The Half Has Never Been Told--Extended Review

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Oct 3, 2005
I just finished Edward Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told. Over the next few days I'm going to attempt the kind of extended review that Pat Young has done. I'm not a polished writer, so its might be rough in some places, but parts of Baptist's themes have bobbed up here at CivilWarTalk in different forms over the years and I think it will be useful.
 
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"If you want to learn about the experience of history in the United States, you should go pick cotton for a week."
John Blassingame

Baptist tries to do several things in this book.

1) Put the first person experience of African Americans front and foremost.

2) Describe the financial networks that enabled and extended slavery, and that were created by slave owners.

3) Describe the crucial influence of slavery and cotton on the development of the United States.

4) Argue that slave labor, as practiced in the United States in the 19th century was essentially a capitalist enterprise, as much as the new factories that developed to process the cotton the enslaved people picked.
 

jgoodguy

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"If you want to learn about the experience of history in the United States, you should go pick cotton for a week."
John Blassingame

Baptist tries to do several things in this book.

1) Put the first person experience of African Americans front and foremost.

2) Describe the financial networks that enabled and extended slavery, and that were created by slave owners.

3) Describe the crucial influence of slavery and cotton on the development of the United States.

4) Argue that slave labor, as practiced in the United States in the 19th century was essentially a capitalist enterprise, as much as the new factories that developed to process the cotton the enslaved people picked.
IMHO slave labor is an input to a capitalist enterprise, however as I understand it, capitalism does not distinguish where the labor comes from. Slave labor uses many features inherent in capitalism such as finance and insurance.
 
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For every turn of the long story, from the 1780s to the 1860s, he centered the narrative on its effect on a series of African American slaves, using the slave narratives from the 30s and other first person sources.

He starts with Charles Ball. In 1805, Ball was a 25 year old father of two, living in Maryland, when he was suddenly seized by a "Georgiaman"(the generic term for slave dealer: not necessarily from or going to Georgia specifically). His Maryland owner had sold him for ready cash. Ball recounts the experience of being chained to a coffle with 32 other men, following by dozens of women yoked together by rope, and marching from Maryland to South Carolina, finally being sold by the Georgeman to Wade Hampton on the Fourth of July.

This experience, marching, chained on flatboats or on coastal ships, and later loaded on railcars was shared by nearly a million other enslaved people between 1790 and 1860. Ball's family was ripped apart, and this destruction of the African American culture and family network, grown under difficult circumstances in the east was the first wound inflicted.

Baptist then pulls back the focus, to describe the writing of the Constitution, and the settlement of the first states outside the original 13. The first land speculation craze of the "Yazoo territory" (present day Alabama and Mississippi, and other land), the outlawing of the Atlantic African Slave trade, which would raise the price of slaves, and establish that American enslavers would use the resources of American slaves. Baptist describes the institutions, such as the New England-Mississippi Company, or the North American Land Company(owned by Constitution signer Robert Morris).

Baptist argues that the western expansion of slavery was hard baked into it from the earliest days of the nation.
 
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Oliver Ellsworth of Conn., hammered out the slave trade compromise, shifting the debate in the Constitutional Convention from morality to business. The Atlantic trade would end, but not for 20 years, and the internal sources of slaves, from the declining tobacco trade in Virginia and Maryland, would replace it. It would benefit the southern states, but also the northern states, the carriers of exported cash crops.
 
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Vocabulary
To help focus the reader on the experience of the slaves, Baptist uses a combination of old and new vocabulary

He refers to the slave holders or owners as "enslavers." He usually refers to the slaves as "enslaved people." He refers to the plantations as "slave labor camps," or "forced labor camps." He quotes African Americans who use the term "stole" to refer to people taken from them and sold, usually never to be seen again.
 

jgoodguy

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Oliver Ellsworth of Conn., hammered out the slave trade compromise, shifting the debate in the Constitutional Convention from morality to business. The Atlantic trade would end, but not for 20 years, and the internal sources of slaves, from the declining tobacco trade in Virginia and Maryland, would replace it. It would benefit the southern states, but also the northern states, the carriers of exported cash crops.
FWIW one of the assumptions of the anti slavery founding fathers was that the end of slave imports would doom US slavery over looking the internal slave trade and local reproduction of slaves.
 
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The Louisiana Purchase(enabled by the defeat of two French armies by the Haitians), and Andrew Jackson's victory in New Orleans, and over Native American tribes in the southeast, secured territory politically. The power looms developed in Britain and to be copied in New England, the invention of the cotton gin meant one of the most explosive periods of economic growth in American history.

Industrialization, which more wealth and goods than traditional agricultural societies had a seemingly bottomless appetite for cotton, the most commonly traded commodity in the 19th century. But growing cotton in the new southwest(what we would think of as the Mississippi delta and the deep south) meant forced migration from the east coast to the cotton frontier.

