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Full Version: "The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
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This is from a recent article in the Huffington Post.

"5 Things About Slavery You Probably Didn't Learn In Social Studies: A Short Guide To 'The Half Has Never Been Told'

"1) Slavery was a key driver of the formation of American wealth.
"2) In its heyday, slavery was more efficient than free labor, contrary to the arguments made by some northerners at the time.
"3) Slavery didn't just enrich the South, but also drove the industrial boom in the North.
"4) Slavery wasn't showing any signs of slowing down economically by the time the Civil War came around.
"5) The South seceded to guarantee the expansion of slavery."
Thanks, Linda! Please excuse this remark - facing the risk that any comments on the slavery issue usually stir emotions I have to admit I am a bit irritated by the headline, especially regarding 1.,2., and 5. At least here the economic meaning of slavery is one "basic" aspect to be taught on American history as necessary to understand the secession that led to the war.

Coming from "neutral territory", as this really surprised me, I honestly would like to learn what is taught (instead) on this topic?
Great question Eva! I grew up in the suburbs of New York City. In school I loved history all the way back to the dinosaurs. I remember pouring over color drawings of Civil War battles depicted in Life Magazine circa 1959. I cannot remember a mention of the cause (except secession) of the war. They did mention Lee & Grant, Gettysburg, Appomattox and Lincoln being shot. That was it in a nutshell then we were on to the culmination of the Indian wars and unrest in Europe.

As far as wealth in the U.S. slavery was never mentioned in grade schools. They got around that issue by mentioning Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin. Not the effect it had on the growing demand for cotton and hence a greater need for cheap labor. The wealth of the country was attributed to the attitudes and inventivness of the people's living here at the time, manifest destiny and the industrial revolution. When I say people's living here, I exclude slaves, Mexicans and Indians. The latter two needed to be removed for growth of new lands, a lot of which southerners hoped would include slavery - although we were not taught that as much as we were not taught the real reasons behind the Mexican American War; increasing the land mass of the country and opening it up to slavery, by seizing it from a country reeling and weakened by revolution before another country grabbed it.

So, in schools (I can only speak about public school), textbooks never mentioned the reasons this country was involved in the dark issues of our history. We then jump to the glory (gory) years of our involvement in world affairs where we help save everyone from German expansionism which (according to the history books) was quite different than manifest destiny.

I graduated high school during the height of the Viet Nam War (1968) and served four years to prevent the world from falling victim to communism. At least that is what we were told. I do not know what they teach today. History is truly written by the victors and a great study would be how our textbooks have evolved through that history.
The book is Hugh G J Aitken, Did Slavery Pay? The Problem is that a good accountant can look at the business records of plantations and see that they often listed income as outgoes and vice versa. Rebalancing the books reveals that slavery returned about 14% per year while the best investment in the North, namely railroads, returned 6% per year.

If you don't believe this take a tour among the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Even the wrecked plantations show unbelievable wealth, as do the homes of the industrial magnates in the North. Wade Hampton's family owned plantations in SC, Miss, and La, malling one plantation an inaccurate measure of income.

Of course the average Southerner owned around 5 slaves--Mary Surratt owned 10, I believe--but the real problem was standard of living. Those slaveholders all too often lived like kings. George Washington lived as well as or better that the King of England in his day (the book is George Washington's Expense Account). Southern apologists often cried about their poverty but this covered another fact about slavery--it was a social system that kept blacks and whites in their "proper" places. No one illustrates all of this better than Thomas Jefferson.

The real shocker is to see town many slaveholders in Louisiana were black. They owned more blacks than their own families, too. Slavery was a way to riches. A recent book on slavey and the growth of American capitalism is Edward Baptist, Half Has Never Been Told. And then, there is the time honored 2 volume set, Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross.
I'm afraid that I have to agree with Rich as far as my early schooling on the subject of slavery. I don't even remember the word being used in elementary school in my day (1950s). My eighth grade social studies teacher did touch briefly on the issue, but more time was spent on the Civil War itself. As for my 11th grade history class, it was a total waste! As was fairly common in those days, history classes were often taught by physical education teachers who had a spare period. I'm not sure that my teacher even knew that there had been slavery and a Civil War.

Maybe in slight defense of my teachers, I will say that, being from below the Mason-Dixon Line could be a little uncomfortable in the 1950s and 60s with the civil rights movement getting into full swing. I began teaching in the mid-60s when Maryland was desegregating its schools. When that federal judge in Baltimore decreed that busing would be the solution for everyone, everyone got up in arms (black and white). I remember one young, black lady asking me the first day of school, "Are you prejudiced?" My answer was, "Yes, if you don't do your assignments, pass your tests, and participate positively in class, I'm going to give you a low grade."

I tell you that story to show that my early teaching experiences made me very wary of what a class discussion on slavery and the causes of the Civil War could turn out to be. One great benefit to me was that I began teaching in 1965, the end of the centennial observance of the War. I will say that our society paid a lot more attention to remembering the war at that time than they have this go-around with the 150th. We should be ashamed of ourselves that we have not paid more attention to a cataclysmic event that had such a profound effect on the future of the U.S.

Meanwhile, back at college, thankfully I had several professors who did go over the economic and political effects that slavery had on the entire country -- however, that was not until my junior and senior years, when I could actually get out from under "required" courses and start concentrating on my major.

As for what today's students are taught: reading. science, and math in order to pass the state assessment exams...
I agree with Rich that you have asked a great question, Eva. I was wondering how the Civil War was (is) taught in the South and what is being taught nowadays.

I can't answer your question because I can't separate what I learned in school many years ago from what I learned from other sources such as Gone With the Wind and the movies. However, I don't remember learning anything about economic reasons for the war and I certainly didn't know that blacks were slaveholders. I first learned about that from reading The Known World.

I also didn't know the average slave owner owned 5 slaves.

There's a Richard H. Garrett from Caroline County, Virginia who is listed in the 1860 U. S. Federal Census Slave Schedule as owning 20 slaves. Does anyone know if that is the same Richard H. Garrett of Locust Hill where Booth was killed?
The most slaves that we can verify that the Surratts had were seven, and we know that one of them was rented. However, that was a significant amount for a family of modest, middle-class means in those days. Like many, however, Mr. Surratt inherited most of his slaves from the foster parents who had raised him.

The economic effect that Mrs. Surratt's slaves had on her way of life can be seen in the fact that the last of the Surratt slaves (who had not escaped to freedom in D.C.) were emancipated on November 1, 1864, under the new state constitution. Within a month, Mrs. Surratt was packing up and leaving her farm life in Surrattsville for city life as a keeper of a boardinghouse.

For the next hundred years, Southern Maryland's economy was largely based on tenant farming and share cropping - a paid form of enslavement in many ways. It took the downfall of the tobacco industry here to break down that system. It also brought the death knell of the last, large-acreage farms held by families in this area. In came the developers (mostly from out of state), and huge subdivisions replaced our tobacco fields. Those few old-timers who kept their acreage turned to corn, wheat, and soy beans.

As for black owners of black slaves, our county had one such person who owned over a hundred acres and a good amount of slaves in an area that is about three miles from the D.C. line. History books somehow forget to mention little details like that.
Thank you for all your replies and fascinating information - and especially for sharing your personal experiences!

Bill, thank you for the book recommendations, most appreciated.
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