The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist
Hey, history buffs and political aficionados! How much do you know about these seven presidents: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce (relative of Barbara and George W. Bush), and James Buchanan? Nothing? Read The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist and you'll learn why.
This brilliant book demolishes most of the conventional wisdom about American History between the War for Independence and the Civil War, which was mostly, as Abraham Lincoln said, about the expansion of slavery.
Along with history, this book destroys the entire discipline of Economics by detailing the economic superiority of slavery imposed by terror as compared to paying wages to free labor. So many myths about economic development are refuted by irrefutable data that it’s no wonder Economics is the dismal science. This book cries out for a serious systematic economic analysis of slave labor in general.
The reason we know nothing about the aforementioned seven presidents is because the traditional narrative line of 1840 – 1860 makes no sense. It is a fairy tale. Slavery was not on the point of collapse in 1860. On the contrary, it was wildly profitable and the engine for the United States’ expansion and industrialization. Everyone was getting rich, except, of course, the slaves. Slavery was not in retreat in the 1850’s. Like most powerful systems, it was brought low by its’ own arrogance and overreaching. The Dred Scott decision, which seemed like such a victory at the time, actually doomed slavery because it held the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to be unconstitutional. That’s when it became obvious that the United States could not survive “half slave and half free.” It had to be one or the other.
But the greatest contribution of The Half Has Never Been Told is explaining and illustrating the social costs of slavery to the slaves: the broken families, children sold away from their parents, husbands sold away from their wives. The slavery of the tobacco plantations of Virginia and Maryland were paradises compared to the cotton plantations of Georgia, and Mississippi. By the 1840’s and 1850’s, the old slave states of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland were primarily engaged is producing slaves for the cotton plantations of the west.
This is a horrifying, brilliant and important book. The Economics of Slavery (and therefore America) 101. In a throwaway at the end, Baptist explains in one sentence why the slaves were never given the 40 acres and a mule.
This and King Leopold’s Ghost are the greatest books on Black History I have ever read. The overwhelming publicity given to the revisionist and historically inaccurate film Selma should really go to The Half Has Never Been Told. But that kind of legerdemain is normal when it comes to Black History. I dare anyone who reads (or listens to, it is available on CD) this book to the end to say, as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court John Roberts had the gall to say, “The way to not discriminate is not to discriminate.” Race was a dominant factor in American law when it came to oppressing black people for two centuries, but when it is time for them to try to gain equality, suddenly the Constitution is color blind.