Roads Not Taken: Thomas Fleming on American Slavery

Thomas Fleming, author of several books, including an overview of the coming of the Civil War, declares that (white) Americans set aside several paths to end slavery in the United States in a most interesting article.

Among his conclusions:

–(White) Americans missed a great opportunity to get rid of slavery through gradual compensated emancipation followed by colonization, as offered by Lincoln.

–This failure was sue in large part to the sectionalization (and thus concentration) of slavery. As Fleming argues, James Madison “concluded that a national solution to the problem of slavery could be found in one word – dispersion. By allowing slavery in all the new states beyond the original thirteen, the federal government would gradually make it a minority issue, which could be eliminated state-by-state, as it had been in the first round of emancipation in the original northern states.” Thus limiting slavery preserved it where it still existed.

–According to Fleming, “The South’s embrace of slavery was not rooted in greed or a repulsive assumption of racial superiority. Two thirds of the plantations in the South had black overseers – talented black men to whom the plantation owners gave the responsibility of raising and selling their crops. Numerous other plantation jobs that required skilled labor were also performed by black men.”

–Fleming concludes, “If enough Americans – white and black – understand how we created this perfect storm of opposing good intentions, perhaps we can begin the struggle to achieve mutual forgiveness.”