A review of African American Slavery in Historical Perspective (Shotwell Publishing, 2024) by Clyde N. Wilson

This is an extremely important book because putting slavery in historical perspective puts the lie to the worthless presentist history regurgitated ad nauseam by academia and the fake news media. You can not learn from history when the history being taught is a fraud.

Few, if any, have done more for American history than Clyde Wilson, who is an Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History with a 35 year career at the University of South Carolina. He is primary editor of the voluminous The Papers of John C. Calhoun and just finished editing an acclaimed 28-volume edition. He is author or editor of over 30 other books and over 800 articles, essays, reviews, etc. He has lectured all over the world. I have had the pleasure of attending many of them.

His professional accomplishments and awards are too many to list here but include founding director of the Society of Independent Southern Historians, the Bostick Prize for Contributions to South Carolina Letters, the Robert E. Lee Medal of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, founding dean of the SCV’s Stephen D. Lee Institute, co-founder of Shotwell Publishing, and the M. E. Bradford Distinguished Professor of the Abbeville Institute.

A book like this has been badly needed for a long time. Everybody knows how pathetic and lacking the study of history is, in this day and age. The degradation of American History began in the 1960s when truth as the standard for history, began being replaced by leftist politics, as Marxists began their long march through the institutions.

That replacement is largely complete today with academia 100% liberal, and free speech and inquiry non-existent on so many campuses run by mediocre DEI appointees like Harvard’s Claudine Gay, and the racists at Columbia who allow Jewish students to be attacked or prevented from going to class by violent mobs. Those mobs support terrorists and are driven by hate-America agitators from around the world.

I know the actual number of liberals in academia is closer to 90% but the few independent thinkers, especially in the humanities, are not going to speak up and have the screaming mob come to their office, or lose their chance for tenure. The entire atmosphere is sick and twisted, as always happens when woke politics takes over.

Academia, much of the time, does not promote knowledge or wisdom for young people. It interprets almost everything according to leftist, anti-white racist precepts such as Critical Race Theory, DEI and other Marxist imperatives.

Dr. Wilson states that slavery today is still a powerful, emotional force in public life and many have weaponized the word slavery though they “have no knowledge or understanding of what life was like in past times” thus “historical perspective is needed.”

That is exactly right because the prime problem today is idiotic leftist standards such as 1) men can menstruate and get pregnant, and 2) it is fair for men to compete in women’s sports because, if they say they are women, they really are women. That’s all it takes to become a woman.

Biden just signed an Executive Order changing Title IX so bigger, stronger men can compete with girls and women though that puts women in danger (think rugby, lacrosse, basketball, and everything else). It is outrageous and degrading for women and girls to have to endure that along with men snooping around their bathrooms when they are most vulnerable, giving them no privacy or respect.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, governor of Arkansas, praised legislation just passed in Arkansas, that negates Biden’s absurdity. She said:

Biden thinks anybody can be a woman just because they say so. As a woman, the mother of a daughter and our state’s first chief executive to give birth … I can’t think of anything more offensive or dismissive of the very real, very scientific traits that all women share and that no man does.

To understand the past you have to view the past the way people who lived in the past viewed it. It was not the past to them. It was their present.

Wilson writes that “before the invention of labour-saving machinery, beginning [with] Britain in the late 1700s, the master-servant relationship was normal in almost every human society. . . . Servitude was the everyday condition of great numbers of people who did most of the world’s hard and dirty work.” (p1)

There was slavery in the Bible though Christians “were urged to be good masters and good servants.”

There was slavery in ancient Greece and Rome in their greatest days, slavery everywhere in the Islamic world including of whites, slavery in Asian civilizations, and for 500 years, Europe’s serfs and peasants had “little more freedom from labour and inferior status than African American slaves.” (p2)

Black Africans themselves were the source of most of the slavery of their black brothers and sisters.

