". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

National Manifest Destiny and Institutional Slavery -- OR --

The War of Southern Aggression.

Free Soilers, settlers of Kansas and Nebraska, immigrants and others of the North viewed it as "The War of Southern Aggression," as southern slave holders launched armed militia/mob invasions out of MIssouri against the non-slave holding settlers and administrators in the Kansas-Nebraska Territories. This is interesting since the Confeds then appropriated the reaction to their bloody mob & militia violence in that western region (which provoked equally bloody terror on the part of insane people like John Brown) for themselves post the Surrender at Appomatox. The Confederacy labeled the Civil War The War of Northern Aggression, though they were the ones who began the violence, in order to expand slaveholding territory.

This is what occured to me yesterday, as I poke around in that long era of national consciousness from the presidency of Polk through the Civil War. I have no idea how right this is though, because I don't know enough about all these issues yet. It's not as though they were taught at all in one's history courses in college or in grad school. You could specialize in them, as a professor publishing or perishing via your scholarship. But academics tend to look at issues in solitary confinement. The connecting of dots among areas of scholarship are left to the 'independent' scholars.

Manifest Destiny and the drive to market expansionism grew parallel with increasing imigration population throughout that same decades, which increased until around WWI, when it was essentially stopped -- until post the Civil Rights era, which put an end to legal Jim Crowe, and that eternal pool of cheap and expendable labor.Southern slavery made the coming Confederacy's region less hospitable for immigrants, due to slaves filling almost all the jobs. So immigrants also looked west to the new lands opening for settlement.

However, as we see distilled in the long and bloody violence of Kansas-Nebraska, as the rest of the nation also proudly believed that Manifest Destiny was the nation's natural right as well as good for the rest of the world (why, yes! you can find much rhetoric that expounds this -- and again, why we NEED Cuba -- for its own good -- and much of South America, and probably Canada too) -- so did southern slave holders believe it was their manifest destiny and obligation to expand slavery into all those regions as well (and again, why, yes! we not only NEED Cuba, but it will be so much better for Cuban slaves and the world that we control Cuba -- not to mention that we then can ensure no cheap slaves will be dumped on US via the vagaries of Cuban national events). Slaves and the slave trade was the foundation of the regional economy.It was during these decades that slavery in the slave states became ever more draconian, and ever more twisted, and the intra-state slave trade ever more profitable, leading to the state of mind that made the belief in slavery like unto a dogma, if not a religion. In other words, the South's thinking on slavery grew into the same irrationality as fringe religions, which in turn provoked the same irrationality in a fringe of the Abolitionists, like John Brown.

National expansion meant not just railroads and immigration settlement, but Southern determination to push slaveholding into those regions because the more territory that was worked via slave labor the greater the fortunes to be made in the investment in breeding and trading slaves.

As well, expanding the territory for slavery -- despite any previous Compromises (very like any treaty with any (Indian Nation was thrown in the trash as soon as their land was looked at by either settlers, the Feds or mining companies) was essential for the South's continuing political domination of the nation in government and cultural policy -- which circularly meant safe-guarding institutional slavery.In the meantime immigrants already facing racial, cultural and economic hurdles establishing themselves in this nation in the face of slavery were natural allies in the Free Soil movement -- though, not, of course, of Abolition, for former slaves would be willing to work at even lower wages than they were. Former slaves would be competitors for the new lands opening west of the Mississippi.

There were so many movements at the time, so many of them in competition and in mutual hostility with each other: Temperance, Know Nothings, Abolition, Free Soilers. What do you think? I haven't researched this enough yet to know whether I'm just blowing wind here.


K. said...

Black writers and thinkers have long regarded John Brown as a liberator and the raid on Harper's Ferry as a significant blow for freedom. Frederick Douglass in 1860:

"Among the greatest heroes and martyrs of History will reckon John Brown. No cry of alarm or terror which rose among the mountains of Md. and Va. on that memorable Oct. night was chargeable to him. It was but the echo of alarm and terror of peaceful villages in Africa, startled from their slumbers at midnight a hundred years before by rapacious traders, to supply the markets of this Christian country, with slaves. If three perished at Harper's Ferry for liberty, millions have been murdered on land and sea by this accursed traffic in human souls."

More here:

Foxessa said...

