So Slavery Wasn’t So Bad?

We’ve all heard it before from defenders of Confederate heritage: slavery wasn’t so bad. Of course, the people who say this are overwhelmingly white people, including descendants of slaveholders (hello, Connie Chastain!).

Some people have also decided that anything Charles Barkley says is worth listening to. We in the Phoenix area know differently. Barkley was a talented, personable basketball player who reminded us that he was not a role model, and with good reason. However, Barkley has decided that because he can comment on NBA games, he can use that forum to comment on everything else under the sun, and to do so in a way that fascinates some people and sparks more than its share of eye-rolling and head-shaking responses.

So when the Round Mound of Rebound decided to agree with Confederate heritage apologists advocates that slavery might not have been as bad as some people claim, State Senator Hank Sanders of Alabama (D-Selma) had to disagree. The letter’s a welcome reminder of what slavery was all about.

And some of the comments attached to that story remind us that ignorance honed into a belief system is an astonishing thing.

56 thoughts on “So Slavery Wasn’t So Bad?

  1. Stefan Jovanovich December 29, 2014 / 2:41 pm

    This is a comment to your post of last December that you linked to in this one. In that earlier post you wrote “Finally, who wanted to reopen that international slave trade in the 1850s? That’s right, white southerners, led by South Carolina’s Lawrence Keitt.”

    The facts are a bit different. When Etheridge presented his resolution to abolish any discussion of the revival of the slave trade, it won decisively. When, at the suggestion of Orr, the resolution was expressed in less intemperate language, it passed by a 90%+ vote.

    “This vote, connected with the recent action of the South Carolina Legislature in opposition to the revival of the Slave Trade, comes as quite a rebuke to the rabid Slavery fanatics. Even Mr. Orr, of South Carolina, after the passage of Mr. Etheridge’s strong and comprehensive resolution, felt it incumbent upon him to offer one embracing the same proposition in such a form that all reasonable’ Southern men could go for it, and it passed by the almost unanimous vote of 83 to 8. We need hardly add that Bully Brooks and his friend and colleague Keitt stand recorded in the negative. What renders this action of the House more significant is the fact that the mover, of’ the main resolution (Mr. Etheridge of Tenn.,) is a Southern man. It was very appropriate that the South, which has been so stigmatized by a few of her degenerate politicians, should owe her vindication from the foul aspersion, of a desire to revive the atrocities of the African slave trade to one of her own sons.”

    The more commercially-minded members of the South Carolina delegation shared the same opinions as the South Carolina legislature. They both saw their state’s interests as being the same as those of Virginia; by 1856 the internal slave trade in the East was no longer from the Upper to the Lower South. The slaves were being sold from East to West, and neither South Carolina nor Virginia wanted that commerce to be weakened by competition from a new international slave trade.

    • Brooks D. Simpson December 29, 2014 / 2:47 pm

      Simple question: which white northerners wanted to reopen the international slave trade? I think you will find that the idea drew support from white southerners … just not all of them, as I’ve already discussed elsewhere.

      • Stefan Jovanovich December 29, 2014 / 3:35 pm

        I must not have made myself clear. I was only trying to correct your implication that Keitt somehow represented a majority of the South Carolina delegation. He clearly did not, for the very reasons you offered for Virginia’s opposing reopening of the international slave trade – commercial self-interest. No significant group of voters in the South wanted a revival of the slave trade. For the vast majority of Southerners reviving the slave trade would have undercut their financial interests; for those who cared to debate the question of slavery itself, a renewal of slave imports would would have completely undermined their argument that “slavery was not so bad” in comparison with Northern wage indenture.

        Northerners did not agree about the badness of slavery; but they most certainly did agree with the Southerners about not reviving the slave trade. Those in the cotton trade knew that their textile manufacturing customers – those in Britain and France and those in the U.S. – all opposed the slave trade; as financiers and brokers they would gain no interest from supporting a revival. The free white laborers whom the Republicans were courting wanted no more competition from European labor unless those laborers were members of their own immigrant group; they would never have supported further competition from new African labor. On the contrary, they wanted blacks, both slave and free, sent back to Africa, which is why the Republicans kept proposing schemes for repatriation both before and during the war.

        I think the decision of South Carolina’s own legislature is evidence of how even the future secessionists appraised their commercial interest. I can’t find collective actions by state legislatures, Congressional Representatives or Senators that contradicts that judgment; I would appreciate your suggestions of where else to look.

      • BorderRuffian January 5, 2015 / 7:14 am

        “Simple question: which white northerners wanted to reopen the international slave trade?”

        The ones that owned slave ships (or had shares in slave voyages) that ran out of New York City and some New England ports. Those northerners.