African tribal chieftains waging never-ending warfare caused slavery in Africa to flourish “longer than any other part of the world” and it still exists there today.

The plantation economy of the pre-industrial world needed labor and black slaves were Africa’s largest export for perhaps a millennium:

There is scarcely an African American person in the New World whose ancestors had not originally been enslaved by fellow Africans. (p2)

That is an amazing statistic. Only 5% of blacks in the African Diaspora came to the United States.

Read the famous African American anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston, in her book, Barracoon, from my article “The Washington Poop, I mean Post: Fake News AND Fake History,” when she discovered it was fellow blacks in Africa selling her ancestors into slavery. Slaves did not voluntarily go onto slave ships because the slavers waved a red handkerchief and the blacks were curious and got captured.

Black slaves were captured by other blacks in incessant tribal warfare then shackled and held behind bars for months in slave forts on Africa’s coast such as Bunce Island off today’s Sierra Leone, waiting on the slave trader to pull up. Those slave traders were mostly New Englanders and New Yorkers and, before them, Europeans.

Then poor slaves faced months through the Middle Passage, chained side by side in the bowels of scorching hot slave ships with no ventilation, in vomit, feces, and the stench of death.

It might make DEI racists sad but:

No movement against slavery and the slave trade ever arose in Africa. Slavery was abolished due to the efforts of [white] European soldiers, officials, and missionaries, often against stiff native resistance. (p2)

For the South-haters out there, Dr. Wilson writes:

. . . as John Adams point out to Thomas Jefferson, “slave” was just a word while the condition of the labouring poor in the North could scarcely be differentiated from that of Southern blacks. Despite the false information conveyed by television, John Adams was never an abolitionist. Adams and Jefferson agreed that American slaves, despite their situation, were in a far happier condition that the lower classes in Britain. The abolitionist Wendell Phillips discovered a boy working in a stable in Boston who did not know that he was a slave. (pp2-3).

The population increase of blacks in the United States is some proof of their condition, especially when black slaves in the Caribbean and other places did not increase at all. Mortality was high in the Caribbean because their lives were brutal. New slaves had to be brought in constantly, which caused many insurrections non-existent in the American South:

In North America the black population from the beginning increased abundantly, at a rate almost equal to the white, suggesting relatively good conditions. In 1780 the African American population was 566,000. In 1860 it was 4.4 million. (p3)

Even in the North, when “Slaves were 10 per cent of the New York population and household slaves were commonplace” Yale president Timothy Dwight “wrote a long poem about how much happier the slaves were in Connecticut than elsewhere.” (p3)

Even though the slave trade was outlawed in 1808 by the United States Constitution, New Englanders, who loved the lucrative profits, carried on an illegal slave trade until after the War Between the States. See W. E. B. Du Bois’s famous book, The Suppression of the African Slave-trade to the United States of America, 1838-1870. On page 179, he writes:

The number of persons engaged in the slave-trade, and the amount of capital embarked in it, exceed our powers of calculation. The city of New York has been until of late [1862] the principal port of the world for this infamous commerce; although the cities of Portland and Boston are only second to her in that distinction. Slave dealers added largely to the wealth of our commercial metropolis; they contributed liberally to the treasuries of political organizations, and their bank accounts were largely depleted to carry elections in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.

The New England Yankee attitude toward slave trading is stated well by John Brown, the founder of Brown University, not the infamous John Brown of Harpers Ferry but John Brown, American patriot of Providence, Rhode Island:

[T]here was no more crime in bringing off a cargo of slaves than in bringing off a cargo of jackasses.

That quotation comes from the excellent book by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank, Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (New York: Ballantine Books, Copyright 2005 by The Hartford Courant Company).