Yes, John Brown became a hero to Abolitionists as well.

But the facts were that he was a bloody, terrorist maniac, who advocated his cause via violence. Prior to Harper's Ferry (which plan, I, a woman, always found appalling -- why are women always supposed to stand in for the punishment of 'their men?" In Kansas his insanity manifested like this:

[ "On the night of the 24 of May {1857}, with four of his sons and two other men, he forced five proslavery settlers from their homes in the Pottawtomie country and shot or hacked them to death. Several of the bodies were horribly mutilated."

Naturally, some attempted to blame this crime on the Indians.

I read David S. Reynolds's biography of Brown, John Brown, Abolitionist, when it came out.

Reynolds was deeply sympathetic to Brown, but even so, I found him an appalling figure. It's the face of the Taliban.

Love, C.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. . . said...

You really have a prejudice against John Brown more than a historically-grounded sense of his life and role, and that is probably mostly not your fault. Brown's legacy--and this is largely a white-community issue--has been mediated through

1. the first testimonies of slave holders and pro-slavery contemporaries, as well as "moderate" compromising Republicans who wanted to avoid Civil War at all costs

2. the post-Reconstruction northern and southern writers who were hostile toward the aging abolitionists and who soured on the concerns of the former slave, thus leaving them vulnerable to the KKK and segregation

3. Southern "Lost Cause" writers who romanticized the antebellum era and defended the glory days of slavery as being good for both whites and blacks

4. Pacifists like Brown's "friendly" 1910 biographer, Oswald Villard, who allegedly proved that Brown was a "murderer" in Kansas. Villard was a fanatical pacifist, so Brown had to be guilty anyway, and he slanted the Kansas episode to suit his own prejudices.

5. 20th century historians who argued that the Civil War could have/should have been avoided were it not for dangerous fanatics in the north and south, Brown being their favorite target

6. More 20th century historians who introduced the idea of Brown's insanity without any real substance, and without doing any substantial research on him, but relied on one or two interpretations of the man.

7. The movie, Santa Fe Trail, which portrayed Brown as mad and violent, though written by a Southern sympathizer and glorifying the men who became Confederate officers.

Actually, I could go on, but it comes down even to standard school texts that misrepresent Brown by labeling him mad or violent.

Brown was not insane. That is an old charge that has long been discredited by serious historians, but it won't go away because of sheer prejudice and "historical gossip" spread by novices and bigots. The insanity plea was actually rooted in a legal strategy that Ohioans launched to try to win Brown a commutation of his death sentence. It was public knowledge in 1859 that it was a "project" of Brown's neighbors and associates in Ohio's western reserve.

If you think Brown was definitely violent because he believed in defending himself, you must be consistent in dismissing every other leader who used violence. You don't know the Kansas situation and even Reynolds, bless his heart, only did half the job right, in my friendly opinion. If you're going to correctly label Brown, he was a counter-terrorist. The people that he and his men killed (5 in all) were collaborators and supporters of terrorism in Kansas and the Browns were particularly targeted for "removal." If Brown overdid it, so be it. But he had no support from the government or local police (which were guided by pro-slavery sentiment), Kansas was a free-for-all and "free state" people were not fighting until Brown. By striking down those five thugs, he not only removed the immediate danger to his family, but he counteracted the terrorist surge coming up from the south. If you think that's terrorism, you're just wrong. Terrorism was initiated and supported by the militant, recalcitrant southern power brokers who were intent on having slavery and having it spread like wild fire. Slavery itself was terrorism, but it's a shame that among us "whites," the hackneyed charge that Brown was a terrorist is so pervasive. It really shows a blind-side and prejudice to the way "whites" read their own nation's history.

I won't even go into Harper's Ferry and what happened. But perhaps sometime you'll read my book, JOHN BROWN--THE COST OF FREEDOM. Best wishes with your blog. Lou DeCaro Jr., Ph.D.

Foxessa said...

Thank you, Pastor DeCaro, for your detailed response.

As I said, I have a lot of research to do yet. But I still don't think the killing of women and children, who had no legal rights themselves, is the sign of someone I'd trust. Perhaps this attitude could be changed by your book. At this time that is still up in the air though.

For others who may be interested, here is Pastor DeCaro's blogspot for John Brown.


