Running The Risk

While it does not come as a surprise, every single time I open Wilentz I am reading about slavery. I realize that it is a product of the time period we are studying. However, it seems unreal to me that one thing could dominate every sphere of politics for so long. Slavery seems to me, to be the only issue ever to be able to accomplish a dominance of this kind. I could not envision a time or idea that could do that today. While we have specific issues that dominate politics, both economic and social, there is no one issue that stands alone as a contributor to all other issues. Slavery was just that, it was a dominant force socially, economically, and politically.

Particularly, the issue of the Fugitive Slave Law is intriguing. MIHAN on 11/19 mentions that among some compromises made there was a “much more stringent Fugitive Slave Act, which inadvertently led to tensions…” I was not surprised to read what I did in Wilentz on the issue. However, I did find that the specific people mentioned with regard to the Law are among the most powerful anti-slavery advocates out there. John Brown, a rabblerousing abolitionist from Massachusetts, is mentioned with regard to his armed resistance. Frederick Douglass is also mentioned, and he is in support of a violent end to the Fugitive Slave Law. Wilentz writes of the Underground Railroad and the abolitionists, black and white, that stuck their necks out for the runaway slaves. This also brings to light the so-called hero of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman. The Fugitive Slave Law made the entire United States a dangerous place for all slaves, former slaves, and even free blacks. Wilentz writes, “The new Fugitive Slave Law compelled ordinary northerners to participate in slave recoveries, on pain of fine and imprisonment, and placed heavy penalties on any found guilty of aiding runaway slaves–in effect turning the entire northern population, black and white, into one large slave patrol” (353). This made the Underground Railroad much more dangerous, and also created a tough internal controversy for many people in the north and south. This law made everyone punishable if they helped or even knew about a runaway slave. In no way was this meant to last forever. The everyday tension brought upon all people under this law was too much to bear.

I would argue that the new and improved Fugitive Slave Law was a substantial problem in the antebellum United States. With slavery dominating every facet of life, the Fugitive Slave Law pushed it one step too far.

Not Slavery, Not Pleasant

The word slavery carried a vast amount of weight throughout the 1800’s. In the years leading up to the civil war, 1830’s upward, slavery was the hot topic. The idea of “white slavery” is intriguing for that very reason. It seems unusual at a time when slaves were still considered less than human to a number of people that the northern workers would acquire such a title. Roediger notes, “in such a situation, it is not surprising that labor activists rather cautiously backed into making comparisons between white workers and slaves” (344). “White slavery” is almost contradictory. It is definitely a powerful argument, however, I believe there is a lack of humanity that cannot be ignored. In the early 1800’s white means human and black means slave and less or in- humane. While this cannot be applied generally all over the country, it was still believed. I disagree with the Vermont slogan that they were ‘“slaves in every sense of the word”’ (345). This may be moving, but I believe that it is not true. WIROBERTSON, on 11/18, states that, “Clearly, whites must have felt severe oppression in order to draw this comparison.” While I agree that they were oppressed, perhaps even severely, the racial prejudice of the time takes precedence over a wage war. Even the phrase “slavery of wages,” seems to draw too much on slavery as a possibility for whites in America.

Forgetting the word slavery, white workers of this time were right to argue for their cause. No group of people appeals for a change in such an extreme manner unless there is a problem. From unreasonable hours to low pay, white workers along with children, women, and the Irish all felt the pangs of an oppressive society. The Irish particularly entered the South and found a difficult path ahead of them. Dee Dee Joyce recounts, “ In Charleston, Irish labourers entered historically black labour fields out of pure economic necessity” (188). That is to say that the Irish were forced into a position similar to slavery with the social freedoms of whites. This may be where the sever slavery argument comes from. The vast difference lies in the ability for whites to advance to grow into economic success. Where as the blacks of the time were stuck in perpetual slavery or at the very least extreme prejudice and oppression. Slavery in the United States was based on race. Therefore, there was no equivalent to be acquired by the whites of the time. Even the Irish, that struggles, could not have come to slavery as an end.

