Saturday, May 16, 2015

The US Civil War Coverage of 1865 from Great Britian

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From the archives of The Economist (UK), "The fall of Richmond and its effect upon English commerce," Our [The UK Economist] coverage of the end of America's civil war, on 22 April 1865 -- United States -- THE fall of Richmond is one of the most striking events of modern history. On the one side the great hopes of the Confederates, their equally great efforts, the sympathy they have gained in Europe: on the other side, the undaunted courage of the Federals, their refusal to admit, even to their imagination, the possibility of real failure,—their accumulating power, which for many weeks past has seemed to concentrate like a gathering cloud about the capital of their enemies, give to the real event the intense but melancholy interest that belongs to the catastrophe of a tragedy. It is impossible not to feel a sympathy with the Confederates. There is an attraction in vanquished gallantry which appeals to the good side of human nature. But every Englishman at least will feel a kind of personal sympathy with the victory of the Federals.

They have won, as an Englishman would have won, by obstinacy. They would not admit the possibility of real defeat; they did not know that they were beaten; or, to speak more accurately, they knew that though they seemed to be beaten they were not: they felt that they had in them latent elements of conclusive vigour which, in the end, they should bring out, though they were awkward and slow in so doing. We may alter, perhaps, to suit this event, the terms which, in one of the greatest specimens of English narrative, the great English historian describes on a memorable occasion the conduct of Rome. "But there are moments when rashness is wisdom, and it may be that this was one of them; panic did not for a moment unnerve the iron courage of the American democracy, and their resolute will striving beyond. its present power created, as is the law of our nature, the power which it required."

But leaving history to deal in a becoming manner with the imaginative aspect of this great event, let us look at its present aspect in a business-like manner. The details of it are yet uncertain, and any conclusive judgment on minute results would be absurd. But, as far as we know, what does it amount to, and what will be its result?

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It used to be said that Richmond was not essential to the Confederacy; that it was a nominal and accidental capital; that it was not even the original capital; that Virginia was but an outside State in a Confederacy with a vast interior; that even if this superficial outwork was lost, the war could be indefinitely protracted; that the fall of this exterior fortification would have scarcely affected the resistance of the provinces, upon which everything depended, And at the outset of the war when these words were used, they were doubtless substantially true. Subsequent events have in many respects confirmed them, and have in few tended to contradict them.

But now the case is altered. The loss of an outer fortification does not impair the resisting faculty, when it is lost early in the day—when its defenders have not spent upon it the resources which are needful to defend the citadel. It still appears to be true, that if sometime since when the Confederacy, had three armies unbroken—when no hostile army had penetrated their interior—when their organisation was as yet intact, its Government had retired from Richmond, the war would not have ceased on the evacuation. The task of pursuing three armies retiring in a vast and friendly country by converging lines would certainly have been difficult, and might not have been successful. Loose bodies of insurgents, if such there were, would then have had large armies upon which to support their accessory operations. But now the Confederacy have no such armies. What Lee may have saved, what Johnston may still command, we do not know; but we may say without fear that they are incalculably less than the armies of the Confederacy a year ago, that they cannot maintain as compact bodies even a defensive and retiring conflict with the eager armies of the North.

But without organised armies, can the Confederates be defended by loose insurgents and guerilla warfare, acting alone and without support? We believe that history affords no countenance to such an idea. A guerilla warfare requires the aid either of disciplined forces or of inaccessible territory. The history of the Spanish war shows conclusively that the guerilla resistance of the nation would have been useless without the regular resistance of the English army under the Duke of Wellington; the Spaniards enabled him to effect more with fewer troops, but they did little themselves. A territory like Arabia, a mountain chain like the Caucasus, can be defended by a few bodies of men with little discipline as well as by many more with discipline. Nature does so much that any sort of human force is sufficient to complete it. But the territory of the Confederacy though vast is penetrable: it is not a fortress, it is only a battlefield : it is a country in which a martial population, aided by effective armies, may well resist an invading enemy; but it is also a country from which even the most martial population may be brushed off with ease by diffused and disciplined forces.

