Saturday, January 31, 2009

**Sigh** In Defense of Self and the South...

Friday morning I was agitated, to say the least, when I read this headline for a post about the House vote for the stimulus plan over at Brilliant at Breakfast. Today, not so much. I fired off some comment, promising a great and enlightened post on the subject on Monday and set about doing the research.

Normally, I read everything they write and generally agree with their take on things. But yesterday's headline just pushed all my buttons. I admit it and maybe you will think I'm a bit crazy for taking that post to this level. What can I say? You all know how I react when my buttons are pushed. I will say this is the only post I am ever going to write on this particular subject as I know it is an exercise in futility. People are going to believe what they believe and there is no amount of agreement, proof, coaxing, teaching, pleading or anything else that will change their minds on this subject. So here is my defense of self and the South.

I was born four days after the Brown v Board of Education decision. Looking back on it now, that decision shaped my life and I had no choice but to become who I am, to believe what I do and to have done all that I have, trying to right the wrongs of my region. Still, it pisses me off, I can not help it, when some New Jersey Yankee, with all the superiority that comes simply from being a Yankee, decides all that I am is a racist, bigoted idiot because I was born in the South, specifically in, yes, I'm going to say it, that hated word, Mississippi.

In this post I am not going to offer excuses for any actions that took place before, during or after the Civil War, simply, a few facts. Acknowledging that it went way to far, I am going to say that most of it can be offered as simple "knee-jerk reaction" and were the shoe on the other foot, I would bet my life the totality of the reaction would have been the same. In fact I know it would. There's an article on Wikipedia here about the nation's reactions to forced busing for desegregation. Take note, there is only one southern city included in the write-up...can you say assimilation. We were, by then, already assimilated and had very few problems comparatively.

So first let's talk some history about slavery and how it came to be.

Excerpt taken from here

"Whether it was officially encouraged, as in New York and New Jersey, or not, as in Pennsylvania, the slave trade flourished in colonial Northern ports. But New England was by far the leading slave merchant of the American colonies.

The first systematic venture from New England to Africa was undertaken in 1644 by an association of Boston traders, who sent three ships in quest of gold dust and black slaves. One vessel returned the following year with a cargo of wine, salt, sugar, and tobacco, which it had picked up in Barbados in exchange for slaves. But the other two ran into European warships off the African coast and barely escaped in one piece. Their fate was a good example of why Americans stayed out of the slave trade in the 17th century. Slave voyages were profitable, but Puritan merchants lacked the resources, financial and physical, to compete with the vast, armed, quasi-independent European chartered corporations that were battling to monopolize the trade in black slaves on the west coast of Africa. The superpowers in this struggle were the Dutch West India Company and the English Royal African Company. The Boston slavers avoided this by making the longer trip to the east coast of Africa, and by 1676 the Massachusetts ships were going to Madagascar for slaves. Boston merchants were selling these slaves in Virginia by 1678. But on the whole, in the 17th century New Englanders merely dabbled in the slave trade.

Then, around 1700, the picture changed. First the British got the upper hand on the Dutch and drove them from many of their New World colonies, weakening their demand for slaves and their power to control the trade in Africa. Then the Royal African Company's monopoly on African coastal slave trade was revoked by Parliament in 1696. Finally, the Assiento and the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) gave the British a contract to supply Spanish America with 4,800 slaves a year. This combination of events dangled slave gold in front of the New England slave traders, and they pounced. Within a few years, the famous “Triangle Trade” and its notorious “Middle Passage” were in place.

