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Walter Johnson Offers ‘A Better Way to Think About Slavery’

For the past few days I’ve been reading about the expansion of slavery into the southwestern states during the 1830s and 40s. Silas Chandler was two years old when his master, Roy Chandler, moved from Virginia to Mississippi in 1839. This was right in the middle of a severe economic downturn owing to runaway speculation as well as dangerous banking policies (or lack thereof) on the state and federal levels. It all came temporarily crashing down and the Chandler family found itself right in the middle of it. Right now all I have are a lot of questions about the family’s history in Virginia, why they moved to Mississippi, and the challenges of getting settled at such an uncertain moment.

I am relying on a number of books to help fill in the big picture, including Ira Berlin’s, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves, Joshua Rothman’s Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson, Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism and Walther Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom. From here I will look more closely at Palo Alto and the local region in which they lived.  Continue reading “Walter Johnson Offers ‘A Better Way to Think About Slavery’”

The Passing of a Pioneer in History Blogging

with Ralph Luker, Mark Grimsley, and Rebecca Goetz at the 2007 SHA in Richmond
with Ralph Luker, Mark Grimsley, and Rebecca Goetz at the 2007 SHA in Richmond

I was very sad to hear this morning of the passing of Ralph Luker. Ralph taught American history at a number of schools and was the author of numerous studies. He also edited two volumes of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers. Many of you, however, know Ralph from his days at History News Network’s Cliopatria blog. Our paths crossed almost immediately after I started blogging back in 2005. Even at that early stage Ralph was already promoting history blogging and bloggers. In 2007 Civil War Memory was awarded Cliopatria’s Best Individual Blog.

Ralph was a huge supporter of my blogging early on and understood how I was trying to leverage it to promote my research beyond the site itself. He introduced me to various historians and on more than one occasion recommended me for inclusion on conference panels. Ralph was incredibly generous and I remain very grateful. Continue reading “The Passing of a Pioneer in History Blogging”

Why Did a Video about the Civil War and Slavery Go Viral?

Yesterday I posted a video of a West Point history professor briefly discussing the central role that slavery played in the coming of the Civil War. While I suggested that there is nothing surprising in this video, Professor Ty Seidule does address a number of widely misunderstood topics related to the central issue such as why non-slaveholding whites supported the Confederacy.

The video appeared following a column by Steven Metz, director of research at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, in which he calls for the U.S. military to ‘Disavow the glorification of Confederate symbolism.’ Professor Seidule is interviewed in this article, which likely explains the statement I highlighted in yesterday’s post about the U.S. army’s role in defeating the Confederacy. Continue reading “Why Did a Video about the Civil War and Slavery Go Viral?”

The United States Army’s “Finest Hour”

This is a decidedly unremarkable educational video on the American Civil War until the 5:05 mark. At that point, Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, makes the following point:

As a soldier, I am proud that the United States army, my army, defeated the Confederates. In its finest hour, soldiers wearing this uniform-almost two hundred thousand of them former slaves themselves-destroyed chattel slavery, freed 4 million men, women and children from human bondage, and saved the United States of America.

I have trouble imagining any member of the U.S. army today disagreeing with this statement. But I also can’t imagine anyone today outside of the military disagreeing with it as well.

[Uploaded to YouTube on August 10, 2015].

The Confederacy Was Not a Con Job

Over the weekend the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an editorial on the current debate about Confederate iconography by Frank Hyman. It’s an interesting editorial in that it doesn’t fall into any of the popular categories on the subject. After establishing his bona fides as a white Southern male Hyman gets to his point. The problem with revering the Confederate flag and the Confederacy generally comes down to the following:

The Confederacy — and the slavery that spawned it — was also one big con job on the Southern white working class. A con job funded by some of the antebellum one-percenters, and one that continues today in a similar form…. With low wages and few schools, Southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than Northern whites….

My ancestor, Canna Hyman, and his two sons did own land and fought under that flag. A note from our family history says: “Someone came for them while they were plowing one day. They put their horses up and all three went away to the War and only one son, William, came back.”

Like Canna, most Southerners didn’t own slaves. But they were persuaded to risk their lives and limbs for the right of a few to get rich as Croesus from slavery. For their sacrifices and their votes, they earned two things before and after the Civil War. First, a very skinny slice of the immense Southern pie. And second, the thing that made those slim rations palatable then and now: the shallow satisfaction of knowing blacks had no slice at all.

Certainly northern and even some southern observers before and after the Civil War offered their assessments about the extent to which the institution of slavery stymied economic opportunity for non-slaveholders, but we should be cautious about applying our own value judgments to the past. Continue reading “The Confederacy Was Not a Con Job”