The capacity of the human mind for rationalization is an amazing thing. The things we can talk ourselves into without breaking a sweat…
Seeing this sentence this morning in a story about honoring the slaves who built USC sent me off on a tangent: “Sancho and his wife Lucy became the property of Thomas Cooper, president from 1821 to 1833 of what was then South Carolina College, with Sancho becoming a well-known figure on campus.”
My wife’s mother was a Cooper. All the Coopers in living memory lived in West Tennessee, but I knew that if you followed the line back to the mid-19th century, some of the Coopers lived here in Richland County, SC. And a number of Coopers were named Thomas.
So I had often wondered whether there was a connection to the famous Thomas Cooper of USC, and this morning I decided to read up on him.
Apparently, there’s no connection, since the academic Cooper was originally from England — whereas my wife’s Cooper ancestors had been in America a couple of generations ahead of him. With such common first and last names, that’s hardly surprising.
But I found reading about the USC Cooper interesting. He was apparently quite the philosopher, friend to Thomas Jefferson and other leading lights of the time. But this bit from Wikipedia sort of blew me away:
He supported the institution of slavery, although he had strenuously opposed the slave trade. In the mid to late 1780s Cooper fought passionately against “that infamous and impolitic traffic”. He wrote that “negroes are men; susceptible of the same cultivation with ourselves”, claimed that “as Englishmen, the blood of the murdered African is upon us, and upon our children, and in some day of retribution he will feel it, who will not assist to wash off the stain”. But in America Cooper accepted slavery itself, as he doubted that “in South Carolina or Georgia…the rich lands could be cultivated without slave labour”….
Let me make sure I’m following you, Tom: The slave trade is “infamous.” People of African descent are just as human as whites and just as worthy, and all of us who fail to do something to remedy this injustice are deserving of “retribution.”
But hey, we need them to work the plantations, so never mind! That cotton’s not going to pick itself!
Wow. He was celebrated for his great intellect, and this is how he used it…
Reminds me of what appears to be a wide swath of Alabama voters…
To be fair, I’m not sure how accurate that Wikipedia page is.
It lists him as “Thomas Cooper (U.S. politician),” but I couldn’t find any indication that held any elected office or was involved in electoral politics at all. The first graf describes him as “an Anglo-American economist, college president and political philosopher”…
So where did that parenthetical description come from?
Later in Wikipedia it adds “Cooper was at the center of the nullification movement and taught South Carolina about the dangers of consolidation.”
The identification as a politician is odd, but the wiki entry looks quite accurate. The bibliography looks good, although I would have included that Cooper was known as the “Schoolmaster of States Rights.” If you’d like another quick read on him, the history of the university by Daniel Walker Hollis is available in Google Books (or RCPL). Volume 1, pages 74-118, cover Cooper.
Thanks, Elizabeth! Always good to hear from someone who knows of what she speaks…
Welcome to the southern slaveocracy mentality! Cooper definitely wasn’t alone in his thinking. In fact, the great majority of South Carolinians at the time thought like he did – even those who didn’t own slaves. And this included those who were convinced that the Bible condoned, even encouraged slavery.
People not so persuaded tended to view their southern brethren as a touch addled by slave-holding. Here’s how one of their contemporaries, Henry Adams, described southern slaveholders-turned-secessionists:
“The Southern secessionists were certainly unbalanced in mind — fit for medical treatment, like other victims of hallucination — haunted by suspicion, by idees fixes, by violent morbid excitement; but this was not all. They were stupendously ignorant of the world. As a class, the cotton-planters were mentally one-sided, ill-balanced, and provincial to a degree rarely known. They were a close society on whom the new fountains of power had poured a stream of wealth and slaves that acted like oil on flame. They showed a young student his first object-lesson of the way in which excess of power worked when held by inadequate hands.
The old and typical Southern gentleman developed as cotton-planter had nothing to teach or to give, except warning. Even as example to be avoided, he was too glaring in his defiance of reason, to help the education of a reasonable being. No one learned a useful lesson from the Confederate school except to keep away from it. The whole field of instruction south of the Potomac was overshadowed by the cotton planters, from whom one could learn nothing but bad temper, bad manners, poker, and treason.”
Oh, no doubt, Cooper’s conclusion is the classic one — yeah, but we NEED the slaves to keep our plantations going. And then all rationalization flowed from that.
What makes him remarkable is all his high-minded words demonstrating an understanding that slavery was WRONG (which you would not have heard from most white Southerners), followed by, “But we need them to work the fields.” So, never mind!
Well the guy was a political economist.
You could make the argument that there is nothing more immoral than using fossil fuels. It is killing the planet, leading us to another Triassic–Jurassic extinction event, and potentially wiping out our own species. When comparing that to slavery, slavery sounds quaint.
You have leading figures today, including political economists, who will admit that is the obvious outcome. Now how many of those people are sending their cars to the scrap yard? Without oil they know the current order will come crashing to a halt. Instead we sit around and hope EVs drop in price quick enough.
I’d imagine Cooper was hoping for similar solutions to his problems.
“You could make the argument that there is nothing more immoral than using fossil fuels. It is killing the planet, leading us to another Triassic–Jurassic extinction event, and potentially wiping out our own species.”
And now for the rest of the story about Mr. Adams, the elitist, self-proclaimed intellectually superior, condescending, and entitled wealthy man who was a relative of two or our presidents and worked as an anonymous reporter for the NYT and Boston Daily Advertiser. He was also an anonymous author and it was not until after his death was he revealed to be the author of some published writings. The man had absolutely no connection to anyone outside his social circle, especially the common man and woman.
He believed himself to be superior to and unappreciated by the common man. The quotes and information are from the Wikipedia page about Mr. Adams.
“Conservative journalist Fred Siegel considered the worldview expressed therein to be rooted in resentment of America’s middle class. “Henry Adams,” wrote Siegel, “grounded the intellectual’s alienation from American life in the resentment that superior men feel when they are insufficiently appreciated in America’s common-man culture.”
Adams was also a bigot and anti-Semite as the following confirms.
“I detest [the Jews], and everything connected with them, and I live only and solely with the hope of seeing their demise, with all their accursed Judaism. I want to see all the lenders at interest taken out and executed.”
Historian Edward Saveth quotes Adams as follows:
“We are in the hands of the Jews”, Adams lamented. “They can do what they please with our values.” He advised against investment except in the form of gold locked in a safe deposit box. “There you have no risk but the burglar. In any other form you have the burglar, the Jew, the Czar, the socialist, and, above all, the total irremediable, radical rottenness of our whole social, industrial, financial and political system.”
As a counter to the claim that Adams was a contemporary of anyone other than his tight-knit circle of a few friends, the preceding is presented for consideration. Anyone who wished the death of any group of people, religious or otherwise, is not a good source to make an argument about the entirety of people from the South. This being the belief of Mr. Adams, how can his tirade be taken seriously or worthy of consideration?
I do not nor will I condone slavery, it is a stain on the fabric of this country but if someone is to be presented as a voice against it, he or she should have clean hands. Mr. Adams by his own words and writing advocated genocide of Jews.
Nothing personal Mr. Smith, this is just a counterpoint concerning Mr. Adams.
Well, Bart, there you go attacking the messenger.
Do you actually have anything substantive to say about the point made? Can you ever suppress the urge to fly off on tangents? Does Mr. Adams’ faults mean what he wrote above is untrue, a smear against the Planter class — people he knew in college and in Congress? In contrast to Adams, were members of the South Carolina Planter class true friends of the “common man”—including the ones they owned? Do you think there were “good people,” as a certain president might put it, among the southern slaveocrats?
More generally, does a person have to have a stellar reputation before he can speak about anything? Or are we all supposed to be Puritans now, eager to condemn anyone who isn’t pure in spirit and motivation?
I’ll take that bait. Yes, there were “good people” among slaveholders.
Of course, it depends on how strict you want to be about “good.” I think Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were, on the whole, “good people.” I won’t do the usual Southern thing and stick up for my slaveholding ancestors — I don’t know as much about them as I do Jefferson and Washington, so I don’t know enough to say.
You ask, “are we all supposed to be Puritans now, eager to condemn anyone who isn’t pure in spirit and motivation?”
No, we aren’t. So slaveholders could in the end be good people (although they have a lot to overcome for the balance to work out that way), and abolitionists could turn out to be bad ones. Ultimately, I think it’s up to God to judge.
But I wouldn’t use “Puritans.” Perhaps “whiggish” would be better, since it is defined as “of, relating to, or characterized by a view which holds that history follows a path of inevitable progression and improvement and which judges the past in light of the present.”
Judging the past, and especially people in the past, by current standards is a real pitfall.
For that matter, I don’t think we should be so quick to judge as “good” or “bad” people in our own time. Although Lord knows I do it all the time…
Yes, I suppose Mr. Cooper did wrestle with his God – and God lost.
But it’s not about judging them from our own perspective. We don’t need to, because many of their contemporaries denounced them in terms harsher than even we might use.
WARNING – INCOMING TANGENT
Mr. Smith, I didn’t attack you the messenger but it obvious that you do not like to be questioned, contradicted, or anything added to your proclamations.
All that was done was to present additional information about the man you quoted as the or perhaps “your” authoritative source for an all-inclusive description of Southern Plantation owners who had slaves. While his comments are true for many, they are not true for the whole. Not every plantation owner was a bad person or employed a Simon Legree, the harsh taskmaster in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And for good measure, you might want to read some of Henry Louis Gate’s historical research about slavery and the ones who participated in and profited from it. But the honesty in his research and writings may be a little too much for you to handle.
Mr. Adams by his own words negated any credence to his position about Southern plantation owners by his position and hatred of Jews and his wish to see them eliminated. Do you honestly believe anyone who made the following comment with conviction but at the same time advocated for the genocide of Jews is a person who does not suffer from the same mental and emotional condition he accuses others of having?
“The Southern secessionists were certainly unbalanced in mind — fit for medical treatment, like other victims of hallucination — haunted by suspicion, by idees fixes, by violent morbid excitement; but this was not all. They were stupendously ignorant of the world. As a class, the cotton-planters were mentally one-sided, ill-balanced, and provincial to a degree rarely known.” Copied from your original post.
Here is an edited version to fit his personal convictions about Jews.
“The ‘Jews are’ certainly unbalanced in mind — fit for medical treatment, like other victims of hallucination — haunted by suspicion, by idees fixes, by violent morbid excitement; but this was not all. They were stupendously ignorant of the world. As a class, the ‘Jews are’ mentally one-sided, ill-balanced, and provincial to a degree rarely known.”
The comment in its entirety could be easily edited and change Southern, secessionists, planters, to Jews and lenders and it would be no different in context or meaning than the original.
Based on his convictions about Jews, he would have been at home in the Third Reich. Does that make him more credible as a source of criticism and judgment? Did he rail against the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution who were slave owners at the time? Of course, it would naturally exclude his two relatives.
Does the fact that Thomas Jefferson, considered one of the most brilliant of our Founding Fathers who owned slaves before, during and after being one of the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution include him in the Southern plantation slave owner category and therefore diminish his contributions to the founding of this country? Did this make him a “bad person”? Do we strike him from history books or place an asterisk next to his name?
I don’t judge the past by using the present as the standard. If I did, I would never ride in, own, or in any way have anything to do with a Volkswagen vehicle of any model, make, or year. After all, Adolph Hitler was responsible for the design and subsequent manufacturing of Volkswagen, “the people’s car”, fueled by the blood and bodies of millions of Jews and undesirables if one wishes to use the past to judge the present.
No apology forthcoming this time.
”…it [is] obvious that you do not like to be questioned, contradicted, or anything added to your proclamations.”
You’re talking to and about yourself again, Bart.
1) If we applied your “logic” about Henry Adams’ views on Jews and slaveholders generally, we’d end up in a place where someone like, say, Sen. Al Franken should have his views on matters like, say, tax reform ignored simply because of his alleged bad attitude/behavior toward women. That’s a non-sequitur, Bart, though maybe you wouldn’t recognize it. Adams’ book, The Education of Henry Adams, from which the original quote above was taken, remains a classic no matter what you may think about him. More importantly, in contrast to Adams, who never did anything more than speak or write some ugly words, southern slaveholders actually practiced what they preached. That’s what condemns them.
