Category Archives: Slavery

Donald Trump, Andrew Jackson, the Civil War, and counterfactual speculation

Wayne,

A few days ago, Donald Trump whipped up a storm with remarks about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War:

In an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, Trump compared himself to President Andrew Jackson and said Jackson, if he was born later, could have helped avoid the Civil War.

And then, in comments that whipped Washington into frenzy Monday morning, Trump said he didn’t understand why the Civil War had to be fought.

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” he said. “He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw with regard to the Civil War, he said ‘There’s no reason for this.'”

“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

This link is to the full Examiner report of the interview.

Later, Trump tweeted:

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What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Wayne,

The photograph below is from a New York Times article Jeff Sessions, a Lifelong Outsider, Finds the Inside Track.

The headline describes a former US District Attorney and sitting US Senator, now our Attorney-General designate, as an outsider. Strange.

What interests me about this article is the photograph of our racist President-elect greeting our racist Attorney-General designate.

Does anything about this scene strike you as odd?

Bernard


Bernard,

Black woman on the right in Southern Belle costume?

Wayne


You are correct.

Consider how odd this is. Whoever organized this tarmac greeting knew that the colorful Alabama greeting shouldn’t be composed of just white people. They arranged to dress the three young women in supposedly representative ante-bellum plantation style; Gone With the Wind ball gown plantation finery. It’s Alabama history, who could object?

Except that it is not Alabama history.

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Discussing Florida’s Gamble Plantation and Judah P. Benjamin Memorial

Bernard,

I started drafting the below as a reply to your post, but I found myself surprised and nonplussed by the outcome of my little “5 Whys” attempt.

One of my top books ever is Liker’s The Toyota Way from 2004. Principle 14 of The Way includes root cause analysis via the “5 Whys”. To determine the root cause of a problem or unexpected event, a group of knowledgeable people ask themselves, “why did this thing happen?” They come up with an answer: “Thus-and-so caused it.” The group then asks, “OK then, why did thus-and-so come to be?”. And so on, until the chain ends in a root cause, often after a few ‘why’ steps, sometimes only after many steps – on average perhaps 5, hence the name of the method. Any given chain to a root cause might or might not be true or correct. Sometimes multiple root causes turn out to be necessary. Eventually the group arrives at its best understanding of the root cause or causes, and then takes corrective action accordingly. I propose we carry out 5 Whys on your question about Gamble honoring Judah P. Benjamin. Not saying we’ll find the one and only correct and complete answer, just proposing another approach to your question.

Here’s one possible chain, citing the Wikipedia article on Benjamin:

  1. Why would Gamble honor Benjamin? Because he was brilliant and famous, and well worthy of honoring.
  2. Why was he famous? Because he rose to cabinet positions in our former own country, the Confederate States. He was Attorney General, Secretary of War and Secretary of State, each position more important than the previous. (He had previously been a US Senator, and had been appointed to the US Supreme Court but turned that down.)
  3. Why was he appointed to the Confederacy positions? Because he was an eloquent, skilled and wealthy slaveholder and lawyer who supported Davis and the Confederacy wholeheartedly.
  4. Why or how did he become wealthy and notable? He was truly brilliant, as people around him observed when he was very young. He entered Yale at 14, financed by a person not related to him, but he quit or was expelled before graduating, reportedly because of gambling. He thrived in New Orleans, a center of the slave trade, initially based entirely on his “wit, charm, omnivorous mind and boundless energy”. He published a highly successful book about commercial law and married a wealthy New Orleans Creole socialite. He had political ambitions which were constrained in part by a society that “would only trust a man who also owned substantial land and slaves”. He bought a sugar plantation and was a slaveholder for 10 to 15 years of his life.

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Why Do the People and Government of Florida Honor Judah P. Benjamin at the Gamble Plantation State Park?

