Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Supercharging the National Voter Registration Act: Advocate iVote

The Republican strategy to disenfranchise millions of potentially Democratic voters on contrived  charges of "voter fraud" is threatening to destroy our democratic system of government. (See, for example, my posts of November 26, 2012, June 23, 2014, and August 26, 2014, as well as Ari Berman, Give Us The Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights In America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.)  Their current devices are more subtle and sophisticated than the now unconstitutional poll tax and literacy test of pre-Civil Rights Era, but their purpose is just as nefarious. Their scope is far more sweeping, since their targeted victims are primarily "the coalition of the ascendant"--young people, blacks, Hispanics, women, the chronic homeless and underemployed, and poor people in general. These despicable devices include requiring proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, shutting down voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, disfranchising ex-felons, purging the voter rolls, and mandating government-issued photo IDs at the polling place. Between 2011 and 2015, forty-nine states introduced 295 separate voting restriction laws. NAACP president Benjamin Jealous has called these collective efforts "the greatest attacks on voting rights since segregation." Not to be outdone, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court has managed to invalidate Sections 4 and 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, thereby removing the requirement that such proposed changes in state electoral laws were subject to federal oversight.                      

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Slavery's Trail Of Tears

Those of you who found Edward E. Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told  as eye-opening and mind-boggling as I did <See my post of September 20: The Half Is Finally Being Told> will be at least as astounded by an article in the November issue of Smithsonian magazine titled "Slavery's Tale of Tears: Retracing America's Forgotten Migration--The Journey of a Million African-Americans from the Tobacco South to the Cotton South," (pp. 58-83). The author is Edward Ball, a university instructor and author of Slaves in the Family, whose ancestors were a slaveholding family in North Carolina for 170 years. It brings to life--in stunning and excruciating detail--the actual experiences of many "whose half has never been told."

Ball's interest was piqued by an 1834 note found in the University of North Carolina's archives from James Franklin of Natchez, Mississippi to the home office in Alexandria, Virginia of the partnership of Franklin and Armfield, "the undisputed tycoons of the domestic slave trade, with an economic impact that is hard to overstate." <In 1832, for example, five percent of the commercial credit available through the Second Bank of the United States was extended to the firm.> It was owned by Isaac Franklin, James' uncle, who operated in New Orleans, and John Armfield, who ran the business in Alexandria. The note read that "we have about ten thousand dollars (about $300,000 in today's money) left to pay yet. Should you purchase a good lot for walking, I will bring them out by land this summer."  That "good lot for walking" was a gang of enslaved men, women, and children, possibly numbering in the hundreds, "who could tolerate three month afoot in the summer heat."  Bringing them out by land referred to a forced march overland from the fields of Virginia to the slave auctions in Natchez and New Orleans. That note, according to Ball, was 'the first sign that I might be able to trace the route of one of Franklin and Armfield's caravans."

And retrace it he did--albeit "the easy way"--in his own car!  Either way, it was a journey of 1,100 miles, from Alexandria, Virginia (just across the Potomac River from my graduate school
alma mater--Georgetown University) to New Orleans. Just like that caravan, he drove in a southwesterly direction through Virginia until he crossed the Tennessee border at Knoxville. From there he proceeded to Nashville via Gallitin. Then through Tennessee and Mississippi to Natchez, and finally to New Orleans. Along the way, he uncovered manuscript collections at various libraries, archives and historical societies, and had the opportunity to interview several curators, archivists, and librarians, most of whom were in the process of discovering and exhibiting long-ignored treasure troves shedding considerable light on "Slavery's Trail of Tears."  Even more revealing were his interviews with descendants of both the enslavers and the enslaved.

One of the most instructive interviewees was Delores McQuinn of Richmond, who has been both a city council member and a representative in the Virginia House of Delegates.  She informed Ball that her grandfather had visited the house where his family had once been enslaved, and inquired if the owner had any documentation about their history. The man obligingly brought out a sheaf of papers and proceeded to burn them, saying "You want your history? Well, here it is. Take the ashes and get off my land." The intent, Ms. McQuinn intoned, was to "keep that history buried. Our history is often buried. You have to unearth it." Outside universities and museums, Ball concludes, "the history of the Slave Trail lives in shards, broken and scattered." While in Richmond, he met with Maurie McInnis, historian and vice-provost of UVA and curator of the Library of Virginia exhibit on the slave trade. She told Ball that some 450,000 slaves from Virginia were "sent south" between 1810 and 1860, and that, in 1857 alone, the sale of people in the future capital of the Confederacy netted its white masters $4,000,000. "That would be more than $440,000,000 today."

The mansion at Belle Grove--built by relatives of President James Madison--has been turned into a  "house museum" by historian Kristen Laise. She pulled out an 1824 newspaper ad placed by the master of Belle Grove, Madison's brother-in-law, saying that he "shall proceed to sell sixty slaves of various ages, in families." He regretted that he had to charge interest "if buyers insisted on using credit." The nicest families in the Shenandoah, Ball observes, "tipped people into the pipeline south." At the Winchester-Frederick County Visitor Center, in a bookshop in Edinburg, the Staunton Visitor Center, and in a Roanoke tourist information outlet called Virginia's Blue Ridge.  Ball asked " did people there know anything about the chain gangs that streamed southwest through these parts?" He elicited answers like "never heard of it" and "don't know what you are talking about." They mostly changed the subject to stories about "brave Confederates" or their own ethnic lore. He did happen upon an 1834 account by one George Featherstonhaugh, a geologist doing a surveying tour for the federal government. he described Armfield as "sordid, illiterate, and vulgar," with "overpowering bad breath," from eating raw onions. He also described a "singular spectacle" of nine wagons and carriages and some 200 men "manacled and chained to each other," lining up in double file, while Armfield and his men made jokes, "standing near, laughing and smoking cigars." It was "the most revolting sight' he had ever seen.

Men and boys sold, on average, for about $700. Multiply that by 200 and it comes to about $3.5million today. Slaves were routinely insured --plenty of companies did that sort of business with policies guarding against "damage." bur collecting "would be inconvenient."  While walking the streets of Radford, Ball chatted with one "Daniel," who exchanged pleasantries, "until I bring up the slave days Daniel's expression empties. He shakes his head. His face acquires a look that suggests the memory of slavery is like a  vampire visiting from a shallow grave."

At the Shenandoah, Armfield's "coffle" merged with others coming from the east. One of these was led by William Waller, who walked from Amherst, Virginia to Louisiana in 1847 with 20 or more slaves. In the deep archive of the Virginia Historical Society, Ball discovered "an extraordinary batch of letters that Waller wrote about selling people he had known and lived with for much of his life." His wife, Sarah Garland, was Patrick Henry's daughter and the wife of a congressman. He was deeply in debt and left a few slaves behind in Amherst as house servants for his family, while he marched with the rest to Natchez and New Orleans. He wrote some 20 letters home, in which he seems like businessman sending word that there is nothing to worry about. He was careful to assure his wife that "the negroes were happy." Even so, he admitted that he had felt and seen enough to make me loath the vocation of slave trading." He was especially morose because he had sold two young women apart from their parents. 'My heart grieves over Sarah and I do wish it could be different, but Sarah seems happy."  It as at the spine of the Blue Ridge where Armfield turned over his coffle to James, Isaac Franklin's nephew, and took a stage coach back to Alexandria.