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Even under the most favourable circumstances a guerilla warfare by a nation of slaveowners must have unusual difficulties. The slaves cannot be relied on as a native peasantry can be relied on. It is said that Sherman on his march through Georgia always had good information regularly brought by negroes. We do not vouch for this as a fact, but it illustrates our meaning as an example. It is impossible that the existence of a slave class, which is not a part of the nation, which requires to be kept down by the nation, should not always be an impediment to the rising of the nation; and especially so in this case, when the invading army proclaims liberty to those slaves. We cannot expect a protracted guerilla resistance from a nation which has neither an inaccessible territory, nor a regular army, nor an attached peasant population.

But if the Confederacy cannot long defend itself, if the civil war must soon come to an end, what will be its effect on us? The war itself disturbed as much in its origin and much by its continuance, will it also disturb us much by its cessation?

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It is undeniable that the fall of Richmond, such as we have ascertained it to be, would have been of disastrous consequences to several branches of English commerce if it had happened six months ago. When cotton and its substitutes were weakly held at extravagant prices, the sudden occurrence of so great a catastrophe must have caused of itself many failures. So many slow and steady agencies all tending to produce a fall of price were then operating, that the addition of a single one of a striking nature might have produced lamentable results. A great panic in one class of articles would in a sensitive stale of the commercial world have produced a semi-panic in other articles. But now the case is different. Prices have greatly fallen. Whether they may have reached their lowest point exactly may lie argued, but they have fallen so low that no great further drop is possible or likely. Many weak holders have been cleared away, and the nominal price in consequence is firmer and more real than the nominal price of six months since. The peculiar circumstances affecting cotton, we explained in an elaborate article last week. We showed that even on the assumption that "the civil war in America must be near its close," there was no ground for thinking that cotton would experience a further fall, but rather a probability that the present fall had been too great and too sudden to be permanent. In fact, as so often happens, the effect of the defeat of the South has been discounted; the result of the expectation has been as great, if not greater, than the result of the event.

There is another circumstance of great importance. The world is getting "short of clothes," and especially of good clothes. When the war broke out great stores of cotton goods were found to be lying in warehouses at Manchester and elsewhere, and many persons were eager to raise the common cry of over-production: they fancied there was something anomalous and out of place in so vast an accumulation. But Mr Cobden, with that real perception of the facts of commerce which characterised his mind, immediately said, "No, there is no unnecessary accumulation, except in one or two particular markets, as India and China, and in other exceptional cases; we have not more goods on hand than we ought to have." In reality, a very considerable accumulation of stored manufactures is an attendant condition, an inevitable consequence, of the present vast and delicate division of labour. When everybody is working for everybody, everybody is injured by the mischances of everybody. An English middle class consumer is fed and clothed by an immense multiplicity of labourers; their numbers are considerable, and they are of several kinds. If any one important species of these labourers is impeded, we risk the loss of some article of prime necessity. But we insure against it. We keep a stock of each durable article so considerable that we have much to last for a long time, even if the means of producing it have by some casualty suddenly stopped. Some people say the world ought always to have "two years' stock" of clothes on hand, and now we bare nothing like it.

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The effect of this will be very remarkable. When the American war broke out we had two years' stock on hand, and we lived on that till other sources of supply were opened and made effectual. The existence of that supply insured us then; its non-existence will insure us now. As we return to a usual and normal state of things, we shall tend to recur to our regular and habitual accumulation. We have not only now to clothe the world—we have to clothe it and something more. We have to make up our stock; to again create the guarantee fund, which shall insure us against any new calamities—against some deprivation of supply as sudden and as unlikely as an American civil war would have seemed five years ago. At that time any one who had prophesied the actual history of those five years would have been deemed a lunatic: our stored resources saved us then, and we must store them up again now to use them in like manner.

