Slavery proved to be one of the worst chapters in our nation’s history. Dealing with this legacy is something that has shaped our identity and created patterns within race relations for hundreds of years. Racism and slavery are two sides of the same coin. How do you teach it? That’s the issue. That’s what we’re going to take a look at in this chapter. If you’ve noticed, it is structured a bit differently than other chapters. Not only is it thematically divided, but it is also built along a continuum from the perspective of the owners to those who either fought or found freedom. It is well written. Let’s take a look.
THE EXPANSION OF SLAVERY IN A GLOBAL ECONOMY (359) In the introduction, there are a couple main points worth mentioning: cotton was king, most whites didn’t own slaves (75%) and the South was geographically diverse but predominantly agriculturally driven in its economy. Remember those points. Now, on to the topic. Notice one of the first points brought up: per capita income in the South in 1860 was one of the highest in the world. Ouch. Why? C-O-T-T-O-N: the fabric of our lives, right? Notice also that cotton production on its own doesn’t produce wealth. There’s a global trading network that our cotton fits right into – and that makes it profitable. Where would the South be without the British navy on its side? Do you think that we would do so well if we were still fighting off the British and the French, as we did in the early 1800’s? Finally, there are some important points at the end. One is that slavery became entrenched economically and the second is that slavery began a domino effect – causing links that others did not want to break – even for moral reasons. Your book doesn’t mention that Great Britain banned the slave trade and slavery by the 1830’s – and yet they still took in the cheap cotton. Think about all of the businesses in the global marketplace today that sell products from sweatshops that consumers in the US buy. Makes you go ‘Hmm…’
SLAVERY IN LATIN AMERICA (359) Hey, Portugal gets slammed! Well, it was one of the first nations to begin the slave trade and one of the last nations to give it up. Note that in comparison, you book states that,
“Historians used to argue that because of restraints of Catholicism, Roman legal codes, and the greater frequency of racial intermarriage, slavery was more benign and less barbaric in Spanish Latin America than in the United States, and that slaves enjoyed more dignity as people. Though it is true that Latin American slaves had more religious holidays and days of rest than in the North, and that caste distinctions based on gradations of color were more prevalent, it is now thought that slavery was just as harsh, if not more so, and that differences within Latin America and between Latin and North American slavery were more economic, demographic, and regional than religious and cultural.”
This is an interesting point about the changing nature of historical scholarship. What do you think caused historians to change their minds? Moral relativity? Political dynamics? Class consciousness? Let’s talk about it.
Another interesting point that is not mentioned here is that Latin America actually imports more slaves than the colonies, but by 1860, the US has over 3 times as many slaves as some other nations. Families and slave codes make the difference. Look at the intermarriage statistics in Latin America, though, and compare them to the US. Racism and slavery – two sides of the same coin.
WHITE AND BLACK MIGRATIONS IN THE SOUTH (361) A brother of a friend of mine actually is a professor and wrote a book on the internal slave trade. I’ll bring it in if you want. It’s something not really mentioned in most texts when I was in high school. There’s a great amount of information on this from narrative history. If someone wants an extra credit project, let me know.
SOUTHERN DEPENDENCE ON SLAVERY (362) This section focuses almost exclusively on the economic role that slaves played in different fields, but mostly in agriculture. Notice the title of the section, though, and think about its meaning. Was slavery necessary for the economic health of the nation? Was the nation dependent on slavery? If so, why? If not, then why was it continued, if not for its economic role? At the end of the section is the piece that most texts include from DeBow’s Review, which talks about how the South needs to change. These are important points that connect to the economic development AFTER the Civil War devastates the Southern economy and it has to rebuild. Some people in history can’t avoid the ‘I told you so’ moments.
PATERNALISM AND HONOR IN THE PLANTER CLASS (362) This section is brief, but talks about the relationship between a code of honor and the racism explicit in how ‘good whites’ take care of their slaves. The justification for oppression is spread throughout history: in American schools on Native American reservations, in working conditions in factories by owners, in South Africa by the white government, etc.
SLAVERY, CLASS AND YEOMAN FARMERS (364) Look at who owns the slaves. There’s also an interesting narrative story here about a slave-owner. What’s the message between the lines? Notice the tension between poor whites and plantation owners? It’s like a give and take in terms of power, but below it all is the slave system. Even the poorest white was still white. This is the institutionalized racism that doesn’t go away once the 13th Amendment ends slavery. Do elements of this tension blurred class and race relations still exist today?
THE NON-SLAVEHOLDING SOUTH (366) OK. Non-slaveowning farmers were not the poorest, but they had a tough time making a living as well. They are also most of the fighters in the Confederacy once war breaks out.