Archive for the ‘Guerra civil norteamericana’ Category

El H-Net Book Channel acaba de publicar un ensayo bibliográfico que llamó poderosamente mi atención, ya que enfoca la historiografía reciente de las implicancias internacionales de la guerra civil estadounidense. Escrito por Chase McCarter, candidato doctoral en la Universidad de Nuevo México, este trabajo enfoca el impacto en América Latina de la guerra civil estadoununidense y del periodo de la Reconstrucción.

 The US Civil War Era and Latin America

It would be incorrect to argue that scholars have never considered the international dimensions of the US Civil War Era. However, the vast majority of the tens of thousands of books written about the antebellum US, the war, and Reconstruction usually foreground the domestic elements. In addition, the scholars who considered the international implications tended to focus on the relationship between the US and European powers. Recent studies, however, have begun to pay more attention to Latin America. This is particularly important because, as the author discusses in this essay, historians of the US Civil War Era and of Latin America have a great deal to say to each other. Being more attentive to Latin America also has important contemporary relevance in light of the persistent tensions among the nations of the Western Hemisphere. Chase McCarter is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of New Mexico and resource editor for H-CivWar. He studies the Civil War-era South with particular focus on the postwar migration of ex-Confederates to Latin America. –Book Channel Guest Editor Evan Rothera

In the late 1960s, US historians became increasingly interested in internationalizing the history of the US Civil War era. In his essay for C. Vann Woodward’s 1968 anthology, The Comparative Approach to American History, David M. Potter argued that the turmoil of the US Civil War era and the European revolutions of 1848 were both the product of nationalist struggles and were equally critical in the survival of liberal nationalism around the globe.1 Ian Tyrrell’s call in 1991 for a new history that decentered exceptionalist narratives in American historical writing gave birth to the transnational turn in US history and further influenced historians of the US Civil War era to explore the impact of the period’s major events outside the confines of US national borders. For example, Robert E. May’s anthology The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim (1995) brought together studies by Howard Jones, R. J. M. Blackett, Thomas Schoonover, and James M. McPherson to reveal the impact of the US Civil War on European and Latin American nations. Since the mid-1990s, scholars like Enrico Dal Lago, Peter S. Onuf, Andre Fleche, Timothy M. Roberts, Patrick J. Kelly, and a wave of others have deepened historical understanding of the US Civil War era by thinking about this period through a transnational framework.2

But historians still have more ground to cover. The role of Latin America in the ideologies, debates, and events that transpired in the United States during the Civil War era has been relatively understudied by historians. Historians have directed much more attention to European happenings and their impact on the United States during this period than to Latin American ones. But there is a growing interest in the role of Latin America in the coming of the Civil War, the war itself, and Reconstruction.

New histories of the US sectional crisis frame the prospect of slavery’s expansion in Latin America as a central issue of contention between proslavery advocates and abolitionists in the 1840s and 1850s. Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of America Foreign Policy (2016) argues that Latin America was most certainly in the sights of proslavery advocates in the US government during the antebellum period. Karp contends that southern slave-owning elites were not an isolated class of individuals who clung to the dying institution of slavery in the US South. Rather, they were globally minded people and kept a close eye on threats to slavery across the Americas, especially in Cuba and Brazil, whom they saw as allies in an international fight against the forces of abolition. They also believed that the continuity of slavery in the Americas was key to the future prosperity and power of the United States (p. 2).

The mind-set of southern slaveholders Karp depicts in his study was related to the emergence of  what Dale Tomich labels “the second slavery” in his book, Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital, and World Economy (2003). “Second slavery” describes the remaking of slavery in concert with the expansion of industrial capitalism and the creation of new, highly profitable slave-based zones of commodity production throughout the Americas during the early nineteenth century.3 Throughout the book, Karp details how proslavery advocates within the US government sculpted foreign policy and the US military in efforts to strengthen and preserve this new form of slavery in the United States and Latin America. For the most part, proslavery advocates were successful at doing so until the institution collapsed with the defeat of the Confederacy during the Civil War (p. 3).

Robert E. May’s book Slavery, Race, and Conquest in the Tropics: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Future of Latin America (2013) is his latest addition in a forty-plus-year career of thinking about the transnational dynamics of the US Civil War era. In this study, May asserts that the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates featured a clash of ideas over slavery’s expansion in Latin America. Lincoln and Douglas’s feud over this topic also embodied a larger breakdown in relations between the North and South, which contributed to the outbreak of Civil War. Throughout the text, May traces the ideological evolution of both men on the issue of slavery’s expansion in Latin America. For Douglas, the acquisition of territory in Latin America was necessary for the growth and progress of the United States. Under his philosophy of popular sovereignty, Douglas argued that future US colonists in Latin America should have the right to establish slavery in their territories if they desired. Contrary to Douglas, Lincoln held an explicitly anti-expansionist position toward Latin America and believed that the prospect of slavery’s expansion there, where it did not yet exist, would put the Union in mortal danger. In fact, May explains that throughout Lincoln’s presidency he maintained an anti-expansionist attitude toward Latin America. Lincoln also favored exporting African Americans to colonies in Latin America where he believed that they could obtain a level of freedom and equality unavailable to them in the United States. Lincoln’s articulation of this position on Latin America during the Lincoln-Douglas debates informed Southerners that a Lincoln victory in the election of 1860 would destroy any hopes they had of expanding slavery southward. May suggests that the desire to preserve future prospects of expanding slavery into Latin America heavily influenced Southerners’ choice to secede in the wake of Lincoln’s victory. Overall, May’s analysis of the Lincoln-Douglas debates adds a transnational dimension to the sectional crisis and the outbreak of the Civil War by centering the future of slavery’s expansion in Latin America as a leading issue that contributed to the breakdown between North and South.

Rethinking the coming of the US Civil War in a transnational context has also pushed historians to explore the interconnections of the war itself with concurrent conflicts of the 1860s. Don H. Doyle has been at the center of scholarly efforts to do so. Most notably, his book The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (2014) categorizes the US Civil War as part of a broader struggle for democracy throughout the Atlantic world. His latest contribution, an edited anthology, American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe, and the Crisis of the 1860s (2017), takes a more direct look at the role of the US Civil War in Latin America. Specifically, American Civil Wars demonstrates that the 1860s was a decade of multiple civil wars, separatist rebellions, slave uprisings, and emancipations throughout the Americas. Furthermore, democratic republics throughout the Americas defeated the attempted reconquest of the hemisphere by European monarchies.

For example, Stève Sainlaude’s essay, “France’s Grand Design and the Confederacy,” argues that the US Civil War neutralized the United States in Latin America as it dealt with the Confederacy. The war presented Napoleon III with an opportunity to reassert France’s former colonial empire in the Americas, which he tried and failed to do in the Second French Intervention in Mexico. This largely resulted from the Union’s victory in the Civil War and the US federal government’s financial and military aid to Benito Juárez’s republican army.

The victories of democratic republics throughout the Americas in the 1860s also prevented the destruction of the international antislavery movement. Rafael Marquese and Matt D. Childs’s respective contributions to this anthology show that the defeat of the Confederacy and abolition of slavery in the United States paved the way for the institution’s demise in Cuba and Brazil. Childs maintains that the US Civil War was the crisis that placed the possibility of abolition on the political horizon for Cuban slaveowners. Likewise, Marquese uses the analogy of a “protective wall” to describe the relationship of US slavery to Brazilian slavery. When this wall came down, it energized an already present and potent antislavery moment in Brazil, which would be vital to the passing of gradual emancipation laws in the 1870s and the final emancipation law in 1888.

In sum, this anthology reframes the US Civil War as a mere chapter in a hemisphere-wide and decade-long struggle between the forces of republicanism and monarchism and between proponents of slavery and emancipation. The Latin American conflicts of the 1860s that scholars have entangled with the US Civil War show that the war was anything but exceptional. Yet this study also emphasizes that the outbreak of the war was a critical factor in the eruption of conflicts in Latin America and that the outcome of the war was essential to the preservation of republicanism in the region.

This turn in the literature has naturally led scholars of US Reconstruction to branch out toward Latin America as well. United States Reconstruction across the Americas (2019), edited by William A. Link, establishes that post-Civil War global political, social, and economic developments entangled and influenced the central elements of Reconstruction (i.e., emancipation, nationalism, and the spread of market capitalism). Additionally, the emergence of the United States in the post-Civil War period as a global power was contingent on developments in several nations throughout the Americas.

Chapter 1, “The Cotton and Coffee Economies of the United States and Brazil, 1865-1904,” by Rafael Marquese, argues that the seemingly disparate transitions from slavery to free labor in Brazil and the US South were quite related. In the aftermath of US emancipation, planters in both nations sought a means by which to transition from slavery to free labor while maintaining the same level of exploitation. Brazilian planters, who saw the end of Brazilian chattel slavery on the horizon after the US Civil War, viewed sharecropping and tenancy in the South as a loss of planters’ power over laborers and the system of production. As an alternative, Brazilian planters instituted the colonato system, which preserved planter power over “the organization of labor and landscape management” (p. 29). Effectively, Brazilian planters were able to maintain some key exploitative elements of slavery under this labor system. Through this example, Marquese shows how the reconfiguration of capitalism during Reconstruction in the United States precipitated change in Latin American countries like Brazil.

From a different direction, Edward B. Rugemer’s essay, “Jamaica’s Morant Bay Rebellion and the Making of Radical Reconstruction,” illustrates the impact of the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion on Reconstruction policymaking. The reports of the violent rebellion in Jamaica back in the United States, and fears that the same could occur in the South, influenced Congress to enact legislation and enforcement measures (e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and Reconstruction Acts of 1867) that would ensure political rights for black men and a future for them in the post-emancipation United States. Rugemer emphasizes the great consideration that Republicans gave to the meaning of the rebellion in terms of its implications for the course of Reconstruction, which further shows the direct impact the rebellion had on the shaping of Reconstruction policy.

