I’m having a hard time deciding which I find harder to believe…


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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78 Responses

  1. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    It’s Mississippi.

    The state is like the Wales of America.

    Where Wales exists to give a place for Scots, Irish etc. to make sheep jokes about, Mississippi exists for Texas and the like to make jokes about horrible backwardness.Report

  2. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    I also like the fact that the person who finally got the vote recorded was a recent immigrant from India. 300 million of us native-borns have more important stuff to worry about.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      Well, again, it’s Mississippi. I think it’s written into their state constitution that they need to be 150 years late to everything.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Lincoln was an idiot. He should have thrown an Andy Jackson style party in the White House to celebrate secession.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          What would you have done with all the slaves down South?Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            James is a libertarian. For those slaves I’d imagine his response would be FYIGM!Report

            • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

              (Note, this is a joke.)

              From a serious policy ™ perspective on counterfactuals, if one were a committed abolitionist, making common cause with the British would probably make strangling the Confederate economy quite simple.Report

              • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

                I think this is accurate. Slavey probably wouldn’t have lasted long despite the Confederacy government and popular sympathy to the institution. Probably would have lasted too much longer , still, and what happened next probably would have managed to be worse for the freed slaves.Report

              • Avatar Mopey Duns says:

                Maybe, but I’m skeptical. Opinion in Europe about the Confederacy may have been mixed, but they did love that cheap Confederate cotton, and the almighty dollar can soothe many a moral pang.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            New Dealer,

            I think slavery would have been relatively short-lived down south. It was disappearing from the western world, and there’s little reason to think the South could have long bucked that trend. That said, were I in charge of the North’s policies on the issue, I would have tried to shorten the timeline to that outcome.

            Specifically, I would have made it clear that we welcomed escaped slaves and would not deport them, would have offered readmission to any state that eliminated slavery and formally ratified all the relevant amendments (13, 14, 15), and would have made common cause with the Brits, as Nob suggests. I might also have looked for ways to infiltrate the south and help foment slave rebellions.Report

            • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

              You might well be right on the merits but I tend to associate “slavery was dying anyway” with all the BS I learned in school about the “many, complex causes of the Civil War”. The secessions were about slavery, first, second, and down to about ninety-third. Without them, no war.

              Also, I submit that since the Confederacy, unlike any other government on earth, was created to preserve slavery, period, end of discussion, it’s the place slavery would have lasted longest. It couldn’t have been outlawed there gradually, since there was a clause in the Confederate Constitution forbidding any individual state from making it illegal.Report

              • Avatar Gaelen says:

                There was a hilarious (and depressing) mock documentary I watched a while back–kind of a history channel American (or Confederate) Experience type of thing.

                The reason I bring it up is because James’ take was always very close to my own, with the added feature that the south turns into an something close to an apartheid state. But the movie presents a somewhat compelling counter factual. One in which the south colonizes the Caribbean and Mexico, forcing Europe to deal with it until the fascists come to power, at which point it allies with them, and the rest, as they say, is history.

                I think, if I remember correctly, that the conquest was based on actual confederate plans (but don’t hold me to that).Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                There was a mockumentary along those lines, but if I recall it did also trade in some of the “complex causes” BS by having Lincoln admit that he hadn’t fought the war for abolition…

                And meanwhile somehow the CSA took over the north with help from the French and British, which would have been unlikely at best, outright impossible given British population opinion on slavery at worst.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                by having Lincoln admit that he hadn’t fought the war for abolition

                But in fact that wasn’t his original intention. Not that he didn’t support abolition, and not that he didn’t actually take his moment to go for it, but if the war had ended more quickly, it’s not at all certain he would have done it. And in the North in general the emancipation proclamation dampened enthusiasm for the war–folks were more willing to fight for national unity than for black freedom. It sucks, but it was true.

                And that says nothing about the South’s reasons.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                I’m inclined to think that they went too far in the “Lincoln cared nothing about abolition” camp in how his “confession” movie was framed. While it’s true that preservation of the union was his foremost goal, I think it’s certainly possible to underplay the degree to which abolition underpinned his entire party’s raison d’etre at the time.Report

              • Avatar Mo says:

                Lincoln did say that he supported the Corwin Amendment in his first inaugural and said “I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable”.Report

              • Avatar Gaelen says:

                Just looked it up, and your right. My memory from college is hazy at best. I think the reason I only remembered the southern empire bit was because it sounded like a plausible plan for maintaining slavery and the southern economy.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                That said, it was a pretty good mockumentary for its faults.Report

              • Avatar Tsu Dho Nimh says:

                “One in which the south colonizes the Caribbean and Mexico, forcing Europe to deal with it until the fascists come to power, at which point it allies with them, and the rest, as they say, is history. “

                That would have required re-imposing slavery on large populations of freed slaves, something that is difficult to do, as the French found out in Haiti.

