Trying to understand the slavers

Friday, September 29, 2006

Really, to understand these people you have to read the things they said and understand the difference between what they said and what really was; and you have to understand why they had such a skewed view of what they thought they were observing. It has not yet been done in popular history that I am aware of — and the place to go for source material is in the contemporary records.

Joseph [Smallwood] in the course of the past year has given me the clue to it — and no doubt would continue to do so – but then there remains one question — how, why, do we relate this to our present agony of a divided country and our fears of fast-vanishing liberties?

Yet, it is somehow applicable, and I lacked only the last bit of evidence, or rather, I lack only the turn of attitude that will turn the key in the lock. This is a poor analogy — but it is in a way like my searching for mental powers to fix my health (though I don’t know that I ever framed it that way) and not finding them till at TMI I found a way to move my mind.

There is a key and I am so close to finding it — and only when I find it will I even know what the key is key to. But I can tell that I am near. There is something being dangled in front of me, and I, willing horse, am straining for the carrot. And I don’t think anyone can find it but me, because it is welling up out of the background of my life, which is unlikely to be closely resembled by anyone else. (But surely if I fail or refuse the task it can be found from a different combinations of background traits and knowledge. Surely the plan has redundancy built in.)

In a way I’d like to use as slavers and their inability to see things except through the lens of slavery-interest as an example of blindness. Or, not of blindness, quite. More like, of the psychological processes —

No, too abstract. Friends? Help me out here, if you want me to help you.

There is a relation between conscious life and the unconscious background, that shapes cultures as well as it shapes individuals. This is what you can illustrate using a vivid historical situation as illustration. This is firm ground for you, and familiar and popular enough in the world culture to assure a hearing that you would not easily get for an argument presented in abstract terms.

I think it must be because the Union won, that little historical attention has been paid to the actual composition, platform, and stated intention of the slavers in politics. Breckenridge — I see in this book Team of Rivals — believed that slavery could not be kept out of the territories constitutionally. Why is not something made of all that? Instead we have right wing Republicans today in effect saying that the South was the wronged party, and attributing all sort of fanciful or misconstrued motives to those who opposed slavery.

Lincoln asserted that he had “never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the declaration,” which had provided “hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.” [Team Of Rivals, page 310, Lincoln speaking in Independence Hall, Philadelphia.]

Isn’t that the key here? Jefferson expressed it for his generation, Lincoln rested his whole career upon it, and today it is nearly lost as a political philosophy entirely, by conservatives and liberals alike. And so we are dying. Joseph’s commentary on slavery showed how the slavers were inherently, not accidentally, based in class and not only race. It was class and privilege that caused the Civil War and it was resisted by the best representative of the people ever thrown up by divine providence.

We mustn’t forget or forgive by silence South Carolina’s 1833 attempt at secession. Why had they tried it? What actually happened? Why was Jackson so adamant, and the other slavers not equally complicit with South Carolina? The thing had been tried before! Not quite 30 years had passed before they tried again. Who were these people, and why were they such lunatics? It has to be based in peculiar economics and perhaps some other factor, for they probably weren’t any more racist than the rest of the country. It isn’t enough to call them hotheads and lunatics. Why were they hotheads and lunatics?

I am thunderstruck to read this:

“Southerners, who had made up the majority of Navy officers in peacetime, resigned in droves every day. Treason was rampant.” [Page 351] I hadn’t thought it was so, and it seems to me that somewhere Joseph had said that the Navy was mostly loyal. Goodwin mentions (page 357) a passage from Washington’s farewell address that I had never read, certainly appropriate: “It is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity.”

It is interesting and significant that nearly all white politicians North and South assumed that emancipation must be followed by “servile insurrection.” In fact it never happened or came close to happening.

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