Early textile mill with women workers
INDUSTRY ON THE BACKS OF SLAVES. Returning to our journey through the remarkable book, 'The Half Has Never Been Told,' we turned to Chapter Nine, entitled 'Backs.'
The author once again draws us to his main theme: the development of capitalism in the US is best understood as proceeding on the backs of slaves and the backs of ethnically cleansed Native peoples of the West. He challenges and undermines the more common story of capitalism developing with a self-contained free-labor North, while the South was a sluggish and disconnected backwater.
The industries that first expanded in the North were ship building to move cotton and slaves to market, iron and metal working to supply tools to the slave labor camps, and finally, textile mills to weave cotton into cloth here, rather than to have to supply the slaves and others with clothing imported from England.
The author gives two simple examples of a hoe and an axe, the metal part of them. Move 200,000 slaves to the Deep South and Southwest, and you have to put a tool in their hands. Where do the axe heads come from? From the rapid expansion of iron works in Connecticut. Likewise with the guns of the overseers and slave catchers, soon to be followed by iron steam engines, both for the textile mills and the new railroads to move cotton and other goods to markets more readily. All of this was mainly driven from the demands for tools come from the vast clearing and plowing of land for the cotton plantations. What was happening in the North was driven mainly from the South.
The growth of new industries to supply slavery was rapid. In 1850, 500,000 Americans labored in manufacturing. In ten years, it was 1.2 million. Immigrant labor poured in from Europe, 1.5 million in the 1840s alone.
But the author's argument is not undialectical. Once an industrial power arose in the North, it acquired its own 'sectional interests' that contended with slave capital. In the level of politics, this would be played out in the ongoing tug-of-war over whether new states and territories would be 'free' or 'slave.'
This began making waves with the 'Wilmot Proviso,' a measure attached to a bill concluding the Mexican War, by Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot, that none of the territories acquired in the war would be open to slavery, thus following in the earlier pattern of the Northwest Ordinance.
The measure was stymied, but the long debate over it factionalized the two major parties, the Whigs and the Democrats. The Whigs started with two factions, 'Cotton Whigs' and 'Conscience Whigs', and grew into more. The Democrats at first gathered into the 'Barnburners' of Martin Van Buren and the 'Hunkers,' siding with the slave Democrats in the South. These tensions would grow even greater and into more factions and parties in the period ahead. More to come. Read more!
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Wednesday, February 04, 2015
TEXAS, BANKS AND SLAVERY. We continue through ‘The Half Has Never Been Told' with Chapter 8, entitled ‘Blood.’ It starts with the blood drawn on the backs of slaves by the ‘whipping machine,’ forcing ever higher productivity from slaves in the ‘Southwest,’ meaning the Mississippi region. A few slaves resisted the lash, but when one told his master he wouldn’t be whipped anymore, he got the answer, ‘if you can’t be whipped, I can still kill you.’ He could, without penalty, save for the price of replacing the slave. Some slaves ran off, and here ‘blood’ came to mean bloodhound, the dogs used to catch them. Of the hounds’ noise on the chase, said white enslavers, ‘the music they make was the sweetest in the world.’
But by 1836, slave productivity was causing a problem. It was outpacing, temporarily, the capacity for English textile mills to process and sell it. In a short time, the price of cotton dropped from 18 cents to six cents a pound, and the price of slaves tracked the price of cotton. To make a longer story short, a great number of Southwest enslavers suddenly couldn’t pay their debts, and many banks in the area also crashed. It was the crash of 1837. Slaves were put on the block at reduced prices in large numbers, which meant many slave families were broken up, tearing apart the ‘ties of blood’ among them to great sorrow and suffering.
One way for the enslavers to escape the bill collectors was to move into the Texas territory, where the law would not yet reach, but where they could still seize land and grow cotton. The practice was so common, bills were returned to creditors simply marked ‘GTT,’ widely understood as ‘Gone To Texas,’ but soon meant any efforts of any deadbeats to escape payment.
But therein lies the tale. Mexico had abolished slavery, but had a weak grip on its Northern States, including Texas. The enslavers in Congress wanted it, and so rigged up the ‘Republic of Texas’ backed by the enslavers’ money. Texas was brought into the union to thwart Mexico’s abolition and secure slavery’s expansion westward. Just set aside all the chauvinist mythology from the 1950s about Davy Crockett and the Alamo.
The abolitionist movement continued to grow, mainly among Northern church-based women. One tactic was signing petitions to Congress with huge numbers of names, to be printed in the Congressional Record. The enslavers in Congress would have none of it, and passed a ‘gag rule’ forbidding any mention or acceptance of these petitions as illegal. The abolitionists pointed out this thwarted the First Amendment, and that slavery thus not only stripped any rights from Blacks in the South, but was now also stripping rights from whites in the North. The dots were being connected. More to come. Read more!