                Mexico’s decision to ban slavery in Mexican Texas in 1830 was one of the triggers for Texas’s splitting off. Escaped slaves from the Louisiana area could get to it easily, and Mexico was not returning them. To circumvent the law, many Anglo colonists convert their slaves into “indentured servants for life”.

                There was a half-assed attempt to invade Mexico right after or near the end of the Civil War and re-institute slavery (which Mexico abolished in 1820 in the main parts) by the “Knights of the Golden Circle” (name may be incorrect) They left very few traces of themselves\, but I remember discussing it in LatAm history class

                The Confederacy had wanted to take over Cuba, but the island abolished the slave trade in 1862 – perhaps to make themselves less attractive to the Confederacy. Cuba finally abolished slavery in 1886.

                Some Confederates did emigrate to Brazil as refugees after the Civil War, attracted by the Emperor’s offers of free land and assistance in getting established.

                When Brazil abolished slavery there was a faction that was trying to get it re-instituted, and was making progress in this effort. Then the state archives suffered a large fire of mysterious origins that destroyed all the official records of who had been born slave and who had been born free. 🙂 It’s a huge loss for historians and geneaologists, but it prevented re-enslaving. And a bloody disaster.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Wow, this’s I all fascinating stuff.


              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Well yes.

                But as good as the Rebs were at being oppressive assholes, the British and the Feds combined blockading their ports would mean they would have tons and tons of cotton with nothing to do with it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Milo Minderbinder had an elegant solution for surplus cotton.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              You should really read some Coates. Hit is archive up for ‘slavery is a love song.’

              For all the talk about the horrors of reconstruction and Jim Crow, it was a huge difference; particularly the right to family. To not have your children sold away, your mate.

              We talk about slavery in terms that sort of take the humanity and the agency away from slaves. Nasty habit, that.Report

            • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

              I think slavery would have been relatively short-lived down south. It was disappearing from the western world, and there’s little reason to think the South could have long bucked that trend.

              I disagree on this, actually.

              Remember that it took until 1888 for Brazil to outright abolish slavery and slavery was never quite as profitable down there as it was in the South. Further I’m not entirely convinced Brazil would have abolished slavery if it weren’t under serious pressure (to the point of a shooting war) with the British, and the Brussels Framework might have been stillborn if there had been a substantial bloc of western states that supported the institution.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The trend was in part a consequence of international pressure. I’m not assuming some inherent natural and inevitable progress based on some silly notion of historical progress.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Yeah. Just saying that if it took 28 years past the Civil War to get Brazil to capitulate, I’m not sure if absent a shooting war the CSA would have been inclined to emancipate in any fashion that was more equitable than serfdom.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              “I think slavery would have been relatively short-lived down south. It was disappearing from the western world, and there’s little reason to think the South could have long bucked that trend.”

              This part of American history is not my forte, and so I want to be perfectly clear that I’m not trying to argue with Authority here. That being said, this argument (which I had never heard until a few years ago, and now I see all the time) doesn’t pass the smell test for me.

              If the South was really coming to the place where they were ready to give up slavery (and all of the economic benefits they believed it held), why did they go to war and sacrifice the amount of resources, capital, and lives of their citizenry to ensure they got to keep their own status quo? And why did they not just allow slavery in their constitution, but go so far as to make *not* allowing slavery in a state unconstitutional?

