met biblical standards.

And who’s to say they weren’t right?

After the suppression of the Vesey plot in Charleston [not North Charleston] in 1822, Richard Furman, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, assured the governor and alll and sundry that his church was sound on slavery. His influential Exposition of the Views of the Baptists (1823) overcame qualms about slavery among the faithful and quieted those who feared abolitionist tendencies among the Baptists. Biblically sanctioned slavery, he explained, constituted a social system within the province of the civil authority. Then an ailing, 68-year-old hellfire preacher who knew he did not have long to live, Furman called upon masters to regard their slaves as a sacred trust to whom they owed kindess and paternal care.[1]

One thinks “wowsers,” but that would be presentist, wouldn’t it?

Repression of antislavery proceeded apace. The Gage brothers of South Carolina took to the road in 1835, Robert to New York and James to Paris. Robert wrote James that Carolinians were alarmed. “The daring and ingenious measures of the abolitionists began to raise a storm in the South.” Secession might be necessary, but he suggested lynch law as a way of avoiding it. Even the Reverend Thomas Witherspoon of Alabama openly approved of the lynching of abolitionists.

Fascinating. I suppose at some point, then, I have to read up on the history of lynching, including the lynching of “outside agitators.”

Slaveholders’ Virtues and Vices

From “Entr’acte,” pp 98 et seq.:

Slaveholders, and more generally, Southerners relied upon a cluster of privileged words to talk about themselves, blending classical and Christian concepts: Duty, fame, honor, courage, frankness, pride, and dignity. …. In a democratic era, the quest for fame and the demand to show courage sometimes ran afoul of the southern predeliction for “frankness.” In the House of Representatives, John Randolph lauded the Southerners’ plainness of speech: “Not only as a Southern man, but emphatically, as aPlanter, it belongs to him as a slaveholder.” …. You can speak frankly to Southerners, the Irish revolutionary John Mitchell told his countrymen: “They are very liberal and affable.” Planters are “men of refined and dignified manners, with that tone of gentle voice and courtesy of demeanor which are characteristic of the South, and which I attribute in great part to Slavery.”

I’m baffled by the causality here, despite having read through these passages several times.

In the eighteenth century, Josiah Quincy of New England and Andrew Burnaby of England charged Virginians with overweening pride born of slave ownership. The recurrent charge cut deep, and the Baptist Reverend Patrick Mell and the Methodist Reverent R.H. Rivers, notable moral philosophers, forcefully defended the slaveholders. Mell called pride “an inordinate self-esteem” and a “conceit of one’s own superiority,” but denied that slavery was guiltier than any other hierarchical system. A slaveholder, Mell argued, respected himself and was more likely than other men to respect others. For Rivers, “Examples of humility as bright as can be found on earth are found among slaveholders.”…

John England, the intellectually gifted Irish-born Catholic Bishop of Charleston, said of its people: “The nature of their institutions impresses a peculiar immobility on their individual opinions and conduct. Landed wealth, descending from sire to sone though a longer series than is usual with the possessions of mercantile communities, while it confers more social stability, imparts, with hereditary refinement of taste and manners, no moderate tenacity on every subject of family pride….

If Jefferson Davis displayed many of the virtures of the best of his class, even his devoted wife testified that he carried his pride to a dangerous extent: He was always sure he was right. The Confederacy paid dearly for the pride of many brave officers and soldiers who lacked the discipline and submission to military and political authority that war requires. Pride easily passed into recklessness, and Southerners, especially slaveholders, could forget the words of the Good Book: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. However, in a sign that I haven’t achieved, as it were, escape velocity from our current ideological dispensation, I’m not able to come up with a parallel set of virtues appropriate to the ruling class of our own day. Capitalists, possibly — “Thrift, thrift, Horatio” — but financiers? I’m drawing a blank. Readers? And they will have virtues, if only in their own minds; they couldn’t rule without them.


“The Purest Sons of Freedom,” pp 69-70:

Until recently, peoples of every race and continent lived in a world in which slavery was an accepted part of the social order. Europeans did not outdo others in enslaving people or in treating slaves viciously. They outdid others by creating a Christian civilization that eventually stirred moral condemnation of slavery and roused mass movements against it. Perception of slavery as morally unacceptable — as sinful — did not become widespread until the second half of the eighteenth century. Slavery, not merely serfdom, existed in Western and Central Europe as late as the Rennaissance and in Russia until the mid-nineteenth century.

Neither slavery nor serfdom was racially determined. From ancient times Europeans had recruited [!] slaves without regard to race, and whites overwhelmingly predominated among the millions of slaves being held within Europe. When European overseas expansion in the fifteenth century made Africa the principa source of slaves, slavery became identified with racial stratification. Muslims and then Christians entered Africa and carried off enormous numbers, largely sold to them by other Africans. Over time Muslims, too, increasingly identified slave status with blackness, although less rigorously than Christians did. During the next four centuries it was in the vast plantation system of the Americas that both the critique as well as the defense of slavery came to focus on racial as well as class stratification.

And here we are. Whatever we might mean by “race,” “class,” and how they intersect as well as stratify.

John C. Calhoun on Slave Labor vs. Wage Labor

From “The Age of Revolution through Slaveholding Eyes,” pp. 62-68:

On Independence Day 1815 in Abbeville [South Carolina] John C. Calhoun offered a toast: “The People — The only source of legitimate power.. May France, acting on that principle, prove invincible, and may its truth and energy disperse the combination of crowned heads.” …. But in 1830, in the midst of the nullification struggle, he filed a caveat: The people could overthrow a tyrant much more easily than it could overthrow a tyrannical majority.

Speaking carefully so as not to ruffle his northern political allies, Calhoun frequently returned to the question of “slavery in the abstract. ” When, during the 1840s, northern Whigs charged him with advocating enslavement of whites, Calhoun reacted angrily. No, he never justified enslavement of whites; he merely predicted that current economic policies, if continued, would reduce white laborers to slavery. He did, however, repeatedly assert that civilized society required some form of servile labor, and he characterized free labor as disguised slavery. His “Rough Draft” for The Exposition rebuked Federal policy for making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and in its final version predicted class war in free labor countries.

Calhoun did his best to keep on racial ground. Southern slavery, he told the Senate in 1836m was not merely a system of property ownership and labor organization bu a system of racial control. Inadvertantly, he surrendered much of his racial argument by insisting that labor alone creates wealth; that war against slavery threatened all propert systems; that civilized societies live off the labor of the masses; and that racial differences give peculiar form to the essential struggle between capital and labor. … Again reassuring the Senate that he rejected slavery in the abstract and supported only racial slavery, he asserted the “fact” of an immutable historical law that necessitated one portion of the community’s dependence on the labor of another: “There is and has always been in an advanced stage of wealth and civlization, a conflict between labor and capital. The condition of society in the State exempts us from the disorders and dangers resulting from this conflict; and which explains why it is that political condition of the slave-holding States has been so much more stable and quiet than that of the North.”

This reminds me of the idea that racism is not so much a psychological condition as a project, and that it never exists without a purpose. (Iago’s “motiveless malignity” is no such thing.)

The deeply conservative Calhoun could never accept a strategic alliance with Northern labor, and by the late 1840s, his hopes for such a tactical alliance with the capitalists had failed. In 1847 he told the Senate: “Sir, the day that the balance between the two sections of the country — the slaveholding States and the non-slaveholding States — is destroyed, is a day that will not be far removed from political revolution, anarchy, civil war, and wide-spread disaster. The balance of this system is in the slaveholding States. They are the conservative portion. They will always be the conservative portion.

On the verge of death, Calhoun made his last stand for southern rights in opposition to the Compromise of 1850 and left to posterity his Disquisition on GovernmentDiscourse on the Constitution. He had just about abandoned his lifelong struggle to save the Union. Was he primarily interested in saving slavery? Of course he was: To him, slavery was not only a labor system but the foundation of republican social order.

As indeed, in Rome, it was.

Calhoun spoke for his own slaveholding class and for a swelling broader southern public opinion: To link political virtue to to universal democracy meant to open the floodgates to anarchy and the tyranny of the mob. Many northern conservatives shared much of this viewpoint, but it was Southerners who constructed a radical critique of society and identified the free-labor sytem — the social relationship of capitalism — as the source of the world’s predicament. And they named slavery as the solution.

Which, when you think about it, is no more crazypants than Ben Bernanke pumping a few squillions into the unreal economy because loanable funds theory. Eh?


From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, majestic:

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Of course, “wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s [sic] faces” isn’t only done through the master-slave relation; as Calhoun points out!


[1] Oddly, or not, one does not hear of Northern wage laborers “voting with their feet” and heading South to be enslaved. I wonder why?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. sd

    Regarding the “virtues” of today’s robber barons, they see themselves as above the rest of humanity whom they view with contempt as weak and inferior. They are sociopaths. They are utterly incapable of thinking of anyone else but themselves. Their own children are nothing more than little reflections in a mirror. Sociopaths really are to be shunned. Instead, society looks up to their financial success as something to emulate and admire.

    There is too little empathy in the world.

    As a general comment, it’s worth noting many of the early immigrants from England and Scotland who came to the colonies came as indentured servants.

