3. Slavery Reconsidered

Whip hand: the free-thinking Carlyle Club abolishes Whig history, serves up some primary sources, and cottons on to a south-side view in this, our masterful third issue. It’s bound to please!

Table of Contents

  1. Liberty, Equality, and American Slavery
  2. A South-Side View of Slavery
  3. The Abolitionists
  4. Historical Illiteracy Unchained
  5. Tales of the African Slave Trade
  6. Roots: A Pack of Vicious Lies
  7. A Radish-Side View of Slavery
  8. Recommended Reading
  9. Letters to the Editor

Liberty, Equality, and American Slavery

Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.

Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.

… Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government.

Thomas Jefferson

Question: what’s wrong with slavery?

Yes, I know, it’s beneath you and your sophisticated understanding of history. Indulge me. Pretend I’m an alien from Neptune, and explain to me why this thing you call “slavery” was bad. Feel free to cite primary sources. And we’ll restrict our attention to American slavery, so you needn’t wrestle with Aristotle, if you don’t want to. On second thought, don’t answer just yet: first I want to make you wade through some quotes. Don’t worry, this will be fun! Just make sure to pay close attention…

We’ll start by just opening up a newspaper (2013):

As Detroit recorded its highest homicide rate in nearly two decades, city and police officials pledged to try to stem the tide of violence.

Authorities recognized the spiraling problem of gun play and homicide in Detroit during a news conference Thursday — a recognition that comes as the city kicks off the new year with violence.

Already this week, a mother has been charged with fatally stabbing her 8-year-old daughter, and a cab driver was shot to death.

“We’ve lost respect of each other,” Mayor Dave Bing said. “We’ve lost respect for life.”

The good news is, lots of kind-hearted philanthropic types want to help out (2011):

The National Institute for Literacy estimates that 47% of adults (more than 200,000 individuals) in the City of Detroit are functionally illiterate, referring to the inability of an individual to use reading, speaking, writing, and computational skills in everyday life situations.


Low-income and low-skilled adult learners require a range of supports to ensure they can participate in education and training (like transportation, childcare, food and shelter, disability services). Current programs lack the internal capacity to offer these services.

Boy, that sounds like a lot of support. Could Japan have the answer? (2009)

“Japan’s success — and there is no precedent for it in history — very largely rested on organized immobility — the immobility of ‘lifetime employment,’” asserted Drucker, who first visited Japan in 1959 and was among the earliest observers to predict the nation’s rise as a world economic power.


What worried Drucker — and what the Japanese election underscores — is that the flip side of mobility is instability, especially for those workers lacking the skills and education to be in high demand.


“I very much hope,” he added, “that Japan will find a solution that preserves the social stability, the community — and the social harmony — that lifetime employment provided, and yet creates the mobility that knowledge work and knowledge workers must have.”

On an unrelated note, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services explains the benefits of adoption:

Adoption is the best choice for a child in CPS care when it’s not safe for the child to return home and for the relative or close family friend who wishes to be a permanent home for the child. It gives the child a stable and permanent home and lifelong support. It also gives the adoptive family legal protection because adoptive parents have the same legal rights as birth parents. Adoption can give children a sense of belonging and security because they know they will have a lifelong relationship with the adoptive family.

(It’s also true, of course, that a few parents — adoptive and biological — do treat their children badly. But that doesn’t mean adoption is worse than the alternative, and it certainly doesn’t suggest that we should ban adoption — let alone ban parenthood!)

You know, it sounds like the good people of Detroit would benefit a lot from some sort of a combination of adoption, which provides stability, security, and lifelong support, and lifetime employment, which provides stability, community, and social harmony, especially for low-skilled workers (like in Detroit). Now, if only American history could furnish us with an example of a social arrangement combining adoption and lifetime employment… But I digress.

Allow me, at last, to introduce Ms. Tempe Durham, a real-life emancipated slave:

Freedom is all right, but de niggers was better off befo’ surrender, kaze den dey was looked after an’ dey didn’ get in no trouble fightin’ an’ killin’ like dey do dese days. If a nigger cut up an’ got sassy in slavery times, his Ole Marse give him a good whippin’ an’ he went way back an’ set down an’ ’haved hese’f. If he was sick, Marse an’ Mistis looked after him, an’ if he needed store medicine, it was bought an’ give to him; he didn’ have to pay nothin’. Dey didn’ even have to think ’bout clothes nor nothin’ like dat, dey was wove an’ made an’ give to dem. Maybe everybody’s Marse and Mistis wuzn’ good as Marse George and Mis’ Betsy, but dey was de same as a mammy an’ pappy to us niggers.

And we’re back. So: what’s wrong with slavery? Why was it bad? Never mind the aliens from Neptune; explain it in a way Ms. Durham can understand — because a question this obvious really should have a straightforward answer, shouldn’t it? And sure enough, everyone assures me it does have a straightforward answer. Then they open their mouths, and out comes the most tremendous nonsense. From the nonsense emerge two basic ideas.

The first idea is that slavery was bad because of what slavery was actually like, which boils down to slaves, who cost an average of $40,000 apiece in today’s money, getting whipped and beaten ceaselessly for no good reason by their owner, whose livelihood depended on the slaves’ ability to perform agricultural labor. This argument, you may be relieved to learn, is supported by neither history nor basic logic. Yes, I’m sure it was hard work, but Lincoln didn’t emancipate anyone from hard work, did he? No, he didn’t.

That reminds me of something Thomas Carlyle wrote in Shooting Niagara (1867), a pamphlet considered extreme even by Victorian standards:

Servantship, like all solid contracts between men (like wedlock itself, which was once nomadic enough, temporary enough!), must become a contract of permanency, not easy to dissolve, but difficult extremely, — a “contract for life,” if you can manage it (which you cannot, without many wise laws and regulations, and a great deal of earnest thought and anxious experience), will evidently be the best of all. […] Of all else the remedy was easy in comparison; vitally important to every just man concerned in it; and, under all obstructions (which in the American case, begirt with frantic “Abolitionists,” fire-breathing like the old Chimaera, were immense), was gradually getting itself done.

In other words, if you are a “just man” and do not want the slaves abused, what you need are better (or better-enforced) laws against abusing slaves. So what did the abolitionists do instead?

A continent of the earth has been submerged, for certain years, by deluges as from the Pit of Hell; half a million (some say a whole million, but surely they exaggerate) of excellent White Men, full of gifts and faculty, have torn and slashed one another into horrid death, in a temporary humour, which will leave centuries of remembrance fierce enough: and three million absurd Blacks, men and brothers (of a sort), are completely “emancipated”; launched into the career of improvement, — likely to be ‘improved off the face of the earth’ in a generation or two!

Actually, only a few hundred thousand slaves, or perhaps a million, were killed by the “freedom” they never asked for, but we’ll talk about that later…

It’s also worth noting, for the record, that “U.S. slaves had much longer life expectations than free urban industrial workers in both the United States and Europe” (Time on the Cross, 1974).

Anyway, since the practical, day-to-day realities of slavery were much better than you have been led to believe, this idea makes no sense, and you need to re-assess slavery. Maybe it wasn’t bad after all.

Are you re-assessing slavery?

You’re not re-assessing slavery, are you?

Okay, try the second idea: slavery was bad regardless of what it was actually like, because slavery contradicts Liberty, Equality, and other, miscellaneous abstractions (Human Dignity springs to mind), which are to be considered good regardless of how much misery they have created over the centuries. In that case, congratulations: you, like the abolitionists, have got religion. Kindly keep your Church far away from the State.

If neither idea suits you, it might be a combination of the two, sort of circular in shape: everyone knows slavery was bad, because the slaves weren’t Free and Equal, which was terrible for them, because they were whipped and beaten ceaselessly for no reason, and if you say they weren’t, why, you’re just excusing slavery, which everyone knows was bad, because the slaves weren’t Free and Equal — and round and round we go, abandoning even the pretense of straightforwardness, and always returning to Liberty, Equality, and we might as well throw in Fraternity, so ultimately the argument turns out to be a popular late 18th century murderous insurrectionary war cry.

I direct your attention to the English judge James F. Stephen’s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (1874):

The object of this work is to examine the doctrines which are rather hinted at than expressed by the phrase “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” This phrase has been the motto of more than one Republic. It is indeed something more than a motto. It is the creed of a religion. […] The Religion of Humanity is perhaps as good a name as could be found for it. […] It is one of the commonest beliefs of the day that the human race collectively has before it splendid destinies of various kinds, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct, in the recognition of a substantial equality between all human creatures, and in fraternity or general love. These doctrines are in very many cases held as a religious faith. They are regarded not merely as truths, but as truths for which those who believe in them are ready to do battle, and for the establishment of which they are prepared to sacrifice all merely personal ends.

Such, stated of course in the most general terms, is the religion of which I take “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” to be the creed. I do not believe it.

I am not the advocate of Slavery, Caste, and Hatred, nor do I deny that a sense may be given to the words, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, in which they may be regarded as good. I wish to assert with respect to them two propositions.

First, that in the present day even those who use those words most rationally — that is to say, as the names of elements of social life which, like others, have their advantages and disadvantages according to time, place, and circumstance — have a great disposition to exaggerate their advantages and to deny the existence, or at any rate to underrate the importance, of their disadvantages.

Next, that whatever signification be attached to them, these words are ill-adapted to be the creed of a religion, that the things which they denote are not ends in themselves, and that when used collectively the words do not typify, however vaguely, any state of society which a reasonable man ought to regard with enthusiasm or self-devotion.

You know, that reminds me of something else Carlyle wrote in Shooting Niagara:

Our accepted axioms about “Liberty,” “Constitutional Government,” “Reform,” and the like objects, are of truly wonderful texture: venerable by antiquity, many of them, and written in all manner of Canonical Books; or else, the newer part of them, celestially clear as perfect unanimity of all tongues, and Vox populi vox Dei, can make them: axioms confessed, or even inspirations and gospel verities, to the general mind of man. To the mind of here and there a man, it begins to be suspected that perhaps they are only conditionally true; that taken unconditionally, or under changed conditions, they are not true, but false and even disastrously and fatally so. Ask yourself about “Liberty,” for example; what you do really mean by it, what in any just and rational soul is that Divine quality of liberty? That a good man be “free,” as we call it, be permitted to unfold himself in works of goodness and nobleness, is surely a blessing to him, immense and indispensable; — to him and to those about him. But that a bad man be “free,” — permitted to unfold himself in his particular way, is contrariwise, the fatallest curse you could inflict on him; curse and nothing else, to him and all his neighbours. Him the very Heavens call upon you to persuade, to urge, induce, compel, into something of well-doing; if you absolutely cannot, if he will continue in ill-doing, — then for him (I can assure you, though you will be shocked to hear it), the one “blessing” left is the speediest gallows you can lead him to. Speediest, that at least his ill-doing may cease quàm primùm.

Ms. Durham, meet Mr. Carlyle. I think the two of you are going to get along fine.

In this issue of Radish, we’ll be taking a closer look at slavery as it actually existed in the United States of America. Consider it our own, small contribution to the battle — not exactly raging these days — against that great disposition to exaggerate the advantages, and deny the disadvantages, of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity/Diversity: the Holy Trinity of Progressivism, the “Religion of Humanity.”

I do not believe it.

A South-Side View of Slavery

In 1854, the Reverend Nehemiah Adams, a Unitarian Universalist minister and staunch abolitionist living in Boston, which makes him about as left-wing as you could get in the 1850s, was forced to spend the winter in Georgia for health reasons. He took it as an opportunity to see firsthand the condition of the slaves he was trying so hard to emancipate. The result was a remarkable book: A South-Side View of Slavery. Likely you have never heard of it. Well, I offer it to you, my open-minded friend, as a first step towards understanding that peculiar institution.

An excerpt from Chapter 1, ‘Feelings and Expectations on Going to the South’:

He who proposes to write or speak at the present time on the subject which has so long tried the patience of good men as the subject of slavery has done, is justified in asking attention only by the conviction which it is supposed he feels that he can afford some help.

The writer has lately spent three months at the south for the health of an invalid. Few professional men at the north had less connection with the south by ties of any kind than he, when the providence of God made it necessary to become for a while a stranger in a strange land. He was too much absorbed by private circumstances to think of entering at all into a deliberate consideration of any important subject of a public nature; yet for this very reason, perhaps, the mind was better prepared to receive dispassionately the impressions which were to be made upon it. The impressions thus made, and the reflections which spontaneously arose, the writer here submits, not as a partisan, but as a Christian; not as a northerner, but as an American; not as a politician, but as a lover and friend of the colored race.


I will relate the impressions and expectations with which I went to the south; the manner in which things appeared to me in connection with slavery in Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia; the correction or confirmation of my northern opinions and feelings, the conclusions to which I was led; the way in which our language and whole manner toward the south have impressed me; and the duty which it seems to me, as members of the Union, we at the north owe to the subject of slavery and to the south, and with the south to the colored race. I shall not draw upon fictitious scenes and feelings, but shall give such statements as I would desire to receive from a friend to whom I should put the question, “What am I to believe? How am I to feel and act?”

In the few instances in which I do not speak from personal observation, I shall quote from men whom, in many places at home and abroad, I have learned to respect very highly for their intellectual, moral, and social qualities—I mean physicians. Associated with all classes at all times, knowing things not generally observed, and being removed by their profession from any extensive connection with slavery as a means of wealth, they seemed to me unusually qualified to testify on the subject, and their opinions I have found to be eminently just and fair.

Very early in my visit at the south, agreeable impressions were made upon me, which soon began to be interspersed with impressions of a different kind in looking at slavery. The reader will bear this in mind, and not suppose, at any one point in the narrative, that I am giving results not to be qualified by subsequent statements. The feelings awakened by each new disclosure or train of reflection are stated without waiting for any thing which may follow.


Just before leaving home, several things had prepared me to feel a special interest in going to the south.

