Believe it or not, Michael Medved has a column at Townhall making excuses for slavery in America. It wasn’t all that bad, he says.
Medved presents six “inconvenient truths” about slavery, which (condensed) are:
1. American didn’t invent slavery. Lots of other countries did it too. Yes, but by the mid-19th century the practice had been pretty much run out of Europe, as well as the northern states, for being barbaric and immoral.
2. Slavery existed only briefly – 89 years from the Declaration of Independence to the 13th Amendment. It probably didn’t seem all that brief to the persons who were enslaved. And, of course, it had been going on for some time before the Declaration of Independence. Medved figures that only about 5 percent of today’s Americans are the descendants of slave owners. That may or may not be true, but I’m not sure why it’s relevant to anything.
3. Slavery wasn’t genocidal. Dead slaves brought no profit, Medved says. Of course, about a third of the people captured in Africa to be sold into slavery died in the ship voyage to America, but Medved says the slavers didn’t intend the slaves to die, so it doesn’t count. “And as with their horses and cows, slave owners took pride and care in breeding as many new slaves as possible,” Medved writes. No, really, he actually wrote that. I am not making this up.
4. It is not true that the United States became wealthy through slave labor, Medved says. Many “free soil” states were more prosperous overall than the slave states. That may be true, or not, but those cotton plantations were cash cows for the plantation owners. In 1855 raw cotton amounted to one-half of all U.S. exports, valuing $100 million annually in 1855 dollars. (Source: Encyclopedia of American Facts & Dates [Harper & Row, 1987] p. 255.) There was huge income disparity in the slave states; the plantation-owning elite hoarded the wealth.
5. The United States deserves special credit for abolition. Huh?
6. “There is no reason to believe today’s African-Americans would be better off if their ancestors had remained in Africa. ” Actual quote. Who says conservatives are insensitive? Well, me, for one.
Jillian at Sadly, No and John Holbo at Crooked Timber also comment. But no one so far has asked the critical question, which is What the hell was eating at Medved’s reptilian brain that inspired him to write this? Has criticism of American slavery been in the news lately?
Update: See also Kevin at Lean Left, who has a more substantive retort to “fact” #5 than I did.
Year the British ended slavery throughout the Empire: 1833. Number of wars it took to do so: 0. Year the Spanish Empire ended slavery (except in Cuba, where the ban was not enforced by local governors until 1886): 1811. Number of wars to do so: 0. Year the U.S. ended slavery throughout the country and its territories: 1865. Number of wars it took to do it: 1, the bloodiest one in American history. In fact, all European powers abolished slavery before the United States did. So, no, dear Mr. Medved, we as a nation don’t deserve special credit for a bloody damn thing. We were below average, even by the standards of the day.
Update 2: I’d like to add that during our civil war the wealthy industrial interests of Britain put a lot of pressure on Victoria and Parliament to enter the war on the side of the Confederacy. The Americas were their chief supplier of raw materials for their textile mills, and the owners were losing money. But anti-slavery sentiment was so strong in Britain — even among mill workers who’d been laid off because of the war — that active support for the Confederacy was out of the question. And, of course, Prince Albert favored the Union, which means Victoria did, also.
Update 3: This is a riot.