Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Scorpion's Sting

I spent some time today looking at a book, The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War, by James Oakes.

'Surrounded by a ring of fire, the scorpion stings itself to death. The image, widespread among antislavery leaders before the Civil War, captures their long-standing strategy for peaceful abolition: they would surround the slave states with a cordon of freedom. They planned to use federal power wherever they could to establish freedom: the western territories, the District of Columbia, the high seas. By constricting slavery they would induce a crisis: slaves would escape in ever-greater numbers, the southern economy would falter, and finally the southern states would abolish the institution themselves. For their part the southern states fully understood this antislavery strategy. They cited it repeatedly as they adopted secession ordinances in response to Lincoln's election.'

I can't vouch for its perfect accuracy, but I liked the way he attempted to "recapture" the actual terms of debate over American slavery, to let us see how the issue was actually approached by the different parties - which of course is not how we usually think about these issues today.

New to me was his position that military emancipation of slaves was a historically-recognized tactic, and that the Emancipation Proclamation was based on, or at least launched from, on this established wartime practice.

The South broke past
the fiery ring
but suffered at last
a fearsome sting.

No comments: