Correction: In comments, I've written that slaves were worth 75 billion in 1860 dollars. That is wrong. It's 75 billion in today's dollars, and three billion in 1860 dollars. My apologies.
One of the more unfortunate aspects of blogging about the Civil War is that a great deal of time is expended on debunking, as opposed to discovery. Instead of looking at, say, Unionism in Tennessee, or Native American participation in the Confederate Army, we end up revisiting black Confederates again. I've tried to avoid this. But history is political and the deployment of comfortable narratives is a constant malady. Moreover, I get something out of these repeated debunkings that I didn't realize until this weekend. My wife recently noted that is not unusual for scientist to spend as much, or more, time disproving things, as opposed to proving. She added that sometimes in disproving, they actually make a discovery.
I've been thinking about that some in my posts on Ron Paul, Howard Zinn and the issue of compensated emancipation. To be blunt, I am unsatisfied with my rebuttal. I have a case which demonstrates, on a surface, why compensated emancipation as an alternative to the Civil War, is ridiculous. But it isn't complete. It doesn't attack at all angles.
The problem debating this sort of thing is the side of dishonesty and intellectual laziness is at an advantage. It will likely take more effort for me to compose this post, then it took for Ron Paul to stand before the Confederate Flag and offer his thin gruel of history. Those attempting to practice history need not only gather facts, but seek out facts that might contradict the facts they like, and then gather more facts of context to see what it all means.
But Comfortable History is asymmetrical warfare it needs only a smattering of facts, and need not guard against a lack of context, presentism, or other facts that might undermine its arguments. Instead it breezily proceeds through hypotheticals and abstract thought experiments which somehow satisfy our desire to be in possession of a dissident intellect. Comfortable History is like the computer virus that poses as the shield -- it positions the espouser as a brave truth-teller, even as it infects us with lies.
All this fueled by the fact that are real viruses, that we are often lied to. The government didn't invent HIV, but Tuskegee happened and people who believe the former are always about the business of citing the latter. The Comfortable History is surely cynical -- but it gives us a pattern of broad paranoia which we can obey. In the way that a lawful evil dictatorship will always be preferable to a chaotic evil anarchy, cynicism gives us bright lines. It gives us patterns and thus avoids the atheistic truth--that there are no patterns, that there is no Law Of History, that all of it is chaos.
Against that chaos, we have the light of our critical thinking skills and in applying them, in working harder those who seek only to comfort, we are rewarded with deeper insights. It is from that perspective, that I'd like to address this question of "Compensated Emancipation" and enlist the help of this knowledgeable group of readers to fill in the gaps. Consider this an advanced Talk To Me Like I'm Stupid. (It will be edited. Think before you write. Also, please don't just throw in links, with a "Check out this." Or "read this book," Not that we're opposed to books, but we need actual comments. It is permissible to say nothing.)
We know that slaves were, far and away, the most valuable asset in the country, such that a town like Natchez, Mississippi, by 1860, had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the country. We know that all of that wealth was built off of slavery, and slave-trading, We know that slavery was not merely an economic system, but a social system which transformed white Southern men into the broadest aristocracy in world history. As Daniel Hundley put it, slavery means that "every free white man in the whole Union has just as much right to become an oligarch."
With us the two great divisions of society are not rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.
We know that his junior colleague John Henry Hammond argued:
In a slave country, every freeman is an aristocrat. Be he rich or poor, if he does not possess a single slave, he has been born to all the natural advantages of the society in which he is placed; and all its honors lie open to him, inviting his genius and industry. Sir, I do firmly believe, that domestic slavery, regulated as our is, produces the highest toned, the purest, best organization of society, that has ever existed on the face of this Earth.
We know that states like Mississippi and South Carolina were, in 1860, majority black and thus compensated emancipation in Hammond and Calhoun's South Carolina would not simply mean the end of this broad aristocracy, but the prospect of a free white populations outnumbered by a free black population. We can thus surmise that it is no coincidence that South Carolina inaugurated the Civil War.
We know that to alleviate fears of black majority, compensated emancipation was usually partnered with a proposal of colonization -- that is the removal of African-Americans from slave states to colonies in Africa or the Caribbean. We know that colonization was a polarizing issue in the black community, and by 1860, much of its popular support had collapsed. Thus we know that any contemplation of compensated emancipation must grapple with how several counties, and some states in the South, would react to finding themselves suddenly outnumbered by free black people.
We know that there is a strong moral case against compensated emancipation -- that slavery is the theft of one person's labor for the benefit of another -- and thus any moral talk of "compensation" should include compensation for the slaves. We know that such talk is presently deemed "reparations" and enjoyed as little currency in the 19th century as it did in the 20th and the 21st.
We know all of this. And yet somehow we don't know enough. Let us set forth "the more" which we should know:
1.) Was there any debate at all about compensated emancipation in the South, before the Civil War, and what was the fate of that debate? Here, I bet the records of the American Colonization Society, might help. But I'd like to know, specifically, about debates around payment for the liberation of slaves.