              The argument feels more like a way to allow certain people to save face.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                As I alluded to in another comment, I used to hear this in grade school, which was in Northern California, in an integrated public school, along with other “complex causes” BS. It wasn’t the district or the teacher, but this sort of garbage had become the conventional wisdom, due to a large propaganda effort by pro-southern historians.Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                James McPherson, in “Battle Cry of Freedom” http://www.amazon.com/This-Mighty-Scourge-Perspectives-Civil/dp/0195392426/ref=la_B000AQ3NV2_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1361228464&sr=1-10 pretty much shreds this argument that slavery would have died out anyway, and also the argument that the slave owners should have been offered compensation to free their slaves voluntarily. He’s also got a good essay on the whole let’s-not-talk-about-slavery-it’s-now-states’-rights line that the association of Confederate veterans began lobbying state governments to insist on in school textbooks. It’s a most excellent book – with many essays/long reviews. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                Sorry – two sentences fused there. The book cited is This Mighty Scourge, but his most famous book is Battle Cry of Freedom. Need protein now.Report

              • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

                I think both you and Mike are knocking down an argumentnnotbbeing made here (though being made elsewhere). It’s not that the south would have done so voluntarily, but that they could have been pressured into it by sanctions from the people they needed to sell cotton and sugar to.

                Now, contra Hanley, I’m glad Lincoln did what he did for a number of reasons even if slavery would have been gone into 30 years. But I think the argument that the South would have had a hard time hanging onto it is credible.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott says:

                Lets say slavery becomes economically unprofitable. What’s a slave-owner to do? Free his slaves and give them good jobs and three square meals a day?

                Just because the institution of slavery goes away eventually without a civil war doesn’t mean that the plight of enslaved peoples will go away. The punishment of sanctions invariably falls on those in the lowest positions of society. If Britain won’t pay for cotton, it’s the slaves who starve. As the institution of slavery crumbles, the CSA will have to deal with millions of freedmen. Genocide becomes a possibility. At the very least, the same social and economic pressures that caused the formation of the KKK exist, without the protection that interceding northerners would otherwise provide.

                It’s not as simple as balancing the lives lost during the civil war against a few more decades of slavery. We have to realize exactly how much worse the legacy of slavery under the CSA would be.Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                They’d have put them on ships and sent them back to Africa. Problem solved. It was suggested more than a few times.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                Why would anyone have _paid_ to do that when it would have been simpler and cheaper to just _say_ they were doing that, but actually just killed them?

                Not even as any sort of public policy. They’d simply be faced with which of two ships to hire…the one that actually did the shipping, or the one that cost 1/100th as much, and mysteriously reappeared back in port two days after taking on a former-slave shipment. (I am assuming it’s the state governments doing this, because former slaves would have no money to book passage.)

                Does anyone now think anyone then would care?

                There’s not really any way, in the pre-intercontinental communication days, that former slaves would have made it en mass back to Africa. That benefited _no one_ to do correctly. (No one who was actually a ‘person’, at least.) I mean, look how many black people on slave ships died, and those deaths _directly cut into profit_.

                About the only plausible way that things could have ended well would have been to give them a territory out west, one that they could get to themselves, and eventually making a state out of it. In fact, that probably would have been for the best in our _actual_ history. Having an actual power base where wealthy-ish black people could originate from, and where marginalized black people could retreat to, might have made the civil right’s struggle shorter.

                OTOH, I doubt it would have actually worked, no one would have allowed black people to end up in charge of a state in 1880 or whenever this would be. And such a place sorta already existed in New Orleans anyway.Report

              • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

                Alan, I agree, and said elsewhere that what would have happened could be worse than what did (and that regardless, it’s good that Lincoln did what he did). I was just explaining why people think slavery would or might have been retired even in a countrythat fought a war to ppreserve it.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                It’s not that slavery would’ve been economically eased off, it’s that the Rebs would’ve had a Royal Navy Preventive Squadron (the euphemism used by the RN in Africa) to basically interdict and blockade any attempts to ship cotton overseas. At which point the Rebs would have bales of cotton, molasses and tobacco it couldn’t do much with.

                The extent to which the British public supported abolition is covered in one of my first posts at the League, and one would imagine that a hypothetical independent, seceded CSA would be facing substantial pressure in return for say diplomatic recognition.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                In fact, the CSA pursued diplomatic recognition by the British, sending emissaries to London to negotiate for it. After a year or so of seeing every effort met by polite refusal to engage, they gave up and went home.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Predictably this was also divided on the old Tory/Whig, Cavalier/Roundhead, Conservative(Tory)/Liberal(Gladstonian) divide. British popular opinion (and thus that of the Liberals) was consistently and almost vehemently anti-Confederate, despite the fact that the biggest sufferers were probably the laboring class who had no wages due to the lack of cotton imports.

