A Review: Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution
March 29, 2008
America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877
Review by R.E. Prindle
Foner’s Reconstruction was originally published in 1988 some twenty years ago. Some water has passed under the bridge since then. For instance genetic advances have been startling. The role of biology in the various species of Homo Sapiens is becoming more apparent and clear. The question is now not one of prejudice but of science, of knowing. One imagines that Mr. Foner would have or should have incorporated these discoveries into his study. One might say that the study of history has been profoundly affected by the new findings.
Mr. Foner takes the old sentimental view of the race, or species rather, problem in the United States. While we may all agree that slavery is an evil that should never be tolerated in a society or be begun by one, slavery has nevertheless been ever present , even endemic, in human society for many thousands of years down to the present. Slavery has been practiced in every society on every continent, there are no innocents. There were slave cities in China at the beginning of WWII and there are those who say that current labor conditions in China differ not at all from slavery. Indeed there are tens of thousands of women and children serving as sex slaves on every continent at the present. Nothing is done about sex slavery, in fact, there is little or no publicity or protest.
Granting then that slavery is and has been endemic to human society, there is no reason to consider White slave owners in the South of the United States as worse than any other slave owners whether we are revolted at the concept of slavery or not. And, I might point out, not everyone is. As slave owners in Africa, for instance, had the right of life, death and mutilation over their slaves and the US slave owners didn’t it is clear that US slave owning was much more humane than the African. That’s not an awful lot to be proud of but, as I say, the issue of slavery in the world and in the US is not a dead letter yet. The future looks more bleak than promising.
While not unique, slavery in the US was characterized by one race or species being paramount and the other subordinate. A peculuarity of US slavery is that the slaves were classed as a sort of farm animal. I think it clear that we are dealing with two different Homo Sapiens species one of which is more highly evolved than the other. As the African was first evolved as all agree it would follow that the first evolved, the African, would be a predecessor to following more highly evolved human species. Thus the problem shifts from merely freeing equals to what to do with the less highly evolved species. That has been the central problem of Reconstruction past and present.
The reading of the human genome has proven the ongoing evolution of the human species to be true. The scientific fact or reality runs counter to human inner wishful thinking, at least White inner wishful thinking, that desires all Men to be equal. The majority prefer wishful thinking to reality. Reality must assert itself over wishful thinking however.
The myth that powerful White people went to Africa and ripped these poor defenseless Africans forcefully from their soil is also false. The slaves were legally sold by their chiefs to the Whites. It is erroneous to think that Whites were ever the uncontested lords of Africa. Until the introduction of modern firearms human physical realities were paramount and the Africans were physical equals. Europeans by no means have ever had a physical advantage. With the development of modern arms, military tactics and discipline Europeans developed a clear advantage over the mentally limited Africans. Still Europeans never had the will or were able to dictate to Africans in the manner that slave owners could dictate to their slaves.
The ability to command only came into existence briefly in the last quarter or so of the nineteenth century. African resistance movements began after this brief window opened and closed.
Whatever conception the average person has of Euroean-African relationships is certainly erroneous.
Now, the Africans who came out of the jungles to be taken to the United States were primitive beyond belief while all concepts of civilization as practiced in the United States were foreign to them The transition was no different than entering a parallel universe.
Indeed as Foner points out when the former slaves were encouraged to return to Africa, the return to the jungles after having been elevated by White civilization was no longer possible for them. The nation of Liberia created for them was not more enticing than discrimination against them in the United States. Those who could quickly returned from Liberia to conditions in the Reconstruction South.
The Southern planter who bought these slaves may perhaps be forgiven because he believed that he was dealing with a superior form of farm animal but a lower form of humanity- something between a cross of ape and human. I do not say this is true only that it was believed. As near as I can tell this was a common belief. Indeed, I know of no early African explorer who believed differently.
One has only to compare National Geographic photos of Africans from the twenties with current pictures to see that contact with Western civilization has worked a mremarkable transformation in the appearance of the of the African.
While African slavery began toward the end of the seventeenth century in the US importation was the heaviest from 1790 to 1860. A large number of Africans entered the country as slaves, albeit illegally, between 1810 and 1860. Thus at the beginning of the Civil War a fairly large number of Africans had had little time to become acclimated to civilization at the time of emancipation. Thus there were a fair number of literal savages that the North attempted to elevate over Southern Whites during Reconstruction.
Mr. Foner does not seem to take into account the impossibility of near savages and Africans who had been in slavery for actual generations becoming citizens capable of governing a heterogeneous population in a system that was completely foreign to their experience in Africa overnight if at all. This is to make no adverse reflections on the Africans as people. You might just as well take a homeless person from the streets and make him President of the United States.
The number of Africans in the South were almost equal to the Whites. In South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi the Africans were actually in the majority. Thus as Southern society disintegrated and the full weight of Northern bigots was thrown behind the Africans in order to subjugate the Whites there was a real recipe for trouble.
Nor was White society North or South all that developed in 1860 compared to that of today. Universal education was far from a fact with compulsary schooling still in the future. The University system was miniscule compared to the enormous industry of today. Illiteracy in fact was quite high North or South. Northern laborers in fact thought of themselves as wage slaves less well off even than the Southern Africans and this is too close to the truth to be lightly dismissed. Small White children were forced to work in mines, for instance, at wages that would have shamed an ogre let alone should have shamed an ‘enlightened industrialist.’ If that wasn’t child slavery then no African was ever a slave in the US.
So for the North to be condemnatory of the South was hypocrisy of the highest order. It is all in how you characterize yourself compared to the other fellow. Nevertheless there were different intellectual approaches to reality.
Mr. Foner, who is an Israeli citizen, has little to feel superior about himself. While Mr. Foner expresses great sympathy for the African while condemning Southern Whites, the Israeli solution to the Arab problem in Palestine makes one’s eyebrows rise, while they wish to expel recent Black African immigrants from the country so as not to pollute White Israelis. While condemning segregation in the South one can’t help but notice that Mr. Foner’s own Israelis have built a fence between Israelis and Arabs and allow no Arabs on their side. The Arabs are even Semites of the same human species as the Israelis and yet the Israelis call the Palestinians sub-human worthy of extermination.
The Israelis just pound their cousins to death too. I don’t even want to got into the detestable state of Lebanon. I suppose my question is from whence this moral superiority of Mr. Foner and his Israelis arises. His fellows even have terrorist camps like the ADL, AJC and SPLC that they run on American soil itself in order to control American opinion.
US race relations have never been anything like relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians or even between them and us. Thus while I’m sure that Mr. Foner has done quite a bit of research, at least as indicated by his footnotes, I’m not sure his vision is so unclouded as to make an accurate assessment of the facts. One feels what’s sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander in Mr. Foner’s book and with his Israelis as well.
I’m happy that Mr. Foner has made a lucrative home for himself here in the US with a darn good paying prestigious job in the University industry. I don’t quarrel with his scholarship, such as it is, but I think his interpretation is a trifle suspect.