    1. Myers

      Excellent article. In my view it underscores the power of narratives, to cloud the underlying unresolved conflicts.
      In this case, the unresolved issue that remains is, capital vs. labor and which race based slavery was but one historical aspect.
      The first comment posted, mentioned the form of chattel slavery, from which race based slavery evolved, in what is now the USA, as a matter of political expedience aka. divide and conquer.
      Years ago ,there was a very interesting piece that challenged the conventional historical narrative, on the roots of race based slavery in the (US) Colonies. link http://www.blackcommentator.com/129/129_guest_pbs_slavery.html
      Even though our own version of race based slavery has been outlawed and universally condemned as morally indefensible, there seems to be little, if any reaction about the plight of labor in other parts of the world, whenever the latest horror story bubbles to the surface. In fact, the article above mentioned the phrase “free labor” and in much the same way, we now adopt such benign jargon as “Free markets”, “Free trade” “Globalism” “labor arbitrage” etc. All this based on the needs and demands of the Multinational Corporations over the sovereign state, its government, its citizens and societal norms.
      Hell, organized labor in this country is vilified, largely condemned, and under constant political attack, as antithetical to the paradigm of neoliberal economic order ,so it really shouldn’t be all that surprising, that we would rather not acknowledge the simplicity of predictable outcome nor the existence of cause and effect.
      No matter how abhorrent one might think slavery is, it takes effort to pretend that the people that own and control the production, while probably sympathetic as they are adept at PC speak, actually view it as an absolute imperative, worthy of conviction above that of the bottom line.
      It is all about visibility, optics and plausible deniability. When Sherman took Savannah and he offered the bales of cotton sitting on the docks as a Christmas present to Lincoln, there was no doubt as to who and how they got there. The computer, on which I am writing:not so much.

    1. Jim in SC

      This seems to be a common sentiment of Northerners about the South. But it begs the question. Why are so many of them moving South? Is it because the Blue Social Model is a failure, but they cannot admit it?

      1. sufferin'succotash

        One does get tired of shoveling a lot of snow every winter, Blue Social Model or no Blue Social Model (what’s that, enforcing the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution?).

      2. jsn

        I started to respond that the court ordered desegregation of my childhood in Austin had done some real good and that with that infrastructure in place a latent creativity had been unleashed.

        It was abundantly clear New York could have benefited from such an effort when I arrived here in 86, and could still use it today.

        But then I realized it was really just air-conditioning and the ongoing wars to keep that cheap that made the fertile fields along the trail of tears bloom with suburban sprawl.

      3. Lambert Strether Post author

        Perhaps that’s why I didn’t write “the South” in the headline, but the “Slave Power.”

        As for the failure of the Blue Social Model, the blue states subsidized the red states for many years; I grant that could be considered a failure. It could be they’re sucked dry. Anyhow, everything has a cycle, and the presence of water may soon be seen to be an advantage.

        1. different clue

          Only so long as that water can be defended against low-water regions trying to take it.

    2. AQ

      Sorry, can’t go there with you as the North was built on slavery and the slave trade as well. Just a different form and in most Americans’ minds “indirect.” The more I learn, the less I know is appropriate for me.

      We talk dog whistle politics but I do wonder how many of us actively counter cultural messaging and the mythos of our country. One of which is The South is our misfortune.

      1. jsn

        I agree that our national history has quite enough blood and exploitation to go around, but that should not distract us from trying to understand that most deleterious cultural inheritance, our foundations in expropriation and slavery.

        The glamor of evil is no less with us now despite our window dressings of civil rights laws, honored ever more in their breech, and having exported the worst of our exploitation through our various “free trade agreements”.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        It was indeed. Southern slaves on Yankee bottoms, as they saying went. See Dark Bargain, on the sausage-making that went into getting the Constitution written and passed.

    3. Carolinian

      You (and Lambert) do realize we’re living in the 21st century right? All this talk lately about The Lost Cause and Civil War legacies seem stuck in some decades ago time warp. Prejudice is a universal human characteristic and I seriously doubt that our modern troubles have much to do with Jeff Davis. Perhaps Bill Maher and his Islamofascism could come in for some scrutiny

      1. craazyman

        really. I doubt 20% of the population even know who Jeff Davis was. I was walking around today in Queens. I don’t think any of those people give a flying fck about the Civil War. Time is passing us all by. A few people in Virginia still care, because they’re drumming up the tourist dollars selling nostalgia. “Mosby Highway” cuts through Loudon County, right through wine and horse country. You can visit a vineyard for the day and have a wine tasting. It’s quite nice! Then you get drunk and forget about Manassas or Bristoe Station. Maybe 2% of the American population knows who John Singleton Mosby was. 2% is probably an overestimate. They know Robert E. Lee, that’s true. 25 years from now they won’t know what side he was on. They won’t give a shit, since they came from Central America or India or Asia or Africa. JEB Stuart, who has at least one public school named after him, fugghetaboutit. I doubt 0.5% of the American population know who JEB Stuart was. it’s weird, he looks just like the 60s rock star Jim Morrison! Maybe they were related. Fucck it. It’s over.

        1. H. Alexander Ivey

          I think the uptick in “The Cause” BS is a rationalisation for the killing of American black men (and to some degree, to the killing done overseas by the American Armed Forces). To me, the worse point of the uptick is the concurrent downtick in acknowledging the horrors of war. For all the whining from the Southern elites, for over 150 years they didn’t suggest having a round 2. I worry that now they might.

          1. ambrit

            Gore Vidal quipped that the District of Columbia was a Southern city. The Southern elites have merged with the Northern elites as the Northern elites aged and evolved closer to an hereditary class. Just encompass all the commenting about our new ‘Hereditary Ruling Class’; the Bush Dynasty, the Clinton Dynasty, and all those Senators for Life.
            The Round 2 you mention started in 2001 with the declaration of martial law, otherwise known as the Patriot Act. The whinging you hear from below the Mason and Dixon Line comes from the second tier Southern elites; the wannabe ruling class.
            The rationalization of the killing of black men in America at least shows some small twinge of conscience. What I have noted with increasing alarm is the lack of rationalization coming from the State Security Apparat. As the famous quote says, and it’s famous precisely because it is true, you can ignore oppression just long enough for the oppressors to get to you. Then it’s your turn.
            In a rather perverse way, why aren’t black policemen getting away with gunning down ‘white trash’ white men? Turnabout, after all, is fair play.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        Once again, my favorite Louis CK video:

        “It as 140 years ago. That’s two seventy-year old ladies living and dying back to back. That’s how recently you could buy a guy.” OK, 150 years ago. But still. The 21st century is not far away from the Civil War era at all.

      3. Lexington

        I think that’s an important point.

        The condition of minorities in America is by no means exclusively the responsibility of those “bad” southern miscreants, as convenient as it might be for many liberals to believe this. One need only read a book like Thomas Sugrue’s contemporary classic The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit to realize how prevalent racism was in northern cities, ironically with working class whites, frequently of southern and eastern European descent, being at the forefront of denying blacks employment and housing opportunities. Many would later become “Reagan Democrats”.

        The whole phenomenon of “white flight”, in which middle class Americans fled in droves to homogenous safety of suburbia in order to avoid mixing with “the other”, is testament to how shallow the roots of integration extended even in the north. Support for policies like the “war on drugs”, which is and has always been primarily a war on the poor and by extension largely a war on minorities, don’t have a pronounced regional bias -if anything quite the opposite, the tastes and prejudices of the American middle class is relatively consistent throughout the country, as evidenced by how easily northerners integrate into the southern milieu.

        On an unrelated note I’m disappointed that Lambert didn’t take the opportunity to point out how much northern opposition to slavery was informed by religious conviction, and also that many abolitionists wholehearted rejected the concept of racial equality. The first challenges the pat assumptions atheists make about the social contributions of religion, and the second reminds us that our normative preference for (no pun intended) “black / white” narratives can easily blind us to the complexity of historical reality.

  2. AWB

    A different time and age. Sentiments in the North were no different, had the author cared to examine them.

    The industrial revolution came later, with it’s requisite manually intensive labor. Were factory conditions all that different, and are they different now? Lincoln was a war criminal who rose to prominence serving the interests of Railroad Barons who transitioned into the Robber Barons of the industrial age. Is Baron not a term of aristocracy? So, it not any different. The only difference the civil war made was to centralize power in the federal government. We had a global depression less than 50 years later and we’re in Depression 2.0 today. How has it changed, and are we better off for the North winning the war?

    Slavery was ended without bloodshed in most places where it was practiced. Are we better off as a society having fought the most bloody battle in the history of our nation, than all other wars combined? What was truly at stake. It wasn’t slavery, it was self-determination, and it died for all Americans with the war.

    Any NC readers who think the Civil War was justified, must be enthralled with the US Imperialism begun under Reagan which continues to this day. I’m not.

    1. casino implosion

      On one hand, slavery was wrong and had to be stopped with fire and the sword.

      On the other hand, the Civil War created most of the aspects of government, economy and finance that we come to this blog to complain about.

      And so it goes.

        1. flora

          Yes. See Harold Meyerson’s WaPo column April 8th.

          Indeed, one reason the race-based subjugation of labor was so resilient was that it was a linchpin not just of the Southern economy, but also of the entire U.S. economy. ….

          “Even today, one of America’s most fundamental problems is that the alliance between the current form of Southern labor and the current form of New York finance is with us still. ….


      1. hunkerdown

        Slavery was and is still the USA’s lifestyle. It never ended; it just became less Black-focused, more indirect, and arguably slightly more humane, as time went on.

    2. Jim Haygood

      ‘Any NC readers who think the Civil War was justified, must be enthralled with the US Imperialism begun under Reagan which continues to this day. I’m not.’

      Me neither. David Blight’s assertion, quoted above, that the first American republic was destroyed by the violent birth of a new, second republic in the Civil War rings true. The same pathologies that animate U.S. culture today — an obsession with global domination; the casual use of violence to enforce ideology; a metastasized, all-powerful national government; an insanely punitive criminal justice regime — took root in the supposed triumph of 1865.

      A vile article posted yesterday speculated about whether a more complete cultural cleansing could have been achieved by means of a harsher victor’s justice, involving executing more of the defeated. This view prevailed in WW II, with Germans and Japanese executed for war crimes. Meanwhile, Britain’s Bomber Harris and America’s Curtis LeMay, who between them exterminated millions of civilians, walked free.