Dr. Wilson gives us a prime example of the North versus the South on slavery:

In 1860 a U.S. Navy vessel near the coast of Cuba intercepted a slave ship, the Echo from Providence, Rhode Island. There were 400 Africans on board, in miserable condition, the mortality rate on the voyage having been 30%. The U.S. vessel that captured the slave ship was commanded by John N. Maffitt who a few short years later would be an outstanding Confederate Navy officer. The captain and owner of the Echo was Edward Townsend, an educated man from an affluent Rhode Island family. (p6)

Townsend said he had “saved the Africans from death in their own land, which may well have been true.” He was to make $130,000 on this trip which was a huge sum back then.

The Southerner Maffitt took the slave-trading criminal Yankee Townsend to the Northern-born U.S. judge in Key West. That judge refused to take jurisdiction over the Echo for its U.S. and international crime and directed the case to Boston, the supposed point of origin of the voyage. Townsend had “friends” and the Boston judge allowed him to walk free. (p6)

The Echo with its 400 Africans was sent to Charleston, South Carolina “where they were received sympathetically and provided with food and clothing.” Dr. Wilson continues:

I once read an ignorant leftist novel which portrays Charlestonians chortling crudely over having new slaves. But that is not what happened. The U.S. Attorney James Conner, who was later to lose a leg fighting in the Confedrate army, was unable to get hold of Townsend who had been sent to Boston to be freed, but prosecuted the crew of the slave ship. One “historian” falsely states that the Africans were made slaves in South Carolina. In fact they were returned to their homeland, though most did not want to go. In Charleston they were treated well and supplied with their needs. (pp6-7)

Over time, many “believed that entering into Western Civilisation and Christianity, even in a subordinate status, was a net benefit for Africans.” The Spanish Bishop of the Indies in the 1500s, Las Casas:

preached against the enslavement of Indians but thought that slavery was a benefit for Africans. The Episcopal bishop of Vermont wrote just before the war that never in history had so much been done for the uplift of Africans as by the American South. (p7)

White Southerners had a relationship with black Southerners “that was not entirely negative” while blacks were “virtually absent” from the rest of the United States. That is one reason why so many blacks were enthusiastic to become Confederate soldiers.

Dr. Lewis H. Steiner, Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission, observed the exit of Stonewall Jackson’s army from Frederick, Maryland in 1862. He wrote in his report:

Wednesday, September 10, 1862: At 4 o’clock this morning the Rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson’s force taking the advance. The movement continued until 8 o’clock P.M., occupying 16 hours. The most liberal calculation could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in the number. They had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., and they were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy army. They were seen riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissons, in ambulances, with the staff of generals and promiscuously mixed up with all the Rebel horde.

There could have been many more blacks than “over 3,000” since Dr. Steiner began observing at 4:00 a.m., before light, and could have missed many light-skinned blacks.

Steiner’s is only one small example.

Contrast that to the laws in numerous Northern states that forbid blacks from even visiting, much less living there, including Lincoln’s Illinois.

Six slave states fought for the North the entire war. West Virginia came into the Union as a slave state in 1863, ironically just weeks after the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed no slaves or few. The EP exempted all the Union slave states and all Southern territory already captured by the Union army.

Dr. Wilson writes that “Western civilization, the greatest achievement of mankind so far, was white.” They believed in white supremacy. “Non-whites they encountered were either savages or of very strange cultures.” This was reality and “People in those days did not feel a drive to ‘fix’ it.” Wilson writes:

The only disagreement was over whether the superiority was permanent or could be changed, a subject of speculation by Jefferson. Southerners were guided by everyday experience – abolitionists by puritan rage against the sins of Southern white people. The welfare of black people was not a strong motive for them. (p8)

Abraham Lincoln believed in white supremacy. He said in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates he wanted the West reserved for white people from all over the world. That was the driving force behind the “no expansion of slavery into the West” argument. It was not concern for black people. Indeed, they did not want slavery in the West because they did not want blacks in the West.