The last thing which I did out of doors before leaving Boston was, to sign the remonstrance of the New England clergymen against the extension of slavery into the contemplated territories of Nebraska and Kansas. I had assisted in framing that remonstrance. The last thing which I happened to do late at night before I began my journey was, to provide something for a freed slave on his way to Liberia, who was endeavoring to raise several thousand dollars to redeem his wife and children from bondage. My conversations relating to this slave and his family had filled me with new but by no means strange distress, and the thought of looking slavery in the face, of seeing the things which had so frequently disturbed my self-possession, was by no means pleasant. To the anticipation of all the afflictive sights which I should behold there was added the old despair of seeing any way of relieving this fearful evil, while the unavailing desire to find it, excited by the actual sight of wrongs and woe, I feared would make my residence at the south painful.


In the growth of the human mind, fancy takes the lead of observation, and-through life it is always running ahead of it. Who has not been greatly amused, sometimes provoked, and sometimes, perhaps, been made an object of mirth, at the preconceived notions which he had formed of an individual, or place, or coming event? Who has not sometimes prudently kept his fancies to himself? Taking four hundred ministers of my denomination in Massachusetts, and knowing how we all converse, and preach, and pray about slavery, and noticing since my return from the south the questions which are put, and the remarks which are made upon the answers, it will be safe to assert that on going south I had at least the average amount of information and ignorance with regard to the subject. Some may affect to wonder even at the little which has now been disclosed of my secret fancies. I should have done the same in the case of another; for the credulity or simplicity of a friend, when expressed or exposed, generally raises self-satisfied feelings in the most of us. Our southern friends, on first witnessing our snow storms, sleigh rides, and the gathering of our ice crops, are full as simple as we are in a first visit among them. We “suffer fools gladly, seeing” that we ourselves “are wise.”

So far, so good: our narrator does not exactly appear to be consumed by fear and hatred of “the colored race.” Going forward, please forgive and enjoy the occasional interjection of reviews of the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, on which more will be said later.

From Chapter 2, ‘Arrival and First Impressions’:

The steam tug reached the landing, and the slaves were all about us. One thing immediately surprised me; they were all in good humor, and some of them in a broad laugh. The delivery of every trunk from the tug to the wharf was the occasion of some hit, or repartee, and every burden was borne with a jolly word, grimace, or motion. The lifting of one leg in laughing seemed as natural as a Frenchman’s shrug. I asked one of them to place a trunk with a lot of baggage; it was done; up went the hand to the hat—“Any thing more, please sir?” What a contrast, I involuntarily said to myself, to that troop at the Albany landing on our Western Railroad! and on those piles of boards, and on the roofs of the sheds, and at the piers, in New York! I began to like these slaves. I began to laugh with them. It was irresistible. Who could have convinced me, an hour before, that slaves could have any other effect upon me than to make me feel sad? One fellow, in all the hurry and bustle of landing us, could not help relating how, in jumping on board, his boot was caught between two planks, and “pulled clean off”; and how “dis ole feller went clean over into de wotter,” with a shout, as though it was a merry adventure.

One thing seemed clear; they were not so much cowed down as I expected. Perhaps, however, they were a fortunate set. I rode away, expecting soon to have some of my disagreeable anticipations verified.


Meanwhile, in fantasyland: “The journey takes them ultimately to the world of Calvin Candie (Leonard DiCaprio), the charming Mississippi aristocrat and committed racial supremacist. His vicious personal fiefdom of Candyland becomes a symbol for the sadism, oppression, theft of identity, false assertion of enduring superiority and the corruption of the human spirit that lie behind slavery. He represents the self-deception and viciousness underlying the south’s much vaunted hospitality and chivalry that has for so long been the subject of sentimental celebration, not least by Hollywood movies” (Philip French, The Guardian).

The city of Savannah abounds in parks, as they are called—squares, fenced in, with trees. Young children and infants were there, with very respectable colored nurses—young women, with bandanna and plaid cambric turbans, and superior in genteel appearance to any similar class, as a whole, in any of our cities. They could not be slaves. Are they slaves? “Certainly,” says the friend at your side; “they each belong to some master or mistress.”

In behalf of a score of mothers of my acquaintance, and of some fathers, I looked with covetous feelings upon the relation which I saw existed between these nurses and children. These women seemed not to have the air and manner of hirelings in the care and treatment of the children; their conversation with them, the degree of seemingly maternal feeling which was infused into their whole deportment, could not fail to strike a casual observer.

Then these are slaves. Their care of the children, even if it be slave labor, is certainly equal to that which is free.

“But that was a freeman who just passed us?”

“No; he is Mr. W.’s servant, near us.”

“He a slave?” Such a rhetorical lifting of the arm, such a line of grace as the hand described in descending easily from the hat to the side, such a glow of good feeling on recognizing neighbor B., with a supplementary act of respect to the stranger with him, were wholly foreign from my notions of a slave. “Where are your real slaves, such as we read of?”

“These are about a fair sample.”


“Foxx applies a sheen of nobility to the character from the second he is freed and begins moving through the air with his shoulders back and his head high, his dignity shining. In a repeated motif, Django rides into towns atop a horse, his body language singing of pride and strength, a sight that causes people to rear back in shock, unused to seeing a Black [sic] person cloaked in dignity” (Touré Neblett, MSNBC).

Without supposing that I had yet seen slavery, it was nevertheless true that a load was lifted from my mind by the first superficial look at the slaves in the city.

It was as though I had been let down by necessity into a cavern which I had peopled with disagreeable sights, and, on reaching bottom, found daylight streaming in, and the place cheerful.

A better-looking, happier, more courteous set of people I had never seen, than those colored men, women, and children whom I met the first few days of my stay in Savannah. It had a singular effect on my spirits. They all seemed glad to see me. I was tempted with some vain feelings, as though they meant to pay me some special respect. It was all the more grateful, because for months sickness and death had covered almost every thing, even the faces of friends at home, with sadness to my eye, and my spirits had drooped. But to be met and accosted with such extremely civil, benevolent looks, to see so many faces break into pleasant smiles in going by, made one feel that he was not alone in the world even in a land of strangers.

How such unaffected politeness could have been learned under the lash I did not understand. It conflicted with my notions of slavery. I could not have dreamed that these people had been “down trodden,” “their very manhood crushed out of them,” “the galling yoke of slavery breaking every human feelings, and reducing them to the level of brutes.” It was one of the pleasures of taking a walk to be greeted by all my colored friends. I felt that I had taken a whole new race of my fellow-men by the hand. I took care to notice each of them, and get his full smile and salutation; many a time I would gladly have stopped and paid a good price for a certain “good morning,” courtesy, and bow; it was worth more than gold; its charm consisted in its being unbought, unconstrained, for I was an entire stranger. Timidity, a feeling of necessity, the leer of obliged deference, I nowhere saw; but the artless, free, and easy manner which burdened spirits never wear. It was difficult to pass the colored people in the streets without a smile awakened by the magnetism of their smiles.

“These are powerful, taboo-breaking characters with a perverse but somehow believable relationship redolent of the deep weirdness of race relations in the Old South: DiCaprio’s poncey, Van Dyke-wearing Calvin Candie is actually under the thumb of Jackson’s grinning, jiving Stephen, […] but both are hopelessly doomed by the soul-crushing institution of white supremacy” (Andrew O’Hehir, Salon).

From Chapter 3, ‘New Views of the Relations of the Slaves’:

The gentleman at whose house I was guest commanded the military battalion. The parade day occurred during my visit. Three bands came successively within an hour in the morning to salute him. These bands were composed of slaves, so called; but never did military bands suggest the idea of involuntary servitude less, or feel servitude of any kind for the time less, than these black warriors. […] There was nothing grotesque in their appearance, nothing corresponding to Ethiopic minstrelsy in our northern caricatures; any military company at the north would have feelings of respect for their looks and performances.


“The horrors of human bondage… traumatic cultural experience of a marginalized people… the day-to-day suffering slaves endured… benevolent white people equally complicit in the ills of slavery… slavery is this terrible, looming thing… inescapable” (Roxane Gay, Buzzfeed).

If it be less romantic, it is more instructive, to see the fire department of a southern city composed of colored men in their company uniforms, parading, and in times of service working, with all the enthusiasm of Philadelphia or Boston firemen. Thus it is given to the colored population of some cities and towns at the south to protect the dwellings and stores of the city against fire—the dwellings and property of men who, as slaves owners, are regarded by many at the north with feelings of commiseration, chiefly from being exposed, as we imagine, to the insurrectionary impulses of an oppressed people.

To organize that people into a protective force, to give them the largest liberty at times when general consternation and confusion would afford them the best opportunities to execute seditionary and murderous purposes, certainly gave me, as a northerner, occasion to think that whatever is true theoretically, and whatever else may be practically true, with regard to slavery, the relations and feelings between the white and colored people at the south were not wholly as I had imagined them to be. These two instances of confidence and kindness gave me feelings of affection for the blacks and respect for their masters. Not a word had been said to me about slavery; my eyes taught me that some practical things in the system are wholly different from my anticipations. “I saw it, and received instruction.”

“American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust” (Spike Lee).

Law and Order

“When we find ourselves to have been under wrong impressions,” wrote the Reverend Adams, “and begin to have our notions corrected, our disposition is to reach an opposite extreme, and to see things in a light whose glare is as false as the previous twilight. I resolved to watch my feelings in this respect, and take the true gauge of this subject.” Bearing that in mind, let’s look at Chapters 4 through 6, ‘Favorable Appearances in Southern Society and in Slavery.’ From Section 1, ‘Good Order’:

The streets of southern cities and towns immediately struck me as being remarkably quiet in the evening and at night.

“What is the cause of so much quiet?” I said to a friend.

“Our colored people are mostly at home. After eight o’clock they cannot be abroad without a written pass, which they must show on being challenged, or go to the guard house. The master must pay fifty cents for a release. White policemen in cities, and in towns patrols of white citizens, walk the streets at night.”

Here I received my first impression of interference with the personal liberty of the colored people. The white servants, if there be any, the boys, the apprentices, the few Irish, have liberty; the colored men are under restraint.

But though I saw that this was a feature of slavery, I did not conclude that it would be well to dissolve the Union in order to abolish it. Apart from the question of slavery, it was easy to see that to keep such a part of the population out of the streets after a reasonable hour at night, preventing their unrestrained, promiscuous roving, is a great protection to them, as well as to the public peace. In attending evening worship, in visiting at any hour, a written pass is freely given; so that, after all, the bondage is theoretical, but still it is bondage. Is it an illustration, I asked myself, of other things in slavery, which are theoretically usurpations, but practically benevolent?

From the numbers in the streets, though not great, you would not suspect that the blacks are restricted at night; yet I do not remember one instance of rudeness or unsuitable behavior among them in any place. Around the drinking saloons there were white men and boys whose appearance and behavior reminded me of “liberty and pursuit of happiness” in similar places at the north; but there were no colored men there: the slaves are generally free as to street brawls and open drunkenness. I called to mind a place at the north whose streets every evening, and especially on Sabbath evenings, are a nuisance. If that place could enforce a law forbidding certain youths to be in the streets after a certain hour without a pass from their employers, it would do much to raise them to an equality with in good manners with their more respectable colored fellow-men at the south. I had occasion to pity some white southerners, as they issued late at night from a drinking-place, in being deprived of the wholesome restraint laid upon the colored population. The moral and religious character of the colored people at the south owes very much to this restraint.

Putting aside for the time all thoughts of slavery, I indulged myself in thinking and feeling, here is strong government. It has a tonic, bracing effect upon one’s feelings to be in its atmosphere; and as Charles Lamb tells us not to inquire too narrowly of every mendicant whether the “wife and six young children” are a fiction, but to give, and enjoy it, so there was a temptation to disregard for the time the idea of slavery, and, becoming a mere utilitarian, to think of three millions of our population as being under perfect control, and in this instance indisputably to their benefit.

And from Section 5, ‘Personal Protection’:

A strong public sentiment protects the person of the slave against annoyances and injuries. Boys and men cannot abuse another man’s servant. Wrongs to his person are avenged. It amounts in many cases to a chivalric feeling, increased by a sense of utter meanness and cowardice in striking or insulting one who cannot return insult for insult and blow for blow. Instances of this protective feeling greatly interested me. One was rather singular, indeed ludicrous, and made considerable sport; but it shows how far the feeling can proceed. A slave was brought before a mayor’s court for some altercation in the street; the master privately requested the mayor to spare him from being chastised, and the mayor was strongly disposed to do so; but the testimony was too palpably against the servant, and he was whipped; in consequence of which the master sent a challenge to the mayor to fight a duel.

A gentleman, whose slave had been struck by a white mechanic with whom the servant had remonstrated for not having kept an engagement, went indignantly to the shop with his man servant to seek explanation and redress, and in avenging him, had his arm stripped of his clothing by a drawing knife in the hands of the mechanic.

It is sometimes asserted that the killing a negro is considered a comparatively light offense at the south. In Georgia it is much safer to kill a white man than a negro; and if either is done in South Carolina, the law is exceedingly apt to be put in force. In Georgia I have witnessed a strong purpose among lawyers to prevent the murderer of a negro from escaping justice.

A slave had recently set fire to a cotton house, after the crop was in, and the loss was great. He was arraigned, and plead guilty. The judge asked who was his master. He pointed to him. The judge inquired if he had provided counsel for him. The master honestly replied that as the slave was to plead guilty, and there was no question in any mind of his guilt, he had not thought it necessary. The judge told the clerk not to enter the negro’s plea, and informed the master, that unless he preferred to provide counsel, he would do it, as the law allowed him to do, at the master’s expense. The master brought forward two young lawyers. The judge said, with due respect to the young gentlemen, that the master knew how grave was the offense, and that experienced men ought to manage the case. He appointed two of the ablest men at the bar to defend the negro. But the evidence, as all knew it would be, was overwhelming, and the jury convicted the prisoner. Whereupon one of the counsel rose, and reminded the judge at what disadvantage the defense had been conducted, and moved for a new trial. It was granted. The case was pending at my last information.