In Gallitin, Ball drove out to the old Franklin estate, which was being transformed into a housing development and golf course called Fairvu Plantation.   "A thicket of McMansions, in every ersatz style," filled most of the area. But Ball decides to visit the more modest home of Kenneth Thomson, a direct descendant of Isaac Franklin, whose living room is dominated by a large oil portrait of his ancestor. He turned out to be the most candid--and therefore the most infuriating of all the descendant of slavers. After Isaac died, in 1846, "they published an inventory of his belongings" that ran to 900 pages. He had six plantations and 650 slaves." He knew "how to be a gentleman He had the equivalent of an eighth grade education. He was not ignorant. He could write a letter." Before he married, "Isaac had companions, some willing, some unwilling. That was just part of life." He had a child by a black woman before he married, but this daughter of his left Tennessee and nobody knows what happened to her after that." Actually, Uncle Isaac "sent her off" because  he didn't want her around after he married." It is possible, Ball interjects, that he sold her. "It would have been the easiest thing to do."                                              

Thomson produces a letter that he wrote some years ago to the  Gallitin Examiner. The headline reads "Isaac Franklin Was a Well-liked Slave Trader." Asked how a person inside the family measure the inheritance of slave trading, he replies that "You can't judge those people by today's standards." He adds that "many things in the Old Testament are pretty barbaric, but they are part of our evolution." Thomson expressed a special contempt for "revisionist historians." He emphasizes that has been around blacks his whole life, and that "they are good people." He denies that he is in any way responsible for the actions of his ancestors. Slavery "developed because of the ignorance of the blacks.They just "slid into slavery." He stresses that people in his family "looked after their slaves," that some free blacks themselves became slaveholders, and that American black are better off than West Africans. There is more, but you have to read it for yourself. Ball, himself the descendant of slave holders, that he recognized "the melody , and let the song pass."

While in Gallitin, Ball also interviewed 73-year--old Florence Hall Blair, a retired nurse. She tells him that "a lot of black people don't want to know about their ancestry," but counters that she is "not one of those people. When asked how she felt about Isaac Franklin, Ms. Blair professed "a certain detachment." He was "a cruel individual, but he was human." His humanity was not always visible, but it was there. She concludes that she has let go of hatred, because it only hurts those who hate. But she adds that she "wouldn't have made it too well in slavery days, because I am the kind of person who just can't imagine you would treat me the way they treated people. Like a dog, she calls it. "They would have had to kill me with my temperament." She expresses admiration for her own people. "We carried on."

Although there are few records about the trip from Nashville to New Orleans, Ball admits, "it is possible to follow in detail a coffle of people...thanks to William Waller's letters." Waller muses that the scenery is beautiful, but the trip itself was brutal. He was especially morose because he is not able to sell many of his slaves along the way, because the market for slaves was at low ebb. Prospective buyers came to look at "my negroes," and wanted to buy seven or eight, "but they objected to the price."  Waller wrote to Sarah that he did eventually sell some to "as kind a masters as could be found." She wrote back that she was "most pleased that you have sold at such fine prices," but that  "I wish you could have sold more of them." After examining the people on display, a buyer would talk to a seller and negotiate. Ball can't resist interjecting that "it was like buying a car today."

In Natchez, Ball interviewed the individual whom he calls "the man who has done the most to call attention to the Slave Trail." Clifton Boxley, who changed his name to Ser Seshsh Ab Heter brcause he regards his birth name as "the plantation name, his slave name." He is 75, "direct, assertive and arresting," with a full baritone voice. He does not make small talk. "I want to resurrect the history of the enslavement trade, and for 20 years that is where I've focused."  His "Jim Crow Kitchen" is filled with mammy salt shakers, black lawn jockeys, Uncle Tom figurines, and similar demeaning memorabilia. He forced the white population to accept his "Forks in the Road" project, for which he wrote the text for four of the trail markers.  "You feel something?" he asks Ball. "That's good. They say there were no feelings here." Boxley says that his aim is preserve every inch of dirt in this area. "I am fighting for our enslaved ancestors." Asked if there is any way to do this without injuring the sensitivity of friendly white people, he says "I don't spare anything. It is the humanity of our ancestors denied that I am interested in. This is your story as well as an African-American story."
The only way to transcend pain and hurt, he continues, is "to face the situation, to experience and cleanse yourself, to allow the humanity of your ancestors and their suffering to wash through you
and settle into your spirit." His parting words were "Peace out."

When he reaches his final destination, Ball talks with Erin Greenwald, who is the curator of the Historic New Orleans Collection, which is featuring an exhibition titled "Purchased Lives, New Orleans and the Domestic Slave Trade, 1808-1865," She is also the director of a  developing data base of names of those enslaved who were shipped from the Eastern States: "We studied hundreds of shipping manifests and compiled a list of 70,000 names. Of course, that is only some." The auction advertisement at the end of the Slave Trail, she relates, always said Virginia and Maryland Negroes, "because that meant compliant, docile, and not broken by overwork." She also produced a copy of the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel discussing slave auctions at the posh St. Louis Hotel, where two stages did business simultaneously--in both French and English. Here, families at the end of the Slave Trail were divided. The reporter described "a noble-looking woman with a wide-eyed seven-year-old."  He was sold separately to a man from Mississippi, his mother to a man from Texas. "She burst forth in the most frantic wails that ever despair gave utterance to."

After emancipation, historian Heather Williams relates, the Southwestern Christian Advocate began to carry a column called "Lost Friends," in which people called out for family members who had disappeared on the Slave Trail. She has unearthed a handful of reunion stories, one of which obviously deeply affected Ball. After years of searching, Robert Glenn located his aged mother from whom he had been torn at the age of eight. At first, she gave no indication of recognition, but she later approached him and asked "Tell me, ain't you my child whom I left on the road near Mr. Moore's farm before the war?" Glenn broke down and cried: "I did not know before I came home whether my parents were dead or alive, and now mother nor father did not know me."

I trust that my truncated rendering has inspired you to read Ball's article in its entirety---because:
1. Edward ball is a far better story teller than I am
2, The caricature on the title page brilliantly captures the essence of the Trail of Tears
3. The detailed map of the various Slave Trading Routes in absolutely incredible
4. It features a bone-chilling poster headlined "One Hundred Negroes For Sale."
5. There are gorgeous full-page photos of Delores McQuinn, Maurie McInnis, Kenneth Thomson, Florence Blair Hall, Clifton Boxley, and Erin Greenwald.                     




Sunday, September 20, 2015

"The Half" Is Finally Being Told

 " TRULY, SON, THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD.": Former slave Lorenzo Ivy to Claude Anderson, an African-American master's student at Hampton University, who is interviewing him as part of SLAVE NARRATIVE PROGRAM of the WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION IN 1936.

To this day, it still has not. it still has not. For the other half is the story of how slavery changed, and moved, and grew over time. Lorenzo Ivy's time, and that of his parents and grandparents. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, the most important American innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African  Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence. Entrepreneurial enslavers moved more then a million enslaved people that survivors of the slave trade from Africa had built in the South and in the West to vast territories that were seized also by force from their Native American inhabitants. From 1783, the end of the American Revolution, to 1861, the number of slaves in the U.S. increased five times over, and all this expansion produced a powerful nation. For white enslavers were able to force enslaved African Americans to pick cotton more efficiently than free people. Their practices rapidly transformed the southern states into the dominant force in the global cotton market, and cotton was the key raw material during the first century of the industrial revolution. The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization. In fact, slavery's expansion shaped every crucial expansion of the economy and politics of the new nation --not only increasing its power and size, but also, eventually, dividing United States politics, differentiating regional identities and interests, and helping make the Civil War possible... The idea that  commodification and suffering and forced labor is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth, and the truth was half the story that survived, mostly in the custodianship of those who survived slavery's expansion. Forced migration had shaped their lives and also shaped what they thought about their lives and the wider history in which they were enmeshed. Even as they struggled to stay alive in the midst of disruption, they created ways to talk about this half untold. But what survivors experienced, analyzed, and named was a slavery that did not fit the comfortable boxes into which other Americans have been trying to fit it ever since it ended.

The above paragraph encapsulates the driving thesis of one of the most intellectually stimulating and emotional riveting books that I have ever had the great fortune to read: The Half Has Never Been told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books, 2114). It is easier for me to conceptualize his thesis as two separate, arguments, but, in their real world operation, they are inextricably intertwined. The first is the inescapable conclusion that the Plantation Economy was the engine that drove the nation's industrialization, financialization, and modernization. The Civil War, in his interpretation was not a clash between two incompatible paradigms, but rather a quarrel over how the proceeds should be apportioned, and whether the Plantation Economy, with its total reliance on slave labor, would be allowed to expand farther into the new western territories. The second is that slave labor was not an aberration in a modernizing world, but a dynamic and expanding component, precisely because it was more "efficient" than free labor. That assumes, of course, that you did not need your workforce to function as consumers, as well as producers. He argues that, in the one instance when planters from the North tried to pay free labor a fair wage on the Carolina Sea Islands, "half the cotton was rotting in the fields--cotton that could have been picked only at whip-driven speed."  The same held true when masters tried to utilize laborers from the cotton fields on  the factory floor. It was also true if you did not scruple about subjecting your workforce to beatings, torture, maiming, mutilation, and homicide. The minions of the "lords of the lash" would always have bested those of the "lords of the loom."

With profound apologies to Professor Baptist, I will endeavor to provide you with an outline and a chronology in which to understand his narrative. Slavery was legal and ubiquitous throughout all 13 colonies at the time of the American Revolution, but it was far more vital in those whose economies were based on growing tobacco--Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland, and Delaware. As the colonies morphed into states and wrote their respective constitutions, each debated the issue of slavery. The other 7--New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire--provided for its gradual abolition. In some, the process of emancipation was so "gradual" that they still had elderly slaves living there at the advent of the Civil War. Those who were emancipated were generally sentened to the lowest rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. All of them instituted de facto segregation in employment, housing, education, and politics, which persisted well into the 20th century. A substantial portion of white Northerners experienced measurable increases in the standard of living by investing in cotton--and slaves, all the while chastising Southerners for providing them with the source of their good fortune. The movement to abolish slavery proceeded at a glacial pace, if at all. Both Baptist and historian Ira Berlin insist that such movements "were not the charitable work of respectable white people, or not mainly that." It was, instead, "made possible by the constant discomfort inflicted upon middle-class white society by black activists."

The issue of slavery was so contentious during the 1787 Constitutional Convention that it required several crucial compromises: 1) Counting slaves as three-fifths of free people for purposes of both taxation and representation; 2) Prohibiting the importation of slaves--but not until 1807, giving those who continued the practice an additional two decades to benefit. Even after 1807, slave-smuggling remained a lucrative--if nefarious--business; 3) all states agreed to extradite "fugitives from justice." <Guess who most of those were ?> The Northwest Ordinances, which predated the Constitution, prohibited slavery in what eventually became Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. No provision for or against it was made for the remaining territory ceded by Britain in the 1783 Peace of Paris, but a fair number of slaveholders began to move their "property" into what eventually became Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It was generally agreed that the Ohio River would constitute the boundary between slave and free territories.

Much of the history of the mid-19th century featured a series of "compromises" between those who wanted to extend slavery into each newly acquired chunk of real estate, and those who wanted to prohibit it in those lands "due west" of "free" territories. Probably the most important compromise of all was the mutual agreement there must be an equal number of free and slave states--and a corresponding parity of U.S. Senators. New states were only admitted in "pairs." The Louisiana Purchas of 1803 virtually doubled the size of the country, opening up a vast new arena in which to contest the extension of slavery. Equally portentous was the acquisition of the port of New Orleans, which allowed unimpeded access to the Gulf of Mexico--up and down the length of
the Mississippi River on both sides. In 1819, Missouri applied for admission to the Union as a slave state, threatening to upset the carefully constructed balance. But the Compromise of 1820 (more generally known as the Missouri Compromise) restored it by the admission of Maine as a free state, and by drawing an imaginary line of demarcation at 36 degrees, 30 minutes North Latitude throughout the entire Louisiana Purchase territory--prohibiting slavery north of it and permitting it south of the line. In the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, Spain ceded all of Florida to the U.S., in return for the latter's agreement not to contest the former's claims southwest of the Mississippi.

As "luck" would have it, all of Mexico won its independence from Spain the following year, thus rendering the agreement moot--at least in American eyes. In a frantic effort to protect what was to become Texas from American expansion, the nascent Mexican government gave generous land grants to those settlers willing to swear a loyalty oath, convert to Catholicism, and leave their slaves behind. Large numbers of Americans (GTT quickly became the operant explanation for any departure from an American address) took up the offer, with some even marrying Mexican women and converting, but they also brought along their slaves. Together with those Mexicans seeking relief from the central government in Mexico City, they seceded and formed their own republic. (Contrary to popular belief, many "Texicans" were ethnically Mexicans.) The newly minted Texicans were seriously divided over maintaining independence versus annexation by the U.S.. That same issue started a firestorm in the U.S., between those who envisioned Texas as potentially one or more slave states, and those who proclaimed that annexation was a "slaveholders' plot" to take over the country. During the election campaign of 1844, Democratic presidential candidate James K. Polk's (who was James K. Polk ?) opponents sarcastically asked.) promised annexation; his election persuaded the "lame duck" Congress to do exactly that. The controversy over the southern boundary of Texas led to U.S. invasion of Mexico ( a one-term Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln was one of those who disputed Polk's version). The overwhelming American victory led to the hotly-contested Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which Polk threatened to abrogate, but which also included Mexican cession of California, and parts of what became Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. Polk had also pledged to annex the Oregon Territory, including even what became British Columbia (54/40 or Fight!). Another compromise--this one with Great Britain--established the U.S.-Canadian border at 49 degrees North Latitude.

The super-charged debate over the territories acquired from Mexico lasted four bitter years, until it was seemingly settled by yet another compromise, which its overly optimistic supporters dubbed "The Great Compromise." It consisted of five different bills, all passed on the same day in September, 1850.Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico and the federal government agreed to assume the state's public debt. California was admitted to the Union as a free state. The slave trade was abolished in D.C., although slavery per se was continued. (Well, you couldn't expect slaveholding members of Congress to get along without their personal servants!)  The territories of Utah and New Mexico were officially declared "organized" under the rubric of "popular sovereignty, while the rest of the lands taken from Mexico were annexed "without reference to slavery." This was a classic case of "passing the buck," allowing both sides to heave a sigh of relief, albeit temporarily.

But it was the fifth bill--the Fugitive Slave Act--that proved to be incendiary!!! It mandated the return of runaway slaves and commissioned U.S. marshals to pursue and capture them in free states,  subject only to approval by the courts. It was the "fire bell ringing in the night" that Jefferson had predicted long before. Many Northerners vociferously condemned it, vowed to disobey it, and denounced such anti-slavery icons as Daniel Webster for urging its passage. (see Webster's Seventh of May Speech). Other reluctantly agreed, regarding it as the price to pay for California, the end of slave auctions in the nation's capital, and delaying the spread of slavery into the rest of the Mexican cession.  But the last was only a stop-gap measure; slaveholders were already beginning to infiltrate Utah and New Mexico. The brutal reality of federal marshals arresting runaways in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, however, provoked armed resistance, and made numerous converts to the abolitionist cause. The flames were fanned by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the brain child of Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who was regarded as the likely Democratic presidential candidate for 1860. The act divided the territory in twain, with the question of slavery left to "popular sovereignty." To accomplish this legerdemain, the 36/30 line of the Missouri Compromise was repealed. The resulting firestorm led to the proliferation of "anti-Nebraska" protest meetings , tore the Whigs asunder, giving birth to the nascent Republican Party, the outbreak of the bloody "Kansas Civil War," and John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry.

