On “Silent Sam,” Massachusetts, and complicity

Image result for silent sam

There is a meme making the rounds to the effect that Massachusetts – of all places! – was the first colony to legalize slavery, doing so in 1641.

Well, guess what? It’s true. I’ve confirmed it from multiple reputable sources online (here is a link to the most concise one I’ve found; some of the following dates come from this timeline).

In addition, in 1643, the New England Confederation, a “military alliance of the English colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven,” adopted a fugitive slave law, meaning that an escaped slave, if found, would be returned to his or her master. And in 1650, Connecticut legalized slavery. Note: Virginia didn’t pass its fugitive slave law until 1657, although it did pass a law allowing blacks to hold slaves (!) in 1654.

In 1652, Massachusetts required all black and Indian (Native American) servants to receive military training, just like white citizens; but ten years later, in 1662, rescinded that decree, no longer allowing them training in arms. New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire passed similar laws restricting the bearing of arms by blacks, in that same year.

Also, the slave trade in North America (although they were originally indentured servants; lifelong servitude was not a thing in the early days) began with the launching of the first slave-carrying ship, the “Desire,” in 1636. Care to guess where she was built and launched? Again, Massachusetts.

Now, I’m not beating up on Massachusetts. I love the Bay State, its topography and climate, its quaint villages, its glorious Fall foliage, its delicious seafood, and its many and (mostly) positive contributions to our collective history, from Lexington and Concord to its intimate connection with the sea (did I mention seafood?).

But part of that seafaring tradition included the slave trade, part of the “Triangle Trade” (a.k.a. “Triangular Trade”) that linked the American colonies to Europe (especially Britain) and Africa in a network of raw materials, finished goods, and slave labor.

All of the American colonies, later States, were complicit in that trade, either directly, or by benefiting from slave labor in the production of raw materials such as cotton, tobacco, and sugar, among other products. And the fact that New England had abolished slavery in its own territories did not prevent it from profiting mightily from that still going on elsewhere.

On the subject of indenture and slavery, in 1640, a runaway African indentured servant, John Punch, was sentenced to lifelong servitude for the crime of running away. Note: that was a sentence, in punishment for a crime. Arbitrary enslavement did not begin until the case of John Casor (1655), who was ruled by a court to be enslaved for life to Anthony Johnson: ironically, Johnson was an African-born former indentured servant who had completed his term and set himself up as a tobacco farmer, with indentured servants – and now, a slave, the first “official” one – of his own.

Incidentally, only about 10% of enslaved Africans (mostly captured and sold to Europeans, or white Americans, by rival African tribes) ended up in North America, where, as indicated above, they originally became indentured servants, but were later enslaved; the vast majority went to Central or South America (primarily Brazil) or the Caribbean Islands, where they all became slaves (see here for more detailed figures).

Why am I mentioning these things? Because there is a tendency to treat Southern folks, here in the U.S. – those who seceded and formed the Confederacy, from 1861-1865 – as if they were uniquely culpable in the slave trade, and slavery in general. The truth is rather different.

The history of slavery itself is ancient almost beyond reckoning, and worldwide in scope; but the history of slavery in America is also highly complex and multifaceted: including both sub-Saharan Africans selling other Africans into slavery to Europeans (later white Americans), and free blacks here owning slaves, as well as considerable involvement by Northern interests, including after slavery had officially been abolished in New England.

My point in all of this? It just underlines the absurdity of treating the South, and particularly the old Confederacy, as somehow uniquely culpable in the issue and institution of slavery, which it clearly was not; and using this fallacy as an excuse to tear down monuments and other historic iconography. The most recent example of this iconoclastic fervor is the toppling of the “Silent Sam” monument at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill – erected as a tribute to the more than 1,000 UNC students who fought, and particularly the 287 who died, in the War Between the States.

But Silent Sam is far from the only casualty in this war against history as expressed in monumental art: many other monuments have been attacked, damaged, defaced by graffiti, or broken down; and some have been removed, under color of law, by municipal authorities who ought to know better. The justification offered is that the South was fighting to protect slavery – a notion that is, at best, simplistic, and at worst, completely and tragically incorrect – an institution for which the Confederacy (so the argument goes) was uniquely culpable. The falsity of that notion is, I hope, amply demonstrated above.

If we are to eliminate every vestige of slavery in America, we will have no choice but to eliminate a lot of good, too. Great men can do terrible things, and flawed men can do great things. The complexity of humans is part of what makes us interesting. But we lose all of that – and impoverish both ourselves, and future generations – when we choose to obsessively mono-focus our attention on a single issue, such as slavery.

