slave owners thought free market capitalism was a humanitarian outrage

When I was growing up, my dad had an amazing, out-of-print college textbook called Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South. I didn’t read it until some time in my 20s, and it was incredible when I did. So much history has been lost that the modern left can’t convince people of things that were originally said by slave owners themselves. Modern white people repeat talking points from the 1800s, often with great self-righteousness, and don’t even realize they’re doing it.

The implementation of slavery has changed over time, but society hasn’t fundamentally changed. The type of bullshit that’s necessary hasn’t always been the same, but to a surprising extent it has. When slavery could be practiced openly and honestly, slave owners said that free market capitalism was actually worse on moral and humanitarian grounds. Some of the rhetoric was quite good!

Oil changed the nature of slavery, so we could finally get rid of the “involuntarily imported workforce model”:

George Fitzhugh “differed from nearly all of his southern contemporaries by advocating a slavery that crossed racial boundaries.” It’s a tour de force:

To this propensity of the strong to oppress and destroy the weak, government owes its existence. So strong is this propensity, and so destructive to human existence, that man has never yet been found so savage as to be without government. Forgetful of this important fact, which is the origin of all governments, the political economists and the advocates of liberty and equality propose to enhance the well being of man by trammeling his conduct as little as possible and encouraging what they call “free competition.”

We proceed to show that the war of the wits, of mind with mind, which free competition or liberty and equality beget and encourage, is quite as oppressive, cruel, and exterminating as the war of the sword, of theft, robbery, and murder, which it forbids…Good men and bad men teach their children one and the same lesson–“Go ahead, push your way in the world.” In such society, virtue, if virtue there be, loses all her loveliness because of her selfish aims. None but the selfish virtues are encouraged, because none other aid a man in the race of free competition. Good men and bad men have the same end in view, are in pursuit of the same object–self-promotion, self-elevation. The good man is prudent, cautious, and cunning of fence; he knows well the arts which will advance his fortunes and enable him to depress and supplant others; he bides his time, takes advantage of the follies, the improvidence, and vices of others, and makes his fortune out of the misfortunes of his fellow men. The bad man is rash, hasty, and unskillful. He is equally selfish, but not half so cunning. Selfishness is almost the only motive of human conduct with good and bad in free society, where every man is taught that he may change and better his condition. A vulgar adage, “Every man for himself, and devil take the hindmost,” is the moral which liberty and free competition inculcate. Now, there are no more honors and wealth in proportion to numbers, in this generation, than in the one which preceded it; population fully keeps pace with the means of subsistence; hence, those who better their condition or rise to higher places in society, do so generally by pulling down others or pushing them from their places. Where men of strong minds, of strong wills, and of great self-control, come into free competition with the weak and improvident, the latter soon become the inmates of jails and penitentiaries.

The statistics of France, England, and America show that pauperism and crime advance pari passu with liberty and equality. How can it be otherwise, when all society is combined to oppress the poor and weak minded? The rich man, however good he may be, employs the laborer who will work for the least wages. If he be a good man, his punctuality enables him to cheapen the wages of the poor man. The poor war with one another in the race of competition, in order to get employment, by underbidding; for laborers are more abundant than employers. Population increases faster than capital

We do not set children and women free because they are not capable of taking care of themselves, not equal to the constant struggle of society. To set them free would be to give the lamb to the wolf to take care of. Society would quickly devour them…But half of mankind are but grown-up children, and liberty is as fatal to them as it would be to children…Liberty and equality throw the whole weight of society on its weakest members; they combine all men in oppressing precisely that part of mankind who most need sympathy, aid, and protection.

…The simple man represents a class, the common day laborers. The employer cheapens their wages, and the retail dealer takes advantage of their ignorance, their inability to visit other markets, and their want of credit, to charge them enormous profits. They bear the whole weight of society on their shoulders; they are the producers and artificers of all the necessaries, the comforts, the luxuries, the pomp and splendor of the world; they create it all, and enjoy none of it; they are the muzzled ox that treadeth out the straw; they are at constant war with those above them, asking higher wages but getting lower; for they are also at war with each other, underbidding to get employment…It ends when wages are reduced too low to afford subsistence, in filling poor-houses, and jails, and graves…A half million died of hunger in one year in Ireland–they died because in the eye of the law they were the equals, and liberty had made them the enemies, of their landlords and employers. Had they been vassals or serfs, they would have been beloved, cherished, and taken care of by those same landlords and employers. Slaves never die of hunder, scarecely ever feel want.