2.) Was a mass payment toward slave-holders even possible? We know that in 1860, slaves were worth $3 billion in 1860 dollars (75 billion in today's dollars.) Did the American government have access to those sorts of funds? If so, how would they have been garnered?
3.) It is often claimed that only in the United States was war necessary. We know this to be false, given the fate of Haiti. But what about in the rest of the Western hemisphere? Is it correct to argue that abolition happened nonviolently everywhere else? Even if it did, would it have happened without the bloody example of the Civil War? (I'm thinking Cuba, for instance.)
4.) Assuming compensation, how would Southerners have reacted to a substantial black minority in their midst? What would the labor system have looked like? What would have happened with black male suffrage? How would the white working class reacted to finding itself in competition with blacks?
5.) What was the Southern attitude toward war? Given that South Carolina fired the first shots, was it there expectation that hundreds of thousands of people would die? How did Southern expectations impact on their views of giving up slavery?
6.) Why didn't England have a war over slavery? What were the specific differences between England slave colonies and the Antebellum South?
These are but a few of the questions that extend outside of my purview.I don't do this out of any hope of converting anyone away from Ron Paul. He is, at this point, a savior for people who badly need one. Moreover, I'm not much interested in balancing his view of history with his views on the drug war. Expect that any person who makes his pitch with a Confederate Flag as his backdrop, will have a very hard time making any other pitch to the most suffering mass of the drug war's victims.
Still the gaps should be filled--not for conversion, but for our own curiosity. Robbed of a Comfortable History, we are all we have. Our prophets are dead.
Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.
I have seen the future, and it is in the United States.
After a several-year immersion in parts of the country that make the news mainly after a natural disaster or a shooting, or for follow-up stories on how the Donald Trump voters of 2016 now feel about Trump, I have a journalistic impulse similar to the one that dominated my years of living in China. That is the desire to tell people how much more is going on, in places they had barely thought about or even heard of, than they might have imagined.
In the case of China, that impulse matched the mood of the times. In the years before and after the world financial crisis of 2008, everyone knew that China was on the way up; reporters like me were just filling in the details. In the case of the modern United States, I am well aware that this message runs so counter to prevailing emotions and ideas as to seem preposterous. Everyone knows how genuinely troubled the United States is at the level of national politics and governance. It is natural to assume that these disorders must reflect a deeper rot across the country. And indeed, you can’t travel extensively through today’s America, as my wife, Deb, and I have been doing in recent years, without being exposed to signs of rot, from opioid addiction to calcifying class barriers.
The president appears ready to blithely sacrifice his nominee for veterans affairs secretary as part of a long-running war against the Senate confirmation process.
Hours after news of allegations of misconduct emerged against Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House physician and President Trump’s pick to be the next secretary of veterans affairs, the president had a bizarre commentary to offer.
“I told Admiral Jackson just a little while ago, what do you need this for? This is a vicious group of people. … What do you need it for?” Trump said Tuesday, during a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. “I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. What does he need it for? I don’t think personally he should do it. It would be totally his decision.”
I don’t think personally he should do it.
Could there be a stranger thing to say about the man who you nominated to take the job—whom you delivered over to an “ugly” and “disgusting” confirmation process?
The novelist Mary Morris explains how the opening line of One Hundred Years of Solitude shaped her path as a writer.
By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature. See entries from Colum McCann, George Saunders, Emma Donoghue, Michael Chabon, and more.
When I was her student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the novelist Marilynne Robinson told our class it was almost unthinkable for women of her generation to become writers. Society afforded women with an extremely limited range of opportunity: You could be a teacher, nurse, or homemaker, she said, and that was about it. Other paths—especially professionalized, artistic ones—were possible, but extremely hard-won.
That was the challenge facing Mary Morris, author of Gateway to the Moon, after she dropped out of grad school in the 1970s. For years, she’d worked in secret, living a kind of creative double life—writing constantly, but never sure she was really a writer. No one ever told her how the verb might earn the noun.
A new study finds that Trump voters weren’t losing income or jobs. Instead, they were concerned about their place in the world.
For the past 18 months, many political scientists have been seized by one question: Less-educated whites were President Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters. But why, exactly?
Was their vote some sort of cri de coeur about a changing economy that had left them behind? Or was the motivating sentiment something more complex and, frankly, something harder for policy makers to address?
After analyzing in-depth survey data from 2012 and 2016, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz argues that it’s the latter. In a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she added her conclusion to the growing body of evidence that the 2016 election was not about economic hardship.
The president’s pick to be secretary of veterans affairs stands accused of misconduct, but with a proper vetting process he would never have been in this position anyway.
For the third time in four months, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson is at the center of a surprising report.