In terms of diplomacy, Don H. Doyle’s essay, “Reconstruction and Anti-Imperialism: The United States and Mexico,” examines US foreign policy in the aftermath of the US Civil War. Doyle focuses on the US role in expelling the French from Mexico in 1867 as an indication of “spirit of republican camaraderie” that was inherent to US foreign policy in Latin America during the Reconstruction Era (pp. 6-7).

The transnational framing of US Reconstruction literature has also contributed to further scholarly interest in the ex-Confederate migration to Latin America. Todd W. Wahlstrom’s book The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War (2015) argues that the desire to create surrogate Souths in Mexico was not the driving force behind the migration of a few thousand ex-Confederates to the nation between 1865 and 1866. Rather, it was the pursuit of economic prosperity, which they hoped could be obtained through the creation of agricultural and commercially driven colonies and the exploitation of Mexico’s transborder economic opportunities. For these Southerners, remaining in the US South was not the sole focus of their vision for life after the Civil War. Wahlstrom explains that they believed their future was contingent on the creation of an “entrepôt of southern commerce” through the colonization of Latin America (p. xvii). This dream inevitably died with the failure of Southern colonization in places like Mexico, Brazil, Belize, and Venezuela, but Wahlstrom argues that it marked an important stepping stone in US efforts to “bridge economic borders” in Latin America during the second half of the nineteenth century (p. xxvii).

The literature review in this essay reflects the efforts of scholars of the US Civil War era to incorporate Latin America into what historians have traditionally described as the exceptional history of the United States. Taken together, these studies present strong evidence for the argument that the ideologies and events most identified with the coming of the US Civil War, the war itself, and Reconstruction were deeply entangled with occurrences and ideologies present in Latin America at the same time. More broadly, they demonstrate that US economic, social, and political development during the nineteenth century was internationally interdependent.


[1]. David M. Potter, “Civil War,” in The Comparative Approach to American History, ed. C. Vann Woodward (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 139.

[2]. See Enrico Dal Lago, Agrarian Elites: American Slaveholders and Southern Italian Landowners, 1815-1861 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005), and Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Peter S. Onuf and Nicholas Onuf, Nations, Markets, and War: Modern History and the American Civil War (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006); Timothy Mason Roberts, Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Pres, 2009).

[3]. Dale W. Tomich, Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital, and World Economy (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 61.

Suggested Readings

Dawsey, Cyrus B., and James M. Dawsey. The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Doyle, Don H. The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

Fleche, Andre M. The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Guterl, Matthew Pratt. American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Jarnagin, Laura. A Confluence of Transatlantic Networks: Elites, Capitalism, and Confederate Migration to Brazil. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2008.

Kelly, Patrick J. “The Lost Continent of Abraham Lincoln.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 9, no. 2 (June 2019): 223-48.

——. “The North American Crisis of the 1860s.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 3 (September 2012): 337-68.

Mahoney, Harry Thayer. Mexico and the Confederacy, 1860-1867. San Francisco: Austin & Winfield, 1998.

May, Robert E. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

——. ed. The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1995.

——. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854-1861. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.

Roark, James L. Masters Without Slaves: Southern Planters in the Civil War and Reconstruction. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.

Rolle, Andrew F. The Lost Cause: Confederate Exodus to Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.

Rugemer, Edward Bartlett. The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.

Scott, Rebecca J. Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Stevenson, Louise L. Lincoln in the Atlantic World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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Ya es una tradición de esta bitácora dar la bienvenida a los nuevos números de la revista Huellas de los Estados Unidos. Estudios, Perspectivas y Debates desde América Latina.  Publicada por los colegas de la Cátedra de Historia de Estados Unidos de la UBA, Huellas es una de pocas publicaciones en castellano dedicadas al estudio de la historia estadounidense. Por lo tanto, considero, además de un honor, un compromiso ayudar en su difusión.

Con este ya son 18 los números publicados por Huellas, lo que es todo un logro y una muestra del tesón de quienes han desarrollado este proyecto hasta convertirlo en un referente para quienes estudiamos la historia de Estados Unidos en el mundo Iberoamericano. Vaya para ellos mi felicitación y agradecimiento.

Copio el índice de este número para que puedan acceder a sus artículos.

Dr. Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, Perú











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Como comentamos en noviembre del año pasado, el  Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Estudios Norteamericanos “Benjamin Franklin” de la Universidad de Alcalá (Instituto Franklin – UAH) es uno de los centros dedicados a los estudios estadounidenses más importantes de Europa. Entre sus publicacones destacan un blog titulado Diálogo Atlántico, al cual pretendo brindar atención este año.

Comparto con mis lectores una corta nota del Doctor Raúl César Cancio Fernández, publicada en el blog del Instituto,  sobre una fallida operación de  tropas de la  Unión “sobre Richmond, la capital confederada,  con el objeto de destruir las líneas de comunicación y suministro entre la ciudad y el ejército del general Robert E. Lee del Norte de Virginia, dispersar al gobierno confederado y liberar a los soldados unionistas confinados en condiciones inhumanas en el campo de prisioneros de Belle Isle.”

De acuerdo con el Dr. Cancio Fernández, esta acción pudo haber influido en el magnicicio del presidente Lincoln.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

20 de febrero de 2020

4350304a.jpgLeap Year en Richmond, Virginia

Raúl César Cancio Fernández

Diálogo Atlántico

La Guerra de Secesión Americana contó, como nosotros hoy, con su año bisiesto, 1864, y, consecuentemente, también con su añadido 29 de febrero que, además, no fue un día inocuo ni mucho menos. El 12 de febrero de ese año, quincuagésimo quinto cumpleaños de Abraham Lincoln, el controvertido general de caballería Kilpatrick puso sobre la mesa del presidente una operación de incursión sobre Richmond, la capital confederada, con el objeto de destruir las líneas de comunicación y suministro entre la ciudad y el ejército del general Robert E. Lee del Norte de Virginia, dispersar al gobierno confederado y liberar a los soldados unionistas confinados en condiciones inhumanas en el campo de prisioneros de Belle Isle. Veremos después como, al parecer, había también un propósito no revelado.

Ulric Dahlgren

Coronel Ulric Dahlgren

El plan se articulaba en tres movimientos: en un primer estadio, la brigada de caballería del general Custer y la infantería del VI Cuerpo de Sedgwick ejecutarían un movimiento diversivo hacia Charlottesville, que confundiera a las defensas confederadas, y permitiera, por un lado, a la columna de Kilpatrick atacar la capital por el norte sobre el eje del Ferrocarril Central de Virginia y, paralelamente, otra columna comandada por el joven coronel Dahlgren, vadear el río James por Goochland Courthouse, atacando Richmond por el sudoeste.

Sin embargo, lo planeado se vio fatalmente alterado tanto por elementos naturales como humanos. En primer lugar, la madrugada de aquel 29 de febrero fue especialmente complicada meteorológicamente en la Península, con fuertes rachas de viento y aguanieve persistente que dificultó la maniobra de vadeo del James, a lo que se añadió la pésima elección del guía que debía indicarles el lugar de paso. Por otra parte, la maniobra de diversión no resultó completamente verosímil, lo que provocó que la columna de Kilpatrick, ante esa circunstancia y la ausencia de señales de su compañero, retuviera la marcha hacia Richmond, confundiendo, en medio de la incertidumbre, a un grupo de ancianos con la infantería rebelde a las puertas de la ciudad, retirándose hacia el río York y dejando sin cobertura a la fuerza de Dahlgren, que fue aniquilada en las inmediaciones de King&Queen Courthouse, después de una afanosa huida por los ríos Pamunkey y Mattaponi.

Cuando los confederados registraron el cuerpo sin vida de Dahlgren, supuestamente encontraron órdenes oficiales de asesinar al presidente Jefferson Davis y a todo su gabinete, extremo que, no obstante, sería desmentido por carta del general Meade a Lee fechada en 17 de abril siguiente. Sea como fuere, muchos sostienen que ese controvertido hallazgo es el origen del magnicidio que poco más de un año después ejecutara John Wilkes Booth en el Teatro Ford…  bis sextus dies ante calendas martii.

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Andrew Johnson · 1868 Una batalla política por la reunificación del país

El fin de la guerra civil estadounidense dio paso a un nuevo problema: ¿qué hacer con los derrotados estados sureños? Esta pregunta llevó a una crisis constitucional que abrió la puerta al primer juicio de residenciamiento en la historia estadounidense.

Tras el asesinato de Abraham Lincoln asumió la presidencia el Vicepresidente Andrew Johnson, un sureño que no sólo había sido miembro del Partido Demócrata, sino que también había poseído esclavos. Johnson era hijo de la tradición de Andrew Jackson y, por ende, se consideraba un defensor del hombre común frente a la aristocracia corrupta de noreste. El nuevo presidente simpatizaba con los blancos pobres y no tenía mucha empatía para los esclavos. Cuando estalló la guerra civil, Johnson era Senador por el estado de Tennesse, pero se mantuvo fiel a la Unión. Los Republicanos lo eligieron candidato a la vicepresidencia para promover la unidad y cortejar el apoyo de los sureños unionistas. En su gestión como Presidente, Johnson dejó claro que era un creyente en la supremacía de los blancos y, por ende, se opuso a la concesión de derechos políticos a los negros. Su simpatía para con los estados sureños fue más que evidente y le   llevó a una colisión con el Congreso.