      Thus endorsed, America’s ‘might makes right’ crusade carries on today, as Drone Laureate Obama (who, like Lincoln, hails from Illinois) continues taking out a few dozen brown folks a month on his whim. That Obama celebrates the achievements of Martin Luther King at the same time provokes no cognitive dissonance among the citizenry.

      Regarding the Civil War as anything but a vast tragedy is badly mistaken. Lincoln’s pseudo-religious gibberish, invoking divine approval for his bloody, gratuitous total war, still poisons our culture today.

      1. jsn


        But the problem of power is that we can’t appear to do without it. What is the other model?

      2. FederalismForever

        @Jim Haygood. That “vile article” by War Nerd is absolutely correct that Confederate leaders got off super easy. Grant and Seward were ridiculously lenient towards the South, and much of the post-Civil War terror campaigns against blacks would have been prevented if people like Bedford Forest and Wade Hampton had been hanged. Former Whigs like Lincoln, Seward and Clay tried to be gentlemanly towards the South for several decades prior to the Civil War, but all that accomplished was a string of compromises and a belief among the Southern fire-eaters that the Yankees didn’t have enough guts to fight. The Southern fire-eaters were absolutely reckless, wanted to expand slavery into Mexico and the Caribbean, and were willing to court British and/or French assistance to that end. By the time Lincoln was elected, the time for compromise was over. Too bad Lincoln and Seward got soft around 1864 and nominated Democrat Andrew Johnson for VP (another Whig gesture of conciliation!) instead of sticking with Hamlin. By nominating Johnson in 1864, Lincoln, Seward and Weed made possible the perfect Confederate plan to regain power: assassinate Lincoln.

        Read Walter Stahr’s recent bio of Seward – the man was hopelessly naive and over-optimistic about everything – an eternal Pollyanna glass-half-full type who sincerely thought the Confederate leaders would act like gentleman and reconcile themselves to the Union again with nothing but love in their hears for the Negro freedmen. Unfortunately, that was exactly the wrong approach for dealing with the former Rebel leadership. The North should have occupied the South militarily from the start, and stayed there for several decades, if needed.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      “had the author cared to examine them”. Well, you’re asking for the book to be written about eagles, even though the author chose to write about penguins.

    4. Roger Bigod

      “The industrial revolution came later, with it’s requisite manually intensive labor.”

      Beg to differ. The Industrial Revolution started in the late 18th Cent. and about 80% of the economic activity was in NW England, centered on Manchester and involving textiles. The cotton gin was invented in 1793. Cheap cotton was important for the economic boom and the working conditions in the mills, which were examined by a Mr. Marx and his buddy Engels. The dark Satanic mills were the obverse of the slaves working the fields of the Lower South.

      Slavery is most efficient where there’s a cash crop that needs labor input spread out over the year. This includes tobacco in Colonial Virginia, cotton in the Lower South and sugar cane in various areas. These are the places where slavery persisted after the political movements of the Enlightenment swept it away as incompatible with respect for human dignity.

      Tobacco in VA went into a decline around 1750 because of soil depletion and competition from new areas. The planters were up to their ears in debt to English trading houses, and escaping this debt was an important motivation for the American Revolution. Newspapers in VA ran editorials suggesting that tobacco culture had been a big mistake. Some prominent VA gentry emancipated their slaves (including a Randolph and a Carter, Washington and Jefferson in their wills). The legal scholar St. George Tucker who taught at William and Mary produced a treatise highly critical of the institution and laid out a plan for emancipation. It was somewhat impractical, but one hesitates to imagine a lawyer in antebellum New Orleans getting away with it.

      One lesson is that economic determinism explains a lot of what we derive from high moral sensibility. So perhaps gloating over the unattractiveness of Southerners isn’t appropriate. My UDC grandmother was insistent that making fun of people for things they can’t help just isn’t done.

    5. Jack Heape

      Good points AWB. I get so tired of the mantra that the civil war was about slavery. Sure, it played a part. But if that was the main reason why the civil war was fought, why didn’t the Northern states simply raise an army after Lincoln was elected and invade to stop it? The fact is Lincoln really didn’t give two hoots about slavery, or blacks. In fact, in his first inaugural address he said, “I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Lincoln proved himself to be a tyrant. He had acted before his being elected as a servant to the powerful and wealthy, and monetarily profited off of same. Nothing changed after being elected President. It was necessary to the industrial interests in the North and the railroad barons that the South remain a part of the “Union”. These industrial interests profited enormously off of the trade and tariff structure that was in place. If the South was able to import goods from Europe and elsewhere tariff free, the Northern industrialists would have taken a huge financial hit.
      One truism never changes; always follow the money. The South seceded because of money and the North fought to keep them because of money.

      1. dSquib

        Much confusion seems to be forever hinged on the word “about” and the presumption that its use obliterates all other considerations, but it doesn’t.

        The correct assertion that the American Civil War was about slavery is not dependent on the presumed absence of other factors, particularly as you couldn’t name one that doesn’t relate back to slavery. You mention interests which would suffer with the dissolution of the Union as if this is sufficient – yet did these interests engineer the war themselves? Yet how providential to have the Confederacy run such a convincing cover story!

        Oh yes, follow the money. No doubt there were no economic implications for anybody whatsoever regarding the use of slave labor.

        The correct assertion that the American Civil War was about slavery is also not dependent on the moral or political consistency of leaders of the North, nor does it rest its hat on the erroneous belief that the North was itself extracted from slavery. And in any case it matters not what stock we put in Lincoln’s moral opposition to slavery or possible lack thereof – ask the Southern belligerents if they believed Lincoln’s position was inconsequential.

        1. Jack Heape

          Perhaps I should have used the word “cause(s)” instead of about. If you wish to be more exact, then lets not even use the term “civil war” then because in fact it is erroneous to do so. A civil war is two factions fighting for control of the same government. The South was not fighting to control the Union government. They wished to form their own, as they felt at the time was their right to do so (that’s a matter for a different debate, that is, the legality of secession). The North (Union) disagreed. That is why they attacked the South. Lincoln said so. The Union soldiers who volunteered said so. No one at the start of the war in the North said they were attacking the South to end slavery. I said it was about money, and to Lincoln, money was a very important matter. He was very big government, supporting high tariffs, a central bank, and corporate welfare. Yes, the South was very concerned about slavery. But they were also concerned about states rights, and economic freedom. Often overlooked is the near secession that took place in 1828 as a result of the Tariff Act of 1828. South Carolina specifically threatened to secede if the Act was not abolished (it was). The US enjoyed a period of prosperity up until the Bank Panic of 1857, which because of the world’s now interconnected economy was the first large world wide economic crisis. Once again, high tariffs were on the table. The SS Central America also sank in 1857, which caused further panic among the New York banks (because of all the gold that was lost). In fact, the banks did not recover until after the war. After 1857 businesses starting failing, the railroads contracted, workers were being laid off right and left. The US government received over 90% of its revenue from the tariff. There was no way the government, the banks, or businesses in the North could survive the loss of Southern tariff payments or their purchasing of manufactured goods on top of everything else that was going on (the Southern states that seceded in 1860 of course stopped paying any tariff to the Union and started buying their goods from Europe). The revenues for the federal government were 64.9 million in 1860. That dropped to 49.9 million in 1861. The “civil war” was mostly about money and power. Yes, it ended slavery. But that was a result, not in and of itself as an institution the primary causes of the war.

  3. Demeter

    It is unfortunate for all humanity that the US will need yet another Revolution to right the wrongs of Capitalism. Perhaps the next one will get it right?

    If the US hadn’t been backsliding ever since 1967, I’d have hope of righting the final wrongs on the next go-around, but given the massive gains that Conservatism of all forms has made since then, I’m not betting on it. When Europe (which is now racing to exceed the US in backsliding) was the leader in workers’ rights, I would wonder about moving there for reasons of “mental health”. Now, the most liberal place on earth is starting to look like…Crazyville.

    1. hunkerdown

      No revanchism to have — all that was baked into the cake from the beginning 1789. C’mon, the Founders were uppity business leaders of the time who didn’t want to be subject to any higher power. Had they not practiced the very virtues of solidarity and common cause that we today are indoctrinated to deride, they would have all hung separately, the Revolution would not have started until we could have gotten some notes from the French one, and we might be more Canadian in spirit today instead of the other way around.

      I suggest that absolutely no political thought borne of the late 18th and early 19th century, a time when Arthur Young and James Monroe could vent their arrogant entitlement complexes and be protected by their sovereigns for doing so, has any value as a guide to an egalitarian society unless, when in honest doubt and at no other time, one disregards their rhetoric as irrelevant and does exactly the opposite of what they call for.

  4. H. Alexander Ivey

    Just a quick posting, haven’t read Lambert’s posting in full. But if anyone thinks the American Civil War was fought ONLY about slavery or States Rights (whatever that really is…), they should read Howard Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States, chapter 9 – Slavery Without Submission, Emancipation Without Freedom (http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnslaem10.html).

    Sorry for the naked link, but – us over-40-somethings prefer the hard coding to the “click the link button” thingy – still am trying to figure out how to create a link.

  5. Steve H.

    typo fix: ‘Yet as recently as two or three hundred years ago, the overwhelming majority of civilized, decent people would NOT have agreed’

  6. Disturbed Voter

    Human beings are predators. Violence occurs on a spectrum from lying to murder. So with slavery … from debt slavery, to wage slavery, to chattel slavery. Legally, chattel slavery was the extension of indentured servitude to debt slavery, with the theory that children were obligated for their parent’s debts … that you could be born into servitude. Chattel slavery is what you get when there is a legal, socially acceptable form of kidnapping.

    So like anything else, looking at reality as a whole, with clear eyes, beats looking at things narrowly, with ideological eyes. I am not praising the South, nor am I condemning the North. Just pointing out that except for rearranging the deck chairs, there is always first class and steerage, and the people in first class are simply more “successful” predators.

