Goldfield's book has been well-reviewed, because if it's sympathetic to Southern whites, it depicts the savagery of slavery and post-war white terrorism with unflinching and gut-wrenching clarity. (Literally. The book's tales of slaves' abuse and Southern white post-war savagery will make you sick.) Still, this Civil War history challenges the absolutism of the "Northerners were heroes, and Southerners were vicious, violent racists" school of history. He exposes and excoriates Southern whites' violence against black people before and after the war. But he also links the war to the pro-business evangelical Protestant crusade to eradicate native American Indians, Mexicans, Irish and German Catholic immigrants, and an emerging class of landless Northern laborers – anyone who stood in the way of their vision of clean, hard-working, business-friendly American progress. And he counts the South as a victim of that Northern evangelical crusade. Southerners were another group that simply wasn't conforming to their doctrine of "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men," as the title of Eric Foner's equally complicated and fantastic Republican Party history puts it.
[. . .]
In an interview with Leonard Lopate, he contended that the abolition of slavery was inevitable "in a world that was hurtling toward the Industrial Revolution." I can imagine that, had a more politically creative group of politicians tried to compromise on a way out of slavery – perhaps offering to compensate slaveholders for their slaves, the way every other country that abolished slavery did – we maybe, maybe, might have avoided the Civil War. (Joan Walsh, “Everything you know about the Civil War is wrong,” Salon, 9 June 2011)
From Joan Walsh
Thanks for these letters, they're thoughtful and mind-opening. I knew nothing about the history of Galveston, incredible. Diogenes, there's a lot in the book about Darwin's work helping forge a white North/South consusus about black inferiority. On Twain, honestly that quote, out of context, does look like satire, but there are several other examples of his (temporary I think) horror at the results of universal suffrage. cabdriver, thanks for making the point that we can disagree about this without anyone being a neo-Confederate. Finally, of course, I should have headlined this Everything you know about the civil war is wrong -- unless you've studied a lot of U.S. history. Which sadly most of us have not. (Joan Walsh, response to post)
We SHOULD read history, 'cause it's such a great way to distinguish ourselves for all those Republican hippie soul-searchers.
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There's ALWAYS an alternative to war, if that's what you REALLY want
I think abolition was inevitable as well, and that both sides just happened to want war, NEEDED war -- that is, to project unwanted aspects of themselves into convenient "containers," and eradicate them: producing a wonderful bounty of sacrifices so a nation could feel delightfully less burdened by sin. This said, Northerners overall were less primitive than Southerners were. But both were crazy.
N.B. If Catholics had greater numbers and power, they'd have been posting newspaper headlines calling for the eradication of Protestants: they were victims, but surely quite mad as well. I hope the book doesn't somehow communicate that being a victim makes you surely sane and virtuous: your foes ARE projecting their own rejected parts onto "you," it has nothing to do with who you really are or what you've done, but you could just happen to be a nutcase.
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Slavery: not even homo economicus is up to something as inhuman as that
The point of slavery wasn't to make money -- it was to inflict upon a class of people a worse facimile of the kind of torment you got in your childhood -- so no doubt all along there was some better way to riches. They hung on to it longer than the Europeans did, because Europeans on average were evolving better (slightly bettering childhoods) than American Southerners were, resulting in their moving up a bit to still abased but slightly better ways of abusing a whole collection of people (wage slavery et al.). So even though Southerners were retarded on this score, Northerners, if they were healthier, if they themselves didn't crave war and sacrifice, could have waited out their brethrens' mass regression and made abolition happen afterwards -- and before Southerners naturally evolved to it (Screw you, preacher: You can't do THAT to another human being!) -- amounting to hugely less carnage. Didn't you all learn that in school?
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two points to Patrick McEvoy-Halston
were the south of the Mason-Dixoners the only ones to import captured Africans?
if no was the northerners trying to make money?
They evolved out of it. Money gets made, but I like when people point out that things like slavery and wars are so not at the root about money that they are effected in instances when about no-one -- no even, hardly, historians so running away from themselves they can only understand human beings as homo economicus -- can argue it's about the green anymore. I've seen from a few books coming out that the idea (truth) that what is often called evil is actually lack of empathy and an accompanying full-rim of sadism, is making way back into discussion. Thank God. With that we'll be drawn to asking ourselves what kinds of childhoods lead to empathy, and what kinds not. And eventually to understanding that any period of history where slavery can be rationalized, MUST have as its primary constituents extremely poorly-loved people. For, if you've known love -- not an entire cultural apparatus is at a deep level going to convince you that something screamingly wrong is being done to people with the likes of slavery (you will KNOW them to be human, even if you've only been told their not, 'cause you will have less of a need to see them just as an embodiment of your own personal demons and some of the obvious will sneak in). How do we think change comes about? A new, more humane perspective -- even if at this point, not SO much more humane -- when before: nothing to draw upon? It's about growth in heart, and nothing at all really with money matters. “Homo economicus” is more evolved than “man as wicked and sinful,” but it's a concept bubbled up from people not yet up to seeing people as they really are. It is ONLY when empathy is nowhere to be found, that a quarter of a population could perish in a by-both-sides-wanted war.