En mayo de 1865, Johnson hizo público su plan para readmitir a los estados sureños en la Unión. El plan presidencial ofrecía amnistía a todo sureño que hiciera un juramento de lealtad a la constitución de los Estados Unidos. Sólo quedaban fuera los altos dirigentes civiles y militares de la Confederación, quienes sólo podían ser perdonados por el Presidente mismo. Para que los estados fuesen reintegrados a la unión, los sureños debían también ratificar la Enmienda 13, aboliendo la esclavitud. Rápidamente, los estados confederados aceptaron el plan de Johnson y pudieron elegir gobiernos propios. Para el otoño de 1865 diez de los once estados confederados habían cumplido con los requisitos del plan de Johnson

White League and Ku Klux Klan alliance, in illustration, by Thomas Nast, in Harper's Weekly, October 24, 1874La primera reacción de los congresistas Republicanos al plan del presidente fue favorable. Tanto moderados como radicales decidieron darle una oportunidad a Johnson y a su plan. Éstos esperaban que los nuevos gobiernos sureños aprovecharan la gran oportunidad que el plan Johnson significaba y actuaran de buena fe. Desafortunadamente, esto no ocurrió porque los nuevos gobiernos sureños buscaron resucitar la esclavitud a través de una serie de leyes, conocidas como los códigos negros. Estas leyes buscaban obligar a los negros libres a regresar a trabajar a las plantaciones.  Además, Johnson le otorgó un perdón a básicamente a todo antiguo líder de la Confederación que se lo solicitó. Envalentonados, los sureños eligieron antiguos funcionarios confederados para representarles en el Congreso de los Estados Unidos. Antiguos generales y coroneles, legisladores y hasta el vicepresidente de la Confederación fueron electos al Congreso federal en representación de los estados sureños.

La actitud y las acciones de los sureños enfurecieron a los congresistas Republicanos, quienes decidieron no reconocer a los nuevos legisladores sureños. Para ello, aplicaron una cláusula de la constitución que le reconoce al Congreso el poder de aceptar o rechazar legisladores. De esta forma, todos los congresistas sureños electos bajo el plan de Johnson fueron rechazados por el Congreso.  En respuesta, los estados sureños eliminaron las alusiones raciales en los códigos negros, pero en la práctica sólo aplicaban las leyes a los negros libres.  Para complicar aún más las cosas, se desató una ola de violencia y terror contra los negros libres en diversos estados del sur.  Todo ello llevó a los congresistas republicanos a concluir que el Sur estaba deliberadamente evadiendo la Enmienda 13, y que era necesaria la intervención del Congreso.

En marzo de 1865 el Congreso creó la Oficina de  Libertos  (Freedmen Bureau) para brindar ayuda de emergencia a los antiguos esclavos.  Esta oficina había tenido un éxito limitado.  La Oficina de Libertos operó escuelas ayudando a crear las bases para un sistema de educación pública en el sur. También ayudó a los negros a denunciar los abusos de que eran víctimas. A principios de 1866, el Congreso aprobó extender la vida de esta oficina asignándoles fondos de forma directa y autorizando a sus agentes a investigar casos de maltrato de libertos. Además, el Congreso aprobó una ley de derechos civiles, confiriéndole la ciudadanía norteamericana a los negros. Esta ley definía como ciudadano a toda persona nacida en los Estados Unidos, aunque dejaba fuera a los amerindios. De acuerdo con esta ley, los negros estarían cubiertos por todas las leyes norteamericanas que garantizaban la seguridad y la propiedad de los ciudadanos estadounidenses.

The Freedman´s BureauEn febrero de 1866, el presidente Johnson vetó la nueva ley de la Oficina de Libertos y la Ley de derechos civiles. Además, lanzó un fuerte ataque contra los radicales, acusándoles de traidores que no querían restaurar la Unión.

Los radicales toman control

¿Quiénes eran estos congresistas radicales que provocaron la ira del presidente Johnson?  La mayoría de los unionadicales eran individuos formados al calor de los debates en torno a la esclavitud. Éstos procedían, principalmente, de la zona de Nueva Inglaterra o del medio oeste. Les unía la creencia en la igualdad de derechos políticos y de oportunidades económicas, por lo que creían necesario un gobierno central fuerte. Según ellos, el establecimiento del trabajo libre, la educación universal pública y la igualdad de derechos llevarían al sur a disfrutar del mismo nivel de riqueza, progreso y movilidad social que poseía el norte. Su opinión del Sur no era la mejor, pues le consideraban una región en donde reinaba la ignorancia, se practicaba una agricultura de despilfarro, se rechazaba la manufactura, se despreciaba el trabajo honesto y estaba controlada por una oligarquía majadera. Los radicales querían transformar al Sur desarrollando la pequeña propiedad agraria, fomentando la manufactura, promoviendo la educación, cultivando el respeto al trabajo honesto y extendiendo la igualdad de derechos políticos entres sus habitantes.  Para los radicales, la prioridad no era reestablecer la Unión, sino rehacer al sur.

Charles Sumner

Para los radicales, el gobierno federal debía jugar un papel protagónico en la reconstrucción del sur, sobre todo, garantizando los derechos civiles y el voto de los libertos. Republicanos radicales como Thaddeus Stevens (Pennsylvania) y Charles Sumner (Massachussets) abogaban por una intervención federal directa que protegiera a  los negros y les brindara oportunidades educativas, sociales y económicas.


Los vetos de Johnson unificaron a los legisladores republicanos bajo el liderato de los republicanos radicales, quienes decidieron retar el poder del presidente. En abril de 1866, los radicales obtuvieron el respaldo de las dos terceras parte de los legisladores necesarios para aprobar las leyes vetadas por Johnson. Este fue un momento histórico porque por primera vez en la historia de los Estados Unidos el Congreso fue por encima de un veto presidencial.  En junio de 1866, el Congreso aprobó la enmienda la Enmienda 14 declarando ciudadano norteamericano a toda persona nacida en los Estados Unidos. Según la enmienda ningún estado “aprobará o hará cumplir ninguna ley que restrinja los privilegios o inmunidades de los ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos; ni ningún estado privará a persona alguna de su vida, de su libertad, sin el debido procedimiento de ley, ni negará a nadie, dentro de su jurisdicción, al igual protección de las leyes”. Esta enmienda histórica buscaba proteger los derechos de los libertos frente los abusos y atropellos de los sureños garantizando la constitucionalidad de la Ley de Derechos Civiles vetada por Johnson y aprobada por el Congreso.

En las elecciones de 1866, los Republicanos aumentaron su mayoría tanto en la Cámara como en el Senado, y ganaron control de todos los estados del norte. Los Republicanos entendieron su contundente victoria como un mandato, como una muestra de aprobación popular de sus posiciones, como una especie de referéndum que Johnson perdió. La victoria electoral unificó a los congresistas republicanos en su propósito de tomar control de la reconstrucción. Con ello quedó definido el escenario de un choque histórico y peligroso entre las ramas legislativa y ejecutiva del gobierno de los Estados Unidos.

Los Republicanos tomaron la iniciativa rápido aprobando una serie de leyes a comienzos del año 1867. En marzo, los republicanos aprobaron la Ley de la Reconstrucción que fue vetada por Johnson y vuelta a probara por el Congreso por encima del veto presidencial. Esta ley organizaba al sur como un territorio conquistado y ocupado, pues le dividía en cinco distritos militares, cada uno comandado por un general del ejército de la Unión. Para que se retirasen las tropas federales y los estados se reintegrasen a la Unión, era necesario que éstos le concediera en el derecho al voto a los libertos y privara de ese mismo derecho a los confederados que participaron en la rebelión. Cada comandante militar debía registrar a todos los votantes de su distrito, blancos y negros, y supervisar que se llevaran a cabo elecciones para escoger una convención estatal. Ésta debería redactar nuevas constituciones que garantizaran el derecho al voto de los negros en cada estado. Además, los estados sureños debían ratificar la Enmienda 14. Cuando todo ello ocurriese, los estados sureños serían readmitidos a la Unión.

Resultado de imagen para Edwin M. Stanton"

Edwin M. Stanton

Los republicanos también aprobaron la Ley de Tenencia de un Cargo Público que hacía obligatorio el consentimiento del Senado para remover de su cargo a todo funcionario cuyo nombramiento tuvo que ser confirmado por el Senado. En otras palabras, obligaba a Johnson a solicitar el consentimiento senatorial para poder destituir funcionarios públicos que aunque pudieron haber sido nombrados por el presidente, debieron ser confirmados por el Senado. Con ello, el Senado quería proteger al Secretario de Guerra Edwin M. Stanton, quien había sido nombrado por Lincoln y favorecía la reconstrucción radical del sur. Como Secretario de Guerra, podía hacer mucho para favorecer a los republicanos radicales y bloquear las acciones del presidente. Esta ley atentaba contra los poderes reconocidos por la constitución al presidente de los Estados Unidos, pues exigía que Johnson trasmitiera sus órdenes al ejército a través de su oficial de mayor rango el General Ulises S. Grant.

Johnson no pudo evitar que se aprobaran ambas leyes y hasta pareció dar señales de aceptar el control congresional de la reconstrucción, pues nombró los generales recomendados por Stanton y Grant para comandar los cincos distritos militares creados por la Ley de Reconstrucción. Sin embargo, esto era una maniobra de Johnson para ganar tiempo, pues tan pronto acabó la sesión del Congreso destituyó a Stanton y le sustituyó por Grant, pues creía que el general sería mucho más fácil de controlar. Además, el presidente sustituyó a cuatro de los comandantes de distritos militares del sur. Grant sorprendió a Johnson al objetar públicamente las movidas del presidente. Cuando el Congreso volvió a reunirse anuló la destitución de Stanton. Resultado de imagen para johnson impeachment"

El 21 de febrero de 1868, Johnson oficialmente despidió a Stanton y el secretario se atrincheró en su oficina y se negó a obedecer al presidente. El 24 de febrero de 1868 por primera vez en la historia de los Estados Unidos, el Congreso inició un proceso de residenciamiento para destituir al presidente. Siguiendo el mandato establecido por la constitución, la Cámara de Representantes inició el proceso de residenciamiento contra Johnson acusándole de once cargos de mala conducta presidencial, siete de ellos por haber violado la Ley de tenencia de un cargo público.  Una vez establecidas las acusaciones en la Cámara, el Senado pasó a enjuiciar al presidente. Tras un juicio de once semanas de duración, Johnson se salvó de ser el primer presidente en ser destituido por un voto, pues se requería que dos terceras partes de los senadores le condenaran (36) y sólo 35 senadores lo encontraron culpable de los cargos de que se le acusaba.  Siete republicanos moderados votaron a favor de Johnson porque no estaban seguros de la constitucionalidad de la Ley  de tenencia de un cargo público, que en efecto fue más tarde declarada inconstitucional por el Tribunal Supremo. Para este grupo de legisladores, destituir a Johnson hubiera sido un acto muy extremo, pues habría establecido un antecedente muy peligroso. En otras palabras, para ellos era más importante salvaguardar el sistema político estadounidense que castigar a Johnson.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 15 de noviembre de 2019


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Thin LightAcabo de leer un libro extraordinario, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipations in the Heart of America. Su autor, Edward L. Ayers, es un historiador estadounidense, ex Presidente de la Universidad de Richmond y miembro fundador del  podcast de historia estadounidense Backstory.  The Thin Light of Freedom completa su obra In The Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863, ganadora del prestigioso Bancroft Prize del año 2004.

