The Last Post

Chapter 15 of David Davis’ Inhuman Bondage was a fitting ending for the course. Beginning with colonization and continuing all the way to the end of the syllabus, the content of this course seemed to largely revolve around the economic and moral implications of slavery. In the colonial days, slavery and indentured servants were imperative to the success of early settlements, but as time progressed, the issue of human bondage became more problematic, leading to the immense differences between free northern states and southern slave states. Davis (and ROMANGONE’s blog post) describes the Civil War as a revolutionary change in American society, with the emancipation of slavery dramatically altering the entire infrastructure of the south. Davis’ remarks on the size of the slave industry also shocked me. He stated that the “slaves’ value came to an estimated $3.5 billion in 1860 dollars … about $68.4 billion in 2003 dollars” (Davis, 298) and that “as a share of today’s gross national product, the slaves’ value would come to an estimated $9.7 trillion” (Davis, 298). The abrupt elimination of this massive economic system can only be described as one word: revolutionary.

The advent of the Civil War clearly marked the beginning of a new era of America, both culturally and politically, but also marked the beginning of a new era of warfare. Davis remarks that the Civil War was the “first [time] trench warfare and ultimately the first booby traps, the first rapid-firing Gatling guns and also self-igniting shells that showered soldiers with pieces of deadly shrapnel” (Davis, 301) were used in battle. All of these inventions were far removed from the bayonet and horse warfare of previous conflicts and eventually became the signifier of future total wars. The numbers during the conflict also reflect that of a total war, with “mobilized armed forces of about 2.1 million” (Davis, 300) with 620,000 military deaths, 260,000 of which were confederate soldiers (Davis, 300). In history class in high school, I was taught that World War I was the first total war, but after evaluating the Civil War, I believe a case can be made that the Civil War was in fact the first total war due to the number of deaths and advanced methods of fighting.

When Davis talks about the “Blue and Gray veterans l[eading] the way in focusing public attention on the minute details of each battle” (Davis, 305), I am reminded of the veterans I have met and the impact warfare had on their lives, as they too are able to recite in great detail the specific details of the conflicts they were engaged in. I am also reminded of my southern friends I have met at Davidson, and how all of them seem to have a “Civil War story.” Clearly the impact of the Civil War still holds an immense presence over American culture today.

Secession Becomes a Reality

In today’s readings from Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy, the “big bang” takes place… so to speak. On November 6, 1860, on the day of Lincoln’s election to power, all of the talks concerning secession finally come true, as South Carolina passes legislation to “strike back at the North and secede from the Union before Lincoln could take office” (Wilentz, 436). After years of tension between northern and southern states, failed compromises and extremist politicians, South Carolina has finally had enough and has left the Union. More states were to follow, as Wilentz writes that the “swiftness with which the rest of the Deep South followed suite was breathtaking” (Wilentz, 437), as Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee all leave the Union by June 8, 1861. According to Wilentz, Lincoln’s rise to power “turned many  Deep South moderates and even erstwhile Unionists into secessionists” (Wilentz, 436), as the question was “not whether to secede but when and how” (Wilentz, 436). It shocks me that one president (whose party described themselves as a “white man’s party (Wilentz, 433) could inspire so much disagreement. It made me wonder whether secession was an inevitable result of the presidential turnover, or was it really due to Lincoln’s particular election?

What has always baffled me concerning secession is the debate between “the preservation of a traditional Southern heritage and states rights vs. the preservation of slavery” as the main cause for secession. Personally, I see the two issues being completely interconnected. Antebellum Southern culture (the culture the states so desperately wanted to preserve) was essentially a culture founded on and maintained by human bondage. When Wilentz discusses the South’s desire to “[leave] the Union to preserve their old institutions from a revolution [that] threatened to destroy their social system” (Wilentz, 439), the social system that the North was attempting to destroy and the South was trying to preserve was one where daily life was routed in and informed by slavery.

Just before secession, one of the most interesting characters we have run into so far over the entire course has easily been John Brown, a radical abolitionist who attempted to achieve abolition by any means necessary. Although he failed, I agree with ALKAROUT where Brown opened the door for possibilities of more organized forms of insurrection against slavery. What amazes me is the impact one figure (and relatively small raid) had on the South’s relationship with the North, with “new funds for military preparations and expressed solidarity with their sister slaveholding states” (Wilentz, 426) emerging in the immediate aftermath of Brown’s defeat and how. Many southerners saw it impossible to live in in a country under a government where Brown was considered a Christian martyr, as they considered his actions to be dangerous and unjust. Had a violent Southern rebellion be led against Northern abolitionists, it would have most likely been condemned by the government.