We Can’t Stop, We Won’t Stop

While reading chapters 14-16 of Wilentz, the belief that history is to repeat itself kept popping into my head. These chapters seemed to echo all of the American history I have read about and am living. The idea of manipulative political parties fighting each other, whether it is Whigs and Jacksonian-democrats or democrats and republicans, is not foreign to us. Nor is the fight for race relations. At the time of Jackson, Van Buren, Calhoun, etc. the fight was over slavery, but race issues stood flood our computers and television sets daily. William Lloyd Garrison even brings women into the equation, which is a conflict that pervades every aspect of politics today.

In addition, the Whig party struggles with Van Buren dominating the polls with his popularity. ALKAROUT mentions this through democratization by saying, “The party’s attempts at democratization demonstrate that the party was more or less obligated to reshape itself if they desired to maintain political relevance.” I would say this is true for today’s politics as well. I believe we are left with two parties, one who is popular and the other realizing that it will not win an election without changing some views.

Then, of course, there is this economic debate over banks and money. At the time, Jackson was still shutting down most of the popularly approved ideas regarding the banks and any money relations. We see at this time a large debate over the use of gold vs. paper money and the gold standard. As gold and silver ran low, there was an issue over money and many politicians of the time referenced paper money as a solution. Many other politicians saw the threat of inflation through paper money, something that has been considered since we picked up the dollar.  A shipment of gold from Britain would quell their uneasiness for a short time, but as we now, the shift to paper money would occur eventually.

From the economic crisis of months and years past to the on going disagreement and refusing to settle between the democratic and republican parties, I would not go as far as to say that we are mirroring the past, or repeating it, but it important to note that we are still fighting the same things. Process of great strides has been made but the issues still remain. My question is whether or not we will ever move past these issues. My answer- in a democracy, I am not sure we ever will.

You Can’t Take It With You

I found Wolfe’s article intriguing but not entirely convincing. I did not necessarily agree with his assessment of native lands as their lives. While an integral part of where a person comes from is where they are from, this does not die with removal. Rather, when a person or group of people leaves their home, they take that with them. The Native Americans that were removed from their land were not stripped of their heritage. They were robbed of the land that they grew up on, the land that raised them, but not of the heritage that was their tribe. The natives, at this point in history, would not grow up, go off to college, and then go get a job. However, that is the twenty first century lens with which I glance at this. We, in today’s culture, move around a lot. From college to jobs to traveling, we are constantly on the move. While this was not the case for them, my perspective says that you are how you were raised and you take that with you no matter where you go.

NAKINDIG mentions in his blog post that Wolfe “explains how the views of the Europeans towards the American Indians included a nomadic, landless view of the native peoples.” My belief may stem from that belief. While it is true that some natives were nomadic, the vast majority was not and settled in specific locations based on their needs. While I do not agree with the Indian removals of years past, I do not see the argument for a cultural loss. Slaves were brought in from Africa, and while they did not necessarily flaunt their African culture to their owners, it was definitely present. Eastman Johnson’s painting, My Old Kentucky Home or Negro Life at the South, shows this African culture hidden behind the walls of the slave quarters. To that same end, the natives had a culture that whether enslaved or moved or not, should have been able to continue on.

While I disagree with Wolfe on movement, I appreciate his distinction between genocide and a disruption and thieving of lands. While a vast number of natives were killed as a direct product of Europeans weapons, diseases, etc. A good number were indirectly killed by a forced relocation of sorts. This was not an intentional annihilation, but rather an opening up of the frontier will consequences that went south. I am in no way defending the Indian removal, but I do see in a difference in genocide and an indirect annihilation.

What In The World Is Russia Doing Here?

Up to this point, the entire focus of this class has been on the colonization of America. That is logical considering that this is American history, but the history thus far has not really been American. Rather, it has been a conglomerate of European explorations, European politics, and European settlement. Chapter 19 was no different, but this final chapter ended the colonial period in an intriguing way.