        • Brooks D. Simpson January 6, 2015 / 10:29 am

          Once more, I note that you offer no names, just your private fantasies. Just like all those black Confederates that you claim are hidden in plain sight. What a joke. No wonder you hide behind a screen name. Even you won’t stand by your claims.

        • Stefan Jovanovich January 6, 2015 / 10:54 am

          There is no question that Northern bankers, brokers, shipowners and insurers had a vital interest in the products of slavery, principally cotton. But the Transatlantic slave trade itself was never a large part of that interest. Slaving to North America after 1800 landed only 69k people; during the same period over a million were delivered to the Caribbean and nearly 2 million to Brazil alone. More slaves were transported from one region of Africa to another than legally and illegally delivered to United States ports after 1800. The Voyages database offers up these and other fascinating and horrifying numbers.

  2. Ira Berkowitz December 29, 2014 / 2:41 pm

    And the problem with having sports heros is expressed once again. I am reminded that we have to differentiate between the amazing athletic accomplishments of these individuals on the field and the non-athletic non-sense that so often follows. This has been true with many of my heros (DiMaggio comes to mind as another disappointmet for me). But this is especially true with Charles. He is a relative contemporary of mine in terms of age and he has said so many laughably stupid, ill concieved things in the past. As someone who really appreciated his athletic gifts and ability and really enjoys basketball very much, its a bit sad.

    • Lyle Smith December 29, 2014 / 5:10 pm

      It is not just sports heroes, but often renowned people in general; Noam Chomsky comes to mind.

      I have no problem with either the Charles Barkley’s or the Noam Chomsky’s of the world speaking their mind. They’re human beings with a platform and they use it from time to time. It is what it is, and it’s not like they’re always wrong either.

  3. leo December 29, 2014 / 3:01 pm

    I highly recommend watching the slave narratives on YouTube. They are a sobering reminder just how cruel humanity is capable of being.

    • Mousy Tongue January 2, 2015 / 12:23 pm

      Thanks very much, Leo. Haunting production.

  4. Bob Nelson December 29, 2014 / 3:38 pm

    “Sir Charles” gets more name recognition than you do. I, for one, find that very, very sad. Who would the “Man on the Street” (you’re old enough to remember Louis Nye) believe? You or Barkley? What’s worse is that the 2014 “Man on the Street” gets his/her “history” of the CW from such as “Gettysburg,” “Cold Mountain,” “Gods and Generals” and “Field of Lost Shoes.” Go to the library? Buy a book or two? Nah!!! “I saw the movie.”

    • Ira Berkowitz December 29, 2014 / 7:14 pm

      You are wrong. There is no doubt that modern culture can be hard to take at times . . . but that is nothing new. You are generalizing and reflecting a cynical view of the modern “Man on the Street”. As the moderator of this blog has consistently reminded us, the study of history is being democratized in unprecedented ways for better and worse. I prefer to see the glass as half full. For every crank and knucklehead with a Facebook Page or Twitter Account and an uninformed opinion, there are smart people to set things straight.

      So . . . although the forum for the debate has been democratized in amazing ways. The fundamental challenge for thinking people remains the same today as it always has. We are challenged to put in the effort to discern and think critically and hopefully formulate our opinions and ideas based on accurate information and reasoned analysis . . . but that is nothing new and from what I have seen today’s “Man on the Street” will do just fine.

      • John Foskett December 30, 2014 / 7:38 am

        You need to listen more often to sports talk radio. You’ll notice less liquid in the glass. Bob touches on a valid point – the use of electronic media inevitably caters to the short attention span and attraction to the sensational. It’s difficult to be intellectually “lazy” if the only way to access information is via 300 or so pages of text. It’s far easier when information is presented in “sound bites”, 15-second windows, and a couple of clicks while at work. Getting a book published does not, of course, eliminate the production of junk but it tends to winnow that down significantly. No such filter when any nitwit can start up a blog. site. There are indeed “smart people to set things straight” – hence this blog, for example. But if you think the average, uninformed “man on the street” has the tools, patience, or incentive to sort those out, I’d respectfully suggest that you’re making an unfounded assumption.

        • Ira Berkowitz December 30, 2014 / 1:23 pm

          So . . . the general argument you and Bob appear to be making is . . . we are worse off for the adoption of technology because modern attention spans are somehow reduced and that somehow this new version of the “Man on the Street” is somehow less able to discern truth from BS and right from wrong. Moreover, somehow the modern “Man on the Street” is less intelligent and just doesn’t work as hard as his predecessor. Is that what you are saying? Really? I am waiting for Clint Eastwood to walk out his front door and throw me off his lawn.

          • John Foskett December 31, 2014 / 7:39 am

            Try this – “a man’s got to know his limitations.” And avoid the big leaps. Nobody said “we are worse off for the adoption of technology.” But only an idiot would dispute the fact that advances in technology have enabled a second set of idiots to more easily reach a third set. Holmes, Jr., unfortunately had it right. Today’s “man on the street” isn’t “less intelligent” than his predecessor. But he’s not more intelligent, either. Now go listen to sports talk radio and ‘splain to me where I’m wrong.

  5. Donald R. Shaffer December 29, 2014 / 7:08 pm

    Reblogged this on Civil War Emancipation and commented:
    One of the best Civil War blogs around is Crossroads, written by Brooks Simpson. And one of Brooks’ causes is bedeviling the so-called Heritage community of Neo-Confederates (i.e., people who actually think the Confederacy was a neat thing and its destruction in the Civil War a tragedy). While part of me enjoys watching Brooks needle the Heritage community, sometimes I wonder whether the amount of attention he pays them gives them an importance they don’t deserve. After all, Brooks sits in an endowed chair at Arizona State University and all the Heritage community has are the power of its myths. But then again, maybe Brooks is on to something because certain especially pernicious myths have the potential to do real harm. Like the myth that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad for the slaves, which is asserted by Neo-Confederates. As I have said elsewhere before, I wish people who pushed that vile notion could be transported Twilight Zone-style for a month to live as a slave on an antebellum cotton plantation. Then maybe they’d see the error of their ways. In any case, here’s what Brooks Simpson has to say on this subject. Keep up the good fight, Brooks, but be careful not to give the Heritage community undue attention as you hold their feet to the fire.

  6. msualumni December 30, 2014 / 6:16 pm

    Donald, I’d love for you to read a somewhat similar post I did last month. I am a part of the genealogical research community and I teach and blog alot about African-American research and of course slavery. I was so sick and tired of hearing about the “good slaveowners.” One friend of mine of course raised the presentism argument, but I really don’t buy that wrt slavery, although I do know that it is true for about the first 100 years in North America there was no widespread abolitionist sentiment. You can read my post here:

  7. jarretr January 1, 2015 / 10:28 pm

    Anyone who thinks that slavery wasn’t so bad ought to try it for themselves sometime. Go on, folks, offer your services to someone on a VERY long-term basis. Any takers?

    • Mike Griffith January 3, 2015 / 7:42 am

      This is an illogical, emotional argument. Just because someone might conclude, based on the available evidence, that most slaves were not brutalized does not mean that that person would want to be a slave themselves (even on a plantation where the master was exceptionally kind).

      What you’re implying is that if anyone presents evidence that most slaves were not brutalized, that person must support slavery and/or would not mind if slavery had never been abolished, etc., etc., or at the very least, that that person doesn’t care about those slaves who were subjected to vicious treatment.

      Suppose someone were to argue–as a few very secular liberals have come close to doing–that marriage is a brutal, oppressive institution because most wives get beaten on a regular basis or worse? If someone else were to reply that the evidence indicates that most wives are not beaten, would any fair-minded individual take this to mean that that person didn’t care about those wives who are mistreated by their husbands?

      Now, of course, there’s a huge difference between marriage and slavery: marriage is a voluntary arrangement. No one is forced to get married. One could point out that in the 1800s, it was very hard to get a divorce and that some wives lived in a virtual state of bondage because they were unable to get a divorce and had nowhere else to go. But the comparison is still incomplete and partially problematic.

      The point is that presenting evidence that most slaves were not brutalized is not the same thing as saying that slavery was in any way acceptable, nor is it minimizing or denying the suffering of those slaves who were mistreated.

      I will certainly grant that some Southern writers went too far, way too far, in defending slavery against Northern abolitionist attacks, but it’s equally fair to say that many of the abolitionist claims about slavery were either wildly exaggerated or downright fictional and were egregiously incendiary in tone. Indeed, one could make a pretty good case that incendiary, irresponsible abolitionist claims about slavery substantially contributed to the demise of pro-emancipation sentiment in the South.

      • Brooks D. Simpson January 6, 2015 / 10:32 am

        “Indeed, one could make a pretty good case that incendiary, irresponsible abolitionist claims about slavery substantially contributed to the demise of pro-emancipation sentiment in the South.” Make it.

        • Stefan Jovanovich January 6, 2015 / 11:56 am

          The best argument the defenders of slavery had was one that can still made today: the employment relationship gave employers the benefits of the feudal blegal bond without any of its duties and burdens. Free laborers could be discarded whenever business was bad. This was and is the Marxist argument, and it retains its core truth even as Marxist solutions to the problem retain their core idiocy. What the defenders of slavery did not ackowledge was another economic truth: the sensitive concern that slave owners had for their chattels was the same that the owners of horses had for theirs. Only a fool would let the resale value of his property decline from deliberate neglect. The abolitionists’ accusations were exaggerated, as they are now, in asserting that all Southerners approved of slavery and were, therefore, as morally guilty as the actual slaveholders. But there is no evidence that even the Unionist Sotherners were actively in favor of abolition. Slaves were the key to almost all commerce in the South; one might not like it but the peculiat institution seemed as unavoidably necessary as it had to ancient Greece and Rome.

          • John Foskett January 6, 2015 / 4:46 pm

            “The abolitionists’ accusations were exaggerated …. and were therefore as morally guilty as the actual slaveholders.” Not hardly, Pilgrim. Whatever their faults, they weren’t the ones selling off parts of families, hunting the escaped with bloodhounds, administering the lash on a whim/as a larnin’ lesson, forcing themselves on the “property in the pantry”, keeping kids from learning how to read, etc. etc. By the way, the incentive wasn’t entirely to keep every slave in the pinnacle of health. Unlike horses, slaves just might also yearn for freedom, incite other slaves to yearn for freedom, and access an edged weapon to wreak physical mayhem on Massa and the family. The working hours and dinner menu weren’t so good as to dissuade the human property from these more powerful urges. Other measures were unfortunately needed.

          • Stefan Jovanovich January 6, 2015 / 6:24 pm

            Part of the abolitionist romance was the belief that slaves could successfully free themselves even though they had no weapons, no compasses and no maps and no allies in the South. That they wanted freedom is unquestionable; even the rumor that the Union Army was within 20 miles would empty even the kindest, gentlest plantation of its slaves. Slavery would have continued but for the war; as John notes, the methods of the slave owners and their overseers were not limited to gentle persuasions. They worked. The best scholarly estimates are that successful runaways from Kentucky were no more than 1500 a year.


      • jarretr January 6, 2015 / 10:57 am

        “Just because someone might conclude, based on the available evidence, that most slaves were not brutalized does not mean that that person would want to be a slave themselves.” Care to share this “available evidence” with professional historians?

  8. John Burbrook January 4, 2015 / 10:30 am

    As a European, a continent where slavery was abolished long before the US, and more in particular a Belgian, where slavery went out in the middle ages, I am always astonished when I hear Americans (white Americans) talk about the ‘positive’ things of slavery. There are two main reasons why I’m so astonished. The first is the fact that nowhere in the world the so-called individual freedom is invoked constantly. The second is the fact that most of the Americans call themselves religious, or better christian. How can a christian be so dumb as to defend slavery or just inequality amongst human beings, unless they of course see blacks, latinos, asians,… not as human beings. Nevertheless, any time a nitwit proclaims that slavery was not all bad the standing of the USA goes down again a notch.

    • Stefan Jovanovich January 4, 2015 / 12:13 pm

      Then, there are the places and times (after the United States abolished slavery) where Belgians forgot they were abolitionists yet somehow acquired an even greater moral superiority. Like those bad bad Southerners, they thought they were bringing enlightenment to the dark masses.

      • Burbrook January 4, 2015 / 4:30 pm

        Bringing civilisation to the black masses is never equal to slavery.

        • Stefan Jovanovich January 4, 2015 / 7:10 pm

          All too true. Slaveholders had an interest in keeping their slave property in sufficiently decent condition that it could be resold. For the Belgians in the Congo there were no such commercial constraints. That explains why the best estimate is that Belgian humanitarianism led to a decrease in the population of the Congo and up to 10 million people dying before their time.

          • John Foskett January 5, 2015 / 10:36 am

            This looks like one of those riveting “Stalin was better than Hitler/Hitler was better than Stalin” debates. I’ll start. The ravaged German economy made a significant recovery under Hitler, earlier than occurred in the U.S. under Roosevelt. Meanwhile, the USSR was an economic basket case in the ’30’s. Of course, some would rationally conclude that they were both monsters.

          • Stefan Jovanovich January 5, 2015 / 11:32 am

            No, John; it was intended to be a fairly gentle suggestion that we all should avoid being self-righteous about the moral superiority of our particular ancestors. I don’t expect that to be a majority opinion here among the anti-Flaggers any more than I expect Justice Black’s clear reading of the First Amendment to become the law of the land, but I do appreciate the liberty Professor Simpson grants me to say what I think.

            On the question of economic recoveries, I am guilty of agreeing with Robert Higgs’ judgment that GDP numbers are fatally flawed. (As Higgs and others pointed out, the standard calculation of GDP allowed the CIA to think that the Soviet Union and the United States had nearly identical wealth in 1985.) Hitler’s “recovery” came earlier because Germany undertook a rapid rearmament in the 1930s. If you compare the U.S. record in the 1940s, you will find even more spectacular growth. But, as Higgs points out, the difficulty comes when you allow markets to value the used military hardware and the holes that have been dug and refilled in the name of war.


