Skip to comments.Who Killed Slavery?
Posted on 04/17/2006 8:22:15 AM PDT by LS
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I don't like comparisons like "subsistence level" when you are talking about historical comparisons. Compared to today's standards, middle class Americans of 1950 were "poor."
For this misunderstanding I take full blame. By "subsistence level" I didn't mean in material goods and services compared with the way we live today, or even a hundred years ago.
What I meant by the term was a level of livelihood any real degree beyond what it takes to survive, literally.
To have the ability the provide enough food to go from one day to the next, yet always (slightly) hungry, and rarely, if ever, full. To be able to acquire enough clothing and shoes to keep the weather somewhat at bay, but never quite warm enough and/or never quite dry enough.
This has been the condition though all history, throughout peoples in all societies, throughout at the world. Some people maintain the idea -- or should I say the illusion?-- that if the freed slaves had only been given "40-acres-and-a-mule" that somehow they would instantly develop a stable family life, thrift, prudence, a solid work ethic, in short that some kind of yellow brick road would have magically unwound before them, etc. etc. etc.
And this is the notion I disagree with: given the economics of the time (both world and in the South), the centuries long conditions they had just been freed from, and the over-all rather "casual" work habits of the South (due to a large part by the humidity, the heat, and the unhurried nature of nature). That is why I said that IMHO
"Given the day and age and financial situation, it's hard to believe that even with 40-acres-and-a-mule that the freed slave would, on average, have achieved much more than a subsistence level."
Again, my apologizes for if I left the water a little muddy.
I personally do not think that he wanted a war, he said that repeatedly. He got one and if he had lived I think that the country would have been very different.
Oh, I understood you perfectly - and my critique stands. Even with 40 acres and a mule each, the former slaves would have been, by the standards of middle-class 21st Century Americans - dirt poor. My point is precisely that by those standards nearly all of their contemporaries - whether in Asia, or in Africa, or in Europe or in America - were dirt poor.that somehow they would instantly develop a stable family life, thrift, prudence, a solid work ethic, in short that some kind of yellow brick road would have magically unwound before them, etc. etc. etc.
Look in your kitchen at the spice rack: back then nobody had real refrigeration, people needed spices to preserve or cover up the flavor of overage meat - if they had meat. But before the advent of steamships spices - carried all the way from Asia via sailing ships at the mercy of the weather - were expensive. Today you wouldn't give the cost of your seasonings a moment's thought.
After emancipation former slaves frantically tried to find family who had been sold away from where they themselves had been held. Family values were far better a generation after emancipation than they are today.
The trouble with "Forty acres and a mule" was that you had white people who already owned the land and the mules - and you would have had to expropriate the land to give it to the freedmen. And that wouldn't have played in Peoria, any more than repeal of the Second Amendment would have (I mention the latter because if ever there was an argument against the Second Amendment, the Civil War would seem to have been it. Yet instead of trying to repeal the Second Amendment, Unionists founded the National Rifle Association).
That attitude is mostly a recent upsurge from the Outta-Sight '60s. Blacks of that era and up into the early-to-mid 20th Century were very spiritual, hard-working folks. Unfortunately the ingrained racial discomforts from the slavery days kept social integration from taking place.
Off the top of my head, I don't know, but look at Huston's book. He has extensive analysis of all the industries in the U.S., by section. It's more extensive than you might think, although by 1860 of course the U.S. was still more than 50% agricultural.
It's all speculation, so who knows? Lincoln might have said, "Ah, to hell with it, I'm going to California."