Discussion of slavery
Walter Williams makes a couple of errors in his recent opinion piece on American slavery. First, he fails to note that what was “peculiar” about American slavery was its scale and intensity; nowhere outside of the Caribbean was slavery such an integral part of the economy or as brutally efficient as in the antebellum United States. Southern plantations, using nothing more advanced than the cotton gin and the bullwhip, were able to produce as much and more cotton as was needed by the increasingly mechanized textile mills of the North and Britain. Furthermore, the sheer depravity of American slavery has few historic equals, and the total vulnerability of every American slave to torture, death, and assault cannot be waved away by comparisons to earlier slave systems.
Secondly, Williams uses the threefifths clause and abolitionism as examples of how early America was not racist, which is illogical. Believing that slavery is wrong does not guarantee one is not a racist, just as believing sexual assault is wrong does not automatically mean one is not a misogynist. Williams is right to point out that there was a massive and sustained effort to end slavery in this nation, but ignores the virulent racism of many abolitionists. Look at Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a passionate critique of slavery which unfortunately depends on two-dimensional stereotypes of enslaved persons to move white readers to action. And, just like the framers of the three-fifths compromise, Stowe and many other white abolitionists were perfectly willing to use enslaved persons as tools to hurt the South, but completely unwilling to grant African-descended persons the full rights of citizens or the social status of equals. STEVEN LAWRENCE HULSEY