                Victorian Britain did some truly heinous things in pursuit of Empire (particularly the elites) but the British national sentiment against slavery was a substantial liberalizing influence on the world.Report

              • Avatar Mopey Duns says:

                At the same time, the British had a big soft spot for Confederate privateers, for reasons I cannot quite parse out.Report

              • Avatar Russell M says:

                the empire also had cotton from Egypt and the Subcontinent to tide them over. love of the privateers i believe was their joy at seeing one american shoot another.

                the “special relationship” has not always been so special.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                I’m hardly an authority on this either, but I suspect the 3/5ths compromise matters a lot here. In a sense the South was fighting for State’s Rights, if by that you mean “The Southern States’ rights to dominate the Federal government”.

                Because slaves counted for the purposes of congressional representation, the slave states had an unfair advantage in Congress, and for the Presidential election. Slavery was the source of that advantage. But in a country of nothing but slave states, the value of the 3/5ths compromise would be lower, and as slavery lost it’s economic value it seems that they would have abolished slavery, though not as quickly as they were forced to by the Civil War.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Following on your comment, I always think it a little strange when people point to the 3/5ths Compromise as evidence of the way the country at large wanted to treat the slave issue (usually framed as “look, here’s numerical evidence, enshrined in the Constitution, that slaves weren’t considered full persons by the Founders”).

                I mean, it IS evidence of the immorality of slavery; but it’s so in a indirect/roundabout way, since as you note the Southern states wanted to count slaves as “1” which would have given them numerical federal representative superiority, and the Northern states said, “no way, you need to knock that number down” so as to somewhat limit the Southern states’ influence.

                IOW, in addition to being evidence that slaves were getting a raw deal, that fractional number is paradoxically *also* evidence that opinion was not unanimous and that there were forces opposing slavery (or at minimum opposing the Southern regime that supported slavery).

                Not trying to make any point, this just is something that occurs to me sometimes when the topic comes up. The 3/5ths Compromise sort of looks slightly worse than it actually was, IMO (actual slavery, of course, was EXACTLY as bad as it looks, in case the distinction I am trying to make is not clear).Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                Yeah, the number should have been negative.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Heh. Yeah, that would have hobbled the Southern States even more, and been more reflective of slaves’ reality (since they had no rights, at all, not even 3/5ths of rights).

                But THAT number would also be pointed to as blanket condemnation of the Founders or the Constitution or the country as a whole, just like the 3/5ths number (“look, they were considered LESS than zero! It’s written down, right there!”) .

                When in reality the number would still be – at least partially – evidence of some people trying to do the right thing by opposing and limiting the slave states’ power.Report

              • It’s important to remember that the 3/5 compromise in theory required the southern states to pay more taxes, because before our income tax amendment, taxes had to be apportioned by population of the states. I’m not saying this as a “the poor, repressed South” comment, but more as a “the South had an interest in having disproportionate representation, but they also had an interest in not having slaves count as whole persons.”Report

  3. Avatar trumwill mobile says:

    I think it’s just fantastic to use this opportunity – when Mississippi (very belatedly) finally does something that we wish they had done a long time ago – torregister our collective disgust for them. It’s very productive and encourages future positive change.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Disgust? Who’s disgusted?Report

      • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

        Give it time. Or look over at OTB. Over there they want to trade Mississippi to Mexico. One reference here so far to how much better we’d be without them and another about how their lot in life is to be looked down upon by other losers.

        The “look at those backwoods fishers” stage is set Maybeanother guest post about how yes, the South really is that terrible.

        Not that Mississippi doesn’t have it coming. In addition to being our most troubled state, they went and did something we wanted the to do. Maybe if Alabama finally repeals their odious blue law about segregation and school funding, we can trash talk them some.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          Boy, is this touching some kind of nerve nerve?

          That a state didn’t ratify the 13th until 1995 is interesting. That they chose to do it at all after it was a dead issue is even more interesting. That they went to all that trouble and then never bothered mailing in the paper work is far more interesting still. That the error was caught because an immigrant went to go see the movie Lincoln is somehow even *more* interesting. And discovering that people chose to abstain – AND that no one seems to have bothered finding out back in ’95 why they did (I assume they were not pro-slavery) is even more interesting than all of the above.

          That all of theses things are going on with the same story? How is that not fascinating? And since when should we not write about fascinating things because their very existence might incorrectly make some people may feel superior to others?