And this additional demand will gradually carry off an additional supply—especially if, as is likely, the clothes made with cheap material be better than the clothes made with dear material. There will be a capital demand for cotton and other goods, if once it is understood that the end is attained, that the bottom is reached, that the trader nearest the consumer—the small shopkeeper—had better supply himself at once. The small shops of the world are now only half supplied; if they once take to supplying themselves, the demand will be great.

As far, therefore, as the producing power of America is concerned, we do not think its revival, even if it should occur very rapidly, would derange our market, or affect us except beneficially. Nor, as far as its consuming power is concerned, can we cannot expect much from the conclusion of the war. Some sanguine persons fancy that we shall at once have a vast trade with the United States the moment they are reunited—the moment the war stops. But there is no ground for so thinking either as respects the South or the North. Some additional trade with both, of course, there will be, but not enough to affect Lombard street—to alter the demand for the capital of England. First, as to the North, its tariff cripples to an incredible extent all commerce with it. It has been spending largely and recklessly. It has been borrowing largely and recklessly. It has been misusing its currency. The repentance after these errors will be a time of strait and difficulty, and though under good management its splendid national resources are quite sufficient to cope with this difficulty, yet the difficulty is real and considerable. The additional immediate trade which we shall have with the North will not be of the first magnitude—will not affect the money market.
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Nor will the trade with the South. The South is disorganised, and must long be disorganised. What the fate of its peculiar civilisation may be we cannot yet say, for there are no data, and any conclusion is only "one guess among many," one notion a little better perhaps than others, but without any solid ground of evidence. But so much is evident that great changes are in store for the South,—that it must pass through a social revolution,—that during the revolution it will not buy as it used to buy,—that after the revolution tastes will have changed, and it will not buy what it used to buy.

On the whole, therefore, the conclusion is, that though the catastrophe of the American war seems likely to happen more suddenly and more strikingly than could have been expected, yet its principal effect will have been already anticipated, and it will have less influence on prices and transactions than many events of less considerable magnitude. (source: The UK Economist)


River of Dark Dreams: The Mississippi Valley Cotton Kingdom

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From the Wall Street Journal Bookshelf,  "When the South Was Flat: The brutal "slave-ocracy" along the Mississippi was far more integrated with the global economy than is often suggested," by Mark M. Smith, on 22 February 2013  -- Observers today speak breathlessly about the global economy and the flatness of the world's financial system as if those were recent trends. Such observations are at least a couple of centuries too late.

In the decades leading up to the American Civil War, the Mississippi Valley grew increasingly flat, physically as well as financially. Slaves there cut down a lot of trees. "Whole forests were literally dragged out by the roots," recalled one bondman. In the process of this radical deforestation, slaveholders literally flattened their world and, in a practical sense, accelerated a process of cotton production and capital accumulation that thoroughly embedded them in the transatlantic economy. The arduous work that slaves performed on the region's plantations, the cotton they grew and the capital they helped planters generate were intimately connected to the cotton traders (called "factors") in New Orleans, the merchant houses of New York and Liverpool, and the textile mills of Britain. As the planters surveyed their world from the banks of the mighty Mississippi, they understood fully their place in this Atlantic arc and began to dream of new connections, especially with Cuba and Nicaragua, links they hoped would secure the future of their slaveholding society.

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River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom; By Walter Johnson

It was not supposed to happen this way. The Louisiana Purchase, all 828,000 square miles of it acquired in 1803 for a piddling $15 million, was supposed to protect and project liberty. Thomas Jefferson envisioned an empire populated with self-sufficient, non-commercial white men. In their stead, as Walter Johnson, a professor of history at Harvard University, shows in "River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom," came an exceptionally rapacious slaveocracy, which dominated the region's political economy and subordinated freedom to the irresistible imperatives of a robust, thriving and relentlessly exploitative system.