Wayne,

You recall that I’ve been corresponding with the Gamble House State Park director about the Park’s Judah P. Benjamin Memorial. I’ve been blogging about it. Here are the earlier posts:

There is little about the slaves who built and operated the Gamble Plantation

Gamble Plantation Manager Replies

I reply to the Gamble Plantation manager

Suggestions for the Gamble Plantation Park

More Correspondence about the Gamble Plantation

In my last correspondence, I offered to meet with Mr. Kiser, but he didn’t suggest a time. Therefore, I have written a couple of essays for him. I intend for these to form a brochure or signs to be distributed or displayed at the park. The first essay is here: “Who Was Judah P. Benjamin?”. This post has “Why Do the People and Government of Florida Honor Judah P. Benjamin at the Gamble House Park?”.

I haven’t sent these yet because I would like your advice, suggestions you or readers might have about the content or writing.

Bernard

Why do the people and the government of Florida honor Judah P. Benjamin in the Gamble Plantation State Park?

Judah P. Benjamin was a Louisiana lawyer, sugar cane plantation and slave owner, a state politician, and a two term United States Senator. In the Senate, he used his acknowledged skill at oratory and rhetoric to defend Southern enslavement of black people and to support the spread of slavery into western territories and to the independent former Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. He was the Confederacy’s Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. He served sequentially in those posts from the beginning to the end of white Southerners’ armed uprising against the government of the United States. The distinguished historian of slavery, Eugene Genovese called Benjamin “… the ablest man in the Confederate government.” When the Confederate government collapsed in April, 1865, he fled Union forces, passing through Florida on his way Britain, where he practiced law as a barrister.

History records nothing in his life or career that connected him to Florida or that benefitted its residents. Nor does it record that he was ever in Florida beyond a week or two in May, 1865, as he fled justice. Why does Florida honor him with a Memorial at the Gamble Plantation State Park in Ellenton, Florida?

Today many who honor the Southern white people who formed the Confederate armed forces and government assert that they do not honor the cause for which they struggled: the preservation and spread of slavery. Nor, do they have any interest in racism or dishonoring black people or the soldiers who fought in the Union Army and Navy to preserve the United States and to end slavery. They only wish to show their respect for their ancestors’ bravery, courage, and loyalty to the rebel cause. Indeed, this is the official position of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, whose local Judah P. Benjamin chapter established the Gamble Plantation House as a memorial to Judah P. Benjamin during the 1920s and transferred the restored property to the State of Florida. This transfer was on the condition that if the State ever removed the Memorial, the property would return to the United Daughters.

What were the motives of those Southern white women of nearly one hundred years ago? None of them, or any other resident of Florida or the United States, were descendants of Judah Benjamin, whose wife and daughter lived in Paris, France, before and after the Civil War. Benjamin was not a military man and never demonstrated his valor in battle. Those women of Jim Crow Florida wished to honor him for his service to the cause of the Confederacy. A French chapter if the United Daughters of the Confederacy, formed from exiles and their descendants, installed a monument to Benjamin at his Paris grave.

The Memorial’s displays and text omit or elide Benjamin’s enslavement of black people on his Louisiana plantation. They omit mention of Benjamin’s defense of slavery in the United States Senate. They honor him as an important and effective leader in the armed uprising against the United States and its government that we know as the Civil War. This uprising arose because Southern white slave owners rejected the outcome of the presidential election of 1860 and began before that election’s victor, Abraham Lincoln, had assumed office.

The Civil War brought an end to centuries of violent racial slavery of black people by white people in the United States and freedom for the slaves. The choice of Southern white people to reject the outcome of that election brought un-paralleled disaster upon both the United States and the rebellious forces and the people and territory they strove to remove from the United States. More than 700,000 men died in combat, from war injuries, or from disease.
Combat and other military deaths included those of many thousands of black men who fought in United States Colored Regiments for their freedom and that of their brothers and sisters still enslaved. Nearly 200,000 black men served in Union forces during the Civil War. They also included deaths of the many thousands of Southern white men who remained loyal to the government of the United States and enlisted in Union army regiments from nearly every Southern state. The United Daughters of the Confederacy does not honor these Southerners, white and black, of the Civil War era who fought for the Union. Indeed, any Southern white woman of today whose military ancestor took an oath of allegiance to the United States before General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia in on April 9, 1865, does not qualify for membership in the United Daughters.