          I’ve written several time here about how the neighborhood I live in only allows blacks to live here because the Supreme Court said we had to, and that’s within my lifetime. SHould I have hidden that as well?Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

          I was going to give a shout-out to all the great baseball players from Mississippi, but my memory has played me false. It turns out that Willie Mays is from Alabama and Jackie Robinson from Georgia. Accordingly, here’s to Harry “The Hat” Walker!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Disgust? Who’s disgusted?


        I struggle hard to overcome my anti-southern bias, but for pete’s sake, things like this just don’t help. I don’t even see a muted, “good,” is a sufficient response. “Good, but this is a perfect case study in why your state still sucks” seems more appropriate. Seriously, if they can’t even get it right when they try to do the right thing–and when doing it right is so simple it really is child’s play–I don’t think it’s time to give them any real kind of compliment.Report

        • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

          It honestly doesn’t help my opinion of them much, but it’s something and, going forward, all they are capable of doing to remediate hat situation. So, to me, it’s more like “good, now let’s talk about that flag of yours.”Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      The very belatedly should by all measures earn a bit of ribbing.Report

      • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

        Not if we want to encourage more of this.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

          So what would the appropriate response be?

          Should we instead treat Mississippi as though it has actually done something admirable by belatedly joining the late 19th century?

          Perhaps give them bonus points for not referring to black people as negroes or coloreds in their press releases?Report

          • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

            No, don’t throw them a parade. But taking notes of it, a muted “good” and moving on would be preferable to using this opportunity to point out how much we still don’t like them.

            Negative attention for doing something we want them to do isn’t helpful. Mississippi is probably my least favorite state, but they just did something good and I don’t think it helpful to use their having done soas aan opportunity to criticize. I want them to take more steps, which means not expressing contempt when they do.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              Remember about nine months ago when I was talking about standing all the time?

              One of the things about standing is that if some collective thinks some other collective doesn’t have standing, and that second collective hasn’t done the penance to earn it, small measures are negative, not positive.

              That’s just the way things are. Americans are in some measures catholic in our tastes about penance. We want it to hurt. If you’re just catching up, that’s not good enough… you’re not hurting.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              I’m not sure I understand what just happened in Mississippi, but it’s not apparent how “good” it is. it seems like an administrative act that should have been completed pursuant to an action in 1995 that was “good,” (and I’m sure you’re right that in 1995 they got some ribbing for the belatedness, but how is it not right for them to receive that for waiting a hundred years to ratify this piece of law? — I’m sure they got some credit as well). Basically, it sounds like some unfinished administrative business from 1995 got completed here, which is business that went along with receiving whatever credit for this good act that they would have received in 1995. This just seems like delay piled on top of delay. At some point you have to stop rewarding the mere rectification of elective irresponsible behavior. I’m not sure this is rightly seen as doing something “good,” rather than just a neutral completion of an act for which the state has already received credit (after another delay that, while likely inadvertent, nevertheless doesn’t deserve any admiration.)Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                Indeed. The real joke here isn’t the symbolic vote. Symbolic votes on constitutional amendments are fairly silly anyway, so who cares when anyone did it?

                Either a state ratifies it when it’s not yet passed, or it passes and the state forgets about it until someone brings it up. (Now, failing to ratify this amendment when someone bring it up _would_ be something to notice would be relevant, but isn’t what we’re talking about here.)

                No, the real joke is that they’re so fucked up in Mississippi it takes them almost two decades to file a piece of paperwork. That paperwork is _almost old enough to vote_.

                Man, and I thought the US Congress was dysfunctional.Report

            • Avatar Mo says:

              We’re supposed to say “Good”? My thought is akin to Chris Rock’s when someone brags that, “I ain’t never been to jail.”

              What do you want, a cookie? You’re not supposed to go to jail you low expectation having mothafisha.Report

  4. I have a question for the editors about an image (of a Roman bas relief) used on this site in Christopher Carr’s March 20, 2012 post entitled “Death + Taxes + … + n.” I apologize for putting this in a comment on a random post, but the comments for that post are closed and I cannot find an alternative way to contact the editors on the blog. I have questions about the usage rights for this image. I am not trying to rat anyone out, but I would really like to use it on my blog for a post I am writing about gut bacteria research and I want to make sure I am not violating any copyrights. If you have a moment to contact me about any info you have on this image I would really appreciate it. Thanks, MeredithReport