“All Knew That This Interest Was Somehow The Cause of the War”

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

To get a little more insight into “this interest,” I want to look at Ned and Constance Sublette’s new book, The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, published this year by the Chicago Review Press; it has a place on my bookshelf (review; review) along with Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, and Ian Baucom’s strange but compelling Spectres of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History. All three of these books painstakingly curate and interrogate documents from the time: newspapers, letters, advertising, posters, account books, trial transcripts, slave narratives; and that’s the kind of detailed, densely textured history writing that I like. In this post I’ll introduce you to the Sublettes’ book, and briefly muse about some of the incongruities it provokes. 

The Coffle

I’m going to begin with an extensive quotation from very early in the Sublettes’ book, because reading this passage was, for me, like being hit in the head with a hammer. The context is the coffle, an essential link in the supply chain that transported slaves from the slave breeding states on the Atlantic coast (chief among them Virginia) to the slave markets and plantations deeper South.

Southern children grew up seeing coffles approach in a cloud of dust.

A coffle is “a train of men or beasts fastened together,” says the Oxford English Dictionary, and indeed Louis Hughes referred to the coffle he marched in as a “herd.” The word comes from the Arabic qāfiah, meaning “caravan,” recalling the overload slave trade that existed across the desert from the sub-Saharan Africa to the greater Islamic world centuries before Columbus crossed the Atlantic. …

But the people trudging to Mississippi along with Louis Hughes were not Africans. They were African Americans, born into slavery and raised with their eventual sale in mind. Force-marched through wilderness at a pace of twenty of twenty-five miles a day, for five weeks or more, from can’t-see to can’t-see, in blazing sun or cold rain, crossing unbridged rivers, occasionally dropping dead in their tracks, hundreds of thousands of laborers transported themselves down south at gunpoint, where they and all their descendants could expect to be prisoners for life.

… About a quarter of those trafficked southward were children between eight and fifteen, purchased away from their families. The majority of coffle prisoners were male: boys who would never again see their mothers, men who would never again see wives and children. … The only age bracket in which females outnumbered males in the trade was twelve to fifteen, when they were as able as the boys to do field labor, and could also bear children. Charles Bell, forcibly taken from Maryland to South Carolina in 1805, recalled that

The women were merely tied together with a rope, about the size of a bed cord, which was tied like a halter round the neck of each; but the men…. were very differently caparisoned. A strong iron collar was closely fitted by means of a padlock around each of our necks. A chain of iron, about a hundred feet in length, was passed through the hasp of each padlock, except at the two ends, where the hasps of the padlock passed through a link in the chain. In addition to this, we were handcuffed in pairs, with iron staples and chains, with a short chain, uniting the handcuffs and their wearers in pairs.

As they tramped along, coffles were typically watched over by whip- and gun-wielding men on horseback and a few dogs, with supply wagons bringing up the rear… The captives were not generally allowed to talk among themselves as they tramped along, but sometimes, in the midst of their suffering, they were made to sing. The English geologist G. W. Featherstonehaugh, who in 1834 happened upon the huge annual Natchez-bound chain gang led by trader John Armfield, noted that “the slave drivers… endeavour to mitigate their discontent by feeding them well on the march, and by encouraging them” — encouraging them? — “to sing ‘Old Virginia never tire,’ to the banjo. Thomas William Humes, who saw coffles of Virginia-born people passing through Tennessee in shackles on the way to market, wrote; “It was pathetic to see them march, and to hear their melodious voices in plaintive singing as they went.”…

From the first American coffles on rough wilderness treks along trails established by the indigenous people, they were the cheapest and most common way to transport captives from one region to another.

The Federally built National (or Cumberland) Road, which by 1818 reached the Ohio River port of Wheeling, Virginia (subsequently West Virginia), was ideal for coffles. It was the nation’s first paved highway, with bridges across every creek. Laying out approximately the route of the future US 40, its broken-stone surface provided a westward overland transportation link that began at the Potomac River port of Cumberland, Maryland. From Wheeling, the captives could be shipped by riverboat down to the Mississippi and on to the Deep South’s second-largest slave market at Natchez, or further on to the nation’s largest slave market, New Orleans.

I’ll stop at the demonstration of how Federal infrastructure improve the slave trade’s supply chain.

From my vantage point (starting with my family history and where I live), the coffle seems like a work of fiction, a dystopian nightmare written by a demeted sadist. Imagine a hundred or so slaves chained together and being driven down the main street of my small town by dogs and men with whips. And now imagine this scene was normal, and kids coming home from school walked right past it. When do I wake up?  (Sure, Rome. But that was thousands of years ago!) 

And yet this is not science fiction stuff, or fantasy. It’s history. Here’s a list of the Presidents who owned slaves:

  • George Washington (between 250-350 Slaves)
  • Thomas Jefferson (about 200)
  • James Madison (more than 100)
  • James Monroe (about 75)
  • Andrew Jackson (fewer than 200)
  • Martin Van Buren (one)
  • William Henry Harrison (eleven)
  • John Tyler (about 70)
  • James Polk (about 25)
  • Zachary Taylor (fewer than 150)
  • Andrew Johnson (probably eight)
  • Ulysses S. Grant (probably five)[1]

The more slaves, the more transactions. The more transactions, the more coffles. And the deeper the knowledge of coffles. But everybody knew. Including the children.

