Taylor's Blog

The Irony Of Freedom

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Mac posted an interesting article written by Doug Casey (Conversations with Casey) on slavery/economics of the war between the states, and the impact that the industrial revolution had on slavery. A small excerpt from that article:

Doug: “Right. Slavery is an institution of pre-industrial societies. It existed all over the world, across countries, cultures, and races, for thousands of years. It only really started disappearing with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, in the mid-1700s. It’s completely inconsistent with a free-market, capitalist society, partly because capitalism rests on strict property rights. And the primary and most basic form of property is your own body. One person can’t own another.”

What I find difficult to reconcile is the dichotomy in claiming to free a group of people, but then enslaving them all over again by invisible shackles. You are no longer a slave, but don’t expect to live in our neighbourhoods, compete for our jobs, worship in our churches, or in any way mingle within our society. Was freedom only a half measure, and only for “some” of the people, some of the time? It seems that religion, class, and colour have always been the main ingredients to cast suspicion on others since time began, thus making the ‘people who are different’ easy prey for the more powerful.

When blacks tried to volunteer in the North when President Lincoln called up 75,000 volunteers, they were told that it was ‘a white man’s fight.’ Eventually this so enraged Frederick Douglass and I had to go back and find this quote as I only remembered part of it, but here it is in its entirety:

“Colored men were good enough to fight under Washington. They are not good enough to fight under McLellan. They were good enough to fight under Andrew Jackson. They are not good enough to fight under Gen. Halleck. They were good enough to help win American independence but they are not good enough to help preserve that independence against treason or rebellion.”

I am captured by these words of Frederick Douglass and his continued frustration in dealing with a government that only paid lip service to the meaning of ‘freedom.’ A double edged sword that was wielded at the most inopportune times.

Many black volunteers in the Union army lamented the fact that they did not receive the same pay and rations as the white soldiers, even though the black soldiers ‘covered the same space of ground and the same length of ground in a graveyard that others do.’ To that end, blacks received a reduced pay of $10 out of which $3.00 was for clothing.

Prejudice has existed in this world since mankind was first able to distinquish one tribe from another and decide that the group was inferior. Human civilization has always faced the issues of intolerance and prejudice and deciding that a group of people are different or weaker allows justification to enforce the manacles of oppression. Once a group has been defined, it opens the door to fear, ignorance, and arrogance, when another group does not look, act, or think the same. I suspect that this flawed characteristic in human beings, to dislike and fear the unknown, is the down-side of the freedom to think and speak your mind.

A few musings on this beautiful Easter weekend.