            On the subject of blacks in America after 1865, Higgs also has a minority opinion.


          • Brooks D. Simpson January 5, 2015 / 11:41 am

            ” … we all should avoid being self-righteous about the moral superiority of our particular ancestors. I don’t expect that to be a majority opinion here among the anti-Flaggers …”

            Or the Flaggers. 🙂

          • Stefan Jovanovich January 5, 2015 / 12:12 pm

            Indeed. All best wishes for the Yankees in 2015; our New Year’s resolution in this Giants household has been to break the curse of the odd year and have a replay of the 1962 Series, which remains my favorite for both teams, even if Richardson did catch McCovey’s line drive.

          • John Foskett January 5, 2015 / 2:05 pm

            Now I get it – Giants fan. 🙂 You were only in the Series because Walter “Brickhead” Alston decided to bring in Stan Williams in the 9th inning of game 3 instead of taking Mr. Drysdale up on his offer. Walter’s theory was that Big D would be needed to start the Series opener the next day against the NYY. Hence a 4-2 lead becomes a 4-6 loss, with the aid of a few walks.

          • Stefan Jovanovich January 5, 2015 / 2:21 pm

            All too true, John; what still bewilders me is why your Dodgers never hired Leo back. What I loved about their 60’s teams was how tough they were, even thought they had to swallow Alston’s pablum. With Durocher they would have been the second coming of the Gas House gang. (Koufax was the absolute best, even better than Dizzy Dean; and Drysdale was every bit Paul’s equal, if not his superior.) They would have run the table in the 60s just the way the Yankees did in the 50s under Stengel.

          • John Foskett January 6, 2015 / 11:27 am

            Good points, but I think the clear answer is that The Lip was a big-time polarizer. As a coach, he spent all of his time undermining Alston. That was also creating factions on the team, since Leo had his faves and his non-faves. Of course, had no. 32 not had the finger problem starting in July, all of this would probably have been moot. He missed 2+ months and when he came back in September he was effectively starting spring training again. That first game of the playoffs was batting practice for the Giants.

  9. Al Mackey January 5, 2015 / 11:10 am

    I agreed with Charles when he said he wasn’t a role model, that parents should be role models.

    I think Charles needs now to say he’s not a historian, that people who read actual history ought to be historians.

  10. chancery January 5, 2015 / 7:57 pm

    off topic:

    Mr. Foskett, a belated thanks for your recommendation in the comments to the “Influential Civil War Books” thread of Ralph Peters’ Cain at Gettysburg. I’ll look for it.

    • John Foskett January 7, 2015 / 2:29 pm

      You bet. I think you’ll like it if you’re looking for a good, realistic fictional treatment of the battle and its real-life actors. As i said, you’ll likely also want his sequel on the Overland Campaign.

  11. Bob Huddleston January 6, 2015 / 7:17 pm

    Stefan wrote: ” Slaveholders had an interest in keeping their slave property in sufficiently decent condition that it could be resold.” Perhaps in general. The reality was different. Indeed, every few months our local TV news will have a story about an owner abusing their horses or their collection of dogs. In both cases the abuser is a lover of animals, trying to raise animals for sale. Hence the need for the ASPCA. The same was true of 19th Century slave owners. But there was no Society for the Protection of Slaves.

    • Stefan Jovanovich January 7, 2015 / 1:21 pm

      Are we really debating whether or not slavery had violence and the threat of violence as a necessary component? Why? Is it to avoid ackowledging what Foner and others have established as unquestionable historical fact – namely, that slavery “worked” as an economic system? Again, why? There were three points that Grant made, again and again, by his actions as a soldier, a private citizen and the most important member of the Republican party: (1) the Constitution of the United States gave no State or citizen the right to secede, (2) slavery might be legal and profitable but it was morally wrong, and (3) the War of the Rebellion was a tragedy for all Americans that no moral cause could justify.

      As for the ASPCA, it began as a movement to literally clean up the streets; draft animals – mostly horses – were being abandoned by their owners in city thoroughfares. If there is a parallel with the Civil War period, it would be with the repatriation societies who wanted to send slaves back to Africa. Grant’s view – that slaves, like American Indians and the peasants of Mexico and Panama, had the disabilities of their heritages but no natural inequality – was never the majority opinion even in his own party. The flaggers are ridiculous in their claims about slavery’s kindness and black Confederates and States Rights, but they are not wrong to challenge the abolitionist fantasy that opinions in the North among the white majority on the question of race were fundamentally different from those in the South. They weren’t in 1850 or 1860; they aren’t now.