All of the above, except for my additions, comes from just the Introduction. Dr. Wilson sets the stage for the rest of the book with this:

Slavery involved several million people over 10 or so generations and a vast territory, the great part of what was the antebellum United States. You can find an example of anything you want to find. However, it is proper for our understanding to consider the general life of Southern blacks and whites at a particular time rather than chosen examples. (p8)

In Chapter 2, Antebellum Bondage, Wilson writes:

The definitive work on slavery in antebellum America, largely ignored since its appearance in 1975, is Time on the Cross by Robert W. Fogel, a Nobel Laureate, and Stanley L. Engerman. These economic historians, neither of whom can be accused of sympathy with slavery or the South, showed that in general antebellum slaves fared well in nutrition, housing, leisure – superior to the norm for the working poor in the North and Europe and were, contrary to Northern claims, more productive than Northern workers. They reported that Southern slaves received a 90% lifetime return on their labour. . . . (p12)

He writes that “Plantations had no barbed wire, watchtowers, or attack dogs, or even very many locks. . . . Corporal punishment was used on the plantation, although not as often as alleged. It was also common in the army, navy, merchant marine, factories, as punishment for crime, and in nearly every family.” (p13)

About day-to-day life, Wilson writes:

The plantation was a place where people lived and grew crops, often over several generations. African Americans were part of a joint enterprise where all rose or fell together. Incentive rewards were normal. Work was directed by black foremen more often than by hired white overseers. A significant portion of the slave population could be classified as skilled artisans, necessary to run the self-sufficient community, of immense value to them after emancipation. African Americans commonly had their own garden plots with produce to consume or sell. Northern soldiers were shocked to find that slaves had watches and fine clothes and spending money. There were puritanical Yankee visitors who thought Southern slaves were undisciplined, rowdy, and had too much freedom. (pp13-14)

Wilson writes that “history is the sad record of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind, antebellum American bondage was an evil not near the top of the list.” Southerners, white and black:

made a livable society that had the moral resources for evolution toward a better society than that created by invasion and conquest and rivers of blood. (p17)

In contrast, Northern society was cold and hard:

In New York City in 1860 there were women and children working 16-hour days for starvation wages, 150,000 unemployed, 40,000 homeless, 600 brothels (some with girls as young as 10), and 9,000 grog shops where the poor could temporarily drown their sorrows. Half the children in the city did not live past the age of five (unlike slave children in the South). (p17)

Wilson points out that economic control of the country is what Northerners were fighting for. They had huge advantages and thought they could win easily. They saw the Western lands as markets to exploit, railroads to build, wealth that would flow back to New York, Boston and the entire North.

I could write volumes about the foaming-at-the-mouth determination of the North to control the taxes and tariffs of the country but here is one quote from the Daily Chicago Times, “The Value of the Union,” December 10, 1860, 10 days before South Carolina voted unanimously 169-0 in a Convention of the People to secede from the Union. It comes from my book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States: The Irrefutable Argument. Here is what secession and an independent Southern republic meant to the North, and this is why Abraham Lincoln sent five naval missions into Southern waters in March and April, 1861, to start a war:

In one single blow our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade would pass into other hands. One-half of our shipping would lie idle at our wharves. We should lose our trade with the South, with all its immense profits. Our manufactories would be in utter ruins. Let the South adopt the free-trade system, or that of a tariff for revenue, and these results would likely follow. If protection be wholly withdrawn from our labor, it could not compete, with all the prejudices against it, with the labor of Europe. We should be driven from the market, and millions of our people would be compelled to go out of employment.

