beatrice_otter: The will to be stupid is a very powerful force. (The will to be stupid)
[personal profile] beatrice_otter
Lo these many years ago, American History was one of my special interests.  My undergrad degree was in it (well, not technically, but like 90% of my classes--including Historical Methods and stuff like that--focused on US history).  I still love it, but I'm not focused enough on it to call it a special interest any more.

But you guys, there is SO MUCH interesting stuff about early American history that, if it were taught properly, would REALLY change peoples' perspectives on the "brave, gallant, noble" men of the Confederacy.  And I'm not talking just the racism stuff, like 90% of them were whiny pissbabies and THAT is why the Civil War even existed in the first place.  I shit you not.  The modern Conservative Christian persecution complex has NOTHING on the antebellum Southern elite.  Sure, a lot of those guys were personally brave in battle.  But on a political or moral level, they were ... most five-year-olds are more mature.  (I'm simplifying things a lot here and painting with a really broad brush, but it's not inaccurate.)

This meta is going to take as read that slavery=EVIL and that there is no such thing as a "good" slaveowner and that racism is horribly, horribly evil and nothing good can ever come of it and white supremacy twists and mutilates everything good it comes in contact with.  You all know that, or you should, and you can find lots of places talking about that with a quick google search.  Also, Blacks and poor Whites had vibrant cultures during this time period that I'm going to largely ignore because while all that is awesome, I want you to truly understand ALL the reasons why it's stupid and pathetic to glamorize the Southern elite, which means focusing on them.  The South was (and is!) REALLY AWFUL AND SCREWED UP and racism is part of that but not the only part.  But we will start a bit by talking about racism, because it's the root of so much other evil.

I'm sure you've heard that "race is a social construct!"  Let's look at how that construct got constructed, shall we?

To start with, it is very important that you understand that Africans arrived in North America before White people did.  No, I'm not talking about some African empire that sailed across the Atlantic before Columbus.  (African empires focused on sailing to India and China, which was closer and much more profitable.)  I'm talking about the fact that "white" and "black" didn't exist as conceptual categories when the first American colonies were founded.  There were lots of ethnic rivalries and hatreds!  It wasn't a paradise!  (See the Kingston Trio song "They're Rioting in Africa," particularly the bit starting at :30)  But there wasn't really a category for race, it wasn't part of how people thought.



How did that change, you may ask?  Well, it all comes down to the English Civil War.  (No, seriously, it does!)  The English Civil War was a series of conflicts in the mid 1600s (so about the time that the first colonies in what is now the US were getting settled) where the middle class and the nobles fought bitterly about what sort of government England was going to have and what sort of religion.  The middle class were in favor of Parliament controlling things, and in favor of sober, stripped-down, moralistic religion (i.e. Puritanism) and the nobles were in favor of the King controlling everything and lots of bells and smells and no strict moral guidance to trouble them.  And at various times, England wasn't really safe for one group or the other depending on who was winning right then, so people left in droves.  The middle-class Puritans settled in the north, and the aristocratic Cavaliers settled in the South.  Now, other groups came later but those first settlers were really, really important because they were the ones who established governments and cultural systems that later groups then had to adapt to.  And each group took the bit of 17th Century English society they liked and tried to recreate JUST THAT SEGMENT of it, with all the rest gone.  Middle-class Puritans wanted everything to be middle class farmers and businessmen.  They purposefully excluded both rich and poor alike from entering their colonies, and set up laws and such that benefited the middle class above all.

The Cavaliers were just the opposite.  They came from the aristocracy and the wealthy, and they wholeheartedly believed in its values--many of them had been forced to flee from their homes because of their commitment to the "ideals" that certain people are just better than others, with an inherent right to rule and control society.  Or they were younger sons who wouldn't inherit the family estate and, for the first time, had some options besides "become a priest/lawyer/soldier."  They could come to America and have an estate here!  THEY wanted to be the lords of Great Estates like their older brothers back in England had, with lots of servants and other peons to work the house and the fields, while they sat in their drawing rooms and played cards and threw parties.  (Nice work if you can get it.)  And they really DID NOT WANT the sort of influential merchant/middle class that had been so troublesome back in England.  So they set things up to benefit the super-rich elite at the expense of, well, everyone else, and started shipping over slaves and indentured servants in job lots.

