So Slavery Wasn’t So Bad?

One of the best Civil War blogs around is Crossroads, written by Brooks Simpson. And one of Brooks’ causes is bedeviling the so-called Heritage community of Neo-Confederates (i.e., people who actually think the Confederacy was a neat thing and its destruction in the Civil War a tragedy). While part of me enjoys watching Brooks needle the Heritage community, sometimes I wonder whether the amount of attention he pays them gives them an importance they don’t deserve. After all, Brooks sits in an endowed chair at Arizona State University and all the Heritage community has are the power of its myths. But then again, maybe Brooks is on to something because certain especially pernicious myths have the potential to do real harm. Like the myth that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad for the slaves, which is asserted by Neo-Confederates. As I have said elsewhere before, I wish people who pushed that vile notion could be transported Twilight Zone-style for a month to live as a slave on an antebellum cotton plantation. Then maybe they’d see the error of their ways. In any case, here’s what Brooks Simpson has to say on this subject. Keep up the good fight, Brooks, but be careful not to give the Heritage community undue attention as you hold their feet to the fire.


We’ve all heard it before from defenders of Confederate heritage: slavery wasn’t so bad. Of course, the people who say this are overwhelmingly white people, including descendants of slaveholders (hello, Connie Chastain!).

Some people have also decided that anything Charles Barkley says is worth listening to. We in the Phoenix area know differently. Barkley was a talented, personable basketball player who reminded us that he was not a role model, and with good reason. However, Barkley has decided that because he can comment on NBA games, he can use that forum to comment on everything else under the sun, and to do so in a way that fascinates some people and sparks more than its share of eye-rolling and head-shaking responses.

So when the Round Mound of Rebound decided to agree with Confederate heritage apologists advocates that slavery might not have been as bad as some people…

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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
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6 Responses to So Slavery Wasn’t So Bad?

  1. kbrown2225 says:

    Life expectancy for slaves was about 22 years (half that of white Americans of the time). If things “weren’t so bad” for slaves I wonder why their livespans were so short?

    Oh wait, being worked sunup to sundown at the whim of your owner, on a diet generally consisting of bad corn meal and salt pork (consisting of the parts of the pig that white people didn’t want to eat) might have something to do with it?

    Or how about the fact that 35% of all slave families were broken up by sales (you know, having your children sold to other white people and you never seeing them again, that’s not “so bad” I guess?)

    Or how about the fact that you were property, with no rights to your own body and every female slave could look forward to being raped (once again, totally at the whim of their owner).

    Now, maybe some slaves lived better than others, some slave owners were certainly decent people who did not brutalize their slaves, but that is generally the exception, not the rule. Your life, as a slave, was a miserable as your owner decided it should be. Hey, some certainly “lucked out” and were not starved, raped, brutalized, and worked to death.

    I tell you what, how willing would all of the Neo-Confederate “apologists” be to becoming a slave, living or dying at the whim of another person, brutalized or not brutalized based soley on the mood of your “master” with no legal rights and no freedom?

  2. Devon says:

    I think most everyone agrees that slavery was a bad thing. And as for the abuses that took place, they took place in Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia too, right? And how many of those brutal cruelties did U. S. Grant perpetrate while he was a slave-owner? What about the slave-owning family of Mary Todd Lincoln? They were cruel and sadistic slavers too, right? And how did all those leaves get here anyway? Didn’t the slave-ships sail from NewYork, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island? And exactly who bought all that slave-produced sugar, cotton, and tobacco anyway? Who insured it? Who brokered it? Who financed it? How many of those fine cotton shirts Abraham Lincoln wore when he was President were made from slave cotton? And so on, and so on, and so on…

    • kbrown2225 says:

      And your point is what exactly?

    • kbrown2225 says:

      By the way, U.S. Grant “owned” one slave in his entire life. His father-in-law gave him a slave who Grant immediately freed, despite the fact that Grant was in terrible financial shape and could have sold him for a great deal of money.

      No slave ship sailed from “New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island” after passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1794 when the U.S. government banned U.S. ships from participating in the slave trade. Congress completely banned the international slave trade in 1808.

      Really, you are trying to foster blame for slavery on Abraham Lincoln, the man who ended slavery? It seems to me that you are just trying to justify slavery by saying “everyone was at fault.” Perhaps a more realistic look at the issue would be more appropriate.

  3. Bullard Ping says:

    The point is that everyone was, and still is, to blame. The sooner we acknowledge our own participation in the perpetuation of social injustice, the better chance of collective healing.

    • kbrown2225 says:

      So those who fought and died to end slavery are as responsible as those who fought and died to defend slavery?

      If we want “collective healing” we need truth and reconciliation and the point of this article is that it will never happen as long as people minimize the evils of slavery and the state-sanctioned racism that followed it for the next 100 years after slavery ended.

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