Should we ignore it, and pretend that it was of no consequence? No, of course not! It was and is (for it still exists, in parts of Africa and the Middle East, and human trafficking is a thing even here in the U.S.) a moral evil, and must be decried as such.

But judging people, events, and even whole regions solely on the basis of their connection with slavery narrows our focus, blinds our perception, and cripples our judgment. Not for nothing do serious academic historians consider “presentism” – the tendency to look at the past through the lens of current-day standards and sensibilities – to be dangerously misleading.

We would be better off, I think, if more people today heeded an aphorism my late mother often quoted:

“There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it ill-behooves any of us
To talk about the rest of us.”

Or as our Lord Jesus Christ once said, “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

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Bishop: Tree plaques in Brooklyn honoring Gen. Lee to be removed | Newsday

Plaques memorializing Gen. Robert E. Lee mark a

Two plaques honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that mark a maple tree outside a Brooklyn church will be removed Wednesday, the spiritual leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island said Tuesday.

Source: Bishop: Tree plaques in Brooklyn honoring Gen. Lee to be removed | Newsday

Sadly, the Episcopal Church is showing its recurrent idiocy and lack of both historical perspective and breadth of vision once again. The attacks on General Lee, of which this is but the latest of many, are particularly unjust and absurd, given the actual and expressed beliefs of the man himself.

Here, for a more balanced view, are a few excerpts from an essay entitled “The Real Robert E. Lee,” from the website of the Abbeville Institute’s “Review”:

• “First, Lee deplored slavery, describing it as a ‘moral and political evil’ in a letter to his wife, Mary Anna. Lee told her that they should give ‘the final abolition of human slavery…the aid of our prayers and all justifiable means in our power,’ praying for ‘the mild and melting influence of Christianity’ over ‘the storm and tempest of fiery controversy’ driving America to disunion. Lee elsewhere called slavery a ‘national sin’ for which he feared America would be punished.”

• “Second, Lee initially opposed secession, but his loyalty to his native state – the Commonwealth of Virginia – surpassed his loyalty to the abstraction of the Union…. Although Lee considered secession to be wrongful, he could not countenance a government based on force of arms rather than consent of the governed.”

• “Third, Lee did not believe he was fighting for the particular issue of slavery, but for the foundational principles of American freedom – self-government, independence, and the constitutional rights of the states. As the Confederacy rejected three offers from Lincoln to exchange submission to the Union for the protection of slavery, Lee’s convictions were confirmed. ‘Our sole object,’ Lee wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, ‘is the establishment of our independence and the attainment of an honorable peace.'”

“Before his very first battle at Cheat Mountain, Lee did not encourage his men to fight for slavery, but for home, hearth, kith, and kin. ‘The eyes of the country are upon you. The safety of your homes and the lives of all you hold dear depend upon your courage and exertions. Let each man resolve to be victorious, and that the right of self-government, liberty, and peace shall find in him a defender.’

“Lee supported states’ rights not because they protected slavery, but because, as the Founding Fathers understood, they were the ‘safeguard to the continuance of a free government’ and ‘the chief source of stability to our political system.’ As Lee explained to Acton, ‘The consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.’

“Lee further noted that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom were secessionists in their day, opposed ‘centralization of power’ as the gateway to ‘despotism.’ According to Lee, ‘The South has contended only for the supremacy of the Constitution, and the just administration of the laws made in pursuance to it.’”

This is a man who should be honoured, and whose thoughts, expressed in his writings, should be taught to generations of school-children! As President (and former 5-star General and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during WW II) Dwight D. Eisenhower put it, in a letter to a correspondent questioning Eisenhower’s admiration for General Lee,

“General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. 

“From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.”

Nor was Eisenhower alone in his esteem for Lee. As the Abbeville article recounts, President Theodore Roosevelt – one of the more famous American progressives, albeit one who has also been attacked, in recent times – described Lee as “the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth.” Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to Lee as “the noblest American who had ever lived and one of the greatest commanders known to the annals of war.” And according to another staunchly progressive / liberal President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”

Lee was not perfect, of course; there has been precisely one perfect Man, and he was born in Bethlehem and died on the Cross on Calvary. But that makes it all the more sad that, instead of using the present controversy as a “teachable moment” to show forth the truth that in God’s Providence, great men can be flawed and flawed men can be great, the Episcopal Church has chosen instead to kowtow to – nay, to embrace – willful historic ignorance, presentism (see also this), and political correctness.

