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Saturday, 22 June 2013


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My father entertained reservations about Lincoln, but I could never get him to explain them. I suspect now that they were partly a feeling that Lincoln achieved a noble end, the freeing of the slaves, by ignoble means. Still, most Americans treat him as an honorary founding father and so their accounts of him will involve a less that full-hearted devotion to the truth.

Anyway the Civil War certainly showed one thing - the Constitution (which I greatly admire) was not remotely good enough as a practical document. The huge waste of blood and treasure to resolve problems that were solved far more cheaply everywhere else proves that.

Certainly, DM, a noble end achieved but whether or not the means were ignoble I simply do not know - my ignorance on the subject is abysmal. I am less critical than you on the Constitution which, as a man-made artefact has stood the test fairly well despite the abuse it has received from - who else? - politicians. I think the designers were wise to provide a certain amount of wriggle room to cater for circumstances beyond their reckoning at the time. Incidentally, I read somewhere, just recently but I can't remember where, that the general health and well-being of Afro-American slaves in the south was much better than the 'wage slaves' in the north, for example, on the whole they lived longer.

"the general health and well-being of Afro-American slaves in the south was much better than the 'wage slaves' in the north, for example, on the whole they lived longer." Most unlikely; hell, whites in the South didn't live all that long in the age before antibiotics and pesticides. The area around Chesapeake Bay, for example, was notorious as a haven for horrible diseases. And anyway I wonder whether the stats for slaves would be any good.

As for the Constitution, if its constraints lead you into a Civil War with about a million dying, I'd say that it was inferior to the systems that let the British Empire, French Empire, Brazil etc etc abolish slavery without such deaths.

Eureka, I found it! An obit in the NYT of Prof. Robert Fogel:

"[He and his co-author] contended that slavery had not been, as widely portrayed, an inefficient system destined for collapse, with slaves living in virtual concentration camps and worked to death.

Rather, after studying medical records, cotton yields and other data, the authors argued that slavery had been highly efficient in utilizing economies of scale and that plantation owners had regarded workers as economic assets whom they were inclined to treat at least as well as livestock. This tended to limit exploitation, Professor Fogel and his colleague found, declaring, in fact, that slave life in the South was generally better than that of industrial workers in the North.

An intellectual firestorm resulted. Some critics accused Professor Fogel, who was married to an African-American woman, of being an apologist for slavery, though he and Professor Engerman had been explicit in acknowledging that slaves had been exploited in ways not captured by statistical data.

Despite the attacks, the authors did not budge from their findings and their main point — that slavery would not have ended without the Civil War.

Please note the final sentence! Also, this is another effort at containing some of the hysteria on the subject:

Finally, whilst I know nothing of Brazil I would remind you that both we and the French in our efforts to reach the beginnings of democracy suffered a couple of mighty revolutions which killed hundreds of thousands in an age when killing machines, ie, guns, were in their infancy!

Duffers, that's empty bombast that doesn't answer my points, namely that (i) I'll bet the slaves didn't outlive the Northerners, if only because the slaves lived in the highly diseased South, and (ii) The British Empire, Brazil and so forth abolished slavery without killing a million people in the process.

Now look here, DM, it might be "empty bombast" but you'll go a long day's march to find better bombast on the internet than here at D&N! As to your points, I assumed that if Fogel was right and that "slave life in the South was generally better than that of industrial workers in the North", plus the fact that slave owners had an interest in keeping them alive and fit that they might well have outlived the poor sods working in factories in the north - but as neither of us has the proof we must let it rest there. On the narrow, very narrow, point that the cost of removing slavery was greater in the USA than elsewhere you are right but you are not right if, in fact (and at this stage of my education I do not know for sure), the war was not really fought over slavery.

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