Teaching History

There’s been another controversy about how the state of Texas teaches history to school children. Here’s the trigger this time, from a McGraw-Hill textbook written (like so many textbooks) to the specifications of the Texas State Board of Education, which dominates the market:


So read that caption carefully. Does the use of the coffle comport in any way with the use of the word “workers”? As opposed to slaves? Fortunately, this is a story with a happy ending, but there’s plenty more where that came from. The Washington Post:

Mothers of teenagers are used to getting frustrating text messages, but the one that Roni Dean-Burren received from her 15-year-old son last week wasn’t about alcohol, dating or money for the movies.

It was about history.

Her son, Coby, had sent her a photo of a colorful page in his ninth-grade McGraw-Hill World Geography textbook. In a section titled “Patterns of Immigration,” a speech bubble pointing to a U.S. map read: “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”

“We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” Coby retorted in a subsequent text.

The image alarmed Dean-Burren, who was an English teacher for 11 years at the Pearland, Tex., public high school that her son attends. Now a doctoral candidate in the University of Houston’s Language Arts program, she has spent much of her life thinking about the power and dangers of nuanced language. The motive behind the textbook’s choice of words seemed clear.

“This is erasure,” Dean-Burren said in an interview with The Washington Post. “This is revisionist history — retelling the story however the winners would like it told.”

In calling slaves “workers” and their move to the United States “immigration,” she noted in viral Facebook posts Wednesday and Thursday, the textbook suggests not only that her African American ancestors arrived on the continent willingly, but also that they were compensated for their labor.

McGraw-Hill had addressed the issue (although these textbooks will be in print and used in the classroom for another ten years):

McGraw-Hill Education sought to redress these implied untruths in a Facebook announcement Friday. While the geography program “meets the learning objectives of the course,” the publishing company’s statement said, a close review of the content revealed that “our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.”

So good for Roni and Coby Dean-Burren. Again, though, doesn’t this feel like science fiction stuff? I mean, in what alternative universe did that textbook make it hrough the editorial and production process to the printer? Imagine, for example, an alternate Earth whose history textbook treats the mill-workers described by E.P. Thompson in The Making of The English Working Class as volunteers, doing their work for the sheer joy of it[2], rather in the manner of Santa’s elves. Wouldn’t we be looking at the same level of disconnect?


I focused on the long passage from the Sublette’s book because it seemed to me to be an objective correlative for living in the midst of a slave power, and that experience is an important — a critical — part of American history, and I believe that getting the history right is important.

And although I’ve written I prefer human gift to human rental (wage labor), and human rental to human sale (slavery), I don’t have any grand policy pronouncements to make. I do think we need to be leery of using slavery as a metaphor; “wage slavery” is not slavery; where’s the coffle? Ditto “debt slavery.” (That’s not to say that wages and debt are not power relations, because of course they are, but the human reality of the power relations is different.)

So all I can do is ask you to get the image of the coffle firmly in your mind, and children watching one go by. The coffle was a thing. That was what was going on. The whole thing makes me want to take a bath. And we’re still living with the complicated and painful consequences of slavery today.


Title quotation from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.


[1] On Grant and slaves, see here, here, and here.

[2] The twenty-first century word to describe this attribute is “passion.”

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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. Eric Patton

    And wage slavery isn’t all that different from chattel slavery. The propaganda is much better, though.

    Plantation owners:capitalists; overseers:coordinators; slaves:workers.

      1. Eureka Springs

        Coffle… U.S. now the largest population of prisoners in the world. Paying less than 14.00 a minute for phone calls and working for what, pennies an hour if that? No doubt singing for softer lashings and attending bible class for reduced sentences.

        And those electronic monitoring ankle bracelets come to mind. As well as warrantless pervasive surveillance of us all.

        As for the original coffle… be careful what you ask for you might just get it…)

      2. nobody

        Where’s the coffle? Not anywhere in the definition of “slavery,” whether in your contemporary dictionary, or a mid-19th century dictionary, or in, say, Aristotle. Your rhetorical move here strikes me as hermeneutically frivolous. Slavery is a thing. It has been a thing for millennia. It has taken many forms. It’s still very much a thing, in various forms, in many different places.

        And let us not forget what the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution actually states:

        “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” [My emphasis]

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Well, I guess we have to disagree on frivolous; to me, historical context matters, and its absence is the very definition of frivolity. The subtitle of the book is “A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry” — that is, the bodies of slaves as capital. That’s not how slavery has made its appearance “for millenia.” But it is how slavery appeared in the United States, and would again.

          1. TarheelDem

            Yes, this.

            That’s not how slavery has made its appearance “for millenia.” But it is how slavery appeared in the United States, and would again.

            Human beings as capital from which rent is extracted much as from other “natural” resources. And in the conservative minority of wooly-thinkers, the intellectual arguments for permanent sale of labor are already being laid even as the arbitrary policing makes it clear that those “permanent sales” are likely to be involuntary as the transport of “prisoners-of-war” were in the 15th-19th centuries of the Atlantic slave trade. Slave ships were just floating coffles.

          2. RBHoughton

            Puts slave-breeding in the class of agricultural breeding – increasing and improving the stock.

            You have reminded me of an ancient Chinese document I saw that noted slavery in China was sometimes voluntary.

            An educated chap who was down on his luck might accept board and lodging as a slave in return for provision of accounting services or instruction of children.

            He relied on the owner’s duty to care for him appropriately, something that the local magistrate was supposed to assure.