The bestowing upon men of equality of rights, is but giving license to the strong to oppress the weak. It begets the grossest inequalities of condition. Menials and day laborers are and must be as numerous as in a land of slavery. And these menials and laborers are only taken care of while young, strong, and healthy…There is no equality, except in theory, in such society, and there is no liberty. The men of property, those who own lands and money, are masters of the poor; masters, with none of the feelings, interests, or sympathies of masters; they employ them when they please, and for what they please, and may leave them to die in the highway-, for it is only home to which the poor in free countries are entitled. They (the property holders) beheaded Charles Stuart and Louis Capet, because these kings asserted a divine right to govern wrong, and forgot that office was a trust to be exercised for the benefit of the governed; and yet they seem to think that property is of divine right, and that they may abuse its possession to the detriment of the rest of society, as much as they please. A pretty exchange the world would make, to get rid of kings who often love and protect the poor, and get in their place a million of pelting, petty officers in the garb of money-changers and land-owners, who think that as they own all the property, the rest of mankind have no right to a living, except on the conditions they may prescribe…The vulgar landlords, capitalists, and employers of today, have the liberties and lives of the people more completely in their hands, than had the kings, barons, and gentlemen of former times; and they hate and oppress the people as cordially as the people despise them…you lose your right to your property, as the king did his crown, so soon as you cease faithfully to execute your trust…

The moral effect of free society is to banish Christian virtue, that virtue which bids us to love our neighbor as ourself, and to substitute the very equivocal virtues proceeding from mere selfishness. The intense struggle to better each one’s pecuniary condition, the rivalries, the jealousies, the hostilities which it begets, leave neither time nor inclination to cultivate the heart or the head. Every finer feeling of our nature is chilled and benumbed by its selfish atmosphere; affection is under the ban, because affection makes us less regardful of mere self; hospitality is considered criminal waste, chivalry a stumbling-block, and the code of honor foolishness; taste, sentiment, imagination, are forbidden ground, because no money is to be made by them. Gorgeous pageantry and sensual luxury are the only pleasures indulged in, because they alone are understood and appreciated, and they are appreciated just for what they cost in dollars and cents. What makes money, and what costs money, are alone desired. Temperance, frugality, thrift, attention to business, industry, and skill in making bargains are virtues in high repute, because they enable us to supplant others and increase our own wealth.

All cannot be rich. The rich and poor change places oftener than where there are fixed hereditary distinctions; so often, that the sense of insecurity makes everyone unhappy.

If [the reader] can sympathize with fallen virtue or detest successful vice he will see nothing in his picture to admire.

…Greece and Rome were indebted to this institution alone for the taste, the leisure, and the means to cultivate their heads and hearts…

…A Southern farm is the beau ideal of Communism; it is a joint concern, in which the slave consumes more than the master, of the course products, and is far happier, because although the concern may fail, he is always sure of a support….The intellectual enjoyments which wealth affords are probably balanced by the new cares it brings along with it.

A state of dependence is the only condition in which reciprocal affection can exist among human beings–the only situation in which the war of competition ceases, and peace, amity, and good will arise. A state of independence always begets more or less jealous rivalry and hostility. A man loves his children because they are weak, helpless, and dependent. He loves his wife for similar reasons….slaves are always dependent…

Wealth is more equally distributed than at the North, where a few millionaires own most of the property of the country. (These millionaires are men of cold hearts and weak minds; they know how to make money, but not how to use it, either for the benefit of themselves or others).

Few of our whites ever work as day laborers, none as cooks, scullions, ostlers, body servants, or in other menial capacities.

The world has had but little opportunity to contrast the working of Liberty and Equality with the old order of things, which always partook more or less of the character of domestic slavery. The strong prepossession in the public mind in favor of the new system, makes it reluctant to attribute the evil phenomena which it exhibits, to defects inherent in the system itself.

They couldn’t coordinate their economic talking points. Some went with a bolder, more honest strategy:

The slaves, by the last census (1830), amounted within a small fraction to 470,000; the average value of each one of these is $200; consequently, the whole aggregate value of the slave population of Virginia, in 1830, was $94,000,000; and allowing for the increase since, we cannot err far in putting the present value at $100,000,000. The assessed value of all the houses and lands in the State, amounts to $206,000,000, and these constitute the material items in the wealth of the State, the whole personal property besides bearing but a very small proportion to the value of slaves, lands, and houses. Now, do not these very simple statistics speak volumes upon this subject?

…slave labor is vastly more efficient and productive than the labor of free blacks. Taken as a whole, the latter must be considered the most worthless and indolent of the citizens of the United States. It is well known that throughout the whole extent of our Union, they are looked upon as the very drones and pests of society.

