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Lessons from History, What Have we Truly Learned?

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This month many people in our country will celebrate and commemorate the Freedom Riders who set out in the summer of 1961 to change the face of our nation and in doing so left an indelible mark on not only the United States but the world.

Four-hundred young people from California to Massachusetts decided enough was enough and went about changing the rules in the Jim Crow infested south. They were black and white, Christians and Jews, rich and poor. But they had a singular mindset. They were going to challenge the intractable customs, individuals and yes, the way of life in the old Confederacy that seemed to think they could still pick and choose which of the laws of this land they had to abide by.

The protestors went about their work peacefully. They sat quietly on buses that eventually carried them into the lion’s den but they did not shrink from their convictions. As they entered the south they were ordered to the back of the bus but they refused to move. They were beaten but did not stop coming. They came in wave after wave. The violence was shocking to many Americans who could not, or would not comprehend the vile racism that had entrenched itself in the individuals and institutions throughout the south.

As Americans witnessed the barbaric behavior of genteel whites standing side-by-side with rednecks, our collective consciousness was overwhelmed. What was it about these folks that they would risk life and limb to merely sit anywhere they wanted like most others? What was it about the folks who would threaten, harm and deny the simple human rights of another human being simply because of the color of their skin or their political mindset?

We learned a lot about ourselves and our country during those heady times we refer to as the Civil Rights Movement. We learned that we are comfortable in our own skin, in our own existence, in our own little slice of reality until we are forced to see and feel what is really going on all around us.

Americans have had the ability to compartmentalize reality from the beginning. There were those who vehemently argued against revolting from the British Crown. Their lot was obviously comfortable. There were millions of people who turned a blind eye to the injustices and inhumanity of slavery in this country for nearly 300-years. Far too many Americans profited from human bondage and ownership. They allowed business profits to trump human decency.

But the photos, newsreels and reporter’s words were too strong to ignore in 1961. Young people in college, not gang members or low-life’s, but college students from America’s elite institutions were being dragged from buses in the south and thrashed simply because they were obeying the ruling of the United States Supreme Court.

They stood their ground and they changed the course of history.

Those young folks are now senior citizens and one has to wonder as they sit back in their homes enjoying retirement and their Golden Days, how do they feel about a country that seems on the brink of total economic and social unrest? Deep down inside do they still feel like they moved the bar or did they just create a notion, a mirage in this country that has led us down a primrose path? Was it better for African Americans to have the sense of urgency our people felt in 1961 as oppose to the sense of complacency that inundates our communities from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean today?

Was going to jail for a cause a worthy down payment for the million black people imprisoned at the moment? Was the ultimate payoff for being expelled from school and having careers altered the inexcusable high rate of high school dropouts in the black community? Did your fight for equal accommodations in public transportation assist African Americans today access better jobs?

I am certain those brave individuals would not have changed one thing they did. They would have stood up against the injustices again and again.

The question is: What are we doing not just to remember their brave deeds but to demonstrate that same type of empowerment today?

The Freedom Riders put everything they had on the line to fight for millions of individuals they would never know. They were, in fact on a privilege course. They were college students. They could have gone about the business of looking out for themselves and gone on to become professionals and lived a life devoid of the nightmares from their horrific experience running for their lives from a burning bus or being spat upon by some ignorant miscreant or sitting in a Mississippi prison without due process for a month.

We honor those individuals in word, but their extraordinary efforts should be memorialized in deed as well. The spirit of involvement should not be a relic of history it needs to be an ongoing practice.

Who will take a stand against the unjust attack on our public education system? Who will stand up for the poor, the sick and the elderly? When will we utilize the lessons of the past to bring about effective social and economic transformation now? How can the Freedom Riders inspire us to challenge the status quo?

Business profits trumping human decency. That refrain is all too familiar in today’s America.

Now is truly a time to remember the great extraordinary deeds of four hundred young people who changed the course of our nation. Now is the time for our nation to spawn a new generation of individuals who are willing to sacrifice their personal standing for the betterment of us all.

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About Ronald W Weathersby

  • Clavos

    It’s like getting all your news from either Fox or MSNBC or Breitbart or HuffPost. Just reinforces your prejudices.

    True, but I’m betting that north of 90% of the population does just that.