      • John Foskett January 8, 2015 / 11:45 am

        But that is irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because regardless of racial attitudes we’re talking about ownership of humans by other humans as if they were livestock or worse. The abolitionists opposed that fundamentally immoral outrage. Talk about northern racial attitudes is a different subject, and raising it in a discussion of slavery is deflection. It may comfort the simple-minded who cannot admit that the “institution” was the ultimate causative factor of secession and the ACW. But that’s because they have no capacity to deal directly with undisputed historic facts. Itt allows them to live out their cartoonist’s fantasy of the war without appearing to defend what even they know is indefensible.

        • Stefan Jovanovich January 8, 2015 / 1:29 pm

          Again, what is the purpose of trumpeting the obvious? No one here, including the flaggers, is suggesting that slavery can be morally justified; what I understand the flaggers to be saying (when they are even slightly coherent) is that the destruction brought about by the war to the South does not have complete moral justification either. After the war the abolitionists found Grant maddening because he refused to say what they wanted to hear: namely, that, as a grand crusade of liberation and punishment of the evil Southerners, the war had been and always would be worth the price.

          Grant did everything he could to establish former slaves’ rights as equal citizens. I and many, many others admire him for doing the right thing; we admire him all the more because we know, as Grant did, that it was an impossible task. The war had not changed racial attitudes; if slaves were now free, they were still at the bottom with few, if any, chances to rise and with the continuing threat of violence hanging over them. The Army alone could not protect them; and there were not enough whites, either North or South, who wanted to sacrifice further in the name of emancipation. Grant also knew the politics of what was coming next. The United States would continue to grow and prosper (largely because of Grant’s wisdom and tenacity about restoring the gold standard), and it would attract more and more new immigrants. They and their children and those already here would find the same comforts in racism that most natives had found since the Republic was founded. No matter how low down they were in the social order they would at least be above the black people. No wonder Grant ranks so low in the estimation of the popular press and the readily quotable academics they turn to for rankings of Presidents; he saw the United States’ future for what it would be, not for what it was supposed to be, either according to the Southerners’ revisionist lies or the abolitionists’ Lost Cause fantasies about permanent military occupation of the South.

          The flaggers may be inept, foolish and historical illiterates; but they are right about one thing. Their desire to fly the Stars and Bars in honor of their ancestors is more than matched by the desire of modern abolitionists to waive the bloody shirt forever. The flaggers want to keep a few flags on poles; the modern abolitionists want current white Southerners to be permanently guilty of historical crimes against humanity simply because of the color of their skin. Of the two, the flagger point of view seems far less threatening; they don’t insist that I and the rest of the country salute current legal bigotries in the name of historical justice.

          • John Foskett January 9, 2015 / 9:43 am

            The whole debate is meaningless, however. Slavery is – always – the greater evil when measured against these other failings. What’s the point? It’s like analogizing a deliberate head hit that puts a player out for 12 weeks with a severe concussion to a holding penalty. And these arguments are used to inculcate by stealth what even the “neos”/Lost Causers know they cannot expressly articulate – that everybody was equally “bad”. Wrong. It reminds me of apologists for the Holocaust who use Dresden, etc. They (or at least most) never say that the ovens weren’t “that bad”. They try to get there by implication. We all know the reason why material that seems to modify the evils of slavery is put out there. It’s rarely, if ever, to facilitate an honest exploration of the institution. As for the flaggers, read their versions of “history”. You’re simply ducking it. They’re not simply and meekly putting a banner over the grave of a distant ancestor to honor his memory. They sally forth with their distorted, cartoonized historical script about state’s rights, northern economic oppression, and a lot of other fantasized tripe to obscure the reality of what Great Grandaddy actually did fight for, as demonstrated by his diaries and letters. And they knowingly use a flag – from among a few options – which was utilized by organized groups committed to firebombing churches and generally terrorizing other folks by parading around in white hoods.

          • Stefan Jovanovich January 9, 2015 / 11:11 am

            If you can presume to read the flaggers’ ultimate intentions, John, you must, in fairness, allow them to claim equal clairvoyance in reading yours. What they see is a fervent desire to have the crimes of slavery justify the complete discrediting of their ancestry, culturally and legally.

            The fantasy of all this measuring of historical crimes is the presumption that some moral lesson is actually learned. The accusers seem to enjoy wallowing in the self-righteousness that comes from confronting evils long gone; as you noted, the defenders look for exculpatory evidence and then claim unfairness when that evidence is not given equal weight. And, as you say, the debate is meaningless.

