What they say he said

Tom Cotton calls slavery ‘necessary evil’ in attack on New York Times’ 1619 Project

Err, no, not quite. What he actually said:

He added: “We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country. As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as [Abraham] Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”

Now my knowledge of the details of US history is light but even I can see that that’s a very different statement.

As to what was actually the necessary evil I have an inkling that the Founding Fathers didn’t say that slavery was, but some sort of deal that dealt with the existence of slavery was – the union could only get going if there was some recognition of its existence, some set of rules that allowed a slave based society to be a part of it etc.

Perhaps someone who knows more on this would care to elaborate for the rest of us?

29 thoughts on “What they say he said”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    I’m sure one of the American commenters will correct me, but AIUI the Philadelphia Convention was only supposed to fix the existing rules that had made fighting the Revolution so difficult and instead got hijacked in to a full blown convention on Federalism. The compromise with the southern states for allowing Federalisation was that slavery would not be banned.

    Almost immediately after the new constitution was ratified by the 9th colony (Rhode Island IIRC) New York started the process of banning slavery followed by other norther states. The civil war was inevitable as many of the Founding Fathers had wanted emancipation in one for or another even though they were slave owners.

  2. It was a clumsy construction. He should have known that socialist scum would seize on any possible distortion /rearrangement of his words to use against him.

  3. I am largely ignorant of US history, however I do know the Guardian is a bag of shite filled with lies.

  4. BiND

    The ninth of the States to ratify the Constitution (thus legally bringing it into effect) was New Hampshire. Rhode Island was the last hold-out of the original thirteen – ultimately persuaded by the threat of exclusion from the tariff union.

  5. @Pellinor – very interesting!

    My great-grandfather was renowned for his business prowess, outstanding boldness, strong leadership, vast influence, immense contributions to society, and advancement of Christianity.
    The Igbo do not have a culture of erecting monuments to their heroes – otherwise one dedicated to him might have stood somewhere in the Umuahia region today.

  6. More generally, I doubt the process of civilisation – Mediterranean, Asian, etc – would ever have begun without slavery in some form.

  7. I don’t think the two statements are essentially different and neither are right. It was the free trading industrial North that beat the South , with one arm behind its back. It was entrepreneurial North America that left South America behind , trapped in a slave / agricultural economy that , for some reason gets forgotten. Slavery prevents progress it does not enable it .
    The UK` great days of economic expansion lay in the future when slavery was abolished all of which gives the lie to one of the propositions of the “ White people, are bad “ school of thought , that Western success was built on oppression.
    Germany had no empire and no slaves . it was the German economy that accelerated past the British in the late 19th century…and much trouble ensued.
    Slavery is something the strong can do to the weak and a balanced account of its time would include the Spanish Empire which rested out outright genocide and theft . By comparison the British model of investment was comparatively enlightened . All Western Nations and the powerful in Africa participated in the trade .If there was a moral difference between Africans and Europeans at that time it is that Europeans had more or less given up enslaving each other . Africans were entirely happy to buy and sell Africans and did not stop the practice.
    The experience of black Africans was due to the relative technological weakness of Africa not the moral weakness of Europe . Why that was, is an interesting and useful subject for study, pity no-pone is allowed to ask the question, never mind answer it.

  8. Oh dear

    “It was the free trading industrial North that beat the South”

    The actual set up was that the agrarian South was largely free trading in desire and the industrialised North which just loved them tariffs to protect the factories.

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    Slavery prevents progress it does not enable it .

    Slavery built the first proper rockets. Slavery made the Soviet Union a superpower, gave them nuclear weapons and put a man into space.

    Maybe they would have done all those things without it. But not with a socialist system.

  10. @ Newmania
    Slavery in England ceased about 500 years before the industrial revolution. It is doubtless true that the absence of slavery was a contributor as mechanisation made less sense if labour was thought to be free (albeit it wasn’t really free as the cost of feeding the slave was non-zero) so the absence of slavery in England was a reason for the success of the Agricultural revolution which was a pre-condition of the Industrial revolution but you’ve skipped three lines in your argument and got your time sequence wrong as the abolition of slavery in the colonies (1833) post-dated the Industrial revolution and the most rapid economic expansion in the period after 1815.
    “Slavery prevents progress it does not enable it.” has some merit being succinct while close enough to the truth to convey the right message.

  11. Oh dear

    “It was the free trading industrial North that beat the South”

    OK it was the agrarian slave economy of the South that lost to the industrial capital intensive economy of the North. Whichever way you look at it, slavers lost. Its an interesting point though, shows that Free Trade is not always a good thing for everyone involved. Perhaps what we need is some sort of international organisation to capture the advantages of International Free Trade whilst requiring minimal civilised standards of employment?
    Can you think of such an organisation Tim …..hmmmmmmm ?

  12. @john77

    Although, although…

    Look up Adam Smith on Scottish mine and salt workers. Definitely what we would call “modern slavery” and Smith seemed to rate it as such.

    But yes, exception rather than rule.

  13. “many of the Founding Fathers had wanted emancipation … even though they were slave owners.”

    For Christ’s sake they were politicians. They SAID they wanted abolition. Did Jefferson free his slaves? No. Did Washington? No. Et bloody cetera. Maybe, politician-like, they wanted manumission for thee but not for me.

  14. @Newmania

    Another issue with what you wrote is it doesn’t seem to address the original point. There were Founding Fathers who saw slavery as both morally wrong and economically counterproductive who nevertheless felt it a necessary evil to legally recognise the institution – without that, the colonies would not have been able to reach agreement on their form of independence from Britain. Were they wrong? What were the alternatives? It wasn’t within the powers of the northerners to simply declare slavery abolished across the colonies.

