viernes, 24 de julio de 2009

Reparations for Slavery Is Dumb, says "History Professor" Guelzo

Read this article published in the Christian Science Monitor and reprinted by the History News Network. Then read my response, or write your own.

The article is authored by Allen C. Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, and the author of "Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President." He reminds me of another Civil War History Professor I love to hate: Ira Berlin. Anyway...

First the history. You would think a famous historian such as Guelzo, writing specifically about his area of investigation, should be able to make a better argument than: because most slave masters were between 17-45 years old, and because most casualties of the civil war were of that age group, then therefore most casualties were slave owners, and therefore the debt has already been repaid in blood. First, obviously, most people in the South of any age group were not slave owners. Second, slave owners were less likely to fight than non-slave owners. Why? Well, quite simply, someone had to keep running the plantations and make sure the slaves were kept from general insurrection (not to mention keep the Southern economy going to support the war effort). Would it make sense that the slave masters left their plantations at the charge of poor whites in order to go fight the Civil War? If a historian is to make such a bold and ridiculous assertion, s/he must provide extraordinary proof. None is provided. I did a quick search of Civil War books on Amazon and the top two books which treated the topic of "who fought the Civil War and why" had no mention of slave masters doing any fighting. None. Thus I stand by my obvious conclusion that few slave masters, numerically and percent-wise, fought in the war.

Now for the question of reparations. I will respond point by point.

1) The Federal Gov't was responsible for slavery. It sanctioned it (in the positive sense of the word) officially and unofficially. The author mentions the Fugitive Slave Act but then disregards its importance. Slavery would not have been possible in much of the South if the Federal Government allowed northern states to give slaves refuge from their masters.
Of course, state governments are also responsible, but as the author mentions, it would be impractical to sue each state in court one by one. You might as well sue white people one by one, if you don't mind being totally impractical.

2)Who should be paid? Rather than have a few justices decide who should be paid, let's have blacks come together in town hall meetings and decide for themselves, with the help of experts on the subject, what remedies would be acceptable to them as a group.

3) The Civil War was not reparations. 40 acres and a mule (taken from the slaves' masters) might have constituted reparations (ignoring Africa's and Latin America's claim for reparations for a moment), but that was never given. As I said in the beginning, slave masters were not significantly represented in the bloodshed. But even if they were, the U.S. as a whole benefited from the economy which rested on the backs of slaves.

Aside from the legal tort issue, let's remember that the effects of slavery on the economic and political inequalities between blacks and whites continue to weigh heavily on this country and on the world. I personally think one fair arrangement would be to redistribute wealth between the countries which controlled and which were victimized by the slave trade, such that all "Latin" Americans and Africans and Afro-Americans would have the same income and wealth as the average white American or French or Spanish or English or Portuguese citizen. Then as a measure against political inequality we could institute racial quotas for public office and the 4th estate.

People at this point generally argue to me that if we start the reparations ball rolling, where does it stop? Should poor whites get reparations from rich whites for being exploited? Sure! Why stop the reparations ball? I think it will destroy capitalism if nothing else. And I'm all for that. Let's start with reparations for slavery.