…In the free black, the principle of idleness and dissipation triumphs over that of accumulation and the desire to better our condition; the animal part of the man gains the victory over the moral, and he, consequently, prefers sinking down into the listless, inglorious repose of the brute creation, to rising to that energetic activity which can only be generated amid the multiplied, refined, and artificial wants of civilized society.

The guy who fired the first shot of the Civil War pretended the opposite, and it’s hard to dismiss everything he’s saying 100%:

When the greatest possible amount of labor is thus obtained for the lowest amount of wages that can barely sustain life and strength for labor, there has been attained the most perfect and profitable condition of industrial operations for the class of capitalists and employers, and also for the most rapid increase of general and national wealth. But these benefits (so much lauded and deemed so desirable for every country, and by almost every writer) are purchased only by the greatest possible amount of toil, privation, and misery of the class of laborers under which they can live and work. It is readily admitted that slave labor could never yield anything like such large net returns–and that it would not only produce less, but would cost more. Slaves could not be subjected to such extreme privation and misery, because they must be fed and clothed, and cannot generally be greatly over-worked (and never to the profit of the master), as is caused continually by the pressure of extreme want, and through competition, on free laborers. If the political and economical problem to be worked out is the production of the greatest amount of profit to capitalists, and of wealth to the nation, in a country of dense population and advanced industrial operations, without regard to the sufferings of the laboring class, it is certain that the laborers must not be slaves, but free from all masters except extreme want. England, after the general abolition of slavery, was more than two centuries approaching this condition, which was finally reached, and has now been fully enjoyed for many years. Since then, England has been, of all the countries of the world, the most prosperous in manufactures, commerce, and all industrial employments of capital and labor–and the laboring and poorest classes have been among the most destitute and miserable.

James Henry Hammond also made a humanitarian argument for slavery

When the abuse of credit had destroyed credit and annihilated confidence; when thousands of the strongest commercial houses in the world were coming down, and hundreds of millions of dollars of supposed property evaporating in thin air; when you came to a dead lock, and revolutions were threatened, what brought you up? Fortunately for you it was the commencement of the cotton season…

In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government…Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand.

The Senator from New York said yesterday that the whole world had abolished slavery. Aye, the name, but not the thing; all the powers of the earth cannot abolish that. God only can do it when he repeals the fiat, “the poor ye always have with you;” for the man who lives by daily labor, and scarcely lives at that, and who has to put out his labor in the market, and take the best he can get for it; in short, your whole hireling class of manual laborers and “operatives,” as you call them, are essentially slaves. The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated, which may be proved in the most painful manner, at any hour in the street in any of your large towns.

The distinguished Vice President John Calhoun:

[Liberty] is a reward to be earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on all alike;–a reward reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous and deserving;–and not a boon to be bestowed on a people too ignorant, degraded, and vicious, to be capable either of appreciating or of enjoying it…The progress of a people rising from a lower to a higher point in the scale of liberty, is necessarily slow;–and by attempting to precipitate, we either retard, or permanently defeat it.

..inequality of condition, while it is a necessary consequence of liberty, is, at the same time, indispensable to progress…the main spring to progress is the desire of individuals to better their condition; and that the strongest impulse which can be given to it is, to leave individuals free to exert themselves in the manner they may deem best for that purpose…and to secure to all the fruits of their exertions. Now, as individuals differ greatly from each other, in intelligence, sagacity, energy, perseverance, skill, habits of industry and economy, physical power, position, and opportunity–the necessary effect of leaving all free to exert themselves to better their condition must be a corresponding inequality between those who may possess these qualities and advantages in a high degree, and those who may be deficient in them….To force the front rank back to the rear, or attempt to push forward the rear into line with the front, by the interposition of the government, would put an end to the impulse, and effectually arrest the march of progress.

As, then, there never was such a state as the so called state of nature and never can be, it follows that men, instead of being born in it, are born in the social and political state; and of course, instead of being born free and equal, are born subject, not only to parental authority, but to the laws and institutions of the country where born and under whose protection they draw their first breath…

Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. It came among us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions, reviled as they have been, to its present comparatively civilized condition. This, with the rapid increase of numbers, is conclusive proof of the general happiness of the race, in spite of all the exaggerated tales to the contrary.

I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other…The devices are almost innumerable, from the brute force and gross superstition of ancient times, to the subtle and artful fiscal contrivances of modern.

There is and always has been in an advanced stage of wealth and civilization a conflict between labor and capital. The condition of society in the South exempts us from the disorders and dangers resulting from this conflict; and which explains why it is that the political condition of the slaveholding States has been so much more stable and quiet than that of the North.

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