By the time of the 1860 elections, the majority of Northerners were adamantly opposed to any further expansion of slavery, the touchstone of the successful Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. The new president, who received only 40 percent of the popular vote, but the necessary number of electoral votes, tried to temporize by declaring that his priority was the preservation of the Union, no matter what the ultimate fate of slavery. Douglas had expressed the same devotion to the Union, blissfully unaware that popular sovereignty made that impossible. Many died-in-the-wool abolitionists had abstained, seeing little difference between the two candidates. Many were in favor of the "colonization" of emancipated African Americans to Africa or the Caribbean, a solution that Lincoln himself seriously considered. Even at that late date, John Crittenden of Kentucky formed a group of 13 compromise-minded Senators who cobbled together an "omnibus" of six amendments and four resolutions they hoped would avoid secession. The most important amendment would have restored the Missouri Compromise line, thereby allowing slavery in Kansas, even though it was north of that demarcation. Their proposal would have made slavery perpetual--in direct contradiction to Lincoln's oft-repeated conviction that the nation could not exist "half free and half slave." The president responded that there could be "no compromise on the question of extending slavery. If there be, all our labor is lost, and ere, must be done again." It would also mean voiding the1860 election, deposing Lincoln, and rendering the nascent Republican Party stillborn. If the Crittenden compromise were adopted, Lincoln declared, "a year will not pass, till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union." The Republicans in Congress reluctantly sided with Lincoln, although they offered to admit New Mexico as a slave state.

It is impossible to know for certain what would have transpired if the Southern states had not seized the initiative by seceding and expropriating Union property. Once they did so, Lincoln had no real alternative but to provision the soldiers at Fort Sumter, although he explicitly ruled out staging  any military action to rescue them. Some have even claimed that he planned it that way from the outset, but there is no substantial evidence to support such a stratagem. In any case, it was the secessionists who fired the first shot of the Civil War. In their conventions, Baptist pointedly observes, "the more enslaved people secession delegates owned, the more radical were their demands." Taking the high ground, Lincoln famously proclaimed "though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle ground and patriot grave---may yet swell the chorus of Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Probably the most brilliant section of this incredibly brilliant book is the author's Afterword, pp. 401-420, titled "Corpse."  On pages 397 to 407, he carefully analyses the impact of the war on the  plantation hierarchy. It was not exactly "bottom rail on top," but it was certainly a mind-blowing reconfiguration. Believing that "King Cotton" would give them enough leverage to sway European powers to their cause, they stopped growing their precious staple crop, switching to the production of food for the Confederate armies. By early 1862, the volume of bales received at Liverpool fell to a mere three percent of 1860 levels. This sudden dearth of cotton on the world market, however, shockingly increased prices, rendering cotton from other production zones--West Africa, Egypt, and Brazil--price-competitive for the first time. Accordingly, the African slave trade directly to Egypt swelled from 5,000  in the 1850s to 20,000 by 1865. Simultaneously, the Confederacy lost control of its oldest and most productive region--the Carolina sea islands--as the Union Navy wrested control and the planters fled. The African Americans, who made up more than 90 percent of the remaining population, petitioned to convert plantation lands into small plots for their use, but policy makers had other ideas. As the 1862 crop neared fruition, the federal Treasury Department asserted authority over the abandoned lands and rented them out to Northern entrepreneurs, who reinstituted the plantation system, using the former slaves as "free", but cheap, labor. They claimed that they could produce the same amount of cotton 25 percent cheaper. <See discussion above> Neither new source of cotton production came even close to matching pre-war levels, rendering it scarce and high-priced on the world market. When the Union navy captured New Orleans in early 1862, "contrabands" fled from slave labor camps to Union-held forts west of the city. In April of that year, Congress appropriated $1,000,000 to buy freedom for the  3,000 slaves in D.C.. When Union forces "won" the bloodbath at Antietam in September, Lincoln secretly drafted the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in territories under Confederate control. On January 1, 1863, he went public with the proclamation that Baptist calls "important executive order ever issued by an American president." It did not free slaves in Union-occupied territory, in the 50 western counties of Virginia about to become West Virginia, and in southern Louisiana, where Northerners were planning to establish a "reconstructed" state government. Following Lincoln's example, a growing number of Union officers began to give runaways the choice of being returned to their place of origin or enlisting in the army. Most chose the latter.

Panicked slaveholders herded as many of their captives as possible to Texas, a practice called "refugeeing." Union occupiers tried to "scatter about" as many slaves as possible onto their plantations to do heavy labor.Meanwhile, Lincoln issued an order allowing African Americans to enlist in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). Over the next two years, according to Baptist, almost 200,000 --many of them former slaves--"did mighty things that defined the rest of their lives." In so doing, he fulfilled the prediction of Fredrick Douglass: "Let the black man get upon his person the brass letter U.S., a musket upon his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth, or under the earth, which can say that he has not earned the right of citizenship in the U.S.". Although the Confederacy was too weak to mount any major offensives in 1864 and 1865, the author charges, "it could still make the Union spill oceans of blood for every advance in Virginia, Tennessee. and Georgia." As the resolve of Northerners waned, volunteers declined, draft resistance increased, and a growing number began to favor a negotiated peace," which was "exactly what Jeff Davis and the Confederacy wanted." Under those constraints, Baptist boldly asserts, 200,000 African American soldiers "kept the faith and provided the spark needed to achieve victory." They "paid a collective heavy price--40,00 died in battle, and a similar number may have died in camps or in the chaos of the war-devastated South." They provided a crucial increment for a North that "was running out of soldiers." Their service in battle, he concludes, "had saved the nation."

In Baptist's view, Lincoln was "either the last casualty of the Civil War or the first of a long civil rights movement that is not yet over." Either way, it is clear that his assassination prevented  realization of the Reconstruction he envisioned in his second inaugural address, which the author calls ?the greatest speech ever given in the English language," one "that was itself a history of the half told." But his assassination also killed Lincoln plans for reconstruction, because his successor was" unfortunately an alcoholic racist bent on undermining emancipation." Andrew Johnson signaled southern whites that "they could build a new white supremacy that looked very much like the one that blacks had fought to end." In the elections of 1865, southern white voters made it glaringly obvious that they would not come to terms with black freedom. In Congressional elections that fall, "they sent a host of sullen Confederates back to Washington." At the same time, they worked in their state legislatures to keep the status of African Americans as close to slavery as possible. They enacted vagrancy laws to limit mobility, apprenticeship statutes binding young blacks to white families as captive labor, and threatened to reinstate "the law of the lash" in order to reinvigorate productivity. Incensed by whites who refused to accept the verdict of the war, a majority faction of "Radical" Republicans assumed control of Reconstruction. Overriding Johnson's objections, they refused to seat the newly elected members of Congress, while passing a series of bills taking the franchise away from ex-Confederate officers and officials. They extended the authority of occupying Union forces, and created the "Freedman's Bureau" to employ new systems of "free" labor. The Bureau sent agents to mediate between the land-owning, but cash-poor, planters and their former slaves. Although the latter wanted "40 Acres and a Mule" to practice subsistence agriculture, they remained landless. Neither white landowners nor federal policy-makers had any intention of allowing former slaves to become competitors. Instead, the Freedman's Bureau forced former slaves and former owners to sign and honor wage-labor contracts. Eventually, a compromise system of "sharecropping" and "tenant farming" emerged, in which blacks were given small plots for subsistence farming, in exchange for a percentage of the harvest.  Land owners and "country stores" advanced blacks seeds, goods, and utensils on credit, to be paid on "settling up day." Guess who kept the books? <As "Tennessee Ernie" Ford sang it in the 1950s, blacks and poor whites alike "owed their soul to the company store.">

The Congressional "Radicals" also made ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments a condition for "readmission" to the Union (from which they had supposedly never had the power to secede in the first place). With occupying Union soldiers policing, many Southern states "enjoyed" the closest thing to "real" elections prior to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Naturally, that meant that a fair number of African Americans were elected to local, state, and national offices--for a while at least!  To many observers, Reconstruction "seemed like it might produce a radically transformed South," one that also looked a lot like that portrayed by today's revisionist historians, such as Foner , Franklin, Weisberger, and Stampp. <See my previous post "A New Look At Reconstruction.>

Battered by the severe economic depression of 1873-1877, and exhausted from several decades of trying to deal with reality, a majority of whites lost their enthusiasm for remaking society. The final blow came in the bitterly disputed presidential election of 1876, in which Democrat Samuel J. Tilden seemingly bested Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. Except that Tilden was an electoral vote short, with the 20 tallies of three southern states as yet uncertified. In an attempt to resolve the issue, Congress empowered a committee composed of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats After weeks of acrimonious debates, that august body approved what became known as the "Compromise of 1877." The Republicans accepted "home rule" for the remaining southern states, in exchange for Hayes election. The "winner"' removed all federal troops from the South, while newly elected "Redeemer" state legislatures disenfranchised virtually all African Americans, as well as "many of the less reliable whites." Their methods included the poll tax, the literacy rest, the "grandfather clause," and "multiple ballot boxes." Above all, they resorted to intimidation, rape, violence, lynching, and other assorted form of murder. Stealing one election after another, they substituted the Democratic "Solid South" for real political competition.