            1. TarheelDem

              Read the academic anthropology of the period; it was very much like breeding livestock. Arguments about the humanity of Africans were still popular, and Darwin (and especially the social Darwinists that Darwin despised) threw a huge rock into that pool with The Descent of Man. That narrative of process of development in differently valued racially-typed stages still persists no matter how often it is debunked.

      3. John

        Rush hour….well fed humans, machines, beasts on the road chained together by fear. Granted, without the relatively immediate death sentence of the cotton fields at the end. The modern coffle only slightly less appalling.

    1. Sandwichman

      Wage slavery is VERY different from chattel slavery. The danger of ignoring that difference is that it obscures the intimate connection between the two, which is the legal institution of private property. The Roman law of property derived by analogy from conditions of slave ownership. Owning land is an analog of owning slaves.

    2. David Wayne

      The thing that stands out to me in this article is the reference that all this is a function of capitalism. All that we are and all that we know is dictated by the needs of capitalism. We don’t run capitalism, it runs us. So much so that it is impossible to conceive past that little box you’re in to imagine – is this the only way we can live. Born in debt. Live in debt. Die in debt. The one thing they got right: human slavery is so distasteful we can’t do it openly anymore. But wage slavery is just fine, especially debt peonage. No one can complain if you get yourself into debt, just if someone else puts you there.

  2. Political Economist

    Your links to U.S. Grant do not imply that he ever owned more than one slave and indicate to me that the likely reason he freed the slave that he own did for an unknown but likely short period of time was that he believed slavery to be immoral.

    1. sid_finster

      Iirc, the slave at issue was a wedding gift, and Grant freed him, to the annoyance of his in-laws.

  3. craazyman

    It’s gonna be the white people next time if the Negro gets pissed off enough, although telling a negro from a dude with light brown skin is not easy. Maybe it’s the hair, but even that can confuse you. Even a white dude with a tan and curly hair is darker than some Negros with light skin. Also if you’ve got people from different parts of the world in your gene pool, it’s very hard to tell who is what. Ask not for whom the cottle chains clink, they clink for thee. It is important to let words be true.

    I hope with the fundraiser Lambert you can get that Union cavalry officer uniform. Some of those were quite handsome designs. Even Joseph A. Bank’s camel hair topcoat doesn’t look as good.

    YOu wonder what makes people tick. Here’s a quote I saw just yesterday. From the archives of history, Colonel John Singleton Mosby, confederate guerilla leader and, aflter the war, belileve it or not, campaigner for General Ulysses S. Grant for president!

    From wikipedia: “In the letter, Mosby explained his reasons as to why he fought for the Confederacy, despite personally disapproving of slavery. While he admitted that the Confederate states had seceded to protect and defend their institution of slavery, he had felt it was his patriotic duty as a Virginian to fight on behalf of the Confederacy, stating that “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in” and that “The South was my country.”

    Wow. Right or wrong. Wow. The one thing God gives man over the animals, the ability to make conscious moral choices, and that very thing is thrown overboard like an empty beer can. “My country, right or wrong.” Duty, honor, obiediance, heroism, grandiosity, flamboyance, narcassism, psychopathology, evil . . . where does it start and where does it stop?

    It does not surprise me that the early Christian theology settled on the idea that faith, not works, is salvation. Since works are almost impossible to see or to know at the time, and the vast majority of people are unable to act as fully conscious individuals. This is simply a “scientific observation” not a judgment. There’s nothing to judge. it just is

    1. Synoia

      he had felt it was his patriotic duty as a Virginian

      His patriotism was founded on his state, not his country?

      a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in” and that

      Was repudiated at Nuremberg, and enshrined on the concept of “War Crimes.” However, the attitude it suits many in Washington, DC today.

      1. craazyman

        before the Civil War states were “countries”

        It was a union. People even said “These united states”. After the war it became “The United States”

        It went from plural to singular.

        That’s why Robert E. Lee decided to align himself with Virginia even though he was offered command of the entire Union Army.

        1. James Levy

          He had, when he became an officer in the United States Army, taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. That oath cannot be gainsaid by pointing out his allegiance to Virginia. He either lied when he took that oath or took it under false pretenses as he had an allegiance that trumped the oath he swore to. He may have had a right to change his mind, but that does not change the fact that he objectively committed treason by taking up arms against a nation he had sworn allegiance to.

          1. craazyman

            The library shelves groan under tons of tomes on this one. I won’t even attempt to opine.

            I read somewhere that nothing in the history of the world produced more critical analysis in the form of books than either the Bible or the Civil War.

            And the books are still coming!

          2. ckimball

            I just have to drop this bit into the mix. I can’t help think about those
            people who signed their pledge/oath to a Grover Norquist superseding the oath they signed when they assumed the chairs for which they were elected. Is this not a form succession from the union
            we thought we agreed upon. What is the relationship between the
            mentalities …I wonder.

        2. Darthbobber

          “before the Civil War states were “countries””

          This was not anywhere near universally held to be the case. It seems to have been a view largely held in the Commonwealth of Virginia and in the deep south. Northerners and westerners were largely nationalists, as were many in the south. And the southern officers who gave this as their reason, like Lee and Mosby, were not the norm. The great bulk of them were of the planter class (with the occasional slave trader like Forrest thrown in.) Interestingly, of those officers whose service had been in the navy rather than the army, they were nationalists almost to a man. The unitary concept of the nation was widely held enough for Jackson to back down the nullificationists with very broad support throughout parts of the south as well as the north.

