Gimmie that old-time tactic…

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The overlap between the modern self-described “conservative” movement (from teatards to wingnuts to blowhards to GOPers) and the old Confederate movement from 150 years ago is stunning. Especially when one digs into the framing, memes, rhetoric and philosophical underpinnings of both movements. This is really just the latest iteration of a movement in America that can not accept defeat and that does not believe in any compromise. It is a movement that offers the rest of us only a choice between capitulation or gridlock. And it is a movement that keeps the threat of violence at hand to intimidate folks to meet their endless demands.

The biggest shared element between the Teatard/Wingnut denizens of the modern Republican Confederate Party is the tactic of “NO”. The firm dedication to only offer the rest of the Nation a binary choice between capitulation or gridlock, complete surrender or violence (“Nice Country you have here, it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it…”). This is the golden thread that connects this neo-Confederate movement to their real Founding Fathers of 1860.

In 1859 the Confederates had won a series of major political battles through a tactic of always rejecting any compromise short of absolute capitulation to their demands. From time to time a ‘compromise’ was accepted by the Confederates, but before the ink was dry on any agreement they moved the bar and demanded a fresh capitulation as the price to end their latest temper tantrum. Through their control of the Supreme Court they had basically won the right to extend slavery to any territory of the United States and still there were Democrats and old Whigs throughout the North who favored more capitulations thinly disguised as compromise. Finally a majority had enough of this shit and elected Lincoln. The Confederates had a hissy fit and went out and then the War came.

Before 1860 there were decades of Confederates demanding an endless series of capitulations from the rest of the Country. Early on, back in the 1820s through the 1850s, they mostly threatened the Nation with gridlock (unless you were black, lived in Kansas or were an Abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts–then it was violence). Decade after decade, almost every story in American politics could be boiled down to a tale of the rest of the Country finding a way to compromise with Confederate extremists and their never ending series of demands. Through it all, time and time again, it came down to a choice: surrender or gridlock, capitulation or violence. This is the go-to Confederate tactic of “NO”. And this is still the core tactic of the current crop of neo-Confederates who once again are tying to hold this Nation hostage to the demands of their rich fantasy lives.

The Teatard/Wingnut rhetoric about the Founding Father and the Constitution is NOT an American reading of history, instead it is a Confederate understanding of history firmly rooted in Confederate rhetoric, philosophy and framing. Of course owning up to their Confederate roots might get some bad press, so it must be hidden. “Confederacy” is the name of their movement that does not dare to reveal itself and so they cover up their Confederate roots as best they can–going to crazy leaps of logic and twists of history to pretend that their old-time CSA values are actually USA values. And yet they can not hide from themselves. The old Confederate arguments and tactics keep bubbling to the surface.

In one of David Blight’s lectures of the Civil War he was discussing why the North won the war. In this discussion Blight lectured on the concept of Confederate Nationalism and isolated the core myth that separates a Confederate world view from an American world view (emphasis added):

Now, in the end this is an argument that what the South lacked was a deep mystical emotional level of nationalism. Well that’s been countered, that’s been countered by numerous historians. Drew Faust is one of them, in an earlier book called The Creation of Confederate Nationalism. She’s been joined, or she actually joined a whole group of historians studying this idea. It’s been one of the recurring, fascinating questions about the Civil War, and the question is essentially what kind of nationalism did the Confederacy actually develop? After all, it only lasted four years. The question really is, was there a confederate nation or were they just a band of states that came together in military defense of homeland? Well there are arguments on all sides of this. And I’ll just say a couple of things. I think those–and it’s Drew Faust, it’s John McCardell, numerous historians. The weight of the best argument, I think, is that the South did indeed, rather quickly–and there’s a lot of lessons in this historically–develop a serious level of this mystical kind of nationalism. They developed an ideology that they said their nation was based on. They said right up front, at the beginning of the war, Jefferson Davis, speech after speech after speech, he said the Confederacy is the logical vessel of the American Revolution; what the Confederacy really was was the carryover of 1776. 1861 was 1776. That George Washington, they will argue, was the founder of the Confederacy. That true American democracy was in this resistance to centralization.