Ganador del 2018 Lincoln Prize, este libro examina la guerra de secesión estadounidense a partir de 1863, desde la perspectiva de dos condados estadounidenses claves por su ubicación estratégica: Franklin (Pensilvania-Unionista) y Augusta (Virginia-Confederado). Ello le permite a su autor hacer un examen  micro de un proceso histórico tan complejo como la guerra civil estadounidense.

Dada la magnitud de esta obra, me limitaré hacer algunos comentarios generales sobre su contenido.


Edward L. Ayers

En más de una ocasión he escuchado  a colegas minimizar e inclusive negar la esclavitud como el factor clave de la guerra civil estadounidense. Quienes así piensan, por lo general justifican su argumento subrayando la disposición de Lincoln para un acomodo con el Sur que evitara la secesión y la guerra. Ayers hace un trabajo extraordinario subrayando la centralidad de la esclavitud  en el guerra civil estadounidense. Tal vez Lincoln estuvo dispuesto a llegar a un acuerdo sobre el futuro de la esclavitud, pero el Sur no. En otras palabras, es la tenaz resistencia de los esclavistas lo que lleva al Norte a adoptar una posición abolicionista. Según Ayers, la libertad para los negros avanzó más rápido de lo que sus defensores habían podido imaginar, gracias a la agresividad de los sureños. Para acabar con el Sur – y poner fin a la guerra – era necesario acabar con la esclavitud.

Ayers enfatiza que la emancipación y la Reconstrucción no eran inevitables resultados de la economía moderna, del poder del Norte o de la justicia. Las consecuencias de la guerra permanecieron en duda durante el conflicto y el periodo posterior. Pocos hubieran imaginado en 1860 que en cinco años la esclavitud sería destruida y que los libertos se convertirían en ciudadanos estadounidenses.

En la etapa posterior a la guerra –la llamada Reconstrucción– la actitud de los sureños también jugó un papel clave. Su resistencia y oposición ayudaron a que la revolución que la Reconstrucción significaba avanzara.

Sin embargo, no hay un final feliz. Los enemigos de la libertad de los negros no desaparecieron después de la Reconstrucción. Éstos no se rindieron y por décadas lucharon para hacer retroceder la expansión de la democracia en el Sur, socavando los derechos adquiridos por los negros en la década de 1860.


The Battle of Nashville (Library of Congress)

No puedo terminara sin subrayar dos elementos impresionantes de este libro: lo bien que está escrito y sus fuentes. Esta es una obra con una narración extraordinaria que atrapa al lector sin perder profundidad académica. Ayers recurre a una variedad extraordinaria de fuentes primaras: periódicos, informes, cartas, etc. Destaca el uso de diarios para reconstruir cómo experimentaron la guerra soldados, esposas de soldados, civiles, etc.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 19 de julio de 2018

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download-1El 2018 Lincoln Prize ha sido sido concedido al trabajo de Edward Ayers,  The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (W.W. Norton and Company). Este premio, que consiste de $50,000, es otorgado anualmente por  el Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History para reconocer el mejor trabajo investigativo sobre Lincoln y el periodo de la guerra civil. Ayers es un historiador estadounidense, ex Presidente de la Universidad de Richmond y miembro fundador de unos de los mejores podcast de historia estadounidense: Backstory. Ha sido merecedor tanto del Bancroft Prize como  del Beveridge Prize.

Vale mencionar a los finalistas de tan prestigioso premio:

  • Ron Chernow, Grant (Penguin Press).
  • Gordon Rhea, On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-14, 1864 (LSU Press).
  • Tera Hunter, Bound in Wedlock:  Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century(Harvard University Press).
  • Cate Lineberry, Be Free or Die (St. Martin’s Press).
  • Graham Peck, Making an Antislavery Nation(University of Illinois Press).
  • Adam I.P. Smith, The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics: 1846—1865 (University of North Carolina Press).

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What Union Soldiers Thought About the Civil War


The New York Times  October 17, 2014

Several years ago, a thick sheaf of Civil War letters was discovered in an old barn in upstate New York. Most were sent by a Union soldier, Charles Freeman Biddlecom, to his wife, the former Esther Lapham. Now edited and published by Katherine M. Aldridge, who owns the barn, they provide a remarkably candid window into the outlook of an ordinary infantryman. They also caution us against exaggerating the affinity of common soldiers for the great causes — the Union and emancipation — that we now hold in such high regard.

Today we often remember Union soldiers as principled, articulate and ready to sacrifice their lives for something larger. The historians James McPherson and Chandra Manning each have written influential recent volumes articulating soldiers’ views: McPherson’s Union soldiers were “intensely aware of the issues at stake and passionately concerned about them”; they knew that they were playing roles in a transcendently important struggle, on which the future of the American nation would pivot. Likewise, the “commitment to emancipation” among Manning’s Union soldiers deepened and intensified as the war progressed. For them, “ideals like liberty, equality, and self-government” were not empty abstractions but core principles worth fighting to uphold.

The filmmaker Ken Burns spearheaded this heroic reassessment with his widely watched public television series on the Civil War in the early 1990s. Most memorably, Burns used the emotionally charged letter to “My very dear Sarah” from a Rhode Island infantryman, Sullivan Ballou, written in July 1861 just before the battle of Bull Run. Much as Ballou wanted to return to his loved ones unharmed and to see his sons grow to “honorable manhood,” he gave ultimate priority to his country. He and his generation owed a great debt to “those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution.” He was “willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.” Untold millions of television viewers, alerted that Ballou’s iconic letter was his last, have listened intently to its dramatic rereading, complete with stringed instruments in the background, tugging at our heartstrings.

Ballou’s noble and stoic valedictory makes for splendid theater, but the messy realities of war swept into the Army countless men whose commitment to big causes was far more muddled and erratic – men like Charles Biddlecom, who lived as a farmer in Macedon, N.Y., just east of Rochester.

On the face of it, Biddlecom might have been a promising candidate for Burns’s honor roll. He was educated, he wrote vivid prose, he was older than the average (born in 1832) and he came from a region where slavery was deplored and enthusiasm for reform was widespread. So one might expect Biddlecom to have embraced the Union cause for all the right reasons. But in his letters, we find that he saw no purpose in the war and considered himself a helpless pawn in an enormous kill-or-be-killed chess match.

Biddlecom first enlisted in May 1861, as a volunteer in the 28th New York Infantry. Suspecting that the “fuss” soon would be over, he wanted to rout the “southern whelps.” But his health deteriorated, and he was discharged before he saw combat.

Two years later, however, in the summer of 1863, Biddlecom was called back. The war had grown to proportions unimaginable in 1861. He and many other “poor forsaken conscripts” were assigned to rebuild the depleted ranks of the 147th New York, which had been decimated on the first day at Gettysburg. The re-formed regiment was stationed in a dismal part of Northern Virginia, already scarred by three years of warfare.

As the army went into winter quarters, Biddlecom was sickened by dysentery, afflicted by lice and miserably lonesome and homesick. He and three other men lived in a “little dog kennel,” about four feet high. In his darker moments he predicted cynically that the war would grind on inconclusively for 20 years, because “Lincoln and his miserable crew” could never bring it to a successful finish. Biddlecom also second-guessed the decision to go to war in the first place. Much as he hated slaveholders, he mused that it might have been “better in the end to have let the South go out peaceably and tried her hand at making a nation.”

Biddlecom longed to go home to rejoin his family. Some men, he observed, had been discharged who were “not a bit more disabled than I am,” and he vowed to follow their example. By spring, as the prospect of renewed fighting came closer, the trickle of deserters fleeing into the nearby mountains from the 147th increased. Most nights two or three men quietly absconded to join the euphemistic “Blue Ridge Corps,” and Biddlecom predicted that the regiment stood to lose 150 men. In some ways he sympathized with the deserters — he agreed that no conscript should have to serve longer than nine months — but he could not see himself “sneaking off.”

In early May 1864, Biddlecom and his regiment were thrown across the Rapidan River into the terrifying caldron of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. Ten days of fighting in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania left his division “terribly cut up,” with half his own company killed or wounded, and others missing. By early June, barely 100 of the 550 men in his regiment who had started the campaign remained fit for duty.

Biddlecom initially hoped that Grant could bring the war to a prompt end, but six weeks of inconclusive bloodletting rekindled his cynicism. He dismissed as “bosh” all talk about “great Union victories.” Reports about the “pluck and courage” of the Union Army were “the worst kind of exaggeration.” The Army was “worn out, discouraged, [and] demoralized.” He admonished his wife, Esther, to reject “newspaper hokum” that depicted ordinary soldiers as patriotic. Men would fight to preserve their reputations, but “as for men fighting from pure love of country, I think them as few as white blackbirds.”