Redeemer legislatures imposed legal segregation--better known as "Jim Crow"--on every aspect of life. Freed from the "tyranny" of  military occupation, the KKK and myriad other terrorists engaged in systematic mayhem. The erected statues of Confederate "heroes" in most public spaces, memorialized ant-bellum days in every conceivable media <Who could resist "Birth of a Nation" or "Gone With the Wind"?>, and wrote ersatz histories that portrayed slavery as a  "benign" and "states rights" as the sole cause of secession. <As Eric Foner has observed, those "historians have a lot to answer for.">

But, as Baptist clearly documents, this new white empire proved more self-destructive and less profitable than its predecessor. Although the redeemers promised a "New South," they were severely constrained by "two post-slavery realities." One was that no un-enslaved human being could possibly perform hard labor "at the breakneck, soul-searing pace of the whipping machine." The number of bales did not even reach their 1859 peak until 1875, despite a significant increase in the number of "hands." Many enslaved people could pick well over 200 lbs. a day in the 1850s; their great-grandchildren ere unable to harvest 120. Many white "yeoman' farmers," impoverished by war and unable to pay either taxes or debts, lost their land and became sharecroppers or tenants themselves. Because of the political and economic isolation necessary to maintain white supremacy, the entire region sunk into a subordinate, colonial-like status. It did not have enough capital--"whether of the financial or well-educated human kind." Thus by the 1930s, a lifetime after the Civil War, the majority of blacks and white alike "were poor and worked on farms--often farms they did not own."

The last ten pages of the book are a masterpiece of penetrating historical analysis combined with passionate conviction. He begins on page 411; "But the body of African Americans, stretched and chained again, the body whose tongue and spirit and blood had developed alongside slavery's expansion was still alive....Day after day, year after year, the half untold was told, and in the tomb the body stirred" and ends on page 419: And somewhere--not far from Danville--law students three generations removed from slavery's expansion were still alive, huddled, planning the next move against Jim Crow and lynching." Those pages are quite simply the most enlightening and powerful summary of its topic that I have ever read, far beyond my limited ability to summarize or paraphrase.



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Taking Another Look at the Reconstruction Era

Jennifer Schuessler 's "Taking Another Look at the Reconstruction Era," (New York  Times, August 24, 2015) is further proof that a growing number of Americans are struggling to come to grips with the historical reality that slavery and racism have been indelibly imprinted on American identity and culture from the very beginning. There can be little doubt that the Reconstruction Era has long been one of the most polarizing topics of our national story--both for professional historians and for the general public. The particulars of that polarization have been skillfully delineated by Bernard Weisberger in "The Dark and Bloody Ground of Reconstruction Historiography," The Journal of Southern History, v.25 ( November, 1959), pp.427-447 and by Eric Foner in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988).

There has been general agreement that the Era of Reconstruction began with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in January,1863 and ended with the Compromise of 1887, in which Congressional Democrats agreed not to contest the nefarious 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes as president.In exchange,  Republicans disavowed further national efforts to enforce the rights of black citizens, and allowed white Democrats to control the politics and government of the Southern states. Even so, some Republicans still tried to block efforts to impose complete legal segregation and the "Jim Crow" system until well into the 1890s. The final blow came in 1896, with the Supreme Court's "separate but equal" decision in Plessey v. Ferguson.

From that point until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Reconstruction Era historiography was almost completely dominated by pro-Southern scholars, such as the "Dunning School", who argued that black suffrage had been a gigantic blunder and that the Republican state governments that rested upon the votes of Negro Freedmen, Northern"carpetbaggers", and Southern "scalawags" had been corrupt, extravagant, unrepresentative, and oppressive. This interpretation was given great popular currency in myriad books and movies, such as The Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. Just about the sole dissenting voice among historians was that of WEB Du Bois, the first African American to earns a doctorate at Harvard, co-founder of the NAACP, and civil rights activist, As editor of The Crisis, he penned numerous editorials and essays on Reconstruction; he also published Black Reconstruction in America, in which he refuted the arguments of the Dunning School, while painting a richly detailed and highly positive portrait of Reconstruction in the various states. His work later served as a primer for historians of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Foner, Weisberger, John Hope Franklin,  C. Vann Woodward, and Kenneth Stampp, who have almost totally rewritten the historical record.Their work was inspired by the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, which has often been called" the Second Reconstruction."

As Foner recently proclaimed, these more recent scholars regard the Dunning School as "not just an interpretation of history. It was part of the edifice of the Jim Crow system. It was an explanation for and justification of taking the vote away from black people on the grounds that they completely abused it during Reconstruction....And it was only after the Civil Rights revolution swept away the racist underpinnings of that old view that black people are incapable of taking part in American democracy--that you get a new view of Reconstruction widely accepted." By the end of the 20th  century, their pro-Reconstruction interpretation predominated just about everywhere, except among white supremacists and die-hard believers in "the Lost Cause."  Perhaps the best indicator
of how far the interpretive pendulum has swung during the past half-century is Foner's admonition in "Why Reconstruction Matters," (New York Times, March 28, 2015): "For a long time, it was an intellectual straightjacket for much of the white South, and historians have a lot to answer for in helping to propagate a racist system  in this country."

Inevitably, this historiographical revolution is being gradually reflected in the exhibits, artifacts, and archival material displayed in historical sites and museums. Many of those venues, as Schuessler demonstrates in great detail, are staffed and operated by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS)  During the past two decades, NPS has overhauled its Civil War sites, incorporating material on slavery and race into exhibits that had long been criticized by scholars for avoiding discussion of their root causes. Even so, its 408 properties still do not include a single site dedicated the postwar struggle to build a racially equal democracy. " It is biggest gap in the record by far, according to Robert Sutton, its chief historian, adding that too many Americans still regard Reconstruction as "a disaster" best left forgotten."

To fill that chasm, the NPS has hired two historians to conduct a comprehensive survey of "nationally significant" sites connected with Reconstruction--the first step toward possible designation of a new site by Congress. Its on-the-ground coordinator is Michael Allen, a community partnership specialist with three decades of experience. Allen, who grew up in South Carolina, admits that he "had to become an adult to learn that history. It was never presented to me." This initiative was first announced in May and has been given added impetus by the proliferation of racial conflicts in Ferguson and Charleston, as well as by the continuing debates over Black Lives Matter. These incidents, she notes, "have only underlined enduring relevance of an era that saw both the dramatic expansion of rights for African-Americans and their violent rollback." As Allen has observed, the nation has just finished commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and some people have jumped to various civil rights anniversaries, but "how do you make that jump without dealing with what came in between?"