This core myth–that the American Government is the enemy–is at the heart of the rhetoric, talking points, spin and bullshit of wingnutopia these days. It is an old-time core belief of the Confederacy as well. The recently released ‘pledge’ is a document anchored in a Confederate understanding of how America should function. So is the question of taxes or health care reform or infrastructure spending or education or protecting workers or whatever. Time and time again the effort is to replace the notion that a central government is a legitimate center of power with a belief that each state has the right to do whatever it wants to do regardless of any Federal mandates (unless of course a State wants to do something that might threaten a Confederate power base like free slaves or fight climate change). This notion that the central government must be kept weak is rooted in an elitist understanding of Liberty–the Confederate belief that Constitutional Liberty is based on protection of property and not based on individual rights. For some reason, the concept of individual Liberty fills Confederates–old and neo–with a sense of dread.

In another lecture Blight discussed the very different ways that the Confederates and Unionists viewed the US Constitution:

Now, another argument here, and again Phil Paludan has made this better than anyone I think, is he’s argued that southerners and northerners have sort of come to view the U.S. Constitution, this document we live under, in different ways; that northerners had come to see the Constitution as a kind of protector, much violated now by Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott decision, et cetera, whereas southerners had come to see that constitution more as a destroyer, as something to fear, that might, if the wrong people get hold of it, begin to attack or erode their society…

What the Confederates feared 150 years ago and what their neo-Confederate descendants still fear today is the concern that the wrong sort of folks are gaining power in America and that they might not share a CSA interpretation of this living American document. That is the core of so many political battles in America–which view of the Constitution rules the land: USA or CSA. Is Liberty only about property or does a more expanses view of Liberty–one that includes individual rights–define our Nation.

The tactic of “NO”–the demand of capitulation backed up with gridlock and a threat of violence–has been a very successful Confederate tactic over the years. It almost succeeded in protecting and expanding the institution of slavery. After the Civil War it helped to scuttle Reconstruction and then protect segregation for almost another Century. In 1994 it helped sweep the Gingrich Congress into Washington and today the neo-Confederates are banking on a successful repetition of the age-old tactic.

At some point a majority of us will have to say NO to these bastards once again. It would be best to get that done this November at the ballot box.



57 replies
  1. 1
    Davis X. Machina says:

    This is really just the latest iteration of a movement in America that can not accept defeat and that does not believe in any compromise.

    Spot on.

    You can read the whole history of the US from 1787 to 1861 as a hostage drama, as per Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859, by Elizabeth R. Varon

  2. 2
    asiangrrlMN says:

    dengre, I am constantly amazed by how well you write on this subject and with such passion. You are right in that we (the non neo-Confederates) are in the majority. However, the minority have a terrible amount of sway over our political process, and how long will we have to say no? It’s frustrating, disgusting, discouraging, and saddening that we still have to fight the Civil War (or at least the ideas that propelled it).

    By the way, you got a shout-out over at TNC’s place from a commentator for making this point so incisively time and time again. It’s in this thread, and you have to load all the comments. andyk304 made the initial comment to me.

  3. 3
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    It’s a shame you’re not posting this one at DK. I have been trying to make the argument about not giving in to Republicans but my posts disappear.

  4. 4
    General Stuck says:

    I have said it here a number of times in the past, but when I look at how the voting public keeps giving these fuckers an endless series of second chances, that there is deep in the American psyche, a kind of permanent hostage situation mentality that likely has it’s roots in the Civil War and it’s aftermath. What else could the tea bag message be, other than “give us power back” or we might hurt you, again. It is usually subtle and buried benieth layers of code, but unmistakable overtones and sometimes quite overt when the freudian slips.

    I just finished watching Burn’s Civil WAr doc, and was struck by just how many political forces were arrayed against Lincoln, but he persevered though it all. And especially after his emancipation proclamation that divided the north in the middle of a civil war they were mostly losing, simply because it was the right thing to do. Greatest American imo, even above Washington and all the rest.

  5. 5
    Mike in NC says:

    Of course owning up to their Confederate roots might get some bad press, so it must be hidden.

    Not really buying that. Our asshole media treats every issue as a “he said, she said” type of thing that Very Serious People need to seriously weight the arguments for.

    That’s how turds like Newt Gingrich keep showing their ugly mugs on TV, week in and week out.

  6. 6
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @General Stuck: Amen, brother. Read Richard J. Carwardine’s Lincoln, a Life of Purpose and Power this summer, and my admiration for Lincoln grows with every year — and my sympathy for another certain old Illinois state house hack with it.