  • zingzing

    “would it be “Hate Speech” under the particular speech codes of the university?”


  • Cannonshop

    #83, would they, or would it be “Hate Speech” under the particular speech codes of the university?

  • It would probably be good for Baronius to read Zinn, and for zing and myself to read Richard Pipes or somebody else who might be Zinn’s polar opposite.

    It’s like getting all your news from either Fox or MSNBC or Breitbart or HuffPost. Just reinforces your prejudices.

  • zingzing

    “Do the people in the People’s History all tell stories that are compatible with a late-20th century peace activist?”

    i don’t know if you could say that. they certainly are compatible with zinn’s pov, or else he wouldn’t have written the book that defines his pov.

    you said something earlier about the historian as activist. in “people’s history,” zinn isn’t just an activist, he carefully explained why he was an activist, and why it was necessary.

    i wouldn’t take “people’s history” as the only source of my understanding of history and i’d bet zinn wouldn’t either. it’s all there in the title. it’s an alternate telling, from a different perspective. frankly, the book becomes a bit of a slog. i enjoyed it, and i learned new things, but it is a bit repetitious and a bit of a downer. not that i expect history to be a feel-good, novel bit of entertainment…

  • OkayDokey

    likely his students face that eventual outcome.

    by this time, surely one would have spoken out if that had been the case.

    Baronius, why not get your impression from reading the book?

  • Baronius

    Handyzing – My point is that you can design your own narrative by picking which voices you label “unacknowledged”. If Zinn’s intention is to tell the story of the little guy, he should reflect the fact that the little guys can be nuts, bigots, and more warlike than the generals. Do the people in the People’s History all tell stories that are compatible with a late-20th century peace activist? Because that wouldn’t expand our understanding at all.

    And no, I’m not getting my impression of Zinn from right-wingers. My primary reference has been this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I also looked at interviews with the man.

  • zingzing

    the unheard voices of the john birch society… as if. glenn beck’s not enough at this point?

  • Cannonshop

    The problem is oen of position, Handy-nobody is going to have their GPA screwed by disagreeing with Baronius’ advocacy, otoh, Professor Zinn has that “P” word there, and if he’s using “Historian” as “Advocate for Modern political causes”, likely his students face that eventual outcome.

  • The unheard voices of the John Birch Society?! Can you say “tendentious”? Perhaps that is an alternative history you ought to undertake yourself.

    And you all but admit that your views on Zinn are based not on knowledge but reputation [i.e., the criticism leveled at him by conservatives].

  • Baronius

    “Zinn’s purpose”. That’s a good way to look at it, in terms of means and ends. His goal was to persuade. His method of doing so was to highlight historical accounts through the eyes of the downtrodden. If, as an academic historian, he sought to use academic methods towards academic ends, I wouldn’t question his motives. But he stated his motive clearly, to change people’s opinion.

    One other thing. I don’t know the answer to this, so I could be wrong. But to those who’ve read Zinn’s History: does he highlight the voices of the downtrodden, or the voices of the downtrodden that agree with him? Does he provide a counterweight to the prevailing anti-slavery theme in textbooks? Does his sympathy extend to the unheard voices of the John Birch Society, the Indians who were grateful for their education and religious instruction, the poor American worker who wants immigration policy enforced? Or does he only repeat the stories that would elicit sympathy at the Democratic National Convention?

  • #74 – And as we all understand it, Baronius is an ideologue [at least as much if not more so than Howard Zinn].

    When Baronius talks about history, he makes an admirable attempt to be more ‘objective,’ but he doesn’t lose his point of view. Can he possibly imagine that an academic historian is capable of the same?

    Zinn’s purpose in A People’s History of the US is very explicit, clear, and fascinating: history has always been told through the eyes of the elite; but 95% of the population, or more, are not the wealthy or politically powerful. Telling familiar stories from their POV is a valuable and innovative approach.

  • Costello

    Sounds like Orwell’s “they who control the present control the past”, Doc

  • That’s the kind of nonsense that doesn’t help anyone get nearer to the truth.

    I disagree. Zinn’s mission was to balance out the truism that history is told by the winners. While this isn’t exactly true – history is simply what happened – the strongest voices do tend to get their interpretations of what happened heard, published and taught before anyone else.