The move, which destroyed African American families and culture developed on the east coast, made slaves even more commodified and exploited, with fewer means to resist or for relief.
 
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Baptist recounts an astounding statistic: the productivity of cotton fieldhands grew continually through out the 19th century till the Civil War. He credits this to the "pushing system."

An enslaved man or woman was set an amount of cotton to pick. At the end of the day, the weighing was done. Those short (only 85, not a 100 lbs.) were whipped 15 times. If the next day the slave hit the hundred pound mark, the target would adjusted higher.

To escape the lash, workers picked faster, more efficiently, and faster still, producing an astonishing amount of cotton. More cotton meant more money to the enslaver, and his financial backers. The time motion studies and scientific management pioneered by Frederick Talyor and Henry Ford were carried out by desperate men and women trying to stay ahead of the "whipping machine."
 
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The center of Baptist's book is the Panic of 1837. Cotton and slave speculators and would be speculators chafed at the conservative lending policy of the Second Bank of the United States. Then also resented the elite attitude of its president, Nicolas Biddle, who preferred to loan to a few aristocratic investors. The financing of acquiring land and slaves was a bottle neck to be broken by state chartered banks. These institutions were considered sound because they were backed by the taxpayers of the individual states in case of default. British banks, notably Baring Brothers, joined northern, and eastern investors in what in retrospect was a bubble of high priced cotton and human beings.

When the crash came, the furious taxpayers of various states repudiated the debt, leaving equally furious debt collectors to hound busted speculators, and plantation owners. Many chose to GTT "Gone to Texas" to escape their folly. They transported slaves as well rending again the social fabric already transported eastern slaves had tried to rebuild. Many slaves were seized and sold to pay back loans, further scattering them.
 

wausaubob

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FWIW one of the assumptions of the anti slavery founding fathers was that the end of slave imports would doom US slavery over looking the internal slave trade and local reproduction of slaves.
When the did not restrict the interstate slave trade it was decision that they would operate on the level of morality of the African kings, and the English and Dutch merchants who paid them for slaves. And Matt's review suggests the worst decision makers were New Englanders.
 

wausaubob

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Please continue. It is a miracle that the Republican party briefly had enough of a pro labor program to support abolition, and it did not last long. No wonder the Morrill Act, National Banking, and a protective tariff for Pennsylvania iron were so controversial.
The only way to cut off slavery and to get away from the labor standards of Europe were to cut off slavery's credit and construct a wall against British iron.
 

jgoodguy

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Vocabulary
To help focus the reader on the experience of the slaves, Baptist uses a combination of old and new vocabulary

He refers to the slave holders or owners as "enslavers." He usually refers to the slaves as "enslaved people." He refers to the plantations as "slave labor camps," or "forced labor camps." He quotes African Americans who use the term "stole" to refer to people taken from them and sold, usually never to be seen again.
OTOH that also seems to be a confusing rhetoric device rather than an informative one. It looks like equivocation – the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time and a possible Etymological fallacy – reasoning that the original or historical meaning of a word or phrase is necessarily similar to its actual present-day usage. I personally give black marks for authors that use special language in a book targeted at a lay audience.
 

jgoodguy

Banished Forever
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Don’t feed the Mime
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Baptist recounts an astounding statistic: the productivity of cotton fieldhands grew continually through out the 19th century till the Civil War. He credits this to the "pushing system."

An enslaved man or woman was set an amount of cotton to pick. At the end of the day, the weighing was done. Those short (only 85, not a 100 lbs.) were whipped 15 times. If the next day the slave hit the hundred pound mark, the target would adjusted higher.

To escape the lash, workers picked faster, more efficiently, and faster still, producing an astonishing amount of cotton. More cotton meant more money to the enslaver, and his financial backers. The time motion studies and scientific management pioneered by Frederick Turner and Henry Ford were carried out by desperate men and women trying to stay ahead of the "whipping machine."

Reference.

Here Baptist is somewhat defensive, his book having been roundly criticized by Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode for inventing the term “pushing system,” neglecting improvements in cotton varieties, and misusing historical sources, including the WPA slave narratives.​
 
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OTOH that also seems to be a confusing rhetoric device rather than an informative one. It looks like equivocation – the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time and a possible Etymological fallacy – reasoning that the original or historical meaning of a word or phrase is necessarily similar to its actual present-day usage. I personally give black marks for authors that use special language in a book targeted at a lay audience.
In referring to the cotton frontier, the new holdings, hacked out of the wilderness are probably better described as "labor camps" especially since the owner family might have several and not live on the site. These properties are not ancestral homesteads, but investments.
 
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Reference.

Here Baptist is somewhat defensive, his book having been roundly criticized by Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode for inventing the term “pushing system,” neglecting improvements in cotton varieties, and misusing historical sources, including the WPA slave narratives.​
I read some of those criticisms too. OTOH, Foner and other historians like his work.
 
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