Concern for the black man was nowhere in their minds, as Dr. Wilson continues:

Abolitionists spewed hatred at the south without ever once suggesting any steps toward a gradual and practical solution. (p24)

Said Emerson, “The abolitionist wishes to abolish slavery because he wishes to abolish the black man.” (p24)

Much abolition propaganda “was also a disguised form of closet pornography for puritans, dwelling on illicit sex, brandings, whippings, and the like.” (p24)

Democrat New Jersey governor, Joel Parker, said:

‘Slavery is no more the cause of this war than gold is the cause of robbery.’ (p25)

About blacks during the war, Wilson quotes Allan Nevins in The War for the Union, “long the standard mainstream history of this period”:

The story of the freedmen in wartime is one of gross mismanagement and neglect. The problem was neither vigilantly foreseen by the government nor dealt with vigorously and promptly  …  The abolitionists who had called for so long for emancipation should have seen that the mere ending of slavery was far from a solution  …  All too often squalor, hunger, and disease haunted the refugees, the camps becoming social cancers that were a reproach to the North  …  Deaths were frequent, disease was universal, and the future so bleak that many of the refugees talked of returning to their slave masters. And some did so.

…. Many [of the Union officers and soldiers] had an instinctive dislike of Negroes…. (p40)

Wilson writes that the following is from the “official history of the 24th Massachusetts Regiment”:

…the men had a spell of that almost universal horseplay known in those days as “tossing niggers” in a blanket …. Of course the poor victims screamed and yelled, but the louder the cries, the greater the fun for the lusty fellow at the blanket’s edge … (p41)

Wilson quotes Frederick Douglas, “the foremost African American spokesman of the 19th century” who later said that “everything Lincoln did was for white people. Any benefit to black people was incidental. He [Douglas] acknowledged twenty-five years after the war that blacks were worse off than under slavery and that the fault was mainly with the central government in relation to which the black man is”:

a deserted, a defrauded, a swindled, and an outcast man – in law free, in fact a slave. I here and now denounce his so-called emancipation as a stupendous fraud – a fraud upon him, a fraud upon the world. (p43)

Nathan Bedford Forrest’s “elite headquarters company contained several black men.” Forrest

took 30 of his men with him to the war, promising freedom if they served faithfully. All but one did. Black Confederates were welcomed at veterans’ reunions and received pensions from Southern States. (p43)

The words of former slaves are powerful evidence of their lives. Wilson writes:

The best evidence we have from the slaves themselves is contained in the library of Congress’s multi-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of American Slavery. The narratives contain over 2,300 interviews with surviving slaves made 1936-1938. These materials have been criticized in various ways, but they cover every State and are fairly consistent in what they tell. Some terrible stories are told, but in general the narratives show no great resentment against slavery and masters, and many complain of the decline in the living standards after emancipation. (p44)

One of the former slaves said:

The Yankees done a lot of mischief. I knows because I was there. They robbed the folks and a whole lot of darkies who ain’t never been whipped by the master got a whipping from the Yankees. (p45)

Wilson quotes Jim Downs’s, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (2015). Downs said the black death toll was 1,000,000 and “We must also take account of the postwar toll of malnutrition, homelessness, and debilitation from wounds, leading to early death. There were in 1866-1867 epidemics in the South recalling the death toll of the Spanish Flu after World War I.” (p48)

About Reconstruction, Wilson writes:

The primary description of Reconstruction, long and almost universally accepted, was as an era of corruption and oppression. A common motif of current historians is that Reconstruction was a noble effort to raise the black people to first-class citizenship. Much of later interpretation is based on that proposition, but it is a lie. This assumes that Northerners had dedicated themselves to a crusade for equality, a goal that never existed. That is not what Reconstruction and giving the vote to the freedmen was about. (p52)

In Chapter 6, Conclusion, Wilson writes:

In the long run of history, the story of America is the settlement by Europeans of a continental wilderness and their establishing of free institutions and a widespread prosperity that has been the envy of the world. African American slavery is a sidebar to this history, not the main feature. (p59)

Wilson is right when he writes:

The subject of slavery is today so entwined with unhealthy and present-centered emotions and motives – guilt, shame, hypocrisy, projection, prurient imagination, propaganda, vengeance, extortion, virtue signaling – as to defy normal historical discussion. (p59)

About the comparison of the South to Nazism, Wilson writes:

The proper analogy to Nazism is with the U.S. government and its war of conquest to punish disobedience to centralized government. If Americans knew anything real about the faction who forced through and carried out the war against the South other than a few pretty phrases from Lincoln’s speeches, they would see how strong the motivation was related to greed and the will to power and how little to humanitarian thought and action.