I asked myself, where at the North would a white culprit meet with greater lenity and kindness? If the administration of justice is any good index of the moral feeling in a community, I began to see that it was wrong to judge such a community as the one in question merely by their slave code, or by theoretical views of slavery however logically true.


More ‘Favorable Appearances’ in Section 4, ‘Labor and Privileges’:

Life on the cotton plantations is, in general, as severe with the colored people as agricultural life at the north. I have spent summers upon farms, however, where the owners and their hands excited my sympathy by toils to which the slaves on many plantations are strangers. Every thing depends upon the disposition of the master. It happened that I saw some of the best specimens, and heard descriptions of some of the very bad. In the rice swamps, malaria begets diseases and destroys life; in the sugar districts, at certain seasons, the process of manufacture requires labor, night and day, for a considerable time. There the different dispositions of the master affect the comfort of the laborers variously, as in all other situations.

But in the cotton-growing country, the labor, though extending in one form and another nearly through the year, yet taking each day’s labor by itself, is no more toilsome than is performed by a hired field hand at the north; still the continuity of labor from February to the last part of December, with a slight intermission in midsummer, when the crop is “laid by,” the stalks being matured, and the crop left to ripen, makes plantation life severe.

Some planters allow their hands a certain portion of the soil for their own culture, and give them stated times to work it; some prefer to allow them out of the whole crop a percentage equal to such a distribution of land; and some do nothing of the kind; but their hearts are made of the northern iron and the steel. It is the common law, however, with all who regard public opinion at the south, to allow their hands certain privileges and exemptions, such as long rest in the middle of the day, early dismission from the field at night, a half day occasionally, in addition to holidays, for which the colored people of all denominations are much indebted to the Episcopal church, whose festivals they celebrate with the largest liberty.

They raise poultry, swine, melons; keep bees; catch fish; peddle brooms, and small articles of cabinet making; and, if they please, lay up the money, or spend it on their wives and children, or waste it for things hurtful, if there are white traders desperate enough to defy the laws made for such cases, and which are apt to be most rigorously executed. Some slaves are owners of bank and railroad shares. A slave woman, having had three hundred dollars stolen from her by a white man, her master was questioned in court as to the probability of her having had so much money. He said that he not unfrequently had borrowed fifty and a hundred dollars of her, and added, that she was always very strict as to his promised time of payment.

It is but fair, in this and all other cases, to describe the condition of things as commonly approved and prevailing; and when there are painful exceptions, it is but just to consider what is the public sentiment with regard to them. By this rule a visitor is made to feel that good and kind treatment of the slaves is the common law, subject, of course, to caprices and passions. One will find at the south a high tone of feeling on this subject, and meet with some affecting illustrations of it.

You may see a wagon from a neighboring town in the market-place of a city or large place, filled with honeycombs, melons, mops, husk mats, and other articles of manufacture and produce, and a white man with his colored servant selling them at wholesale or retail. It will interest your feelings, and give you some new impressions of slave owners, to know that these articles are the property of that servant, and that his master, a respectable gentleman, with disinterested kindness, is helping his servant dispose of them, protecting him from imposition, making change for him, with the glow of cheerfulness and good humor such as acts like these impart to the looks and manner of a real gentleman, who always knows how to sustain himself in an equivocal position.

Had that master overworked his servant in the sugar season, or killed him in the field, we might have heard of it at the north; but this little wagon has come and gone for more than a year on the market days, the master and servant chatting side by side, counting their net profits, discussing the state of the markets, inventing new commodities, the master stepping in at the Savings Bank, on the way home, and entering nine or ten dollars more in Joe’s pass-book, which already shows several hundred dollars; and all this has not been so much as named on the platform of any society devoted to the welfare of the slaves. True, there are masters, who, as the psalm sung by the colored choir says, “never raise their thoughts so high”; but it is gratifying to know that such things as these characterize the intercourse of masters and servants at the south. Nameless are they, in a thousand cases, and noiseless; but the consciousness of them, and of the disposition and feelings which prompt them, it was easy to see, gives to our wholesale denunciations of slavery a character of injustice which grieves and exasperates not a little.

From Section 10, ‘Absence of Pauperism’:

Pauperism is prevented by slavery. This idea is absurd, no doubt, in the apprehension of many at the north, who think that slaves are, as a matter of course, paupers. Nothing can be more untrue.

Every slave has an inalienable claim in law upon his owner for support for the whole of life. He can not be thrust into an almshouse, he can not become a vagrant, he can not beg his living, he can not be wholly neglected when he is old and decrepit.

I saw a white-headed negro at the door of his cabin on a gentleman’s estate, who had done no work for ten years. He enjoys all the privileges of the plantation, garden, and orchard; is clothed and fed as carefully as though he were useful. On asking him his age, he said he thought he “must be nigh a hundred”; that he was a servant to a gentleman in the army “when Washington fit Cornwallis and took him at Little York.”

At a place called Harris’s Neck, Georgia, there is a servant who has been confined to his bed with rheumatism thirty years, and no invalid has more reason to be grateful for attention and kindness.

Going into the office of a physician and surgeon, I accidentally saw the leg of a black man which had just been amputated for an ulcer. The patient will be a charge upon his owner for life. An action at law may be brought against one who does not provide a comfortable support for his servants.

And from Section 11, ‘Wages of Labor’:

One error which I had to correct in my own opinions was with regard to wages of labor. I will illustrate my meaning by relating a case.

A young colored woman is called into a family at the south to do work as a seamstress. Her charge is, perhaps, thirty-seven and a half cents per day.

“Do you have your wages for your own use?” “No; I pay mistress half of what I earn.”

Seamstresses in our part of the country, toiling all day, you will naturally think, are not compelled to give one half of their earnings to an owner. This may be your first reflection, accompanied with a feeling of compassion for the poor girl, and with some thoughts, not agreeable, concerning mistresses who take from a child of toil half her day’s earnings. You will put this down as one of the accusations to be justly made against slavery.

But, on reflecting further, you may happen to ask yourself, How much does it cost this seamstress for room rent, board, and clothing? The answer will be, nothing. Who provides her with these? Her mistress. Perhaps, now, your sympathy may he arrested, and may begin to turn in favor of the mistress. The girl does not earn enough to pay her expenses, yet she has a full support, and lays up money.


The accusation against slavery of working human beings without wages must be modified, if we give a proper meaning to the term wages. A stipulated sum per diem is our common notion of wages. A vast many slaves get wages in a better form than this—in provision for their support for the whole of life, with permission to earn something, and more or less according to the disposition of the masters and the ability of the slaves. A statement of the case, which perhaps is not of much value, was made by a slaveholder in this form: You hire a domestic by the week, or a laborer by the month, for certain wages, with food, lodging, perhaps clothing; I hire him for the term of life, becoming responsible for him in his decrepitude and old age. Leaving out of view the involuntariness on his part of the arrangement, he gets a good equivalent for his services; to his risk of being sold, and passing from hand to hand, there is an offset in the perpetual claim which he will have on some owner for maintenance all his days. Whether some of our immigrants would not be willing to enter into such a contract, is a question which many opponents of slavery at the north would not hesitate to answer for them, saying that liberty to beg and to starve is better than to have all your present wants supplied, and a competency for life guarantied, in slavery.


We’ll take one last look at those ‘Favorable Appearances.’ From Section 2, ‘The Dress of the Slaves’:

To see slaves with broadcloth suits, well-fitting and nicely-ironed fine shirts, polished boots, gloves, umbrellas for sunshades, the best of hats, their young men with their blue coats and bright buttons, in the latest style, white Marseilles vests, white pantaloons, brooches in their shirt bosoms, gold chains, elegant sticks, and some old men leaning on their ivory and silver-headed staves, as respectable in their attire as any who that day went to the house of God, was more than I was prepared to see. As to that group of them under the trees, had I been unseen, I would have followed my impulse to shake hands with the whole of them, as a vent to my pleasure in seeing slaves with all the bearing of respectable, dignified Christian gentlemen. As it was, I involuntarily lifted my hat to them, which was responded to by them with such smiles, uncovering of the head, and graceful salutations, that, scribe or Pharisee, I felt that I did love such greetings in the market-places from such people.

Then I fell into some reflections upon the philosophy of dress as a powerful means of securing respect, and thought how impossible it must soon become to treat with indignity men who respected themselves, as these men evidently did; nay, rather, how impossible it already was for masters who would so clothe their servants to treat them as cattle. Further acquaintance with that place satisfied me that this inference was right. There is one southern town, at least, where it would be morally as impossible for a good servant to be recklessly sold, or to be violently separated from his family, or to be abused with impunity, as in any town at the north.

On seeing these men in their Sabbath attire, and feeling toward them as their whole appearance compelled me to do, I understood one thing which before was not explained. I had always noticed that southerners seldom used the word slaves in private conversation. I supposed that it was conscience that made them change the word, as they had also omitted it in the Constitution of the United States. But I was soon unable to use the word myself in conversation, after seeing them in their Sabbath dress, and as my hearers, and in families; their appearance and condition in so great a proportion making the idea connected with the word slave incompatible with the impressions received from them. Let no one draw sweeping conclusions from these remarks, but wait till we have together seen and heard other things, and in the mean time only gather from what has been said that our fancies respecting the colored people at the south, as well as their masters, are not all of them, probably, correct.

But the women, the colored women, in the streets on the Sabbath, put my notions respecting the appearance of the slaves to utter discomfiture. At the north an elegantly-dressed colored woman excites mirth. Every northerner knows that this is painfully true. Gentlemen, ladies, boys, and girls never pass her without a feeling of the ludicrous; a feeling which is followed in some—would it were so in all—by compunction and shame. It was a pleasant paradox to find that where the colored people are not free, they have in many things the most liberty, and among them the liberty to dress handsomely, and be respected in it.

And from Section 3, ‘The Children of the Slaves’:

But of all the touching sights of innocence and love appealing to you unconsciously for your best feelings of tenderness and affection, the colored young children have never been surpassed in my experience. Might I choose a class of my fellow-creatures to instruct and love, I should be drawn by my present affection toward them to none more readily than to these children of the slaves; nor should I expect my patience and affection to be more richly rewarded elsewhere. Extremes of disposition and character, of course, exist among them, as among others; but they are naturally as bright, affectionate, and capable as other children, while the ways in which your instructions impress them, the reasonings they excite, the remarks occasioned by them, are certainly peculiar.

Their attachments and sympathies are sometimes very touching. One little face I shall never forget, of a girl about seven years old, who passed us in the street on an errand, with such a peculiarly distressed yet gentle look, that I inquired her name. A lady with me said that she belonged to a white family, in which a son had recently killed a companion in a quarrel, and had fled. The natural anguish of a sister at some direful calamity in a house could not have been more strikingly portrayed than in that sweet little dark face. It had evidently settled there.

Going to meeting one Sabbath morning, a child, about eight years old, tripped along before me, with her hymn book and nicely-folded handkerchief in her hand, the flounces on her white dress very profuse, frilled ankles, light-colored boots, mohair mits, and sunshade, all showing that some fond heart and hand had bestowed great care upon her. Home and children came to mind. I thought of the feelings which that flower of the family perhaps occasioned. Is it the pastor’s daughter? Is it the daughter of the lady whose garden I had walked in, but which bears no such plant as this? But my musings were interrupted by the child, who, on hearing footsteps behind, suddenly turned, and showed one of the blackest faces I ever saw. It was one of the thousands of intelligent, happy colored children, who on every Sabbath, in every southern town and city, make a northern visitor feel that some of his theoretical opinions at home, with regard to the actual condition of slavery, are much improved by practical views of it.

There’s more of this, and I urge you to read the entire book, but as the Reverend Adams points out:

We have thus far looked at the slaves apart from the theory of slavery and from slave laws, and from their liability to suffering by being separated and sold. These features of slavery deserve to be considered by themselves; we can give them and things of that class a more just weight, and view the favorable circumstances of their condition with greater candor.

So let us now consider them.

Revolting Features

Chapter 7, ‘Revolting Features of Slavery,’ features a tale from that rare, possibly rarest intersection of literary genres: the heartwarming child slave auction comedy of errors based on a true story.

Passing up the steps of a court-house in a southern town with some gentlemen, I saw a man sitting on the steps with a colored infant, wrapped in a coverlet, its face visible, and the child asleep.

It is difficult for some who have young children not to bestow a passing look or salutation upon a child; but besides this, the sight before me seemed out of place and strange.

“Is the child sick?” I said to the man, as I was going up the steps.

“No, master; she is going to be sold.”

“Sold! Where is her mother?”

“At home, master.”

“How old is the child?”

“She is about a year, master.”

“You are not selling the child, of course. How comes she here?”

“I don’t know, master; only the sheriff told me to sit down here and wait till twelve o’clock, sir.”

It is hardly necessary to say that my heart died within me. Now I had found slavery in its most awful feature—the separation of a child from its mother.

“The mother is at home, master.” What are her feelings? What were they when she missed the infant? Was it taken openly, or by stealth? Who has done this? What shape, what face had he? The mother is not dead; “the mother is at home, master.” What did they do to you, Rachel, weeping and refusing to be comforted?

Undetermined whether I would witness the sale, whether I could trust myself in such a scene, I walked into a friend’s law office, and looked at his books. I heard the sheriff’s voice, the “public outcry,” as the vendue is called, but did not go out, partly because I would not betray the feelings which I knew would be awakened.

One of my friends met me a few minutes after, who had witnessed the transaction.

“You did not see the sale,” he said. “No. Was the child sold?” “Yes, for one hundred and forty dollars.” I could take this case, so far as I have described it, go into any pulpit or upon any platform at the north, and awaken the deepest emotions known to the human heart, harrow up the feelings of every father and mother, and make them pass a resolution surcharged with all the righteous indignation which language can express. All that any speaker who might have preceded me, supposing the meeting to be one for discussion, might have said respecting the contentment, good looks, happy relations of the slaves, I could have rendered of no avail to his argument by this little incident. No matter what kindness may be exercised in ten thousand instances; a system in which the separation of an infant from its mother is an essential element can not escape reprobation.