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment or give me a


  • Ajhall: As suggested by Taylor, slavery in one form or another was a part of the human social condition throughout recorded time. It was only in the 18th century, with the rise of the age of Reason, that we see it scorned on a large, society wide scale.
    Whatever connections the capitalists of the Northeast had to slavery, however they felt about the black race in general, it was apparent that it was both socially unpleasant and economically unviable in the new industrial paradigm.
    Why, I wonder — and I ask this from a position of genuine ignorance — didn’t the southerns state embrace the move to industrialization as the north did? Certainly there was money to be made and jobs to be created, fortunes awaiting. Was the lure of cotton and its known economic benefits powerful enough to make industrialization in the south a dead end? We see about a hundred years down the road, the sudden mass migration of New England textile and shoe industries moving to more favorable conditions in the south. It seems somewhat self-defeating to eschew the tendency of the modern states to embrace a industrial-based socio-economic paradigm.
    Just curious.
  • fstroupe: I could come up with a number of reasons, but I’d say that putting the culture of the South aside, there were three primary reasons:
    1. Capital. The South was broke. Though most landowners still had their land, the rest of their assets were gone. The slaves had been worth in the neighborhood of $4 billion. Inflation had made their money worthless, most of the gold had gone to the CSA government. The land was worthless without someone to work it, and without lenders to loan money for seed to plant crops. No one from the North was about to take a chance on investing on anything in the South.
    2. Reconstruction. The 17 years after the war was a completely lawless time. Most of the South was under martial law, either under the Union Army, or carpetbagger militia. Not only did the military not keep the peace, they were as likely as not to commit crimes themselves.
    3. Carpetbagger Governments. The Southern state governments were run by carpetbaggers, or by puppet governments controlled by the carpetbaggers. It is unlikely that any permits would be issued allowing the building of factories, or they would be taxed so much as to make them unprofitable.
  • Taylor: Good points Frank. I think too that many Southerners saw industrialization as an unmitigated evil, and urban areas in the North were not pleasant, by any stretch of the imagination. It was easy for the North to continue building factories etc. with immigrants arriving by the boatloads every day in order to supply the North with cheap labour. The South did not have the advantage of a population explosion and as a result there weren`t many large cities in this region of the United States. People were more spread out so they naturally gravitated towards a more agrarian lifestyle.
    The resistance to industrialization long after the war was over was also due to the fact that the North had more natural resources, and markets than did the South. Agriculture was more suited to the climate in the South while it was only seasonal in the North, forcing this area of the United States to develop an industry based economy.
    But as has Frank indicated, the South had been completely devastated in every possible way, by the ACW and Reconstruction, and even if it had wanted to start developing in a more industrial way, the money simply wasn`t there, nor was the spirit of the people.
  • Ajhall: I wasn’t clear. My curiosity revolves around the ANTEBELLUM period, from say 1800 onward to the late 1850s.
  • macreverie: Wealthy Southerners had little interest in investing in industry in the antebellum period. They were mainly planters and had become fabulously wealthy in that enterprise. The per capita personal wealth of Alabama (all races and classes included) was something on the order of 2 1/2 times that of Massachusetts. Why in the world would they even consider investing in anything else?
    Then there is the fact that the Southern culture and the Southern people were by their very nature rural and agriculture. Those that weren’t planters lived mainly by herding and that occupation had been the mainstay of their culture for generations if not millenia. Leisure was more important to the average Southerner than making money was. They just were not inclined toward industry.
    Even with the above though the South had begun to industrialize by 1860. Southern Industry was still small by northern standards but a beginning had been made. I believe that some of the rich planters had finally realized that if they were going to continue to make money on the same scale in the future they were going to have to invest in something other than slaves and land. The county I reside in now had two Iron furnaces, several foundries and a textile mill in 1860. Wilson’s raiders and reconstruction took care of all that though
  • Ajhall: I wonder how much had to do with geography, and geology and climate? If you look at the muster rolls for the 20th ME, the vast majority listed their occupation as "farmer", though for the life of me, I can’t imagine making a living at farming a viable life in Maine in the first half of the 19th century. Apart from trees, about the only thing Maine is good at growing is rocks. Even today, you can go into just about any patch of woods south of, say Bangor and east of Rangeley, and you’ll come across any number of stone walls constructed by farmers decades ago from rocks pulled out of land being cultivated. There is no fertile coastal plain at this end of the Appalachians, as there is in the south. The lay of the land makes use of the rivers as a power source attractive and obvious. Does the lay of the southern land make it inherently more attractive to agricultural use and less attractive to industrial usages?
  • macreverie: "The lay of the land makes use of the rivers as a power source attractive and obvious. Does the lay of the southern land make it inherently more attractive to agricultural use and less attractive to industrial usages?"
    Well in a way, at least in some parts of the South but there are more streams and rivers and more miles of "fall line" (the geographic region most conducive to development of water power) in the South than there are in New England. By the 1850’s steam power was supplanting water power anyway. Furthermore the other natural resources necessary for industrialization in the 19th century(i.e timber, iron ore, limestone and coal)are abundant in parts of the South and in close proximity to each other. Available resources were not why the South was slower than the north to industrialize. (US and Republic steel sure made a go of it in Alabama for 100 years after the war but those profits went NORTH)
    The average antebellum Southerner could live quite well by herding, the planters were getting fitly rich growing cotton and most importantly (at least I believe) most Southerners were culturally inclined to pursue those occupations and disinclined toward industry. These factors had more to do with it than any lack or resources.

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