Whistling Dixie

If they were not defending such an inhumane and horrific labor system, in hindsight it might be possible to feel just the slightest bit sorry for slaveholders and those defending the slavery being in denial in late Summer 1863 as the peculiar institution crumbled right in front of them. They could not or would not believe what was happening.

A good example is an article at appeared in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, 150 years ago, on September 11, 1863. Entitled “Rule or ruin,” it basically accused the Lincoln administration of seeking to destroy the economy of the South because it could not defeat the Confederate Army on the battlefield. That is, having failed to “rule” the Confederacy, it now sought to ruin it in spiteful vengeance. The article read:

–To “rule or ruin” the South has been the manifest and controlling principle of the Abolition Government of the United from the beginning of this war. Its efforts were first directed to rule, but failing after two years trial in that, its whole energies are now bent to ruin.What is this but an admission that it never expects to conquer theSouth? If it did, why should it labor with all its power to render theSouth not worth having?

It is not merely the ruin of towns and public buildings, and the desolation of fields, or the slaughter of our people, which show the inconsistency of the present destructive policy of the Lincoln dynasty with the anticipation of conquering the Confederate States. Towns may be rebuilt, desolated fields will grow green again, a population grievously thinned by war may be again replenished; but when the only system of labor by which towns can be restored, fields cultivated, and a population supported, is to be torn up by the roots, we may fairly conclude that the architects of such destruction are aiming to ruin rather than to rule.–That the Cotton States can ever be cultivated except by slave labor, is a lunacy which we are not warranted in attributing even to the Washington Cabinet. If they really expect to emancipate the slaves and still make the country profitable, which is the only condition on which the Yankees desire a country, they are the most hopeless madmen the world has ever seen. If the South is to be subjugated, she could not inflict upon her conqueror a more fatal stab than that he is preparing for his own bosom.–Burning the cotton that it may not fall into his hands is nothing to his own plan of destroying the labor by which the cotton is raised. Emancipate the slaves and the cotton-growing States become as profitless to the commerce and manufacturers of the world as Jamaica and St. Domingo. Hence we can only under stand the abolition and destructive policy of the United States Government, by referring it to a foregone conclusion that it will never be able to rob the South permanently, and, therefore, that it will ruin it.

The author of the editorial, of course, assumed the experience of the South with emancipation would parallel his conception (or to be more accurate, misconception) of emancipation in the Caribbean. Subsequent events would prove cotton could be grown with free labor and that slavery was not necessary for its success. Likewise, during the Civil War itself various experiments were taking place in the South testing out various alternatives to growing cotton. While many of them were not successful, they demonstrated for subsequent planters how not to organize free labor for cotton (mostly importantly, do not try to treat free laborers like slaves). So, in retrospect, it is easy to see that in this instance the Richmond Daily Dispatch was whistling dixie.

Source: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2006.05.0857%3Aarticle%3D3

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About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at donald_shaffer@yahoo.com
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