The American Revolution Reconsidered: Part Thirty
The successful Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) caused the French to throw in the towel in the Western Hemisphere (1) and sell the United States an immense tract of land extending westward from the Mississippi Territory to the Rocky Mountains, and northward from the Gulf of Mexico to the border of Canada. This transaction is called the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which doubled the land size of the United States (2).
The Presidential administration of Thomas Jefferson refused to diplomatically recognize the new, independent, black-run republic. At the request of the French, Jefferson signed a trade embargo against Haiti in February of 1806 (3). The French probably wouldn't have had to tell him twice.
If you were Thomas Jefferson, this Virginia plantation-owning slaveholder, you would have been very, very, very worried, to say the least.
Now, I've mentioned it before, but I cannot stress this enough: No system of oppression can be one-size-fits-all. If you install such a system, the entire target population will all hate you in the same way, and rebel against you all at once, with the same heightened level of ferocity. You don't want that.
You have to have gradations and levels of social control. You have to convince some of the target population that they have it better than their fellow victims, that they are better, somehow, than their fellow victims. All the while, you must not let them loose sight of the fact that things could be so much worse for them, if you were of a mind to make that happen.
From, let's say 1790 or so, you have a North-South-running tapestry of slavery, from Maine straight down along the eastern seaboard through the Southern states, down into the Caribbean.
You had urban slavery, which was the mildest form of all, in the Northern cities.
Let me explain something. By 1790, or so, certainly the very late eighteenth century, the Northern states had passed state laws prohibiting slavery. But I believe that those laws, effectively, only dealt with plantation-style, rural slavery; and left urban slavery in the cities untouched.
Now, we know that in 1850 there were 400,000 slaves living in urban areas of the United States; and that the vast majority of them were certainly engaged in nonagricultural pursuits (4).
In part twenty-one I gave indirect evidence that suggests that black urban slavery was operative in the New York shipyards in the 1830s, for example. And, of course, we know that in January of 1861, the mayor of that most urban of cities (then and now), a man called Fernando Wood, recommended to the Common Council that New York City also secede from the Union, along with the Southern Confederacy (5).
And that fact alone, does away with the illusion that the American Civil War of the 1860s, was a strictly regional North-South conflict.
So, we had urban slavery in the Northern cities (and the Southern cities as well, for that matter).
In the Southern, rural areas we had rural, plantation-style slavery, which was much more physically punishing and life-threatening in various ways.
Further down in the Caribbean, otherwise known as Hell on Earth for black slaves, slavery was the most dangerous and life-threatening of all. Slavery in the West Indies was as hard as slavery could possibly be. To be sent to the coffee plantations, sugar plantations, and tobacco plantations of the West Indies, was like a death sentence, worse than being banished to Siberia in the Soviet era.
Now, if you had a urban slave carpenter or slave blacksmith in Boston, New York, or Stamford, one of the ways you could keep him in line, was to threaten to sell him to a plantation down in Virginia, South Carolina, or Alabama.
If you had a rural slave in Virginia, South Carolina, or Alabama, you could keep him in line by threatening to sell him to Hell on Earth, in the form of sugar, coffee, or tobacco plantations of Jamaica, Barbados, or Antigua.
For Southern slaveholders like Jefferson, the successful Haitian Revolution would have posed a strategic problem. Haiti was now one less area in the West Indies, that could be used by masters in Virginia, South Carolina, and Alabama, to threaten their recalcitrant slaves.
As the Caribbean was becoming more free, the ability of U.S. slaveholders in the South, to threaten their slaves with a hellish Caribbean fate, steadily diminished. It, therefore, became imperative for these slaveholders to rework the tapestry of slavery. The other system of slavery that operated in the North American mainland was the much gentler and milder urban slavery, which could not be used as a threat against recalcitrant Southern, rural plantation slaves.
That is to say, it was no threat to a rural Virginia slave, to tell him that you were going to sell him into an "apprenticeship" with a Philadelphia architects (there were slave architects; slaves were used in all of the skilled trades).
Historians James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton have pointed out that working conditions for black slaves, in the North were generally less onerous than in the South. The reason for this, they say, was because black slaves in the North were more likely to live and work in small groups, often as part of the owners' household. Indeed, Northern slaves frequently worked side by side with their owners (6).
I raise this because James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton use the word North in two senses: geographically, of course; and as a near-synonym for urban. We have to remember that until about the 1940s, the Northern states were far more industrially modern and urbanized than the Southern states.
Now, getting back to Thomas Jefferson's diplomatic snub of the newly independent republic of Haiti: If you were President Jefferson, you would have recalled how French-speaking, black Haitian troops, under French command, helped the rebel effort in the American Revolution of 1776-1783 (7).
