Saturday, January 31, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Six

sable-venus THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD. The saga of this remarkable book continues. Chapter 7 is entitled ‘Seed’, again with multiple meanings. It starts with cotton seed itself and the constant quest for better varieties and new and better land to grow it, another way of showing slavery’s expansionist nature.

But we learn a new word, new at least to us, ‘potterized.’ It comes from Robert Potter, a young Southern white low on the social scale who owned no slaves, but was determined to climb the political ladder by running for office. The slave owners and the elites rigged the game against him, and he called one of them out for a duel. He was dismissed as too lowly for a duel, so, enraged, he assaulted and beat the man, cracking his skull. Put on trial, he made an unusual defense, that his attack was justified because he was treated like a Negro, and hence his assault was justified to defend his ‘manhood,’ another sense of ‘seed.’ One was a ‘man’ precisely because he couldn’t be treated or dismissed as a slave.

While he did a short term in prison, he returned to fight more battles, and his example spread to spur the ambitions of other whites low in status. They were becoming ‘potterized’ en masse. Andrew Jackson was savvy enough to tap into this mass resentment demanding ‘white equality.’ He based his campaigns on it and rode the wave to the White House, promoting universal suffrage for white males while, at the same time, stripping the ballot from free Blacks in states like New York. Combined with his Indian Removal Act, stealing native lands for cotton, the Jackson years represented the consolidation of a multiclass ‘white united front’ in electoral politics and white supremacy as the standard nationwide. Now a marco feature, it grew from the seed of ‘potterizing’ on the micro level.

‘Seed’ also is used in the sexual sense. While enslavers almost always raped their female slaves, it was now showing up in the marketplace. Some slave women were deemed ‘fancy,’ meaning sexually desirable, and were stripped naked on the block. One ad was put out for the ‘Sable Venus.’ There were even slave buyers ‘balls’, where slave purchasers could peruse a dance floor of Black women scantily clad in night clothes to make their picks and bids.

The chapter also introduces us to an old practice that sounds new. Enslavers often mortgaged their slaves to get cash to buy more. One institution in New Orleans, the Consolidated Association of the Planters of Louisiana, CAPL, would make the mortgages, securitize them, and sell them. To minimize risk, they had the legislature back up the paper, guaranteeing the taxpayers would insure it. These securities were then sold and resold as $500 bonds, roughly the average price of a slave at the time. Hence someone in the North or anywhere could hold the equivalent of the ownership of one slave per bond, and collect interest on it. Thus you could profit from slavery indirectly, and at a distance. Did a ‘bubble’ in these securities arise and burst? It certainly did, in the 1837 crash. But that’s a longer story. More to come.

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