If your high school US History class mentioned indentured servants, it probably lied to you by trying to tell you something along the lines of indentured servitude being really different from slavery.  But the truth is, they were really, really similar.  Indentured servants were poor Englishman working for years to pay off the cost of their passage to America, and would be free after a period of some years.  Slaves were Africans or Native Americans (to start with, at least, although it quickly shifted to only Africans) who had been captured in Africa and sold to Americans.  And they had no such time limit.  But it wasn't unusual for African slaves to get freed eventually as a "reward" for service, and as for how they were treated, well, the elite who owned both groups didn't really make much distinction between them.  And life for them (for anyone in the Southern colonies who wasn't part of the elite) sucked so bad, you guys.  SO, SO BAD.  Even once the slaves and indentured servants got freed, life really sucked, because the whole point of the society was to separate the elite from the peons and make sure everyone stayed in their place.

And then, in 1676, exactly one century before the Revolutionary War, it happened.  Bacon's Revolt.

You've probably never heard of it, and truthfully you don't need to know much about it.  There was a lot of complicated stuff about hating Native Americans and internal English politics, but that's not important for our purposes.  What IS important about it is this: it scared the southern elite out of their ever-loving minds.  See, while Bacon was off doing HIS part of it, the slaves and indentured servants (and all the poor people who had been freed but used to be slaves or indentured servants) got together and decided, oh, hai, we have a common enemy, those aristocratic dudes who are oppressing us, let's get together and BURN THEIR HOMES AND CITIES.  And then, after the revolt in Virginia was put down IT SPREAD TO MARYLAND.  And abruptly those Cavaliers realized OH CRAP, THERE'S A LOT MORE OF THEM THEN US, and if we don't DO SOMETHING they will kill us all and destroy our aristocrat's utopia!

What they did about it was create the slave codes and the whole idea of "white" and "black" in an attempt to play poor whites and blacks off against each other so that the two groups would be so busy fighting each other they wouldn't have time to go after the elite.  Which, sadly, has worked.  They eliminated indentured servitude and hardened the rules for slavery, so that they could go to the poor "white" people and say "look, our skin color is the same, our cultural heritage is the same, you are JUST LIKE US, and not like those horrible "black" people, and your life is so much better than theirs is* and let's all be WHITE together and if you help us oppress and control those slaves we'll only oppress you a little."  And instead of saying "Screw you, we're going to join with the slaves and send you all packing back to England so there's NOBODY oppressing ANY of us," they said "sure, okay."

*not THAT much better.

This was a really bad deal for the newly christened poor "white" people, on a multitude of levels.  And a large part of it has to do with slavery, and where the burdens fell.  Nobody is going to stay in slavery voluntarily unless you force them, particularly when it's as brutal and hopeless and universal a form of slavery as the South was busily developing.  So you have to have social controls, and those things cost time, effort, and money.  And guess where the burden of that fell?  Not on the elite who were the ones PROFITING from slavery, no.  On the poor whites.  For example!  In order to prevent slaves from running away in the night you have to have white people out patrolling every night.  This was not, by and large, a paid position.  Every able-bodied white man in the area would take a turn at it, usually one night a month on a rotation.  And you'd have one really rich guy with LOTS of slaves, he's getting BY FAR the most value out of this, right?  But he only spends one night a month doing this, and the next day he can sleep in because he doesn't have to work, his slaves do it for him.  Then there would be a couple of what middle class whites the south had, and they'd have a couple of slaves, so they were at least benefiting some, and they could MAYBE sleep in but unlike the rich dude, they would have to work the next day.  But most of the guys on the slave patrol were poor guys who owned no slaves and would NEVER be able to afford any.  They are getting no benefit out of this whatsoever.  And they don't get to sleep in the next morning, they are going to have to work sun up to sun down just to feed themselves and their family.  They are, as a class, putting in like 95% of the work needed to maintain the slave system, and getting 0% of the wealth out of it.  It's a great scam.

So while all that's going on, the North has slaves but not huge numbers of them, and instead of worrying about "how to control the lower class" they're worrying about "how to expand the middle class."  And this has huge economic consequences.  Not only are their economies totally different, the North's economy is A LOT healthier.  Like, orders of magnitude healthier.  But in the Colonial period, at least, this is not apparent on the surface.  Nobody's really figured out much about GDPs and the like, and so the South looks awesome on the surface.  They produce expensive raw materials like indigo, rice, and cotton, which they then sell at a hefty profit.  They've got a lot of REALLY RICH FAMILIES.  They glitter.  The northerners ... just don't glitter.  Even if it weren't against their whole Puritan schtick, at this point they don't have anybody as fabulously wealthy as the southern elite.  But they also don't have the sort of desperate poverty that is normal in the south for much of the population, and what they DO have is a vibrant and growing middle class.  So even if they aren't as impressive on the surface, their society as a whole has a larger GDP than the south, and unlike the South's economy which is largely stagnant, the North is growing great guns.

