They read it and thought it a reasonable, cogent piece of commentary

The Freedmen’s Patrol on that Economist review.

…the fact remains that the editors published the review. They read it and thought it a reasonable, cogent piece of commentary worth putting forward in one of the more prestigious magazines in the Anglosphere. My honest first inclination is to presume stupidity, but one should not let shock entirely determine one’s response. Likewise it seems improbable that The Economist would assign a reviewer who literally does not know what the word “slavery” means or ignorant of who enslaved whom in Americas to a book about slavery in America.

This leaves us with a far worse scenario: Whoever wrote this review understood the subject, knew the facts, and thought it correct anyway. One still has room to question the second presumption, though. Anybody who thinks Puritanism characterize the American South doesn’t understand much about the region during that time. Proslavery writing routinely castigated antislavery Puritans, denouncing them as fanatics and heretics at odds with true Christianity. B.F. Stringfellow looked into the census and found out that the New England Puritans had fewer churches with fewer seats in them than the slaveholding South did and used it as evidence that slaveholders were the better Christians.

Southern slaveholders identified themselves with the Royalists while the Abolitionists were more on the Puritan side. Christopher Cameron has a long article on the subject at

Back to Freedmen’s Patrol.

The Economist asked its readers to believe that the operative force in American slavery was not cruelty but benevolence. The magazine asked that we set aside the nineteenth century’s notorious exploitation of labor, including the labor of children, its horrific working conditions, its ruthless and violent suppression of labor activism (Activism aimed at better working conditions, no less!), essentially the entire body of literature produced by the slaves themselves, by contemporary observers of slavery, and from the very pens of the slaveholders who did the whipping or ordered others to do it on their behalf.

Take, for example, this incident from the life of probably the most famous and celebrated American slaveholder born after 1800, a man we often hear cared greatly for the slaves he inherited and treated only with kindness. I quote from Eric Foner’s Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction:

Wesley Norris, a slave of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, later recalled how after he and his family had attempted to run away, Lee ordered a local constable “to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each.” Lee, Norris added, “stood by, and frequently enjoined the constable to ‘lay it on well,’” then ordered him “to thoroughly wash our backs” with saltwater to increase the pain.

You can read all of Norris’ story in his own words here.

The Economist’s reviewer and its editors, until shamed into correction, would probably complain that this story reflects poorly on Lee when, after all, Norris and his family did attempt to run away. They were stealing from him. Did they have no regard for his property rights? One can hardly blame Lee for going to the law to defend those rights. Clearly some anti-capitalist bias animated Foner and Norris both.

It’s political correctness run mad! Again.


  1. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    The magazine asked that we set aside the nineteenth century’s notorious exploitation of labor, including the labor of children, its horrific working conditions, its ruthless and violent suppression of labor activism

    One standard argument put forward by supporters of slavery was that slave-owners treated slaves better than factory owners treated their employees because they had a long-term monetary interest in them.

  2. Anne Fenwick says

    Has anyone read this book? I looked at the preview on Amazon. From what I can tell, far from being ‘The Half That’s Never Been Told’, it’s partly a narrative of the commonplaces of the history of slavery in America. It seems to want to justify its title partly by regarding decades-old versions of history as the currently accepted starting point but mostly by telling a story about how slavery is connected to American capitalism.

    From the small sample, it alludes regularly to complexity in the choices and behaviors of white people, but it often depersonalizes or exceptionalizes those roles and defaults to a kind of ‘white hive mind’ way of thinking whenever it’s talking negatives. This isn’t just a perception on my part, it seems to be foundational to the author’s stated methodology. He does it with the slaves also, apparently seeing this as a way of creating order in history, of telling ‘the story’ he believes is true. There’s a sense in which the reviewer’s clumsily expressed (and unsupported) criticism is actually an expression of the project the author states in his introduction. Metaphorically, he has established two ‘giants’, pitted against each other and that is the backbone underlying his ‘story’. This explains the table of contents, which is all about the metaphor, such that it’s impossible to get a clear idea of what the book is likely to cover.

    Personally, I dislike the personification of collectivities as actors anywhere in history. I think it’s a nice simple way of filling the gap of our actual ignorance about how historical change occurs but bridging the gap by the creation of a collective personification is a kind of theistic thinking. So, a clumsy review, maybe, but I suspect the book is subject to criticism or at least dissent on methodological grounds.

  3. Blanche Quizno says

    It’s interesting how so many histories of slavery in the British colonies and the young United States never see fit to mention that our noble, larger-than-life Founding Fathers set up the first explicitly apartheid government on the face of the earth.

    The Founding Fathers and other “patriots” wailed that London regarded them as no better than slaves! London was actually *enslaving* THEM!

    Give me liberty and give me death.” So brave. So noble! Considering that “liberty” here means “the right to own fellow human beings as property”, “liberty” is a grotesque, meaningless expression of white elitism and privilege. Considering that the original Constitution only allowed white male landowners to vote, I rest my case.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Really? What of men of AFRICAN origin or indigenous American? Such gross hypocrisy! Considering that the men in question, the ones being categorized as property and being denied any rights at all, were, in many cases a majority within the population, this can only be viewed as an example of the rankest hypocrisy. Oh, sure, it sounds nice (when you’re profiting from it), but remember – they’re defining “men” to only include the few in their class. It’s an old-boy-network insiders’ club. The fact of the numbers of the non-men men was acknowledged in the compromise on representation, to count each member of the slave population as only 3/5 of a person, to avoid allowing the slave-holding states to enjoy greater representation (and, thus, influence) on the basis of the numbers of their slaves (who were apparently only classified as human beings when it served their masters’ purposes).

    Freedom? Liberty? Justice? Representation? Self-determination?? The United States of America was founded on a gross display of the most base of depraved human impulses – to reduce one’s fellow human beings to nonhuman status for the purpose of exploiting and profiting off them.


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