What motivated Biddlecom to continue fighting? Certainly not the high ideals depicted McPherson or Manning. It was in part personal. Convinced that he was the “black sheep” of his family and that most of his kinfolk “never gave me credit for being much of a man,” he carried a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to make it clear that he was “not an absolute failure in all things.” He was determined not to disgrace his parents or stigmatize his sons by “showing cowardice.” But, he insisted, he was neither a “Union Saver” nor a “freedom shrieker.” He rejected all high-flown rationalizations for the war effort — “to hell with the devilish twaddle about freedom.”

As late as August 1864, Biddlecom believed that the men in the Army would vote “four to one” against Lincoln. He resolved to support the president’s opponent, George B. McClellan, on grounds that wasting “more blood and treasure in this war will be productive of more evil to the white race than it will be of good to the black race.” He was content to allow slavery to “die a peaceful death,” even if it required 50 or 100 years.

As Union prospects brightened and the election approached, however, Biddlecom reversed himself and spurned the “copperhead ticket.” Suddenly, the soldier who was no “freedom shrieker” embraced the war “for freedom, [and] for equal rights.” On Election Day in November he sounded entirely unlike his old self, as he pontificated that the contest would decide “the future of American civilization.” It pitted “Lincoln and the universal rights of man” against “McClellan and another compromise with the Devil.” He heralded the outcome for affirming that “freedom shall extend over the whole nation.” The “greatest nation of Earth” would not bow down to “traitors in arms.”

So Biddlecom’s pithy letters convey a mixed message. Until the autumn of 1864, he disdained all ideological rationalizations for the Union war effort. But he also was a team player, and his team appears to have broken strongly toward Lincoln. The army, he decided, was “a very good school for hot heads such as I was.” Home influences may also have played a role — after all, the men in his regiment came from one of the most intensely Republican regions in the country.

The patriotic prose that Charles Biddlecom penned in November 1864 would have delighted Ken Burns. But we dare not forget the long and circuitous journey that finally landed him among the charmed circle of those Union soldiers whose ideas square with modern sensibilities.

Follow Disunion at twitter.com/NYTcivilwar or join us on Facebook.

Sources: Katherine M. Aldridge, ed., “No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom”; James McPherson, “For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War”; Chandra Manning, “When This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War.”

Daniel W. Crofts

Daniel W. Crofts, a professor emeritus of history at The College of New Jersey, is completing a new book, entitled “Lincoln’s Other Thirteenth Amendment: Rewriting the Constitution to Conciliate the Slave South.

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La Universidad de Columbia acaba de dar acceso gratuito a los cursos “online” (MOOC) del historiador norteamericano Eric Foner. Autor de obras imprescindibles como Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877  (1988) y The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2011), Foner es uno de los grandes analistas de la guerra civil norteamericana y del periodo de la Reconstrucción.

Columbia University Releases Eric Foner’s Civil War MOOCs. It’s Free! 

HNN  September 17, 2014

Free history courses to reach educators and students worldwide, expanding Columbia’s online teaching initiatives

NEW YORK, New York, September 11, 2014 — Columbia University’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) today announced the release of three new online courses on edX: The Civil War and Reconstruction. Eric Foner, Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian and Columbia University’s DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, teaches this three-part massive open online course (MOOC). On Wednesday, September 17, the first course launches – the series is free and accessible to anyone anywhere with an Internet connection, including K-12 educators and students.

The new history series, the first humanities course offering by Columbia on edX, is an open learning experience spread out over weeks of stimulating lectures, interactive assignments, and community discussions. The entire series is 27 weeks long and challenges students to examine the politics of history and investigate themes that are still very present in our national dialogue – the balance of power between local and national authority, the boundaries of citizenship, and the meaning of freedom and equality.

“We are delighted that Eric Foner is kicking off Columbia’s involvement with the edX platform,” said Columbia University Provost John H. Coatsworth. “His course series on the Civil War will highlight one of our finest teachers while providing students around the world with a window on to the outstanding humanities instruction for which Columbia is known.”

The three online courses are:

1. A House Divided: The Road to Civil War, 1850-1861 – 10 weeks, beginning September 17

2. A New Birth of Freedom: The Civil War, 1861-1865 – 8 weeks, beginning December 1

3. The Unfinished Revolution: Reconstruction and After, 1865-1890 – 9 weeks, beginning February 25

The series trailer is online here:

“Recent events have underscored the fact that our society is still grappling with the long-term legacies of slavery and the failure of Reconstruction, so this history is especially pertinent today” said Professor Foner.

“If you want to know where the world you’re living in came from,” Foner tells us in the trailer, “you need to know about the Civil War era.”

“The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning is thrilled to see Eric Foner‘s work published this way,” said CCNMTL director Maurice Matiz. “Besides having a great interest in getting those connected to Columbia during Foner’s long career —our alumni— access to the course, we are also hoping that the course will have broad appeal given the public interest in this key period of our history.”

“We are honored to work with Eric Foner on his first MOOC, “The Civil War and Reconstruction,” and to help history-lovers everywhere connect with this prominent historian to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of our shared past and society today,” said Anant Agarwal, edX CEO and professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

This MOOC series is also registered as an XSeries on edX, giving learners the opportunity to sign up and receive a verified certificate of achievement that authenticates their successful completion of each course.

Visit ColumbiaX here.

In addition, the lecture videos from the entire course will be published on CCNMTL’s YouTube channel.

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Setenta y cinco años de “Lo que el viento se llevó”

Manuel Martínez Maldonado
80 grados   12 de septiembre de 2014


Luego de un blitzkrieg publicitario que giraba sobre quién iba a interpretar a Scarlett O’Hara el legendario David O. Selznick anunció a Vivien Leigh como la escogida. En el año 1939, preámbulo temporal de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, la Civil estadounidense habría de tomar primer plano en las pantallas de los cines de unos Estados Unidos sospechosos de las tendencias socialistas de Franklin Roosevelt y su Nuevo Trato, y en contra de cualquier intervención del país en los problemas europeos. Curiosamente, en una vuelta repleta de ironía, Selznick fue a buscar ayuda de los ingleses para conseguir la actriz que representaría a su heroína sin saber que pronto los ingleses le estarían pidiendo socorro a los norteamericanos cuando los alemanes se iban acercando a Gran Bretaña. También fue capaz por un tiempo de lograr que la atención de su país se concentrara en una guerra que ya había transcurrido y no en una que se estaba empollando.

De todas las actrices que compitieron por el papel –Paulette Goddard, Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Susan Hayward, y otras− es imposible ver a ninguna de ellas como la sagaz, impertinente, valerosa y bella Scarlett que fue Leigh, al momento la mujer de Laurence Olivier. Esa contribución de Inglaterra al cine mundial es digna de recordar porque sin duda demostró una confianza entre los dos países en una industria que habría de contribuir enormemente al triunfo aliado en la guerra. Importar la estrella del filme del cine inglés implicaba un vínculo estrecho entre los dos países, una confianza en que las asociaciones angloamericanas funcionaban a un nivel sublime (artístico) y práctico (los ingresos en la taquilla). Las negociaciones entre Alexander Korda, quien tenía a Leigh bajo contrato, y Selznick, ambos judíos, fueron el contrapunto a las de Churchill y Roosevelt. De la primera se esperaba el triunfo del arte; de la segunda, el triunfo de la humanidad. Como sabemos, así fue. El éxito de esa simbiosis transatlántica se comprobó cuando la película obtuvo trece nominaciones para el Oscar y ganó ocho, incluyendo mejor película, mejor actriz principal (Leigh), mejor actriz de reparto, Hattie McDaniel (Mammy), y produjo treinta y dos millones de dólares cuando esos valían mucho más que ahora. Se calcula que desde su debut el filme ha recaudado el equivalente a $3.3 billones de dólares. En otras palabras, una de las películas más taquilleras en la historia.

El triunfo de la película después que debutó en 1939 fue tal que se proyectó durante los bombardeos nazis de Londres y estuvo en cartelera allí por cuatro años. Ya para el 1942, después del ataque a Pearl Harbor, Inglaterra contaba con la ayuda completa de los Estados Unidos y los ingleses podían ir a los cines del West End a ver GWTW sabiendo que contaban con la ayuda militar que impediría un triunfo nazi. Además, se podía ver en pantalla un paralelismo temático entre GWTW y lo que estaba ocurriendo en el mundo que nunca consideró Margaret Mitchell. Publicada en 1937, con Hitler apoderado de Alemania, la novela idealizó la esclavitud y presentó a los negros esclavos como figuras complacidas y agradecidas de sus dueños. Esto mientras los nazis comenzaban los abusos contra los “inferiores”, representados por los judíos, los gitanos, otros “con inestabilidad racial”, los enfermos y los homosexuales. Esa ilusión de complacencia la usaron Hitler y sus asesinos recurriendo a las patrañas montadas en Theresienstadt, un campo de concentración cerca de Praga en el que se idealizaba por unos días (conciertos, juegos de fútbol, paradas) la vida de sus prisioneros para satisfacer las visitas periódicas de la Cruz Roja.  Como si fuera poco, parte de la novela y de la película trata muy de paso el origen del Ku Klux Klan cuyas ideas eran (son) paralelas a las de la Gestapo y la SS. Lo más probable es que Mitchell no estuviera familiarizada, como también lo desconocía la mayoría de los norteamericanos, con los campos de concentración nazis que comenzaron en 1935-36, pero que no aumentaron numéricamente hasta el año en que debutó la película, ni comenzaron sus programas de exterminio masivo hasta más tarde. Sin embargo, los arrabales a los que estaban condenados los libertos que surgieron en el Sur durante la época de la Reconstrucción son, hasta cierto punto, el reflejo del discrimen y el prejuicio racial en esos estados que aceptaron su derrota pero no cambiaron sus costumbres. Esos guetos de pobreza, hambre y linchamientos lo único que no tenían era cámaras de gases.

