Saturday, October 15, 2011

Office Hours: A Few Words on Confederate Slave Owners



Greetings Cosmic Americans - I'm just enjoying life at the Laguna Cliffs Resort in Dana Point!

Perry from Vancouver, British Columbia has had it with all of those "revisionist" historians who insist that Confederates soldiers were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery. He just wants to remind me and other Cosmic America readers that very few Confederates actually owned slaves - so they could not possibly have been fighting for slavery.

Well Perry, your Lost Cause credentials must certainly be in order. Like many former Rebels in the decades following the war, you seem to be trying to distance the Confederate cause from slavery. Not so fast my friend. You didn't need to own slaves to be tied to the institution. Confederates far and wide felt it absolutely necessary to maintain the slavery system, whether they owned slaves or not. Just watch the video.

Peace,
Keith

My friend and fellow blogger Richard McCormick reminded me that Joseph Glatthaar's book General Lee's Army does a nice job of explaining Confederate soldiers' connections to slavery. Thanks Richard!

12 comments:

  1. I think it takes a stronger person to step up and say, "you know... not one of my Confederate ancestors owned a slave, but, I can see (from the perspective of the ancestors) how the freedom of slaves might threaten the well-being of my ancestors... economically, culturally, and so on." Or, at the very least, "I can see how those perceived as 'black Republicans' posed a threat to the institution of slavery (the right of neighbors, perhaps, to own slaves), and thereby infringe on a right that they (ancestors) believed was protected as Constitutional... and therefore, may signal the death-knell of the culture in which those ancestors lived, and perhaps more rights previously thought protected under the Constitution." Also, the South was losing its grip on dominance of representation. Seeing this slip away was reason for concern, as who wanted the North to dominate decisions in Washington, because one certainly was unsure of what way that might go... and that most definitely included the threat to a culture with slaves, while the culture of the North was moving further away from the same, and had been for a number of years.

    It's simply a matter of accepting a range of possibilities, and, in the absence of details for each and every person... and, for that matter, for the vast majority... one logically can't take such a static/unbending "they didn't fight for slavery" stance.

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  2. Keith,

    Perry does not need to take our word for it...

    http://kindredblood.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/the-issue-of-the-number-of-slaveowners-in-the-south/

    He can take their word for it....

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  3. And a Canadian asked this question? My impression of their understanding of the Civil War that the slave owners caused the war. Indeed, they pride themselves on being the final stop on the Underground Railroad. Someone must be reading some bad history. I'd start with Robin Winks' Canada and the United States: the Civil War Years, originally published in 1960 but he produced four editions before his death in 2003; an excellent supplement is Greg Marquis' In Armageddon's Shadow which deals with the two east coast colonies New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

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  4. Here's a better idea: ask Perry how many Union soldiers owned slaves and fought for the Union because they believe it protected the peculiar institution better than secession could.

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  5. Scott,
    The idea that Confederates couldn't have been fighting for slavery because few of them owned slaves is clearly false. However, there were those who thought slavery was better protected in the Union than out of it, particularly in the border states. I would recommend Anne Marshall's excellent "Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State."

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  6. Scott A. MacKenzieOctober 16, 2011 at 1:29 AM

    Bob: I agree, and as a matter of fact, I just happened to read the Marshall book this week. However, in northwestern Virginia, the opposite was true - my work indicates that those involved with slavery sided with their state and the Confederacy.

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  7. "He just wants to remind me and other Cosmic America readers that very few Confederates actually owned slaves – so they could not possibly have been fighting for slavery."

    Nearly four million slaves in a Southern population of nine million. About 80% of eligible white Southerners fought for the Confederacy. So who does Perry think had all of those slaves? Did they own themselves?

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  8. He should also think of the number of ways non-slaveholding whites interacted with both slaves and masters. One could buy and sell things to the enslaved, including hiring them to work. Poorer and middle class whites would also live among the master class, having to vote for them, follow their orders as part of the militia or slave patrol, etc. Moreover, rich and poor whites alike could share in the prosperity, aided by the labor of the enslaved as well as ports, canals, turnpikes and ultimately railroads. Even northerners, Europeans and Canadians (British North Americans) benefited from these connections. I think people forget that slavery was not a private affair - it was a massive social and economic system that ruled the Atlantic World for most of the past 500 years. Indeed, we North Americans of the 21st Century may be the first in recorded history to not have slave labor at all.

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  9. This example shows how pervasive the Lost Cause has been, and why it must be fought. If it can cross borders, it can permanently influence how the Civil War is perceived abroad.

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  10. I appreciate all the comments, my friends - this is indeed a great topic for discussion and I believe I will add more posts on this topic in the near future. As for Perry - my new Canadian reader - I have to agree with Scott. The Lost Cause has been very pervasive...you can find elements of it all around the world. At least his opinions, however warped, gives me a good kick off point for blog posts! I must thank him for that :) Keep 'em coming Perry!!

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  11. Joseph Glatthaar's "General Lee's Army" is a good book that discusses how slavery was heavily involved in the lives of many southern soldiers. Even if the soldiers or their parents did not own slaves, their neighbors, or their bosses, or their landlords did. Slavery was a normal everyday part of life for the majority of southerners, even those who were not actually slaveholders themselves

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  12. Thanks for that Richard - I meant to mention Glatthaar's book in my post - I think I will go and add it in.

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