For a long time, we’ve grappled with the fundamental issue of WHAT the Civil War was “about.” Reading the resolutions of Cesession, clearly, it is “about” slavery.
But that’s only a mask on the real question, which concerns us to this day. If you put yourself in the mindset of the slaveholder, the “peculiar institution,” what was the obvious and immediate issue was PROPERTY. Capital valuation.
The slaves were property, and, as such, a specific dollar value in cash terms. That property was valuable in and of itself, and before the war, the “property” as analyzed by contemporary economists had the South as the “wealthiest” sector of the nation, by a good margin. Their “net worth” was enormous — adding in the “value” of all those slaves, which were priced exactly as we price cattle or chickens. That was a big part of that “capital” the Southerners were certain that they had.
Thus, you weren’t talking about a people in bondage (because theyweren’t people); you were talking about liquid assets, and the anger was at anybody tryin’ ter take their property away. Ending slavery would be REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH! (Socialism! had the term been in the parlance of the day.)
Un-American. (Oh, whoops. Before the Civil War, the notion of “American” didn’t really exist. You were Pennsylvanian, Georgian, Massachusettsian, Texan, or a Connecticutter, etc. That’s why it’s also called “The War Between the States.”)
But, if you take the horrific numbers generated in the imagination of economists away, the South was a lot poorer than it believed itself to be. The “valuation” they were zealously protecting was their wallets, not their “institution.” The “cash value” of slaves was as intrinsically interwoven into their economy as gasoline prices are in ours. And, like gasoline is to us, they were more than willing to go to war over it.
To our eyes, the whole grotesque notion of slavery seems impossible, and yet, while we turn our eyes away from the slavery-in-all-but-title exploitation of “illegal immigrants” in sweat shops and farm fields, we struggle to understand how an entire society could have pretended that the horror of slavery didn’t actually exist, and, actually, like Barbara Bush, said “oh, this is actually good for them; they’re better off than they were.”
And now, we exist in a similar bubble. The valuation of a lot of illusory wealth skimmed by the bookies who have controlled the betting for a generation or so — the so-called “hedge fund managers” — seem to have the heftiest chunk of vigorish seen in the dice-pits of Wall Street.
And they rage that they need to be FREED of those horrible regulations because that same wallet nerve is pinched that was pinched in Southern Slaveyville.
And it is every bit as inhumane and illusory.
A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.