From this point of view, what was there to prevent masses of black Haitian soldiers---this time under black Haitian command---from returning to the North American mainland, to stir up insurrection among black American slaves, thereby inspiring them to shed rivers of the blood of white American slave masters and their families?
If you were Thomas Jefferson, you would have recalled what had been, perhaps, the most terrifying slave revolt, staged at the Stono River in South Carolina, in 1739; and how that rebellion had been sponsored by the Spanish, either before or after the fact.
More than 100 slaves staged a revolt at Stono River in South Carolina. Twenty of the rebels were former Congolese soldiers, who had been captured in Central Africa and then brought to America as slaves, and installed in South Carolina near Charleston (8).
They were led by a man called Jemmy. The twenty recruited other South Carolina slaves and trained them in the military tactics and strategies of the Congo. Near the Stono River the party broke into a store and took guns, killing two storekeepers in the process. Then they marched to Spanish Florida, in search of Fort Mose (9).
The party freed slaves as they went. Their number increased to more than fifty by midmorning; and by that afternoon they were more than one hundred. By then the South Carolina authorities had been notified, and the royal governor called out the militia. In the fighting that ensued most of the rebels were killed. Some of them, though, escaped into the woods and swamps, where the militia pursued them for more than a year (10).
South Carolina and Georgia launched a land and sea military campaign against these rebels at Fort Mose. The invading forces suffered 50 dead and 20 captured, when a Spanish force that included many former slaves from South Carolina, routed them---the invading South Carolina and Georgia forces (11).
Jefferson would have also been irked by the fact that, in 1738 Florida's territorial governor, Manuel Montiano, gave runaway African slaves sanctuary and granted them land two miles north of St. Augustine, for a settlement. They just had to pledge 'to shed their last drop of blood in defense of the Spanish Crown.' This settlement was Fort Mose (pronounced Mo-Zay), which became the first legal, free African community in what would later become the United States of America (12).
The reason I mention that, about the Spanish and French, is because the whole run up to the American Revolution happened within the context of the contestation between and among France, Spain, and Britain for control of the great wealth coming out of the Western Hemisphere.
If you were Thomas Jefferson, you might have started to think that it was a real nuisance having the great powers of Europe buzzing around, inciting America's slaves this way and that, hither and thither.
Then came the War of 1812, on President James Madison's watch; and which resulted in the British setting fire to Washington D.C., and burning down the White House.
Now then, according to Wikipedia, the United States declared war on June 18, 1812 for various reasons: trade restrictions brought about because of Britain's war with France; the impressment of American merchant sailor into the British Royal Navy; "British support of Indian tribes against American expansion"; "outrage over insults to national honor after humiliations on the high seas"; "and possible American interest in annexing British territory in modern-day Canada" (13).
There was no 'possible' about it. The United States kept trying to conquer British Canada (14).
What's going on with the War of 1812? There are a few points to remember.
1. The United States---the entire United States---was proslavery at this time. Britain was antislavery.
a. Britain had been involved with the slave trade, through the Royal African Company.
b. But those of you who've been following this series, know that Britain got out of it by 1731, again, in the form of the government monopoly which was the Royal African Company. After that the slave trade was deregulated and privatized.
2. You should know that in 1715 New York State passed a law which said that any slave caught traveling forty miles north of Albany (presumably heading for freedom in Canada), could be immediately executed, on the say so of two credible witnesses (15).
3. A nice way to solve the problem the legislation was addressing, would have been to annex Canada. That way, runaway slaves from Northern states would have nowhere to run.
4. New York State passed legislation providing for the gradual abolition of slavery in 1799. The last of New York's slaves were freed in 1827 (16).
c. 1715 was eighty-four years off from 1799 and one-hundred-twelve off from 1827.
d. As I mentioned, in part twenty-one I gave indirect evidence to suggest that black urban slave labor had been employed in the New York shipyards in the 1830s.
e. I have also mentioned, more than once, that New York Mayor Fernado Wood, recommended that the city secede from the Union, along with the Southern Confederacy in January of 1861.
f. What this means is that from the point of view of the "tapestry of slavery" in the United States, the American takeover of Canada would have remained a desirable prize, until the very onset of the Civil War of the 1860s. As I mentioned before, we have reason to believe that the usual North-South conflict presentation is problematic.
