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Blindsided, Ouch! Okay,so I'm not an expert on 18th-century American Economics

Post 1

paulh. Following butterflies through the meadows

Hi, Ed.

Your comment in the "Sun sets" thread about the economics of 18th-century U.S. slavery. took me completely by surprise. I probably have a blind spot, owing to my nervousness about the possibility that six generations of my seafaring ancestors might have included one or more slave ship captains.

In any event, until you raised the issue of Northerners supplying capital so that Southerners could buy slaves, I had totally forgotten about the "Triangle Trade." In the musical "1776," it was neatly describedi n the song "Molasses to Rum to Slaves." In one spoken sequence, the singer describes the white faces -- New England faces -- standing in Southern shore towns, watching the slaves get auctioned off. Truly horrible!

I didn't want to go off on a topic-drifting tangent about slavery. The thread is about colonialism. Even if slavery was a part of british colonialism from 1608 on [tobacco was the surest export commodity, but 17th-century businessmen doubted that it could be economically viable without slave labor], I didn't want the thread to be overwhelmed by that part of the equation.

My comments about the lousy economics of slave-owning were based not on decades of historical or economic study, but rather on anecdotal evidence. Last Summer, I read a couple of books about Thomas Jefferson, I man whom I very much admire. The cost of purchasing slaves for the Jefferson and Randolph plantations was reduced considerably by the prastice of breeding new generations of slaves in the prolific Hemings family.

In "The Hemings of Monticello," the dynasty basically only had *one* African slave, who had a child [Elizabeth Hemings] by Captain Hemings, captain of a ship. He must have been unusually honest, as there were negative consequences for white men who admitted to having fathered children by African slaves.

Elizabeth Hemings, in turn, had at least ten children, six or seven of them by her plantation owner, who was also the father of Thomas Jefferson's wife by his proper white wife. One of these children was Sally Hemings, who has recently been proven [to the extent that any proof is possible] to have had at least one child by someone with the Jefferson surname. It has been documented that the peripatetic Thomas Jefferson was geographically close to Sally at the probable inception date for *all* of Sally's children. Sally stopped having children when Jefferson's daughter by his white wife moved to Monticello.

What got to me about all the chapters about Jefferson's attempts to make a go of it financially was the constancy of living on the edge of bankruptcy. With all the talented offspring of the Hemings line helping outb [Sally and her siblings were truly talented in many ways], why was Monticello so poorly capitalized that it had to be sold soon after Jefferson himself died? The books I read indicated that many plantations were precarious.

Jefferson and his father-in-law kept quiet about the family relations on their plantations. Many personal letters were destroyed after their deaths. It's not hard to imagine why. It was illegal to sleep with your slaves. In a way, this in itself could be another strike against slavery. In a slave-owning society, the fear that slaves would get literate and figure out how to revolt must have been a great one. Jefferson did very definitely devote considerable efforts to educating his slaves. He freed Sally's children when they reached 21, or when he himself died.

Jefferson despised slavery, but could not figure out how to bring about a society-wide abolition of the practice. George Washington freed his slaves at the end of his life, to the consternation of his wife's family, who thought he was bonkers.


Blindsided, Ouch! Okay,so I'm not an expert on 18th-century American Economics

Post 2

Edward the Bonobo - Gone.

I was actually meaning the other way around. Southern capital financed the industrialisation of the North. And slavery also enabled the English cotton and shipping industries.

Time for a bit of Marx (I'm afraid). The Labour Theory of Value: 'The origin of Wealth is in Labour'. All was enabled by cheap labour. With that you can build up capital to finance...coal mining, steel, railways, shipping...

Nobody's to blame for all this. To quote Pacino (again!) 'It's not personal. It's just business'. Hell - I'm from the slaving capital Liverpool, conveniently placed for the Lancashire cotton industry (and my local pub was a centre for organising blockade busting activities in the Civil War) and even though my background is strictly proletarian obviously I've benefited from human exploitation. Would I rather be the great-grandson of a Mississippi sharecropper? Or a factory worker in Guangzhou?

As far as I can see it, the trick is not to have illusions about the nature of our economic system. We're not where we are by entitlement.

I really must read the Marx/Lincoln book. And it's about time for a re-read of Howard Zinn's 'The People's History of the United States'.(You know it, yes?)


Blindsided, Ouch! Okay,so I'm not an expert on 18th-century American Economics

Post 3

paulh. Following butterflies through the meadows

"As far as I can see it, the trick is not to have illusions about the nature of our economic system. We're not where we are by entitlement."

I totally agree. I've often been tempted to make exactly the same point. smiley - smiley

"it's about time for a re-read of Howard Zinn's 'The People's History of the United States'.(You know it, yes?)"

Of course! This is one of the advantages of weeding a public library collection. You find out all sorts of interesting titles, including the Zinn one. It came out in at least one revised edition, didn't it?


Blindsided, Ouch! Okay,so I'm not an expert on 18th-century American Economics

Post 4

paulh. Following butterflies through the meadows

Just to mention that I *kept* the title in the collection. Some people had actually read it, so we had to keep it. smiley - winkeye


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