The Road to the Civil War

Thursday’s reading from Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy covered a wide variety of topics from the years leading up to the American Civil War. I particularly enjoyed Wilentz’s description of the radical divisions within the Democratic Party that formed over conflicting issues. Wilentz writes, “across the Northeast and West, equivalents of the Radical-Conservative fights split the state Democratic parties, chiefly on banking issues” (Wilentz, 278) into a number of subgroups including Loco-Focos, Barnburners and Hunkers. What amazed me is how these different subgroups could exist within the realms of the same political party while espousing completely different political views. While the Barnburners were committed to abolition (and willing to undermine the democrat party to achieve abolition), the Hunkers largely downplayed the cruelty that many others saw in slavery. I believe that these fundamental disagreements within political parties was one of many key factors in setting the stage for the Civil War, the ultimate manifestation of years of deep-seeded American political differences.

Wilentz also discussed the disarray of the Whig Party under John Tyler. Whether it was due to Tyler and political rival Henry Clay “tear[ing] each other apart” (Wilentz, 274) or due to the emergence of John C. Calhoun (who planed to capture the Presidency through manipulation of the Democrat Party), the Whigs were clearly falling apart. I found SAFUNDERBURG’s post concerning the reemergence of the Modern Whig Party in Pennsylvania particularly insightful in describing the surprising revival of this notorious political party. I still find it amazing, as a foreigner, whose country pays little acknowledgement to its past political histories, that the Whig Party could be revived. This would not happen in Canada, as people in my home country are not as passionate about the politics of the past or history of our country nearly as much as I’ve found people are in America. I’d be surprised if most people I knew could name the political parties active during Canada’s birth, while in America it is almost considered common knowledge to know your country’s ancestry.

I also enjoyed Wilentz’s description of the actions put forward by the Liberty Party and other antislavery movements. Wilentz’s description of the Liberty Party’s goal to “divorce slavery and government akin to the Jacksonians’ divorce of banking and government” (Wilentz, 288) was an analogy that I found interesting. Jackson’s desire to eliminate the federal bank was an attempt to stop rich northerners from claiming total control over America’s finances, while slavery was an issue concerning rich southern plantation owners. Both concern two different geographical areas of the United States, yet the two are both extremely important issues of American politics.

A Tale of Three Topics

Chapter 13 in Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy was significantly different from the other chapters so far. Whereas Wilentz usually devotes each chapter to one particular topic, Chapter 13 describes three independent events: The Bank War, abolitionism and the rise of labor unions. This division of different topics in American history leads to an awkward read where some topics are discussed in more sufficient depth than others.

I strongly agree with MASPEED’s criticisms of Wilentz’s treatment of The Bank War. I too found the writing extremely boring, and when the text did manage to hold my interest, I found Wilentz’s writing confusing for those who were not already familiar with the issue. I did find it the disagreement on Andrew Jackson’s removal of federal deposits from the bank between the House (backed his actions) and the Senate (disagreed) interesting. This conflict seems to echo the constant disagreements found in the US political system today that significantly limits the actions the government can take.

Out of the three sections, Wilentz seemed to focus most of his attention to the topic of abolition. Like JANEWTON, I was astonished by the “violent hostility in the northern states” (Wilentz 211) towards the prospect of removing slaves and the anti-abolitionist mobs led “not by lower-class rowdies but local notables” (Wilentz 214), who “abhorred the abolitionists’ challenge to their own social authority” (Wilentz 214). For a society that no longer relied on slaves to maintain their economy, I expected the North’s resistance to the preservation of slavery to be minimal. After the reading, I believe most anti-abolitionists were opposed to change primarily because they did not want the federal government infringing on their strong political power.

On a similar topic, in chapter 13 of David Davis’ Inhuman Bondage, I was interested by Davis’ discussion of the extent of the distribution of abolitionist literature (which reached 3 million pieces by 1840), which “far exceeded anything done in the British campaign” (Davis 260). These sentiments are echoed in The Rise of American Democracy when Wilentz discusses the publication of Thoughts on African Colonization, Declaration of Principles and Liberator as texts to help fuel the abolitionist movement. Across sources, literature is mentioned as a primary factor in spreading abolitionist ideals and gaining support in the same way it has influenced countless other revolutions.

Wilentz’s final section concerns the creation of labor unions. While I found that he discussed this topic more adequately than The Bank Wars, it was still not on par with his description of abolitionism. I was interested by his discussion of union-based political communities who published their own newspapers, organized their own elections and perform public demonstrations. Wilentz’s description made me consider unions as their own independent political and social communities that were not part of a particular infrastructure, but ones that set their own rules for their own personal interests and gains.