Cuando el filme debutó en Atlanta con un fastuoso desfile de lujo, la segregación racial en la ciudad imposibilitó la presencia de Hattie MacDaniel y Butterlfy McQueen (Prissy). Esta última no solo fue víctima del prejuicio del los blancos, sino también del desprecio de otros miembros de su raza porque consideraron su actuación servil, paródica y denigrante. Hoy día es difícil no ver que hay mucho de cierto en esa apreciación, pero no creo (como ha de ser patente a todos los que ven el filme) que la representación de Prissy estuviera bajo el control “artístico” o emocional de la actriz. Dudo además que las descargas contra la actuación de McQueen reflejen lo que pudo haber sentido ella en su corazón; después de todo, estaba haciendo su trabajo. No hay duda de que el filme tiene unos enfoques que se consideran políticamente incorrectos en el ambiente de hoy día. Sin embargo, no es ni tendencioso ni irresponsable como lo fue en su época con el tema racial “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), tanto así que era usada por el Ku Klux Klan como mecanismo de reclutamiento de miembros.

pruebasinprisa2Más central que el tema racial, GWTW presenta a Scarlett como una mujer emprendedora que lucha contra todo infortunio sin dejarse vencer por las circunstancias. Ella comprende que la guerra está cambiando, no solo el paisaje a su alrededor, sino la vida que ella conoció cuando joven. El viento de la guerra se ha llevado el pasado para siempre y es evidente que las costumbres de su mundo han mutado irremediablemente. Esos cambios inducidos por la guerra influyeron en las transformaciones que la derrota causó en los líderes de los estados de la Confederación. Curiosamente, en su gran libro sobre la guerra Civil Norteamericana, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988, Ballantine Book, N.Y.) James M. McPherson argumenta que a pesar de que ya en Europa y en el resto del hemisferio occidental se había abolido la esclavitud y el servilismo institucionalizado, el Sur se aferraba a esos sistemas. Eso, según el eminente historiador, hizo que los siete estados secesionistas reclamaran que eran ellos los que estaban protegiendo los derechos y valores tradicionales según el norte se lanzaba a un futuro de capitalismo industrial. De hecho, Scarlett, contrario a la tradición de la “beldad sureña” (“southern belle”) se representa como alguien que comienza a adaptarse a las nuevas ideas norteñas.  Ya había demostrado ser un espíritu libre y autosuficiente, capaz de valerse por sí misma y defender lo suyo. Con el final de la guerra se convierte en la operadora de un aserradero, rompiendo así con las nociones tradicionales antiguas y demostrando su capacidad para los negocios.

Hoy día los derechos de las mujeres son parte de la cotidianidad, aunque aún faltan muchas barreras por derribar. Mas en 1939, en una película vista por poco menos de la mitad de la población de los EE UU (vendió sesenta millones de boletos en una población de cerca de ciento treinta millones de personas), ver a una mujer manejar un negocio y trabajar fuera del hogar no era la visión tradicional ni en el sur ni en el norte. En eso la película fue profética. Cuando la necesidad de producir barcos de guerra, tanques, aviones, armas, municiones, uniformes y otras necesidades para los soldados en dos frentes se agudizó durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, las mujeres emularon a Scarlett: fueron a trabajar para defender su vida y mantener sus hogares. En contraste con Scarlett, quien pasó a ser una matrona de sociedad, muchas mujeres de los 40 del siglo pasado, se quedaron trabajando y no volvieron a la vida tradicional de amas de casa.

Otros historiadores, incluyendo a McPherson, dan fe de que ningún suceso hizo tanto para cambiar la vida de la nación norteamericana como la Guerra Civil (1861-65). GWTW nos presenta el melodrama de Scarlett, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable, en quien pensó Mitchell mientras escribía su novela), Melanie (la extraordinaria Olivia de Havilland), Ashley (el perfecto Leslie Howard) y su familia, como uno que ejemplifica lo que debe de haber sucedido en muchos lugares del Sur Antebellum. En hacerlo plasmó para un gran público ese suceso transcendental que aún hoy día tiene relevancia. Solo hay que ver la división tajante entre conservadores y liberales en este momento, y, más allá de lo que nadie pudo haberse imaginado, la reacción que la derecha conservadora ha tenido ante un presidente negro, para darse cuenta de la profundidad de la herida causada por una guerra que cumple ciento cincuenta años de terminada en 2015. Tal parece que el impasse ideológico político de hoy día no es otra cosa que una lucha perniciosa que viene desde la Guerra Civil pero que se ha recrudecido e intensificado porque no había tenido un protagonista negro tan prominente. Una lucha cuyo resultado constitutivo y abolicionista ha logrado muy poco (como los sucesos en Ferguson atestiguan) en mejorar el prejuicio contra la gente de color y las relaciones raciales en los EEUU.

Aunque sigue teniendo sus críticos, GWTW es vista y admirada por miles. Según los tiempos han ido cambiando la estética cinemática también se ha transformado. La popularidad de las películas generadas por computadores y las técnicas de digitalización han hecho mella en la percepción de este clásico y de muchos otros. A pesar de eso uno puede apreciar GWTW como precursora de muchos temas que hoy día son causa de preocupación en la sociedad. Como sucede con muchos clásicos después de un tiempo la tentación de interpretaciones revisionistas es enorme. No empece, no cabe duda de que GWTW llega a su aniversario de diamante como un gran logro del cinema. Si no la han experimentado, háganlo y consideren analizar sus temas y postulados en el contexto de lo que ocurre hoy día en los Estados Unidos. Tendrán mucho de qué pensar.

Manuel Martínez Maldonado

Manuel Martínez Maldonado

Nació en Yauco, Puerto Rico. Fue crítico de cine de Caribbean Business, El Reportero y El Mundo en San Juan (1978 a 1989). Sus poemas y ensayos han aparecido en Yunque, Revista de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Caribán, Mairena, Pharos, Linden Lane, Resonancias, y la Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Ha publicado los poemarios La Voz Sostenida (Mairena,1984); Palm Beach Blues (Editorial Cultural, 1985); Por Amor al Arte (Playor, 1989); Hotel María (Verbum, 1999); y Novela de Mediodía (Editorial Cultural, 2003). También ha publicado las novelas Isla Verde (1999) y El vuelo del dragón (2011).

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We still lie about slavery: Here’s the truth about how the American economy and power were built on forced migration and torture

Edward E. Baptist

Salon.com  September 7, 2014

We still lie about slavery: Here's the truth about how the American economy and power were built on forced migration and torture

The Shores family, near Westerville, Neb., in 1887. Jerry Shores was one of a number of former slaves to settle in Custer County. (Credit: AP/Solomon D. Butcher)


A beautiful late April day, seventy-two years after slavery ended in the United States. Claude Anderson parks his car on the side of Holbrook Street in Danville. On the porch of number 513, he rearranges the notepads under his arm. Releasing his breath in a rush of decision, he steps up to the door of the handmade house and knocks.

Danville is on the western edge of the Virginia Piedmont. Back in 1865, it had been the last capital of the Confederacy. Or so Jefferson Davis had proclaimed on April 3, after he fled Richmond. Davis stayed a week, but then he had to keep running. The blue-coated soldiers of the Army of the Potomac were hot on his trail. When they got to Danville, they didn’t find the fugitive rebel. But they did discover hundreds of Union prisoners of war locked in the tobacco warehouses downtown. The bluecoats, rescuers and rescued, formed up and paraded through town. Pouring into the streets around them, dancing and singing, came thousands of African Americans. They had been prisoners for far longer.

In the decades after the jubilee year of 1865, Danville, like many other southern villages, had become a cotton factory town. Anderson, an African-American master’s student from Hampton University, would not have been able to work at the segregated mill. But the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a bureau of the federal government created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, would hire him. To put people back to work after they had lost their jobs in the Great Depression, the WPA organized thousands of projects, hiring construction workers to build schools and artists to paint murals. And many writers and students were hired to interview older Americans—like Lorenzo Ivy, the man painfully shuffling across the pine board floor to answer Anderson’s knock.

Anderson had found Ivy’s name in the Hampton University archives, two hundred miles east of Danville. Back in 1850, when Lorenzo had been born in Danville, there was neither a university nor a city called Hampton—just an American fort named after a slaveholder president. Fortress Monroe stood on Old Point Comfort, a narrow triangle of land that divided the Chesapeake Bay from the James River. Long before the fort was built, in April 1607, the Susan Constant had sailed past the point with a boatload of English settlers. Anchoring a few miles upriver, they had founded Jamestown, the first permanent English- speaking settlement in North America. Twelve years later, the crews of two storm-damaged English privateers also passed, seeking shelter and a place to sell the twenty- odd enslaved Africans (captured from a Portuguese slaver) lying shackled in their holds.

After that first 1619 shipload, some 100,000 more enslaved Africans would sail upriver past Old Point Comfort. Lying in chains in the holds of slave ships, they could not see the land until they were brought up on deck to be sold. After the legal Atlantic slave trade to the United States ended in 1807, hundreds of thousands more enslaved people passed the point. Now they were going the other way, boarding ships at Richmond, the biggest eastern center of the internal slave trade, to go by sea to the Mississippi Valley.

By the time a dark night came in late May 1861, the moon had waxed and waned three thousand times over slavery in the South. To protect slavery, Virginia had just seceded from the United States, choosing a side at last after six months of indecision in the wake of South Carolina’s rude exit from the Union. Fortress Monroe, built to protect the James River from ocean- borne invaders, became the Union’s last toehold in eastern Virginia. Rebel troops entrenched themselves athwart the fort’s landward approaches. Local planters, including one Charles Mallory, detailed enslaved men to build berms to shelter the besiegers’ cannon. But late this night, Union sentries on the fort’s seaward side saw a small skiff emerging slowly from the darkness. Frank Baker and Townshend rowed with muffled oars. Sheppard Mallory held the tiller. They were setting themselves free.

A few days later, Charles Mallory showed up at the gates of the Union fort. He demanded that the commanding federal officer, Benjamin Butler, return his property. Butler, a politician from Massachusetts, was an incompetent battlefield commander, but a clever lawyer. He replied that if the men were Mallory’s property, and he was using them to wage war against the US government, then logically the men were therefore contraband of war.