  7. 7

    The Confederates had a hissy fit and went out and then the War came.

    And look how well that turned out.

  8. 8

    BTW, great series of diaries on this subject.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    El Cruzado says:

    Nice blog, but it got me thinking: is there any serious study of how much and how the current anti-government sentiment in the right inherits from the anti-federal-government sentiment of the original Lost Cause folk?

    It sure seems like it’s its direct descendant, but I wonder what things have been added and subtracted throughout the years.

  11. 11
    dslak says:

    There’s a brilliant essay by Corey Robin that engages (and deflates) the recent, conservative intellectual tradition. It’s about 20 pages long, but well worth the read for those interested in the history of American conservatism.

  12. 12
    Steve says:

    Very well argued.

  13. 13
    dslak says:

    I meant to stress that Robin’s essay makes many of the same points that Dennis and Blight make, but from a different angle.

  14. 14

    @Omnes Omnibus: I guess that should have been ‘John = ‘

  15. 15
    John Bird says:

    This quote is nested in a point beneath a point, but it’s a powerful story anyway and Blight tells it better than I’ve heard it told before:

    There’s that unforgettable scene at the very beginning of The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. No one reads her anymore. She was at one point the most popular historian in America. She wrote about the Middle Ages, she wrote about world wars, she wrote about all kinds of things. Anyway, at the very opening of The Guns of August is a scene where a German general meets a French general, somewhere in the mid- or late-1920s, and the one general says to the other, “Sir, why did it happen?” And the other general says, “I don’t know, I really don’t know.” In the wake of the Bay of Pigs, and before the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John Kennedy gave a copy of The Guns of August and ordered every member of his National Security Council and his cabinet to read it. And he quoted that passage, and he said “never will we, never shall we be caught having to answer that question about war.” I don’t know.[sic]

  16. 16
    Citizen Alan says:

    My only point of disagreement is with the myth that the Confederacy always believed that “states rights” should trump federal power. As I see it, the proto-Confederates actually thought that the federal government did trump the rights of the states … so long as they controlled the federal government. Remember, the majority of antebellum Presidents were from slave states, and the Three-Fifths Compromise gave them a huge advantage in Congress almost up to the start of the Civil War. The Fugitive Slave Act was a powerful infringement on the rights of free states by an intrusive, pro-slavery federal government, and Dred Scott was ultimately an anti-states rights opinion. It was only when Northern population outstripped the Confederates’ unfair electoral advantage that they switched from “federal power” to “states rights.” I guess you could call that the beginning of Calvinball.

  17. 17
    Karen says:

    I completely agree with everything you’ve said, Dengre but it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. The GOP/Tea Party that is the New Confederacy control through fear, either fear of violence from the Other or fear of violence from the New Confederacy themselves.

    While I never believed he was the “Messiah” or had a Messianic Complex or that he was Liberal Perfection, Obama was one time, ONE TIME where all the tricks in the New Confederacy didn’t work.

    Unfortunately, Obama was made to pay for that crime even before he was in office. PUMA sprouted. The New Confederacy rose from the ashes. The Tea Party grew.

    People can say that Obama is just like Bush or just like Jimmy Carter but the truth is, he’s not. The New Confederate that will replace him won’t be like those two either. The New Confederate will make Reagan seem like a prince.

    Just remember: The Bush Administration has proven that the only thing that is illegal is if a Democrat wins. I was thinking that with the last Presidential election in 2008, the GOP had enough confidence that a black man with a Muslim middle name would have no chance winning the election that they didn’t cheat for a change.

    Obama has such hatred from the New Confederacy and from the far left that in 2012, the New Confederacy won’t have to cheat then either. I’m sure that we may never have a black Democratic President ever again. I am also sure that we’ll never have an adult President ever again. The candidates will learn the lesson that you cannot make the hard decisions or sacrifice and still win.

    They’re right.

  18. 18
    Jewish Steel says:

    Dengre. Book. Write one. I’ll buy two.

    At the minimum two.

  19. 19
    Dollared says:

    Dennis, please keep these coming. They are awesome, they are great scholarship for all of us who have no time to dig into this, and they ring true – up to a point.

    Because ultimately I don’t think it’s them confederate rascals who are at fault in our nation’s current messes. The anti government South, all the latent and overt racism, they are just the swing votes that empower the real power. And the real power splits its time between Wall Street and the Koch Brothers.

