If you have "no place to go," come here!

400 years, and it's the same philosophy

I've been and am on the road, and one book I bought to read (no, not in Kindle, alas) is Lawrence Goldstone's Dark Bargain, whose subtitle -- "Slavery, Profits, and the Struggle for the Constitution" -- saves me the trouble of explaining what the book is about. Here's a passage on apportionment, an issue that is still very much alive today:

But Gouvernor Morris could not let slavery pass that easily. He moved to insert the word "free" before the word inhabitants. He then proceeded to launch into a diatribe... that still stands as perhaps the most ferocious condemnation of slavery in the nation's history:

He [Morriss] would never concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of Heaven on the states where it prevailed. ... Upon what principle is it that slaves shall be computed in the represenation? Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included? The houses in this city [Philadelphia] are worth more than all the wretched slaves which cover the rice fields of South Carolina. ... He would add that Domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of Aristocracy. And What is the proposed compensation to the Northern States for the sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity. They are to bind themselves to march their militia for the defence of the S. States; for their defence of the very slaves of whom they complain [in case of slave rebellion]. ....

Morris's motion came to a vote. How would the delegates handle this call to principle, this test of their integrity as champions of democracy and the rights of man?

They voted Morris down. Ten states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, refused to insert "free" before inhabitants. Only New Jersey voted "aye." After that vote, any pretense of an appeal to higher morality was done.

Reminds me of FISA. And for Morris read Feingold, eh?

Anyhow, several thoughts.

1. Surprise, writing the Constitution was sausage making at its most brutal and ugly. IIRC, Xenophon and I went a few rounds on this question, and we did agree that in writing the Constitution -- looking on the bright side -- the Framers, besides taking account of their own interests, also showed an exquisite sense of the ways to limit the uses of power and avoid tyranny. Which would be why our toxic leaders, of both parties, have been so anxious to throw off the tiresome shackles of Constitutional government and the rule of law today (see, again, FISA).

2. Yes, slavery and racism are at the heart of how the country was founded, constituted, and the effects reverberate and ramify and pollute, systematically, personally, and politically, up to the present day.

3. It's not at all clear how electing a President with dark skin is going to wash the country clean from this history -- except, perhaps, by giving a lot of people the excuse to say "problem solved" (Matthew 27:24).

4. The tendentious and instrumental charges of racism hurled by the OFB at both Clintons, the Clinton campaign, Clinton supporters, and me and many others personally have little to do with the "problem from hell" that Morris indicted. They do, however, have the effect, accidental or not, of silencing any discussion of the subject that isn't focused on electing our presumptive nominee, or doesn't emanate from an Obama Movement operative.

Anyhow, I'm sure that there is far better and far more historically situated analysis of slavery to be found than this post, but I thought the extract I quoted was a parable it would be useful to share.

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Historiann's picture
Submitted by Historiann on

Interesting that it won an affirmative vote from NJ--I assume because of the Quaker connection?

And I think you're exactly right: one man's political fortunes will not eradicate the United States' legacy of racism and exploitation.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

He says it's all about "you" -- i.e., me. And, unfortunately, I'm a white male. I'm the one I've been waiting for, he tells me, and all that.

He also keeps saying that change comes from the bottom up.

We could use a little help from the Oval Office rightabout now, and I'm sorry that he's palmed the job off on me.

Sure he lacks experience and commitment to any issues, but if he does get the job, he might consider acting like he intends to perform it himself.

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

Anybody crazy enough to put me in charge doesn't deserve my vote.

“But hysteria is all the rage these days, I guess” - gqm

Bluegrass Poet's picture
Submitted by Bluegrass Poet on

had women's suffrage early on but then revoked it.

and yes, good work Lambert.

Submitted by cg.eye on

we tried putting a patch on the suppurating sore of racism with a short-term, ill-considered solution: the Negroes who served in Southern legislatures during Reconstruction.