    What people need, given their nature and the problems the environment imposes (no free lunch) … is greater compassion and cooperation. Thinking one is superior because of one’s politics, or historical period, or region … is no more reasonable than thinking one is superior on the basis of skin color.

    1. human

      “…the people in first class are simply more “successful” predators.”

      Fixed it for your. Please do not conflate me/us with those who choose to be predators and value “class” above all.

    2. hunkerdown

      I don’t think that’s the right frame. If “we” were predators, there would be more lynched aristocrats over time than history could have revised away. If anything, “we” are ranchers. Some of “us” are simply too willing to accept the role of livestock, thanks to selective breeding over time.

      But you’re spot on the superiority complex. The grand constructivist project of cultural improvement at any other cost (an example of being not only unable but unwilling to see the world for one’s narrative), is just one recipe for a pathological society, flavored as befits the currently fashionable aspirations of the pillars of the regime.

      1. Disturbed Voter

        Are you a vegetarian? Otherwise your eloquent insight is noted ;-) In the context of the Civil War … and since … the current rhetorical label is “check your White privilege” … but “unable to see the world for one’s narrative” is much more universal.

  7. Antifa

    Lambert, be not puzzled at the legendary gentility, self effacement, humility, manners, and pride of the Southern planters. Such affectations are a necessary ingredient of human exploitation, whether it is racial slavery or the farce of “right to work” laws. The Planters of Old Dixie were only following in the traditions of European aristocrats, who also kept themselves always aloof from the hoi polloi.

    It’s all about maintaining inequality: the master must be seen, and must materially be, self-evidently superior. Else who would listen to him prattling on about “doing God’s work?” Back in 1840, his superiority was shown by his living in the big house, his having fine furniture and clothing, his enjoying the luxury of bathing in hot water and soap as often as he pleased, changing his shirt as many times a day as he pleased, his wearing of French perfumes, his access to a library of books from around the world, his travel to distant places, even his magnanimity toward his workers, whose very lives depended on his whims. It was all for show, all to maintain the illusion of their inherent superiority.

    The planters of the Old South could never work alongside their slaves, nor directly supervise them, nor take any part in their culture, songs, dancing or folk wisdom. To do so would be to appear human, which would mean approachable, vulnerable, subject to all the aches and pains of working men and women. Ordinary folk, subject to rebellion and revolution. Planters could not permit slaves to learn to read, nor have access to any education at all, for that would open the door to examination by their slaves in the very terms and concepts and philosophy that they used to justify their lordly role. We see that today in the reverence people hold for the boardroom, the boss’s office, for bankers and politicians. Although they are just people like the rest of us, they are assumed to have special skills, knowledge, and powers that the rest of us lack. They must, for if they didn’t they wouldn’t be so far above us.

    Aristocracy is a mindset established in the minds of the enslaved, not the aristocrats. If the peasants, laborers, or slaves don’t believe you are above them — you aren’t above them.

    It behooved the lord of the manor to be as opposite to his slaves or wage slaves as he can. To establish and prove the rightness of their inequality. By slave sweat he was given the entire day to spend in reading philosophy, the Bible, treatises on mathematics, finance, banking, horticulture, history, etc. He had vicious men on his payroll to whip and beat and drive his slaves mercilessly. He himself would not stoop to such matters. He remained a distant figure, as removed from the lives of the slaves he owned as the clouds in the sky or the Lord above. On the plantation, the big house was literally the Palace of Versailles.

    This necessary set of affectations and habits is cultivated among aristocrats everywhere. In the South it was thus among the planter class, who took the typical excessive aristocratic pride in themselves and their family. Pride is narcissism when it operates at this level. Pride in work well done, pride in one’s cleverness or learning, pride in one’s appearance and manners is understandable. But to think that — by virtue of your birth alone — you are entitled to command society, to live above and beyond the law, to be absolutely right in your decisions and views, to be able to say with a straight face that your corruption and thieving is “doing God’s work” . . . well, that’s sociopathy. It led to a lot of duels in those days. In modern times it leads to courtroom defenses like “affluenza,” being unable to grasp the consequences of your actions because you’re just too damn rich.

  8. ogee

    Oh, what a problem this is.
    why should we celebrate a civil war victory of one bunch of bastards, over another bunch? The American experiment is going horribly wrong, and critique like this is why. People don’t even begin to realize they are as much a part of the problem when leaving progressive causes on the floor, while glorifying their own ignorant prejudice.
    “The south” is merely a geographic region. All the factors that led the south on its history, are alive and well today; in the south, and in the north, as well as in the east and west and everywhere else too.
    The southern elites were slave holding. YES. Their society was overtaken by it. I think it is accurate to describe the plantation model that worked so well for them, was due to circumstances. Circumstances that were in large part driven from London,liverpool, and new York city. The economic models of the day were a legacy of expansion made possible by slave labor. The only reason slavery was stopped in the north was cheaper immigrant labor,rocky farmland making large plantations less profitable, and the industrial revolution. The reality was that at the time of the civil war, New York and other new England industrialists and bankers were the driving force in the trade wheels of commerce where the southern materials could be made less expensively by slave labor on southern plantations, then sold here and abroad with the same british merchant ships that came out of Liverpool bringing slaves.
    My basic gripe is the hypocrisy.
    Brits are always bemoaning the fact that they abolished slavery before americans did. But really, they may have abolished slavery in 1805, but there were british owned ships carrying on the slave trade for decades after that. The rich there may not have off loaded that cargo in britian, but they made money of unloading them in the America’s. Yankee’s are always bemoaning that the south had slavery, but the north had indentured servitude and factories who needed and used slave labor provided goods for their entrance into the industrial revolution.
    The real story, is there have always been people who have understood right and wrong. They have always been spread over the earth. Many times on “the wrong side” of some larger delineation.
    We all know the civil war wasn’t fought over slavery. It was just a useful “selling point” the union pulled out when failure was a possibility, despite overwhelming natural odds. And what did we get?
    States rights being an issue everytime some scumbag wants to not do the right thing, like funding all grade school needs regardless of local economic conditions. Yet, when the union wants to harass some state wide initiative, like decriminalizing marijuana, they do it anyway.
    What did we get “equality of all men”, that is a pipe dream. The 14th amendment was the bedrock that decisions like citizens united was based upon. The 14th amendment is what made corporations people. Of the @300 cases brought before the courts about that amendment in the years of reconstruction, @ 270 were for corporate entities getting to be recognized as having the “rights” of a person. The civil war made real that the federalists won over the anti-federalists. The federalists, are the east coast moneyed powers that be. They are the federal reserve. They make our money and our laws. Their false god ideologies are what every “capitalist” who is really a fascist, cling to. Their academic industrial complex perpetrates these myths. Their corporate media complexes exonerate these myths. Now the military industrial complex has birthed the prison industrial complex and the security state industrial complex so that the people can’t do a damn thing about the rest of the industrial complexes parasitical relationship to the population at large….
    as a “yankee” born and bred, now living in “the south” for a couple of decades….. I have to say the ignorant Yankees who need to elevate themselves by trying to dis the south, are pretty pathetic. While I as an adherent to progressive ideas, can’t really stand the conservatism and outright ignorance based in religion and culture here in the south. It does no good for the cause for pretend progressives to make more strawmen to be knocked down, by lame arguments and points of view. We all should know morons in maine and Alabama are pretty much the same, just a different external cliché.

    1. FederalismForever

      @ogee. “We all know the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery” – Really? Karl Marx would disagree with you:



      Count Adam Guroswki’s Civil War Diary is also worth a read, as is James G. Blaine’s book Twenty Years of Congress – From Lincoln to Garfield. (Both accessible for free on sites such as archive.org.)

      If you can’t see that the reasons most “northern bastards” fought the Civil War were far more noble than those for which most “southern bastards” fought (or, at least, the Southern slave-owning leadership class) – well, again, I would suggest you read Marx and Engels on that war, as they most certainly thought the Northern cause was more noble and even revolutionary.

      For what it’s worth, those of us with ancestors who fought in this war have access to the letters they wrote home during the war. There is no doubt that many of them firmly believed that a primary reason for the war was to abolish slavery – especially after Lincoln issued the Proclamation. That means Grant and Sherman’s great campaign which started at the beginning of 1864, which covered over 2,000 miles and involved over a million men at arms (and over 100,000 at sea) was indeed fought with abolition as a primary goal.

      So, please, go rain on someone else’s parade. (“We all know . . . . ” Forsooth!)

      1. ogee

        well, as late as 2009, 77% of the soldiers in Iraq thought they were there to “get the guys who blew up the trade towers” . Mass beliefs amongst the unwashed are not really useful, in accurately describing anything.
        I am not saying that slavery wasn’t an issue at that time. It obviously was. More to some people than others. But considering the civil war started in south Carolina, and the policies that directly led to the beginning of the break out of fighting was NOT to stop slavery. By the time the emancipation proclamation came around, a couple of years later, those who wished a useful by-product of the fight would be abolishing slavery. Had something to cheer about.
        That is not even discounting the popular movement that followed “uncle tom’s cabin” coming out @ 1840, which was the beginning of the end of slavery. I am not discounting the decades of abolitionists trying to make the subject important. The admitting of new territories free and slave, shows there was a long disagreement on economic models. But that isn’t really what this piece is about.
        This piece just happened to be about lamberts sloppy critique of a very big issue.
        And as far as marx, he can say whatever he wants. I doesn’t change history. I suppose some people think the soviet union was based on marx ideas, but they would be wrong. What his establishment buddy engels and he worked up was just a pretext for another authoritarian power grab of elites over the commoners. Really if the Russians like marx, the Kerensky gov’t would have held true. not the western inspired/paid for bolshevic revolution.
        and really, the anti-federalists were right. The federalists like Hamilton and his british federalist financiers are the original sinners in this American experiment

  9. Bunk McNulty

    The war did not end at Appomattox.

