Caribbean Project: Haiti, the British West Indies, and the South’s “Mirror”

Dixie

In light of the weakness of abolitionist fanatics in the North, why was the South so sensitive to abolitionist criticism?

Why was the South willing to reject Lincoln’s promises, secede, and go to war in 1861 to defend slavery? It was because Haiti and the British West Indies offered the South a “window” into its own future should the abolitionists ever succeed in pushing the Overton Window on slavery in the United States:

“By 1861, one Southern woman could write to her cousin in England, arguing the British West Indies had provided the South with a “window” for twenty-seven years – a window for viewing the total disaster of slave emancipation when British abolitionists won their way. By watching the British since 1834, she added, the South had learned that only resistance, even resistance of war, could prevent a West Indian-like collapse into social and economic ruin …

In other words, in the eyes of Turnbull and many others, once a small group of reformers succeeded in hammering in an “entering wedge” and in inflaming a public that had no knowledge of plantation life or the capacity of Africans for freedom, nothing could prevent the destruction of millions of dollars’ worth of property and entire social systems …

As abolitionists tried to counter the depressing reports of economic failure, especially following the end of apprenticeship, Abel Upshur’s State Department released Harrison’s statistics claiming that by 1843 the price of freeholds in Jamaica had declined by half; coffee and sugar production had declined by as much as 50 percent, and some large plantations were worth less than 10 percent of their preemancipation value. Since some Southern writers were convinced that this economic disaster was predictable – as well as being an enormous boon for competitive slaveholders in Cuba, in parts of the South, and in Brazil – the question of Britain’s motives became central. …

The South’s increasing fixation on British abolitionism and the declining economy of Haiti and the British Caribbean helps to explain the Southerners paranoid, disproportionate response to critics in the North. For those convinced that abolitionism was a British-sponsored crusade to destroy American society and transform the South into another Haiti, it was only a short step to contemplate disunion and event to accept Leonidas Spratt’s “global mission” of founding a “slave republic” based on the revival of the African slave trade.”

Note: This excerpt comes from David Brion Davis’ Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of New World Slavery.

18 Comments

  1. No, it would have not been a shame if negro slaves were displaced by a superior breed of mechanical slaves, which is exactly what happened in the plantation belt during the twentieth century.

    Machines are more productive and efficient. They can do far more work. They don’t come with any of the welfare or security costs of negro slavery. It makes me wonder what would have happened if the Confederacy had succeeded in winning its independence.

    Seeing as how negro equality was anathema in the South but mechanization would have eliminated the economic rationale for slavery, I imagine the Confederate government would have attempted to resettle negroes in Africa, which was a popular idea in the postwar South.

  2. I’m going to elaborate, Mr. Wallace, to make sure my question, above, is clear.

    Here, if I’ve understood you, is what you’re saying:

    1 — Slavery, in accord with Spratt’s vision of Dixie, would have been good. It would have yielded a racially-tiered society. On the top would have been the slaveholders, the whites; on the bottom, the laborers, the blacks. Not having to labor, the whites would have attained a sort of spiritual equality. There wouldn’t have been a division, as in the North, between an intelligent white ruling class and an unintelligent class of white hirelings. All whites, being intelligent, either because they were intelligent to begin with, or because slaveholding had rendered them intelligent, would have been worthy of political power–the franchise; subjugation of the blacks would have been more or less trouble-free, because, well, because that’s the way subjugation of blacks is. This society would have been, not to put too fine a point on it, paradise.

    2 — Eventually, machines would have been developed–by the intelligent white ruling class. Because slavery is the most-efficient economic system in the world–far superior to free-labor and other paltry systems–there would have been no need for the development of such machines; but the intelligent white rulers would have thought them up anyway, because, after all, that’s what intelligent persons do.

    3 — The first machines would have to have been built in factories, erected and manned by the black slaves; but once built, the machines would maintain and operate themselves (and the factories) and even construct improved versions of themselves as designs for such improved versions of them would be developed by the intelligent whites.

    4 — As sometimes must be explained to dullards from Philadelphia, machines are “more productive and efficient.” Accordingly, the tasks that, prior to the machines’ creation, had been performed by the black slaves, would now be performed by the machines–all by themselves. This means there would be no more need for the black slaves, which just goes to show how wrongheaded and downright vicious the abolitionists were for destroying Dixie instead of just waiting for the machines to come along and obviate slavery.

    5 — Because the machines do everything by themselves, there is also, we should note, no need for white laborers–those odious hirelings, as Leonidas Spratt was wont to refer to them. The whites of the South continue along in a state of spiritual parity, as the machines do everything for them and, as we’ve said, even maintain themselves and manufacture new versions of themselves (along with all kinds of other machines that the intelligent whites think of). This state of affairs is in stark contrast to conditions that obtain in the unfortunate North, which, because Dixie has never had, does not have, and will never have expansionist tendencies, remains as it was, burdened with a social division of whites, into rulers and hirelings. This is because the North will not have the kinds of machines that operate and maintain and build themselves and will thus require a class of hirelings, who will be required to operate and maintain its machines and even, shudder, to construct the machines, in the factories of horrid Yankee corporations. This is sad, but it’s an unfortunate long-term consequence of the North’s failure to embrace slavery.

