Slave North

For the penultimate episode of The Brion McClanahan Show for 2022, I tackle a topic I’ve been asked about dozens of times.

What was the North’s role in slavery and “white supremacy”?

Short answer: a lot.

This history was generally suppressed for nearly a century. Southerners, of course, talked about it, but the Lincolnian Myth would not allow for such a complex story of the American past. It would be an indictment of the North.

C. Vann Woodword pointed the finger back at Northerners for starting Jim Crow. He was right.

Northerners never showed much commitment to “equality” or had any qualms about slavery until it did not work with their economy or geography.

Many Yankees continued to be absentee slave owners in South America (and the South) well into the 19th century. For example, one of the largest plantations in what is now Russell County, Alabama was owned by a Northern business conglomerate.

This was commonplace.

We also know Northerners made boatloads of cash on the international slave trade. They dominated the business in the United States. The largest slave trader in Charleston, South Carolina was born in Rhode Island.

Northern States did abolish slavery and made at least surface attempts to incorporate blacks into society, but most people understood this to be a paper fix. Most blacks still could not vote or sit on juries on the eve of the War in almost every Northern State. They could own property, and some prospered, but the same could be said in the South. In fact, it was the South, not the North, that started the earliest anti-slavery organizations in the United States, and many Northern theologians were fiery pro-slavery ideologues in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

In other words, the moral high ground that Northerners believe they have is a myth propagated by a purposeful distortion of American history.

Around twenty years ago, an amateur historian put together a wonderful web resource on Northern slavery. I highly recommend you take a look.

In the meantime, you can also listen to me discuss the issue on Episode 751 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

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