    –Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents, terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that 50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the first quarter-century after emancipation. “It is a fatal mistake, nay a wicked misery to talk of peace or the institutions of peace,” a federal attorney wrote almost two years after Appomattox. “We are in the very vortex of war.”–

    The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox

    1. Toni Gilpin

      Indeed, we could be marking this anniversary differently if the power of the slaveholders had genuinely been broken, something Thaddeus Stevens and the Radical Republicans, as well as the freed slaves who briefly held significant political power in the south following the end of the war, intended. Stevens correctly recognized that the possibility for genuine reconstruction was fleeting: “The whole fabric of southern society must be changed, and never can it be done if the opportunity is lost.” The Radical Republicans supported full voting rights for blacks, as well as confiscation of slaveowners’ property and massive federal funding for public education. Rewritten state constitutions following the war briefly saw the assertion of black political power as has yet to be repeated in this country: between 1868-1876 there were 14 black representatives in Congress; 2 U.S. Senators, and six Lt. Governors. They constituted the majority in South Carolina’s state legislature. The new Constitutions required public schooling for both races and by 1876, half of all southern children (white and black) were in school.

      But there would be no confiscation of land. Northern businessmen would not support government seizing private property, and many were economically tied to regeneration of cotton industry in south. Southern blacks found it necessary to work as sharecroppers, a system that would bind them to agricultural labor almost as securely as slavery had. The Democratic Party anxious to reestablish control of the south, and the 1868 election of U.S. Grant, no supporter of radical reconstruction, signals a Northern retreat from Reconstruction. Federal troops were removed from the south.

      Southern white landowners sought to return to complete control of the South, which requires them to strip blacks of voting rights; they are able to do this through economic power – often compelling blacks to vote in particular fashion to maintain their sharecropper’s portion – and through terror, as the KKK becomes the paramilitary arm of the Democratic Party.

      The spread of terror and oppression of black voting rights was so extreme that even the now moderate Republican government were bestirred to pass the 15th amendment in 1870: the right to vote “cannot be denied or abridged” by any state “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But even this is a political compromise, for it allows non-racial means of limiting suffrage: voting (poll) taxes, literacy tests, etc. And states passed the notorious “Black Codes”, which, among other things, established that freemen found to be “without lawful employment” can be arrested and fined. Those who couldn’t pay fines would be hired out to any employer who would pay them. This essentially meant that any freedman who refused to work – at whatever wages the employer chose to offer – could be arrested.

      By 1873, having passed the 15th amendment, and with the country in the midst of a severe depression, and with most Radical Republicans defeated or dead, the Republican Party declared that it was now time to “leave the South alone.”

      By 1900 the vast majority of public money in the south was going to segregated white schools; nearly half of all black children aged 10-15 are working in the fields instead of attending school. And stripped of their access to the polls blacks lose all political power in the south.

      Frederick Douglass described the tragedy of that lost opportunity that was Reconstruction, and we are still living with the consequences:

      “You say you have emancipated us. You have; and I thank you for it. But what is your emancipation?

      When the Israelites were emancipated they were told to go and borrow of their neighbors—borrow their coin, borrow their jewels, load themselves down with the means of subsistence; after, they should go free in the land which the Lord God gave them. When the Russian serfs had their chains broken and given their liberty, the government of Russia—aye, the despotic government of Russia—gave to those poor emancipated serfs a few acres of land on which they could live and earn their bread.

      But when You turned us loose, you gave us no acres. You turned us loose to the sky, to the storm, to the whirlwind, and, worst, of all you turned us loose to the wrath of our infuriated masters.”

      1. Carla

        Thank you for a comment which compresses an entire, dismal history into just a few well-written paragraphs…quite an accomplishment.

        1. Toni Gilpin

          And thank you, Carla. I’m a historian and I confess that I cribbed my comment from a lecture I’ve given on the aftermath of the Civil War. But I learned from the best: I had the great fortune to study with David Montgomery, author of Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872. It’s not an easy read but it remains one of the most important works of American historiography. As the title suggests, Montgomery argues that beyond the legal equality at least arguably achieved after the Civil War, there remained the much more thorny and enduring question of economic inequality. Northern workers, as well as freed blacks, thought that the southern defeat would ensure greater economic as well as legal freedom for working people — that’s why they fought for the union. How and why economic inequality remained unaddressed, and how race solidified as the wedge that divides American workers to this day, is the subject of the book. It is pretty dense reading, to be sure, but well worth it if this subject is of interest.

          1. H. Alexander Ivey

            Ha! Thought so, a ringer! Cribbed lecture notes no less. No wonder the posting was so clear. (thanks for posting, you saved me a lot of work trying to be half as clear as you).

            One thing about truly learning as you get older – I use to think, having been born and raised in the South, that Reconstruction was a terrible time for America. But now I realize that actually Reconstruction was possibly the only time that America did try to govern by the highflying rhetoric of Jefferson (Thomas, not Davis) and Washington.

          2. FederalismForever

            @Toni Gilpin. Thanks for your informative comment. Given that you are a historian, I want to ask whether you know of any precedent for what the Radical Republicans tried to accomplish: newly emancipated former slaves, of a different race than their former owners, newly freed as a result of a war, trying to live together successfully with their former owners in the same area.

            I, for one, am not aware of any successful precedents. Haiti/San Domingo resulted in the total extermination/evacuation of the whites; British West Indies – the white landowners for the most part moved back to Britain. Brazil – did not require a war, but society is still very segregated – hard to say it is a “success”; Argentina – mysterious – what happened to all the blacks? etc.

            In hindsight, I wish President Grant’s plan to annex Santo Domingo and make it a state had been tried. (Frederick Douglass liked this plan too!)


            1. Toni Gilpin

              Huh. That’s a good question, and well beyond my expertise (in fact, I’m actually a 20th century U.S. labor historian, so even antebellum America seems like foreign territory to me.) But our civil war strikes me as unique, in that it was both a conflict between regions with different economic and political interests — more or less a standard war, in other words — but it was also took on the character of a colonial uprising, as escaping slaves and African-Americans who joined the union army reshaped both the conduct of the war and its ultimate objectives. In terms of a mixed race society endeavoring to undo (or not) generations of legalized racism, South Africa comes to mind, and though I haven’t read it in years, George Frederickson’s classic White Supremacy: A Comparative Study of American and South African History might be good to consult. But others with more international knowledge would have to chime in. I guess one of the issues would be defining what constitutes success on this score: as I emphasized in my comment below, I think we need to acknowledge that it was a good thing — a success, then — that through the Civil War slavery was abolished. It’s also a measure of success that apartheid was ended in South Africa. But in neither country have blacks yet been afforded anything close to what they are owed. So those stories are still being written and we have to wait until we can call them truly successful.

              H. Alexander — yes, Reconstruction (the first part) really was an amazing period in our history, one of the most inspiring in its potential but also one of the most tragic because of the vicious and deadly repression that resulted from its failure. That’s why I loath the ending of Ken Burns’ Civil War series, with let-bygones-be-bygones celebratory message of reconciliation.

              While we are on this general topic I am going to put in a plug for what I believe to be the best film yet made on slavery, which is Charles Burnett’s little-known “Nightjohn.” It takes up many of the issues being discussed here and is so superior to “12 Years a Slave.” It is a deeply complex movie (though on the surface it is a simple children’s story) and is the best treatment on film I’ve seen about the economics of slavery. And it makes clear how important that simple concept of freedom is.

              Hope I didn’t violate any blog rules by cribbing from my own lecture for a comment. If so next time I will be sure to extemporize!

              1. Myers

                Just a few thoughts.
                Abolishing the form of race based slavery, as practiced in the USA, was a good thing but that, in my view, is a separate issue from the excerpts of The Mind of the Master Class quoted above.
                To me the larger question is not that institution of slavery is immoral and indefensible but rather, to what degree did the war reflect a moral imperative as a motivation for mobilizing a population to fight a war?
                Certainly there were those who were dedicated to the cause of abolition but I would be surprised if it was but a tiny fraction of the population. Even more perplexing to me is the notion that a Midwestern farmer could be inspired by something as abstract, as the idea and or need for saving the Union.
                Then again the ambiguity is a key feature of all wars after the fact, just as noble conviction is at its start. No one need look any further than the invasion of Iraq, to see how malleable a population is when moral conviction is confronted with the marketed mirages of the reptilian brain.
                It should be noted too, that slavery itself still exists albeit in the shadows.
                I agree with your comment about Burn’s” celebratory message of reconciliation” but that too is an example of down playing if not sanitizing history’s ugly reality.
                This characterization, is the bookend to the notion of Southern solidarity , regarding the issue of secession. As bad as the conventional battlefields were for the combatants, the blood letting in the surrounding countryside as a matter of family affiliation was barbaric. The novel Cold Mountain is based on the implications of civil war that are almost never discussed.
                Here is a link to a real life example of the same: http://books.google.com/books?id=_Q2fryj2NqgC&pg=PA14&lpg=PA14&dq=north+ga.+journal+the+shooting+at+scarecorn+campground&source=bl&ots=rAGsN49aqk&sig=kdrmtLxYWe-igbOhoiSYQq84MhI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ivl1VKy5L–1sQS_noHwBg&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=north%20ga.%20journal%20the%20shooting%20at%20scarecorn%20campground&f=false

                1. Toni Gilpin

                  I would accept that all wars — “good’ ones and bad — are fought with the majority of the populace relatively ignorant about the motivations for them (though, as you note, those motives are usually complicated and contradictory, at the time and in historical perspective, so the fact that people at the time don’t have solid grasp of them is not all that surprising.) I’d also concur that it’s often easy (maybe easier all the time these days) for those in power to manipulate the citizenry (didn’t Lincoln say something about fooling the people, most of the time?) But evidence (like letters) suggests that a good number of common soldiers in the Civil War were remarkably engaged with the larger issues, like “freedom” and “liberty,” at play. Northern workers who enlisted were for the most part motivated not by any preponderance of anti-racist sentiment among them, but by their sense of how slavery threatened their own increasingly precarious economic position: their freedom and liberty were in jeopardy. While they didn’t fight for precisely the same reasons that abolitionists did, both groups believed that slavery was an evil that needed to be eliminated. They were both right.