          Its rarely pointed out, in dealing with the “sovereign states” theory, that of the 11 or 13 southern states (depending on whether you count what they claimed and gave representation to in their congress or those they ever actually had control over, even briefly), only the 4 that were among the 13 original colonies, plus the short-lived Tinhorn Republic of Texas, had ever had any attributes of sovereignty in the first place. Those that had been part of the Louisiana purchase were acquired with money paid out from the treasury of the entire nation, defended and governed in a manner determined by the nation while being organized, and then admitted as states. Florida was partly conquered by a national army and partly bought with national money. Others were part of inland claims disputed by various coastal states and eventually signed over to the nation to be organized under its auspices.

          A good many southern officers, most prominent among them George Thomas and David Farragut, found it perfectly logical to serve in the national army, southern upbringing or no.

      1. craazyman

        you mean the Chariot?

        I don’t know if they had busses back then. That’s an interesting question, actually. I’m sure there’s a historically correct answer but I don’t know it. It could have been a horse-drawn bus.

  4. Nonanon22

    Welcome to life in a primitive land, which it was until around the turn of the 20th century.

    Don’t get such a high and mighty attitude since this is also the history of the nation which includes those who profited the most, railroad barons who elected Lincoln and transitioned to Industrialization.

    The first slaves arrived in the new colonies in 1511, less than 20 years after Columbus claimed the new land for Spain. And we all know what a delightful caricature was he.

    I tend to agree modern day wage slavery is little different except the 99.99% are being coffled today, a testament to the advance of modern technology. Those to whom the benefit accrues and by whose hand the atrocities occur is about the same percent.

    I will point out, however, that these same atrocities are being committed today by muslims against christians, and in whole populations of 2nd world countries, some if not most instigated by the CIA, esp. in the western hemisphere.

    Where is the outrage against Chinese slave labor and human rights abuse. Made in China? Hey, it’s cheaper! It’s hypocritical then, to lambaste the same exploitation which was galvanized under Lincoln.

    Schizophrenia abounds with the intellectual elite, profit above all! It’s no wonder psychopathy follows close behind.

    1. James Levy

      I hate my job. I am de facto a day laborer, delivering items as and when my boss tells me to. As a former university professor, this is a hard blow. But to say I and 99.9% of the population are coffled is pure nonsense. My situation is lousy. But comparing what the black slaves went through with what I am going through is like saying the internment camps which held the Japanese-Americans were the same as the death camps in Nazi Germany. One was bad, the other indescribably worse. Not all evils are identical or commensurate. Working for a wage is tough, but the number of workers flogged to death, publically whipped, or who had their thumbs legally broken in thumbscrews last year was pretty low. And the number of American workers last year who got raises or left one job for a better one was pretty high in comparison with your average black slave. So cut the crap about how your job today is “just as bad” as being a slave in pre-1865 America. I can’t tell if you sound more like crybabies or idiots.

    2. Darthbobber

      “modern day wage slavery is little different”
      except for a few niggling details. For example, I have never in my life been bound or whipped for impudence on the job, forbidden to travel from the property of my employer without my master’s permission, or awakened one day to discover that I wouldn’t be seeing my wife and child anymore because they’d been sold to someone 300 miles away. Nor has anybody else of my personal acquaintance. And these things were absolutely routine under chattel slavery. Its noteworthy that even after the disappointing (to put it mildly) denouement of reconstruction, the imposition of Jim Crow and the reduction of black and poor white alike to the status of sharecroppers, there was absolutely no suggestion from any of the freedmen and women that the former system had been better or even as good. So apparently they were able to perceive a significant difference which evades some ostensible radicals of the 21st century. As were the free laborers of the northern states, who played at least as much of a role as the “Railroad Barons” in the election of A. Lincoln to the presidency of the United States.
      “Where is the outrage against Chinese slave labor and human rights abuse?” Pretty widespread, actually. Though its almost equally “western industrial slave labor and human rights abuse” with the Chinese government interposed as middlesomething.

  5. sleepy

    It took until the past few months for the city of Memphis to finally rename downtown’s Nathan Bedford Forrest park where the slave-trader, war criminal, and founder of the KKK is buried. Oh, did I forget to mention he was a cavalry genius? I hope the corpse and statue are next to go.


    The town is on a roll–they also recently renamed downtown’s other tributes to the lost cause–Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park.

  6. Jef

    Cheap almost free oil effectively gives every american 100 to 1000 slaves.

    Giving up oil will be as or more difficult than giving up the slaves back then.

    1. TarheelDem

      Giving up oil might be why there is intellectual positive talk in reactionary, if not conservative, circle about the benefits of slavery as a permanent labor contract. One should not assume that the argument about the difference between debt slavery, wage slavery, and chattel slavery is still an abstract question in the US.

      1. PIGL

        The Cato Boys were arguing for a free market in livers as early as the 1980s…I remember well from Usenet. Why would someone make such an argument? exactly for the reasons you’re suggesting….a holding action for what they knew was coming. Self ownership and the sanctity of contract implies slavery. The so-called noncoercion principal is a bit of lace window dressing thar can be discarded at the first sign of a dollar. It would be as well to remember where lace came from.

        Thought experiment: how come almost all libertarians are white ?

  7. Ignacio

    Not to mention the severe effects of slave trade in Africa. I recall reading that for one slave “worker” sold in destination two other had dead in the process.