    Modern historians do try to get away from that for the most part, but the fact remains that history is not told first by historians, but by warriors, politicians, oligarchs and journalists, all of whom have a particular agenda.

    Zinn wanted to give the weaker voices a hearing. And while he’s often excessively harsh on anyone who wasn’t indigenous, a slave, a rebel or working class, his books are still a valuable counterweight.

  • Baronius

    Dread – As I understand it, Zinn was an ideologue, and I don’t mean that as a partisan slur – he pointedly opposed the idea of objectivity, arguing instead for the historian as activist. That’s the kind of nonsense that doesn’t help anyone get nearer to the truth.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius and Doc, #’s 71 and 72 –

    Well said!

  • Or like removing the Holocaust from Nazi Germany. Yes, Howard Zinn’s take on history is going to be very different from, say, Victor Davis Hanson’s. The trick is to synthesize their work and sources, and the whole spectrum of historians’ interpretations that come in between, to get a good picture.

  • Baronius

    Dread – There’s always got to be that note of caution, though, that distance doesn’t necessarily make things clearer. Just as people at the time have agendas, so do later historians. It’s possible to recognize that fact without slipping into Roger’s dismissal of the idea of facts themselves. The moral of the story: be wary of historians who try to reinterpret things too much (like removing slavery from the Civil War).

  • 2111 is 100 years from now, that’s all. The actual length of time doesn’t matter, as long as it’s long enough ago that nobody alive now will still be in that condition then (although with medicine advancing the way it is, one just doesn’t know any more. What implications for history will extended lifespans have? But that’s for another thread). “Distance” is the operative word here.

    Let’s use a novel as an analogy. The characters in the novel have (usually) no idea they’re in a story, and their perceptions of what’s going on are quite narrow. But you, the reader, know what the novel is about – or you will do once you’ve finished it.

  • 2110 minus 2003 is 107 years > 100 years. Did you misread 2110 as 2011, or am I missing your point?

  • And just as Baronius is absolutely right that any attempt to assess the Civil War (from a 21st century perspective) without considering slavery is delusional, the same will likely be said in 2111 about somebody trying to explain the second Iraq war without factoring in the first one.

  • It’s as if a group of blogcritics in 2110 took the reasons someone like me supported the Iraq War in its earliest days […] and the reasons someone like, say atheist Christopher Hitchens supported it, and synthesizing those reasons into one single “cause.”

    Not really, Irene.

    The thing about the Civil War is that it happened 150 years ago, and we can contemplate it now with the benefit of time and distance.

    Of course people had many different opinions about the war and joined the fighting for many different reasons, but that doesn’t mean any particular faction had a handle on what it was all actually about.

    With the benefit of distance, we can get a good overview of the war and assess in general terms what it was about – which most likely doesn’t bear much resemblance to what Joe Public from New York or John Doe from Georgia thought it was about.

    We don’t have that removed perspective on the Iraq war right now for a lot of reasons, including but not limited to the fact that a lot of the information is still classified, there are several other conflicts and political issues feeding into it, and most importantly that it’s still going on, albeit at a low level.

    So yes, Blogcritics historians in 100 years will be able to see our diverse arguments and opinions of the war, but they almost certainly will have a far better, clearer and more objective idea than any of us do of what it was all about.

  • Leroy

    BlogCritics History, that is.

  • Leroy

    Lessons from history? Well, apparently some women get unnecessary pap smears, and Lisa Edelstein is a popular actress on “House”!

  • Dang!

  • Thanks, El Bicho.

  • Wow, finished with BC for 7 minutes. That has to beat Roger and Alan’s old records. Congrats, Irene

  • zingzing

    irene: “”state’s rights” means “the right to own slaves” is a simplistic view of states rights and the history of the Civil War.”

    of course it is. but if you were to write a postcard history of the reasons for the civil war, you’d have to slip that in there. it was more complicated than that, but underneath nearly every other reason, slavery was the driving force for the conflict.

    and i’m glad you and glenn made up. that was getting rather silly.

  • Probably another good rule of thumb (for *so* many different reasons) is to compose comments in a word file, and then check to see if any new comments will make the comment you are about to post out-moded. (Be sure to replace Word’s apostrophes with the editor’s apostrophes in HTML, though.)

    You apparently were busy writing your long post, Glenn, during the time I posted #41, in which I did expressly say that slavery and the Civil War were related.

