Friday, April 10, 2015

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2015, April 10: Southern slavery - capitalism or feudalism?

Harold Meyerson comments on the historical/economic question of to which extent Southern slavery was a capitalist institution, as distinct from some kind of quasi-feudal formation, in Today's GOP: The Party of Jefferson Davis -- Not Lincoln The American Proospect 04/10/2015

... one reason the race-based subjugation of labor was so resilient was that it was a linchpin not just of the Southern economy, but also of the entire U.S. economy. For much of the 20th century, the prevailing view of the North-South conflict was that it had pitted the increasingly advanced capitalist economy of the North against the pre-modern, quasi-feudal economy of the South. In recent years, however, a spate of new histories has placed the antebellum cotton economy of the South at the very center of 19th-century capitalism. Works such as Empire of Cotton, by Harvard historian Sven Beckert, and The Half Has Never Been Told, by Cornell University historian Edward E. Baptist, have documented how slave-produced cotton was the largest and most lucrative industry in America’s antebellum economy, the source of the fortunes of New York-based traders and investors and of British manufacturers. The rise in profitability, Baptist shows, resulted in large part from the increased brutalization of the slave work force.

Lincoln understood this—how could he not? The traders and investors in New York rendered that city a center of pro-Southern sentiment, so much so that its mayor, Fernando Wood, actually suggested that the city secede from the Union to preserve its ties to the Southern slaveholders. British commercial interests pressured their government to extend diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln termed slavery not a Southern sin but an American one, for which both North and South were condemned to a form of blood-soaked, divine retribution. “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come,” Lincoln said, “but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?”
If you're wondering about the Jefferson Davis title, Meyerson concludes with this:

Fueled by the mega-donations of the mega-rich, today’s Republican Party is not just far from being the party of Lincoln: It’s really the party of Jefferson Davis. It suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum South opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all white.

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