‘The Righteous Union Myth’ is falser, stronger, and more destructive than the supposed ‘Lost Cause Myth.’ (p62)

Wilson writes that “Those who want the war to be about slavery and nothing but slavery are often hateful, disdainful, ignorant, and unwilling to engage in honest discussion. Reason, evidence, and fair discussion do not enter the question for them.” And:

Even worse are the professors, plutocrats, politicians, and even high-ranking military officers who have taken a recent occasion to announce that Robert E. Lee was ‘a traitor.’ One wonders why Eisenhower had a portrait of Lee in the Oval Office while people without any observable merit of accomplishment, intellect, or character gloat over destroying his monuments. Fortunately, Lee is so much greater than his current critics that in the long view of history he will always stand tall.

People who reduce the complexities of American history to ‘Lee, a traitor,’ as many of high rank are doing . . . are pygmies and clowns in intelligence, ethics, and patriotism to anybody who is familiar with Lee and the leaders of his time and earlier. (p64)

Clyde Wilson’s African American Slavery in Historical Perspective helps one understand history and see things the way the people of the past saw them. That is how you truly understand the past.

He points out George Orwell’s statement that “‘The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.'” (p67)

Today’s politicized “emphasis on slavery has less to do with the real feelings of African Americans than with the deluded minds of white people seeking cheap virtue.” Elizabeth Warren, Ty Seidule and Nikki Haley top the list.

This outstanding books ends with:

Critical investigation and examination of history has been a hallmark of Western man, not present in other civilisations. . . . We are now getting close to a Soviet-style official interpretation of the nature and meaning of our history, where anything not serving the rulers is suppressed and even punished. An imagined history of African Americans is the dangerous rock rolling down hill and smashing everything in its path. (p67)

Gene Kizer, Jr.

Gene Kizer, Jr. graduated magna cum laude from the College of Charleston in 2000 at middle age with History Departmental Honors, the Rebecca Motte American History Award, and the Outstanding Student Award for the History Department. He is author of Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument.; The Elements of Academic Success, How to Graduate Magna Cum Laude from College (or how to just graduate, PERIOD!); and Charleston, SC Short Stories, Book One: Six Tales of Courage, Love, the War Between the States, Satire, Ghosts and Horror from the Holy City. He is publisher at Charleston Athenaeum Press. Please visit his blog at www.CharlestonAthenaeumPress.com. He lives on James Island in Charleston where he is also broker-in-charge of Charleston Saltwater Realty (www.CharlestonSaltwaterRealty.com).


  • Valerie Protopapas says:

    At 83, I’ve watched much of this especially gender “stuff” develop to its present insanity. I will only say this: for those women offended by the current “belief” that men can be women “if they believe that they are” (and vice versa), you should think back into the ’60s and ’70s (and even the ’80s) when you were more than willing to demand that the gender roles be interchangeable so that men could not earn more than women even when their jobs were more dangerous and more difficult. “We’re all the same!” women demanded at that time. Problem is, they didn’t understand that once what they wanted was “adopted,” a lot of what they DIDN’T want came along for the ride. As my mother used to say, “Be careful what you wish for! You may get it!”

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    The vast majority of ships built in the North American British colonies were from New England. Old Fuss and Feathers suggested the Anaconda Plan precisely because there was no Southern shipbuilding capacity.

    Who imported the slaves? Who financed the slave trade? Who protected merchant ships carrying slaves? Who sent the Corwin Amendment to the States to be ratified?

    The controllers of the narrative have lost control of the message. Rejoice, for you live in an age of discovery.

  • Joseph Johnson says:

    The discussion on Slavery today is more about guilt tripping than it is about understanding.

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