            What is not meaningless is the use that these facts of history are now being put to. The various recitations of the awful violence of slavery are now very much like the pleadings still being submitted by prosecutors each day to justify the imprisonment of people who sell, read and possess what is legally defined as “pornography”. No evidence of any present physical harm being done to anyone by the alleged perpetrators is presented; it is enough to establish a crime to show that the opinions are deviant, that they hurt the feelings of a protected class and cause general “social damage”, whatever that is. Even more important, those crimes can be presented as the complete justification for public preferences in entitlements, employment and education being given to people solely on the basis of their skin color.

            I understand that this judicial “balancing act” in the name of history is an article of faith for you, John, and that the flaggers serve a useful function in justifying the continued distortions of the 14th Amendment. I hope my apostasy on this question of the meaning of “equal protection” is no more painful to you than my love of the Giants; and I do hope we can end this colloquy by agreeing on at least one historical “fact”: all the violence of WW II did nothing to “save” the Jews or the people in East Asia and Central Europe, for that matter. The truly innocent victims of the war received none of the rewards of the Great Crusade.

          • John Foskett January 9, 2015 / 4:03 pm

            “they don’t insist that I and the rest of the country salute current legal bigotries in the name of historical justice”. Instead, they insist that one swallow their comic book version of history. They insist on waving in the faces of others something that by the 1950’s and ’60’s became the primary – indeed, sole – symbol of racial injustice and anti-black violence. If they truly were concerned just about honoring the ancestor, they’d pick one of the other options. That pseudo-nation which fought the United States for four years had multiple banners to choose from. There were also distinctive unit flags. Only this one became deliberately and purposefully identified with the thugs and goons who stuffed dead civil rights workers into an earthen dam and who blew up a church and murdered little girls. Respectfully, you’re still trying to equate conduct which isn’t equivalent. And I know you’re far too intelligent not to figure out the distinction.

          • Stefan Jovanovich January 9, 2015 / 7:03 pm

            I apologize for being opaque. The saluting of legal bigotries that is currently going on in the country is the violation of the 14th Amendment by racial preferences. That is “the law of the land” because the Federal judiciary and Congress say it is. What the 14th Amendment says is something quite different:

            “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

            States rights was a fraudulent cause when argued by the Confederates. The Southern hot heads wanted to extend Federal authority to compel obedience to their State laws for slavery; the abolitionists very properly said that neither the Congress nor the Federal judiciary had the authority to do since the Constitution did not give the United States government the power to do so.

            Now, the Federal question has been inverted. Under the Constitution, Congress and the Federal courts can, in their infinite wisdom, adopt rules for the spending of Federal money that give racial groups preference; what they cannot do, under the plain language of the law, is force States to do so. And yet they do.

            I understand how the flaggers hurt your feelings, John; but, as you say, you are far too intelligent not to understand that the exercise of the First Amendment by the flaggers cannot justify the muddle that has been made of the 14th or the confusion of speech with actions. The Swastika flags did not murder the Jews; neither does banishing their current display erase or somehow compensate for what was done in the past by the people who carried them.

          • John Foskett January 10, 2015 / 8:38 am

            “I understand how the flaggers hurt your feelings, John;” Looks like it’s I who should apologize for being opaque, Stefan. They haven’t “hurt my feelings” at all. It’s just that I haven’t been duped by them – as it now appears (surprisingly) that others have. I simply recognize what they’re really up to – and only an idiot would believe that it’s about reverently honoring Great Grandaddy. It’s about waving a piece of cloth which symbolizes treason against the United States and the violent application of racial bigotry. You’re right about one thing, however – that flag did not itself enslave one person, any more than the Swastika flag shoved one person into an oven. But if I see either one being raised on a large flag pole to be seen from far and wide, I’m not stupid enough to swallow some poorly-crafted spin about its purpose. Now about that psychic boo-boo the new abolitionists have inflicted on you….

          • Stefan Jovanovich January 10, 2015 / 9:53 am

            You do make me laugh. The First and Fourteenth Amendments are now “psychic boo-boo”. Take care.

          • John Foskett January 11, 2015 / 8:24 am

            “You do make me laugh.” That’s the least I can do, after all of the hearty chuckles your posts have given me. As for the First and Fourteenth Amendments, any time you want to actually discuss the merits of those, have at it. I litigate First Amendment cases, so I’ll try to keep up.

          • stefan jovanovich January 11, 2015 / 11:38 am

            You will lap me before I reach the quarter pole. One of the reasons I resigned from the California Bar was that I found myself unable to accept the judiciary’s capacity to define the scope of their own authority. I cocede that California’s Constitution allows stare decisis to be the State’s law; I don’t think Article III comes even close. So, it has been more than a decade since I came even close to keeping up with SCOTUS, although I do still read the blog. That leaves much more time for reading Montesquei and the Constitution and Madison’s notes and being very happy in my current ignorance. All the best. S.