We are all, present and future generations, impoverished by such choices.

“… of the people, by the people, for the people…”

jeff_davis_union_constitution

Notwithstanding Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” did not “perish from the earth” when the Southern States withdrew from a Union they had voluntarily entered into. It perished when they were driven back into it at the point of the bayonet.

— H.V. “Bo” Traywick, Jr.

 

Just sayin’…….

 

 

Why the Confederacy and the War Between the States – essay on the Morrill Tariff

Actually, of course, it was hundreds of thousands – by some estimates, nearly a full million, both North and South.

Full text of Mr. Moore’s comment, in case the link fails to work:

Most people who protest the Confederacy have never even heard of the Morrill Tariff which then makes their argument null and void. Abe Lincoln never issued any proclamation which stated slavery was the cause for going to war. One can search high and low for the existence of evidence which would prove the north fought the war to end slavery and they will continue to come up empty handed.

Without the reality of proof the argument which states, the cause of the Northern War of Aggression was slavery becomes nothing more than a grievous lie which is being used to divide people. Sadly people today can easily be led to believe in absurdities, due to the fact no one researches the facts which are always hid deep below the surface of the media’s lies.

The Morrill Tariff was a heavy tax (named for Republican Congressman and steel manufacturer, Justin S. Morrill of Vermont) raising the average tariff from about 15% to 37% with an increase to 47% within three years. The U. S. House of Representatives passed the Morrill Tariff by 105 to 64, even though the tariff was very similar to the tariffs of Abomination which had led in 1832 to a constitutional crisis and threats of secession as well as armed force. Out of 40 Southern Congressmen only one congressman, from eastern Tennessee, voted for the tariff.

The tariff considerably raised the cost of living and commerce in the South, while protecting Northern industrial interests. The Morrill Tariff placed severe economic hardship on many Southern states. Even more appalling was that 80% or more of these tax revenues were spent on northern public works and industrial subsidies, further enriching the north at the expense of the South.

Just days before Lincoln’s election in November, 1860, an editorial in the Charleston Mercury summed up the feeling of South Carolina on the impending national crisis: “The real causes of dissatisfaction in the South with the North, are in the unjust taxation and expenditure of the taxes by the Government of the United States, and in the revolution the North has effected in this government, from a confederated republic, to a national sectional despotism.” Continue reading “Why the Confederacy and the War Between the States – essay on the Morrill Tariff”

Understanding the purpose of Confederate memorials

Courthouse Statue - Loudon County Courthouse, VA
Courthouse Statue, Loudon County Courthouse, Leesburg, Virginia

Understanding the purpose of Confederate memorials

The statues were erected as a means of healing the nation’s wounds

By Richard H. Black — Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Richard H. Black, a member of the Senate of Virginia, is a former U.S. Marine pilot and Vietnam War veteran. He is a member of the Virginia War Memorial Commission.

ANALYSIS/OPINION: The Virginia General Assembly wisely enacted Va. Code Section 15.2-1812 to protect war memorials from destruction for political reasons. It provides: “If such [war memorials] are erected, it shall be unlawful to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.”

Localities erected monuments to those who fought in the War Between the States several decades after the war, while millions of those veterans were still living. The Confederate soldier monument, at the Old Courthouse in Leesburg, was erected in 1908, roughly 43 years after the war ended. Most Confederate veterans would have been in their 60s by then, and many had befriended old adversaries.

In Northern Virginia, John Mosby, the famed “Gray Ghost,” had bedeviled the Union armies with hit-and-run cavalry tactics that earned him a prominent place in Civil War history. After the war, he befriended his old nemesis, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Their friendship began in 1866, when Grant issued him a handwritten safe-conduct pass. Later, Mosby became President Grant’s Republican campaign manager for Virginia, and he was fondly remembered in Grant’s memoirs. In such ways did our nation gradually bind the terrible wounds of our most tragic war.

Millions of good people, North and South, endured great suffering. In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he set forth his postwar goals: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

When the Courthouse Statue was erected, it was “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” The statue is a quiet, reflective image of the men who fought that war. One can imagine those who attended when it was erected in 1908. No doubt they included veterans, widows, and those for whom the statue was a solemn memorial to long-lost friends; to fathers, husbands or brothers. It was not a political statement any more than the Vietnam War Memorial is a political statement about that war.

The Virginia Code protects war memorials because they record our history. The purpose of the law prohibiting the removal of war memorials is to avoid the type of conflict that occurred in Charlottesville.