    And behind that cabal is a different six generations of bitter, greedy old men. They train their children to remember that Kennedy was a rum runner and FDR was a Traitor to His Class.

    It’s the alliance of those two classes of hatred that make the Party of No. And they have ruled us since the day Nixon took the oath of office.

  20. 20
    Short Bus Bully says:

    Dengre, I have read a lot of blogs and am aware of all internet traditions and I can tell you without any snark that these posts you are putting together exposing this shit are actually important. You are connecting threads and bringing to light potent truths. Please post more. And write a book.

    And bring me my pony.

    Okay, a LITTLE bit o’ snark…

  21. 21
    Andy K says:


    That was me, in case you didn’t know. “Andy K” was taken when I signed up there.

    And I gave a “Like” to asiangrrlMN’s idea that you- Dengre- and TNC together collect your posts and publish them as a book.

  22. 22
    Andy K says:

    @Citizen Alan:


    A modern parallel being the budget, of course: Social spending bad, military spending- with all those forts in Confederate states, named after Confederate heroes- good!

  23. 23
    mclaren says:

    This is brilliant stuff. You really nail the basic issues here. I wish this series of posts about the Repubican Party = Confederacy were more widely available to the general public.

  24. 24
    asiangrrlMN says:

    @Andy K: Cooool! I love running into members of the BJ commentariat elsewhere. And, I’m completely serious about a collaboration between TNC and dengre. That would be most excellent. Throw Andy Hall (from TNC) into the mix, and whoa, Nelly!

  25. 25
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Back when Dengre was first posting over her (April — Confederate History Month) I remember making a comment that he and TNC needed to co-write a book on all this. I haven’t changed my mind and am really happy to see a bandwagon starting. I would totally buy that book (lots of gifts!) and I really hope it’s quietly in the works already. It’s important.

  26. 26
    Dennis G. says:

    @Citizen Alan:
    I tried to make that point as well, but I think I may have edited down the prose a too much. For these folks a strong Federal Government is OK if they control it, if they do not–well then a strong Federal Government is the problem. The Confederate belief in States Rights is–like all their beliefs–flexible. In the end it is a movement about protecting the power of the oligarchs behind it, but that’s a story for another post.


  27. 27
    LGRooney says:

    One important aspect left out of the conversation (or perhaps it’s because it happens to be my bugaboo that I mention it) is religion. In the original fight, there were rhetoricians on either side using religion to argue their respective point but, in the end, one side clung to that and institutionalized the religious plank as foundational to their argument while the other side used the secular Constitution, and the methods allowed within it, to set the foundation for their argument.

    As often happens, the side that institutionalized the religious argument is the one that started a war because such effrontery can not be ignored or minimized. Religion has always been a useful tactic to rally one’s side into an intractable corner.

    And so it goes…

  28. 28
    Tom Levenson says:

    This is spot on, and makes me think of the running refrain in Grant’s memoirs. He continuously referred to Confederate treason, traitors, insurrection, rebellion against legitimate government.

    That strand to historical memory is so important now. It’s a counter to the invented nationalism of a section that was always for centralized government (to the point of state sponsored terror within that rump territory it briefly controlled).

    The the Confederate party, old and new, have to be reminded at every turn that what they espouse, as old Ulysses S. never forgot, is treachery.

  29. 29
    DPirate says:

    ~Yeah, yeah, and all catholics are pedos, all democrats are cowards, and all muslims are terrorists, too.

    This core myth—that the American Government is the enemy—is at the heart of the rhetoric, talking points, spin and bullshit of wingnutopia these days.

    What myth? Spying, murder, kidnapping, drug-running, profit-war, oligarchy, theft, you name it.

  30. 30
    Guster says:

    @Jewish Steel:

    I was gonna say that same thing. Are you interested in writing this as a book, Dennis? I’ve had a couple nonfiction books published–nothing that you’d call ‘successful,’ but I know my way around publishing a little. And the ‘Confederate Party’ is a pretty eye-opening idea, and salable if you’ve got a platform, which you kinda do …

  31. 31
    boxley says:

    hmm, confederates were slave owners, lets frame every disagreement against the rush to socialist paradise with racism so people who disagree will be uncomfortable and be quiet. Fuck you and you nazi politics

  32. 32
    Jim Pharo says:

    DennisG, I think you are ALMOST all the way there. What’s the reason the South harbors these views in the first place? Why are they worried about the federal government (when they don’t control it)? Why do they consider it a sin to deviate from the orthodoxy? Why do they project such hatred and fear onto others far weaker than themselves?