    All right. It’s all good.


    Thanks, Glenn Contrarian, and I accept your apology.

    I think a good rule of thumb for all of us is to try to DE-escalate, rather than escalate, when we think someone said something egregious. Ask for clarification, before beginning a character assassinations.

    Thanks again, Glenn.

  • I don’t know if that was a typo, sarcasm, or the acknowledgment of some kind of dubious distinction, Baronius, but in any event, it made me laugh.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Irene –

    It appears that I owe you an apology. I’m sorry. You never expressly said that the war was not about slavery. I made an assumption that that was what you believed because of the Robert E. Lee quote, and because of what you wrote below:

    “state’s rights” means “the right to own slaves” is a simplistic view of states rights and the history of the Civil War.

    Simplistic? Sure, there were other reasons, but the statements of the legislators who wrote the articles of secession made it plain that the preservation of slavery was certainly the greatest of the reasons presented.

    My apology is sincere…but I would ask that when making statements or using quotes, just as it is incumbent upon me that I read more carefully (and it seems that someone else above made the same assumption about your writing), I would also recommend that you be more careful to make sure that you don’t appear to support or believe something that you certainly don’t.

  • Baronius

    Irene – You’re the first person ever to be misinterpreted on the internet.

  • On second thought, Glenn, I’m not going to your tactics run me off this site. I can argue long and hard with someone who is fighting fair, or even hippity hopping around the truth a little bit. There are plenty of others who argue that way here.

  • I feel stalked NOT in a male-to-female-threatening way, but stalked in a way that makes me feel…almost like someone’s allowed to come into my account and edit my comments. That’s precisely the effect having someone twist words around like that has.

    I don’t know if it’s a reading comprehension problem, or the fighter instinct (“all’s fair in love and war”) but until and unless you’ve convinced me you’re working REALLY hard to overcome that habit, I’m finished with blogcritics, as long as you’re around.

  • Thanks Baronius. You know Glenn, it’s probably best that I try to figure out when you’re going to be on here, and avoid you.

  • Baronius

    Glenn – Irene isn’t saying that you twisted the words of the state legislatures. She’s saying that, by implying that *she* didn’t think that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, that you were twisting *her* words.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    I post the exact words of the legislatures that voted to secede from the union, who wrote down in no uncertain terms WHY they were seceding…

    …and she calls it “word-twisting”.

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

    btw – Lee was ONE man with the range of opinions that ONE man may hold…but the legislatures of the seceding states were MANY, and represented many more. It was not Lee who represented the will of the people. It was not Lee who declared war or fired the first shot. It was not Lee who wrote the Articles of Secession of the states which stated quite plainly how the issue of slavery was paramount among their reasons to secede.

    But Irene would rather take the word of one man (who says what she wants to hear) rather than take the words of those who actually made the secession and the war happen…but said what Irene didn’t want to hear.

  • Please stop calling me out for things I never said, and I’m far too busy to defend myself against further word-twistings by Glenn Contrarian right now.

    41 – Irene Athena
    May 18, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Oh, definitely for SOME southerners, probably most, was about slavery, but why do you think Lee said that it wasn’t?

    I am not General Robert E. Lee.
    Pass it on. 😉

  • Leroy

    Irene: You’ve gotta be kidding! The civil war was fought over SLAVERY! Just read the Ordinances of Secession from various states.

    Notwithstanding that the southern states have tried assiduously to expunge all mention of slavery from their official histories (just look at the crap for South Carolina!).

    The southern states wanted slavery now and forever. The Texas secession declared that it was debasing to whites to consider blacks equal.

    The secession was NOT A NOBLE effort. It was a stupid war that killed half a million Americans to no purpose.

    Frankly, I think Lincoln and congress should have kicked those states OUT of the union and then waited for them individually to beg to get back in.

  • Leroy

    6-Dave: what a nutty post! You’ve gotta be kidding. There are plenty of places around the world and throughout history where the profit-seekers have imposed their rule and what resulted was slavery, poverty, genocide and environmental degradation. And all the money went to a few at the top.

    What saved American society was a Constitution based on the rights of man and democratic government. In fact, America prospered because of social unity and common interests, NOT exploitation. Profit exploitation resulted in COLONIALISM.

