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 academia.edu.
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.