    Do I have that right? That’s how things would have been, had it not been for the reprehensible Abraham Lincoln.

    I ask because, to me, it sounds like one big lie; and knowing that you Southrons are men of honor and everything, I wouldn’t want you to have to, like, kill me in a duel or something, because I made you seem like persons who can’t even open your mouths without saying things of which any honest person would be ashamed.

  3. I ask because, to me, it sounds like one big lie; and knowing that you Southrons are men of honor and everything, I wouldn’t want you to have to, like, kill me in a duel or something, because I made you seem like persons who can’t even open your mouths without saying things of which any honest person would be ashamed.

    Hehe.

    Talk to these people long enough and you’ll come to instantly recognize the sort of tortuous logic on display here as conforming to the mindset: “Race is wrong, therefore everything is wrong.” If you understand and accept that about these people then little they say will surprise you.

  4. The word factory itself originates in the English language from Jamaican plantations.
    The chemical experiments the proprietors were carrying out refining, granulating cooking down etc etc are quite closely related to oil industry tech. The technologies they were creating were rather important for future chemistry.

    If I’m not mistaken Brazil uses ethanol from Sugarcane in it’s autarkous fuel supply. Autarky means self reliance with commodities btw.

  5. The Confederacy was snuffed out inutero. There’s no point constructing strawmen with Spratt. The real questions would include the philosophy of Benjamin, Davis, Stuart, Lee, Longstreet because they would have formed post war policy for the CSA. In the midwest Price and a few other major generals would have dictated policy.

    I imagine that a post war government would have ushered in about 10 years of government by retired war heroes. Look into their memoirs and prewar thinking for your clues about the CSA that never got beyond year 4.

    Picking out one figure from a hat doesn’t really work.

  6. “Here, if I’ve understood you, is what you’re saying:”

    Are we actually supposed to find your painstakingly absurd non sequiturs sarcastically funny, or is this what passes for logic among nigger loving wops in Philly?

  7. Are we actually supposed to find your painstakingly absurd non sequiturs sarcastically funny, or is this what passes for logic among nigger loving wops in Philly?

    The former. It’s what passes for logic at this blog.

  8. White people in Portland (and the rest of the Pacific Northwest) love niggers more than they ever did in Philly. Rudel longs for his Auntie Jemimah to this day.

  9. “Rudel longs for his Auntie Jemimah to this day.”

    I do. It was always sad to see her go back home to West Philly during her Sundays and Mondays off. Nuffin’ beats home made Southern cooking! Yum yum.

  10. Re: John Bona

    1.) In the South, class division was seen as a problem, and slavery in an agrarian society was recognized as a solution to that problem – slavery created a race-based instead of a class-based division of labor, an identity between the interests of labor and capital by creating a broad leisure capitalist class of Whites.

    In the 1850s, when Spratt was writing, the price of slaves (as we have already seen) was soaring toward its all-time high. There was an insufficient supply of slaves in the South. This was draining slaves out of the Upper South and Eastern South toward the Old Southwest.

    In South Carolina, this was thinning the ranks of slaveholders, shutting down what we would call “income mobility” or “the American Dream,” and it was creating an urban proletariat of low wage foreign workers that was perceived as a potential threat to South Carolina’s aristocratic ideal of being “a country of gentry.”

    An obvious solution to this problem was reopening the African slave trade – this would lower the price of slaves, broaden the ranks of slaveholders, thin the ranks of non-slaveholders, and deter the formation of a White urban proletariat that could be incited by rabblerousers.

    2.) In the 1830s, Cyrus McCormick of Virginia invented the mechanical reaper which revolutionized Midwestern agriculture:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_McCormick

    In 1850, Samuel Rembert and Jedediah Prescott invented the mechanical cotton harvester in Memphis when the price of cotton and slaves war soaring toward its century high.

    In the aftermath of the War Between the States, slavery was abolished, the economy of the South was destroyed, and the region sunk into a century of poverty. Southerners responded to their predicament in the late nineteenth century/early twentieth century by overproducing cotton which caused the price of cotton to collapse.

    The cotton glut and the low price of cotton deterred the mechanization of cotton harvesting for decades.

    3.) The best machines which were sold at the lowest price, of course, were produced in Britain and Germany during the late nineteenth century/early twentieth century, and an independent South could have as easily traded its cotton with Europe – like Cuba traded its sugarcane – in exchange for manufactured goods without having to subsidize your federal government, your war veterans, and your urban working class through high tariffs on our agriculture.

    4.) The abolition of slavery in 1865 ended the ownership of blacks as persons. It ended slavery as a labor system. It most certainly did not end picking cotton which continued until the 1930s and 1940s when the mechanical harvester – invented by two dullards from Texas – finally eliminated sharecropping in the Deep South.

    5.) It’s true.

    There is no need for thousands of sharecroppers or slaves – whether White or black – to pick cotton in the old plantation belts where cotton used to be grown in the Deep South. Those counties reached their peak population well over a century ago and continue to lose population to this day.