  • Except as in my sanctifie limmerick writing, I always manage to get the fortune cookie that says “You will find a bedbug.” 😛 Bye for real, now.

  • The fortune-cookie game, limmerick-writing, yes, all guilty pleasures of mine, Baronius. I understand now what you were saying, and agree. Thanks, and have a good day.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Irene –

    This war is not about slavery.
    Robert E. Lee

    First of all, don’t get me wrong – I’ve always held General Lee to be a good and honorable man. That said, he was – and you are – wrong about the reason behind the secession of the South and the subsequent Civil War as is shown in the Articles of Secession of Mississippi, to wit:

    Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law 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. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

    From the Articles of Secession of South Carolina:

    This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

    On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

    The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.

    The Articles of Secession of Texas (from the same reference):

    We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

    That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

    By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.

    Okay, Irene? Regardless of what General Lee said, the articles of secession of several states show without question that the Civil War WAS about slavery.

  • Baronius

    The point of my comment #40 is…well, are you familiar with the fortune cookie game? You read the fortune out loud and add the phrase “between the sheets” at the end. I’m saying that any theory of the Civil War that excludes slavery can be made more accurate by inserting a phrase including the word “slavery” into it.

    The South was fighting for states’ rights (to hold slaves). The North and South were competing over (slave versus free) state expansion. The Kansas-Nebraska Act only increased tensions (over slavery). The Northern economic system conflicted with the Southern (slave-based) economic system. So, yeah, you can argue that there were other causes of the Civil War, and you’d be right, but you’d be missing something.

  • Baronius

    I’m sure that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery for Robert E. Lee. Lee was an honorable soldier who would have led the Union armies except that he felt duty-bound toward Virginia.

  • #41 wasn’t a snarky challenge. I’m genuinely curious about you’ve read about it.

  • Oh, definitely for SOME southerners, probably most, was about slavery, but why do you think Lee said that it wasn’t?

  • Baronius

    Yeah, but my read on the Civil War is that any explanation that doesn’t center on slavery just doesn’t suffice. All the economic conflict, political bad judgement, et cetera, aren’t enough to explain it without the fact of slavery.

  • Precisely so, Baronius. It’s as if a group of blogcritics in 2110 took the reasons someone like me supported the Iraq War in its earliest days, when I used to (“supporting God’s people, the Jews”) and the reasons someone like, say atheist Christopher Hitchens supported it, and synthesizing those reasons into one single “cause.”

  • Baronius

    I think if you went back to 1860, you’d find four major Southern regions: Texan, mountain/bayou, plantation, and coastal. The economics and priorities of each culture were different. It shouldn’t surprise us that some Southerners opposed slavery any more than the fact that some Northerners held slaves.

  • Ronald W Weathersby, all that being said, I’m glad segregation is over. I’m glad it’s not illegal for private business owners to welcome people of all races, and that tax money is not going to support public facilities where blacks are sent to separate and usually inferior restrooms, drinking fountains, and schools.

  • Baronius

    You always have to keep in mind that both the contemporaries and the historians have their different perspectives. For example, if you’d ask about the cause of the Iraq War, you’d get a variety of answers. (Interestingly, they’d be some of the same answers you’d get about the Civil War.)

    Historians also are influenced by the dominant intellectual trends of their times. If you learned history in the 1920’s – 1950’s, you would have been told that the Civil War was caused by the class conflict inherent in capitalism. In the 1960’s – 1970’s, historians only wanted to talk about race, and guess what they thought the Civil War was about? These days, we seem to be rejecting the idea that Northern whites would go to war to save Southern blacks, so I think historians are playing up the imperialist Manifest Destiny angle.

  • Lee’s anti-slavery views remind me of those who say “abortion is a terrible thing but it should be legal”–except Lee saw the ending of slavery as a good thing and predicted that it would happen in time.

    “… In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former…”

    A general of the Confederate Army felt this way about slavery. Hmmmm.

    “state’s rights” means “the right to own slaves” is a simplistic view of states rights and the history of the Civil War.

  • zingzing

    anyway. slavery was moving toward its economic end, but not before the moral end of it had its say. if the civil war hadn’t have happened, there would have been something else, and if there wasn’t, slavery would have taken decades to peter out. no matter what the cost of those four years, it was certainly better from any objective (unless you’re a cold-hearted or racist person,) point of view to get rid of it. not that that’s what history let happen. a hundred years later, we were still addressing the problems, and we still are now.

    there are no easy fixes in america, the greatest country ever, yup. this world’s got a lot of work to do.