Troublemakers rip down historically significant statues for political reasons. The Islamic State employed cultural destruction as a weapon of terror in Iraq and Syria; we mustn’t follow suit in Virginia.

The chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors proposed a change to the Virginia Code making it easier to tear down war memorials. Attempts to remove Loudoun County’s Confederate Statue would harm our image and divide our community. The board should be calming racial tensions – not inflaming them.

As senator for the 13th District, I represent the Manassas National Battlefield and Balls Bluff Battlefield Regional Park. Visitors quietly walk those hallowed grounds with a sense of reverence that honors fallen heroes of both sides; political leaders should approach them with that same respect.

On the 106th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, the Arlington Cemetery Confederate Monument was unveiled before a large crowd of Northerners and Southerners on June 4, 1914. President Woodrow Wilson addressed a large crowd of Union and Confederate veterans, who placed wreaths on the graves of their former foes, symbolizing reconciliation between North and South – the memorial’s central theme.

Those who paid the price in blood formed bonds of brotherhood for the benefit of America. We do them a disservice when we reverse those magnanimous acts of love and mercy.

I have no doubt that statue removal would eventually invite removal of headstones from Confederate gravesites; there is always some new tool to perpetuate division and hatred.
We should have the wisdom to respect our history and draw lessons from it.

I oppose weakening the Virginia statute protecting war memorials. If bills attacking war monuments are introduced in the Senate, I will vote against them.


Thank you, Senator Black. I wish more politicians shared your wisdom and plain common sense.

Perspectives on politicizing history: the Confederacy, “white supremacy,” and tribalism

I wrote the following essay in response to a Facebook thread, in which some of those involved were invoking the all-too-predictable bugbears of “racism” and “white supremacy” to justify opposition to the Confederate flag, monuments of Confederate heroes and honoured dead, and so on. Basically, the left-wing narrative is that the Confederacy was racist and white-supremacist, and so, consequently, are any or all of its memorials, heroes, and iconography. As should be needless to say, I take exception to that notion; thus, this essay. I was told by a friend that I should blog it, so here it is!

It is problematic, for a number of reasons, to apply (post-)modern standards of “racism” to historical contexts. For one thing, it is an innate human characteristic to associate and affiliate primarily with one’s own people, and to mistrust and/or look down upon those who do not “belong.” Although of course, definitions of “one’s own people” vary; those who do not view the matter in ethnic or racial terms nonetheless tend to prefer the company of people who think like they do: merely switching one “tribe” for another.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was commonplace to think of Africans (and Asians, for that matter) as inferior – intellectually and morally, as well as technologically (the latter being true enough, at the time) – to Europeans. Those who did not hold that viewpoint were the exceptions.

Britain may have ended slavery in its territories in the early 19th century, but quite late in that century, well after the War Between the States had ended, the noted British author and poet Rudyard Kipling famously wrote about “the white man’s burden.” That burden was to “uplift” Africans and Asians from their (as it was seen) benighted, backward, and primitive existence; to “civilize” and Christianize them, for their own good.

This was a paternalistic view indeed, but one that would have found resonance with many or most Southern slave-holders, and one which was certainly not grounded in racial hatred. If Europeans (in Europe itself or in America) had hated them, why would they have helped them?

And if we were to consider the matter objectively and with open eyes, we would discover that all or nearly all cultural, racial, or ethnic groups on the planet are “racist” to some extent, depending on how we define our terms. And while I am not aware of any specific studies on the matter, anecdotal evidence from personal observation – not just of my immediate surroundings, but using a global and historical perspective – suggests to me that Asians and Africans are, on average, about as “racist” as Caucasians.

And anthropologists tell us that just about every single indigenous group that has ever been studied calls itself by a name that translates approximately to “the People,” with the strong implication that others, outside that group, are not really or fully “People.” I am not making a moral judgement in saying this, just expressing an objective reality.

Returning to the era of the War Between the States, it can be reasonably argued that, despite the fact that some whites – and a surprising number of free blacks – held people of African descent as slaves, the Confederacy as a whole was significantly less “racist” than the Union. It had integrated units, with blacks fighting alongside whites (Nathan Bedford Forrest’s personal bodyguard being perhaps the most famous, but not unique); it had troops from Native American nations, troops (and at least one Cabinet secretary!) of Jewish heritage, it had Hispanic soldiers and even (IIRC) a few Asian ones.