The Westward Expansion

After reading so much about the British colonial conquests of the 17th and 18th century along the east coast of the United States, I had almost forgotten about anything in America at the time that existed west of the Mississippi. During this era, the Spanish took it upon themselves to maintain their superiority in North America by conquering most of the western United States, securing themselves as the most important colonizers on the continent. In this chapter we are also introduced to another player, the Russians, and their colonization of Alaska.

Throughout all of the North and South American colonies of the 17th and 18th century, one common theme that unites all of the settlements (with the possible exception of New France) was the use of excessive violence when conquering new territories. As Alan Taylor writes in his history American Colonies, the Spanish “heard alarming rumors of Russian and British advances towards the West Coast of North America” (Taylor, 445), which prompted them to colonize at a faster, more violent rate. I believe this shows a deep insecurity on the part of the Spanish colonial exploits, who were determined to demonstrate their superior colonizing skills through any means necessary, even if that resulted in them “rap[ing] Quechan women and brutally whipp[ing] native men who protested” (Taylor, 459).

I was surprised with Taylor’s devoted a portion of the chapter to Russian settlements in North America (particularly Alaska), as I was unaware they conquered any land. I enjoyed reading WEKING’s analogy where he compared the Russian promyshlenniki to Spanish conquistadores in terms of violence of cruelty to the local Indian population. Taylor writes that “the promyshlenniki became notorious for their brutality to native peoples and for the rapidity with which their operations harvested wild animals to local extinction,” (Taylor, 447), showing a complete disrespect for not only the native peoples, but for their land too. Through reading all the chapters devoted to different European colonies, it seems as though most Europeans believed they were automatically a more sophisticated group of people than their native counterparts, and it was almost their duty to “save” them by forcing their practices on the Indians. The Russians were apparently no different.

The intertwined nature of religion and Spanish colonial conquests has always been an interest of mine. Religious conversion played an important role in the conquering of Spanish Latin America and continued to be important as the Spaniards colonized out west. As EVFARESE noted, it was clearly in the best interest of the Catholic Church to fund these overseas expansions, as they had the potential to gain many more followers. Overtime, the Indians eventually became dependent upon the missions, as Taylor writes, “by introducing free-range livestock [among other resources], the Hispanics narrowed the Indian’s ability to live outside the missions,” (Taylor, 461), detailing the full extent of Spanish control in America.

Shocking Similarities and Awakening

After nearly a century on the continent, European colonists in America had gradually become more proficient in maintaining settlements in the New World and were well on their way to establishing their own nation independent of European influence. Before this could happen, the Salem Witch Trials and The Great Awakening took place, radically altering the religious and supernatural mindset of the inhabitants of the Americans before the Revolution.

In Alan Taylor’s American Colonies, he described the process of this religious revival best when he wrote “after significant lags and regional exceptions, we find a dramatic, widespread, and increasingly synchronized outburst of revival religion.” (Taylor, 339). In a sense, this rebirth of religious devotion in the 1700s has set the tone for the relatively conservative and widespread religious devotion that still exists strongly in the Unites States today.

I found it interesting how the readings were divided between Taylor’s description of The Great Awakening and the four external essays concerning the Salem Witch Trials. Much like EVFRASER, WIROBERTSON, ROMANGONE, CHMASONE and SHCALLAWAY, I too believe that the two events were absolutely interrelated. For better or for worse, religion (particularly Christianity) overtime has used scare tactics as a means of gaining support (e.g. the fear of going to Hell, natural superiority). I believe the Salem Witch Trials and the fear of being persecuted in such a harsh manner was an extension of this scare tactic in an attempt to homogenize society. In her essay “Confess or Deny? What’s a “Witch” to Do?” Elizabeth Reis writes “ministers made it perfectly clear that intimacy with Satan ended one’s chance attaining saving grace and damned one to enter an eternity in hell.” Ministers could easily take advantage of this fear in their sermon. They could use it to not only add members to their church, but to strengthen the congregation’s devotion. By persecuting supposed witches for their supposed worship of Satan and other occult practices, churches in the Americas made it clear how they viewed those with different spiritual views, and how through their preaching they are simply trying to save them.

Finally, I found Taylor’s section on George Whitefield especially interesting. His description of him “drawing immense crowds too large for churches” (Taylor, 347) and as a “charismatic and moving speaker” (Taylor, 347) who would move across America delivering his sermon would be just as accurate in describing a notable 21st century Evangelical preacher today as it was back then. Whitefield in a sense almost set the archetype for modern-day “megapreachers” (as we call them in Canada) all the way down to their association with political figures (in Whitefield’s case it was Benjamin Franklin) and strong concern with their public image.