Before we go any further, I don't want you to take away from this that the Northerners were saints or anything.  They were complicit in their Southern bretheren's work, as "Molasses to Rum to Slaves" from 1776 points out so powerfully.

 

So the Revolutionary War happens, and during that generation a lot of the Southern elite were really uneasy about the contradiction between fighting for their own political freedom while keeping others in literal bondage.  But not uneasy enough to really change things, right?  They still believe that they are better than everyone else and deserve to rule everything, that's what they've believed all along, and they don't want to risk creating a situation where they might lose control and not be fabulously wealthy any more.  Where's the fun in that?  And they want to dominate national politics, it's REALLY IMPORTANT to them.  If they can't, they are going to take their marbles and go home.  Since the North is attached to this ideal of a United States more than the South is, the South can get a lot of concessions by threatening to take their marbles and go home.  (They haven't quite devolved into toddlers yet, but they're getting there.)  And this is where a whole bunch of the political boondoggles of the US Constitution come in.  Such as the 3/5 Compromise, which I always find hard to believe the North actually AGREED to.

For those of you who are not American, the national government is based on each state working together, not the general population.  Political districts are state-based, Electoral College votes are state-based, everything is state-based.  And some of these things (like the Senate) are based on geography (two senators for each state, regardless of how big or small it is) and some of these things (like the House of Representatives and number of votes each state gets in the Electoral College) are based on how much population each state has.  And therein lies the rub for slave societies.

You can't give slaves the vote, obviously, because they would vote to free themselves.  But if you don't count them at ALL for the purposes of votes, if you apportion House seats and Electoral College votes just on the basis of the white population ... some parts of the south are going to have very few of either.  And then the South won't be able to dominate national politics, and that wouldn't be any fun at all.  On the other hand, the North wasn't that thrilled about the idea of "oh, they're not citizens and they can't vote or do anything else citizens do, but WE get to vote FOR them."  So they compromised and said that for the purposes of apportioning votes in the House and Electoral College, slaves counted as 3/5 of a person.  Which gives the South a big boost both in Presidential elections and in the day-to-day negotiations in the House.  I mean, regardless of the ethics of it, this and other "compromises" pretty much screwed over northern political interests until the Civil War, because it gave the South the votes needed to keep control through a combination of actual votes and temper tantrums.

Anyway, now we're in the first half of the 19th Century, and the North is growing great guns.  The economy is taking off like a rocket, and the South's economy ... is inching along like a snail.  Because the North wants to grow, they want the middle class to prosper, and so they are doing things that will help it grow.  One of the things they're doing is building lots of infrastructure.  Roads are a necessary precondition for economic growth because without them you can't get goods to market.  Schools, too--as the Industrial Revolution gets into full swing, you need more and more people with at least some education.  Hospitals, etc.  The South isn't.  Because they don't want poor people (and especially not slaves!) to travel, or get too prosperous, or too educated, because then they'll be harder to control.  The Southern elite has decided that they would rather have all of a small pie than a large chunk of a big pie, so as long as they, personally, stay wealthy the don't want the pie as a whole to grow.  (The pie being the economy.)

I don't remember all the details now, a decade and a half later, but I do remember sitting in class while the professor outlined all the ways in which slavery hamstrung the Southern economy, and how we all sat there flabbergasted that anyone would think it was a good idea.  Now, at the time they didn't have all the tools of economic analysis we have today to see all the fine details of why stuff was happening the way it did, but they could (and often did) see the bigger ones, and they could sure as hell see the difference in large-scale RESULTS between them and the North, and they still chose to double down on slavery whenever the opportunity presented itself.  To give you an example of how different things were, say you were a Southerner who got rich and wanted to invest.  You bought some land and slaves and you got rich and built yourself a plantation house.  You got rich, but society as a whole is not benefiting.  There is no more infrastructure than there was, and there is very little more money in the local economy than there was, because mostly you're saving it or sending it off to the North or England where they're building a lot more luxurious things than down in the South, and there's no secondary industry being spawned.  Good for you!  You're now richer.  The economy as a whole benefits very little.  Now, say you had the same amount of money to invest, but you were a Northerner.  Instead of slaves you invest in, say, a railroad.  And it is profitable.  Your personal return on investment is about the same as that Southerner with his slaves, but the railroad doesn't just benefit YOU, it economically benefits the whole REGION.  Ordinary farmers can send their vegetables to market in the city and make more money on them.  Small businessmen can sell their products outside their own town, or get raw materials shipped in much cheaper.  People who have no opportunity in their own hamlet can go easily to find work elsewhere.  Railway employees are learning valuable mechanical and business skills that a lot of them will take to other jobs and some of them will use to start businesses of their own.  Plus, the northern states have higher local taxes which they then use to build infrastructure.  You are still rich, but the local--and regional!--economy benefits from your success.