    For me, the answer lies in their guilty consciences. This is a region that has always been poor, always depended upon cruelty for its economic well-being, failed to keep up with the rest of the nation culturally, etc. Just like I think their forefathers knew perfectly well that blacks were people and slavery massively immoral, they know perfectly well that they are continuing to oppress racial and other minorities.

    That’s why the TVA was so monumentally important (and so tragic that it wasn’t used as a model for development). We need to help the South connect with all that’s great about the South, build a better future, and get that damn chip off their shoulders. That’s why demonizing these people is such a mistake — they already know they’ve got issues. Dwelling on that isn’t helpful…

  33. 33
    boxley says:

    Jim Pharo,
    why do you block history from your mind?
    who gained the most from the slave trade? Clue by four it was new england

  34. 34
    El Cid says:

    Dennis, you might want to emphasize that it isn’t some grassroots political movement.

    There were quite specific reasons why the Southern slave-holders and large raw materials exporters (i.e., plantation elites) had to fight tooth and nail — well, hire people and advocates and lawyers and politicians and thugs to fight tooth and nail — to preserve that system at all costs.

    It’s because that system was what kept them a fantastically wealthy elite with a lock hold on political and judicial power.

    A materialist reading of history isn’t all that someone needs, but this is a case in which not only is it crucial, but it exactly parallels the modern conservative / neo-Confederate origins and the counterattack by the wealthiest elites against the New Deal.

    Exactly coincident with Goldwater’s emergence in the mid-1960s as the leader of this new, upper-class serving / neo-Confederate right was the turn of the business class’ organizing fronts against the achievements of labor, gains hard won through the Depression and WWII and the postwar anti-Communist ‘compromise’ between big unions and government.

    If the super-rich of the South hadn’t been so reactionary and inflexible, then they wouldn’t have retained their exclusive wealth base.

    The nation as a whole, and certainly slaves and the poorest Southern whites might have been better off with a reshuffle and developments of more modern production and trade (if that indeed were possible).

    But the particular super-rich wouldn’t have been. They would have lost out. So, it’s worth destroying a nation for that. Always has been when the richest classes are incredibly reactionary.

    During the Great Depression and WWII, there was actually a significant part of the super-wealthy baron elites in the US who not only saw the need for social reforms and saw even advantages to it for themselves over the long haul (i.e., more customers, pace Ford’s earlier model).

    They actually supported the policy study groups which recommended many of the programs which would become staples of the New Deal.

    You didn’t have that accomodatory, far-sighted class of the ultra-rich in the Southern mass raw materials / agricultural export economy, and you don’t see it today except for a few of the super-wealthy individuals. And apart from occasional statements and interventions, Bill Gates is no Rockefeller or Carnegie sponsoring dozens of high placed scholars and groups pushing for a reformist agenda.

  35. 35
    Dennis G. says:

    Why are you playing the victim card dude?

    Yes, slavery was a big part of why the Confederate Party went to war 150 years, but really they were just protecting their right to use their ‘property’ against a Federal government that was claiming that their property rights had limits when they bumped up against the individual rights of others. It is this fight between property rights and individual rights that has really drove this movement. OTOH, it is hard to discuss any iteration of the Confederate Party, then or now, without the deep racism of some Confederate Party members bubbling to the surface. Pointing that out, even obliquely, seems to fill you with rage and inspires a very predictable thin-skinned bit of name-calling. I guess the truth of it all has left you with nothing to say but ‘Nazi’.

    Seeing yourself as a victim 24/7 seems to have given you a soul-eating sense of self. Good luck with that and thanks for sharing your fear.

  36. 36
    El Cid says:

    @boxley: The South didn’t benefit from the slave trade, but by the use of domestically ‘bred’ slaves in the production of agricultural products and raw materials which required vast amounts of cheap, heat and disease-resistant labor in order to be profitable.

    It’s why the vast majority of African slaves to the Americas went to Brazil and the Caribbean — it was sugar production and similar crops which launched the Atlantic slave trade, but it was the local production which gave it an economic logic. [The Europeans did in fact try to enslave Indians and/or impose harsh trade conditions upon locals, but it ended up being much easier and in many ways cheaper to import African labor.]