Rhode Islanders had begun including slaves among their cargo in a small way as far back as 1709. But the trade began in earnest there in the 1730s. Despite a late start, Rhode Island soon surpassed Massachusetts as the chief colonial carrier. After the Revolution, Rhode Island merchants had no serious American competitors. They controlled between 60 and 90 percent of the U.S. trade in African slaves. Rhode Island had excellent harbors, poor soil, and it lacked easy access to the Newfoundland fisheries. In slave trading, it found its natural calling. William Ellery, prominent Newport merchant, wrote in 1791, “An Ethiopian could as soon change his skin as a Newport merchant could be induced to change so lucrative a trade as that in slaves for the slow profits of any manufactory.”[1]

Boston and Newport were the chief slave ports, but nearly all the New England towns -- Salem, Providence, Middletown, New London – had a hand in it. In 1740, slaving interests in Newport owned or managed 150 vessels engaged in all manner of trading. In Rhode Island colony, as much as two-thirds of the merchant fleet and a similar fraction of sailors were engaged in slave traffic. The colonial governments of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all, at various times, derived money from the slave trade by levying duties on black imports. Tariffs on slave import in Rhode Island in 1717 and 1729 were used to repair roads and bridges.

The 1750 revocation of the Assiento dramatically changed the slave trade yet again. The system that had been set up to stock Spanish America with thousands of Africans now needed another market. Slave ships began to steer northward. From 1750 to 1770, African slaves flooded the Northern docks. Merchants from Philadelphia, New York, and Perth Amboy began to ship large lots (100 or more) in a single trip. As a result, wholesale prices of slaves in New York fell 50% in six years.

On the eve of the Revolution, the slave trade “formed the very basis of the economic life of New England.”[2] It wove itself into the entire regional economy of New England. The Massachusetts slave trade gave work to coopers, tanners, sailmakers, and ropemakers. Countless agents, insurers, lawyers, clerks, and scriveners handled the paperwork for slave merchants. Upper New England loggers, Grand Banks fishermen, and livestock farmers provided the raw materials shipped to the West Indies on that leg of the slave trade. Colonial newspapers drew much of their income from advertisements of slaves for sale or hire. New England-made rum, trinkets, and bar iron were exchanged for slaves. When the British in 1763 proposed a tax on sugar and molasses, Massachusetts merchants pointed out that these were staples of the slave trade, and the loss of that would throw 5,000 seamen out of work in the colony and idle almost 700 ships. The connection between molasses and the slave trade was rum. Millions of gallons of cheap rum, manufactured in New England, went to Africa and bought black people. Tiny Rhode Island had more than 30 distilleries, 22 of them in Newport. In Massachusetts, 63 distilleries produced 2.7 million gallons of rum in 1774. Some was for local use: rum was ubiquitous in lumber camps and on fishing ships. “But primarily rum was linked with the Negro trade, and immense quantities of the raw liquor were sent to Africa and exchanged for slaves. So important was rum on the Guinea Coast that by 1723 it had surpassed French and Holland brandy, English gin, trinkets and dry goods as a medium of barter.”[3] Slaves costing the equivalent of £4 or £5 in rum or bar iron in West Africa were sold in the West Indies in 1746 for £30 to £80. New England thrift made the rum cheaply -- production cost was as low as 5½ pence a gallon -- and the same spirit of Yankee thrift discovered that the slave ships were most economical with only 3 feet 3 inches of vertical space to a deck and 13 inches of surface area per slave, the human cargo laid in carefully like spoons in a silverware case.

A list of the leading slave merchants is almost identical with a list of the region's prominent families: the Fanueils, Royalls, and Cabots of Massachusetts; the Wantons, Browns, and Champlins of Rhode Island; the Whipples of New Hampshire; the Eastons of Connecticut; Willing & Morris of Philadelphia. To this day, it's difficult to find an old North institution of any antiquity that isn't tainted by slavery. Ezra Stiles imported slaves while president of Yale. Six slave merchants served as mayor of Philadelphia. Even a liberal bastion like Brown University has the shameful blot on its escutcheon. It is named for the Brown brothers, Nicholas, John, Joseph, and Moses, manufacturers and traders who shipped salt, lumber, meat -- and slaves. And like many business families of the time, the Browns had indirect connections to slavery via rum distilling. John Brown, who paid half the cost of the college's first library, became the first Rhode Islander prosecuted under the federal Slave Trade Act of 1794 and had to forfeit his slave ship. Historical evidence also indicates that slaves were used at the family's candle factory in Providence, its ironworks in Scituate, and to build Brown's University Hall.[4]