The Mississippi Valley (which runs through parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri) emerged, Mr. Johnson writes, as the "credit-importing, cotton-exporting leading edge of the global economy of the nineteenth century." A rabidly speculative spirit drove the process, and the flush times of the 1830s gave rise to booms in the region's powerful economic triptych: cotton, land and slaves. Into this maelstrom of unabashed acquisitiveness stepped the speculators: the land grabbers, the merchants, the slave traders. Riverboat operators also figured prominently, with steamboats able to move considerable freight upriver, melting away barriers of time and space. By the eve of the Civil War, steamboats carried over $200 million of trade, mainly in cotton, and were a leading sector in the region's economy.

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In Mr. Johnson's telling, the antebellum Mississippi Valley is an unexpectedly modern place, more technologically advanced than the mills of Massachusetts or Manchester and certainly just as connected to and driven by the dictates of the world economy. The technology powering steamboats, for example, was new, designed to overcome the river's mighty flow, pushing goods and people upstream at an impressive if not always safe speed. The textile mills of the North and Britain, by contrast, still relied on an ancient, riparian technology, one hostage to the force of gravity. As Mr. Johnson notes: "A mere handful of the steamboats docked along the levee in New Orleans on any given day could have run the entire factory at Lowell."

A great deal of the capital underwriting this technology came directly from the North and Britain. New Orleans bankers managed the circulation of Northern and British capital in the region. With that capital, planters bought slaves, the human capital to cultivate cotton. The slave traders—there were as many as 20 establishments in New Orleans in the antebellum period whose sole business was the buying and selling of bondpeople—thus completed the dismal if highly profitable circuit in capital and labor.


The forces underwriting the region's feverish economic development were also making it a place where uncertainty prevailed. Numerous slaves in the Mississippi Valley were engaged in fomenting insurrection—hundreds of them, armed with axes and shovels, marched on New Orleans in 1811—or resisting the exploitation of their labor by running away or by taking from their masters the food and drink usually denied them. Paper currency could not always be trusted (it was frequently unbacked, and bills of exchange were often far removed from the original issuer). Steamboat travel was highly dangerous, and on land or river, no one was entirely sure of the true character or, indeed, the race of those they encountered in this booming region (was that a light-skinned slave or a free white man?). There was an imprecise, speculative air. But things got done, impressively if sordidly. By 1840, Mr. Johnson writes, there were "more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the United States."
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Mr. Johnson's appreciation of the global and imperial aspirations of Mississippi Valley slaveholders helps us to make sense of the events leading up to the Civil War. These "full-throttle capitalists" were filled with expansionist zeal. Valley planters and politicians made dedicated efforts to overthrow Cuba's Spanish colonial government in the 1850s. They feared what might happen if the anti-slavery British gained control of Cuba. Emancipation there might inspire slave insurrections and even race wars in their own part of the world. More optimistically, they thought Cuba could be the key to further economic success, valley-style. "It is sufficient to look over the extensive valley of the Mississippi," wrote one supporter of annexation, "to understand that the natural direction of its growth, the point of connection of its prodigious European commerce and of its rational defense, is Cuba." So, too, with Nicaragua. If Cuba functioned as the imperial slaveholders' transatlantic connection, Nicaragua, at least in the conviction of William Walker (who invaded the country in 1855, proclaimed himself president and promptly reinstituted slavery), represented the slaveholders' ambitions to link to the Pacific. (Walker was overthrown by local troops and shot in Honduras in 1860 after another attempt to establish a colony.)

Louisiana and Mississippi slaveholders were keen to reopen the African slave trade in the late 1850s, which, the thinking went, would allow more whites to own slaves and dilute the tensions from an emerging class of slaveless whites. (As slave prices spiked in the late antebellum period, fewer whites were able to move into the ranks of the small slaveholding class.) For the slaveholders and merchants of New Orleans and the Mississippi Valley, "the issues of Nicaragua and the Atlantic slave trade were more important than the question of Kansas (dismissed by many as a fight over a place where no real slaveholder would ever want to live anyway) and more important than what was happening in Congress."
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The valley slaveholders do not fit the standard narrative of the coming of the Civil War, which tends to stress the centrality of expansion into western lands. Their sense of liberty was rooted less in expansion westward to places that seemed unlikely to support cotton culture and far more in efforts to repopulate the South with fresh slaves and to acquire territory outside of the United States where slavery would be more secure.