The problem wasn't in the stereotypically racist portrayals of those legislators in the media, from contemporary newspapers all the way up to A BIRTH OF A NATION. It was the lack of support those legislators had to change anything, because both the racists praying for their downfall and the good-intentioned abolitionists supporting them thought that their mere election was enough.

Since Obama has gained the support of the AA community on tacit intentions, not even stated as campaign promises, there is the same danger of his presidency becoming that of a figurehead, undermined from below by the Village that's now so frantically propping him up, for mere kicks.

Historiann, do you have any reading to recommend about the Reconstruction era? I feel most ignorant, yet apprehensive, about history repeating itself.

Submitted by lambert on

Sounds like a great topic for more posting -- maybe a book review on Sunday, too?

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

I'd love to hear what historiann recommends. I'm not a historian or an expert on reconstruction, but I can recommend Reconstruction After the Civil War by John Hope Franklin. This version has been updated since its original 1961 printing. I should note that my view of it might be biased since I had the privilege to read it for a class taught by Dr. Franklin.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

The Black Agenda Report has been turning out some very good work about the desire for white America to use the election of Obama to move past the issue of race and how Obama encourages this and why it's destructive for the black community and efforts to create a more equitable society. While I haven't seen them compare this effort to Reconstruction or other historical efforts to "get past" race, they have been very good at highlighting how dangerous Obama could be for African Americans in that his election would let a lot of white Americans say that the whole racial inequality problem has been solved, leaving little desire or effort to undo the damage of centuries of racial oppression.

You should really scroll through the whole site because it's always got interesting pieces and not just on Obama, but here are some links to particular articles about the dangers Obama poses for the Black community - why Obama is not, as the NYT seems to claim, the end of black politics, Obama's unwillingness to address black concerns as black concerns, The Myth of Transcending Race, and Where Obamaism Seems to Be Going.

From that last linked piece:

Among other things, as I saw ever more clearly while watching Rachel Maddow talk with another of that Dem ilk about Obama and his family -- how adorable and "well-raised" or some such his kids are, etc, etc -- a few nights ago on Keith Olberman's show, an Obama presidency (maybe even just his candidacy) will likely sever the last threads of any connection between notions of racial disparity and structurally reproduced inequality rooted in political economy, and, since even "left" discourse in this country seems capable of conceptualizing the latter as a politically significant matter only in terms of the former (or its gender or similar categorical equivalent), that could just about complete purging entirely out of legitimate political discourse the notion that economic inequality is rooted fundamentally in capitalism's political and economic dynamics.

Underclass ideology -- where left and right come together to embed a common sense around victim-blaming and punitive moralism, racialized of course but at a respectable remove from the familiar phenotypically based racial taxonomy -- will most likely be the vehicle for effecting the purge. Obama's success will embody how far we have come in realizing racial democracy, and the inequality that remains is most immediately a function of cultural -- i.e., attitudinal, and behavioral -- and moral deficits that undercut acquisition of "human (and/or "social," these interchangeable mystifications shift according to rhetorical need) capital," a message his incessant castigation of black behavior legitimizes. In this context, the "activism" appropriate for attacking inequality: 1) rationalizes privatization and demonization of the public sector through accepting the premise that government is inefficient and stifles "creativity;" 2) values individual voluntarism and "entrepreneurship" over collective action (e.g., four of the five winners of the Nation's "Brave Young Activist" award started their own designer NGOs and/or websites; the fifth carries a bullhorn around and organizes solidarity demos); 3) provides enrichment experiences, useful extracurrics, and/or career paths for precocious Swarthmore and Brown students and grads (the Wendy Kopp/Samantha Power model trajectory), and 4) reduces the scope of direct action politics to the "all tactics, no strategy," fundamentally Alinskyite, ACORN-style politics that Doug Henwood and Liza Featherstone have described as "activistism" and whose potential for reactionary opportunism Andy Stern of SEIU has amply demonstrated. Obama goes a step further in deviating from Alinskyism to the right, by rejecting its "confrontationalism," which severs its rhetoric of "empowerment" from political action and contestation entirely and merges the notion into the pop-psychological, big box Protestant, Oprah Winfrey, Reaganite discourse of self-improvement/personal responsibility.

All of the above salves the consciences of our professional-managerial class peers and coworkers who want to think of themselves as more tolerant and enlightened than their Republican relatives and neighbors, even as they insulate themselves and their families as much as possible from undesired contact with the dangerous classes and define the latter in quotidian practice through precisely the same racialized and victim-blaming stereotypes as the conservatives to whom they imagine themselves superior. This hypocrisy, of course, is understood within the stratum as unavoidable accommodation to social realities, and likely to be acknowledged as an unfortunate and lamentable necessity.

Submitted by cg.eye on

It's just that I've seen little discussion of Reconstructionist politics, since they're the closest analogue to what we're facing now -- black politicians, *without a corresponding social movement pushing the Overton Window toward freedom*, taking political office.

There is no strong Civil Rights Movement, and yet Obama is close to the presidency. What will that mean, when there is no independent system of organization to either keep him honest or watch his back?

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

And Lambert, do you want to put a book review tag on this so this will come up? Enough here to make people want to read it!
And yes a book review please BD!
Funny mention of the women's vote in NJ, Bluegrass, because the revoking of it was a totally political move to get some people elected.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

1807: New Jersey women lose their vote, with the repeal sponsored by a politician who was nearly defeated by a female voting block ten years earlier.

Historiann's picture
Submitted by Historiann on

But the go-to guy on Reconstruction and black politics in particular is Steven Hahn. His recent book, _A Nation Under our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration_ (Harvard University Press, 2003), won all of the big awards, and he's training a whole bunch of grad students who are working on Reconstruction, too. Eric Foner, who is kind of the dean of Reconstruction studies of perhaps half a generation ahead of Hahn, published _Forever free : the story of emancipation and Reconstruction_ in 2005. He's been very interested in black politics in reconstruction for the past 15 years or so, so my guess is that his book would serve as a good introduction to the subject.

I wouldn't say that the cultural representations of black people weren't a problem--IMHO culture is extremely powerful and serves to set and police limits and boundaries as well as to open up possibilities for positive change. But you're right, cg.eye, to suggest that there were also structural and material reasons that there was only one generation of African American Republicans in Congress in the wake of the Civil War.

Sorry to have checked out of the discussion until now! I'm always pleased and a bit amazed that anyone other than a graduate student actually wants to read academic titles, but hey, if that's your kink, it's cool with me.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

and would be pleased to hear more of your recommendations, Historiann!

oceansandmountains's picture
Submitted by oceansandmountains on

Some of us former grad students just don't have time to keep up on everything new, so some guideposts would be nice!

Submitted by cg.eye on

it was a valuable source of information about the forced migration of blacks from farmland they owned, by criminal and authoritarian means.

If we're all about gardening and self-sufficiency in the tough times ahead, remember that blacks in the South rarely got to keep their own land, for their own crops, and sell those crops for their own profit. We've got a farm system now that effectively does the same for farmers of any color, due to the manipulations of agribusiness and commodity speculation.

Since we'll have no populist champion worth a damn anytime soon, we'll have to educate ourselves on what it will take to have anything of our own that matters.

Submitted by lambert on

Remember also that activities like gardening and eating food that you grow are necessary to retain your sense of taste, which helps you regain control over your own body, which otherwise the corps will seed with tastes that flower into profit for them, but are not necessarily "good, clean, and fair."

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by cg.eye on

But I want to talk and listen about the legions of poor people -- poor blacks, whites, and other groups in the US -- that will become cannon fodder for wars internal and external, should this recession harden into depression, and somehow the Village keeps partying like it's France in 1789.

Gardening is part of that. Holding on to whatever public and private land we have is part of that, including the territories on the Net. Regaining the atrophied senses for mass altruism and fairness not doled out as volunteer projects for one's college application or resume is part of it. As is openly and deeply mourning what we've lost, and what we've allowed ourselves to lose.