So why didn't the South invest in things like railroads, too?  Why keep doubling down on slavery?  Well, remember, their whole culture was shaped by people who wanted to be aristocratic noblemen.  That's still their ideal.  If you invest in a railroad you are just a dirty businessman.  If you invest in slaves and the closest thing America has to an English estate, you are a gentleman.  So who cares if the railroad would be better for society?  You don't, you have a good carriage and the wealth to go anywhere you want.  And besides, railroads are only really profitable if ordinary joes have enough money to use them for transport and business purposes, too, and remember the whole "aristocracy" shtick goes hand-in-hand with "making sure nobody but us has the money for anything fun, so they know their place."  For railroads in the south to be as profitable and prevalent as railroads in the north, you would have to change that whole mindset.  And they didn't want to.  This example focuses on the railroads because it's what I remember, but it is largely illustrative of the larger picture and the differences in how things worked in the two regions.

Back to national politics, and how all these economic differences affected things.  Remember that the southern elite honestly believed it was their God-given right to rule, that they should guide America because obviously they were the best men to do so.  But as time went on, two things happened: one, the generation of Revolutionaries who had moral qualms about slavery died off, and their sons not only decided that there was no problem with slavery, but that it was a moral good.  (Southerners, as part of their tendency towards heroic delusions in which they are noble knights as in the days of old, are also prone to taking any bad decision and doubling down on it rather than admitting any fault or error.)  And second, the differences between the two economies started growing by leaps and bounds and it was pretty obvious to anybody that the northern economy was LIGHT YEARS BETTER.  Like, there are all these diary entries and news articles from European tourists who come to America and visit the North and are Really Impressed because they've got rich people who are as wealthy as anybody else in the world but they also have all this BUSINESS going on at all levels, and things are HAPPENING, and lots of people are improving their lot in life, and while there are slums they're a lot smaller than in most other places of the time.  (It's not perfect.  There's tons of racism and sexism and classism causing inequities everywhere, but all the things that are being built are impressive enough to impress even people determined to be snobbish about provincial yokels.)  Then they go to the South and go, wow, these people are all slooooooooow and provincial with a few rich jackasses at the top.  So the southern elite develop one hell of an inferiority complex.  Because they are SUPPOSED TO BE THE BEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.  But whenever they push their nose outside their own region ... nobody else agrees with them.

By all rights, the North should have dominated the country politically by, say, 1810.  They had far more money and far more people.  (Both because they had a higher rate of children surviving due to better medical care and less poverty, but also because no sane immigrant would ever go to the South unless he already had the money to buy a plantation and join the local aristocracy ... and most people with that kind of cash don't immigrate to another country.)  But the South had all those boondoggles favoring them in the Constitution, and they also had a willingness to throw great big whiny pissbaby tantrums to get their way.  And round about this time they also develop a MASSIVE persecution complex.  Like you know how modern Conservative Christians tend to think that if they don't get their way, if they can't dictate political policy, they are being persecuted?  The southern elite of the early 19th Century makes them look like pikers.  Because the southern elite DID control the country, AND THEY STILL BELIEVED THEY WERE BEING PERSECUTED.

You think I'm joking?  Of the first fifteen presidents of the United States, every pre-Civil War president from Washington on down, only 6 were Northerners.  Literally 2/3 of the time, the South controlled the Presidency.  As for major political decisions, again, you put up a list of major laws and political compromises on a national level from this period, and about 2/3 of them were decided in favor of the South, which was (let me say it again louder for the folks in the back) a lot poorer and less populous than the North.

This is a summary of pretty much every major national debate in the first half of the 19th Century: The South and the North want different things.  The North looks like it is going to get its way because it is more powerful economically and more populous.  The South screams about how the North always gets its way, it's not fair, the South is being persecuted, they should just take their marbles and go home.  (Seriously, they sound like spoiled five year olds.)  About 2/3 of the time the Northern elite roll their eyes but cave.  Meanwhile, the average joe on the street up North fumes because those fucking inbred Southern aristocratic cretins just screwed him over AGAIN.  (The average joe on the street down South mostly either is too busy just trying to keep from starving to pay attention, or if they are, well, the elite control the papers and society so he only sees a very slanted view of things and isn't allowed much political participation anyway.  But contrary to what the Confederate patriots would have you believe, quite a lot of white Southerners loathed their "leaders" for good reason.)