Those first three “contrabands” struck a crack in slavery’s centuries-old wall. Over the next four years, hundreds of thousands more enslaved people widened the crack into a gaping breach by escaping to Union lines. Their movement weakened the Confederate war effort and made it easier for the United States and its president to avow mass emancipation as a tool of war. Eventually the Union Army began to welcome formerly enslaved men into its ranks, turning refugee camps into recruiting stations—and those African-American soldiers would make the difference between victory and defeat for the North, which by late 1863 was exhausted and uncertain.

After the war, Union officer Samuel Armstrong organized literacy programs that had sprung up in the refugee camp at Old Point Comfort to form Hampton Institute. In 1875, Lorenzo Ivy traveled down to study there, on the ground zero of African- American history. At Hampton, he acquired an education that enabled him to return to Danville as a trained schoolteacher. He educated generations of African-American children. He built the house on Holbrook Street with his own Hampton-trained hands, and there he sheltered his father, his brother, his sister-in-law, and his nieces and nephews. In April 1937, Ivy opened the door he’d made with hands and saw and plane, and it swung clear for Claude Anderson without rubbing the frame.

Anderson’s notepads, however, were accumulating evidence of two very different stories of the American past—halves that did not fit together neatly. And he was about to hear more. Somewhere in the midst of the notepads was a typed list of questions supplied by the WPA. Questions often reveal the desired answer. By the 1930s, most white Americans had been demanding for decades that they hear only a sanitized version of the past into which Lorenzo Ivy had been born. This might seem strange. In the middle of the nineteenth century, white Americans had gone to war with each other over the future of slavery in their country, and slavery had lost. Indeed, for a few years after 1865, many white northerners celebrated emancipation as one of their collective triumphs. Yet whites’ belief in the emancipation made permanent by the Thirteenth Amendment, much less in the race- neutral citizenship that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments had written into the Constitution, was never that deep. Many northerners had only supported Benjamin Butler and Abraham Lincoln’s moves against slavery because they hated the arrogance of slaveholders like Charles Mallory. And after 1876, northern allies abandoned southern black voters.

Within half a century after Butler sent Charles Mallory away from Fortress Monroe empty-handed, the children of white Union and Confederate soldiers united against African-American political and civil equality. This compact of white supremacy enabled southern whites to impose Jim Crow segregation on public space, disfranchise African- American citizens by barring them from the polls, and use the lynch- mob noose to enforce black compliance. White Americans imposed increased white supremacy outside the South, too. In non- Confederate states, many restaurants wouldn’t serve black customers. Stores and factories refused to hire African Americans. Hundreds of midwestern communities forcibly evicted African-American residents and became “sundown towns” (“Don’t let the sun set on you in this town”). Most whites, meanwhile, believed that science proved that there were biologically distinct human races, and that Europeans were members of the superior one. Anglo- Americans even believed that they were distinct from and superior to the Jews from Russia, Italians, Greeks, Slavs, and others who flooded Ellis Island and changed the culture of northern urban centers.

By the early twentieth century, America’s first generation of professional historians were justifying the exclusions of Jim Crow and disfranchisement by telling a story about the nation’s past of slavery and civil war that seemed to confirm, for many white Americans, that white supremacy was just and necessary. Above all, the historians of a reunified white nation insisted that slavery was a premodern institution that was not committed to profit-seeking. In so doing, historians were to some extent only repeating pre–Civil War debates: abolitionists had depicted slavery not only as a psychopathic realm of whipping, rape, and family separation, but also as a flawed economic system that was inherently less efficient than the free- labor capitalism developing in the North. Proslavery writers disagreed about the psychopathy, but by the 1850s they agreed that enslavers were first and foremost not profit-seekers. For them, planters were caring masters who considered their slaves to be inferior family members. So although anti- and proslavery conclusions about slavery’s morality were different, their premises about slavery-as- a-business model matched. Both agreed that slavery was inherently unprofitable. It was an old, static system that belonged to an earlier time. Slave labor was inefficient to begin with, slave productivity did not increase to keep pace with industrialization, and enslavers did not act like modern profit- seeking businessmen. As a system, slavery had never adapted or changed to thrive in the new industrial economy—let alone to play a premier role as a driver of economic expansion—and had been little more than a drag on the explosive growth that had built the modern United States. In fact, during the Civil War, northerners were so convinced of these points that they believed that shifting from slave labor to free labor would dramatically increase cotton productivity.

It didn’t. But even though the data of declining productivity over the ensuing three score and ten years suggested that slavery might have been the most efficient way to produce the world’s most important crop, no one let empirical tests change their minds. Instead, historians of Woodrow Wilson’s generation imprinted the stamp of academic research on the idea that slavery was separate from the great economic and social transformations of the Western world during the nineteenth century. After all, it did not rely upon ever-more efficient machine labor. Its unprofitable economic structures supposedly produced antique social arrangements, and the industrializing, urbanizing world looked back toward them with contempt—or, increasingly, nostalgia. Many whites, now proclaiming that science proved that people of African descent were intellectually inferior and congenitally prone to criminal behavior, looked wistfully to a past when African Americans had been governed with whips and chains. Granted, slavery as an economic system was not modern, they said, and had neither changed to adapt to the modern economy nor contributed to economic expansion. But to an openly racist historical profession—and a white history- reading, history-thinking public obsessed with all kinds of race control—the white South’s desire to whitewash slavery in the past, and maintain segregation now and forever, served the purpose of validating control over supposedly premodern, semi-savage black people.

Such stories about slavery shaped the questions Claude Anderson was to ask in the 1930s, because you could find openly racist versions of it baked into the recipe of every American textbook. You could find it in popular novels, politicians’ speeches, plantation-nostalgia advertising, and even the first blockbuster American film: Birth of a Nation. As president, Woodrow Wilson—a southern-born history professor—called this paean to white supremacy “history written with lightning,” and screened it at the White House. Such ideas became soaked into the way America publicly depicted slavery. Even many of those who believed that they rejected overt racism depicted the era before emancipation as a plantation idyll of happy slaves and paternalist masters. Abolitionists were snakes in the garden, responsible for a Civil War in which hundreds of thousands of white people died. Maybe the end of slavery had to come for the South to achieve economic modernity, but it didn’t have to come that way, they said.

The way that Americans remember slavery has changed dramatically since then. In tandem with widespread desegregation of public spaces and the assertion of black cultural power in the years between World War II and the 1990s came a new understanding of the experience of slavery. No longer did academic historians describe slavery as a school in which patient masters and mistresses trained irresponsible savages for futures of perpetual servitude. Slavery’s denial of rights now prefigured Jim Crow, while enslaved people’s resistance predicted the collective self-assertion that developed into first the civil rights movement and later, Black Power.

But perhaps the changes were not so great as they seemed on the surface. The focus on showing African Americans as assertive rebels, for instance, implied an uncomfortable corollary. If one should be impressed by those who rebelled, because they resisted, one should not be proud of those who did not. And there were very few rebellions in the history of slavery in the United States. Some scholars tried to backfill against this quandary by arguing that all African Americans together created a culture of resistance, especially in slave quarters and other spaces outside of white observation. Yet the insistence that assertive resistance undermined enslavers’ power, and a focus on the development of an independent black culture, led some to believe that enslaved people actually managed to prevent whites from successfully exploiting their labor. This idea, in turn, created a quasi-symmetry with post–Civil War plantation memoirs that portrayed gentle masters, who maintained slavery as a nonprofit endeavor aimed at civilizing Africans.

Thus, even after historians of the civil rights, Black Power, and multicultural eras rewrote segregationists’ stories about gentlemen and belles and grateful darkies, historians were still telling the half that has ever been told. For some fundamental assumptions about the history of slavery and the history of the United States remain strangely unchanged. The first major assumption is that, as an economic system—a way of producing and trading commodities—American slavery was fundamentally different from the rest of the modern economy and separate from it. Stories about industrialization emphasize white immigrants and clever inventors, but they leave out cotton fields and slave labor. This perspective implies not only that slavery didn’t change, but that slavery and enslaved African Americans had little long-term influence on the rise of the United States during the nineteenth century, a period in which the nation went from being a minor European trading partner to becoming the world’s largest economy—one of the central stories of American history.

The second major assumption is that slavery in the United States was fundamentally in contradiction with the political and economic systems of the liberal republic, and that inevitably that contradiction would be resolved in favor of the free-labor North. Sooner or later, slavery would have ended by the operation of historical forces; thus, slavery is a story without suspense. And a story with a predetermined outcome isn’t a story at all.

Third, the worst thing about slavery as an experience, one is told, was that it denied enslaved African Americans the liberal rights and liberal subjectivity of modern citizens. It did those things as a matter of course, and as injustice, that denial ranks with the greatest in modern history. But slavery also killed people, in large numbers. From those who survived, it stole everything. Yet the massive and cruel engineering required to rip a million people from their homes, brutally drive them to new, disease-ridden places, and make them live in terror and hunger as they continually built and rebuilt a commodity-generating empire—this vanished in the story of a slavery that was supposedly focused primarily not on producing profit but on maintaining its status as a quasi-feudal elite, or producing modern ideas about race in order to maintain white unity and elite power. And once the violence of slavery was minimized, another voice could whisper, saying that African Americans, both before and after emancipation, were denied the rights of citizens because they would not fight for them.

All these assumptions lead to still more implications, ones that shape attitudes, identities, and debates about policy. If slavery was outside of US history, for instance—if indeed it was a drag and not a rocket booster to American economic growth—then slavery was not implicated in US growth, success, power, and wealth. Therefore none of the massive quantities of wealth and treasure piled by that economic growth is owed to African Americans. Ideas about slavery’s history determine the ways in which Americans hope to resolve the long contradiction between the claims of the United States to be a nation of freedom and opportunity, on the one hand, and, on the other, the unfreedom, the unequal treatment, and the opportunity denied that for most of American history have been the reality faced by people of African descent. Surely, if the worst thing about slavery was that it denied African Americans the liberal rights of the citizen, one must merely offer them the title of citizen—even elect one of them president—to make amends. Then the issue will be put to rest forever.