    That’s actually a really, really tough question no matter how detestable you find slavery. Rather like the nasty moral, economic and and military compromises of how to deal with mid-1930s Germany, there are some tough calls it’s easier to debate from a distance but I’m relieved I never had to make. Mind you, with modern China coming close as we have ever seen to a scifi totalitarian techodystopian ethnostate, yet with trade ties we simply cannot disentangle at will, the nasty choices are clearly not all made yet.

  15. John – While the change of resource allocation we have called the”industrial revolution” occurred earlier than might be popularly supposed there is a good reason for that.
    Real GDP per person almost doubled in the 90 years between 1780 and 1870 but increased by 50% again between 1870 and 1900. Look at the populations involved though, form 1700 to 1800 pop England /Wales increased from 5.2m to 7.7 m but by 1900 it was 30m, a different order of economic expansion. In 1830 the population of London was 1.2m by 1900 it was 6.5 m, the entire history of the Railways occurs post 1825 when the Stockton to Darlington railways began. The vast majority of the dramatic changes of the Victorian age are yet to come in 1830.

  16. without that, the colonies would not have been able to reach agreement on their form of independence from Britain. Were they wrong?

    See what you mean, as I understand it the declaration of independence itself was artful exercise in judicious ambiguity rather than the sacred text it has become, allowing the slavers to get on board . George Washington was himself a slave owner was he an evil man ?
    Personally, in general, I think you have to ask people to train and engage their historical imaginations and ask how it is that undoubtedly brave and good men, did things that today we would regard terrible crimes as well. Until we do this there is no end to the denigration of every historical figures of all kinds, and for really rather childish reasons .
    If, for example you look at tearing down Edward Colstons statue, the problem is, you really might as well tear down the whole of Bristol if you really want to retrospectively judge in that way.

  17. “The civil war was inevitable as many of the Founding Fathers had wanted emancipation in one for or another even though they were slave owners.”

    A strange construct. There was nothing inevitable about the civil war. Alleged Founding Fathers allegedly wanting emancipation had double ought zero connection with the civil war. Which wasn’t a civil war.

  18. The Pedant-General

    “I don’t think the two statements are essentially different and neither are right. ”

    No problem with the merits of “neither are right”, but to say that there is no essential difference between the statements beggars belief.

    I would say that the misrepresentation is on a par with George Eaton’s deliberate selective quotation of Roger Scruton, with the only minor qualification that at least this isn’t a deliberate hit job, more a knee-jerk defence of Tom Cotton’s – correct, legitimate – attack on the underlying premise of the – execrable – 1619 project.

  19. Washington’s will freed his slaves upon his wife’s death, which undoubtedly gave her a nerve wracking few years as her slaves watched her knowing that her breathing was all that stood between them and freedom. He did not free the slaves from his wife’s estate as they were not his to free.

    The following was written by Frederick Douglass in the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” regarding his initial surprise of the wealth in the non slaveholding north following his escape from slavery.

    “The impression which I had received respecting the character and condition of the people of the north, I found to be singularly erroneous, I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed at the north, compared with what were enjoyed by the slaveholders of the south. I probably came to this conclusion from the fact that northern people owned no slaves. I supposed that they were about upon a level with the non-slaveholding population of the south. I knew they were exceedingly poor, and I had been accustomed to regard their poverty as the necessary consequence of their being non-slaveholders. I had somehow imbibed the opinion that, in the absence of slaves, there could be no wealth, and very little refinement. And upon coming to the north, I expected to meet with a rough, hard-handed, and uncultivated population, living in the most Spartan-like simplicity, knowing nothing of the ease, luxury, pomp, and grandeur of southern slaveholders. Such being my conjectures, any one acquainted with the appearance of New Bedford may very readily infer how palpably I must have seen my mistake.

    In the afternoon of the day when I reached New Bedford, I visited the wharves, to take a view of the shipping. Here I found myself surrounded with the strongest proofs of wealth. Lying at the wharves, and riding in the stream, I saw many ships of the finest model, in the best order, and of the largest size. Upon the right and left, I was walled in by granite warehouses of the widest dimensions, stowed to their utmost capacity with the necessaries and comforts of life. Added to this, almost every body seemed to be at work, but noiselessly so, compared with what I had been accustomed to in Baltimore. There were no loud songs heard from those engaged in loading and unloading ships. I heard no deep oaths or horrid curses on the laborer. I saw no whipping of men; but all seemed to go smoothly on. Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokened the deep interest which he felt in what he was doing, as well as a sense of his own dignity as a man. To me this looked exceedingly strange. From the wharves I strolled around and over the town, gazing with wonder and admiration at the splendid churches, beautiful dwellings, and finely-cultivated gardens; evincing an amount of wealth, comfort, taste, and refinement, such as I had never seen in any part of slaveholding Maryland.”

  20. @TD. “which undoubtedly gave her a nerve wracking few years”: she grasped the nettle and freed them herself.

  21. Newmania said:
    “George Washington was himself a slave owner was he an evil man ?”

    Rebelling against his King? Of course he was!

  22. @ Newmania
    I was giving you some support because some of what you said was near enough to right.
    In fact Slavery hinders economic progress
    What matters to the peasant or guy on median oncome is growth in GDP/head not total GDP including that derived from immigrants working alongside natives. You are falling for someone’s attempt to mislead you if you look at ANY figure starting just before the Napoleonic Wars unless he/she is comparing their effect with the Black Death or the reign of Ethelred the Redeless.
    Darlington to Stockton was the first *passenger* railway – the Durham coal mines already had goods railways. Having been born in Stockton I should like it to be the foundation of all railways, not just of the friction match, but it just ain’t so – the up-county coal mines had railways before we did.

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