Even after slavery was outlawed in the North, ships out of New England continued to carry thousands of Africans to the American South. Some 156,000 slaves were brought to the United States in the period 1801-08, almost all of them on ships that sailed from New England ports that had recently outlawed slavery. Rhode Island slavers alone imported an average of 6,400 Africans annually into the U.S. in the years 1805 and 1806. The financial base of New England's antebellum manufacturing boom was money it had made in shipping. And that shipping money was largely acquired directly or indirectly from slavery, whether by importing Africans to the Americas, transporting slave-grown cotton to England, or hauling Pennsylvania wheat and Rhode Island rum to the slave-labor colonies of the Caribbean.

Northerners profited from slavery in many ways, right up to the eve of the Civil War. The decline of slavery in the upper South is well documented, as is the sale of slaves from Virginia and Maryland to the cotton plantations of the Deep South. But someone had to get them there, and the U.S. coastal trade was firmly in Northern hands. William Lloyd Garrison made his first mark as an anti-slavery man by printing attacks on New England merchants who shipped slaves from Baltimore to New Orleans.

Long after the U.S. slave trade officially ended, the more extensive movement of Africans to Brazil and Cuba continued. The U.S. Navy never was assiduous in hunting down slave traders. The much larger British Navy was more aggressive, and it attempted a blockade of the slave coast of Africa, but the U.S. was one of the few nations that did not permit British patrols to search its vessels, so slave traders continuing to bring human cargo to Brazil and Cuba generally did so under the U.S. flag. They also did so in ships built for the purpose by Northern shipyards, in ventures financed by Northern manufacturers.

In a notorious case, the famous schooner-yacht Wanderer, pride of the New York Yacht Club, put in to Port Jefferson Harbor in April 1858 to be fitted out for the slave trade. Everyone looked the other way -- which suggests this kind of thing was not unusual -- except the surveyor of the port, who reported his suspicions to the federal officials. The ship was seized and towed to New York, but her captain talked (and possibly bought) his way out and was allowed to sail for Charleston, S.C.

Fitting out was completed there, the Wanderer was cleared by Customs, and she sailed to Africa where she took aboard some 600 blacks. On Nov. 28, 1858, she reached Jekyll Island, Georgia, where she illegally unloaded the 465 survivors of what is generally called the last shipment of slaves to arrive in the United States.

1. Hugh Thomas, “The Slave Trade,” N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1997, p.519.
2. Lorenzo Johnston Greene, “The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776,” N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1942, p.68-69.
3. ibid., p.26.
4. “Brown University committee examines historical ties to slavery,” Associated Press, The Boston Globe, March 5, 2004"

Next, let's talk about the Port of New Orleans:

Taken from The Georgia Heritage Council:

"While the New England state legislatures postured against slavery in the first half of the 19th century, their people were continuing to make money on the Slave Trade and enjoying the fortunes they amassed trading in slaves for over two centuries.

When they went to war to invade the Southern States, their real purpose was to eliminate an economic threat to their shipping trade and ports posed by the lower tariffs in the Confederate ports of Charleston, Savannah, Mobile and New Orleans. Numerous editorials from Northern newspapers document their concern. The abolition of slavery was but a false and transparent justification for war they unveiled over a year after the hostilities began. The war was about enforcing federal revenue laws and protecting New England shipping interests and protecting markets for Northern manufactured goods. These arguments are advanced in more detail elsewhere.

