Friday, August 17, 2012

Slavery and Free-Labor in 1861

William C Davis in Chapter 11 (entitled "Myths and Realities of the Confederacy") of The Cause Lost, and James M. McPherson in Chapter 1 (entitled "Antebellum Southern Exceptionalism") of Drawn with the Sword, present a mind-numbing number of possibilities and viewpoints. Furthermore, McPherson writes, some of the best historians McWhiney and Vann Woodward for example, reversed or evolved their viewpoints in confusing fashion -- at least for McPherson who attempts to find order in the various views.

With the above as a sort of caveat, here are two antebellum views that describe two major differences between the Northern and the Southern economies:

"There is a degree of something like ferocity in the Southern mind [especially] toward New England which exceeds belief." A South Caroninian told Russell: 'We are an agricultural people, pursuing our own system, and working out our own destiny, breeding up women and men with some other purpose than to make then vulgar, fanatical, cheating Yankees.' Louis Wigfall of Texas, a former U.S. sentator, told Russell: We are a peculiar people, sir! . . . We are an agricultural people, . . . We have no cities -- we don't want them. . . . We want no manufactueres: we desire no trading, no mechanical or manufacturing classes. . . . As long as we have our rice, our sugar, our tobacco, and our cotton, we can command wealth to purchase all we want. . . . But with the Yankees we will never trade -- never. Not one pound of cotton shall ever go from the South to their accursed cities." [quoted by McPherson from William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South]

McPherson tells us that Wigfall's "opinions were not universally shared in the South . . . but in the fevered atmosphere of the late 1850s they were widely shared. 'Free Society!' exclaimed a Georgia newspaper. 'We sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists . . . hardly fit for association with a southern gentleman's body servant.' . . ."

In 1861 ". . . Charles Colcock Jones, Jr., a native of Georgia who had graduated from Princeton and from Harvard Law School, spoke of the development of antagonistic cultures in North and South: 'In this country have arisen two races [Northerners and Southerners] which, although claiming a common parentage, have been so entirely separated by climate, by morals, by religion, and by estimates so totally opposite to all that constitutes honor, truth, and manliness, that they cannot longer exist under the same government.'

"Spokesmen for the free-labor ideology, which was the dominant political force in the North by 1860, reciprocated these sentiments. The South, said Theodore Parker, was 'the foe to Northern Industry -- to our mines, our manufactures, and our commerce. . . . She is the foe to our institutions -- to our democratic politics in the State, our democratic culture in the school, our democratic work in the community, our democratic equality in the family. . . ."

Comment: Reading Wigfall's statement I was reminded of the Unibomber's "manifesto," but also of the ideals of Brook Farm and other agrarian communes.

Then in reading the Theodore Parker statement I was reminded of things I read about "wage slaves" who suffered terribly before unions could guarantee them something like a decent living. Wigfall and those advocating a "free labor economy" did not have to work as slave or wage-slave. Yes, slavery should have been abolished but look what came next? Wage-slavery needed to be abolished as well. It took many years of misery on the part of the wage-slave, fights with "the bosses," being clubbed by "goons," listening to those trying to start up Unions (many of whom were martyred) and then perhaps the threat of Communism before Capitalists relented and began paying better wages.

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