                  But the war did not involve only whites in the north fighting against whites in the south. African-Americans shaped this conflict as well. Again I’d emphasize that when we discuss what the war was about, and how its character changed, we need to recognize the role slaves themselves played in it. There was no ambiguity or ignorance in their views about slavery: they were unanimous in their opposition to it. As the war began thousands of them began fleeing to Union camps; the withdrawal of their labor undermined the confederacy, their service (as laborers and as soldiers) strengthened the Union, and their escalating presence pressured Lincoln and the Republicans to redefine the war as one determined to end slavery. These escaped slaves, who’d been schooled for generations to believe that they were powerless — that they lacked even basic humanity — did that. It was an awesome achievement.

                  So bleak as things look for progressive forces at this moment, we need to keep things like that in mind. It is possible, even in the face of sustained and powerful manipulation, for people to recognize untruth and rise up against it.

        1. hunkerdown

          Yep, which is exactly why the mainstream paradigm can’t stop talking about racism. If they do, there is a distinct chance we might talk about economic privilege instead, to no good end for them.

          1. Toni Gilpin

            Upon reflection and after reading some of the other thoughts expressed here I feel it necessary to amend my comment above to say: political and legal freedom does matter. It does a disservice to the slaves who fought for it — 200,000 of whom joined the union army, 1 out of 5 black males in the country, to comprise one-tenth of the total number of northern soldiers; at least 40,000 of them died in the war — to say that it didn’t. (And, as Lambert notes, wage slavery, however oppressive, is not the same as actual slavery: that’s why white workers weren’t knocking on plantation doors and signing up for the free room and board.) That freedom also mattered to the northern workers who joined the union army and fought and died for it, as they understood that enslaved labor was a threat to free workers everywhere. Soon after the war those workers began agitating for the eight-hour day, to enlarge the scope of what freedom meant. Legal freedom was and is essential if economic freedom is ever to be achieved. It is not everything, but it is no small thing either.

            I just felt badly if my comment suggested that struggle is futile; in fact it is where progress lives. And (as I heard Cornell West say recently) history provides the wind at our backs. And also — one more quote from Frederick Douglass: “We are not to be saved by the captain, but by the crew.” Okay, now I feel better.

      2. Myers

        “By 1873, having passed the 15th amendment, and with the country in the midst of a severe depression, and with most Radical Republicans defeated or dead, the Republican Party declared that it was now time to “leave the South alone.”
        Don’t forget the 1876 election which ended with the The Compromise of 1877. Political backroom deal which eliminated all pretense of addressing the the complex issues of integrating a population of freed slaves, into a society which only 20 years earlier, had been codified as property by the Supreme Court.
        Ignoring problems, irrespective of their enormity or implications if unresolved, especially those created as a consequence of military conflict, is something at which we seem fairly proficient.

  10. casino implosion

    I just got Mind of the Master Class from Amazon the other day…the bibliography is epic. When did historians stop doing high quality annotated bibs?

  11. TarheelDem

    How that members of that class reconstituted themselves as a truly repellent regional oligarchy is, perhaps, a topic for another time.

    That insurgency is far more relevant to the current political situation because it continues and has been nationalized by the Republican Party. And the Democratic Party response to that insurgency is the same weak response of the money-seeking Republican Party of 150 years ago. The Red Shirts and Ku Klux Klan of 140 years ago now wear blue uniforms and badges. And the insurgency is called “Christian” and “conservatism” and “real Americans”. How folks like Nathan Bedford-Forrest and Wade Hampton III turned defeat into a 150-year-old insurgency and how D. W. Griffith reignited the flame on the 50th anniversary of Appomattox is very much a part of this story. Call it the illusion of the defeat of the slave power.

    Breaking the institutions that hold white supremacy in being is a key political necessity if the United States ever to get beyond its misbegotten creation as slaveowner libertarianism. That means being aware of your own local outposts of the continuing slave power insurgency.

    Appomattox was reversed in Cicero and Southie and St. Louis and every white flight suburb in America and given legitimacy with the election of Richard Nixon, given voice with the election of Ronald Reagan, and given real power with the election of George W. Bush. The scorched earth strategies of the Republican Party during the Clinton and Obama administrations are marks of an insurgent coup, not an opposition party. The Democratic Party never figured out how to handle that; as a consequence, they sold out completely (as the Republicans did in 1876).

    The construction of the three-way division (white, slave, enemy) that motivated the frontier continues. As the imaginal frontier of the Manifest Destiny folk moves toward encirclement of China – the antipode of the US imaginally (“digging to China”). And that dynamic propels the oligarchic insurgency manifest in the Kochs, Sheldon Adelsons, and others. It’s almost as if they learned it from Bedford-Forrest and Hampton and more politically subtle “home rule” oligarchs. As 150 years ago, a lukewarm abolitionist President stirred up the oligarchy to secession and civil war, today a lukewarm liberal half-black President stirs them up again to talk of secession, actions leading to federal-state rupture, entrenchment of state power in the hands of states rights politicians, and allusions to the desirability of warfare.

    We ignore what happened after Appomattox at our peril. Indeed, we have bought the “brothers reunited” story much too long.

    1. TarheelDem

      I’m a native South Carolinian currently living in North Carolina. Three of my great-great grandfathers died of disease as Confederate infantry in the Civil War; one died in the US POW camp in Elmira NY.

      The issue is not so much slave capitalism or industrial capitalism as it is the domination of an oligarchy that denies the promise of the 18th century political revolutions.

      The same spin on arguments (religion especially) before the Civil War has been a constant since and the effort has been to purge Southern religion of the taint of supporting slavery by re-emphasizing morality–which is where the extreme positions on abortion and against same sex marriage come from. The denial of the moral failure of the Southern church to condemn slavery even now is strong and uses the present as an evasion even as that same denial perpetuates racist and enslaving institutions that exist today.

      In reading Calhoun, you get a glimpse of why it was that Andrew Jackson was opposed to corporations. It wasn’t for the reasons that we would cite today. And it goes to the Civil War as a dust up between agrarian slave capitalism and industrial capitalism.

  12. Jesse

    Here is the wellspring behind that ‘unambiguous moral progress.’ It was the dedicated work of men and women of conscience.


    But I wonder what purpose is served by discussing this in such stereotypical terms? Are we trying to view the South as inherently evil, or less civilized, to be reformed by the virtuous North? The virtuous North that built squalid ghettos for cheap immigrant labor, abused its own children in tedious labor, and that was rife with corruption of the moneyed interests?

    1. hunkerdown

      Yes. Evangelicals (whether they pledge allegiance to Yahweh, Mammon, the flag of the United States of America and the republic for which it stands, or anything else) are suckers for a good conversion story, and evangelizing an antithesis is still very much evangelism.

  13. craazyman

    Let’s work up a tidal wave of umbrage and get out the surfboards!

    Catch a wave and your sittin on top o’ the world . . .

    OK, it is the 150th so it’s an appropriate topic. But since you can’t undo wrongs done by dead people to dead people, what do you do now? Well, I make an attempt to treat every person I encounter with courtesy, respect and human decency, neither patronizing the poverty stricken or slobering sickeningly up to the rich. Each person, an individual spiritually equal. I try not to rush to judgment. I try to restrain the influence of my “priors” and try to view each situation on its on terms, balancing between overly aggressive urges to punitive vengeance and the chasm of self-immolating martyrdom. It’s not easy, since there’s miserable A-holes I deal with. I try to avoid them, just so I don’t throw a punch. I wouldn’t, of course, but man oh man do some deserve it. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. Too bad the Lord don’t throw a punch in this world. That makes it really confusing.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Hmm. You really see working up a tidal wave of umbrage as the purpose of the post? I mean, had I wanted to do that, I know how, and manually typing in great slabs of scholarly prose, and then lightly annotating them, is a rawther atypical technique.

      1. H. Alexander Ivey

        Didn’t you scan (to pdf) and convert (to text)? Hats off if you typed in all that scholarly prose!

  14. jgordon

    Coincidentally I had been thinking about the civil war of the US lately. From reading the above post it’s readily apparent to me that there are multiple levels of reality from which one could choose to view the civil war.

    On the surface level that most people won’t bother to get beyond, there is the conflict between slavery and “freedom”. Freedom meaning the choice of participating in the industrial commercial economy or become a vagrant/mooch.

    On another level slavery in the south was comparable to medieval feudalism in that it was a (admittedly reprehensible–and less equitable than feudalism) social system appropriate for operating a society with limited access to exothermic energy and prosthetic machine labor via fossil fuels. The north, already utilizing industrialism and fossil fuels at that time saw much less need for slavery (rather, employing modern-style wage-slaves was already coming into vogue instead) and thus had the social and political motivation to condemn slavery as unsavory.

    The founding fathers being mainly slave owners or at least comfortable with the idea of slavery themselves (2/3rds of a person after all), I don’t believe it’s coincidental that social mores rapidly changed in the north when direct slavery became less economically beneficial to the capital class than wage-slavery. Thus the social system of the south (unsavory as it was) became a hindrance to industrial development/exploitation and had to go. And in the end all else being equal an agrarian feudal-like society would have relatively poor odds against an incipient industrial society, at least according to the vast number of simulations I ran on this topic while playing Civilization IV.

