The Other Half of History Columns

Slavery and American Capitalism

 “Slavery was not a sideshow in American History, it was the main event.” Dr. James Horton, George Mason University.

From the day the America was founded, her economic growth was the envy of the rest of the world. Academics and other liberals are pretty consistent in the explanation they offer for this rapid early growth. The nation’s prosperity, they tell us, was built on the backs of black slaves. American capitalism, they say, is so closely linked to slavery that its achievements should always be viewed with shame. This negative portrayal of American enterprise shows up in textbooks, in classrooms, and even in publicly-funded “educational” broadcasting.

There is another side to the story.

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New Deal Politics

The most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.’” Ronald Reagan

When the stock market crashed in October of 1929 the American unemployment rate shot up to 9%. American businesses and workers quickly made adjustments, as they had during previous depressions, and by June of the next year unemployment was down to 6.3%.

Then the government started “helping.”
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The Roosevelt “Stimulus”

“Nothin’s wrong with this country that ain’t only just temporary.” Diamond Jim Brady was speaking for many Americans when he made that statement of faith in America’s capitalist system. The year was 1895, and the nation was two years into a deep economic depression. The country had been through other depressions before, the most recent starting in 1873, and had always recovered quickly. Soon Brady’s prediction would come true; within a couple years the country would start another period of strong economic growth.

Before the 1930’s the United States had suffered, and quickly recovered from, many economic depressions. Until Herbert Hoover became president in 1929 the federal government made little pretense of being able to legislate prosperity. The usual government response to recessions and depressions was to trim spending a little, in response to the reduction in tax revenues, and just wait for movers and shakers like Diamond Jim Brady to re-build the nation’s economy.

The depression of the 30’s was the first one to which the government responded with massive increases in spending; and it would turn out to be the one that hurt the nation the most, and lasted the longest. But don’t expect to hear that in a typical college history class; today’s mostly left-leaning college faculties are teaching their young charges that the Great Depression of the 1930’s was an unprecedented event that could only be overcome through massive government spending and a restructuring of the economy under strict government control.

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Freedom From Religion?

“If God is dead, everything is permitted.”  Dostoevsky

In the 1830’s a French nobleman named Alexis de Tocqueville spent several months touring the United States, then wrote an influential and popular bookabout what he had learned. Everywhere he went he was struck by the fact that American beliefs about freedom and civil rights seemed to be based in the Christian religion. “Upon my arrival in the United States,” Tocqueville wrote, “the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed.” Tocqueville went on to say “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to conceive the one without the other.”

Don’t expect to hear Tocqueville’s words in a typical college history class. The perspective taught in most mainstream history texts is that humanistic philosophies had to unshackle America’s leading thinkers from the Judeo-Christian traditions of Europe before ideas like democracy and human rights could gain any traction.

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“Endowed by Their Creator”

“The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”  John F. Kennedy

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Today most of us take for granted that each human being is born with civil rights, but when Thomas Jefferson put these words in the Declaration of Independence he was expressing a philosophy that was still quite controversial.

Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers largely borrowed the concept of God-given human rights from seventeenth century philosopher John Locke, who got the idea from the Bible; but don’t expect to hear that in a typical university history class. The standard treatment in college history textbooks is that society had to move beyond a childish belief in the Bible before people could have widely recognized human rights.

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