Tuesday Cotton & Slavery Thread

Picking Cotton in the Mississippi Delta

When Cotton Was King 

Looking forward from the dawn of the American republic, it was easy to assume that slavery would soon fade away. Slaves were primarily used to produce staple crops like tobacco, rice, indigo and sugar, all of which were in decline under competition from the Caribbean. Without these, slavery could not survive.

“Slavery in time will not be a speck in our country,” opined Oliver Ellsworth, a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Indeed, it was that assumption that allowed the anti-slavery delegates to cede easily to a compromise in writing the Constitution: slavery would never be mentioned, but it would be given legal protection. Founding a nation, Ellsworth and others decided, was more important than eradicating a “moral anachronism.”

That assumption, however, proved disastrously wrong, thanks to a new, much more valuable cash crop then still on the horizon: cotton.

and this,

The mass production of cotton was accompanied by a dramatic 90 percent drop in the price of a cotton textile garment. This in turn led to a consumer revolution whose raw material was slave-produced cotton – 80 percent of which was produced in the South. As a result, American cotton production exploded from almost nothing in 1787 to over 4.5 million bales, at 500 lbs. a bale, by 1860. On the eve of the war, cotton comprised almost 60 percent of America’s exports.

Slavery expanded accordingly. The number of slaves increased from 700,000 in 1787 to over 4 million on the eve of the American Civil War; approximately 70 percent were involved in some way with cotton production. Indeed, so closely tied were cotton and slavery that the price of a slave directly correlated to the price of cotton (except during years of excessive speculation). Interestingly, slaves were considered too valuable in the cotton states to be used for dangerous work in the malarial swamps that bordered levees and canals. Irish immigrants were the truly expendable class.

Eugene Dattel grew up amidst the descendants of African slaves in the predominantly black Mississippi Delta.  He is sagacious, thoughtful and accurately describes himself as a financial and cultural historian.  The excerpt above is from a 2011 New York Times opinion page piece.  And now we have this:

Reckoning with Race: America’s Failure, by Gene Dattel 

The great Myron Magnet of City Journal reviews Dattel’s newest book beginning with:

What gives Gene Dattel’s Reckoning with Race: America’s Failure its special power is that, even after its bracingly original and thoroughly researched account of the racism of the abolitionist North from the late eighteenth century until long after the Civil War, the book nevertheless does not shrink from laying the ills of today’s black American underclass not at the door of a painful history, with ample blame for northern as well as southern whites, but squarely at the feet of black Americans themselves. Yes, shameful, deeply shameful, were slavery, Jim Crow, and northern racism, and who can doubt that they left grievous scars? Still, America fought a war to end the evil institution, had a civil rights movement to try to erase its malign remnants, and spent decades on affirmative action and other nostrums to expunge even the faintest remaining traces. Whatever white Americans could do to atone for and repair the damage they caused, they have done, as much as imperfect humans in an imperfect world can do. Now, Dattel argues, it’s up to black Americans to save themselves.

and to the present,

Dattel isn’t so sure. He joins Ben Burns, a white friend of Wright’s and an influential, longtime editor at black publications Ebony and the Chicago Defender, in doubting—as many of Burns’s black friends doubted—that poverty and slum misery were the sole causes of such disproportional black crime. If that were so, asked Burns, “Why did so many black gangs thrive while committing mayhem against their own people?” Late in life, Burns, without a racist bone in his body, nodded in agreement when Benjamin Ward, New York’s first black police commissioner, complained that black youths were “committing genocide against their people.” Burns was amazed that even ultra-left-wing black judge Bruce Wright—“Turn-‘em-Loose Bruce”—chimed in that “if you don’t talk about it, it will remain a dirty little secret,” while black Brooklyn College professor Carlos Russell observed that “no white person comes into Bedford-Stuyvesant and rapes a grandmother.” And in 1994, even New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, always ready to cry racism at the jerk of a knee, called for cops to “grab the felons,” after a black thug violently mugged 89-year-old black civil-rights icon Rosa Parks—a long-forgotten moment of clarity.

Dattel refutes a number of myths, large and small, but the one I most appreciate is correcting the record on the brutal racism in the North, before and after the Civil War.

Buy the book here.



