Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Links on Race and American History

- In the 1860s, photography was enough of a novelty that you didn't often take pictures of your slaves. A very rare exception was found recently, depicting two young boys who were either slaves or had recently been emancipated. What's especially interesting about the photo is that it was produced by Matthew Brady's studio (although not by Brady himself). Brady is easily the most famous photographer of the Civil War period, producing many iconic pictures of the war.

- The Virginia Historical Society blog has a post up on why the Civil War started. I consider this to be a more complex question than most people admit. It was about slavery, but it wasn't just about slavery - and it wasn't about slavery in the way that most people think it was (i.e. - it wasn't about abolition per se). That's my view from a very cursory reading of the evidence. One thing I do think is important, though, is to differentiate between the Deep South and the Upper South and their quite different justifications and the implications of those justifications. This blog post does a good job highlighting the distinction of Virginia's (eventual) decision to secede.

- Jonathan Chait quotes the National Review on conservatism and civil rights. I don't have time to read the whole NRO piece, but this is the key from Chait's post:

"Voters may reasonably conclude that a political philosophy that places such strict limits on government that it cannot ban racial discrimination in circumstances such as those of the South in the mid-1960s is defective... They also erred about the Constitution, even as they, like Paul, urged restraint in its name. Too many conservatives in the Sixties treated the claim that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution are not valid law as though it were a serious argument. But even those who were immune to this kookery acted as though the enactment of these amendments had changed nothing."
- A discussion of the autobiography of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers on C-Span.

- The financial crisis in Greece has delayed the delivery of the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. from China. The Greeks had offered to ship the statue for free, but have been unable to deliver. It will eventually come, and everyone seems gracious and understanding about the tough spot that Greece is in.

I also have two questions for readers:

1. Glenn Beck is holding a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th this year. August 28th (aside from being my birthday) is the day that King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. The theme of the rally is pretty unobjectionable, but given King's politics some people think it's an opportunistic move. All the speakers are prominent conservatives and libertarians, so even though the rally is billed as a broader patriotic event, you never know what's going to be said there. What do readers think of this?

2. This is a more specific question, but does anyone know how the liberation of serfs and peasants in Europe in the late 1840s and early 1850s affected the discussion about slavery in the United States? I'm still reading the 1848 revolution book because I've found barely any time to read, but I just recently read the section that deals with the end of serfdom, and I was curious if there was any crossover. You usually hear about three factors driving the debate over slavery in America. First, the slave uprisings by guys like Nat Turner in the early 1830s. Second, the rise in importance of the cotton crop. And third, the expansion west, which would raise over and over the question of whether slavery would exist in the territories and new states. But you never hear anything about how Americans reacted to the end to serfdom. This seems like it would be very important. The institutions of serfdom and chattel slavery are of course very different, but many of the problems and questions overlapped. Does anything know if this had any impact?


  1. Slavery was the primary animating source behind the Civil War. You have to ignore the whole wave of "free labor" and "southern nationalism" historiography of the past forty years to come to any other conclusion.

  2. What do readers think of this?"

    I think they have the right to speak freely on the subject.

    "This is a more specific question, but does anyone know how the liberation of serfs and peasants in Europe in the late 1840s and early 1850s affected the discussion about slavery in the United States?"

    Consult Kolchin, "Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom" for a start.

  3. Oh, and on the history of American slavery you really can't go wrong reading Kolchin's one volume history of the subject as an introductory text.

  4. Thanks for the Kolchin reference.

    I don't think the right to speak freely is being questioned by anyone - at least no one that I've seen. I'm more curious about the extent to which people think it is inappropriately opportunistic.

  5. "I'm more curious about the extent to which people think it is inappropriately opportunistic."

    People need to grow a backbone and get a life if this bothers them.

    Anyway, what part of his politics are you talking about exactly? His "Poor People's Campaign?" The fund he proposed for compensation for slavery? King is generally not remembered for these things of course.


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