    There is blatant hypocrisy, though: the campaign against slave trade was mostly led by powers and forces who no longer most benefited from it.

    England, for example, didn’t need to trade slaves — it conquered much of, say, Africa itself, and turned entire regions into cheap labor for export crops. If you got Empire, who needs to send slaves around the world? You got slaves or the equivalent right where you conquer!

  37. 37
    El Cid says:

    @Dennis G.: The slave trade was different than the use of slaves. See above comment.

  38. 38
    David in NY says:

    You know, boxley, those New Englanders who were profiting from the slave trade in the 18th Century were pretty much the same people who were behind abolishing it in the 19th — the proto-Confederates certainly weren’t interested in doing that. And the wholesale slave trade largely ended. In fact, that article you link to is pretty slim on there being any significant profiting from the trade after its abolition — a few examples over several decades are hardly significant.

    A couple of examples isn’t really history, boxley. Race has been the engine of American politics for centuries and it remains that.

  39. 39
    Deb T says:

    So is the tactic of “No” used by the current party based on a knowledge of history? Or, did it develop organically because their beliefs parallel those of the Confederacy?

    Did they learn it from historical knowledge or did they come to it through their own experience in governing?

    They use it because it works. How did it become their primary tactic (or is it strategy – I never know the difference)?

  40. 40
    boxley says:

    El Cid I suspect that you have never looked at the books of a running plantation. I examined the books of Andrew Jackson at the hermitage, the keeping of slaves was a very expensive proposition. It did not make economic sense at all. He would have been wealthier if he had emancipated them and did sharecropping instead like the northern industrialists did in their factorty and mining towns.

  41. 41
    Stillwater says:

    @boxley: He would have been wealthier if he had emancipated them and did sharecropping instead like the northern industrialists did in their factorty and mining towns.

    If slavery was an economically inefficient system, then why its persistence as an institution? Pure racism? What the fuck are you arguing here?

  42. 42
    El Cid says:

    @boxley: You’re absolutely full of shit. The keeping of slaves was indeed an expensive proposition. Converting to a more modern manufacturing technique with sharecroppers would have lost income during the transition period. Not to mention that at the time there was simply no technology or sharecropping which would have been more efficient at such products as cotton, rice, tobacco, which were incredibly profitable on a world scale.

    For a time, South Carolina was the world’s largest supplier of rice. Name a fucking time in which sharecropping led to that sort of and scale of profit. What kind of hallucinatory dreams of a natural end to slavery would look at that sort of fact and conclude that it all would have been more effective not to do so.

    This is the equivalent of suggesting that the British and French and Dutch empires’ exploitation of African and Asian production for raw material profits at costs they simply could not compete with domestically and wished to avoid any sort of local development, or for that matter the gigantic theft of valuable minerals from the Americas, were economically inefficient because one day in the future this was no longer the source of European profits, or the old canard about how the Spanish court’s profligacy in losing such giganto-profits to other European investors, or the notion that the ‘costs’ of Empire to overall British society while profits were gained by a happily exploitative upper class.

    The South simply did not have the concentrated urban populations of the North, the resources in which to replace raw materials production and export with finished products, nor the inland transport infrastructure common in the rest of the nation.

    This is the same sort of bullshit, disproved nonsense which was a continual argument for avoiding coercive and legal ends to slavery, because it all just would have gone away on its own. I don’t give a shit what you think you saw ‘looking at Alexander Hamilton’s books’.

    That slavery was practiced by an incredibly tiny and increasingly concentrated super-rich and inherited elite does not in any way touch upon the economics of the subject.

    When the South did return to sharecropping by whites and blacks post-Civil War, it was after Redemption had already robbed blacks of any substantive rights through violence and legal manipulation.

    So, yes, maybe ‘the South’ would have benefited from the end of slavery, particularly those Confederate poor soldiers dying en masse for the exclusive benefit of the plantation elites, but ‘the South’ as a whole was not the entity deciding on its path of development.

  43. 43
    ellid says:

    @Boxley –

    Thank you for concern trolling. It’s very nice that you’ve managed to find a hobby.

    @Dennis – fabulous essay. Count me in as another person who’d be interested if you turned this into a book.

  44. 44
    prufrock says:

    @El Cid:
    All of that is true, but their was another contributing economic factor: the value of the slaves themselves.