Monday Hippie Death Cult Open Comments

August 9, 1969

Manson had directed his “family” members to go out into the dark of night to do “something witchy.” That they did. The way they killed Sharon Tate was especially gruesome. Shortly after midnight, they stabbed Tate at least a dozen times, mutilating the beautiful actress, who was due to give birth in two weeks. Tate had reportedly begged for the life of her unborn child but was told by one of the Manson girls: “Look bitch, I don’t care about you. I don’t care if you are having a baby. You are going to die and I don’t feel a thing about it.” The Manson girls repeatedly rammed forks into Tate’s belly to kill her child. The dead baby boy was later removed from his mother’s still womb and buried with her in her arms.

Manson’s acolytes took Tate’s spilled blood and used it to paint the word “PIG” on the front door of her home.

December 27, 1969

That surreal, cruel moment came at the appropriately titled “War Council” held in Flint, Michigan on December 27, 1969, two days after Christmas. It was attended by some 400 student radicals from the SDS-Weathermen cabal, who promoted this political-ideological-sexual gathering as a collective “Wargasm.” For the lovely ’60s hippies, it would be (as usual) a night of radical politics, unrestrained sex, and violence.

Among the ringleaders was the late John Jacobs, who had coined a fitting slogan for the evening and for the entire movement: “We’re against everything that’s good and decent.” That became obvious when the indecent Bernardine Dohrn grabbed the microphone. “We’re about being crazy motherf—ers,” Dohrn shouted, “and scaring the sh-t out of honky America!”

and this mockery of justice,

They planned attacks, planted bombs, and engaged in murder, all along fleeing the federal authorities as fugitives on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list. Ayers would change his name from town to town, chillingly visiting dead cemeteries where he borrowed the names of deceased babies from tombstones as his macabre aliases.

Neither Ayers or Dohrn would get prison time. Quite the contrary, both spent the 1980s earning education degrees from universities like Columbia, and in the 1990s would become professors at, respectively, University of Illinois-Chicago and Northwestern.

Don’t ever let anyone forget this.  Pass it along in social media.

Tuesday Search for Truth Open Comments

Diogenes by Jean-Leon Gerome

Adam J. MacLeod is an author, legal scholar and associate professor of law at Thomas Goode Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama.  He published the following at the New Boston Post a few days ago.

Undoing the Dis-Education of Millennials

I teach in a law school. For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.

They cannot learn until their minds are freed from that prison. This year in my Foundations of Law course for first-year law students, I found my students especially impervious to the ancient wisdom of foundational texts, such as Plato’s Crito and the Code of Hammurabi. Many of them were quick to dismiss unfamiliar ideas as “classist” and “racist,” and thus unable to engage with those ideas on the merits. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, I decided to lay down some ground rules. I gave them these rules just before beginning our annual unit on legal reasoning.

Here is the speech I gave them.


Before I can teach you how to reason, I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated. To put it bluntly, you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.

Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims, even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. Most of you have been taught to label things with various “isms” which prevent you from understanding claims you find uncomfortable or difficult.

Reasoning requires correct judgment. Judgment involves making distinctions, discriminating. Most of you have been taught how to avoid critical, evaluative judgments by appealing to simplistic terms such as “diversity” and “equality.”


First, except when describing an ideology, you are not to use a word that ends in “ism.” Communism, socialism, Nazism, and capitalism are established concepts in history and the social sciences, and those terms can often be used fruitfully to gain knowledge and promote understanding. “Classism,” “sexism,” “materialism,” “cisgenderism,” and (yes) even racism are generally not used as meaningful or productive terms, at least as you have been taught to use them. Most of the time, they do not promote understanding.

and this beautiful gem,

So, here are three ground rules for the rest of the semester.

1.  The only “ism” I ever want to come out your mouth is a syllogism. If I catch you using an “ism” or its analogous “ist” — racist, classist, etc. — then you will not be permitted to continue speaking until you have first identified which “ism” you are guilty of at that very moment. You are not allowed to fault others for being biased or privileged until you have first identified and examined your own biases and privileges.

2.  If I catch you this semester using the words “fair,” “diversity,” or “equality,” or a variation on those terms, and you do not stop immediately to explain what you mean, you will lose your privilege to express any further opinions in class until you first demonstrate that you understand three things about the view that you are criticizing.

3.  If you ever begin a statement with the words “I feel,” before continuing you must cluck like a chicken or make some other suitable animal sound.*

*Emphasis added by me.

As always, RTWDT.

Nota Bene: Earlier this year, I posted a great story by this same law professor about turning a red light camera ticket in Montgomery into a constitutional issue in traffic court.  He summarily won the case and it was dismissed.  He embarrassed the prosecutor and law officer involved and, subsequently, red light cameras were outlawed in the state of Alabama.