If the manufacturer at Manchester [England] can send his goods into the Western States through New Orleans at less cost than through New York, he is a fool for not availing himself of his advantage...If the importations of the counrty are made through Southern ports, its exports will go through the same channel. The produce of the West, instead of coming to our own port by millions of tons, to be transported abroad by the same ships through which we received our importations, will seek other routes and other outlets. With the lost of our foreign trade, what is to become of our public works, conducted at the cost of many hundred millions of dollars, to turn into our harbor the products of the interior? They share in the common ruin. So do our manufacturers...Once at New Orleans, goods may be distributed over the whole country duty-free. The process is perfectly simple... The commercial bearing of the question has acted upon the North...We now see clearly whither we are tending, and the policy we must adopt. With us it is no longer an abstract question---one of Constitutional construction, or of the reserved or delegated powers of the State or Federal government, but of material existence and moral position both at home and abroad.....We were divided and confused till our pockets were touched." ---New York Times March 30, 1861

"The Southern Confederacy will not employ our ships or buy our goods. What is our shipping without it? Literally nothing....It is very clear that the South gains by this process, and we lose. No---we MUST NOT "let the South go." " ----Union Democrat , Manchester, NH, February 19, 1861

From a story entitled: "What shall be done for a revenue?"
"That either revenue from duties must be collected in the ports of the rebel states, or the ports must be closed to importations from abroad.... If neither of these things be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have no money to carry on the government; the nation will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe.....Allow rail road iron to be entered at Savannah with the low duty of ten per cent, which is all that the Southern Confederacy think of laying on imported goods, and not an ounce more would be imported at New York; the railroads would be supplied from the southern ports. ---New York Evening Post March 12, 1861, recorded in Northern Editorials on Secession, Howard C. Perkins, ed., 1965, pp. 598-599."

Now I'm not about to give you a history lesson on the Civil War itself. I'm assuming here, that you get the gist of what happened. So lets move on to Reconstruction, shall we? oh, wait I did want to include this excerpt from the Transcript of the Confederate Constitution, Section 9, 1-4

1. The importation of negroes of the African race, from any foreign country, other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.
2. Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.
3. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.
4. No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves, shall be passed.
Else where, it also, to be fair, gives the states more power over the decision.

There is a pretty good description of what the south was like after the war here. I'm not going to include it in this post but I suggest you go read it. Because if you do, then and only then, can you understand where the hatred, blame and retaliation comes from.
No description of the South after the war would be complete unless it included Carpetbaggers. Here's a cleaned up version, suitable for general consumption:

"Reconstruction Begins

As soon as the war ended, in November of 1865, reconstruction began.

It was a complicated time, full of important political characters, healthy debate, corruption, greed and goodwill alike. The entire nation had changed forever, and it was during these decades that it was decided whether this change would be for better or for worse.

Enter the Carpetbaggers

After the war, one of the conditions of the surrender of the Confederacy was that thousands of ex-confederate politicians throughout the south were to step down from their places of privilege and power. This left many openings all over the land for new political prospects to come in and take over. Many who recognized this need and sought to fulfill it, mainly with their own selfish aspirations in mind, were citizens from the north, usually middle and even upper class, who looked at the south as almost a new frontier, full of land and opportunity.

These northerners moved to the south during the reconstruction period in droves, hoping to receive a position of power in the southern land, either for their own gain or for the genuine desire to see reconstruction move along; to satiate their abolitionist tendencies by keeping the peace amongst whites and the newly freed black citizens.

These peripatetic settlers were known throughout the nation as carpetbaggers. The name is said to have come from the fact that many of them carried all their belongings in carpetbags as sort of a cheap form of luggage.

As might be expected, the carpetbaggers during reconstruction didn't get the warmest welcome to those who were still holding onto pride in their southern cultures and lands, and didn't much appreciate the fact that northerners were coming in and exploiting the system, being offered positions as mayors, city councilmen and even congressmen. This resulted in a great deal of negative feelings between all of the different parties scheming for control of the south during reconstruction, and served to make what was already a complicated period even more so."

So, I've written all that to say this...Understanding is the key, forgiveness is the solution. Someday we have to move past all the hurt, blame and anger. With the election of our new president I had hoped that day had finally come until I read that title. So, Jill the next time you feel like dogging on the South by using the "N" word in your title, please count to ten and re-think your title choice. If you had bothered to look up the election stats you would see we have come a long way from the South of the 50's and 60's. I'll leave you with this as it suits my mood today...

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