Spain had played a role in the colonies up to this point, but they started to get worried. Spain “owned” a lot of land towards the west coast. I say “owned” because technically they claimed the land and it was theirs, but the Spanish really had no idea how much land was actually their. So when rumors spread that Russia and Britain were coming after their landed, they assumed that “the Russians and British were closing in on California and would soon outflank New Mexico and attack precious Mexico” (Taylor 445). First off, what in the world is Russia doing in this book? Russia was definitely not a country I expected to hear, or had ever heard, in connection to colonial history. Also, it always amazes me how little they knew about the layout of the country, as seen by the map of the island of California (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:California_island_Vinckeboons5.jpg). However, the Spanish did expand with their missionaries up the coast of California. They claimed the land by establishing little missionaries scattered up the coast of a vast territory.

Somehow Russia decides to rear its ugly head in the colonies. Now considering I had never heard of Russia being in America this early, I was intrigued to see what they brought to the table. I very quickly learned two major themes. The first is that the Russians are just like every other country that settled near natives. They were brutal, cruel, and effective in dealing with natives. They used natives to get the goods they needed and took advantage of them, just like every other society we have studied thus far. Secondly, Russia created a sense of urgency for the Spanish. Sarah Funderburg puts it eloquently in her most recent post, “the rumor that the Russians were rapidly expanding their land-holdings (or establishing them at all) motivated the Spanish to increase their aggressive expansion.” The Russians, to me, did not add much to the conversation about colonization. It seems as if they were another card in the deck.

Russia, Spain, Britain, France, etc. all seem to go the same way about colonization. As our talk of American colonization comes to end it is very clear. Now, just as Taylor does I will conclude with a brief mention of Revolution. Now, it is time to revolt against the British crown and become the United States of America.

She’s A Witch…. Maybe.

The idea of witches is a relatively familiar topic in our society. From Harry Potter to Halloween the idea of witches in commonplace in novels and particularly around October. However, looking at real, actual, tangible history, witchcraft still rears its ugly head. The Salem witch trials are a common studied event in American History classes. It seems odd to me that these events would even happen and that they would continue to make their way into history books all the way up to present day. Let’s examine these two phenomena:

First off, why would these events even happen in the first place? Like many of my classmates, I believe that there was distinct relationship between the rise of evangelical beliefs and practices and the rise of witchcraft. However, Sherwood asked an interesting question of correlation or causation. While I agree that some sort of causal relationship was present, the “Mean Girls theory” is something I think should be considered. From what we know of that time, living in New England in the 17th Century was not very exciting. It is not farfetched to assume that some women got bored and created a conspiracy that spread like wildfire. The once it went too far the girls realized that could not take it back. If your life had been dull and dreary who wouldn’t have jumped on the witchcraft bandwagon, or broomstick if you will.

Furthermore, the idea of witchcraft is fun, exciting, and captivating. That is why it makes it into the history books. However, there is definitely history to it. Religion in the colonies was at a crossroads when the witch bug hit. A revival of religion was necessary to keep religion buzzing and alive. Nothing proved a fire and brimstone preacher’s point more than the devil alive through sin in a witch in the community. The witches served as a solid real life testament to the devil’s work in the world. For the people of Salem and elsewhere, this made religion all the more personal and real.

There in lies, for me, the answer to Sherwood’s original question. There was most definitely a connection between the religious goings on of the time. However, It could be a product of a few girls’ imaginations or even possibly a scheme brought about by the church. There are numerous possibilities, and I would suggest that it was more likely causation than correlation. Yet, in this case, hindsight is not twenty-twenty but rather shaded by speculation, or possibly witchcraft.