The NPS, in acknowledging the interpretive recalibrations wrought by historians, has defined the Era as dating from 1861, when slaves began fleeing to Union encampments, until 1898, when Jim Crow laws were firmly in place. It will highlight the passage of the  13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which granted equal citizenship and voting rights to four million formerly enslaved African-Americans, as well as the creation of the first statewide public school systems in Southern states (for whites as well as blacks), the first significant public hospitals, new labor policies and other transformations. "It was an amazing period in the history of American democracy," says Kate Masur, a Northwestern University professor who is one of the authors of the seminal NPS report. "It is when you really see these ideas about equality and human rights that America had put on the table being understood in a new way." There may not be any field of history "where the gap between what historians know and what people believe," added Gregory P. Downs, co-author of the report who has recently moved from City University of New York to U.C., Davis. He and Masur have also edited a  collection of essays on Reconstruction written by leading historians, which will be distributed in all NPS shops beginning this month.

The NPS is searching for possible museum sites, and Schuessler makes a strong case for Beaufort, South Carolina, a city of some 13,000 that sits between such popular tourist venues as Charleston,   Hilton Head, and Savannah.  It was at Beaufort that Union forces took control in November, 1861, and initiated what historian Willie Lee Rose called the "rehearsal for Reconstruction." Since its sea island plantation owners had fled, soldiers worked with missionaries, teachers, and former slaves to establish a viable society. They built churches and schools, and founded Mitchelville, on Hilton Head, where about 3,500 people constructed houses, established mandatory education, and established a government. It was from nearby Charleston Harbor that Robert Smalls, the pilot of  an enslaved ship commandeered a Confederate vessel that joined Union ships in battle, later bought his former master's house and was elected to the state legislature and to Congress. Beaufort's mayor, Billy Keyserling, is attempting to create a "Reconstruction hub" in its central business district. A bill to allocate funding passed the Senate in 2003, only to fail in the House, primarily due to an  campaign led by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, that stigmatized Reconstruction as a time that "victimized many South Carolinians." The organization helped sponsor a 150th commemoration of "The War," that culminated in a "secession ball." Allen, who has mediated discussions between the SCV and the NAACP that resulted in the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the state capitol, is optimistic about the creation of a" new climate."  Democratic Congressman James E. Clyburn, a former high school history teacher who represents part of Beaufort County is more sanguine, seeing the NPS plans as "long overdue," but predicting "some resistance, maybe some significant resistance." He charges that the NPS initiative has been "intentionally misrepresented" by the Sons and similar   organizations.

Some institutions, especially the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in Columbia SC, are already highlighting Reconstruction's positive achievements, while denouncing the "political terrorism" that eventually undermined them. Fielding Fred, director of house museums for historic Columbia, believes that "it's not like we hit people over the head and tell them 'Everything you've heard about Reconstruction is wrong,' but as people move through, you can see them thinking." The president of the Mitchelville Preservation Project calls it "an incredible story that has never been told," even while admitting that he "personally doesn't like Reconstruction."

Downs, Masur's co-director, sums the task up succinctly: "It took a lot of time and effort to establish the myths of Reconstruction. It's going to take a lot of time and effort to tear down those myths."




Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rhode Island: Slavery's "Deep North"

Once upon a time in a parallel universe, I was trying to enlighten my History 101students about the economy of the American colonies in the 18th century. As an illustration, I mentioned the "Triangular Trade," in which ships loaded with rum sailed from the ports of lower New England to West Africa, where they exchanged their cargo for newly captured slaves, whom they then transported to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. This leg of the journey was the horrendous "Middle Passage," on which countless thousands were brutalized in chains, contracted various infectious diseases, and were thrown overboard as "shark bait." Those who survived this atrocity were callously auctioned to sugar planters in "payment" for boatloads of the sweet stuff, which they carried back to their ports of origin in lower New England. The sugar was gobbled up by distillers  who combined it with maple syrup to make more rum for eventual transport to West Africa--thus completing the "Triangle."

The obscene profits from this business transaction enriched thousands of ship owners, distillers, brokers, and bankers for whom it became the basis of family fortunes for many of New England's most illustrious dynasties. Conspicuous among these were the Brown family of Providence, Rhode Island whose ill-gotten gains eventually served as a generous endowment for the founding of Brown University, which grew into one of the illustrious pillars of today's Ivy League. Ironically enough, one of my students turned out to be the girl friend of a young man who was then enrolled at Brown. I don't recall whether he was shocked or indignant when she conveyed him the news, but he clearly did not have the slightest inkling of the connection. He asked his friend to find out my sources, and added my somewhat sarcastic observation that Brown probably did not include this historical tidbit in its recruitment or orientation materials.

I forgot about the incident until I was reminded by an article in the August 23rd New York TIMES headed "Rhode Island Church Taking Unusual Step To Illuminate its Slavery Role." According to Katherine Q. Seelye, "one of the darkest chapters in Rhode Island history involved the  state's preeminence in the slave trade, beginning in the 1700s. More than half of the slaving voyages
from the United States left from ports in Providence, Newport, and Bristol--so many, and so contrary to the popular image of slavery as primarily a scourge of the South, that Rhode Island has been called "the Deep North." That history, however, she continued, will soon become common knowledge in the Episcopal diocese here, which "was steeped in the trans-Atlantic slave trade," when it "establishes a museum dedicated to telling the story, the first in the country to do so."       

Many of those involved in the Triangular Trade were Episcopalians; the church supported slavery and continued to profit by it, even after the trade was outlawed and slavery had been banned in the state. Among the most prominent Episcopalian slaveholders, as Seelye points out, were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Over the past decade, the Episcopal Church of the United States has formally acknowledged and apologized for its involvement, and several of its dioceses have begun re-examining their culpability and holding services of repentance, while starting programs of truth and reconciliation.

Under the leadership of Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely, the Rhode Island diocese has established a museum focused on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery and the North's complicity, as part of a new center for reconciliation and healing. The Bishop says that he "wants to tell the story of how the Episcopal Church and religious voices participated in supporting the institution of slavery and how they worked to abolish it.  It's a mixed bag." While some museums and historic sites touch on slavery in the North, none are devoted to the region's deep involvement, according to James DeWolf Perry VI, a direct descendant of what was probably the most prolific slave trading family in the entire country, and author of Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites. He is aiding in the planning of the museum and reconciliation center, which are still in the organizing and fund-raising phases. The institutions are to be housed at the 200-year-old stone Cathedral of St. John, which is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. The majestic, but deteriorating, cathedral was closed in 2012, due to declining membership.
"We are trying to move in concert with what's happening around the country," said the Rev. David Ames, who is helping to establish the center. "Events like those in Charleston have really focused us on the dire need to improve race relations in this country." Diocesan officials are engaging in conversations with African-American church leaders, universities, and other organizations to sponsor speakers and programs that delve into racial issues, and have scheduled more forums for the fall throughout the state where slave traders once worshipped. The region's economy was inseparable from the slave trade in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The earliest settlers to New England bartered Native Americans they had captured for slaves brought from Africa. Merchants and suppliers who grew wealthy from the slave trade founded and endowed several Ivy League colleges, including Brown. Northern textile mills hummed with Southern cotton picked by slaves.  The first slave ship is believed to have arrived in New England as early as 1638---the first one arrived in Jamestown Virginia less than two decades before. An historic marker will be placed later to mark the spot where  the first ship would have docked. The ceremony held on August 23rd was part of a larger project commemorating the two million slaves who died and the 10 million who survived the Middle Passage, only to spend the rest of their lives horrible captivity.

Thanks to Rhode Island's financiers, seafaring workforce, and officials "who turned a blind eye to the colony's antislavery laws," the colony played a major role in the trade. Many slaving ships were built in Boston, and were supplied, manned, and launched from Rhode Island ports. Between 1725 and 1807 (when Congress officially ended the importation of slaves), more than one thousand slaving voyages---about 58 percent of the total from the American colonies--left from Providence, Newport, and Bristol. Those vessels brought more than 100,000 Africans to the Americas as part of the Triangular Trade. Many of them ended up in the North, where they populated numerous households. According to an investigation by Brown University, which began to explore its own deep ties to slavery in 2003, about ten percent of the colony's people were enslaved.