Slavery’s story gets told in ways that reinforce all these assumptions. Textbooks segregate twenty-five decades of enslavement into one chapter, painting a static picture. Millions of people each year visit plantation homes where guides blather on about furniture and silverware. As sites, such homes hide the real purpose of these places, which was to make African Americans toil under the hot sun for the profit of the rest of the world. All this is the “symbolic annihilation” of enslaved people, as two scholars of those weird places put it.2 Meanwhile, at other points we tell slavery’s story by heaping praise on those who escaped it through flight or death in rebellion, leaving the listener to wonder if those who didn’t flee or die somehow “accepted” slavery. And everyone who teaches about slavery knows a little dirty secret that reveals historians’ collective failure: many African-American students struggle with a sense of shame that most of their ancestors could not escape the suffering they experienced.

The truth can set us free, if we can find the right questions. But back in the little house in Danville, Anderson was reading from a list of leading ones, designed by white officials—some well- meaning, some not so well-meaning. He surely felt how the gravity of the questions pulled him toward the planet of plantation nostalgia. “Did slaves mind being called ‘nigger’?” “What did slaves call master or mistress?” “Have you been happier in slavery or free?” “Was the mansion house pretty?” Escaping from chains is very difficult, however, so Anderson dutifully asked the prescribed questions and poised his pencil to take notes.

Ivy listened politely. He sat still. Then he began to speak: “My mother’s master was named William Tunstall. He was a mean man. There was only one good thing he did, and I don’t reckon he intended to do that. He sold our family to my father’s master George H. Gilman.”

Perhaps the wind blowing through the window changed as a cloud moved across the spring sun: “Old Tunstall caught the ‘cotton fever.’ There was a fever going round, leastways it was like a fever. Everyone was dying to get down south and grow cotton to sell. So old Tunstall separated families right and left. He took two of my aunts and left their husbands up here, and he separated altogether seven husbands and wives. One woman had twelve children. Yessir. Took ‘em all down south with him to Georgia and Alabama.”

Pervasive separations. Tears carving lines on faces. Lorenzo remembered his relief at dodging the worst, but he also remembered knowing that it was just a lucky break. Next time it could’ve been his mother. No white person was reliable, because money drove their decisions. No, this wasn’t the story the books told.

So Anderson moved to the next question. Did Ivy know if any slaves had been sold here? Now, perhaps, the room grew darker.

For more than a century, white people in the United States had been singling out slave traders as an exception: unscrupulous lower-class outsiders who pried apart paternalist bonds. Scapegoaters had a noble precedent. In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson tried to blame King George III for using the Atlantic slave trade to impose slavery on the colonies. In historians’ tellings, the 1808 abolition of the Atlantic trade brought stability to slavery, ringing in the “Old South,” as it has been called since before the Civil War. Of course, one might wonder how something that was brand new, created after a revolution, and growing more rapidly than any other commodity-producing economy in history before then could be considered “old.” But never mind. Historians depicted slave trading after 1808 as irrelevant to what slavery was in the “Old South,” and to how America as a whole was shaped. America’s modernization was about entrepreneurs, creativity, invention, markets, movement, and change. Slavery was not about any of these things—not about slave trading, or moving people away from everyone they knew in order to make them make cotton. Therefore, modern America and slavery had nothing to do with each other.

But Ivy spilled out a rush of very different words. “They sold slaves here and everywhere. I’ve seen droves of Negroes brought in here on foot going South to be sold. Each one of them had an old tow sack on his back with everything he’s got in it. Over the hills they came in lines reaching as far as the eye can see. They walked in double lines chained together by twos. They walk ‘em here to the railroad and shipped ’em south like cattle.”

Then Lorenzo Ivy said this: “Truly, son, the half has never been told.”

To this, day, it still has not. For the other half is the story of how slavery changed and moved and grew over time: Lorenzo Ivy’s time, and that of his parents and grandparents. In the span of a single lifetime after the 1780s, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out plantations to a subcontinental empire. Entrepreneurial enslavers moved more than 1 million enslaved people, by force, from the communities that survivors of the slave trade from Africa had built in the South and in the West to vast territories that were seized—also by force—from their Native American inhabitants. From 1783 at the end of the American Revolution to 1861, the number of slaves in the United States increased five times over, and all this expansion produced a powerful nation. For white enslavers were able to force enslaved African-American migrants to pick cotton faster and more efficiently than free people. Their practices rapidly transformed the southern states into the dominant force in the global cotton market, and cotton was the world’s most widely traded commodity at the time, as it was the key raw material during the first century of the industrial revolution. The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the rest of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization. In fact, slavery’s expansion shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of the new nation—not only increasing its power and size, but also, eventually, dividing US politics, differentiating regional identities and interests, and helping to make civil war possible.

The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth. And that truth was the half of the story that survived mostly in the custodianship of those who survived slavery’s expansion—whether they had been taken over the hill, or left behind. Forced migration had shaped their lives, and also had shaped what they thought about their lives and the wider history in which they were enmeshed. Even as they struggled to stay alive in the midst of disruption, they created ways to talk about this half untold. But what survivors experienced, analyzed, and named was a slavery that didn’t fit the comfortable boxes into which other Americans have been trying to fit it ever since it ended.

I read Lorenzo Ivy’s words, and they left me uneasy. I sensed that the true narrative had been left out of history—not only American history in general, but even the history of slavery. I began to look actively for the other half of the story, the one about how slavery constantly grew, changed, and reshaped the modern world. Of how it was both modernizing and modern, and what that meant for the people who lived through its incredible expansion. Once I began to look, I discovered that the traces of the other half were everywhere. The debris of cotton fevers that infected white entrepreneurs and separated man and woman, parent and child, right and left, dusted every set of pre–Civil War letters, newspapers, and court documents. Most of all, the half not told ran like a layer of iridium left by a dinosaur- killing asteroid through every piece of testimony that ex- slaves, such as Lorenzo Ivy, left on the historical record: thousands of stanzas of an epic of forced separations, violence, and new kinds of labor.

For a long time I wasn’t sure how to tell the story of this muscular, dynamic process in a single book. The most difficult challenge was simply the fact that the expansion of slavery in many ways shaped the story of everything in the pre–Civil War United States. Enslavers’ surviving papers showed calculations of returns from slave sales and purchases as well as the costs of establishing new slave labor camps in the cotton states. Newspapers dripped with speculations in land and people and the commodities they produced; dramatic changes in how people made money and how much they made; and the dramatic violence that accompanied these practices. The accounts of northern merchants and bankers and factory owners showed that they invested in slavery, bought from and sold to slaveholders, and took slices of profit out of slavery’s expansion. Scholars and students talked about politics as a battle about states’ rights or republican principles, but viewed in a different light the fights can be seen as a struggle between regions about how the rewards of slavery’s expansion would be allocated and whether that expansion could continue.

The story seemed too big to fit into one framework. Even Ivy had no idea how to count the chained lines he saw going southwest toward the mountains on the horizon and the vast open spaces beyond. From the 1790s to the 1860s, enslavers moved 1 million people from the old slave states to the new. They went from making no cotton to speak of in 1790 to making almost 2 billion pounds of it in 1860. Stretching out beyond the slave South, the story encompassed not only Washington politicians and voters across the United States but also Connecticut factories, London banks, opium addicts in China, and consumers in East Africa. And could one book do Lorenzo Ivy’s insight justice? It would have to avoid the old platitudes, such as the easy temptation to tell the story as a collection of topics—here a chapter on slave resistance, there one on women and slavery, and so on. That kind of abstraction cuts the beating heart out of the story. For the half untold was a narrative, a process of movement and change and suspense. Things happened because of what had been done before them—and what people chose to do in response.

No, this had to be a story, and one couldn’t tell it solely from the perspective of powerful actors. True, politicians and planters and bankers shaped policies, the movement of people, and the growing and selling of cotton, and even remade the land itself. But when one takes Lorenzo Ivy’s words as a starting point, the whole history of the United States comes walking over the hill behind a line of people in chains. Changes that reshaped the entire world began on the auction block where enslaved migrants stood or in the frontier cotton fields where they toiled. Their individual drama was a struggle to survive. Their reward was to endure a brutal transition to new ways of labor that made them reinvent themselves every day. Enslaved people’s creativity enabled their survival, but, stolen from them in the form of ever- growing cotton productivity, their creativity also expanded the slaveholding South at an unprecedented rate. Enslaved African Americans built the modern United States, and indeed the entire modern world, in ways both obvious and hidden.

One day I found a metaphor that helped. It came from the great African-American author Ralph Ellison. You might know his novel Invisible Man. But in the 1950s, Ellison also produced incredible essays. In one of them he wrote, “On the moral level I propose we view the whole of American life as a drama enacted on the body of a Negro giant who, lying trussed up like Gulliver, forms the stage and the scene upon which and within which the action unfolds.”

The image fit the story that Ivy’s words raised above the watery surface of buried years. The only problem was that Ellison’s image implied a stationary giant. In the old myth, the stationary, quintessentially unchanging plantation was the site and the story of African-American life from the seventeenth century to the twentieth. But Lorenzo Ivy had described a world in motion. After the American Revolution—which seemed at the time to portend slavery’s imminent demise—a metastatic transformation and growth of slavery’s giant body had begun instead. From the exploitation, commodification, and torture of enslaved people’s bodies, enslavers and other free people gained new kinds of modern power. The sweat and blood of the growing system, a network of individuals and families and labor camps that grew bigger with each passing year, fueled massive economic change. Enslaved people, meanwhile, transported and tortured, had to find ways to survive, resist, or endure. And over time the question of their freedom or bondage came to occupy the center of US politics.

Excerpted from “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward E. Baptist. Published by Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2014 by Edward E. Baptist. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Edward E. Baptist is Associate professor at Cornell University

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