". . . 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, January 27, 2016

Reading Wednesday -- Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South

Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South (2015) by Christopher Dickey.

Journalist and author Christopher Dickey
The title is misleading, as spying is not the point of the book.

What the book details is the diplomatic relations -- or attempts to establish diplomatic relations by the secession CSA slavocracy with the British government.

This never happened, and could not happen since the CSA was not a nation.

None of the world's nation-states, whether in Europe or elsewhere, ever accepted the CSA a nation-state, and indeed, could not do so, for then they would have had to declare the United States a non-state, and this no one was willing to do. Thus the CSA could not have a diplomatic, negotiating relationship with nations.

Somehow too, Charleston and South Carolina, cradle of secession and the War of Southern Aggression, conveniently forgot how long Britain had attempted to negotiate a roll-back of that evil law that permitted every kind of cruel excess, chicanery and extortion, of jailing every black sailor of every ship of every nation that came into its port (South Carolina was not the only southern state with this law) until the ship departed again, with the ship's captain having to pay for the jailing and other costs.  (Probably it's not necessary to say that many a black sailor went 'missing' -- i.e. sold for somebody's profit, free or not, or that young ship's boys and female stewards and cooks were raped in these jails.)  South Carolina and the south would not repeal these laws.

A very interesting review of this book can be found here, in an issue of the Charleston City Paper from last summer.  Here's a pull quote from the review:

The book also, however, offers a head-on view into not only the abject horrors of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, but also the sickeningly bankrupt morality of 19th-century Charlestonians in particular, and Southerners in general, for whom slavery was an institution to be preserved and expanded at any cost — even, as we all know, the cost of war. In light of the recent Emanuel AME church shooting and the conflict around the removal of the Confederate flag from the S.C. Statehouse grounds, Our Man in Charleston is, sadly, a highly relevant look at the society that started the War Between the States.
The fact that preserving slavery was the reason for South Carolina's secession is not news to anyone who has studied the Civil War academically, rather than buying into the pervasive mythology that glorifies the Confederacy as a bright beacon of independence and states' rights while smoothly glossing over the slavery issue as if it were just a mild unpleasantness. But let's be honest: most of us haven't really studied the Civil War. The majority of books on the subject tend to be geared toward military buffs, while even those for a wider audience — Tony Horwitz' Confederates in the Attic comes to mind — do little, if anything, to show just how central slavery was to the cause of secession, especially in South Carolina.

When reading this review last summer I kept thinking of the secession era Charleston Mercury, owned and published by the most fire-eating of the fire-eating secessionists of Charleston and South Carolina, and how he must be howling in his grave even now to have such sentiments as above published in 'his' city, where in his day, by gum, anyone who spoke, wrote or even suspected of thinking such things would be attacked violently, tarred and feathered and even lynched.  It was illegal to think or speak or write such things in the days of Robert Barnwell Rhett.

So radical was Rhett that his paper was the anti-Jeff Davis, anti-Robert E. Lee paper (as well as highly critical of just about everyone in the CSA administration and armies), in contrast to the pro-Jeff Davis paper, the Charleston Courier.

Rhett's Charleston Mercury ceased with the Union occupation of Charleston, resumed publication in 1866, then permanently closed in 1868.

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