On relating what I had seen to some southern ladies, they became pale with emotion; they were silent; they were filled with evident distress. But before remarking upon this case, I will give another. My attention was arrested by the following advertisement:—

Guardian’s Sale.

Will be sold before the court-house door in——, on the first Tuesday in May next, agreeably to an order of the ordinary of——county, the interest of the minors of——, in a certain negro girl named——, said interest being three fourths of said negro.

Three fourths of a negro girl to be sold at auction! There was something here which excited more than ordinary curiosity: the application of vulgar fractions to personal identity was entirely new. I determined to witness this sale.

An hour before the appointed time, I saw the girl sitting alone on the steps of the court-house. She wore a faded but tidy orange-colored dress, a simple handkerchief on her head, and she was barefoot. Her head was resting upon her hand, with her elbow on her knee. I stood unperceived and looked at her. Poor, lonely thing, waiting to be sold on the steps of that court-house! The place of justice is a bleak promontory, from which you look off as upon a waste of waters—a dreary, shoreless waste. What avails every mitigation of slavery? Had I become a convert to the system, here is enough to counterbalance all my good impressions.

The sheriff arrived at noon, and the people assembled. The purchaser was to have the services of the girl three fourths of the time, a division of property having given some one a claim to one fourth of her appraised value.

The girl was told to stand up. She had a tall, slender form, and was, in all respects, an uncommonly good-looking child.

The bidding commenced at two hundred dollars, and went on in an animated and exciting manner.

The girl began to cry, and wiped her tears with the back of her hand; no one replied to her; the bidding went on; she turned her back to the people. I saw her shoulders heave with her suppressed crying; she said something in a confused voice to a man who sat behind the auctioneer.

When I was young I was drawn, by mingling with some older schoolmates, strongly against my will, and every moment purposing an escape, to see a youth executed for arson. I resolved that I would never look upon such a sight again. But here I was beholding something which moved me as I had not been moved for all these long years.

She was fourteen years old. A few days before I had sent to a child of mine, entering her fourteenth year, a birthday gift. By this coincidence I was led to think of this slave girl with some peculiar feelings. I made the case my own. She was a child to parents, living or dead, whose hearts, unless perverted by some unnatural process, would yearn over her and be distracted by this sight.

Four hundred and forty-five dollars was the last bid, and the man sitting behind the sheriff said to her kindly, “Well, run and jump into the wagon.”

A large number of citizens had assembled to witness the sale of this girl; some of them men of education and refinement, humane and kind. On any question of delicacy and propriety, in every thing related to the finest sentiments, I would have felt it a privilege to learn of them. How then, I said to myself as I watched their faces, can you look upon a scene like this as upon an ordinary business transaction, when my feelings are so tumultuous, and all my sensibilities are excruciated? You are not hard-hearted men; you are gentle and generous. In my intercourse with you I have often felt, in the ardor of new friendships, how happy I should be to have you in my circle of immediate friends at home; what ornaments you would be to any circle of Christian friends. Some of you are graduates of Yale College; some of Brown University: you know all that I know about the human heart: I hesitate to believe that I am right and you wrong. If to sell a human being at auction were all which I feel it to be, you must know it as well as I. Yet I cannot yield my convictions. Why do we differ so in our feelings? Instances of private humanity and tenderness have satisfied me that you would not lay one needless burden upon a human being, nor see him suffer without redress. Is it because you are used to the sight that you endure it with composure? or because it is an essential part of a system which you groan under but cannot remove?

To begin with the sale of the infant. During my stay in the place, three or four estimable gentlemen said to me, each in private, “I understand that you saw that infant sold the other day. We are very sorry that you happened to see it. Nothing of the kind ever took place before to our knowledge, and we all feared that it would make an unhappy impression upon you.”

The manner in which this was said affected me almost as much as the thing which had given occasion to it. Southern hearts and consciences, I felt reassured, were no more insensible than mine. The system had not steeled the feelings of these gentlemen; the presence of a northerner, a friend, retaining his private, natural convictions, as they perceived, without unkindness of words or manner, made them look at the transaction with his eyes; every kind and generous emotion was alive in their hearts; they felt that such a transaction needed to be explained and justified.

How could they explain it? How could they justify it? With many, if not with all of my readers, it is a foregone conclusion, as it had been with me, that the case admits of no explanation or justification.

I received, as I said, three or four statements with regard to the case, and this is the substance of them:—

The mother of this infant belonged to a man who had become embarrassed in his circumstances, in consequence of which the mother was sold to another family in the same place, before the birth of the child; but the first owner still laid claim to the child, and there was some legal doubt with regard to his claim. He was disposed to maintain this claim, and it became a question how the child should be taken from him. A legal gentleman, whose name is familiar to the country, told me that he was consulted, and he advised that through an old execution the child should be levied upon, be sold at auction, and thus be removed from him. The plan succeeded. The child was attached, advertised, and offered for sale. The mother’s master bought it, at more than double the ratable price, and the child went to its mother.

Nor was this all. In the company of bidders there was a man employed by a generous lady to attend the sale, and see that the infant was restored to its mother. The lady had heard that the sale was to take place, but did not fully know the circumstances, and her purpose was to prevent the child from passing from the parent. Accordingly her agent and the agent of the mother’s master were bidding against each other for some time, each with the same benevolent determination to restore the child to its mother.

Rachel was comforted. Rather she had had no need of being comforted, for the sheriff was in this case to be her avenger and protector. Here was slavery restoring a child to its mother; here was a system which can deal in unborn children, redressing its own wrong. Moreover, the law which forbids the sale of a child under five years was violated, in order to keep the child with its mother.

Had I not known the sequel of the story, what a thrilling, effective appeal could I have made at the north by the help of this incident. Then what injustice I should have inflicted upon the people of that place; what stimulus might I have given to the rescue of a fugitive slave ; what resuscitation to the collapsing vocabulary of epithets. How might I have helped on the dissolution of the Union; how have led half our tribes to swear that they would have war with the rest forever, when in truth the men and women who had done this thing had performed one of the most tender arid humane actions, and did prevent, and, if necessary, with their earthly all, (for I knew them well,) would have prevented that from ever taking place to which, in my ignorance and passion, I should have sworn that I could bear witness ‚ an infant taken from its mother s breast and sold.

Or maybe it was another racist, sadistic horror of the soul-crushing, hot-boxing holocaust. Or whatever.

The “three fourths” of the girl were bought by the owner of the other fourth, who already had possession of her. The sale took place that he might be her sole owner. That word which followed the sale, “Well, run and jump into the wagon,” was music to the child. I understood afterward why she turned her back to the crowd, and looked at the man who sat behind the sheriff. He was her master, and he owned her mother; the girl heard the bidding from the company, and heard her master bidding; the conflict she understood; she was at stake, as she felt, for life; it took some time for the bidding to reach four hundred dollars; hope deferred made her heart sick; she turned and kept her eye on her master, to see whether he would suffer himself to be defeated. He sat quietly using his knife upon a stick, like one whose mind was made up; the result of the sale in his favor excited no new feeling in him; but the ready direction, “Well, run and jump into the wagon,” was as much as to say, I have done what I meant to do when I came here.

The Reverend Adams got to know the slave auctions pretty well:

The sale of slaves at auction in places where they are known—and this is the case every where except in the largest cities—excites deep interest in some of the citizens of that place. They are drawn to the sale with feelings of personal regard for the slaves, and are vigilant to prevent unprincipled persons from purchasing and carrying them away, and even from possessing them in their own neighborhood. I know of citizens combining to prevent such men from buying, and of their contributing to assist good men and women in purchasing the servants at prices greatly increased by such competition. In all such cases the law requiring and regulating public sales and advertisements of sales prevents those private transfers which would defeat the good intentions of benevolent men. It is an extremely rare case for a servant or servants who have been known in town to be removed into hands which the people of the place generally would not approve.

The sale of a negro at public auction is not a reckless, unfeeling thing in the towns at the south, where the subjects of the sale are from among themselves. In settling estates, good men exercise as much care with regard to the disposition of the slaves as though they were providing homes for white orphan children; and that too when they have published advertisements of slaves in such connections with horses and cattle, that, when they are read by a northerner, his feelings are excruciated.

In hearing some of the best of men, such as are found in all communities, largely intrusted with the settlement of estates, men of extreme fairness and incorruptible integrity, speak of the word “chattel” as applied to slaves, it is obvious that this unfeeling law term has no counterpart in their minds, nor in the feelings of the community in general.

Slaves are allowed to find masters and mistresses who will buy them. Having found them, the sheriffs’ and administrators’ sales must by law be made public, the persons must be advertised, and every thing looks like an unrestricted offer, while it is the understanding of the company that the sale has really been made in private.

Sitting in the reading-room of a hotel one morning, I saw a colored woman enter and courtesy to a gentleman opposite.

“Good morning, sir. Please, sir, how is Ben?”

“Ben—he is very well. But I don’t know you.”

“Ben is my husband. I heard you were in town, and I want you to buy me. My mistress is dead these three weeks, and the family is to be broken up.”

“Well, I will buy you. Where shall I inquire?”

All this was said and done in as short a time as it takes to read it; but this woman was probably obliged by law, in the settlement of the estate, to be advertised and described.

1-3 Abolitionists banner

Oscar Wilde, James Redpath, and John Brown

The Abolitionists

We are now prepared to ask, at least, if not answer, three questions about American slavery. First, did the slaves want to be free? Second, did the slaves try to become free? Third, were the slaves glad to be free? In general, I mean: disregarding rare exceptions, like the barbarous murderer Nat Turner.

Answers courtesy of Oscar Wilde, of all people, in The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891):

Slavery was put down in America, not in consequence of any action on the part of the slaves, or even any express desire on their part that they should be free. It was put down entirely through the grossly illegal conduct of certain agitators in Boston and elsewhere, who were not slaves themselves, nor owners of slaves, nor had anything to do with the question really. It was, undoubtedly, the Abolitionists who set the torch alight, who began the whole thing. And it is curious to note that from the slaves themselves they received, not merely very little assistance, but hardly any sympathy even; and when at the close of the war the slaves found themselves free, found themselves indeed so absolutely free that they were free to starve, many of them bitterly regretted the new state of things.

“Grossly illegal conduct.” Speaking of lit torches, you might recall Carlyle’s “frantic ‘Abolitionists,’ fire-breathing like the old Chimaera.” Is this a fair description? Not according to PBS:

Radicals. Agitators. Troublemakers. Liberators. Called by many names, the abolitionists tore the nation apart in order to make a more perfect union. Men and women, black and white, Northerners and Southerners, poor and wealthy, these passionate antislavery activists fought body and soul in the most important civil rights crusade in American history. What began as a pacifist movement fueled by persuasion and prayer became a fiery and furious struggle that forever changed the nation.


In the face of personal risks—beatings, imprisonment, even death—abolitionists held fast to their cause, laying the civil rights groundwork for the future and raising weighty constitutional and moral questions that are with us still.


What aspect of the abolitionist movement moves you the most? Is there an event you wish you could have witnessed in person? A story you love? A person you admire or can relate to? Share your story with American Experence [sic].

Not according to your teacher, either (Scholastic):

In the 1800s, the abolition movement grew steadily in the North. Abolitionists organized meetings and gave speeches against slavery. They wrote and distributed anti-slavery books, pamphlets, and newsletters. They formed abolitionist societies, signed petitions, and even murdered a bunch of people.

Wait, sorry, I’ve copied that down wrong: “… and even boycotted goods made with slave labor.”

Compare an actual abolitionist: James Redpath. “He would write passionately against the institution, using his words to influence opinion throughout the North” (PBS) and blah blah blah more abolitionist propaganda. Consider this passage from The Roving Editor: Talks with Slaves in the Southern States (1859), which he dedicated to the abolitionist and murderer John Brown (“something of a romantic ideal to Redpath,” says PBS):

In order that no man, or body of men, may be injured or misrepresented by unfair presentations or perversions of my creed, or induced to peruse the pages that follow, under false impressions or pretences, I will here briefly state my political, or rather my revolutionary Faith:

I am a Republican—and something more. I am inflexibly opposed to the extension of slavery; but equally do I oppose the doctrine of its protection in States where it already exists. Non-intervention and protection are practically synonymous. Let slavery alone, and it lives a century. Fight it, and it dies. Any weapons will kill it, if kept ever active: fire or water—bayonets or bullion—the soldier’s arm or the writer’s pen. To prevent its extension merely, will never destroy it. If it is right that slavery should exist in Georgia, it is equally right to extend it into Kansas. If the inter-state traffic in human beings is right, equally just is the demand for re-opening the slave trade.

I am an Emancipationist—and something more. I believe slavery to be a curse, which it is desirable to speedily abolish. But to Gradual Emancipation I am resolutely antagonistic. For I regard property in man as robbery of man; and I am not willing that our robbers should give notes on time—for freedom and justice at thirty days, or thirty years, or any other period: rather let them be smitten down where they stand, and the rights that they have wrested from their slaves, be wrested—if necessary—with bloodshed and violence, with the torch and the rifle, from them.

They do so love their torches. Note that Redpath would rather invade, enslave, and destroy the South than emancipate the slaves over thirty days—no, really: the whole point of this passage is to correct “false impressions or pretences” about Redpath’s “revolutionary Faith.” Does he actually care at all about the slaves? If so, why would he choose “bloodshed and violence” over “Gradual Emancipation”? (The former were by no means guaranteed to bring about “freedom and justice” for anyone!) Is he, in fact, fighting slavery—or just attacking the South?

“But what shall we do with the slaves?” Make free men of them. “And with the slaveholding class?” Abolish them. “And with the Legrees of the plantations?” Them, annihilate! Drive them into the sea, as Christ once drove the swine; or chase them into the dismal swamps and black morasses of the South. “Anywhere—anywhere—out of the world!”

Now we’re talking about a fictional character in a propaganda novel written by a woman who had never seen a plantation. Since “Simon Legree” doesn’t actually exist, who is the author pledging to “annihilate”? What would constitute reasonable self-defense? Again, does Redpath appear to be attacking slavery here?

