Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, August 29, 2009

  How slaves became an asset

The Washington newspaper today provides a forum for anonymous senior officials in the former Confederate government to make the case that slavery served a crucial service to the country during the crisis that began in 1861. They clearly are seeking to bolster the defense of harsh slave-holding techniques offered repeatedly by President Jefferson Davis and especially Vice President Alexander Stephens since they left office.

The anonymous Confederate officials stress something that has been little reported in the press: Large numbers of slaves and ex-slaves supplied absolutely critical intelligence to the Union side during the war. One of the most important of these slaves, William Jackson, belonged to Jefferson Davis himself. Such formerly truculent, unreliable, and frankly quite scary foreign workers were transformed into productive and effective spies, a major asset to the Union in its war with the Confederacy. None of that would ever have happened, the former CSA officials point out, without the ground having first been prepared by the much-criticized coercive conditions of slavery.

"What do you think changed the servants' minds?" one former senior Confederate official said this week after being asked about the effect of involuntary servitude. "Of course it began with that."

The Washington paper describes how William Jackson became so cooperative that he would give long lectures to Union intelligence officers on a wide variety of subjects:

Jackson "seemed to relish the opportunity, sometimes for hours on end, to discuss the inner workings of the Confederate cabinet and the CSA's plans, ideology and operatives," said one of two sources who described the sessions, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much information about army interrogations remains classified. "He'd even use a chalkboard at times."

These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to Union officials as WJ from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the Union called its "preeminent source" on the CSA. This reversal occurred after Jackson was subjected by his master to years of beatings and prolonged shackling, among other harsh techniques of involuntary servitude.


One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the sessions were carried out said Jackson, like several other servants, seemed to have decided that it was okay to start cooperating after he had endured a certain amount of abuse during his servitude.

The Washigton paper adds a small caveat before proceeding to advance further the case for slavery (though it prefers to use the term 'involuntary servitude').

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting servants to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of involuntary servitude, the evidence is clear: The servants cooperated with the Union armies, and to an extraordinary extent, only when their spirits were broken during the painful months after their capture and sale in America. These methods often included the very things that have provoked the greatest outcry in the public – shackling for long periods in stress positions, prolonged isolation, extremes of cold and heat, undernourishment, and transport over the Atlantic in degrading conditions.

The Washington paper also notes that southern slaves flocked to the Union standard and fought in the Union army, sometimes quite courageously. This too is attributable to the harsh conditioning that the slaves underwent in the years before they became valuable assets to the United States.

The Washington paper also quotes an abolitionist to the effect that slavery is illegal now as well as economically unproductive. But it makes nothing further of that.

crossposted at

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