    With that said, now that we are entering an era where fossil fuels are becoming increasingly expensive (and eventually unobtainable), with no legitimate alternatives yet being seriously pursued by our society/civilization some form of slavery (for example, dramatically expanded prison populations) may flourish in America again. Maybe we’ll have a rehash of the civil war as the US begins the process of fracturing due to insufficient energy to meet the demands of empire.

    1. TarheelDem

      The historical irony is that the Southern slaveowners couched their argument against British colonial relationships and the expectation of the British king to make money from his colonies in the very framework of slavery (and liberty) that they themselves practiced on kidnapped Africans. Or maybe that was part of the philosophical appeal.

      If slavery returns as an accepted practice, it will not be limited to the United States. At a minimum, it will be a legitimate practice in other Anglophone nations with minorities and it certainly will come out of the shadows in China and some other countries.

      1. jgordon

        Though it’s likely I don’t believe that new slavery will be entirely along racial lines. For example a prelude to slavery it is completely possible in the United States today to be imprisoned due to insufficient funds. And what will the prisoner be doing while in prison (or jail if you prefer)? Most like, laundry and pot scrubbing for 30 cents or so a day.

        As per the 13th Amendment, slavery is alive and well in the US even today despite semantic word games from the powers that be. Although it’s right to point out that at least half the imprisoned people in the US are minorities despite the demographics. So while we can say that if you are a minority you are far more likely to be enslaved today in the US, it’s not exclusive.

        1. TarheelDem

          These days it is not appreciated how radically the Virginia House of Burgesses acted in the 1680s when it formally defined races: “white”, “Negro”, “Indian”. It wasn’t until 1774, according on an Online Etymology citation of the OED, that “race” became associated as one of the major divisions of mankind and then frozen into three categories by the physical anthropologists. In part this three-fold division was dictated by correspondence in the faithful’s minds with the Biblical three sons of Noah, which allow correspondence to the three major continents of the Old World and provided a hypothesis of a land bridge from Asia before much evidence had been assembled.

          Race, in fact, is an American legal construct that gained wider acceptance. It was and is arbitrary.

          But slavery need not divide people based on origins. It is sufficient for slavery to operate that slaves have no easy means of escape and if they escape can be easily identified, returned, and punished in a way that deters further attempts. I think that the Anglophone countries and China are likely to have an edge there these days as well.

        2. hunkerdown

          Calhoun gave voice to the open secret that republics simply can’t operate without inequality. (Part of the reason we’re supposed to revile the South is because liberal ideology has little credit without the conceit that republic + the ability to choose one’s lord from the lordship = democracy.) The US is so proud to have made the prerequisite discretionary authority so polite as to be near invisible if one doesn’t look for it. Go imperial USA!

          It ought to call into question whether the social, economic and cultural conditions we seek are even compatible with republican forms of governance, let alone attainable or even furthered by participation in it.

  15. cassiodorus

    Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Not Been Told argues that the slave economy was the motor of economic gain for the US before the Civil War, and that slavery was more profitable than free labor in dealing with the cotton harvest, because slaves could be whipped into harvesting the cotton whereas free labor couldn’t. With the Civil War we run into the old familiar story of the economic destruction of the South and the shift of economic activity northward and westward — but at an incredible cost in exchange-value. The market value of the South’s slaves was immense by the standards of the 19th-century American economy.

    Kees van der Pijl’s The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class tells the story of the consolidation of the capitalist ruling class through capitalist history. One can imagine that, if the capitalist class had been as consolidated then as it is now, some sort of deal would have been struck, either to 1) avoid or nullify secession or 2) avoid fighting the Civil War altogether. Too much exchange-value at stake, you see.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      More, slaves reproduce themselves. You can invest in capital that makes more of itself, spontaneously. That was the theme of annotations in the margins of Thomas Jefferson’s account books, IIRC.

      1. cassiodorus

        The standard value-related argument against capitalist slavery is that It is cheaper for the capitalists to pay for labor-time than it is to own the whole laborer. After all, if you own the whole laborer, you must run a prison-camp for the laborers, and presumably there is much less expense in running a factory. Baptist’s argument is based on the centrality of the cotton harvest to early US economy, and on the UK as a primary market for US cotton. I suppose at some point the mechanization of cotton production eliminated the whole economic rationale.

        1. cassiodorus

          And as for how all of this applies to the slaveholding society of Saint-Domingue before the Haitian Revolution (which supplied coffee and sugar — yeah what a combo — to the French)? Don’t know.

  16. Dikaios Logos

    In our time where a few Americans, especially white financiers, landholders, and business owners, have so much power over so many, it is worth studying the America Civil War and what it means to our American society. While I side firmly with those who claim the prinicipal issue was slavery, I think it is worth noting that the Civil War dramatically changed WHITE America, too, and that for most of white America, their privillage is tied to the Civil War, while much of the rest is tied to the New Deal and to a lesser degree, the Great Society.

    Consider: most of the millionaires in antebellum America were Southern slaveholders. The Civil War bankrupted many of these slaveholders, as they were highly levered and the loss of slaves as assets wiped out most of the slaveholders’ equity. This of course meant that the slaveholders were less able to influence the political process. As a result, non-slaveholding whites, especially those in the free states became much more powerful. It is especially worth noting that those of German immigrant stock saw their fortunes improve dramatically. If you told someone in 1830s America that the richest family in a few decades was to be named Rockefeller and be from Ohio, you’d have received guffaws. And for many decades, and perhaps still to this day, one of the great nexuses of power in many northern cities is the Union League. And of course, the Civil War created the Republican Party as the party of wealth and power in America.

    There are other threads that accompany this line of thinking, the Irish could be said to have seen their situation improve, though not to the degree that Protestants of German descent did. But the most important to me is that many, many people benefited from forcing a reckoning upon many of the most entrenched and powerful members of society. And while the actual change in life for most black Americans was minimal, it was actually quite large for many white Americans. I’ve hoped in the coming years Americans will figure out that in the midst of their current mess, they should draw inspiration from some of what happened because of the Civil War.

      1. FluffytheObeseCat

        A fucking men. Given a choice between “Yankee hypocrisy” and nostalgia-laced worship of eternal inequality….. I choose the hypocrites every time, in every way. It worth remembering even guys like this one never come out in writing praising slavery. There is no lobby for actual, legally sanctioned slavery anymore.

        Fluffy, 5th generation descendant of an Irish-American who left New Orleans as a teenager to fight in a Midwestern regiment. Starting as a drummer boy.

  17. Rosario

    For conventionally accepted wisdom, I recommend the following:

    The Invention of the White Race (Vol. 1 &2)
    The Half Has Never Been Told
    Empire of Cotton: A Global History
    River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom
    There are more but these are essential reading for all Americans of privilege and power (i.e. white). These books avoid the pseudo scientific traps that many economists and sociologists get into when analyzing race and the slave economy in America while providing a comprehensive analysis of the politics and economic developments of the time.

    Really, for a deeper truth, just listen to any black spiritual or the countless poems, spoken word, and music from black America covering the past 250 years. They speak more truth to power, oppression, and alienation than any analysis from an Ivy league historian.

      1. FederalismForever

        Coates is usually worth reading, but his understanding of economics can be quite poor. To see this, consider that after the Civil War, much of the victorious North would experience an economic boom driven in large part by extraordinary developments in science and technology – the so-called Second Industrial Revolution. In this way, the income and wage gap as between the North and the South (both black and white, note) only widened further. I sometimes get the impression that Coates views this post Civil War increase in inequality as “plunder” in a similar fashion to the manner in which exploitation of slave labor is “plunder” – and that’s just not correct.

        And if we are going to consider reparations, let’s not forget to look at France and Spain – whose slave systems we inherited when we acquired New France (via the Louisiana Purchase) and West Florida.

  18. Antifa

    Lambert, why is it surprising to hear of the legendary civility, humility, manners and polite speech of Southern planters? These were all sons of wealthy landowners, and they all received European schooling either here or in Europe itself, including finishing schools where all the virtues of a noble gentleman were learned and polished, along with an exalted, medieval concept of honor. Their physical training included fencing, riding, Greek wrestling, rowing, and shooting. Raised to be true patricians, these were men who would resolutely remain composed and courteous even when riled to the point of politely inviting you to a duel of pistols at ten paces. Even in a murderous rage, a gentleman never loses his temper.

    Besides, they were only following the pattern of aristocrats the world over in emphasizing their unequal status as compared to their slaves and to common white folk. Slaves were forbidden to learn to read, to touch books, to discuss their plight, even to move about except under direct orders. Vicious men were employed to whip, beat, skin, lynch and in all ways terrorize the slaves so that the master in the big house did not have to lift a finger in that direction.

    But the master and his family had all the hot water and soap they cared to indulge in; they could change their fine clothes several times a day as it pleased them; they had French perfumes to anoint themselves with; they had a library of books to advance their learning; they wined and dined and hobnobbed with the elite of their society on a daily basis. They were as far above the slaves as the clouds in the sky or the angels above. Aristocracy is a mindset carried in the hearts and minds of the lower classes. If the hoi polloi stop believing they are inherently less than you, you won’t be an aristocrat much longer. So you keep up appearances, at any cost, at all times.

    The existence of several million black slaves in the plantation South, slaves held in abject ignorance, misery and poverty, required every Southern white to follow the planters’ example as best they could, even if they were only dirt poor farmers whose hardscrabble lives had them living at or barely above the level of black slaves. At least they could sign their own name, and maybe even read a little, count up to twenty or so. If they couldn’t do that, they could at least move about as they wished, and could always tell a slave to get off the sidewalk and be obeyed without question.

    American history recalls the Wild West cattle towns as the most violent and lawless places that ever were, but it just isn’t so. The most violent places in genuine American history were always the Southern plantations where a holocaust of terror, pain and murder were the daily grind for millions of black people. This is much of the reason for the frankness and plain speech of Southerners of that time — everyone was armed all the time, just like out West. Feuds and disagreements would continue with frank but polite speech right up until the moment when the knives or guns came out. A white man’s sense of honor was held to be above the law — you cross that line and it didn’t matter a damn what the law said — someone was going to die.