I am a Peace-Man—and something more. I would fight and kill for the sake of peace. Now, slavery is a state of perpetual war.

I am a Non-Resistant—and something more. I would slay every man who attempted to resist the liberation of the slave.

I am a Democrat—and nothing more. I believe in humanity and human rights. I recognize nothing as so sacred on earth. Rather than consent to the infringement of the most insignificant or seemingly unimportant of human rights, let races be swept from the face of the earth—let nations be dismembered—let dynasties be dethroned—let laws and governments, religions and reputations be cast out and trodden under feet of men!

This is my creed. For myself, I am an earnest man. If you think proper, now, to accompany me—come on; if not, au revoir—and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!

“I believe in humanity and human rights,” so “let races be swept from the face of the earth.” It’s the Religion of Humanity again, ready to burn the world in the name of Human Rights—and perhaps tomorrow it will be some other, equally appealing unexamined abstraction demanding that nations be dismembered. “I would fight and kill for the sake of peace.” Thanks, we wouldn’t want to harbor any “false impressions” about your “revolutionary Faith.”

Of course, we mustn’t lose sight (not that progressives will ever let us) of what the abolitionists actually accomplished: forcing the “liberty to beg and starve” (Adams) on millions of people who never asked for it, didn’t want it, and indeed “bitterly regretted” the whole thing (Wilde). Allow me to introduce Mr. Charlie Davenport, another real-life emancipated slave:

Us Niggers didn’ know nothin’ ’bout what was gwine on in de outside worl’. All us knowed was dat a war was bein’ fit. Pussonally, I b’lieve in what Marse Jefferson Davis done. He done de only thing a gent’man could a-done. He tol’ Marse Abe Lincoln to ’tend to his own bus’ness an’ he’d ’tend to his’n. But Marse Lincoln was a fightin’ man an’ he come down here an’ tried to run other folks’ plantations. Dat made Marse Davis so all fired mad dat he spit hard ’twixt his teeth an’ say, “I’ll whip de socks off den dam Yankees.”

Dat’s how it all come ’bout.

My white folks los’ money, cattle, slaves, an’ cotton in de war, but dey was till better off dan mos’ folks.

Lak all de fool Niggers o’ dat time I was right smart bit by de freedom bug for awhile. It sounded pow’ful nice to be tol’:

“You don’t have to chop cotton no more. You can th’ow dat hoe down an’ go fishin’ whensoever de notion strikes you. An’ you can roam ’roun’ at night an’ court gals jus’ as late as you please. Aint no marster gwine a-say to you, ‘Charlie, you’s got to be back when de clock strikes nine.’”

I was fool ’nough to b’lieve all dat kin’ o’ stuff. But to tell de hones’ truf, mos’ o’ us didn’ know ourse’fs no better off. Freedom meant us could leave where us’d been born an’ bred, but it meant, too, dat us had to scratch for us ownse’fs. Dem what lef’ de old plantation seamed so all fired glad to git back dat I made up my min’ to stay put. I stayed right wid my white folks as long as I could.

My white folks talked plain to me. Dey say real sad-lak, “Charlie, you’s been a dependence, but now you can go if you is so desirous. But if you wants to stay wid us you can share-crop. Dey’s a house for you an’ wood to keep you warm an’ a mule to work. We aint got much cash, but dey’s de lan’ an’ you can count on havin’ plenty o’ vit’als. Do jus’ as you please.” When I looked at my marster an’ knowed he needed me, I pleased to stay. My marster never forced me to do nary thing ’bout it. Didn’ nobody make me work after de war, but dem Yankees sho’ made my daddy work. Dey put a pick in his han’ stid o’ a gun. Dey made ’im dig a big ditch in front o’ Vicksburg. He worked a heap harder for his Uncle Sam dan he’d ever done for de marster.

I hear’d tell ’bout some Nigger sojers a-plunderin’ some houses: Out at Pine Ridge dey kilt a white man named Rogillio. But de head Yankee sojers in Natchez tried ’em for somethin’ or nother an’ hung ’em on a tree out near de Charity Horspital. Dey strung up de ones dat went to Mr. Sargent’s door one night an’ shot him down, too. All dat hangin’ seemed to squelch a heap o’ lousy goin’s-on.

Lawd! Lawd! I knows ’bout de Kloo Kluxes. I knows a-plenty. Dey was sho’ ’nough devils a-walkin’ de earth a-seekin’ what dey could devour. Dey larruped de hide of’n de uppity Niggers an’ driv de white trash back where dey b’longed.


My granny tol’ me ’bout a slave uprisin’ what took place when I was a little boy. None o’ de marster’s Niggers ’ud have nothin’ to do wid it. A Nigger tried to git ’em to kill dey white folks an’ take dey lan’. But what us want to kill old Marster an’ take do lan’ when dey was de bes’ frien’s us had? Dey caught de Nigger an’ hung ’im to a limb.


De young Niggers is headed straight for hell. All dey think ’bout is drinkin’ hard likker, goin’ to dance halls, an’ a-ridin’ in a old rattle trap car. It beats all how dey brags an’ wastes things. Dey aint one whit happier dan folks was in my dey. I was as proud to git a apple as dey is to git a pint o’ likker. Course, schools he’p some, but looks lak all mos’ o’ de young’n’s is studyin’ ’bout is how to git out o’ hones’ labor.

I’se seen a heap o’ fools what thinks ’cause they is wise in books, they is wise in all things.

Mos’ all my white folks is gone, now. Marse Randolph Shields is a doctor ’way off in China. I wish I could git word to ’im, ’cause I know he’d look after me if he knowed I was on charity. I prays de Lawd to see ’em all when I die.

And I think Mr. Henry Murray has something to add:

Freedom made colored folks to lazy to work fo’ a livin’. They was a heep better off in slavery days. People gettin’ worse all de time. Some dese days they’s gon-a have to answer fo’ their sins tho’. I’s tellin ’em now but don’t do no good. As fo’ me I allus tries to live right; does what de Bible say do an’ I’s gon-a get rewarded fo it sho. I belongs to de Baptist church. Am de oldest member in our church.

Needless to say, this version of American history isn’t taught in college or made into movies, so it couldn’t possibly be true. On the other hand (The Guardian, 2012):

Hundreds of thousands of slaves freed during the American civil war died from disease and hunger after being liberated, according to a new book.

The analysis, by historian Jim Downs of Connecticut College, casts a shadow over one of the most celebrated narratives of American history, which sees the freeing of the slaves as a triumphant righting of the wrongs of a southern plantation system that kept millions of black Americans in chains.

But, as Downs shows in his book, Sick From Freedom, the reality of emancipation during the chaos of war and its bloody aftermath often fell brutally short of that positive image. Instead, freed slaves were often neglected by union soldiers or faced rampant disease, including horrific outbreaks of smallpox and cholera. Many of them simply starved to death.

After combing through obscure records, newspapers and journals Downs believes that about a quarter of the four million freed slaves either died or suffered from illness between 1862 and 1870. He writes in the book that it can be considered “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century” and yet it is one that has been little investigated by contemporary historians.

Downs believes much of that is because at the time of the civil war, which raged between 1861 and 1865 and pitted the unionist north against the confederate south, many people did not want to investigate the tragedy befalling the freed slaves. Many northerners were little more sympathetic than their southern opponents when it came to the health of the freed slaves and anti-slavery abolitionists feared the disaster would prove their critics right.


You see how bad northerners could be: many of them were almost as bad as everyone in the South.

Yet Downs believes that his book takes nothing away from the moral value of the emancipation.

Instead, he believes that acknowledging the terrible social cost born by the newly emancipated accentuates their heroism.

“This challenges the romantic narrative of emancipation. It was more complex and more nuanced than that. Freedom comes at a cost,” Downs said.

So, to sum up: “freedom” is good, even though it killed hundreds of thousands of slaves, and presumably even if it had killed all of them; slavery is bad, because something something “black Americans in chains,” and don’t ask stupid questions; finally, any emancipated slaves who (ever so bravely) failed to die from disease and hunger now get to join their attempted murderers, the abolitionists, in the pantheon of American heroes.

Narrative: intact. Lessons learned: none.

1-3 Historical Illiteracy Unchained

Django Unchained—ah, fake history! (1, 2, 3)

Historical Illiteracy Unchained

I have not seen, I will not see, and I recommend wholeheartedly that no one else see Quentin Tarantino’s long, violent, irredeemably stupid film Django Unchained—but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a good laugh at anyone who did and took it seriously. Will somebody please give these straight-A students of Whig history a library card?

To The Guardian, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, a “charming Mississippi aristocrat and committed racial supremacist,” represents “the self-deception and viciousness underlying the south’s much vaunted hospitality and chivalry,” while his home symbolizes “the sadism, oppression, theft of identity, false assertion of enduring superiority and the corruption of the human spirit that lie behind slavery.” Do you think the Reverend Adams would agree? Bear in mind, he was actually there at the time.

According to The Washington Post, “Tarantino doesn’t shrink from the inhumane realities of life for enslaved people in 19th century America.” For example, “when he shows a man being castrated, the scene plays less like a cheap stunt than a weirdly honest confrontation with a painful, unresolved past.” Is being weirdly honest anything like being not honest?

The Wall Street Journal calls the film “wildly extravagant, ferociously violent, ludicrously lurid and outrageously entertaining, yet also, remarkably, very much about the pernicious lunacy of racism and, yes, slavery’s singular horrors.” Not only that, “this seriously crazed comedy is also a crazily serious disquisition on enslavement.” (Is being crazily serious…?) Candie’s plantation “takes the story into a wickedly astute parody of antebellum drama, with all of its lace and grace and happy slaves.” Well, thank goodness Sherman fixed all that.

Cinema Blend explains how the director “holds back nothing in his portrayal of slavery’s cruelty, unabashedly showing unspeakable acts like brandings, whippings, beatings and even dog attacks.” Sounds like he actually added one or two things there. “But it’s anything but gratuitous. By showing the true-life unspeakable acts that were committed against innocent people during that era, the director earns a powerful emotional response from the audience. … Without the brutality we’d be cheering for Django getting his vengeance anyway, but by including it the movie actually gives you a sense of closure and personal satisfaction,” which makes Django Unchained a Two Minutes Hate dragged out for a full three hours.

Speaking of closure and personal satisfaction, The New Yorker notes that “an apocalypse of blood” is “the least that Candie deserves, together with other defenders of the Southern status quo: such, at any rate, will be the claim of Tarantino’s fans, although I was disturbed by their yelps of triumphant laughter, at the screening I attended, as a white woman was blown away by Django’s gun.” (For “Tarantino’s fans,” read black moviegoers.) The Houston Chronicle seems to agree with them: “There’s a place for violence on screen, and this is the place.”

To the Denver Post, Tarantino has “crafted a parable of decency versus evil for a generation that never saw ‘Roots,’” in which “the sight of plantation owner and slave is… an image from a house of horrors.” Good point: Roots, too, was a pack of vicious lies; we’ll talk more about that later.

Communist newsletter Salon notes that Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters, plantation owner and “house slave” respectively, with their “perverse but somehow believable relationship redolent of the deep weirdness of race relations in the Old South,“ are both “hopelessly doomed by the soul-crushing institution of white supremacy.” In a scene in which Django and a bounty hunter “shoot a farmer who’s plowing his field, right in front of his son,” O’Hehir recognizes a “moral argument,” namely that “Tarantino is suggesting that white Americans who benefited from a slave economy were guilty of historical crimes whether or not they personally owned slaves.” Making it, in fact, a “moral argument” for murdering every white American.

“Kill white folks and they pay you for it?” Django asks at one point. “What’s not to like?” Time magazine calls this “a tantalizing question.”

Cinema Autopsy characterizes the film’s setting as “one of the darkest and most shameful periods of American history. When depicting the type of daily brutality that black slaves experienced, some scenes based on historical record, some based more on hearsay, Tarantino conveys the gut-wrenching horror of some of the acts without revelling in the acts, to create a profound contrast between the styles of violence in the film. One style is gleeful and based on the fantasy of a slave rising up against his tormentors, the other is gruelling and demands the audience recognise and respect the history that the film is engaging with.” If only it were.

I think Rolling Stone speaks for all of us: “Welcome to alternative History 101 with Professor Quentin Tarantino,” and “fuck the facts.”

Touré Neblett

Not to be outdone, the absurd Touré Neblett (MSNBC) rejoices that Tarantino, far from “trivializing” slavery, offers “an unsparing look at its horrors, from Mandingo fighting to hot boxes to facial branding to brutal whipping to all sorts of frightening headgear,” none of which bears any resemblance to reality. Neblett’s alternative history of slavery is particularly amusing when we put it side by side with A South-Side View of Slavery.

Compare, if you will, the fantasy…

In a repeated motif, Django rides into towns atop a horse, his body language singing of pride and strength, a sight that causes people to rear back in shock, unused to seeing a Black [sic] person cloaked in dignity.

… the history…

It was a pleasant paradox to find that where the colored people are not free, they have in many things the most liberty, and among them the liberty to dress handsomely, and be respected in it.

… and, of course, the modern reality:

1-3 Cloaked in dignity

(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

“Cloaked in dignity”! Oh, do go on, Mr. Neblett.

In a critical moment Leonardo DiCaprio’s slavemaster Calvin Candie points out that there are more Blacks than whites [sic] on his plantation and wonders, “Why don’t they kill us?” He explains via phrenology—Black brains are lesser—which is now obviously and hysterically false.

I don’t want to take us too far off topic, but phrenology, which doesn’t work, is not the same as directly measuring someone’s brain volume, which has been done quite a few times over the years…

World map of brain volume

Average brain volume (in cubic centimeters) for some indigenous populations

… or testing someone’s cognitive ability (Lynn, 2006), also known as general intelligence…

World map of indigenous IQ

Average IQ score for some indigenous populations

… or just, y’know, looking at people’s skulls:

Skull shapes of various races

Typical skull shape of a (modern adult male) European, Asian, African, and aboriginal Australian

By the way, there is a 40 percent correlation between brain volume and IQ score (because apparently brains are involved in thinking). Yes, these are facts. They will not go away. This is the actual universe we both have to live in.

(“Something something Flynn effect.” No.)

Frankly, it is not at all clear to me how the idea that black brains are lesser than white brains could be obviously false, let alone hysterically false. Quick, name a Congolese astrophysicist. No? A Liberian philosopher, then. A Haitian Fields medalist? A Rwandan chess master?—What’s that? “Something something oppression, something something white people won’t let them”? See, this is why it’s important not to confuse evidence (like, say, a Rwandan chess master) with excuses for why all the evidence is against you—but I digress.

Even when Candie is outsmarted by one of his slaves who must explain to Candie that he’s being played for a fool, his certainty in white intellectual superiority goes unchallenged. Early on, Django excises white supremacy from his mind and eventually destroys white supremacy in his tiny corner of the world. Yes, white supremacy relates to a national (if not global) matrix that no one man could conquer. There’s no telling what could happen to Django after the screen fades to black. But his self-love propels him through the universe of this film, making him heroic before he even begins killing slavemasters.

“A better-looking, happier, more courteous set of people I had never seen, than those colored men, women, and children whom I met the first few days of my stay in Savannah,” the Reverend Adams wrote; and “every slave has an inalienable claim in law upon his owner for support for the whole of life.”

Django is heroic not just for rescuing his wife but also for spreading justice by putting slavemasters in the grave. It’s honestly baffling to me that smart people could find Django’s slavemaster killings as anything other than heroic. The moral calculus between slave and master is clear and unambiguous. The slave, cinematic or real, who doesn’t want to kill his master may be psychotic and still in the grip of white supremacy.

“I do not remember one instance of rudeness or unsuitable behavior among them in any place.”

Killing a slavemaster does not reduce the slave to the slavemaster’s moral level. Nothing short of becoming a slavemaster could do that. Murder is the only fitting punishment and given the generations-long pain and chaos that slavery had and would cause, for a slavemaster to die only once is to get off easy.

Truly vile. Sounds a bit like James Redpath, doesn’t he? These people never change.

Roxane Gay

There’s more of this nonsense, of course: The New York Times, USA Today, NPR, etc., etc. The nadir, if not Mr. Neblett, must be Roxane Gay (Buzzfeed). At each of the film’s 110 anachronistic uses of the word “nigger,” Ms. Gay

felt a stab of anger because it felt so needless and so gratuitous. Had Tarantino used historical accuracy to guide every aspect of Django Unchained, one might accept his explanation. But this is a movie that includes, among other oddities, a slave merrily enjoying herself on a tree swing of Big Daddy’s plantation.

Ms. Gay is holding up a slave ever having fun as a prime example of historical inaccuracy. “But of all the touching sights of innocence and love appealing to you unconsciously for your best feelings of tenderness and affection, the colored young children have never been surpassed in my experience.”

Certainly, the N-word is part of our history as much as it is part of our present. The first documented instance of the word dates back to the 1600s and since then it has appeared in nearly every aspect of American life from legal documents to music and movies to our vernacular. And still, Roots manages to depict the realities of slavery without using the N-word once and it’s nearly ten hours long.

Roots, “nigger” or no “nigger,” manages to depict no such thing, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Tarantino spends an inordinate amount of time depicting the suffering of the slaves, but he is rather selective in these depictions. There is little evidence of the sexual violence slave women faced or the day-to-day suffering slaves endured.

There is indeed little evidence of it.

Sometimes, like on Big Daddy’s plantation, it seemed like maybe slavery wasn’t so bad, with slaves well dressed and roaming the grounds, leisurely.

“To see slaves with broadcloth suits, well-fitting and nicely-ironed fine shirts, polished boots, gloves, umbrellas for sunshades, the best of hats, their young men with their blue coats and bright buttons, in the latest style, white Marseilles vests, white pantaloons, brooches in their shirt bosoms, gold chains, elegant sticks, and some old men leaning on their ivory and silver-headed staves, as respectable in their attire as any who that day went to the house of God, was more than I was prepared to see. As to that group of them under the trees, had I been unseen, I would have followed my impulse to shake hands with the whole of them, as a vent to my pleasure in seeing slaves with all the bearing of respectable, dignified Christian gentlemen. As it was, I involuntarily lifted my hat to them, which was responded to by them with such smiles, uncovering of the head, and graceful salutations, that, scribe or Pharisee, I felt that I did love such greetings in the market-places from such people.”

At other times, we see chained slaves headed to the slave market in Mississippi or slaves forced to fight to fight each other like animals for the white man’s amusement, or, in a particularly gruesome scene, a runaway slave is thrown to wild dogs. We see how his body is torn apart. We hear his screams.

Well, thank goodness for that bit of realism. I was worried we’d never cover the period in American history when runaway slaves were thrown to wild dogs. (Aisha Harris of Slate has the minimal honesty, unusual among journalists, to admit that “Mandingo fighting” never existed in America.)

In Haiti where my family is from, January 1 not only ushers in a new year, it is the day Haitians recognize as Independence Day. On that day in 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti a free nation, the first of its kind in Latin America, ending a thirteen-year slave rebellion. As a first generation American, I was raised with stories of how my ancestors fought for freedom, and how no matter what burdens we may suffer as a Haitian people, we know we set ourselves free. As I’ve thought about Django Unchained, I’ve thought about this freedom, and what it has cost and how what Django Unchained lacked, above all, was any understanding of how people can and will fight for their freedom under any circumstance.

Haiti! Oh, well chosen, Ms. Gay! Haiti: from the richest colony in the world (the leading producer of both sugar and coffee) to the poorest country in the hemisphere, all thanks to that one slave rebellion—after which Ms. Gay’s hero, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, had all the white people murdered. Here we see Ms. Gay’s ancestors hanging white soldiers en masse, then murdering all the other white people, including the children, on Dessalines’ orders; and Dessalines himself, displaying a white woman’s severed head :

1-3 Haiti then

(1 and 2, 3)

At one point, Dessalines proclaimed an amnesty for any surviving whites—but anyone who came out of hiding was murdered too. It’s all very Tarantino.

Today, having “fought for freedom” and “set ourselves free,” the proud people of Haiti live in shacks, eat dirt, and are incapable of cleaning up the rubble from a single earthquake after one, two, three years and counting, even with nine billion dollars in foreign aid:

1-3 Haiti now v2

(1, 2, 3)

To be fair, the Haitians were already incapable of this in 1842 (Hayti: The Black Republic, 1889):

Cap Haïtien never recovered from the effects of the fearful earthquake of 1842, when several thousands of its inhabitants perished. To this day they talk of that awful event, and never forget to relate how the country-people rushed in to plunder the place, and how none lent a helping-hand to aid their half-buried country-men. Captain Macguire and myself used to wander about the ruins, and we could not but feel how little energy remained in a people who could leave their property in such a state. It was perhaps cheaper to build a trumpery house elsewhere.

One of those that suffered the most during that visitation wrote, before the earth had ceased trembling, “Against the acts of God Almighty no one complains,” and then proceeded to relate how the dread earthquake shook down or seriously injured almost every house; how two-thirds of the inhabitants were buried beneath the fallen masonry; how the bands of blacks rushed in from mountain and plain, not to aid in saving their wretched countrymen, whose cries and groans could be heard for two or three days, but to rob the stores replete with goods; and—what he did complain of—how the officers and men of the garrison, instead of attempting to keep order, joined in plundering the small remnants of what the surviving inhabitants could save from the tottering ruins. What a people!

Still, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that now, at long last, the Haitian people are “free,” which is, of course, unquestionably good—whatever this word “freedom” actually means in the context of living in huts, eating dirt, roaming machete gangs, frenzied looting (along Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines, no less), and so on.

1-3 Haitian Aside

In her eagerness to help the poor, oppressed people of Haiti, Amanda Kijera made a slight miscalculation

Haitian Aside

Some of the “foreign aid” Haiti has received over the years has been, shall we say, less than consensual. What do I mean by that? Consider the fascinating report by white “civic journalist and activist” Amanda Kijera, ‘We are not your weapons—we are women’ (AlterNet, 2010; discussed here, here, here, and here):

Two weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I started to write what I thought was a very clever editorial about violence against women in Haiti. The case, I believed, was being overstated by women’s organizations in need of additional resources. Ever committed to preserving the dignity of Black [sic] men in a world which constantly stereotypes them as violent savages, I viewed this writing as yet one more opportunity to fight “the man” on behalf of my brothers. That night, before I could finish the piece, I was held on a rooftop in Haiti and raped repeatedly by one of the very men who I had spent the bulk of my life advocating for.

It hurt. The experience was almost more than I could bear. I begged him to stop. Afraid he would kill me, I pleaded with him to honor my commitment to Haiti, to him as a brother in the mutual struggle for an end to our common oppression, but to no avail. He didn’t care that I was a Malcolm X scholar. He told me to shut up, and then slapped me in the face. Overpowered, I gave up fighting halfway through the night.


Black men have every right to the anger they feel in response to their position in the global hierarchy, but their anger is misdirected.

Women are not the source of their oppression; oppressive policies and the as-yet unaddressed white [sic] patriarchy which still dominates the global stage are. Because women—and particularly women of color—are forced to bear the brunt of the Black male response to the Black male plight, the international community and those nations who have benefitted from the oppression of colonized peoples have a responsibility to provide women with the protection that they need.


I went to Haiti after the earthquake to empower Haitians to self-sufficiency. […] Not once did I envision myself becoming a receptacle [!] for a Black man’s rage at the white world, but that is what I became. While I take issue with my brother’s behavior, I’m grateful for the experience.

I’m speechless. Really. I wonder if she’d still be grateful if she knew the actual history of this supposed “oppression.” We may never know—it’s not like they teach it in schools.

1-3 White slavery

William O. Blake’s Christian Slavery in Barbary—that’s slavery of Christians, not by Christians

Tales of the African Slave Trade

I know what you’re thinking, gentle reader: “All right, you colossal racists, we get it. Maybe slavery in America was a little light on the Mandingo fighting, facial branding, castration, soul-crushing white supremacy, corruption of the human spirit, etc., with more of an emphasis on civil benevolent looks, faces breaking into pleasant smiles, dignified Christian gentlemen, graceful salutations, touching sights of innocence and love, etc., etc. Still, you towering pillars of racial hatred, we must never lose sight of the essential truth: were it not for the vile, detestable Europeans, all those innocent Africans would have been happily back home in lovely Africa, being…”

What, plumbers? Stock brokers? Witch doctors?


Good guess, but more likely slaves. Who do you think was snatching up all those Africans in the first place? White people with butterfly nets? We consult Walter Williams—

“A racist! Get him! Get that racist.”

—quiet, you: ‘Did blacks benefit from slavery?’ (Orange County Register, 2012).

In recent history, the major slave traders and slave owners have been Arabs, who enslaved Europeans, black Africans and Asians. A unique aspect of slavery in the Western world was the moral outrage against it, which began to emerge in the 18th century and led to massive efforts to eliminate it. It was Britain’s military might and the sight of the Union Jack on the high seas that ultimately put an end to the slave trade.

Unfortunately, the facts about slavery are not the lessons taught in our schools and colleges. The gross misrepresentation and suggestion in textbooks and lectures is that slavery was a uniquely American practice done by racist white people to black people. Despite abundant historical evidence, youngsters are taught nothing about how the founding fathers quarreled, debated and agonized over the slave issue.

We might also ask Thomas Sowell—

“Another confirmed white supremacist.”

—hush: ‘Poisoning present by distorting slavery’s past’ (The Dallas Morning News, 2010).

Just as Europeans enslaved Africans, North Africans enslaved Europeans; more Europeans than there were Africans enslaved in the United States and in the 13 colonies from which it was formed.

The treatment of white galley slaves was even worse than the treatment of black slaves picking cotton. But there are no movies or television dramas about it comparable to Roots, and our schools and colleges don’t pound it into the heads of students.


If American society and Western civilization are different from other societies and civilization, it is that they eventually turned against slavery, and stamped it out, at a time when non-Western societies around the world were still maintaining slavery and resisting Western pressures to end slavery, including in some cases armed resistance.


It is not just the history of slavery that gets distorted beyond recognition by the selective filtering of facts. Those who go back to mine history, in order to find everything they can to undermine American society or Western civilization, have very little interest in the Bataan death march, the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire or similar atrocities in other times and places.

Those who mine history for sins are not searching for truth but for opportunities to denigrate their own society, or for grievances that can be cashed in today, at the expense of people who were not even born when the sins of the past were committed.

Strange that we don’t learn about that in school. I think it was Harriet Beecher Stowe who said, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” Or maybe that was someone else.

Anyway, that brings us to another question about American slavery: if you had to be a slave, would you rather be a slave in America or a slave in Africa? The answer depends on whom you ask: a primary source, meaning someone who was actually there at the time; or a liar pretending to be a historian, who sells his lies to the unthinking masses, particularly schoolchildren, for a tidy profit. Let’s compare.

King Leopold’s Ghost

While researching the Belgian Congo, something I do in my spare time, I came across Adam Hochschild’s best-selling “history” book, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998), now a popular “documentary.” I could easily spend a hundred pages debunking this atrocious book, but a few remarks on Hochschild’s alternative history of African slavery should suffice.

Throughout King Leopold’s Ghost, and to no one’s likely surprise, Hochschild is intensely critical of Europeans for any use of slave labor, a practice he characterizes in the introduction as simply “evil.” His spirited defense, just seven pages later, of slavery as practiced by Africans is therefore incongruous, to say the least.

“As in much of Africa,” Hochschild concedes, “the kingdom [of Kongo] had slavery… but most slaves were people captured in warfare.” Why “but?” “But” they were seized from their homes by an invading army? Should the Europeans have declared war on the slaves right before they bought them? In any case: “Others had been criminals or debtors, or were given away by their families as part of a dowry settlement.” He mentions no other types of slave, leaving us with the impression that his little list (captured in war, criminals, debtors, and dowry) is exhaustive—but see below.

Hochschild also concedes that, “like any system that gives some human beings total power over others, slavery in Africa could be vicious,” seemingly suggesting that it was in general not vicious, and when it was, no more so than the European system—but again, see below. “Some Congo basin peoples sacrificed slaves,” which is to say brutally murdered them, but only, the author assures us, “on special occasions,” and then only for the noblest of purposes. In “the ratification of a treaty between chiefdoms,” for instance, the price of a lasting peace was “the slow death of an abandoned slave, his bones broken.” He mentions no specific treaties or chiefdoms. Other slave murders might be necessary “to give a dead chief’s soul some company on its journey into the next world.” One can only imagine how Hochschild would have described Europeans who murdered slaves to give a dead politician’s soul “some company”—that is, if Europeans ever did such a thing. Which they didn’t. And yet:

African slavery was more flexible and benign [!] than the system Europeans would soon establish in the New World. Over a generation or two, slaves could often earn or be granted their freedom, and free people and slaves sometimes intermarried. Nonetheless, the fact that trading in human beings existed in any form turned out to be catastrophic for Africa, for when Europeans showed up, ready to buy endless shiploads of slaves, they found African chiefs willing to sell.

With every sentence, Hochschild is excusing slavery as practiced by blacks. Oh, pity poor Africa, he exhorts, for by allowing the “flexible and benign” practice of “trading in human beings”—”in any form,” mind you; even the sweet, innocent, kindhearted African form—it opened the door to a “catastrophic” plague of white people and their “endless” mass slaving: inflexible, malignant, and quite simply “evil.”

“Free people and slaves sometimes intermarried”? That’s a nice way to describe teenage sex slavery on a massive scale—once again, see below.

Anyway, that brings us to New World slavery: no nuance here! No mention of “criminals” and “debtors,” no “special occasions” for the murder of slaves, no “flexible and benign” white slave owners.

Instead, “slaving fever seized” the Portuguese, and “men sent out from Lisbon to be masons or teachers soon made far more money by herding convoys of chained Africans to the coast. … The lust for slave profits engulfed even some of the priests.” You have to wonder what careers the African slavers gave up to pursue their “trading in human beings.” Masons and teachers, too? Or chemists and architects? And in what way, “more flexible and benign” than “herding convoys of chained Africans,” did they restrain and transport their human cargo?

By the time the Congo’s apparently saint-like King Affonso died, “his entire realm was threatened by the slave-selling fever they [the Europeans] had caused.” This mythical disease, passed from slave-lusting Europeans to unsuspecting Africans, is how the author accounts for the “African slave-dealers who ranged more than seven hundred miles into the interior” to purchase slaves who they “forced-marched to the coast,” leaving “the trails to the slave ports strewn with bleaching bones.” Presumably these forced marches would have been conducted in an extraordinarily flexible and benign manner had the African slave-dealers not been rendered delirious by slave-selling fever. I do wonder why the villainous Europeans, and only the villainous Europeans, bothered to abolish slavery. Presumably Europeans discovered a vaccine for slave-selling fever, but refused to share it. (Africans would have discovered it too, except racism.)

Hochschild provides not a single source for any of these claims. He explains: “I have not identified sources when the facts involved are not in dispute and can easily be found in the key books acknowledged at the beginning of the Bibliography.” We certainly could turn to the bibliography and sift through his many “key books” in search of—to pick just one example—the supposedly undisputed “fact” that before the arrival of Europeans, all across Africa, at least fifty percent of slaves were “captured in warfare”;—this despite a second undisputed “fact,” that “the nature of African slavery varied from one area to another and changed over time”;—not to mention a third undisputed “fact,” that far from keeping detailed records of their “trading in human beings,” Africans in the Congo, at least, by Hochschild’s admission, “were without writing” (not to mention “the wheel”) before they encountered the Portuguese. But I think our time would be better spent on primary sources, to which we now turn.

True Tales of the African Slave Trade

In Six Years of a Traveller’s Life in Western Africa (1861), Francisco Travassos Valdez gives a first-hand account of Hochschild’s “special occasions” for human sacrifice in “the vast and powerful district of Bihé,” just southeast of the Kingdom of the Kongo in present-day Angola, the Congo’s neighbor to the southwest (pp. 331–333):

When any one of these chiefs [of the Soba, Camexe, Bomba, Quidange Babunde, and Chunga Palanca] dies, the news of his death is not made known for one or two months afterwards; and if any person who has learned the fact of his death discloses the secret, he is immediately decapitated, and his family and relatives sold into captivity. If there be no purchasers for them, they are all decapitated by the Samba Golambole, or common executioner.

Add a new entry to Hochschild’s list of African slaves: captured in war, criminals, debtors, dowry, and… the luckier relatives of a gossip.

The chief who is appointed to the supreme command convenes a meeting of his subordinate chiefs. On this occasion a bullock is sacrificed by the Samba Golambole, as also a white sheep, and a white or fawn-colored pigeon, together with various other victims.

But the principal sacrifice is that of one slave from each of the nations under the dominion of the paramount chief, the heads of whom are carried in triumph and exhibited to the populace, accompanied by drums and other instruments. The bodies are added to those of the other animals, and all cooked together, and distributed as a savoury dish to the chief and the other nobles.


As soon as the proclamation is made the new chief appoints a hunting party. […] When the chase is concluded, they return in triumph to the capital. […] On this occasion great excess is indulged in, many of the inhabitants being plundered, and some even put to death, the law in the meantime taking no cognizance of the perpetration of such deeds.

Now we have some idea what Hochschild meant by a “special occasion.”

As for the sacrifice of slaves “to give a dead chief’s soul some company,” the authors of Discovery and Adventure in Africa (1844) describe how in 1772 an Englishman, Norris, travelled to the kingdom of Dahomey in present-day Benin, northwest of the Congo in western Africa (p. 199):

The main object contemplated in this national anniversary is, that the king may water the graves of his ancestors with the blood of human victims. These are numerous, consisting of prisoners taken in war, of condemned criminals, and of many seized by lawless violence.

Add another to the list: captured in war, criminals, debtors, dowry, the luckier relatives of a gossip, and… “many seized by lawless violence” so the king can water the family cemetery with their blood. But that is not the only appropriate occasion for human sacrifice (p. 199):

At any time when the king has a message to convey to one of his deceased relations, he delivers it to one of his subjects, then strikes off his head, that he may carry it to the other world; and, if anything further occurs to him after he has performed this ceremony, he delivers it to another messenger, whom he despatches in the same manner.

In the same book, we find an account of a mission in 1817 by three representatives of the British government to visit Coomassie, capital of the Ashanti kingdom in present-day Ghana, just west of Benin (p. 204):

The customs, or human sacrifices, are practised on a scale still more tremendous than at Dahomey. The king had lately sacrificed on the grave of his mother 3000 victims; […] and at the death of the late sovereign, the sacrifice was continued weekly for three months, consisting each time of two hundred slaves.


On these occasions, the caboceers [agents responsible for procuring slaves] and princes, in order to court royal favor, often rush out, seize the first person they meet, and drag him in for sacrifice.

Adding this new, rather short-lived type of slave brings us up to seven: captured in war, criminals, debtors, dowry, the luckier relatives of a gossip, “many seized by lawless violence” so the king can water the family cemetery with their blood, and… random passersby.

The Reverend John Leighton Wilson, an American Presbyterian missionary in Africa, describes human sacrifice in his 1856 traveller’s account Western Africa: Its History, Condition, and Prospects (p. 219):

The practice of offering human sacrifices to appease evil spirits is common; but in no place more frequent, or on a larger scale, than in the kingdoms of Ashanti and Dehomi, and in the Bonny river [in present-day Nigeria, just east of Benin]. Large numbers of victims, chiefly prisoners of war, are statedly sacrificed to the manes [spirits of the dead] of the royal ancestors in both of the first mentioned places, and under circumstances of shocking and almost unparalleled cruelty. At the time of the death of a king, a large number of his principal wives and favorite slaves are put to death […] to be his companions and attendants in another world.

This is not to say all black slaves were unhappy (p. 272):

A slave in the Gabun was once asked why he did not take the money which he was known to have accumulated and ransom himself. His reply was, “I have as much freedom as I want, and I prefer to buy a slave to wait upon me.”

Hey, wait a minute: Touré Neblett told me that a slave “who doesn’t want to kill his master may be psychotic and still in the grip of white supremacy.” And The Guardian helpfully pointed out that “sadism, oppression, theft of identity, false assertion of enduring superiority,” and “corruption of the human spirit” are what “lie behind slavery.” So how can a slave buy another slave? I guess he must have been a sadistic, white-supremacist slave.

In his Travels in Western Africa (1847), Scottish explorer John Duncan, traveling east through present-day Ghana, implies that wives in that region are generally purchased by their husbands (pp. 78–79):

Adultery is punished by compelling the adulterer to pay the original price for which the adulteress was purchased by her husband, and the culprit then takes the woman to himself.


The common price of a wife here [in Winnebah] and at Cape Coast is sixteen dollars. A wife is very seldom purchased when more than twenty years old; but generally when five or six years younger, so that very old men have frequently ten or a dozen wives much younger than their own daughters.

Not even the appearance of affection exists between husband and wife, or between parents and children. So little do they care for their offspring, that many offered to sell me any of their sons or daughters as slaves. They are, to speak the truth, in point of parental affection inferior to brutes.

That’s two more for the list: captured in war, criminals, debtors, dowry, the luckier relatives of a gossip, “many seized by lawless violence” so the king can water the family cemetery with their blood, random passersby, all married women in some regions, who by the age of 15 are generally sex slaves for life, and of course the many children casually sold into slavery by their parents, who lack “even the appearance of affection” for them.

These examples are probably enough, but the interested reader should consult the recommended reading list for more. Once again, bear in mind that these men, unlike Adam Hochschild, were actually there at the time.

It is unclear, to say the least, how the aforementioned customs can be considered “more flexible and benign” than slavery as practiced by Europeans, but it is abundantly clear that Hochschild’s omission of this and all similar material isn’t simply an oversight.

Is it outright fraud? Or merely incompetence and prejudice? Why, I leave that up to you, reader.

1-3 Alex Haley

Annapolis, Maryland’s preposterous memorial to the fraud Alex Haley and his fictitious ancestor “Kunta Kinte.”

Roots: A Pack of Vicious Lies

What can we say about Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976)?

“The book that changed America,” according to the publisher, “one of the most eloquent testimonials ever written to the indomitability of the human spirit”—not to mention “one of the most important and influential books of our time,” a “monumental two-century drama” that has “lost none of its emotional power and drama,” whose “message for today’s and future generations is even more vital and relevant than it was thirty years ago,“ as it “tells the story of 39 million Americans of African descent” and “rediscovered for an entire people a rich cultural heritage that ultimately speaks to all races everywhere” and “galvanized the nation” and “created an extraordinary political, racial, social, and cultural dialogue” and also created many other kinds of dialogue and defeated apartheid and segregation and Jim Crow and probably Hitler and did several other marvelous things as well.

There is no shortage of alleged journalists who agree with this assessment. “An earthy book,” according to Britannica, “unsparing in its depictions of slavery,” which “also touched off controversies, as books about any past will, not only because portions were borrowed from at least one other book, but also because Haley’s genealogies did not always add up, at least to scholarly satisfaction.” Those nasty little scholars. Don’t they understand that books about any past will “touch off controversies?” Why are they picking on Alex Haley?

Possibly because Roots is a pack of vicious lies sold as American history. The proof is easy enough to find; see, for example, Jack Cashill’s article ‘Before Dreams, There Was Roots (American Thinker, 2009):

There is no better case study of a literary cover-up than that surrounding the publishing phenomenon known as Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The book, first published in 1976, generated extraordinary reviews and spectacular sales. The mini-series based on the book captured more viewers than any series before it. 130 million Americans watched the final episode alone. And its author, Alex Haley, won a special Pulitzer Prize for telling the true story of a black family.


As the story goes, Kinte grows up in a peaceful, sheltering community along the Gambia River in West Africa. He is well-schooled in math, writing, and the Islamic faith. Admittedly, there is slavery in this part of the world, but slaves were “respected people,” whose rights were secured by the laws of Kinte’s ancestors. There is also war, but it is fought under Marquis-of-Queensbury-like rules. Only the “greed and treason” introduced by white slave traders keeps Kinte’s land from realizing its potential as an African Eden.

At age seventeen, Kinte is snatched from his youthful idyll by the evil, club-bearing “toubobs,” or white people. When he finally regains his senses four days later, Kinte finds himself chained in the stinking hold of an ocean-going vessel, manned by ugly toubobs, all of them seemingly British or American. After a hellish journey, he arrives in Annapolis, attempts to escape four times, and is subdued only after some poor white bounty hunters chop off half his foot. The year is 1767.

Despite the book’s easy-going tone, Haley is quietly laying out an indictment against the United States that is always loaded and often gratuitous. In Haley’s tale, it is the whites who enter the forest and enslave the blacks, not Arab slave traders, not other blacks. Since Kinte is unconscious through the period of transaction, the reader has no picture of African participation in the slave market, nor of any Portuguese or Hispanic involvement in the slave trade.

Note the similarities to Adam Hochschild’s African slavery fable—and I do mean fable:

Approaching seventy when Roots debuted, Harold Courlander was shocked to read it. Courlander, who himself was white, was well-recognized in the field of cultural anthropology since 1947 when he coauthored The Cow-Tail Switch and Other West African Stories. In 1967, he wrote a more conventional novel titled The African. He earned $14,000 for it. Less than ten years later, Haley flagrantly rewrote large sections of his book and made $2.6 million in hardcover royalties alone. Courlander was not a happy camper.