          • John Foskett January 11, 2015 / 1:17 pm

            Fair enough. I do salute honesty.

  12. Bob Huddleston January 6, 2015 / 7:29 pm

    Check the WPA slave narratives (available online) – there are numerous accounts of slaves being killed by whippings, beatings and other tortures (a few examples follow)

    “State: Arkansas Interviewee: Webb, Ishe
    “…Grandfather on my mother’s side was tied to a stump and whipped to death. He was double jointed and no two men could whip him. They wanted to whip him because he wouldn’t work. That was what they would whip any one for…”

    “State: Georgia Interviewee: Richards, Shade
    Mr. Neal kept 35 or 40 hounds that had to be cooked for. He was “rich with plenty of money” always good to his slaves and didn’t whip them much, but his son, “Mr. Jimmy, sure was a bad one”. Sometimes he’d use the cow hide until it made blisters, then hit them with the flat of the hand saw until they broke and next dip the victim into a tub of salty water. It often killed the “nigger” but “Mr. Jimmy” didn’t care. He whipped Shade’s uncle to death. ”

    State: Indiana Interviewee: Greencastle Slaves
    “So they whipped him, and then turned the dogs loose on him. They tore him pretty near to pieces and I don’t know but what the dogs ate some of what they pulled off. Then they took the dogs off Alex and poured raw alcohol on him. He had been screaming all the time the dogs were tearing him but it was worse than ever when they put the alcohol onto him. I tried to get away from it, but old Savage told me if I didn’t stay and see it he would give me some of the same thing.
    So I had to stay and see poor Alex try to get away from the dogs. He finally died and old Hunter lost $1,000 on account of his death.”

    State: Indiana Interviewee: Butler, Belle
    One woman left the plantation without a pass. The overseer caught her and whipped her to death.

    State: Mississippi Interviewee: Walton, Henry
    “When I was three or four years old my mother was whipped to death by the mistress with a cowhide whip. We lived on the Widow Wagner’s Place. The young Master was good to us, but his mother was mean and had the overseers beat us.

  13. Bob Huddleston January 6, 2015 / 7:35 pm

    The point of these is that, no matter how many humane and kind slave owners there were, the system by definition was violent. Two legged chattels had a tendency to want to leave.

    • John Foskett January 7, 2015 / 2:33 pm

      Bob: That’s the problem in the proverbial “nutshell”. Ultimately a system of human bondage can only survive if the “owners” are able to control the natural instincts/desires of the “property”. That will always include the ability to use violence and the withholding of basic human wants. The slaveholder making certain that his chattals can read, access information about other places, etc. is akin to Dear Leader in North Korea ensuring that his subjects have outside internet access.

  14. Bob Huddleston January 6, 2015 / 7:36 pm

    And there is this kind and humane owner who,we are told, hater slavery:

    My name is Wesley Norris; I was born a slave on the plantation of George Parke Curtis; after the death of Mr. Curtis, Gen. Lee, who had been made executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves, in number about seventy; it was the general impression among the slaves of Mr. Curtis that on his death they should be forever free; in fact this statement had been made to them by Mr. C. years before; at his death we were informed by Gen. Lee that by the conditions of the will we must remain slaves for five years; I remained with Gen. Lee for about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859, we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to ‘lay it on well,’ and injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done. After this my cousin and myself were sent to Hanover Court-House jail, my sister being sent to Richmond to an agent to be hired; we remained in jail about a week, when we were sent to Nelson county, where we were hired out by Gen. Lee’s agent to work on the Orange and Alexander railroad ; we remained thus employed for about seven months, and were then sent to Alabama, and put to work on what is known as the Northeastern railroad; in January, 1863, we were sent to Richmond, from which place I finally made my escape through the rebel lines to freedom; I have nothing further to say; what I have stated is true in every particular, and I can at any time bring at least a dozen witnesses, both white and black, to substantiate my statements; I am at present employed by the Government, and am at work in the Nation Cemetery on Arlington Heights, where I can be found by those who desire further particulars; by sister referred to is at present employed by the French Minister at Washington, and will confirm my statement.

    [National Anti-Slavery Standard, April 14, 1866]

    Reprinted in Slave Testimony, edited by John. W. Blassingame p 467-68

  15. Bob Huddleston January 9, 2015 / 4:26 pm

    Of course slavery was not bad for white males.

    In 1860, there was a total “colored” population of 4,441,830 of whom 588,352 were “mulatto.” The percentage of mixed blood people had gone from 11.15% in 1859 to 13.25% ten years later.

    176,739 of the mixed blood people were Free Blacks; the balance were slaves.

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