Carolina on My Mind (and Georgia and Chesapeake too)

As the 17th century progressed, the map of the United States was becoming more and more complete as people from all over Europe came to the New World to settle the land. Out of all these countries, England emerged as the dominant colonizing force. Starting with the colonization of Roanoke in 1585, the English gradually took control of the majority of the eastern United States by the end of the 17th century.

Chapter 7 and 11 of Alan Taylor’s American Colonies discusses the English colonization of Chesapeake Bay, the Carolinas and Georgia. The chapters almost read like a coming-of-age story for English settlers, who finally learned how to effectively and efficiently settle American land. The ultimate testament to this is how Taylor discusses the settlement of Georgia, the final colony discovered by the English. He uses three pages at the end of discussing the settlement of the Carolinas, not even giving the colony its own chapter. This is due to the fact that colonization there was significantly less arduous than at other locations, where there was no major quarrel with the local Indians or disastrous experiments in running the local economy. Taylor describes James Oglethrope and the Georgia Trustees as “powerful and distant elites (242)” and even “dictatorial (242)” in their approach to successful management. Initially after reading the chapter I felt unsatisfied with Taylor’s overview of Georgia’s founding, but when Georgia students in the class spoke of how dry the history of their own state was, I felt fulfilled.

In reading Taylor’s work, it is interesting to see how each colony makes use of its unique environment to create an agricultural-based economy, and the Carolinas were no different. As a Canadian and being inexperienced with American history, while I was aware of the Virginia tobacco plantations, I was unaware of the significance that rice played in the economy of the Carolinas. Taylor writes how rice “thrived in the wet lowlands of Carolina (237)” and that annual exports reached 43 million pounds in 1740, “comprising over 60% of the total exports from Carolina (237).” While their economy was dependent on a different resource than other colonies, the means by which the Carolinians exploited the available rice was through the same method of other settlements: slavery. As echoed in the blog posts made by JANEWTOWN and ROMANGONE, and in Taylor’s own words, the treatment of slaves in Carolina was among the worst on the entire continent. “Desperate to suppress the rebellion (240),” Taylor writes, the Carolinians clearly took no chances with their slaves.

One aspects of the reading on Chesapeake Bay that stuck with me was Taylor’s description of the social hierarchy that mirrored the traditional English model of king, provincial government, court and household. For a group of settlers that were desperate to escape from the overpopulation and underemployed English cities, they still retained many of the same elements of society they left with.

Blog 1 – Lesson 4

In high school, when discussing the use of slavery through different historical eras, it is always described in negative (and often revisionist) terms that ignore the importance of slavery in maintaining the civilization’s regime. David Davis’ Inhuman Bondage ignores this narrative in favour of a more realistic approach that acknowledges the importance of slavery in the development of the New World. In Chapter 4, Davis describes the use of plantation slavery as “highly productive,” and describes it as the logical successor to the “efficiency, organization, and global interconnectedness of industrial capitalism.” Unlike historians I have been previously exposed to who only address slavery in comparison to the lack-their-of in modern society, Davis uses statistics to support his argument that slavery was essential to the rise of the New World.

 

As Caitlin identified, Davis’ stress of how the European colonizers viewed Africans as black slaves and themselves as white slave-owners is an important aspect of the master-servant relationship that kept the slave-trade active. These racial tensions and the fact that white Europeans automatically assumed themselves to be intellectually and culturally superior amazed me. I had read about the white European’s inflated view of themselves, especially in comparison to black Africans, but was unaware of the degree to which this existed. What struck out to me most about this issue was the fact that the Europeans were unable to differentiate between different African tribes, seeing them all universally as “black” (described as a complete lack of “pan-African consciousness”).

 

One interesting section of Chapter 5 was when Davis described in great length the process that went into the harvesting, manufacturing and distribution of the sugar trade. Minute details referring to the “drying of the “heads”” and “crushing of the easily perishable crops” gave me a more complete look into the final product and the labour that was required to achieve this final product (which Davis described as a far more challenging process than the Virginian tobacco farmers).

 

I was, however, unclear as to why (outside of geographical reasons) that the Portuguese essentially held a monopoly over the Spanish in regards to the sugarcane industry. Davis attempted to explain this, but I was still not certain as to why this was the case by the end of the readings. From previous chapters (especially in regards to other nations’ desires to emulate the Spanish accumulation of precious metals), it seemed as though colonial empires were learning from one another as to how to best sustain their territory. Since the sugarcane industry appeared to be highly lucrative, I thought it would make sense for other nations to attempt the trade.