    1. LifelongLib

      Well, the African end of the slave trade was run by Africans, for whom it was a major source of wealth as well as a dumping ground for people they wanted to get rid of.

  8. kevinearick

    Trials of Fact; Fruit from the Poisonous Tree

    You do know that the medical record clearly states that Grace was healthy at birth?

    You do know that the medical record clearly states that hospital staff administered a shot specifically refused several time by her parents, which is clearly stated all over the primary physician’s records, which medical literature clearly associates with the symptoms in question when administered to a female?

    You do know that Felicia is a veterinary nurse and I went to the top pre-medical school in the nation, before separation from the farce representing itself as a healthcare industry, was an ICU secretary, and have decades of experience in forensic accounting?

    Don’t you?

    Communists don’t drop the shovel; they pass it along. As I stated from the beginning, you are all under a microscope in this case, but it’s a system problem, insurance bias, something I happen to know something about.

    All Grace required was fresh air to her skin and breast milk, to cry her lungs out, which the acting pediatrician specifically denied, according to sick-care treatment protocol, written by an insurance MBA, a piece of paper which I also happen to possess, among many. My job as a parent is not to consent to stupid, regardless of how many experts vote for the outcome.

    My guess is that the State has already borrowed and spent $200k for all this make-work, and before it’s all over, I will see the State of California in the bond market. Self-biased experts in fear who want to believe it takes a commune to raise a child, to pull revenue forward and enslave future children to it, is not an economy, The problem is not too many humans; the problem is too many automatons building stupid infrastructure as a means of extortion.

    The last thing I need is a bunch of frightened bureaucrats telling me how to parent.

    Now you have a little, pissed-off Earick on your hands. Good luck with that. I chose my wife because she is not afraid of pit bulls, not because she can control them. Grace is an instrument of her own design, not a piece of China for sale by the State to the highest bidder.

    Only a legal mind spends months to gather evidence against a man from his wife without notifying her of such, using her baby as a hostage. Physical war is just a symptom of stupid, not knowing when to stop. And I’ve never been the type to pledge allegiance to a piece of paper, which is all government is, written by lawyers to favor themselves.

    Put a ball on a string and spin it around a revolution. Add relative weight for the global cities and repeat. Now add the other planets. I don’t need an EMP and time is on my side. And I have already been to USSC, back when Chief Rehnquist was still playing tennis, with ostensible faith in the 10th Amendment, while providing an end-run for Family Law, so all sides could take turns feeding from the trough resulting from the make-work economic activity, in a solar system built for the purpose, God rest his soul.

    When you eliminate the redundancy, the empire is but a speck of sand, and we are all the teacher, regardless of Apostle Paul’s admonitions to the contrary. Knowledge, like power, is an illusion for cavepeople. Take all the time you like in adjudication. The Court has merely proved that government is neither my peer nor my authority as a parent, and you might want to stop telling the nurses that they are officers of a Gestapo court, or not.

    I don’t need a ventriloquist, pulling my strings and telling me what to say, thank you. Labor is required to breath life into a nation, and mine remains at will, as an example to my children. Convicting Grace’s mother of being Pollyanna is the stupidest thing I have seen yet, and I have seen a lot of stupid crap over the years in government. Obviously, I am not saddled with politically correct public opinion as a parent, but you go ahead and bring it to bear, along with NIRP and blockchains to pay for it. That’ll make America exceptional.

    If the Fed doesn’t raise rates to 3%, Sweden is going to blow it up, and that’s just to start, putting anonymous cash back into the economy, or WWIII it is. The Chinese and Russian gangs aren’t coming after my family to pay them back, and the drunken communists in the US Navy are no match for what’s coming.

    Funny, the locals pay themselves to believe it is an aggregate problem and the Feds pay themselves to believe it is a local problem, while Rome burns.

  9. Carla

    Lambert, thank you for this post. Please consider adding to the bookshelf “Slavery by Another Name” by Douglas Blackmon.

    1. Will

      Second the thanks to Lambert. I always enjoy your book reviews.

      Also thanks for the book recommendation to Carla, I’ll get my hands on a copy…

  10. Cal

    What is a “bole tys”?

    Why are these old hatreds and grievances being continually dredged up? Is it designed to keep the Black man self segregated in his mind, continually aggrieved? Incapable of fully participating in society?

    Wasn’t the creation of its own money another reason to destroy the South? Just like the Bank of England’s attempt to punish the 13 Colonies when they broke away and printed their own money?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      1) “bole tys” is “boys,” thank you. I don’t have an electronic copy of the book, so I had to type it in.

      2) I don’t understand why you equate historical accuracy with dredging up grievances.

      3) The Confederacy only created its money after Secession. Hence, that was not a reason to “destroy the South.” Nor would I characterize removing a great evil from the Confederate states as “destroying the South.” It was the slave power that destroyed, a postive good.

      1. James Levy

        His comment about the Bank of England is a non-sequitur. If you look at the actions of the Crown, Cabinet, and the debates in Parliament, creating their own money had nothing to do with decision-making in London. Two factors were paramount: was the King in Parliament sovereign and therefore the final font of law for Britain and all her possessions? were one or more of the colonies in a state of rebellion against said authority and not just experiencing civil disorder? It was in defense of the first, and because of the answer to the second, that Britain went to war in 1775.