  • zingzing

    hrm. syntax.

  • zingzing

    “It wasn’t about economic viability, it was about maintaining […] the Ruling Class in “Dixie land”…”

    i’ll agree with you on that. there were few that depended upon slavery to maintain their livelihood, but they that did ran the place, and they ran the lives of those that didn’t own slaves as much as they run the lives of those that did. and that’s why things were the way they were. the slave system made kings and made the rest slaves of the slave system. if you didn’t have slaves, you weren’t going to get anywhere beyond where you were (hello, glass ceiling), and if you were a slave, you were a slave.

    it was a caste system. no way that was going to fly for too long.

    (not that it hasn’t.)

  • Cannonshop

    #13 Zing, I didn’t claim it was not integral to the Southern economy, I said it wasn’t economically Viable-one of the reasons Britain spent blood and treasure securing Egyptian cotton, was that the cost of conquering the near-east was cheaper than buying American Cotton on the open market, this in SPITE of the Southern use of Slave labour to plant and harvest.

    cotton production was CHEAPER after Slavery ended in the U.S., in real-dollar terms. Slaves are expensive capital equipment that require both guards, and maintenance costs borne by the owner, and those costs continue and persist even outside of the seasons you actually NEED it.

    Human bondage is a grossly inefficient production method, even compared to free planting or share-cropping methods. The primary reason for the slave system was, frankly, to maintain an aristocracy in the South (the majority of whites didn’t own slaves-they couldn’t afford them, esp. at a time when a middle-class man might make as much as 2,000 dollars a year, while a male slave averaged 5,000 dollars at auction. Two and a half times what you’re paying your lawyer, plus you have to provide food, shelter, clothing and guards, whom must also be paid.)

    It wasn’t about economic viability, it was about maintaining status-like systems throughout american history, the Ruling Class in “Dixie land” wanted to keep their status symbols, and were willing (nay, EAGER) to exploit the fears and ignorance of the common man to initiate a war to do so.

  • zingzing

    “This war is not about slavery.
    Robert E. Lee”

    too bad, robert e. lee.

  • zingzing

    “”The aristocracy” isn’t in the millions either. Use your dictionary.”

    we all know that a large majority of southern whites didn’t own slaves. but the economic engine of the south was slaves. that’s what they sought to protect, and that’s what they fought a war over. “state’s rights” means “the right to own slaves.” given the huge economic setback that the south faced, the facts are clear. it took quite a while for them to claw their way out of that.

    although i must say that washington/the north certainly must have figured the south would do so, or else they’d either have let slavery continue or the south succeed. this shit was itching to explode anyway–you can’t have this kind of moral problem separating a country on arbitrary lines for that long–but politics is a strange thing. what once was something becomes something else, and that makes the history.

    the south WAS run by slavery. it created the product that created the wealth that created the lifestyle of those in charge. those in charge didn’t want to give it up. that position was untenable and the politics turned a north who didn’t give a shit and a president who didn’t give a shit into a war machine that (eventually) fucked them up. that it lasted so long is only the product of northern mismanagement and problem of the geography vs. technology of the day. the north had the population, the guns and the moral high ground. what they didn’t have was too many good generals. what should have been a breezy slaughter turned into a slog (with weekends at the georgia plantation).

  • Not before posting some Robert E. Lee quotes:

    The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forebearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.
    Robert E. Lee

    This war is not about slavery.
    Robert E. Lee

    We failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing.
    Robert E. Lee

    We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.
    Robert E. Lee

    What a cruel thing war is… to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.
    Robert E. Lee

  • LOL. Breaking up is hard to do, but I’ve got to call it quits for the night.

  • True, ZingZing, and that’s why I said Cannonshop was “probably partially right, again, in the case of the southern landowners who had the wherewithal to finance a war.” “The aristocracy” isn’t in the millions either. Use your dictionary.

  • zingzing

    irene, “luxury items” didn’t come in the millions in those days. do the math.