In Florida, northeastern Florida in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine area was in Union hands through most of the war. Key West remained in Union hands throughout the war. Pensacola was abandoned and burned by Confederate forces at the command of General Braxton Bragg in 1862 and remained in Union control for the rest of the war. Descendants of people from these areas of Florida do not qualify for United Daughters’ membership if their ancestors pledged allegiance to the United States.

The government of Florida provides its parks for all Florida residents and the state’s many visitors. In this beautiful historical house, built by black slaves, and on this former sugar plantation, cleared and operated by slaves under the compulsion of John Gamble and his overseers, the state intends for everyone to feel welcome and honored for their ancestors’ contributions to Florida.

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Who Was Judah P. Benjamin?

Wayne,

You recall that I’ve been corresponding with the Gamble House State Park director about the Park’s Judah P. Benjamin Memorial. I’ve been blogging about it. Here are the earlier posts:

There is little about the slaves who built and operated the Gamble Plantation

Gamble Plantation Manager Replies

I reply to the Gamble Plantation manager

Suggestions for the Gamble Plantation Park

More Correspondence about the Gamble Plantation

In my last correspondence, I offered to meet with Mr. Kiser, but he didn’t suggest a time. Therefore, I have written a couple of essays for him. I intend for these to form a brochure or signs to be distributed or displayed at the park. The first essay, “Who Was Judah P. Benjamin?”, is in this post. “Why Do the People and Government of Florida Honor Judah P. Benjamin at the Gamble House Park?” will be in the next one.

I haven’t sent these yet because I would like your advice, suggestions you or readers might have about the content or writing.

Bernard

Who Was Judah P. Benjamin?

Judah P. Benjamin was born in 1811 to British parents in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands. His parents brought him as a child to the United States. He attended Yale University, where he earned a reputation as a brilliant student, but left under unfortunate but obscure circumstances before graduating. He went to New Orleans to seek his fortune, arriving in the late 1820s.

At the time, lawyers did not require formal legal education and there was no bar examination. Aspiring attorneys would study law through apprenticeship to a practicing lawyer. Benjamin entered the practice of law, mainly dealing in commercial matters. Handling several high-profile cases, he made a name for himself, won a Creole bride, and began to amass his fortune. He entered local politics as a Whig and served in the Louisiana Assembly and in Louisiana constitutional conventions.

Benjamin invested in a sugar cane plantation near the Mississippi River south of New Orleans and, thus, became the owner of slaves. His biographers do not provide details of the slave population, the working conditions, or his treatment of these unfortunate people. Sugar plantations, however, had a reputation for heavier work and poorer conditions compared to the unfortunate circumstances of slaves on Deep South cotton plantations or Upper South tobacco plantations. At this plantation, which he operated with a partner, he worked to improve the technical methods of sugar production, and he built a mansion. Rather, his slaves built a mansion for him. Slave plantations were a source of great fortunes for the planters across the South in those days.

During these years, the 1830s and 1840s, he continued his legal practice, earning a national reputation, and being admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. The Louisiana Legislature appointed him to the United States Senate in 1852, and re-appointed him in 1858. Remarkably, he continued to argue cases before the Supreme Court while a sitting Senator and won many of them.

History remembers him as a Senator for his oratory, both his ornate language typical of that day and his melodious and pleasant voice, and for his staunch and effective defense of the Southern institution of slavery. In one speech, he argued that slavery was not a “peculiar institution” at all, which was a common term of slavery apologists. Indeed, he rehearsed history to remind his audience that slavery was common in the ancient world. Ancient Egypt, as we know from Exodus, Athens and the other Greek city-states, the Roman Republic and Empire were all slave societies. In those days, however, slavery was usually the result of warfare, with Europeans enslaving one another, and not an institution by which those of one race enslaved another. Benjamin argued that slavery was not a special creature of certain American states’ laws, or even of the United States Constitution, although both recognized the property rights of white citizens in black, and native American, persons. Indeed, Benjamin criticized the infamous, to us, 3/5th clause of the Constitution, which gave representation in Congress to citizens’ property. That clause suggested that slaves were, at least, something different than mere property, but partially persons. “Why do we not also offer representation to citizen’s property, such as oxen or horses?” This argument supported the now notorious Dred Scott decision of 1854 that declared that no black person, free or slave, could ever be a citizen. Benjamin also argued that slavery could not be ended without the freed slaves rising in murderous revenge against their white masters. Indeed, Southern whites feared the possibility of slave revolts and employed ferocious punishments to protect themselves.