2) As for Jefferson, yes, his moral failings on slavery did, indeed, make him a “bad person.” The fact that he was an important thinker and political figure does not and cannot outweigh that. Anyone who holds another human being in bondage is a morally bad person – which, as I said, was recognized for what it was by some at the time. (And treating your slaves well cannot be counted in your favor. Because you still have robbed them of their personal sovereignty and human dignity.) Unfortunately for Jefferson, his love of books and good wine, along his other sources of debt, led him to embrace the expediency of personal comfort over his (more youthful) love of liberty and right. And yes, I can revere him for his contributions as a public figure while condemning him as a man without falling into contradiction. In contrast, I find nothing at all to revere about the slaveholders, like South Carolina variety, who acted and spoke to defend slavery at all costs.
I don’t need any apologies from you. All I’m asking is that you start thinking rather than simply reacting and regurgitating.
Using Al Franken’s behavior as an example is the non-sequitur, not the two distinctive writings of Henry Adams about Southern plantation owners and the annihilation of Jews. There is a difference between a photo of Franken apparently groping a woman’s breast while she was sleeping and Adams advocating for genocide of Jews. Franken was only doing what he thought was funny and believed it harmless fun “at the time”. Unfortunately, what was thought to be funny and harmless has become his undoing in spite of his support of tax reform and oddly enough, women’s rights.
The integrity of the messenger can and will impact what he or she has to say on any subject. My former business partner is a Jew from Long Island, someone I admire and respect. I think he would take exception to any defense of Henry Adams no matter what Adams thought or believed about all Southern plantation owners and Southerners in general. Sometimes one strong belief will render all others irrelevant especially when the intent is as heinous as Adams was about Jews.
It might be a good idea to read more about Henry Adams and understand he held Thomas Jefferson in high regard. Adams was misinterpreted about Jefferson in the first few volumes of his series but in the last few, his high regard for him was very clear.
The time period when slavery was at its apex is long past. Lincoln in his political mode was willing to allow it to continue if it meant saving the Union even though he opposed slavery. But when it didn’t, he made a political move when the Emancipation Proclamation was passed. As I stated earlier, slavery is a stain on the fabric of this nation and we will continue to pay the price for the folly of slavery for generations to come.
But at the same time, I understand that when one looks at the entirety of the era and the subsequent defeat of the Confederacy, the responsibility of rebuilding the nation in the aftermath was a complete failure in terms of the freed slaves. They were left to their own devices to survive and the environment they lived in for over 200 years was not addressed or made better by the victors. All they did was leave and go back home. They left behind a mostly uneducated, ignorant, and ill-prepared segment of the population without the necessary tools to integrate into their new found freedom. A good example of winning and losing at the same time is the Iraq war when GWB appointed an incompetent jerk as the administrator and his incompetence produced the chaos that ensued. We are still paying a high price for his poor judgment in that respect.
As for regurgitating, maybe you should consider your use of Henry Adams words in your original post to make your point.
Thank you for the discussion. Now, time to move to another subject since neither one will change our mind. Hope you have a good and productive week.
Bart and Mr. Smith:
Y’all have drifted over into ad hominem territory, which is against the civility rules here on the blog.
First, I’ll ask you both to make your points about the issue out there without making comments about each other.
If that fails, I’ll start editing your comments to remove the references to each other. Which is a hassle, and I’d rather not.
If that fails, and I really hope we don’t get THAT far, I’ll start deleting comments….
No problem Brad. I apologize to you for taking the discussion to the level where you needed to step in. I too believed it had gone too far and was willing to end the discussion as you can see.
“Thank you for the discussion. Now, time to move to another subject since neither one will change our mind. Hope you have a good and productive week.”
In contrast to you, I’ll keep it short this time.
It’s obvious you don’t understand what a non-sequitur is. Or that brevity is a virtue. Which is bad enough.
But in your 3rd from last para you make it sound like it was entirely up to the North, not the South (where all those freed slaves lived), to make the former slaves’ lives better. History shows that many Northerners did came down to help, and that many freedmen already possessed the tools to “integrate into their new found freedom,” as you put it – everything save for maybe land and opportunity. But rather than do their part, Southerners put up as many barriers as possible. Can’t help but smell the whiff of old-fashioned southern resentment of northerners in your comment. Which is just plain sad.