    2. TarheelDem

      Any adequate reading of the history of the Civil War will show that the 11 Confederate States destroyed themselves out of lust to extend slavery to the northwestern states. They had through “compromises” extended slavery to the states south of Missouri already. The threat of urbanization and immigration creating enough free voters to outvote their 1.6 people gerrymanders terrified the Southern powers-that-be to the point of pre-emptive war. Read the Secession declarations of each state; believe them for what they say, not the subsequent reunion-period histories.

      The economic benefits of the internal slave breeding industry were matched by the political benefits; they could try to outbreed the Northern increase through immigration and make profits off sales to western states.

      The financial system relative to international monetary relations was so different in the ante-bellum period that the creation of Confederate money offered little incentive to punishment. Negotiation with foreign financial centers disputing the credibility of the money, yes. Would you take currency from a putative new country that was engaged in a war of secession? But as a causus belli, not likely.

      The attempt to frame the United States with the responsibility for the war was primarily a post-bellum propaganda effort in support of restoring white supremacy.

      1. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

        Yeah- the southern gentlemen were fully aware that even with the stupid 3/5 compromise, they were going to be on the losing end of a demographic shift if they couldn’t expand the slave states. Hence the weird plots to annex Cuba and take over Mexico.

  11. Oguk

    I don’t know if I posted about this or not, but David Graeber’s book (Debt: The first 5000 years) convincingly relates debt directly to slavery, real slavery. Creditors (“masters”) rigged the game, took all their debtors assets, and when there was nothing left for them to take, they took them, as slaves. Or their wives, daughters, sons. I know, ancient slavery was different in some respects; slaves could earn their way out or be “redeemed” by a family member or other creditor. (And there was the Jubilee year – I have to read Michael Hudson on that someday.) I can accept that American chattel slavery was distinct and diabolical, but it was an intense form of something that seems to have been with us, humanity, for a long time.

    2nd comment is that slave narratives, like Solomon Northrup’s or Frederick Douglass’s, really drive the point of this post home. It is a chilling history.

    1. TarheelDem

      Graeber’s book is excellent on the relationship between debt and slavery, a relationship useful to exploring post-bellum country-store and private debt selling and the debt slavery or working off debt for third parties. Part of this examination of debt slavery should pay attention to the way that debt was accounted for and who did the accounting. Company stores in isolated rural areas were notorious in mining, manufacturing. logging, and agriculture for false books in order to keep people in debt bondage.

      But chattel slavery in America has origin in war raids, not indebtedness, war raids that were encouraged by the slave traders and in North America involved aboriginal peoples raiding other aboriginal peoples to provide Amerindian slave for transport from North America to the West Indies even into the 1700s. That arose aside and independent of English traders trading European goods on credit for deerskins (in Virginia and Carolina) and slaves. [Alan Gallay, The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717]

      The political triangulation of the sweeping frontier balance this slavery, white indentured servitude, and African chattel slavery as balances of forces to preserve the local aristocracy. So three forms of servitude co-existed until 1717, two persisted until African chattel slavery was dramatically profitable in the Tidewater tobacco plantations and Carolina rice and indigo plantations and internal increase of the plantations caught up with labor demand. And the growth of the political confederations of the “Five Civilized Tribes” in the mid-1700s shut down the Indian slave trade. The westward expansion after the War of 1812 and the closure of the overseas slave trade in 1808 created the conditions for the internal slave breeding industry with its generation of roving coffles and slave traders, it major slave markets, a good many of which have been preserved, and its new forms of finance and legal entities. This industry is even visible in census records. Recording the occupations in the 1850 or 1860 census of slave areas in the Carolinas or Virginia, one comes upon a patter in the vicinity of major plantation slaveowners. There are scattered settlements that comprise an overseer, a number of blacksmiths, a waggonmaker, and a wheelwright in close propinquity in a ratio of about one settlement for ever 150 slaves listed as property of the slaveowner. The blacksmiths made and maintained the coffles. The wagon technicians made and repaired the planters fleet for hauling bales or hogsheads. The census lists free men, who rarely are identified as black or mulatto in these areas, generally not in sensitive occupations, such as blacksmith.

      Slave traders are generally listed as “merchant”. You have to look from specific ads for slaves to figure out how extensive their trading business was.

    2. Justicia

      Yes, Graeber’s book is excellent on this point: “Slavery is the ultimate form of being ripped from one’s context, and thus from all social relationships that make one a human being. Another way to put this is that the slave is, in a very real sense, dead.”

      Dead, perhaps, to the slave-owner and the laws that protected his property but very much alive and human to their companions in suffering and to those not blinded by greed, prejudice, propaganda and social convention.

      1. TarheelDem

        The notion of being dead as far as the law is concerned about his person and his property puts a very interesting twist on knowing one’s “place”. And greed, prejudice, propaganda, and social convention are not as much a primary issue as is the power to plunder and abuse regardless of the particular motive. It is the institutions that defend the behaviors that hold in being the attitudes. Rush Limbaugh, the shock jocks, Sheriff Clarke of Milwaukee County, and their like defend the behaviors of abusive police; that is to let black people know that the law is dead to them and to “stay in their place”. Focusing on the attitude reduces the issue to an individualist one of “personal responsibility” and the action of one or a few cops instead of a pervasive network of abusive institutions held in place by a seamless nationwide network of racist propaganda, material support for abusers, and legal defenses.