Now then, after having taken in what we have about New York, what we can say is this: The War of 1812 happened because---among other reasons---America had tried to annex the territory of British Canada. Proslavery America tried to do this because of its desire to extend the "tapestry of slavery" and quell the ability of slaves to escape captivity by fleeing to Canada. Antislavery Britain (England had outlawed slavery in 1550, but allowed indentured servitude), in response to this trespass upon their sovereignty, retaliated by invading Virginia and torching Washington D.C., and burning down the White House.
Furthermore, in support of the idea that the War of 1812 had had something to do with slavery, African American Studies scholar, Gerald Horne would have us know that the British struck at the heart of America in league with Africans. The title of one of his books says it all: Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. Before Emancipation (2013).
James Madison's successor in the White House was yet another Virginia slaveholder, James Monroe. The Monroe administration proclaimed something called the Monroe Doctrine (1823). This policy "stated that further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention," according to Wikipedia (17).
Given what we have just looked at, with regard to what the War of 1812 involved, it would appear that the Monroe Doctrine had been a classic case of "projection": attributing to others what one, himself is guilty of.
We are continuing on with the "tapestry of slavery."
Now then, as the Caribbean was becoming more free and independent and as America kept failing to annex Canada---it became imperative for the tapestry of slavery to be rewoven to the left, which is to say, westward.
Now, the scholarship usually presents the situation akin to a race across the west between the Northern and Southern states. Between 1787-1848 there was the westward movement of the settlers from both the Northern and Southern states. The Southerners tended to move along Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas (with southward leg into Florida). The Northerners found their way into Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin (18).
Political-economist Kevin Phillips had this to say: "The contest between the North and South to populate their western hinterlands engendered political jockeying over new state admissions. This persisted until the Mexican War ended, and California's admission as a free state in 1850 tipped the balance. No more plausible territories for slave states remained" (19).
Mr. Phillips went on to explain that Southern leaders saw the need to look "further afield" for the expansion of their preferred way of life, to Cuba or Northern Mexico. When that did not work out, Kevin Phillips says, confrontation became inevitable (20).
And let's remember what happened to set off the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln, who was not an abolitionist but preferred free labor on free soil, won the presidency without carrying a single Southern states. Southern leaders, afraid that their way of life would be voted out of existence, bolted from the Union.
In other words, the South had not been able to accept the consequences of an election.
Stay with me because here's the thing: If what I am saying about the "tapestry of slavery" and urban slavery is correct, then that would mean that the North-South westward movement across the country had not really been a race, competitive, or in any way adversarial. This is because as Southern plantation slavery was moving westward along the lower Midwest, the complimentary, Northern urban slavery was, correspondingly, also moving westward, along the upper Midwest. This maximum westward movement would have been necessary, as the Caribbean and Canada had been cut out of the "tapestry of slavery."
Do you follow me?
Suppose all of that, amazingly, is true. Then what was the American Civil War of 1861-1865 about?
First, a quick point about New York City.
When scholars talk about the connection between New York City and Southern plantation slavery in the 1860s, they refer to the way New York City bankers financed cotton production in the South. They rightly point to this to explain how dependent New York had been upon Southern plantation slavery; and how the innocence of the North is a myth.
I would just go one half-step further. In keeping with our "tapestry of slavery" idea, I would just conceptualize the New York financing of Southern plantation cotton production, as something beyond merely profit-motivated, and see it as system maintenance-motivated.
Remember, if urban slavery was, more or less, located in the far more urbanized North, and rural, plantation slavery was more or less located in the South; and if the former condition was far milder and gentler, for various reasons, than the latter condition---we must understand that the "good cop" (in this case urban slavery), to be effective, must always have its "bad cop" (rural, plantation slavery) component.
Does that make sense?
The second point I want to emphasize is that the westward movement of the descendants of the settlers, in the context of the "North-South" Civil War-era "competition," was, as ever, fuelled by or catalyzed by or given additional urgency by that great motor which continued to churn, back in England.
As always in this series, I am talking about the overwhelming social force of the agricultural revolution-facilitated, primogeniture-driven relentless grind machine of the enclosure movement, which was privatizing the commonly-held lands.
The question, again, is: What was the Civil War about?
Short Answer: I am not saying that the war was not about slavery.
Let's review what actually started the Civil War.
All scholars agree that Abraham Lincoln had not been an abolitionist. However, his personal preference had been for free labor on free soil.
Lincoln had been a political devotee of Senator Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser of Congress. Compromise was Lincoln's political approach.
Abraham Lincoln had not campaigned for the Presidency on the promise of abolishing slavery.
Nevertheless, when he was elected President of the United States, without having carried a single Southern state, Southern leaders became concerned that this did not augur well for their preferred way of life.
In other words, Southern leaders were afraid of what they thought was coming down the pike, so they committed treason and seceded from the Union.