  • But Cannonshop WASN’T saying there weren’t slaves, Ronald W Weathersby. He was saying that slaves were a luxury item, NOT needed for the economic viability of the region, but held against their will (in probably most, but certainly not all) cases. At least that’s what I think C-shop was saying.

    And he’s probably partially right, again, in the case of the southern landowners who had the wherewithal to finance a war. To put it in today’s terms, some of them were probably wealthy enough to retire, but wanted slaves around for domestic work–and lots of it, too, to allow them to live in the manner to which they’d become accustomed.

  • Ronald W Weathersby


    There is indeed an attempt to rewrite history when someone write slavery was not at the heart of the south’s economic viability: “Slaves weren’t economically viable as a production method BEFORE the civil war started, mostly due to technological changes.”

    That statement is fundamentally false.

    Lastly in response to comment #6, I believe there is a way to become rich and powerful as a nation without stealing and killing. Let’s hope we have learned that lesson at least partially.

  • Dang, I’ve had this clay stuff on my face for an hour! See you guys later.

  • You’re right about profits ahead of decency being wrong, of course, and the earliest capitalist theorists would heartily agree with you, Ronald W Weathersby.

  • None of us is rewriting history, Ronald W Weathersby. We’re just trying to make sense of it.

  • I still think Robert E. Lee was a class act, is what I’m saying; not so Sherman, and the northern military men of his ilk that turned right around and slaughtered Indians after “fighting to free slaves.”

  • Ronald W Weathersby

    The citations I employed referenced the reality that slavery was indeed an integral part of the south’s economic survival well into the 19th century unlike what was being written in these comments previously.

    Additionally I cited the fact that the slave population of the south tripled from 1808 until the begin of the war.

    It seems there are some people who are attempting to use this space to rewrite history.

    Slavery was a powerful economic incentive in our country for 300-years starting well before the American Revolution and lasted until after the Emancipation. After that the system of share cropping sprung up that was merely slavery-light.

    Once again I say when we place profits ahead of human decency our society descends into a dark place and we as a country are worst off as a result.

  • The motivations for the north’s participation ran the gamut from noble to ignoble as well.

  • I think I’m left with the conclusion that some Southeners wanted to secede for noble reasons, and others, for ignoble ones.

  • The Civil War–and its aftermath–was fraught with too many horrors to be considered an entirely good war, beneficial things like the resultant Emancipation notwithstanding: since “the love of money is the root of all evil” (in other words, for you secularists, “follow the money trail,”) real world economics is likely to have played a significant role.

  • You will note, Ronald W. Weathersby, that your citation describes the part of the south that was “poor, backward, and un-mechanized.” The parts of the South to which Cannonshop referred might be described by the “with minor exceptions” section of your citation. The Southern aristocracy, living on the wealthiest plantations, would indeed a) fall into the “with minor exceptions” category b) be, unlike “the poor, backward, and mechanized” sections of the South, in possession of the material resources required to finance a war.

  • zingzing

    maybe i’m missing something here, but if slavery was no longer an integral part of southern livelihood well before the civil war, why was it that when slavery ended, many of those slaves became sharecroppers, doing basically the same work on the plantation/land, but free (to a certain degree)… they were still treated like shit, and usually got cheated out of their fair share (sometimes they’d OWE their boss/feudal lord money at year’s end), but, as compared to the slavery days, profits went waaaaay down for the boss man. the owners weren’t anything like the old plantation owning southern “gentlemen” of the past, at any rate.

    it’s possible that the plantation system was a mirage in those years just before the civil war, and many of those people were floundering in debt while projecting an image of wealth. it’s also possible that with slavery gone and the plantation system gone, more land was parceled out to more (white) people, and the profits just weren’t the same. (it’s possible that the plantation system itself was a mirage, and when we think of the “old south,” we’ve got dixie playing in our heads, but it never was quite that way. i’ll probably have to at least lend credence to that one, just to save face.)

    at any rate, the “royalty” of the south disappeared very quickly after slavery ended. or at least there were far less people getting far less rich from cotton. so there was certainly something about slavery and cotton (and the cotton gin) that went together like money and pocket.

  • Ronald W. Weathersby, I did not learn history the way you OR Cannonshop is telling it. Perhaps, as Baronius suggested, those individual perspectives of history came down to the three of us from people who had lived through and observed the Civil War from three very different vantage points.