The Union Army, in ironic contrast, was lily-white, except for the “US Colored Troops,” who were strictly segregated, and fought under the command of white officers. The antipathy and aggression of Union troops, both during and after the WBTS, toward Native Americans is well-known; that toward people of Jewish heritage is less well known, but no less real; and Union actions and attitudes toward Southern blacks, both slave and free, were hardly what anyone could consider exemplary.

And what are we to say about the Northern ship-captains who transported African slaves – who had been captured and sold to these merchants, not by Europeans or Americans, but by other Africans of rival tribes, or sometimes Moslem Arab slavers – to these American shores? Are they somehow less racist than the owners of plantations? The Confederate Constitution actually forbade the importation of any additional slaves, and no slave was ever brought from Africa on a Confederate-flagged ship. The same cannot be said about merchant shipping flying Old Glory.

Or what are we to say of the English Colonies, later the original United States, who engaged in the “Triangle Trade” transporting slaves, cash crops such as sugar and tobacco, and manufactured goods between Africa, the Americas (including the Caribbean, as well as the North American continent), and Europe, for some two centuries before the so-called “Civil War”? What are we to say of the Northerners who, when their states abolished slavery, did not set their slaves free, but sold them south?

What are we to say about the plantation-owners – always a very small percentage of Southern society – who went off to war, leaving their lands, women, and children in the capable hands of trusted black “servants”? Nor did any of them, to my knowledge, have cause to regret that decision. A general slave uprising would have been relatively simple, and likely quite successful, during the War, but it never happened. It is hard to escape the conclusion that many or most African “servants” felt a greater affinity for their own “white folks” than for the invaders from the North.

And perhaps most of all, what are we to say of the so-called “Great Emancipator,” whose famous Proclamation freed not one slave in areas under Union control – including both Union slave states and even areas of the Confederacy that had fallen to Union armies – and who only “emancipated” slaves in areas where his writ did not run, whose words and writings made it clear that he believed blacks to be inferior to whites, did not like them or feel that they could ever be part of an integrated society, and who advocated for their removal to “colonies” in Africa or Central America?

These are considerations that are ignored or, at times, actively suppressed, when speaking of the South, the Confederacy, and its iconography – including flags and monuments – as being indicative of “white supremacy.” While it is true that there were aspects of superiority and inferiority ingrained in the worldview of most 19th century persons, the matter is far more nuanced than many on the left, whether in ignorance or arrogance (most likely some of each), are willing to admit.

And of course, that leads to the grandest irony of all: that the very same human impulse to tribalism – to favouring one’s own group, and disparaging those who are not part of it – that led people of European heritage to first enslave, then endeavor to “uplift” and “civilize” Africans, is operational in those whose left-leaning social and political views of both history and contemporary life leads them to try to “convert” those who do not share their views, and to hate those who will not join them.

With the exception of those who are so completely relativistic that literally anything goes (in which case they would have no right to complain about any views held by anyone at all), we are all to a greater or lesser extent convinced of the rightness of our positions, and intolerant of those who do not share them. Some of us, however, have more grounds for our perspective than do others!

So to those who say (or imply), “check your white privilege,” I say, “check your ‘liberal’ privilege.” And perhaps, consider looking at the world through the larger lens of objective history, rather than the tiny aperture of ideology.

That is all.

The prescient wisdom of Robert E. Lee

General Lee - portrait photograph

“I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, is not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”

~ Robert E. Lee in correspondence with Lord Acton

As “Marse Robert” accurately perceived, our Founders carefully set up a detailed and intricate system of “checks and balances” to preserve our Constitutional liberties, and our status as not a pure democracy, but a representative Republic.

And that included not only a balance of power between and among the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial), but between the Federal government and the States. Indeed, it it worth noting that the Preamble to the Constitution speaks of the establishment of a Constitution “for these United States.” Note that: “for these” States, as distinct, sovereign entities, not “for the” single entity called “the United States.” That is not accidental, or an infelicitous choice of words!

Unfortunately, since our Founding, the corruption that comes with the desire for power has been leading the Federal government to constantly accrue powers to itself, against the clear directive of the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people” (the Tenth Amendment).

President Lincoln’s determination to preserve the Union even at the cost of the Constitution – against which Lee, at the head of the Army of Northern Virginia, so ably but ultimately unsuccessfully contended – was a body-blow to the Founders’ intentions, and the pace of Federal usurpation has been accelerating ever since. For many of us, “aggressive abroad and despotic at home” is not too strong an expression of the unfortunate result.