Friday, August 2, 2019

Slavery, American Capitalism, and American Politics

Slavery, American Capitalism, and American Politics
Peter Schultz

            I am reading a wonderfully illuminating book entitled The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist. Baptist’s argument is that slavery was an essential, even the core of the development of American capitalism and this is “the half [that] has never been told.”
Here I want to reproduce two passages because they illustrate how allegedly political “enemies,” Federalists and Republicans, collude even at the expense of justice and of basic human decency. And illustrations like this are important to see today when our “two” political parties may be accurately described as “indispensable enemies.” That is, indispensable for maintaining our Orwellian oligarchy.

            “The interlinked expansion of both slavery and financial capitalism was now the driving force in an emerging national economic system that benefited elites and others up and down the Atlantic coast as well as throughout the back country. From Jefferson and Madison’s perspective, the soon-to-be states of the Mississippi Territory would yield votes in the Electoral College and Congress, votes to be used against the Federalists – and more than they would have gained by courting hard-core states’ rightists….The Republicans now formed a pro-finance, pro-expansion coalition that ingested many onetime Federalists and dominated US politics until, by the 1820s, it became a victim of its own success.” [pp. 33-34]

“Between the end of the American Revolution and the Fletcher v. Peck decision in 1810, slavery’s expansion linked the nation together. The needs of the nation encouraged the growth of a complex of institutions and patterns – and, just as significantly, excuses – that made national political and financial alliances possible. The needs of individual enslavers and others who hoped to profit from the expansion of all sorts of economic opportunities encouraged the growth of a more powerful set of national capabilities, more market-friendly laws, and more unified markets. The needs of national expansion, plus the ability of chained people to walk, trapped enslaved people as absolutely held property in the political compromises, political alliances, and financial schemes of the United States and in the very map of the young republic. Slavery, and specifically, the right of enslavers to sell and to move their slaves into new territory, became a national practice: as a strict definition of property under constitutional law, as habit and expectation, and as a pattern of political compromise.” [pp. 35-36]

Apparently Orwellian oligarchies are nothing new to American political scene.

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