    Keep in mind that the European tradition of a duel to the death to settle a dispute of honor between two noblemen was done to prevent active, ongoing blood feuds between clans or families (such as in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). If two noblemen agreed to fight to the death to settle a matter of honor, there was an unspoken agreement between their families that they would all accept the outcome and leave it at that. It was considered bad manners to hold a grudge or conduct a blood feud. In a blood feud, you could lose most of your family to backstabbers and bushwhackers. A gentleman’s duel settled things most definitely, and honor prevented other family members from pursuing revenge. This tradition didn’t entirely hold in America, except among the wealthiest families. Among commoners, blood feuds were much more common.

  19. Greenguy

    I would suggest taking a look at Barrington Moore’s “Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy” where he convincingly argues that the US Civil War was the last of the classically progressive bourgeois-republican revolutions against the landed oligarchy.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      It has also been noted in a fairly recent history … that there were three phases to the English Civil War. The original phase in the British Isles in the 1640s, then the second phase in the American colonies in the 1770s and finally a third phase in the United States in the 1860s. The first and third revolutions failed … only the second revolution was successful. This was driven by class and ethnic partisanship that resulted in revolts against central authority.

  20. Jay M

    Hence, Obama and the Republican Congress in repellent embrace, while a maximalist foreign policy leaves a desert in its wake.

  21. Greenbacker

    Slavery was a end to a means for the landed gentry. The South never was much into the “United States” as a concept, even as slave owners like Thomas Jefferson supported the “idea”, most did not. Neither were the Rothchilds and other Euro-bankers.

    They conspired with Europeans bankers, Southern Democrats had A. Belmont in their back pocket destroying the North’s ability to expand industrially in the pre-Civil War era was the final straw. They elected a ultra-federalist in Abe Lincoln and thus the slow, steady process of making the South a industrial economy began. They waited to late. They should have left in the early 1800’s to have a chance.

  22. Tony Wikrent

    Lincoln called the Civil War a new birth of freedom, and his words were not mere platitudes. In his 1995 book, What They Fought For, 1861-1865, James M. McPherson presents a masterful survey and summary of private correspondence  from Civil War soldiers and officers:

    But why did these soldiers think that the “infernal rebellion” jeopardized the survival of the glorious republic? Why could they not, as Confederate War Department clerk John Jones suggested, merely return home to a northern nation and leave the South alone so that the two republics could live in peace as dual heirs of the Revolution? Because, said northern soldiers almost as if in echo of Abraham Lincoln, once admit that a state can secede at will, and republican government by majority rule would come to an end. The dis-United States would fragment into several petty, squabbling autocracies, proving the contention of European monarchists and reactionaries that this harebrained experiment in democracy could not last. Government of the people, by the people, for the people would perish from the earth. Many Union soldiers voiced with extraordinary passion the conviction that preservation of the United States as “the beacon light of liberty& freedom to the human race,” in the words of a thirty-five-year-old Indiana sergeant, was indeed the last, best hope for the survival of republican liberties in the Western world.
    “I do feel that the liberty of the world is placed in our hands to defend,” wrote a Massachusetts private to his wife in 1862, “and if we are overcome then farewell to freedom.” If “traitors be allowed to overthrow and break asunder ties most sacred – costing our forefathers long years of blood and toil,” agreed a Connecticut enlisted man in 1863, then “all the hope and confidence of the world in the capacity of men for self government will be lost. . . and perhaps be followed by a long night of tyranny.” In 1863 on the second anniversary of his enlistment, a thirty-three-year-old Ohio private wrote in his diary that he had not expected the war to go on so long, but no matter how much longer it took it must be prosecuted “for the great principles of liberty and self government at stake, for should we fail, the onward march of Liberty in the Old World will be retarded at least a century, and Monarchs, Kings and Aristocrats will be more powerful against their subjects than ever.” After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, a fifty-one-year-old New Jersey colonel who had fought the entire four years wrote to his wife that “we [can] return to our homes with the proud satisfaction that it has been our privilege to live and take part in the struggle that has decided for all time to come that Republics are not a failure.”

    The American Civil War really was the continuation of the mortal combat between oligarchy and monarchy on the one hand, and the idea of self-government on the other. A recent book, by Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the Civil War, details how networks of European 1848 revolutionaries literally saved the Union during the Civil War.

    Queen Victoria detested the American experiment in self-government, and after some hesitation and misgivings – and no little pressure by a number of Confederate “diplomats” / publicists – British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston finally decided, in September 1862, to dispatch a British army and fleet to Canada. This would create the northern half of a pincers to choke the American republic; the southern half of the pincers were the French and Spanish forces which had already landed in Mexico and the Caribbean, with British assistance, in December 1861 through January 1862.

    At this crucial point, just when the British oligarchs thought they could finally get away with crushing the obnoxious experiment in self-government, the Union Army won a major battle at Antietam, Maryland on September 17. This was the victory Lincoln had been waiting for to announce his intent to emancipate the slaves. (The actual Emancipation Proclamation was issued January 1, 1863.) When the news arrived in Europe nearly three weeks later, massive pro-Union demonstrations erupted. These were led by supporters of Giuseppe Garibaldi‘s fight for Italian unification and independence, the most militant manifestation of the general republican, anti-monarchical sentiments of European progressives at the time. On October 5, 1862, one hundred thousand demonstrators, many garbed like Garibaldi’s red shirts, filled Hyde Park in London. Similar demonstrations were held elsewhere in England. With little doubt that there would be fierce popular resistance to any attempt to openly aid the Confederacy and the continuation of slavery, Palmerston quietly abandoned his preparations to deploy British military forces to North America.

    I think it is completely erroneous, and dangerously misleading, to fail to view the American Civil War in the context of the continuing fight against oligarchs and monarchs, and argue that factory labor was just as evil and dehumanizing as slave labor. At some level, it is really a morally repugnant assertion. How many factory workers were forcibly separated from spouses, or parents, or children? How many factory workers were castrated? How many factory workers were whipped to death?

    This is not to argue that factory labor or “renting labor” was a painless path to middle class prosperity and happiness. Clearly, there were, and are, terrible and malevolent aspects to the system of rented labor. But arguing that it was just as evil as slave labor is as morally indiscriminate, intellectually lazy, and damaging to the truth, as arguing that Rikers Island is just as evil as Auschwitz or Treblinka.

    One of the essential points of contention between Jefferson and Hamilton pivoted on the issue of public virtue. Jefferson wanted to avoid industrialization as long as possible, because he believed that the purest and most noble citizens were those who tilled the soil and reaped the agricultural bounty of nature. I find it more than a little ironic that the present-day critics of factory labor come down on the same side as Jefferson the slave owner.

    Besides acquiescing to the monstrous evil of slavery, Jefferson’s great error lay in refusing to see that the United States could not remain agrarian forever. Rather than denounce factories and urban centers as repositories of vice and anti-republican corruption, he should have tried to find ways to encourage the growth of republican ideals within the people who comprised the other natural interests of commerce, mining, manufacturing, and the professions.

    Hamilton’s great error lay in refusing to see what powerfully corrupting influences the financial and commercial could be. He should have joined Washington and Adams in their desire to prohibit bankers and financiers from holding seats in Congress. Had that precedent been established, it would be a relatively simple thing today to entirely prohibit lobbyists from the financial interests from besmirching the halls of Capitol Hill with their presence.

    But here’s the key consideration for us, today. The underlying assumption of Jefferson’s agrarianism and idealism of the yeoman farmer, was that only men with some independent means of income and wealth could be free from the truly be free from the influence of both government and whatever scheming factions of rich and powerful that were trying to control the government. If we apply this desideratum of having all our citizens possessed of independent means of income and wealth in a modern, industrial economy, well then, all sorts of interesting policy ideas pop out. A guaranteed minimum income. A minimum wage of what a person actually needs to support a family, which would be at least $20 to $25 an hour. National health insurance, if not national health care. Free college education. But, today’s confederates argue, those are just more government programs that “the gubmint” will use to create dependency among the people that use them. Well, not if ALL people are in the programs. If all people get a guaranteed minimum income, and health care, and free education, then all are equally dependent, and therefore all are actually independent. The classical republican ideals that inspired the creation of the American republic warned that concentrations of economic power were as dangerous as concentrations of political power; and indeed economic power and political power go hand in hand. Think of national programs, therefore, as a means of leveling economic power. What would be the social consequences of forcing Harvard and Yale and Stanford to accept any and all students solely on the basis of scholastic aptitude, with full tuition paid by all of us as the United States of America? Could it be another “new birth of freedom”?

  23. FederalismForever

    @Tony Wikrent. You said: “I think it is completely erroneous, and dangerously misleading, to fail to view the American Civil War in the context of the continuing fight against oligarchs and monarchs, and argue that factory labor was just as evil and dehumanizing as slave labor. At some level, it is really a morally repugnant assertion. How many factory workers were forcibly separated from spouses, or parents, or children? How many factory workers were castrated? How many factory workers were whipped to death?”

    +1000! It is truly astonishing that this point needs to be asserted and defended!

  24. vlade

    ACW is interesting on so many fronts.

    Most people now would agree that ACW moved human morality forwards, but to do so, Lincoln had to breach some of the very liberties that it was defending – suspension of habeas corpus, suppression of free press, draft etc. etc.

    Sherman introduced what we now know as a total war, destroying countryside and deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure and property. Yet at the same time, once war was won, he gave South so soft terms (because he believed that was what Lincoln would have done – and because he said so before) as to be called a traitor, becoming for a while despised by both side.

    ACW is a great example of how ambiguous, uncertain and grey the world is, and yet people choose to pick the one and only (their) interpretation..

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