Hey Folks, I warned you – I’m not done with slavery yet, and this week’s book is another reason why. So. We talked about slavery in economical terms, and how slavery ended – but this week, we are going to talk about the intersection between slavery and US Foreign Policy.
Have you ever wondered why Britain became the US’s closest ally within a couple of decades of the War of Independence? Especially since Jefferson (I am contractually obligated to point out that Jefferson didn’t just own slaves, he didn’t emancipate them after his death, he raped his slaves AND he held some of his CHILDREN as slaves) was adamant that Great Britain was the Big Bad Wolf that would destroy the United States if given a chance.
In fact, this was one of the major points of contention between him and Hamilton. There were many, but Jefferson wanted the United States to look towards France, whereas Hamilton wanted to have close ties with England. Jefferson denounced Hamilton as pro-royalist Anglophone, which was the sickest burn you could deliver in 18th century America.
So how did we get from there to the Special Relationship? Oh well. Slavery. Well. Slavery via Cotton, but slavery nonetheless. Because Britain bought what the US produced – tons and tons of cotton and tobacco. Britain, thanks to its empire and its navy, was able to soak up the majority of the US’s production and distribute it throughout the world.
Great Britain was hungry for sugar and tobacco and cotton, and the United States was all too happy to deliver.
That means that this tiny squabble about independence and whatsnot wasn’t as important as economic interests – and the two became best buddies.
So yes. Slavery was a huge deal in Foreign Policy, and the Southern States realized this IMMEDIATELY. Like. Their whole siren song about States Rights didn’t count for much when it came to dealing with other countries. In Foreign Policy, the Government couldn’t be too powerful for these guys.
And they made sure they were at the levers of power – US Foreign Secretaries were usually from Slave-holding countries. Thus, the defense of slavery became the central tenet of US Foreign Policy.
This became especially important when Great Britain abolished slavery in 1807 (or at least the slave trade). This meant that suddenly, the big protector of Slavery was gone – more than that, he had changed sides!
And now the US had to deal with the fact that the all-mighty British Navy, which ruled the Atlantic, might interrupt the slave trade.
This meant two things – a) the slave trade became internal – as we discussed previously, slaves were sold within the United States and b) the United States raced to develop a standing army and a strong navy (both of which would have been anathema to Fuckface Jefferson.)
This also meant that the United States now became the guarantor of slavery in the Americas – they saw it as a Europe vs America thing, and they bonded closer than ever with the slave states in Brazil and Cuba.
This was nicely packaged and marketed as the Monroe Doctrine, which officially opposed ‘European colonialism in the Americas’. Which means that the United States would have first dibs at new territories for slavery that would open up in the South.
(Creepy and depressing point – Bolton (the guy with the Mustache who’s trying to get us into a war with Iran) re-affirmed the Monroe Doctrine recently, which means that he either does not know a Thing about History, or he knows very well what role slavery played in the development of this policy. Both options are equally depressing.)
Another consequence of the importance of slavery was the constant run to annex territories that could be turned into slave territory. Texas is the basic example – it used to belong to Mexico, until the United States picked a fight and invaded the country. Boom. New territory open for plantations.
Same with Cuba – The United States was obsessed with Cuba, mostly because it was the ideal sugar plantation location – there was money to be made, so the United States was very interested. Spain kinda succeeded at keeping the States at bay, but only just.
The basic interest of the United States before the Civil War was two-fold: defend slavery, and expand slavery, preferably by annexing territory and expanding the United States.
We need to keep this fact in mind whenever we discuss American History – it would not have happened the way it did without the incentive of slavery. And the fact that we are not talking about it means we are ignoring the basic motivation behind a lot of the most defining moments in US History.
The Alamo? Used as a reason to start a war with Mexico, to expand slavery.
The Louisiana Purchase? Expand US territory for slavery.
Trail of Tears? Get rid of Native Americans to make space for slavery.
(I’m still looking for a good book about the connection between Native American Policy and slavery, so if anyone has a recommendation, please let me know.)
It’s really weird. Reading this book is kind of like when you get glasses – all of a sudden, things become much clearer. Not necessarily in a good way, but it all makes sense now.
Slavery, folks. That’s the answer.
Okay I think we’ve done enough depressing stuff for a while, so now we are going back to my ‘More Women’ pledge – and we’re reading one of the Greats. Jane Austen.