  • Ronald W Weathersby


    My mistake I meant Whitney. So jump on that because the rest is FACT.

  • Clavos

    Um, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, receiving his patent for it on March 14, 1794.

    Edison was born in 1847. He invented a number of things, but not the cotton gin.

    Lessons from history, indeed.

  • Ronald W Weathersby

    #7 Wow, what a rewrite of history. Slavery was NOT economically feasible in the north and therefore died out in that region of our country. However, the large plantations in the south demanded a huge amount of labor to stay afloat and that labor was free due to slavery. Fact is the advent of machines, especially Edison’s cotton gin actually increased the demand for manual labor as planters cultivated larger numbers of acreage in cotton.

    Here are two short excerpts from the Economic History Association:

    “In 1850 Samuel S. Rembert and Jedediah Prescott of Memphis, Tennessee, received the first patent for a cotton harvester from the U.S. Patent Office, but it was almost a century later that a mechanical picker was commercially produced. The late nineteenth century was an age of inventions, and many inventors sought to perfect a mechanical cotton harvester. Their lack of success reinforced the belief that cotton would always be picked by hand. For almost a hundred years, it seemed, a successful cotton picker had been just around the corner.”

    “Until World War II, the Cotton South remained poor, backward, and un-mechanized. With minor exceptions, most tasks — plowing, cultivating, and finally harvesting cotton — were done by hand…The mechanical cotton picker played an indispensable role in the transition from the prewar [WWII] South of over-population, sharecropping, and hand labor to the capital-intensive agriculture of the postwar South.”

    Here is one more tidbit of information from History.com:

    “Though the U.S. Congress outlawed the African slave trade in 1808, the domestic trade flourished, and the slave population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860 it had reached nearly 4 million, with more than half living in the cotton-producing states of the South.”

  • Baronius

    Cannon – There were a lot of motivations behind the South’s desire to maintain the system of slavery.

    When you’re doing something that’s morally questionable, it takes a little time to admit it to yourself. But when someone is calling you out on it, you’ll never change your mind – you’ll start to insist that your actions are not just defensible, but morally superior. You can see that as the 1800’s rolled along, the South moved from talking about slavery as regrettable but necessary to describing it as a “positive good”.

    Another factor was the fear of a slave revolt. Ships carried news from Haiti, where the whites had been driven out of power, nearly all of whom were killed or forced to flee.

  • Cannonshop

    #3 Actually, Ron, the motive for Slavery was the retention of the Aristocratic Lifestyle in the Deep South-Slaves weren’t economically viable as a production method BEFORE the civil war started, mostly due to technological changes including the development of farm machinery (yes, they had farm machinery in the early 19th century.) One of the ugliest portions of our collective history, was that the southern secession had little to nothing to do with real-world economics of the time, and everything to do with the arrogance of power tied to a system that degrades (morally) both the victim (slaves) and victimizer (Masters).

    The pervasive culture of dependency created in that system ought to be unimaginable today-yet there were black men who fought (with distinction) on the side of the Confederacy and a system that kept people who looked like them in chains.

  • Ronald your evil profits are the engine which drives all of the prosperity which this nation has enjoyed. Without them we would all be poor.


  • Ronald W Weathersby


    Thank you. I appreciate you reading my piece and your comment.

  • Baronius

    Ronald, I may disagree with some of your politics, but this is a well-done article praising people who deserve it.

  • Ronald W Weathersby


    Those so-called “lame talking points” are the foundation of our “real problems.” When we place profits ahead of human decency we diminish ourselves as we have done.

    Profits were the motivation for slavery.
    Profits were the motivation for the genocide of the American Indian.
    Profits are the motivation for the redistribution of wealth that has been taking place for the past 30-years.
    Profits are the motivation for our untenable illegal immigration problem.
    Profits are at the heart of our inability to pass a national energy policy.
    Profits are why we wound up in Iraq instead of holding the line in Afghanistan.

    Need I go on?

  • zingzing

    education, the sick and elderly, and “Business profits trumping human decency” are mere talking points, dave?

    unless you’re talking about something else, i’m flabbergasted. that’s a great word. really useful.

    [personal attacked deleted by comments editor]

  • I hope that one of the things we’ve learned from history is to target real problems like civil rights rather than the lame talking points you bring up at the end of this article.