According to Bishop Knisely, whose own research has revealed "shameful episodes in church history." Many New Englanders switched to the Episcopal Church because Quakers and Baptists in Newport gradually turned to anti-slavery; they were welcomed and their slave holding was not challenged. "We sounded an uncertain trumpet," the bishop confessed, and "were happy to receive their financial support. We allowed ourselves to be convinced by the prejudice of the time and didn't speak out." In establishing the museum and reconciliation center, the church is collaborating with the Brown Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and several descendants of the Bristol-based  DeWolf family, which alone imported more than 12,000 Africans. The profits of James DeWolf--speaker of the Rhode Island House , U.S. Senator, banker, merchant, privateer, and owner of numerous rum distilleries--made him the second richest man in the U.S. at the time of his death in 1837. One of his descendants, James DeWolf, became the first bishop of the Cathedral of St. John and presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Katrina Browne, a seventh-generation descendant of the family's first slave trader, organized a journey for ten family members to trace their legacy from Bristol through the slave forts in Ghana and old family sugar plantations in Cuba. In 2008, she produced a documentary from the trip called "Traces of the Trade." Along with Perry--a distant cousin--she founded the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery, "dedicated to educating the public about the complicity of the entire nation in slavery and the slave trade.

"The experience of seeing black audiences respond to a white family acknowledging these things ---that's a powerful starting point" Perry insists. "I want my family to remember our family history, both good and bad. I think this is how we need to approach our shared history as a nation."


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why Did the Confederate States Secede?

Why did the eleven states that comprised the Confederacy secede from the Union? Why did Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky. and Missouri--slave states all--not join them? Why did several of its counties secede from Virginia to form West Virginia? How much opposition to secession emerged in the eleven CSA states?

On the surface these can be dismissed as purely "academic" questions, of importance only to Civil War historians, but they actually speak to the core meaning of our people and our nation. They continually explode into public consciousness during such traumatic events as the picture of racist mass murderer  Dylan Storm Roof with the Confederate flag draped across his lap, and the acrimonious debate over removal of the "Stars and Bars" from the South Carolina statehouse  grounds. The issue even roiled the House of Representatives for three days, from July 8 to10, when Democrats proposed amendments to a spending bill blocking the Confederate flag from display in national cemeteries and banning flag images from gift shops and concession stands operated by the National Park Service. The amendments initially passed without debate or a roll call vote, but several Republican Congressmen persuaded Speaker Boehner to allow the introduction of a measure to undo them. The resulting acrimonious debate put the Republicans under the spotlight on a racially-charged issue, at the very time when the party was struggling to attract minority voters. North Carolina Representative G.K. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, countered by asking if Republicans "don't understand that the Confederate flag is an insult to 40 million African-Americans and many other fair-minded Americans?" After several other Democrats contributed to the fray, Boehner recognized that he did not have the votes--either for the Republican measure, or to pass the spending bill without the original Democratic amendment. He then called for a "working group" to review all Confederate symbols at the Capitol, including flags  statues, and paintings. Beyond irony, he proclaimed that "it's time for some adults in Congress to actually sit down and have a conversation about how to address the issue."

There are essentially four major categories of evidence that slavery and race were the most important causes of secession:
1. The chronology of secession
2. The debates and votes in the individual state legislatures or ad hoc conventions
3. The Ordinances of Secession of individual states
4. The constitution of the Confederate States of America
5. The "Cornerstone Speech" of Alexander Stephens

1. The seven Deep South states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas), whose economies were entirely dependent upon slave labor, seceded in January and February, 1861, even before Lincoln's March 4 inauguration. The other four (Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina) did not secede until April and May, after Lincoln had made clear his intention to keep the Union intact, by military means if necessary, and after the firing on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Virginia and Tennessee even required referendum votes before acting. The other four slave-holding states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri), who had considerably fewer slaves, debated and delayed until Lincoln occupied their capitals with federal troops.

2. The divisions within the seceding state legislatures generally saw most of the dissenting votes coming from the upcountry, where subsistence white farmers owned few or no slaves. They were considered "poor white trash" by the planter class, and were primarily concerned with maintaining their own illusion of "white supremacy." Most were unsure if secession and the eventual abolition of slavery would help or hurt their already tenuous positions. The most extreme case was in Virginia, where the 50 western counties were so opposed to secession that they "seceded" from the state, eventually forming West Virginia, with its new capital at Wheeling. They were admitted to the Union as a free state in 1863, just in time for Lincoln's reelection. The affirmative votes were overwhelmingly cast by the representatives of the coastal "Black Belt," where blacks frequently outnumbered whites.

According to distinguished historian Eric Foner, the situation was complicated, even in "Deep South" states. Votes in their legislatures or conventions "showed considerable division on secession."  Each were rent by three factions: "those for immediate secession, those who sought delay until the policy of the new administration toward the slave states became clear, and those who believed they could bargain with the new administration." Even though Lincoln proposed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing slavery where it legally existed, and pledged to hold only federal property that was in the possession of the Union as of March 4, 1861, those in favor of immediate secession eventually prevailed. The vote in the Georgia legislature was 208 to 89, that in the Tennessee convention 104,471 to 47,183, and that in the Virginia referendum 132,201 to 37,451.

3. The Mississippi Ordinance of Secession, for example, proclaims that "our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest in the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by the imperious laws of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization,--There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles have been subverted to work out our ruin." In its declaration, Texas insists that it is "maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery--the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits--a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and the other slave-holding states of the confederacy." South Carolina attributed its decision to secede to "increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery." Georgia argued that " the North demanded the application of the principle of prohibition of slavery to all of the territory acquired from Mexico and all other parts of the public domain then and in all future times....The South with great unanimity declared her purpose to resist the principle of prohibition to the last extremity." Florida proclaimed that election of "an obscure and illiterate man without experience in public affairs or any general reputation mainly if not exclusively on account of a settled and often proclaimed hostility to our institutions and a fixed purpose to abolish them....Can anything be more impudently false than the pretense that this state of things is to be brought about from considerations of humanity to the slaves?" Alabama averred that "it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding states of the South, who may approve such purpose , in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the constitution of the United States."

4. The Constitution of the CSA largely follows the US Constitution except that it dealt with slavery directly, not obliquely or by implication. It  boldly established the CSA as a slaveholders' republic and felt no need to obfuscate that reality. Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 says that "representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States, which may be included in this Confederacy, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding the whole number of free persons, including those bound for service for a term of years, and excluding  Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all slavesArticle 1,Section 9, Clause 4 made slaves a sacrosanct type of property, with special protection under the law: No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed. Article 2, section 2, Clause 3 proclaims a ban on the importation of slaves except from the United States. Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 states that "the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit or sojourn in any state of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired." Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3 stipulates that "the Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several States, and may permit them, at such times and in such manner by law provide, to form
States to be admitted to the Confederacy in all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States shall have the right to take such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States. 

Equally explicit is the "Cornerstone Speech" given by Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens at  the Athenaeum in Savannah, Georgia on March 12, 1861, after the secession of the seven Deep South states, and just weeks before the firing on Fort Sumter. In it, he dismisses the ideas of the U.S. Constitution as "fundamentally wrong" because they "rested on the assumption of the equality of races.This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell 'when the storm came and the wind blew.' " He proudly proclaimed that "our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition." This new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution --African slavery as it exists among us--the proper status of the negro is our form of civilization.     