The first time came in January, when Jackson, the White House physician, announced that President Trump was in excellent physical and mental health, offering an endorsement so effusive that some were led to question Jackson’s judgment.
The second came in March, when President Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and announced that he would nominate Jackson to succeed him. Though Jackson is a flag officer in the Navy, he had never run anything nearly as large and complicated as the federal government’s second-largest bureaucracy.
The third came Monday night, with a series of vague reports about “allegations” against Jackson that threatened to slow down or derail his nomination. Senators were tight-lipped about what they might mean, including an elegantly tautological comment from Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, who said the allegations were troubling “only if true.” Since then, a few new details have emerged. CBS News and The New York Timesreport the allegations include a hostile work environment in the White House medical office, drinking on the job, and overprescribing medications.
What if the problem isn’t the president—it’s the presidency?
I. A Broken Office
Donald Trump often appears to be a president in rebellion against his office. A president, we have come to expect, hastens to the scene of a natural disaster to comfort the afflicted. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, President Trump arrived tardily and behaved unseriously, tossing rolls of paper towels at storm-battered residents as if he were trying to drain three-point shots.
We have come to expect that when the national fabric rends, the president will administer needle and thread, or at least reach for the sewing box of unity. After white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, shouting “Jews will not replace us,” President Trump’s instinct was to emphasize that there were good people among the neo-Nazis.
The burger, shake, and fries—“enduring icons of American cuisine”— are used to symbolize abundance, accessibility, and dominance while ignoring the dark side of those values.
The series Riverdale owes its ratings success to a number of factors, not least of which is its appeal to a relentless and sometimes revisionist nostalgia. The characters are lifted from the classic Archie comics, for one, which are synonymous with the wholesome, mid-century aesthetic they retained from the late ’50s through the 21st century. But the show’s nostalgia for a supposedly simpler time is most evident in the food the characters eat.
Betty, Veronica, and the rest of the gang often gather at their local diner, Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, where they favor the greasy, calorie-laden stuff of American folklore: burgers, fries, and milkshakes. So integral is the food to the iconography of the show that the cast shared a milkshake on a Jimmy Fallon segment in reference to their characters’ heroic consumption of thick malts. In a Netflix promotional video, the show’s breakout star, Cole Sprouse, stared into a camera doing nothing but sloppily eating a hamburger.
Ahead of Avengers: Infinity War, the extended cinematic universe has been sweeping away its status quo—and questioning the very nature of superheroism.
In 1986, the famed comic-book creator Frank Miller wrote a seven-part story for Daredevil called “Born Again,” a dark tale of betrayal and redemption that helped usher in the gritty modern age of the medium. Though Miller’s recent turn toward more extreme politics in his work has alienated many fans, his influence in the mid-’80s was crucial to the evolution of mainstream comics. Near the end of “Born Again,” Daredevil, the costumed protector of Hell’s Kitchen, fights a villain named Nuke, whose powers are cataclysmic enough that more epic heroes have to get involved: the Avengers, represented by their best-known members, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor.
The artist David Mazzucchelli draws those three heroes in mythic fashion, with Captain America cradling an injured child in his arms, Thor silhouetted against the storm he has summoned, and Iron Man standing like an immovable sentry, collectively commanding Daredevil to back off. They’re powerful, but entirely inhuman—gods among men who are worlds removed from a street-level hero like Daredevil.With this scene,their grandeur had transmuted from something that was previously soapy and colorful to something remote and frightening. It was a clear sign of a necessary shift in comic-book storytelling, one that no longer easily assumed might made right.
Emmanuel Macron had something surprising to say about the United States last week, given that the president of the United States would soon be hosting his French counterpart for an elaborate state visit. Hard-edged “national selfishness”—of the kind that plunged the world into war nearly eight decades ago, long before the 40-year-old leader was born—is resurgent and endangering Europe’s “model” of liberal, pluralist democracy and international cooperation, Macron said in a speech before the European Parliament. And the threat to Europe is coming not just from without (“authoritarian powers”) and within (“illiberal” politics in certain European countries), but from its centuries-old ally across the Atlantic.
Floyd Landis, a former teammate of the cyclist’s, just won more than $1 million in a legal case against Armstrong. Here are his thoughts on the suit, cycling, and his onetime rival.
At 5:19 p.m. on Friday, April 30, 2010, Floyd Landis hit send on what would prove the most consequential email of his life. Addressed to the then-CEO of USA Cycling, Steve Johnson, the email bore the subject line “nobody is copied on this one so it’s up to you to demonstrate your true colors….” It went on to detail, year by year, how Landis and other members of the United States Postal Service team had used illegal performance-enhancing drugs and methods to dominate the sport of cycling and claim victories at the sport’s premier event, the Tour de France. The email, later included in Landis’s 2012 affidavit for a United States Anti-Doping Agency (usada) investigation, clearly implicated many of his former teammates—most famously, the seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (who declined to comment for this article).