Things get more ridiculous as the decades pass.  Because at first the average Joe on the street up North could tell himself that obviously the Southern economy sucked, eventually it would collapse, and it certainly wouldn't spread, and so let those fucking inbred Southern aristocratic cretins keep Virginia, obviously as the country expands west they will be less and less relevant, and the Northern system will finally prevail.  Like, there was realistic hope for a long-term solution where okay the South can just be its own little region built on slaves and sabotaging its own growth to prop up the elite, and everywhere else can just have a sane (and free) economic system.  But the problem is, the South can see the writing on the wall, too, and part of what they spend their political capital on is enlarging the region of their control.  Like, they don't let free states get admitted to the Union unless there is a new slave state to be added at the same time, which means the slave states always control 50% of the Senate.  And it starts to dawn on people up north that unless something DRASTIC changes, the South will ALWAYS have just enough votes to force the North to dance to its tune, and the South is only getting louder and more vehement about how THEY ARE BEING PERSECUTED!  And northern resentment against the South and the whole institution of slavery starts building.

Now, I want to make it quite clear that the whole nation, North and South, had bought into White Supremacy as an ideology for decades by this point.  Even most White abolitionists are racists.  Some of them are the "nice" condescending type who sort of think black people are about the equivalent of dogs, but you wouldn't treat a dog the way the Southerners treat their slaves.  They envision an abolitionist movement in which nice White people like them free the slaves, and educate them (at least as much as you CAN educate them, which they debated) and give them jobs and the former slaves are eternally grateful and deferential.  Some of the White abolitionists are more open in their racism.  They hate slavery because it means that black slaves take jobs away from free white men, and so they want to get rid of the problem all together by shipping the slaves back to Africa.  Abolitionism started the 19th Century as the pipe dream of lunatic fringe whackos, and what gave it steam to grow great guns as the century wore on was not, by and large, a principled moral stand against racism, but rather an objection that it limited most of the benefits of White Manhood to a small group of white men (i.e. the Southern elite), instead of ALL white men.  Most of America--especially in the North--believed in Manifest Destiny, that it was their God-given right to expand westward and take this "empty" land and subdue it and make it their own.  In the North, the focus was on it being settled by middle-class and working-class farmers and businessmen.  In the South, the focus was on second sons of gentlemen getting their own plantation and thus extending the system of the "deserving few" and the peons.  And mostly even then, the whole point was to preserve their cultural and political hegemony, whereas in the North the focus was more on expansion for its own sake.

But these two economic systems can't coexist in the same territory, you understand?  A system built on slavery will inevitably devalue free labor.  A system built on free labor will inevitably undermine slavery, and make it less profitable (if it's even viable) because society as a whole is not going to provide the social controls necessary to keep slaves in their place, the slaveowner is going to have to do it him or herself.  So while the South is trying desperately to preserve its power, the North (whose population is growing by leaps and bounds) needs more space for free white men to build new communities.  And it can't do that if the slave system gets expanded.  By expanding enough to keep their political hegemony strong, the South is sequestering more and more of the country's national resources and potential space for the exclusive use of their elite.  They are forming a drag on the national economy.  They are selfishly monopolizing resources that millions of White northern men want for themselves.  Pressure starts to build, and in newly settled territories pro-slave and anti-slave people start murdering one another.

About this time the Whig party starts to fall apart.  For reasons that don't need explaining at this juncture, the structure of US elections kind of inevitably forces us into a two-party system, that's just the way the math works.  So a new party can't be born until a previous party self-destructs.  Well, at least a new party can't be a true national player until a previous party self-destructs.  At this point the two parties are the Whigs and the Democrats, and then the Whigs self-destruct, and the Democrats split in half (North vs. South) and the Republican party comes roaring into existence.

The Republican Party is made up, at this point, of a whole bunch of disparate groups: former Whigs, modernizers, abolitionists, but the most influential group is the Free Soilers.  Their slogan: "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men!"  Their whole goal, their only single issue, is to prevent the spread of slavery.  If slavery is contained, the South's power will fade as more and more free states are admitted to the Union, and EVERYTHING ELSE THE NORTH WANTS then becomes possible.  If the Southern system is allowed to spread, they will continue to dominate.  The economy will be slowed, free white men will not have the opportunities they deserve, and America will not live up to its full potential.  This cannot be allowed to happen.