  12. nobody

    About those textbooks… not those in the state of Texas, but those in use in the other states, Morris Berman’s got some interesting insights:

    When you think about it, nearly everything in modern American history turns on the Civil War, because the ideology I have been describing (which can be more accurately described as a mythology, or grand narrative) requires us to ‘fix’ traditional societies and eliminate obstacles to progress. With the Civil War these two goals converged, making it the paradigm case of how we carry out, or attempt to carry out, these two projects. What the North did to the South is really the model of what America in general did and does to ‘backward’ (i.e., traditional) societies, if it can. You wipe out almost the entire indigenous population of North America; you steal half of Mexico; you bomb Vietnam ‘back to the Stone Age’ (in the immortal words of Curtis LeMay); you ‘shock and awe’ Iraqi civilians, and so on. In what follows, then, I want to look at the War Between the States in a completely different way than the one found in the typical American history textbook. This, in fact, is what generated the energy that led to a four-year battle and the death of 625,000 individuals. What follows is an elaboration of this argument.

    Let’s start with the view of the South as seen from the North. The popular image of the antebellum South, as it was presented in American history textbooks and classes when I went to high school in the North, was pretty much the same then as it is now. That is to say, we were taught that the South, as the home of slavery, was a backward and immoral place, and its refusal to abandon that institution was the cause of the Civil War. Under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln (pretty much depicted as a saint), the virtuous Union armies defeated the evil Confederate ones, and the slaves were finally set free. Mutatis mutandis, this remains the politically correct version, as well as the liberal academic version, of the war down to the present time.


    All the evidence suggests that the North’s ‘nobility’ in fighting slavery was a long-after-the-fact justification, an attempt to portray the conflict as a victory of morality and equality over depravity. It’s a thesis that gets people all worked up, but it finally doesn’t wash.


    In reality, the treatment of the South by the North was the template for the way the United States would come to treat any nation it regarded as an enemy: not merely a scorched earth policy, but also a ‘scorched soul’ policy (the destruction of the Native American population was, of course, a preview of this). From Japan to Iraq, the pattern is the same, to the extant that we have been able to impose it: first destroy the place physically (in particular, murder huge numbers of civilians, as the North did to the South during the Civil War—fifty thousand of them by 1865), and then ‘Americanize’ it. Humiliation, the destruction of the identity of the defeated party, has always been an important part of the equation.


    Sure, the war was about slavery; it was hardly a minor issue. But it was part of a much larger one about two very different and incompatible civilizations, and a fixation on the moral question of slavery can blind us to the larger (world) context of the Civil War, which was really the American version of the global modernization process. No, I have no wish to live in a slave society; I regard it as an abomination. But the South saw a different type of abomination on the horizon, one that is now with us; and quite frankly, I have no wish to live in that one either.

    Bits of chapter 4 from: Why America Filed: The Roots of Imperial Decline

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      On the last para: Indeed, the slavery as positive good theorists developed a sophisticated critique of wage labor. See the Genovese’s Mind of the Master Class.

    2. TarheelDem

      The important point. The United States of America (Lincoln) did not want to fight. The abolitionists were a minority. The Southern media (newspaper editors) freaked out like to media shock jocks did over the election of Barack Obama. Unlike this time around, at least so far, the Southern states were stampeded by their elites into seceding; the state legislatures and governors were part of those elites. In the midst of the tension Edmund Ruffin, a pro-secessionist rabble-rouser from Virginia went to Charleston SC, and with the help of military school Citadel and Arsenal cadets, and SC militia, conducted a coast artillery attack on the closest military installation – Fort Sumter. And reactions escalated, very much like the diplomatic environment after the the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. And they escalated because the Southern hotheads wanted war.

      The area between the two capitals Washington and Richmond was the cockpit of the war. The first movement was offensive, towards Washington. The Southern planters wanted Lincoln out of there.

      1. Darthbobber

        The sabre-rattling had worked for them several times before. They expected it to work again. They were mistaken.

    3. Darthbobber

      Berman produces marvelous Jeremiads. “Dark Ages America” being a classic of the genre. But in “correcting” one “myth” he seems to adopt a worse one, the “war of northern aggression.” Certainly the secessionists saw those systems as incompatible-but their proposed solution, within the union, was to extend slavery throughout the nation. The nation did not elect an abolitionist in 1860, nor would it have done so. The Republicans could not possibly have been any clearer that their objective relating to slavery was limited to preventing the further extension of that system. Indeed, nothing except exactly what the Planters did (launching a failed rebellion) could have brought about the end of slavery anywhere near that rapidly.

      He also greatly exaggerates any “scorched earth” strategy after the war. By the usual standards of treatment for failed rebellions the treatment of the leading traitors was amazingly soft. And within 2 decades they were generally restored as among the dominant classes of the region.

      Mildly curious as to where he gets his figure of 50,000 murdered civilians from. Anybody happen to know?

      1. Darthbobber

        I think I answered my own question on the 50,000 figure. This is McPherson’s figure for total southern civilian casualties from all causes. Berman apparently chooses to treat them all as “murders.”

        There is a small cottage industry of badly-sourced northern war crime pieces, usually from such “noted intellectuals” as Lew Rockwell and co.

    4. TarheelDem

      The North killed 50,000 civilians by 1865….

      And how many civilians did the Confederacy kill?

      BTW, a single battle, the Battle of Antietam killed 80,000 on both sides.

      Berman seems to be straining at his argument. Nonetheless, the Civil War was the first modern American war (on both sides). That is why it was approaching the deadliness of World War I. The post-bellum reunion of white men tends to argue against Berman’s “clash of civilizations” position.