    We didn’t need to flood our society with millions of Italians and Polish immigrants to work in an industry that would have mechanized and eliminated the need for such a large labor force within a matter of decades. We wouldn’t have had any use for African slaves either.

    Because the production of cotton is export oriented, unlike an industrial society which depends on huge internal and external markets to absorb its overproduction which you call “growth,” we could have easily dispensed with our obsolete black labor force without disrupting our prosperity.

    Come to think of it, we didn’t even have to go through the expense of transporting them back to Africa. Many of them have since resettled in Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia to live among their fellow American citizens who came to the South to “liberate” them from slavery.

  11. I appreciate your discussing these subjects at a website that, I will guess, you host at your own expense, Mr. W. I’ll say two additional things re Spratt:

    I’m struck that Spratt seem to have been entirely comfortable in the company of blacks; in fact, he seems quite to have enjoyed it. From the little bit I know of Hinton Helper, who, as you surely know, was also Southern but was opposed to slavery, he (Helper) had an aversion to blacks. For me, the presence of blacks among whites always feels unwholesome for the whites, regardless of the personal qualities of the blacks. Helper would probably say the same, but I guess Spratt would find that statement mystifying. Had I been living in Europe, for example, when the first black slaves were brought there, I probably would have said to the slavers, “You shouldn’t be bringing those persons here.” If the slavers had asked whether I was saying that because of an opposition on my part to slavery, my answer would have been, “Well, that, too; but even if they were free, I would think you shouldn’t be bringing those beings to live among whites.” If Spratt had been among the slavers, he probably would have said to me, “Why? What’s the problem?”

    I’m also struck by the degree to which the defects, as I would term them, of the U.S. Constitution were contributing to the political problems between the North and the South. When I say defects, I mean, basically, the fact that the Constitution puts everyone’s wallet up for a vote, allows everyone to vote everyone else’s money around for, really, just about any reason. Until I came to this website, I had no idea that that was part of what led to the Civil War. In reading Spratt’s letter, I was surprised to see that subject being discussed–at such a comparatively early point in the country’s history, I mean; as you say, some of the things he says with respect to that seem prescient.

    On the one hand, I think it unfortunate that discussion of that subject was entangled with the slavery question, because I’m thinking that that made any focused discussion and solution of the Constitutional problem impossible. On the other, I wonder whether Spratt would say, “It doesn’t matter how you word any Constitution; lower-class whites are just impossible to manage.” I can’t help wondering whether, as I’ve said, his feeling was that the Negro offered upper-class whites an escape from the age-old problem of managing the masses. In other words, I can’t help wondering whether he envisioned a golden future, in which intelligent, cultured whites would be served by thoroughly-agreeable Negroes and in which they (the whites) would tell their children, in history lessons, that, a long time ago, in the early days of civilizations, there were ill-mannered and stupid whites who were a pain and a nuisance to everyone, but nobody has to worry about that any longer.

  12. “I can’t help wondering whether he envisioned a golden future, in which intelligent, cultured whites would be served by thoroughly-agreeable Negroes”

    That future was a reality right up until the 1970’s. Then it was Filipinos, and now it’s Guatemalans, Hondurans and God knows what else. Hell, our current cleaning lady is Swiss!

    How are those nigger flash mobs in Philly treating you now? LOL!

  13. (1) Southerners like Leonidas Spratt – the name should have clued you in on the classical ideal that was so popular in South Carolina – did not feel threatened by the black slaves so much as by howling mobs of Northern abolitionists massing at our borders to torch our social system in the name of human equality.

    (2) Slave rebellions were far less common in the South than the Caribbean. Spratt correctly perceived the real threat to the South was coming from the Northeast. After all, Yankees only killed 1 out of 5 White males in the South and an even higher percentage in South Carolina.

    (3) Northerners lost interest in Hinton Helper after the Republicans abolished slavery in North Carolina and elevated the negro to political and civil equality. He had quite a few things to say about that.

    (4) Compared to all the devastating policies that have been inflicted on us because of the Union, slavery doesn’t seem like much of a problem. All the negative things we associate with blacks today are a consequence of abolition.

    (5) Spratt was correct to be alarmed by the intrusion of Northern class, ethnic, religious, and ideological conflict between Whites into the South. He was correct that the South’s racial division of labor insulated us from the destructive egalitarianism on display in Northern cities.

    (6) When it comes to racial equality, that idea was inflicted on us by the North, and it was the peculiar nature of Northern free society – a homogeneous society based on “freedom and equality,” which weakened racial consciousness and polarized Whites into various factions – which made it possible.

    In a Union of slave states, it would have never happened. Every state would have been aware from daily contact with the negro of the threat posed by negro equality.

  14. John Bona,

    by and large America was a materially secure white society served by domesticated blacks until MLK decided to riot and the ethnic Irish and Italians threw in their lot with Afroson McApe.

  15. “Spratt was correct to be alarmed by the intrusion of Northern class, ethnic, religious, and ideological conflict between Whites into the South.”

    Who are you trying to kid? The planter class treated the numerous dirt poor Whites with contempt especially the Scotch-Irish hillbillies of Appalachia. If you don’t think that class distinctions were severe in the South then you are delusional.

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