Southern History Ain’t Pretty

Finally, we reached the South. We piddled around the area for a little while with Virginia and shortly after went North. But now we can talk about some good ole southern tales of rice, raiders, terror, and for brief moment, Georgia. Those short headers from Taylor’s  Chapter 11 on the Carolinas show us just how great colonial times were in the Carolinas. It is safe to say that they showed up a little late to the party. The “new world” was no longer a disease ridden mystery but rather a disease filled reality. People had been in America long before the Lords Proprietor were set govern the large state of everything above Florida and below Virginia. But quickly, as Taylor points out and we might expect, that large land mass split into North Carolina, South Carolina, and eventually Georgia.

However, for the Carolinas showing up late to the party might not have been a bad thing. Just as Virginians figured out their crop was tobacco, so did South Carolinians figured out that rice could be their fortune. So the South Carolinians did as all respectable rich white men did back then, they bought slaves. The slave trade was not a new entity, but rather a practiced trade. And these were not any slaves. They were specialists in their fields, literally. However, being so southern the slaves could easily run south away from the slaveholders and into free territory. So, to prevent them for running away they armed themselves at all times, scared them, and armed the Native Americans around them to help if any slaves were to run in their direction. The whites were scared up an uprising in a society where blacks were a large part of the population. As history tells us, South Carolina becomes a slave state and remains that way for a long, long time.

Now, as Taylor did with Georgia, I will briefly speak of the Chesapeake colonies. Taylor presents a lot of information here. Yet, while I was reading, I felt as if I was reading a book of fun facts. He spats off numbers about how much it cost to cross the ocean and then mentions the story of Elizabeth Abbot and her master. Which leads him to wealth, successful planters, which in turn lead to Bacon’s Rebellion, and so on. Taylor then ends the chapter with slavery. He acknowledges a successful freed black man, Anthony Johnson, but then speaks his final words on the demise of the status of freed black men. One colonist even said that Negro and Slave had become homogenous (157).

I’ve always had a passion for studying southern history because it is where I am from. But it has never been nor will it ever be pretty. Taylor does what should be done. He speaks of truths, horrible, horrible truths, but truths that should be acknowledged and learned from.

History trumps childhood- Chapters 3 & 5

Alas, yet another childhood story is ruined by the fierce truth of history. First, I found out the Pocahontas movie is not historically accurate. Then, it was unveiled that Columbus treated the natives with harsh brutality. Now, my world centered on the English being the main explorers to the “New World” is historically skewed. Taylor, altering my preconceptions on colonization, offers up a history, thus far, that centers on many other cultures.

Chapter three targets the Spanish explorers and their fierce conquest in the “Americas.” Taylor takes a relatively harsh approach in presenting the Spanish. The Spanish were vicious in their takeover of their so-called new land. Cortés and his army demonstrate the Spanish desire for conquest by taking over Tenochtitlán. What was once a booming metropolis of native wealth and civilization was “reduced… to a bloody rubble” (53). To make matters worse, the area they took over was littered with gold and silver. Yet, the new gold over powered the Spanish economy causing a rough period of inflation for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. For me, the Spanish represent the normal colonist that came over seas and soon showed dominance over the native peoples in an attempt to become rich.

However, chapter five showed a different relationship between the native peoples and the European explorers. The French explorers to the north had a contrasting association with the natives than that of the Spanish. The French were in North America to acquire furs and dominate the fur market. The native peoples knew the French were so far inland for the furs and soon took advantage of this fact. The native peoples were bringing in such large quantities of fur that the French were in an interesting position socially and economically. If they attacked the natives, they could take them over and the area. However, that would remove their supplier of fur, so they were trapped in a period of peace. Normally peace would be the ideal, but in a culture where the native peoples were originally though of as beasts, the French were not ecstatic to be equals. Taylor does give the French a certain amount of praise for being so peaceful, and they were nicer than the Spanish. Yet, they still had their fighting and were only peaceful for economic reasons.

The Europeans saw themselves as greater beings than the native peoples. With superior technology, I could see how the Europeans thought of themselves as higher powers. So since the Europeans “discovered” the “New World,” colonization history has been presented in that light. Taylor, however, is fighting the norm by presenting his thoughts differently. I admire his prowess for attempting to change a more than five hundred-year-old practice.