The thing is that almost all U.S. history, at least, is mythology. As soon as you dig even a little you learn this, as I did in graduate school, for starters. And even then you got taught a lot of mythology, particularly about slavery and the Civil War.

Even today almost anyone you encounter will say that Grant was a washed up destitute drunk by the time Civil War came around. That's not true. He was unhappy, but his days of heavy drinking in these eras of deeply acceptable deep and constant alcohol imbibing, were when he was post the Mexican American War, when posted to California, under the command of one he neither liked nor respected and who was incompetent, and far, far from his family, all of whom, particularly his wife, he adored.

Thus he left the army and tried a lot of things, and failing as did so many small businesses in that economic era of the wheat futures market collapse and the consequent bank and investment houses' collapses. So he ended up in his father's store, not happy, but not destitute and not a drunk either.

But provide this information to your average person and they will accuse you of making things up.

Therefore your book deserves to be read.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

The problem I have with Pastor DeCaro's perspective is that it is too much like that of anti-choice people. In order to save fetuses it doesn't matter how many lives you take, or whose lives you take. You are saving a fetus. Though, well, you are probably not saving a child or a person.

And the more one studies the Abolition movement the more you see people thinking just like this. Indeed, the anti-choice people have deliberately followed many of the tactics and strategies and even the rhetoric and arguments of the Abolitionists.

I surely would have been an Abolitionist if I were alive back then. I would also have been a suffragist, when they came along, and I would certainly have been for women controlling their own reproductive capacities.

But I would not have been in favor of killing women and children, slave or free in order to win.

As far as I 'don't know the situation in Kansas,' that's what I've been digging into for several days now. In the original entry it is made clear that the southern slaveholders are the aggressors and were seen in that light by everyone.

But it is also clear that, as in the latest political protests, just a few people, whether authentic anarchists or plants by the rnc or whoever, can wreck all the careful work and planning of genuine protestors, who also have an intelligent plan of action to deal with a situation.

For many of us one of the consolations of history is to learn from it, learn from the past.

Repeating the past's mistakes may be inevitable as certain sages fear, but when it comes to research, let's not repeat it.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

The anniversary of the Harper's Ferry is coming up -- October 16.

One thing that seems to be agreed upon by almost everyone, even at the time, was that the raiders met their fate with grace and courage.

Which surely had a tremendous effect upon the greater population, particularly in the North.

What is insanity? The condition of slavery did drive slave mad itself. The very depth of sadness of knowing that 'not a person in the world cares about me,' is enough to do it. It breaks your heart.

Can we argue this has happened to anti-choice people? Or would you argue that this issue provided the foci, even the loci, for active manifestation of their insanity?

In the end though, when it comes to Bloody Kansas, it is the souther slaveholding aggression that created the loci and foci both for their violence, mad or not. I would argue that at least to a degree just being a slaveholder by the 1850's meant you had to be at least a little mad, considering the twists and bend of all evident truth and logic that would allow you to believe that you had the right to own another person and do exactly with that person what YOU wanted and that person had no right at all to even object, much less protest.

Love, C.

K. said...

Four things:

1. I've never heard the term "radical pacifist" before.

2. One must be careful when using such words as "terrorist" and "fanatic," especially when looking back from one context to another. Was -- say -- Michael Collins a terrorist fanatic or a revolutionary using the weapons and tactics most likely to succeed?

3. To me, all slave owners were/are terrorists. Regular floggings and rape to intimidate and coerce are terror tactics enough for me. The state governments and residents who enabled and abetted this played their parts. Children excepted, there weren't many innocents involved.

4. I don't see the moral equivalency between abolitionism and anti-choice. Although that's exactly what the anti-choicers want people to think when they bring up the Dred Scott decision.

I'm neither justifying nor opposing Brown's tactics. In the same lecture, Douglass said that considered in and of itself, the Harper's Ferry raid was abominable. The problem, he pointed out, is that you can't consider it in and of itself. Its antecedents lay elsewhere in crimes that dwarfed Harper's Ferry, and that that is where anger and opposition should be directed.

It's the same with 9/11. It was an atrocity and Osama bin Laden should be brought to justice. But it didn't happen in a vacuum and if we're serious about ending terrorism we must understand and address its antecedents.