 In his detailed analysis of current U.S. history texts, historian James Loewen has concluded that "the reason so many people believe false things about the Civil War and the Confederacy is because many of our textbooks teach those wrong things even today." He insists that many Confederate memorials "date conspicuously from the days of George Wallace, rather than Jefferson Davis." Text book publishers are concerned with selling books in all fifty states, so the gap between their content and serious scholarly work in monographs and historical journals is often cavernous. No amount of cleverly contrived obfuscation, nor willful ignorance, however, can hide the shocking reality that the Civil War and its aftermath were fundamentally about slavery and race. Our national amnesia about our own history--our stubborn refusal to accept the logical and historical implications of "all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights"--continues to plague us in a million disastrous ways, and could very well lead to our disintegration.                     

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rent-Seeking Predators

What should we call the heartless, greedy, amoral cretins who are responsible for destroying our nation's economy, and for ruining the lives of countless million Americans?  Lets cut right to the heart of the matter and call them Rent-Seeking Predators! 

According to Wikipedia, "predation is "a biological interaction when a predator (an organism that is hunting) feeds on its prey." If you watch NatGeoWild, you know all too graphically what that means in the natural world. Predation in human society, of course, is an analogy. It does not involve actual ingestion of one person by another, but the practical effects on the well-being of "the prey" are every bit as gruesome and catastrophic. In our unnatural and hypercompetitive world, depriving someone of the opportunity to earn a decent livelihood and to realize their full potential is tantamount to devouring their life-chances, and--all too often--cutting short their lives. Many who would not think of committing such inhuman atrocities as individuals often do so--blissfully unaware--as members of predatory organizations and institutions. 

But why call these particular predators "rent-seeking"? Probably the most instructive way to understand what such liberal economists as Joseph Siglitz, James K. Galbraith, and Paul Krugman,    mean by "rent" is  the polar opposite of "profit." Ideally, they consider profit to be the legitimate product of invested capital, ideas, and labor--an award for risk-taking and the most productive utilization of resources. Rent, on the other hand, is the illegitimate "payment made (including imputed value) by non-produced inputs such as location (land) and for assets fortified by creating official privilege over natural opportunities (e.g. patents)." They are income reaped from other people's investment, ingenuity and work, as well as from conditions created by society and government. In simple terms, economic rent is "an excess where there is no enterprise or costs of production." It is "unearned and passive income," and "has important implications for public revenue and tax policy. One of the nastiest words in the economists' lexicon is rentier.

"As long as there is sufficient accounting profit, governments can collect a portion of economic rent for the purpose of public finance." In other words, modern. democratic  governments can tax as much of economic rent as they decide, under constitutional due process, because it is the common property of all its citizens, i.e. "unearned" by any additional effort made by "rentiers." Economic rents are "excess returns," above the "normal levels that are generated in competitive markets--a return" in excess of the resource owner's opportunity costs." They are "extra returns that firms or individuals obtain due to their positional advantages."

The rentier mindset was succinctly captured by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations  "As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sown , and demand a rent even for its natural produce. The wood of the forest, the grass of the field, and all the natural fruits of the earth, which, when land was held in common, cost the laborer only the trouble of gathering them." Once the land is privatized, "he must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labour either collects or produces. This portion, or, what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of the land."

Rent-seeking, according to Wikipedia, is "an attempt to gain economic rent (i.e. the portion of income paid to a factor of production in excess of that which is needed to keep it employed in its current use) by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than creating new wealth. Rent-seeking implies the extraction of uncompensated value from others, without making any contribution to productivity. Rent-seeking is distinguished from profit-seeking, in which entities seek to extract value by engaging in mutually beneficial transactions. Profit-seeking is the creation of wealth, while rent-seeking is the use of social institutions, such as the power of government, to redistribute wealth among different groups without creating new wealth. In a practical context, income obtained through rent-seeking may contribute to profits in the standard, accounting sense of the word. An example is spending money on political lobbying for government benefits or subsidies, in order to be given a share of wealth that has already been created, or to impose regulations on competitors, to increase market share....The concept of rent-seeking would also apply to corruption of bureaucrats who solicit and extract bribes for applying their legal, but discretionary, authority for awarding benefits to clients. Tax officials, for example, may take bribes for lessening the burden of tax payers.            

A closely related concept is regulatory capture, which refers to collusion between firms and the government agencies assigned to regulate them, an extensive rent-seeking behavior, especially when the government agency must rely on the same firms for knowledge about the market. The chair of the British Financial Services Authority, Lord Adair Turner, has argued that innovation in the finance industry is often a form of rent-seeking. The high proceeds of drug trafficking are generally regarded as rents, because they are neither legal profits nor the proceeds of common-law crimes. Rent-seeking also involves a  major moral hazard, because the proceeds are entirely unrelated to any contribution to total wealth or well-being, and because it results in a sub-optimal use of resources--money spent on lobbying rather than on research and development, improved business practices, employee training, or additional capital goods--seriously retarding real economic growth, which depends on actual, rather than ersatz, innovation. In The Rise and Decline of Nations, Mancour Olson argues that, as countries become dominated by organized interest groups, they lose economic vitality and fall into decline. Some critics have argued that rent-seeking has decreased total income in the USA by 45 percent, while many agree that total rent-seeking costs "equal the sum of aggregate current income plus the net deficit of the public sector." Joseph Stiglitz has argued that rent-seeking contributes significantly to income inequality through lobbying for government policies that permit the wealthy and powerful to acquire income, "not as a reward for creating wealth, but by grabbing a larger share that would otherwise have been produced without their effort." Such students of international economics as Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez have concluded that "much of  income inequality is a result of rent-seeking among wealthy tax payers."              

In The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too, University of Texas economics professor James K. Galbraith bluntly defines our "rent-seeking predator state" as "a coalition of relentless opponents of the regulatory framework on which public purpose depends, with enterprises whose major lines of business compete with or encroach on the principal public functions of the enduring New Deal." They" seek to control the state partly in order to prevent the assertion of public purpose and partly to poach on the lines of activities that past public purpose has established" They "have no intrinsic loyalty to any country," and "operate as a rule  on a transnational basis, and naturally come to view the goals and objectives of each society in which they work as just another set business conditions, more or less inimical to the free pursuit of profit." They "assuredly do not adopt any of society's goals as their own, and that includes goals that might be decided upon, from time to time, by their country of origin, the United States. As an ideological matter, it is fair to say that the very concept of public purpose is alien to, and denied by, the leaders and operatives of this coalition."

None of these enterprises has an interest in diminishing the size of the state, (in fact, they want ever bigger government)  and that is "what separates them from the principled conservatives" Their raison d'etre "is to make money off the state--so long as they control it. And this requires the marriage of the economic and the political, which is what, in every single case, we actually observe...The major battlegrounds of American domestic politics emerge clearly once there is an understanding of the Predator State." The real political conflict is not "government versus the state." It is a continuing battle over "who gets cut in on the deal--and a corresponding argument over who gets cut out, and how, for there is profit in both cutting in and cutting out." We actually live in "a corporate republic, where the methods, norms, culture, and corruption of government have become those of the corporation."  A narrow coalition of the high plutocracy actually rules, "mainly from the resource industries (oil, mining, and agribusiness) and the surviving old-line industrial firms (notably automobiles, steel, and defense), combined with big media, insurance, and pharmaceuticals. Ironically, Galbraith insists that this alliance found itself "entirely dependent on noneconomic issues directed at low-income working Americans through the one social institution that effectively reached most of them: their churches." Well, beer commercials help a lot.

But, he cautions, this does not constitute class war, because "not everyone who is successful under capitalism is a fan of the Predator State." It is a "the enemy of honest and independent and especially of sustainable business, of business that simply want to sell to the public and make a decent living over the long run." Predatory regimes, are "more or less exactly, like protection rackets." They are feared, but neither loved or respected. Its demise, he proclaims, will come "only when the more reasonable, more progressive part of the business community insists on it and is willing to make common cause with unions, consumers, environmentalists, and other mobilized social groups to bring the predators to heel." It is, he intones, "a race against time."