Meanwhile, the South has been slipping ever further into la-la land.  We have already mentioned their persecution complex, which is only getting stronger as time goes on.  Anything other than complete victory is persecution.  No compromise is possible.  They have believed all along that they are the best, smartest, most noble men in America and thus it is their Right and Duty to guide the nation.  To this they have added a heavy helping of aristocratic delusions.  Sir Walter Scott is by far the most popular author in the South, and every gentleman thinks himself Ivanhoe, a knight, a Great Hero.  They are Noble Men in every sense of the word, they are Great and True and Morally Superior to all other men--they are heroes, courageous, dashing, etc., etc., etc.,  If anyone doesn't like them or stand in awe of them, it's because they simply don't understand the Greatness Of The South.  This is what the elite and what little middle class the South has thinks.  Poor whites, on the other hand, are about evenly split between buying into the whole thing and being disgusted by it.  And the rest of the country thinks they're a bunch of whiny immature pissbabies trying to control everything.

Which is why they elect Lincoln.  He didn't even appear on the ballot in most of the South, and he won any way.  Like I said.  The Southerners had been falling behind the North, demographically and economically, for DECADES at this point.  It was ludicrous of the South to believe they could maintain their national political hegemony indefinitely, but like I said, by this point they're pretty delusional.  Their control has, for decades, depended on the North sighing and giving in whenever they throw a temper tantrum.  As soon as the North gets fed up with that ... well.  The North wins.  Lincoln was, until this point, a non-entity who was only the Republican candidate because the Republican Party is, at this point, a loosely-aligned amalgamation of splinter groups whose main line of agreement is that We Aren't Going To Let The South Push Us Around Any More.  Anybody with any prominence in any of those splinter groups would have too many enemies from previous political parties to rally the party support.  So a guy nobody cares about, but who is firmly Free Soil, sounds really good.  As it happens, it sounds really good to the rest of the North, too.

Now, Lincoln's pledge isn't to get rid of slavery.  His personal beliefs are in favor of abolition, and he is genuinely one of the least-racist White politicians of the era, but he doesn't think abolition is realistic and he is a realist before all else.  His main goal is to prevent slavery from spreading.  That's it.  He's not trying to destroy the South, he just wants to curtail its power.

The South goes nuts.  Here is proof, PROOF that they are being persecuted!  They are the brave knights, they are the guardians of American culture, they are the Great Men, they are the noble heroes, the martyrs in the cause of Protecting White People!  They will show those jumped-up dirty peasants from up north!  They are going to take all their toys and go home AND THEN THOSE BULLIES WILL BE SORRY!  They will secede and form their own country that really APPRECIATES their greatness, and all the world will see that THEY are far better and richer and smarter and more necessary than their northern cousins!  All of Europe will support them, because they can't POSSIBLY live without Southern cotton!  Everything will be perfect and nobody will ever persecute them again!

Spoiler alert: it doesn't work out quite like that.

I mean, don't get me wrong.  They did have at least a little crumb of truth to it; they were much better fighters than the Northerners.  (All that knighthood delusion, expressed through all those military academies, paid off.)  Personal valor and gallantry on the battlefield?  No question.  The South was superior.  Military tactics and strategy?  Yup.  Superior there, too.  But that was it.  They sucked at everything else.

Politically they were a mess and showed nothing but how terrible they were at political leadership.  I mean, the whole Southern system is built on selfishness.  "I want to be wealthy and make everybody else wait on me hand and foot."  That's it, that's the bedrock.  I mean, it's a communal selfishness, that focuses a lot in preservation of the class, but as it turns out that doesn't really translate well to preservation of the nation.  I mean, a lot of the fights between North and South had been over funding infrastructure and the like.  The North would say, "oh, hey, we really need this, it will benefit the economy as a whole and the country as a whole," and the Southern elite would respond "but it doesn't benefit ME PERSONALLY all that much, so why should I help pay for it?"  Or even things that didn't require funding, the Southern elite didn't care if it would benefit the country as a whole if it would discomfort them in any way.  And it turns out that if nobody is willing to pay for anything and nobody is willing to allow themselves to be inconvenienced or discomforted, and everyone believes that when you don't get your way you take your marbles and go home, you ... can't really run a government.  (This is why Jefferson Davis tried to turn down the Presidency of the Confederacy.  He knew exactly what was coming.)  It was one show of incompetence after another.  Nothing worked, nothing got accomplished, when you read stories and records of all the shenanigans and incompetencies you are left with the realization that your average middle school class council would have done a FAR better job.  Heck, our current Republican congresspeople are more competent than they were.