    By 1860, the average price of a slave at market was around $1600 (in 1860 dollars). A young, healthy field hand could fetch over $2000. If slavery were made illegal, the largest slaveholders (the tiny fraction of the population that owned more than one hundred slaves) would have lost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars…in 1860 dollars.

    Of course they were willing to preserve slavery, even if it was a very expensive proposition. The costs of running a slave-holding plantation were insignificant when measured against how much money they would lose if their “property” were taken.

  45. 45
    El Cid says:

    @prufrock: True, but it’s a different thing to talk about when the argument is (a) there were no buyers, so this would be considered a ‘sunk cost’, and (b) that they would have become much richer by moving on from slavery than by continuing to rely on that as the major economic model.

    Not to mention the slave-holders would then risk losing power and wealth to individuals becoming enriched through other production and manufacturing methods, thus losing all the economic and political extortion powers their existing economic power allowed them to exert.

  46. 46
    asiangrrlMN says:

    @Stillwater: This would be my question, too. It seems to me that grabbing the economic reason would be much more palatable than, “We did it just because we’re fuckers.”

  47. 47
    prufrock says:

    @El Cid:

    Not to mention the slave-holders would then risk losing power and wealth to individuals becoming enriched through other production and manufacturing methods, thus losing all the economic and political extortion powers their existing economic power allowed them to exert.

    Oh, absolutely. Robert Leckie in None Died In Vain talked a lot about how much the elite class of slaveholders worked to keep the south in a kind of 19th century feudalism. They liked their power structure, and hated (and feared) anything that would disrupt it.

  48. 48
    priscianus jr says:

    This is one of the most interesting blog posts I have ever read. True, the idea’s been in the air, but you really explain it.

  49. 49

    […] in Daily life, GOP, Politics at 11:02 am by LeisureGuy Dennis G at Balloon Juice: The overlap between the modern self-described “conservative” movement (from teatards to […]

  50. 50
    Andy K says:


    Oh, those poor, poor put-upon slaveholders! Damn those northerners who forced that Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act on them! I mean, who wants to bear the expense of slaves on a wheat farm…Yet here was the Freesoil North even allowing for the possibility of that kind of economic oppression of free white gentlemen, burdening them with slaves…For shame!

  51. 51
    inthecoolbluenorth says:

    Someone sent me the link to this discussion and I’m very glad–well written and solid. Just this one criticism: cannot is ONE word, not two.

  52. 52

    Just wanted to say, this is the best BJ article I have ever seen.

    Keep up this fine work.

  53. 53


    There is probably no point so large that you wouldn’t miss it.

    The Confederacy was not about slavery. Certainly, slavery was a big factor and issue. But mainly it was about power, and the model of power upon which the Union was to be based. Differing views of that model are what we are still fighting over.

    I don’t think you will get this, either because you aren’t smart enough, or because you are just a troll. But others will. You, just sit still and shut up. You have nothing to say here.

  54. 54

    First of all: This.

    Second, I can’t remember where I heard this question posed: Why are conservatives so obsessed with inflation? Maybe you could weave that into one of these posts–I’m starting to think the answer might be that they were deeply, DEEPLY scarred by what happened to the Confederate dollar.

  55. 55
    Dennis G. says:

    @El Cid:
    When the international slave trade was banned it open a very profitable line of business for Southern slave owners. The selling of American born slaves within the states and territories was big, big business. It many states it rivaled the profits to be made from growing crops with the free labor of those slaves. Virginia was one of those states with an economy dependent upon the American slave market. This was one of the reason that the Confederate Constitution banned the importation of slaves–they did not want the competition. And finding new markets to sell these slaves in North America was why the Confederates were so driven to try and make every US Territory a new market for American born slaves.

    So while the slave trade and the use of slaves are different things, both were very important parts of the Confederate economy–so important that both were protected and supported by the Confederate Constitution.

  56. 56
    karl says:

    “Finally a majority had enough of this shit and elected Lincoln.”

    Not to be too much of a pissant, but Lincoln won a healthy majority of the electoral votes while getting just under 40% of the popular vote.

    Otherwise, you are spot-on. Thanks.

  57. 57
    Dennis G. says:

    It was the majority of votes in a four candidate race, but you are correct that it was not a majority of all votes. I will work on the prose in the future.


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