      If the South saw a different type of abomination, what it saw was the end of its hegemony in expanding slavery. The Northern style of hegemony — free soil (from stolen aboriginal land), free labor (through periodic panics), and free money (through deadbeat finance) — was something that the South benefited from. And Northern civilizational pretensions were little different in their prevailing Romanticism from those of the South. Indeed Southern elites and Northern elites ante-bellum were sufficiently intermarried to conduct business.

      The civilizational clash was between the Yankee transcendentalist and religious intellectuals, such as Henry Ward Beecher, and the slavery as positive good plantation owners, such as Edmund Ruffin.

      Sherman’s March to the Sea was mostly about destroying the railroad infrastructure that allowed supply of the Confederate army. The burning of Atlanta was the burning of a railhead. Punitive burning of buildings were of residences of leaders of the Confederacy and Secession and the symbolic buildings associated with the Secession Convention in South Carolina. Most of the abuses reported in the post-bellum period had to do with foraging expeditions for hams (generally the item of most value for the majority of white families) and reported thefts of silver items (preventing melting down for overseas purchases).

      It was the psychological shock of defeat (given the propaganda about God’s cause) and the stigma of being occupied by the US Army that was the pain of the Southern white after the war. The anger was that former slaves were being treated equal to white folk and the hypocrisy of Northern attitudes in doing that (not lost on “carpetbagger” Mississippi Governor Adelbert Ames).

  13. JohnnyGL

    Regarding the coffle, it seems this is early capitalism’s answer to the “Trail of Tears” and the famous “Bataan Death March”.

    Then again, maybe it’s not “early” capitalism at all….I’m thinking of Malaysia and the TPP.

  14. ekstase

    It’s amazing what people will turn a blind eye to. Prettied up language is one way to provide oppressors with distance, which enables them to continue being oppressors.

    1. James Levy

      In this country one had a chance to elect the people who passed the conscription law and vote them out if you don’t like it. You could also just leave the country and go somewhere else that does not have conscription. Slaves had neither choice, so your analogy fails.

  15. Anarcissie

    Many years ago I visited a small slavery museum out in the cotton fields somewhere around Memphis — I forget which side of the river it was on. It was in an old house that might be found anywhere, but more likely in a suburb than far out in the cotton fields, with no other house in view. Even the nearest line of trees was hundreds of yards away. In the largest room they had a lot of chains with large, heavy links, bigger than you would think would be necessary to hold even a very active human being. The largest chain had been arranged in a spiral on the floor with the collars around it, and there was a picture on the wall showing a coffle, the use to which such chains would have been put. The links of the big chain had a rough, pitted surface, and were a sort of rusty reddish-black. The elderly White woman in charge told me it had been taken from a long-gone barn or shed not far away exactly as it was, where it had probably rested since slavery days. In other words, unless the wind and the rain had washed them off, you could still find the blood and sweat of slaves on the links. There was some other agricultural gear about, like the hand tools the slaves would have used. There was not a lot of signage and no glossy brochures. Pictures on the walls depicted a plantation house and outbuildings none of which remained, with the exception of the one the museum was in. I wondered who had put the museum together. When I asked how it had come to be, the woman only said, ‘It’s our history. We think people should know about it.’

  16. Felix47

    Slavery in the US was rather tame and short lived in comparison to the slavery practiced by the Muslims and Africans themselves. The Somalians enslaved the Bantus etc. etc. The Arabs enslaved everyone and I recall seeing slaves even in 1991 in Saudi Arabia…..doing the labor since descendents of Mohammed avoid physical labor if they can since they see it as demeaning. The big difference was that the Arabs did not seem to see breeding slaves as a business…..they had them castrated in Africa often before they were imported. It was not until 1960 that slavery was outlawed in Saudi Arabia although it may well continue to this day. To really understand large scale slavery we need to go back to the origins of the Muslim movement.

    1. hemeantwell

      The Greek, Romans and most other ME and Mediterranean civilizations relied heavily on slavery, and they predate Islam.

  17. justsayknow

    As it happens I first heard of John Armfield this past Sunday while visiting Bersheba Springs in Grundy County, Tennessee. This is the site where he built a luxury hotel. (using slave labor of course) The area was ultimately acquired by the Methodist church. Armfield is honored with a street name. I took a picture of it ironically because of the american flag wrapped around the post. You can see it here. http://s3.amazonaws.com/tomato/_bersheebaDSC1682–X-web.jpg

  18. Justicia

    The neb-confederate enterprise has worked for more than a century to perpetuate ignorance about the causes of the Civil War and the horrors of that “peculiar institution” the South fought to defend. The textbook’s anodyne reference to “workers” in the trans-Atlantic migrations is the latest in the on-going effort to re-write.

    “Ignorance is never random” (Myrdal, I think).

    (see, “Has the Neo-Confederacy Fallen”) http://blackcommentator.com/613/613_cover_confederacy_fallen_sebesta_guest.html

  19. equote

    Matthew 7:12 “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”

    So what does this say for our forefathers and the ‘Christian’ Right Wing!
    Those of you that are pro ‘state’s rights’ need to read the Texas Ordinance of Secession. It doesn’t mince words; it declares what rights the states wanted, and perhaps still want.

  20. Liz

    Hi Lambert, the book that first put the scope of the slave trading and breeding industries into context for me was The World That Made New Orleans by Ned Sublette. It’s a fascinating and terrible account and if I recall correctly, describes some of the slave breeding operations carried out by Thomas Jefferson.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these titles.

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