The thing to understand is that Lincoln never proposed the abolition of slavery. His one red line had been that there be no further westward progress of slavery.
In terms of what the Civil War was about, I would say that it was the armed version of the Hamiltonian-Jeffersonian debate. That is why I put a picture of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton at the top of this hub.
As you know, Hamilton and Jefferson were the two big brains of eighteenth century America. They had two opposing views of what the future of the country should be. Jefferson thought that America's future lay in being an agriculture-based country, with a patriarchal, feudal-like social order which included forced labor. Every man was to be the "King of his castle," and this libertarianism presupposed a small, limited central government, which could not do to much harm.
If you wanted to, you could call Jefferson the "father" of the Southern Democratic party.
Hamilton's vision was very different. He wanted America to be the most up to date, industrially modern, mechanized economy. America needed high finance and dynamic marketplace. In order to govern all of this, a strong, dynamic central government was needed, which would back and guarantee a strong, single currency.
If you wanted to, you could call Hamilton the "father" of the Northern Republican party.
Now then, you might say that the Southern Confederacy were the "forces of Jefferson" and that the Northern Union were the "forces of Hamilton."
Since the Northern Union won the Civil War, you might see that as the vindication of the "forces of Hamilton." That is to say, the country would move forward following Hamilton's vision.
Now, I would not suppose that either Hamilton or Jefferson exactly had progressive views about black people.
It was a question of how the land of the United States of America would be used; and this takes us back to the point I was making in the very first installment of this series.
One way to look at the outcome of the Civil War, from the perspective offered in this series, is this: the railroads won the Civil War!
- Recall that Lincoln's one red line, upon election to the Presidency, was that slavery not be allowed to move any further westward.
- Basically, as I have documented elsewhere in this series, the railroads wanted that land and got it: 170 million acres of federal land grants.
- Abraham Lincoln had been one of the most successful Illinois railroad lawyers of the 1850s.
- Plantation slavery, the plantation system, used too much land which was needed or desired by the railroads.
- The railroads served the larger purpose of beginning the process of the establishment of a transportation and communications infrastructure, the hallmark of modern commerce.
- What we can say, from this point of view, is that the railroads helped to destroy the system of plantation slavery in the South; this removed the "bad cop" component from the "tapestry of slavery," which had as its "good cop," urban slavery.
- Without the preservation of the relative "bad cop" of rural plantation slavery, you had no way of threatening urban slaves.
- Remember, too, all of this happened in the context of the American failure to take Canada, or bring Cuba or Northern Mexico into the slavery fold, and the subsequent and consequent need to reweave the "tapestry of slavery" to the left, westward.
Thank you for reading. See you next time!
1. (2015, July 21). Haitian Revolution. Retrieved July 23, 2015. (Wikipedia). See section: Impact. 5th paragraph
2. Horton, James Oliver & Horton, Lois E. Slavery And The Making of America. Oxford University Press, 2005. 70-71
3. ibid, 71
4. Franklin, John Hope & Moss, Jr., Alfred A. From Slavery To Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. (paperback). 122
5. Wood, F. (1861, January 6). Mayor Wood's Recommendation of the Secession of New York City. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
6. Horton, James Oliver & Horton, Lois E. Slavery And The Making of America. 43
7. Sewell, D. (1994, December 18). Haitians Want It Known That Haitian Heroes Aided American Revolution: Georgia: Display in Museum Depicts the 1779 Battle of Savannah and Recalls the 'Chasseurs Volontaires'---Infantry Volunteers from Haiti. Placard Salutes the Bravest Feat "Ever Performed by Foreign Troops in the American Cause." Retrieved July 23, 2015. Los Angeles Times.
8. Horton, James Oilver & Horton, Lois E. Slavery And The Making of America. 37
9. ibid, 37
11. ibid, 38
12. Henry, Mike. Black History: More Than Just A Month. Rowan & Littlefield Educations, 2013. (paperback). 3
13. (2015, July 15). War of 1812. Retrieved July 20, 2015. paragraph 1. (Wikipedia).
14. ibid, paragraph 3.
15. Franklin, John Hope & Moss, Jr., Alfred A. From Slavery To Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. (paperback). 59
16. (2015, June 30). Abolition of Slavery Timeline. Retrieved July 23, 2015. (Wikipedia)
17. (2015, July 5). Monroe Doctrine. Retrieved July 20, 2015. (Wikipedia). paragraph 1
18. Phillips, Kevin. American Theocracy: The Peril And Politics Of Radical Religion, Oil, And Borrowed Money In The 21st Century. Viking (Penguin Group), 2006. 137
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