In this depiction, the coming of the Civil War assumes more of a regional flavor and less of a sectional one. Different imperatives operated in different regions of the South. Exporters of slaves in the upper South (roughly a million people were sold "down river" between 1820 and 1860) were reluctant to reopen the slave trade. Their overriding concern was maintaining their role as the South's exporter of slaves and, by extension, their own economic well-being. "Open the Slave Trade and what will our Negroes be worth?" asked one Virginia editor nervously.

Yet it is important to remember that Mr. Johnson is describing what did not happen rather than what did—what he calls "the history of alternative visions." The slave trade was not reopened, and expeditions in the Caribbean were largely bungled affairs involving relatively few people—more than half of whom, in the case of Walker's Nicaraguan adventure, were not from the valley or the South at all but were, rather, Northern adventurers. The fact that this particular vision of a pro-slavery future never came to pass only emphasizes that these same slaveholders did eventually secede and fight in a war, even if it was for what Mr. Johnson calls "a sort of lowest common dominator," a "politics of negation—of seceding from."

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And more than the politics of negation may have linked the Mississippi Valley slaveholders with others elsewhere in the South. Pro-slavery political economists (whom Mr. Johnson examines in detail) were harsh critics of free wage labor and liberal capitalism, but so were the influential pro-slavery divines and theologians (whom Mr. Johnson slights). They saw liberal capitalism as a profound threat to the social hierarchy, which was rooted in self-serving claims about paternalism, the enduring value and desirability of organic social and economic relations, and the intimate connection between slaveholding society writ large and the integrity of individual, patriarchal white households. The arguments developed and circulated by the pro-slavery theologians resonated with slaveholders and non-slaveholders throughout the South.

Recognizing such features of Southern society, as well as acknowledging the tortured way in which paternalism braided together the lives of the enslaved and the enslavers, goes some way toward "unflattening" the world Mr. Johnson describes. Nonetheless, "River of Dark Dreams" is an important, arguably seminal, book. If sometimes dense, it is always trenchant and learned. And in highly compelling fashion, it helps us more fully appreciate how thoroughly the slaveholding South was part of the capitalist transatlantic world of the first half of the 19th century.  [source: The Wall Street Journal]


Between Slavery and Capitalism

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Between Slavery and Capitalism: The Legacy of Emancipation in the American South; Martin Ruef

Princeton University Press  --  At the center of the upheavals brought by emancipation in the American South was the economic and social transition from slavery to modern capitalism. In Between Slavery and Capitalism, Martin Ruef examines how this institutional change affected individuals, organizations, and communities in the late nineteenth century, as blacks and whites alike learned to navigate the shoals between two different economic worlds. Analyzing trajectories among average Southerners, this is perhaps the most extensive sociological treatment of the transition from slavery since W.E.B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in America.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, uncertainty was a pervasive feature of life in the South, affecting the economic behavior and social status of former slaves, Freedmen's Bureau agents, planters, merchants, and politicians, among others. Emancipation brought fundamental questions: How should emancipated slaves be reimbursed in wage contracts? What occupations and class positions would be open to blacks and whites? What forms of agricultural tenure could persist? And what paths to economic growth would be viable? To understand the escalating uncertainty of the postbellum era, Ruef draws on a wide range of qualitative and quantitative data, including several thousand interviews with former slaves, letters, labor contracts, memoirs, survey responses, census records, and credit reports.

Through a resolutely comparative approach, Between Slavery and Capitalism identifies profound changes between the economic institutions of the Old and New South and sheds new light on how the legacy of emancipation continues to affect political discourse and race and class relations today.  (source: Princeton University Press)


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