The military leadership of the Confederacy was superior to the military leadership of the Union, but the disparity in numbers and materiel was overwhelming.  The only reason it lasted as long as it did was the Union general with the longest tenure was McClellan, who hated advancing unless he was sure of victory and had a positive genius for winning a battle and then RETREATING.  Once they finally had someone who was both competent and willing to press forward (Grant), it was all over but the shouting.

As for the support of Europe ... dude, nobody liked the South.  To the actual aristocracies of Europe, the Southern elite were commoners with delusions of grandeur.  They sneered at both North and South equally.  And Southern cotton was very useful to them, but they had other sources of cotton and other industries.  The South ... their entire economy was based on exporting raw goods that they grew to other places to be processed, either to factories in the North or to factories in Europe.  Their economy simply couldn't survive without markets.  But all of their markets could survive without them.  It was a rude awakening.

They lost.  They lost HUGELY.  Their economy was trashed and, for a time, the elites' stranglehold on power was curbed by the occupying Union army and Reconstruction.  But the South has always been good at delusions of grandeur.  As soon as the boot was off their necks, they set busily about constructing an alternate history in which they weren't whiny immature pissbabies but noble, principled men defending Right and Good and Just Society.  Instead of sighing for the Golden Noble Age of Heroic Knights, now they will sigh for the Golden Noble Age of Heroic Confederate Soldiers.  Their leaders weren't feckless and selfish and incompetent, they were Noble Leaders Heroically Trying To Build A Great Society, Heartlessly Prevented By The Grinding Northern Industry.  They will convince the world of how ABSOLUTELY AWESOME THEY WERE.

And this time they succeed.  They didn't just convince themselves of their delusions, they convinced most everyone else, too!  Places that hated them or resented them or rolled their eyes at them now accept that they were these noble heroes!  See, the thing is, the South was not all united in support of the Confederacy.  The elite, sure, they were all for secession.  Blacks were obviously NOT, but nobody asked them.  Middle class whites and poor whites ... it really varied from region to region and from individual to individual.  West Virginia was the only region where poor and middle class whites who wanted to stay in the Union had enough sway to make it happen (and the geography to keep themselves from being conquered by the Confederate states surrounding them) but there were actually quite a lot of places in and around the South that wished they could have done the same.  But by now they believe that their ancestors were wholeheartedly Confederate and that it is a matter of heritage and pride that they be the same.

Do you know why most historians--especially most WHITE historians--who focus on the Civil War focus on military history?  Both professionals and amateurs both?  Because it's the one thing the South actually did WELL.  If you look at the politics, you have to deal with the fact that they were a bunch of whiny, immature brats with less maturity than most five-year-olds who threw temper tantrums whenever they didn't get their way and couldn't govern or lead themselves out of a wet paper bag, and who would have collapsed under their own weight even if they'd managed to win. If they had won, and managed to put together some sort of ramshackle government, I guarantee you that a) it would have been very unstable and b) it would have been passed around like a prize between a few of the elite families as their own personal playground and c) their economy would be pretty poor.  (Also, good chance that somewhere along the line there would have been a slave revolt that actually worked long-term.)  Because as much as the Southern Elite managed to get themselves back in control after Reconstruction, and as much as they managed to put a lot of the old structures that benefit them at everybody else's expense back in place on a state level, they STILL have much more of a functioning economy post-slavery than they did at any time during it.  The South's economy has always been slower than the North's because they keep hobbling it so the elite keep in control, but they weren't able to do that quite as badly and so in the 20th Century the gap between them and the North has closed a bit.  The South wins the Civil War?  The South would look like a third-world country today, and not one of the ones that is pulling itself up by its bootstraps, either.  And the thing is, where most third-world countries are the way they are because a colonial power came in and smashed everything nice, the South would be that way because they did it to themselves in an effort to keep the poor poor and the rich rich.