When some Southern white planters and other Southerners rejected the results of the presidential election of 1860, they rose in armed rebellion against the government of the United States. Irregular armed militias seized federal property, including arsenals, across the South, and some states, including Benjamin’s Louisiana, issued secession proclamations even before Abraham Lincoln took office in March, 1861. In that month, Benjamin gave his final Senate speech and resigned that office. Shortly after Lincoln assumed office, rebels opened fire with artillery against Charleston harbor’s Ft. Sumter, thus beginning the Civil War.

The Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, asked Benjamin to serve as Attorney General. Within a year, Davis appointed Benjamin Secretary of War, and a year later still, appointed him Secretary of State. History records that Benjamin served in these posts with distinction, and loyally and effectively served Davis, who he had known from their days in the United States Senate.

When Confederate General Robert E. Lee abandoned Richmond on April 3, 1865, what remained of the Confederate civilian leadership fled too. Benjamin remained with Davis, Davis’s wife, and several officials as they escaped to Georgia. As Davis hoped to reach Texas where there were still Confederate armed forces and Benjamin planned to escape to England, they parted. Davis was captured by Union cavalry forces.

In an adventuresome and eventful journey involving disguises, alibies, gold sewn into clothing, and speaking French, Benjamin reached the Gamble Plantation, then owned by Captain Archibald McNeill, a blockade runner. There he hid from Union pursuers, narrowly escaping detection by naval and land forces. After a week or so, McNeill smuggled him out of Florida to the British controlled Bahamas, avoiding both naval pursuers and sinking.

He reached England, where, remarkably, he resumed his career in the law. His legal career as a barrister in England was successful, and he wrote important scholarly works on English law. His wife and daughter had been living in Paris for many years, and he occasionally paid visits to them. It was in Paris that he died in 1884.

Benjamin’s parents were Jewish, and he was an unobservant but acknowledged Jew throughout his adult life. His Jewish ancestry was well-known and used by enemies to attack him and admirers to praise him. To modern minds, it seems strange that a Jewish person would be a supporter of slavery. Indeed, black slaves favored the stories in Exodus and hoped that the Lord would one day favor them as He had the ancient Jews. Yet, the Bible nowhere condemns slavery itself as immoral, while it acknowledges that slaves are unhappy and unfortunate. The Jewish Passover Seder, a ceremonial ritual dinner, celebrates the freedom of the ancient Hebrew slaves, but in its traditional form contains no wish for freedom for others.

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More Correspondence about the Gamble Plantation

Wayne and readers,

I’ve been corresponding with the director of the Gamble Plantation State Park in Ellenton, Florida.

I sent him an e-mail with suggestions as to how to improve historical material at the Park, with a few ideas in mind: to clarify the role of black slaves in building and operating the plantation and mansion, and to describe properly who Judah Benjamin was before and during the Civil War and to explain why he was honored at a Florida State Park.

Mr. Kiser replied to my most recent e-mail. Here’s his reply, followed by my response to him.

I think that this is encouraging, and I’m hoping to work with him and his staff.

Bernard Continue reading

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Suggestions for the Gamble Plantation Park

Wayne and readers,

In earlier posts I described the Gamble Plantation State Park and Judah P. Benjamin Memorial. This is in Ellenton near the Manatee river, which empties into Tampa Bay. It dates to the decade before the Civil War, when Gamble and dozens of slaves tried to grow sugar cane.

I wrote a letter to the park manager, inquiring as to why there was little mention of the slaves and their lives, and why the Park was honoring Benjamin, a Louisiana plantation and slave owner and Confederate cabinet officer, who had nothing to do with Florida.

He replied, as you can read in this post. You can read my reply to him. I accepted his invitation to come by for a talk, but I haven’t heard back in two weeks with a proposed time. So I wrote to him again with what I intend to say, if I were to meet with him.

Here’s the letter: Continue reading

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