Haley’s defense fell apart when, during discovery, the plaintiff’s lawyers found three quotes from The African among typed notes that he had neglected to destroy. The last thing Judge Ward wanted to do was to undermine a newly ascendant black hero. Midway through the trial, he counseled Haley and his attorneys that he would have to contemplate a perjury charge unless they settled with Courlander. They did just that to the tune of $650,000, or more than $2 million by 2009 standards.

It gets better:

In the late 1970s, unaware of the plagiarism rap, two leading genealogists, Gary Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills, decided to follow up on Haley’s work through the relevant archives in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. They found that Haley’s transgressions went well beyond mere mistakes. “We expected ineptitude, but not subterfuge,” observed Elizabeth, herself the editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.


In 1993, a year after Haley’s death, writer Philip Nobile did his best to expose what he calls “one of the great literary hoaxes of modern times.” In February of that year, he published “Uncovering Roots” in the influential alternative publication, The Village Voice. The article brought to a larger public the story of the Courlander suit and the Mills’s genealogy work. Nobile also revealed that Haley’s editor at Playboy magazine, the very white and Jewish Murray Fisher, did much of the book’s writing.


Apparently, when Haley first conceived a family research project in 1964, he had no plans to find an African ancestor. That thought did not occur to him until much later when he met an exchange student from the Gambia. Together, they shared key phrases like “Kamby Bolongo” that Haley could pretend to trace.

The student’s African contacts arranged for Haley to meet a “griot,” who had been coached in advance to say what Haley wanted to hear. “It was sort of like Piltdown Man,” says Nobile. “Haley would plant the evidence and then find it.”

What is heard on the tape raises further questions about Haley’s motives. Through a translator, the imperfectly coached griot tells Haley that Portuguese soldiers helped capture Kinte and send him “back home to the Portuguese.” To preserve the purity of his story, to remind his audience just who really is responsible for those “atrocities,” Haley scrubs the Portuguese out of the picture and directs the audience towards America.

In truth, even if the griot had known a Kunta Kinte, there was no way Haley could have written anything approaching a “history” about the first seventeen years of his life. The notion that an oral historian could recall the life of an ordinary young boy two hundred years prior surpasses the preposterous. “There was no Kunta Kinte,” says Nobile bluntly.

Nobile and an African-American coauthor put a book proposal together on the subject, but as Nobile ruefully admits, “Nobody wanted to touch it.” A Lexis search shows shockingly little follow-up by the media, major or minor.

The New York Times buried the issue in a page 18 “Book Notes” column. There, in discussing whether Haley’s new book, Alex Haley’s Queen, should be shelved under fiction or nonfiction, the Times had exactly this to say about the controversy: “Two weeks ago, the charges about the authenticity of Roots and the integrity of Mr. Haley were raised anew in an investigative article by Philip Nobile in The Village Voice. Members of the Haley family have rebutted the accusations.” And that was that.

Not surprisingly, the Pulitzer people did not ask for their award back, and the book and video have remained a staple in history classes across America. Nobile blames Roots’s seeming immunity on his progressive colleagues. “They were all too scared, or dishonest,” he writes, “to admit to the public that the most famous black writer had lied about his ancestry.”

1-3 A Radish-Side View of Slavery

Charles Francis Adams II, Alexander Stephens, and Thomas Carlyle

A Radish-Side View of Slavery

Thanks for reading! I’d like to leave you with three specially selected quotations, in reverse chronological order.

Charles Francis Adams II was a colonel in the Union Army, the son of and aide to an important abolitionist congressman, and the grandson and great-grandson of U.S. presidents. I quote his Founders’ Day address to the University of South Carolina, ’Tis Sixty Years Since (1913):

That it had its good and even its elevating side, so far at least as the African is concerned, I am not here to deny. On the contrary, I see and recognize those features of the institution far more clearly now than I should have said would have been possible in 1853. That the institution in itself, under conditions then existing, tended to the elevation of the less advanced race, I frankly admit I did not then think.


The noticeable feature, however, so far as I individually am concerned, has been the entire change of view as respects certain of the fundamental propositions at the base of our whole American political and social edifice brought about by a more careful and intelligent ethnological study. I refer to the political equality of man. […] In this all-important respect I do not hesitate to say we theorists and abstractionists of the North, throughout that long anti-slavery discussion which ended with the 1861 clash of arms, were thoroughly wrong.

In utter disregard of fundamental, scientific facts, we theoretically believed that all men—no matter what might be the color of their skin, or the texture of their hair—were, if placed under exactly similar conditions, in essentials the same. In other words, we indulged in the curious and, as is now admitted, utterly erroneous theory that the African was, so to speak, an Anglo-Saxon, or, if you will, a Yankee “who had never had a chance,”—a fellow-man who was guilty, as we chose to express it, of a skin not colored like our own. In other words, though carved in ebony, he also was in the image of God.

Following out this theory, under the lead of men to whom scientific analysis and observation were anathema if opposed to accepted cardinal political theories as enunciated in the Declaration as read by them, the African was not only emancipated, but so far as the letter of the law, as expressed in an amended Constitution, would establish the fact, the quondam slave was in all respects placed on an equality, political, legal and moral, with those of the more advanced race.

I do not hesitate here,—as one who largely entertained the theoretical views I have expressed,—I do not hesitate here to say, as the result of sixty years of more careful study and scientific observation, the theories then entertained by us were not only fundamentally wrong, but they further involved a problem in the presence of which I confess to-day I stand appalled.

There we’ll leave Colonel Adams—though ’Tis Sixty Years Since is well worth reading in full—for Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America. I quote his infamous, extemporaneous “Corner Stone” Speech (1861):

The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. […] Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago.

Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men.

The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

Thomas Carlyle should need no introduction; if he does, consult Radish 1.1. I quote ‘The Present Time,’ first of his magnificent Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850):

Cease to brag to me of America, and its model institutions and constitutions. To men in their sleep there is nothing granted in this world: nothing, or as good as nothing, to men that sit idly caucusing and ballot-boxing on the graves of their heroic ancestors, saying, “It is well, it is well!” Corn and bacon are granted: not a very sublime boon, on such conditions; a boon moreover which, on such conditions, cannot last!—No: America too will have to strain its energies, in quite other fashion than this; to crack its sinews, and all but break its heart, as the rest of us have had to do, in thousand-fold wrestle with the Pythons and mud-demons, before it can become a habitation for the gods.

America’s battle is yet to fight; and we, sorrowful though nothing doubting, will wish her strength for it. New Spiritual Pythons, plenty of them; enormous Megatherions, as ugly as were ever born of mud, loom huge and hideous out of the twilight Future on America; and she will have her own agony, and her own victory, but on other terms than she is yet quite aware of.

Have a wonderful Black History Month, everyone—but mind that Megatherion!

Recommended reading - Volume 1

Melk Abbey Library

Recommended Reading

Want to learn more about the topics covered in this issue of Radish? We recommend the following resources. (We do not, however, necessarily endorse all opinions expressed in them: some are not nearly extreme enough.)

American Slavery

Theoretical Defense of Slavery

The West Indies

Secession, Civil War, and Reconstruction

The Abolitionists

Exploring Africa

Django Unchained



Those Who Can See

Assorted, Tangential & Miscellaneous

Book Club

17 thoughts on “3. Slavery Reconsidered

  1. Not only was slavery much milder than the propaganda directs us to believe and not so bad — it is also not so bad an idea to re-institute it. Think of all the work we’ll get out of Chicago.

  2. Another great issue. Congrats. I must request a multi-part series on colonialism and post colonialism. Perhaps a case study approach? Rhodesia/Zimbabwe; Belgian Congo — Leopold, post-Leopold, post-colonial; Egypt — under the Khedive, under Lord Cromer & King Farouk, post-colonial Nasser; perhaps even Algeria — Algérie française!

  3. Very informative — even myth exploding. Looks like Oscar Wilde basically had it figured out. The parallels between the abolitionists of the 19th century and the DWL/anti-racist crowd of today are really striking. The question is: Why? The ceaseless agitation and actions of the abolitionists — who like today’s anti-racist gang framed their entire argument in moralistic terms (though the 19th century gang did so in explicitly Christian terms) resulted in a four-year war which essentially destroyed an entire region and left about 700,000 dead in its immediate wake, not to mention those who died of injuries later or were physically debilitated. Was the practice, which was historically widespread, so outrageously poisonous that it was worth this cost? As with all wars, the question must be asked: cui bono?

    I do wonder how many of the abolitionist reverends and their congregations — many from the New England elite — ended up making considerable fortunes from the war itself and its even more horrific aftermath (carpetbaggers, reconstruction, etc.). Were they in debt to the usual suspects (the folks who mastered the fine art of fictional-reserve banksterism)? There are other interesting areas to explore from a historical background to this whole era also. Why is it that ending the practice of slavery required a horrific war, lawless usurpation and mass destruction in the USA while it was ended with relatively little mayhem in Brazil 23 years later? Brazil had a much larger system of slavery — and had nothing approaching the restraint and rule-of-law found in 19th century America. What Brazil lacked was a professional class of agitators and propagandists, who managed to create storm of chaos which continues down to the present day.

  4. Fantastic stuff Radish, congrats for excellent work on par with M.G. Miles at Those Who Can See.

    I would like to suggest that an excellent companion piece to this righteous post might focus on the utterly, unbelievably enlightening 1930s WPA (Works Progress Administration) Slave Narratives, which were conducted between 1936 and 1938 as par of FDR’s efforts to get people back to work.

    Essentially, the Slave Narratives (available in the Library of Congress) consisted of about 6,000 white college kids, mostly from up north, coming down south on Government dough to interview aging former slaves.

    Where it is interesting, is that in the thousands of accounts — for which the white college kids did their best to replicate negro speech phonetically — nearly 100% of the ex-slaves interviewed express fond memories of their slavery days. I kid thee not.

  5. I am a sympathetic reader, coming here indirectly via Moldbug. Take it in that light when I point out that while I agree the picture of slavery is not all one-sided misery, there appears something lacking in A South-Side View of Slavery. For example, if slavery is completely or mostly benevolent, why the need for these public sale laws? (An easily answered question, I admit.) As another, with the benevolence of the slavers, how did this 14-year-old girl become partially owned by another in the first place? The answer may be through some very awkward quirk of the law, say inheritance, but it still proves that it can happen through such a quirk. Also, he glosses over plantation life in such a way that one remains unconvinced he ever saw any or much of it.

    I am certainly not advocating for a progressive view of the race issue, or even of the slavery issue. Even if American slavery were the most barbaric possible institution, on par with the Assyrian treatment of subjugated populations with The Most Dangerous Game added on top — it’s over, and has been for 150 years. However, I like intellectual honesty in my reactionary tracts, because otherwise I’m just trading one brainworm for another.

    Can someone recommend to me either works that do back up the claims in the areas I’ve pointed out, or give some other quality explanation? If the answer is, “There were definitely bad parts about slavery, but it wasn’t this evil soul-sucking spawn of Satan that is the new-world-order’s religion’s equivalent to the darkness of Zoroaster,” that’s a fine answer. It’s the one I’m already at. It’s just slightly disappointing to see rhetoric bend too far the other way.

    • A fine answer indeed. Moldbug has recommended Roll, Jordan, Roll (1976) for “an accurate perspective of American slavery;” it’s “a little Marxist but only superficially so. No work like it could be written today.” And it is because no such work could be written today that one feels comfortable publishing such an issue without explaining partial ownership, or answering your easily answered question, or taking a detour into plantation country. Overton windows must be shifted!

    • Certainly they must be shifted. For any still in doubt, if that doubt hinges on a belief in the understanding of what our author above calls the theoretical realities of slavery, let me recommend you destroy that defunct theoretical understanding with an authority no less then Aristotle’s Politics — a democrat to be sure, but one with open eyes.

      To answer the question about public sale, it would seem to me a provision for protecting slaves from disadvantageous transfer and ownership. That all such contracts must be public would, in a generally upright society, invite a few bad apples to the sale. However, its main action would be the preventing of back-room deals between wicked parties, or between a virtuous and wicked man whose wickedness is unknown to the former, or between a virtuous man and a wicked one with the charisma (or other less savory lever) to prevail upon the virtuous to do injury to his slaves.

      Publics may be utterly terrible at governance, but they are very good at enforcing cultural norms.

  6. Great article and even greater magazine. I’m a new reader, and I’m glad to have found my home. Nothing better than summarily dismantling each and every component of the mountainous pile of progressivist lies we’re fed nowadays. I read 25 and 26 and decided I had to start from the beginning. Can’t wait for what’s in store.

    Jovus — perhaps some time-accurate anti-bureaucratic (better yet if coupled with pro-democracy) literature regarding the practice could confirm this theory of yours. Leave the oversight and regulation of the buying and selling of slaves to the people, not a pompous northern elitist. I’m inclined to believe language inclusive of “public scrutiny” would be sufficient.

  7. Just finished reading, catching up on my Radishes, this Australia Day.

    And to think I read Roots over a decade ago (mostly while drinking) and was lead to believe it was fact!? Those excerpts from the Cornerstone Speech are pretty much what I’d been saying/preaching about the failure of N.Z for years (!).

    Thank you x3 [!!!]~

  8. It’s interesting seeing this pulled apart. What has happened to the two elements of slavery: the responsibility to care unto death, and the right to a full claim on the labour of the slave.

    The first is now called ‘welfare,’ and the second ‘taxation.’ The question that followed for me was would people accept the government selling either of those rights to individuals? Separately? Or to companies?

  9. An amazing exposé of lies and hypocrisy. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of [Jews’] role in the slave trade. Only a note that a [Jew] wrote the anti-White scribbling that bear Alex Haley’s name as the alleged author.


  10. Pingback: The Horror of the Left | Foolish Reporter's Foolish Thoughts on the Foolish State of Things

  11. A response to this tendentious history:

    [removed: link to hopelessly confused and dishonest progressive. round these parts, we try to understand history, not abuse it to suit our political prejudices…]

  12. Pingback: RED DAWN 14: Asian Immivasion - Atavistic Intelligentsia

  13. Pingback: Was the American War of Independence motivated by a Desire to Retain Slavery? | Deus Ex Machina

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