And I look at this and shake my head at the triumph of propaganda over reality, and also at the fact that ANYBODY, even a racist, could POSSIBLY think that those idiotic inbred delusional cretinous whiny pissbabies were cool or worthy of adoration.
white woman side eying someone.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-18 09:38 pm (UTC)
heartofoshun: (books with a pear)
From: [personal profile] heartofoshun
Well, done!! 👏
Edited Date: 2017-08-18 09:40 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-18 11:09 pm (UTC)
threeringedmoon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] threeringedmoon
Some of this I knew, but not tied together this way. Thanks.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-19 11:34 am (UTC)
threeringedmoon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] threeringedmoon
Josh Marshall, who is a Ph.D and journalist who started the website Talking Points Memo, evidently wrote a dissertation about economics and the settlement of NE. He wrote some tweets last night that you might find interesting: @joshtpm

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-19 02:05 am (UTC)
grammarwoman: (Default)
From: [personal profile] grammarwoman
What a fantastic summary - thank you for assembling and posting this!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-19 02:34 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Susan in a white shirt with her uniform jacket slung over her shoulder, looking tired. (B5: Done with the day)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
Military was the one thing the South did well in the east. Which is why most people like to pretend the western department just didn't exist at all. Because they sure had their share of sucky generals. We just don't hear about them because the South was so much better, right?

I really liked Coates point about reading say Battle Cry of Freedom and just wanting to STRANGLE McClellan for being so bad at his job, and then realising that if he'd just marched on Richmond the fucking first time, there would have been no emancipation proclamation, no 13th amendment, and Lincoln's whole speech about every drop of blood taken by the lash was paid for in the war would not have been made.

(To be fair to the other loyal Southern states that weren't West Virginia, several states that were technically in the South/slave holding expressed their opinion of this BS by not leaving in the first place, and then refusing to be "liberated" when the South tried to invade, though Kentucky likes to pretend it was Confederate from the get go.)

I also think it's interesting that the Confederacy enacted both income tax and conscription before the Union did. So much for individual (white) freedom.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-19 04:40 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Wynonna makes a disgusted face. (WE: Ugh)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
Yeah, so on the one hand reading about McClellan doing anything (especially doing it badly AND THEN blaming Lincoln) really just makes me want to punch him, but yeah... in the end, if THAT'S what it took. Welp.

I'm a Grant fan, so it's like NEVER FORGET THE WEST, lol.

Have you read Underground Railroad? I'm still not sure I completely got it, but found it very interesting.

Also interesting bio of Meigs, who was the quartermaster for the Union army, and formalised Arlington National Cemetery as one of the greatest Fuck Yous in history.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-19 03:01 am (UTC)
labingi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] labingi
Thank you for this perspective. I've really never studied the details of this history. You've given me lots to consider.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-19 07:16 am (UTC)
copracat: dreamwidth vera (Default)
From: [personal profile] copracat
The way you've written this makes it seem like a lot of parallels with current events, particularly the 'can't govern their way out of a wet paper bag' side of things.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-30 08:28 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
90% of them were whiny pissbabies

aw, tell us how you REALLY feel
Sylvia M

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-20 05:54 am (UTC)
conuly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] conuly
Is it all right if I link to this later?

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-29 07:05 am (UTC)
fayanora: SK avatar (Default)
From: [personal profile] fayanora
Gods this is the Civil War history they need to teach in schools all over the country!

OMG, I just realized, while reading this post, that the conflict in Harry Potter (purebloods versus those with Muggle heritage) is basically the same conflict of Cavaliers versus the poor and middle class! I wonder if that was an accident or on purpose. Pureblood = white upper class. Halfblood = White middle class. Muggleborns/mudbloods = the poor. (Possibly specifically poor black people.)

Another takeaway from this is that the North and South really were like entirely different countries, and the Revolutionary War kind of merged them together, and they didn't mesh well.

"and the Democrats split in half (North vs. South) and the Republican party comes roaring into existence."

That explains why there's almost no difference between those two parties.

"If slavery is contained, the South's power will fade as more and more free states are admitted to the Union, and EVERYTHING ELSE THE NORTH WANTS then becomes possible."

So why did the Civil War happen? It sounds like the North should've gone "Eh, fine, whatever." It's not like the North needed that fucking parasite.

"If anyone doesn't like them or stand in awe of them, it's because they simply don't understand the Greatness Of The South."

The South's superiority complex continues to this day. They lost the war and they're still sore about it.

"I mean, the whole Southern system is built on selfishness. "I want to be wealthy and make everybody else wait on me hand and foot." That's it, that's the bedrock."

LOL I love that description!

Another takeaway of all this is that all those "what if the South won the Civil War" historical AU stories have it wrong: the only way the South could have won the Civil War was if the war had never happened and the North just *let* them secede. And even then, it would all turn to shit.

Profile

beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)
beatrice_otter

October 2017

S M T W T F S
1 234 567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031    

Most Popular Tags

LibraryThing



Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags