Cane Sugar, Crystallized Sugar, Sugar Trade, West Indies, Wealth and War

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 7th, 2013

History 101

As Muslim displaced Christians from the Lands of the Roman Empire Sugar moved West

There is a war on sugar.  It’s making us fat.  And it’s making us sick.  Because it tastes so damn good.  We crave it.  And always have.  Since the first days we chewed on sugarcane.  Sucking out the juice.  Which was where that sweet delight was.  It was so good that the people in New Guinea (just north of Australia) learned how to plant it and raise it themselves.  Instead of just looking for it in the wild.  Around the eighth millennium BC.  From there it spread.  North.  To Southeast Asia.  Southern China.  And into India.  Where they took sugar to the next level.  They didn’t just chew on sugarcane to suck out the juice in India.  They refined it into a crystallized substance.  Around 350 AD.  Concentrating that sweetness.  And making it portable.  Then the Arabs entered the picture.

The Arabs took the Indian sugar-making technique and made it into big business.  They established plantations to grow it in tropical climes.  Where the two things that made sugarcane grow best—heat and water—were plentiful.  They built the first sugar mills to refine the cane.  Basically presses to squeeze out the juice.  Which they then boiled the water out of.  Leaving behind sugar crystals.  And added it to their foods.  As Muslim Arabs displaced Christians from the lands of the Roman Empire sugar moved west.  The Arabs introduced sugarcane plantations as far west as southern Spain.  When Christian Crusaders returned from fighting Muslims in the Holy Land they brought back crystallized sugar to Europe.  And they quickly fell in love with those white crystals.  By the late 13th century even England had grown a sweet-tooth.  Who would go on to consume so much of the stuff that they would rot their teeth away.

Then the Europeans entered the sugar business in the 15th century.  At first it was just the wealthy that enjoyed sugar.  Then it spread to the common people.  As demand grew they established new plantations to meet that demand.  In southern Spain.  The Atlantic island of Madeira.  The Canary Islands.  The Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa.  All had good growing climates for sugarcane.  And each plantation had its own processing plant.  For a ship’s hold full of crystallized sugar was far more valuable than a ship’s hold full of harvested sugarcane.  Making these plantations labor intensive endeavors.  And working the fields was backbreaking work.  To step up production required a larger labor force than was available.  And to meet that demand they turned to using African slaves.

Sugar was a Turning Point from an Agrarian World of Slaves and Indentured Servants to the Modern Industrial World

By the 16th century the Europeans were taking sugarcane across the Atlantic.  And African slaves.  The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French and British brought sugarcane and slaves to Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados, the Virgin Islands, Guadaloupe, Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti) and elsewhere in the Americas.  With the Caribbean Islands becoming the sugar capital of the world.  France’s Saint-Domingue being the single largest producer in the world.  Until their slave uprising.  It was France’s wealthiest possession in the Western Hemisphere.  And its loss changed French ambition in the New World.  For Napoleon had his eyes on rebuilding the French Empire in North America that was so rudely interrupted by France’s loss in the Seven Years’ War.  But with the loss of Saint-Domingue and all that sugar wealth Napoleon lost all interest in the New World.  And sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States.  To prepare for war with Britain.  Again.

The British and the French both had lucrative sugar plantations in the West Indies.  When the American Revolutionary War turned into a world war the British and French squared off once again.  Especially in the West Indies.  Where they wanted to protect their possessions producing that valuable sugar.  And take the other’s possessions.  So they could expand their holdings.  And their wealth from the sugar trade.  As well as put down any slave uprisings.  Such as would later happen in Saint-Domingue.  Some say the reason the British lost the American Revolutionary War was because they diverted too much of their military resources to the Caribbean.  But the French were diverting a lot of their military resources to the Caribbean, too.  Which is one reason why the war lasted 8 years.  As the French were more interested in taking the British possessions in the West Indies than American independence.  Their first efforts fighting alongside the Americans (Rhode Island in 1778.  Savannah, Georgia, in 1779) did not help the cause.  It was only when the French fleet could be spared from the action in the West Indies that they joined General Washington in trapping General Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.  With Cornwallis’ surrender effectively ending the war.  Even though they wouldn’t sign the final peace treaty until 1783.

By the end of the international slave trade Europeans sent approximately 10 million Africans to the New World.  Mostly to Brazil and the Caribbean.  To work in the sugar plantations.  Where slave ships left Africa.  They unloaded slaves in the New World.  Loaded the sugar these slaves grew.  Shipped the sugar back to the Old World.  Unloaded the sugar and loaded on finished goods.  Then sailed back to the African slave stations.  Where they traded their finished goods for more slaves.  There was big money in The Trade Triangle (trade from Africa to the New World to the Old World and back to Africa).  But sugar also helped to kick off the Industrial Revolution.  For the iron industry grew to make the machinery of the sugar mills.  As each plantation processed their sugarcane into crystallized sugar that was a lot of cast iron gears, sprockets, levers, axles, boilers, etc.  Basically a turning point from an agrarian world of slaves and indentured servants.  To the modern industrial world and wage-earners.

There is a Correlation between America’s Obesity Problem and the Switch from Cane Sugar to Corn Sugar

By the 19th century technology was making better sugar at lower costs.  The British designed a low-pressure boiler.  As water boils at a lower temperature when at lower pressure they were able to refine sugar with less energy.  Cutting production costs.  And waste.  As higher temperatures caramelized some of the sugar.  Though caramelized sugar can be delicious on crème brûlée you don’t want it when you’re producing crystallized sugar to sell.  Then the Americans improved this process by creating the multiple-effect evaporator.  A multi-stage device where the pressure is lower in each successive stage.  They use steam to boil water in the first stage.  This vapor then provides the energy to boil water in the next stage.  Which is at a lower pressure.  And, therefore, has a lower boiling point.  That vapor then boils water in the next stage which is at a lower pressure.  And so on.  Where one energy input creates a lot of useful work cost-efficiently.

With the advance in refining equipment refinery plants grew more complex.  And expensive.  So instead of building one on every plantation they built fewer but larger ones.  And shipped raw product to them.  Modern ships and economies of scale made this the new business model.  Companies grew and opened other refineries.  And expanded vertically.  Growing sugarcane as well as refining it.  One of the best at this was the American Sugar Refining Company.  That at one point controlled 98% of the sugar processing capacity in the United States.  Which earned it a spot on the original Dow Dozen.  The first 12 industrial stocks the Dow used in calculating their Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896.  And remained a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average until 1930.

Eventually the Americans couldn’t compete with foreign sugar producers any more.  They enlisted the help of Congress to impose tariffs on cane sugar imports.  Forcing Americans to pay more for their sugar.  Then they started making sugar out of government subsidized corn.  High-fructose corn syrup.  Which pretty much sweetens anything manufactured in the United States today.  That some say causes more health problems than cane sugar.  Including obesity.  Those in the high-fructose corn syrup business vehemently deny this.  But there is a correlation between America’s obesity problem and the switch from cane sugar to corn sugar.  Because of the different way the body metabolized corn sugar it did not satiate our appetite.  Leading us to over consume.  Such as with sugary drinks.  Which have gotten so large in size that New York City Mayor Bloomberg tried to make these large sizes illegal.  Because America’s over consumption of sugar was making us obese.  While Britain’s over consumption of cane sugar only rotted their teeth away.  It didn’t make them obese.  Which makes the case that corn sugar is less healthy than cane sugar.  Despite what the corn sugar lobby says.


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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #61: “The political elite has always exploited blacks.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 12th, 2011

Mercantilism brought Slaves to the New World

Slaves were useful in more ways than one.  As a source of labor.  And a political pawn.  The political elite has oppressed and exploited them for a couple of centuries in the New World.  Though the oppression has stopped, the exploitation continues today with their descendants.

Colonization isn’t easy.  It takes a long time.  Longer in a hostile land.  You start out by establishing colonies.  The colonists first figure out how to survive.  Then they sow the seeds of future generations.  But there was a problem with this in the New World.  A hostile environment.  And the long time it took to raise a generation or two.  And this was a big problem.  For the European monarchies that were supporting these colonists did so for economic reasons.  And time was money.  They were to exploit the New World’s resources and ship these raw materials back to Europe.  That’s how mercantilism worked.  You raced around the world to find sources of raw material, establish colonies and then ship the raw material back to Europe.  Where the Europeans processed them into finished goods.  These goods were then sold back to the colonists.  Or other export markets.  To establish a positive balance of trade.  Finished goods out.  Gold, bullion, silver, etc., in.

That was the European model then in use.  So unskilled labor was in great demand in these new colonies.  Enslaving the local indigenous populations didn’t prove too successful.  They could escape and disappear into a familiar environment that was friendly to them.  So that’s why they imported Africans into the New World.  They were a long way from home.  And the local environment was just as hostile to them as it was to their white slave owners.  With these Africans, the colonists were able to exploit their resources far quicker than they could have had they waited for their own numbers to multiply sufficiently to do the same work.  Of course, this lead to a skewed population.  Where a white minority ruled over a black majority.  Worse still, slavery was only growing in the South.  And that created a problem in the distribution of political power in the new federal government.  Slaves didn’t vote or pay taxes.  But there were a lot of them.  If they were not counted to determine congressional representation, the non-slave holding North would dominate the new federal government.

The Planter Elite gets the 3/5 Compromise and an Unfair Advantage

First the African slaves were used as pawns by European monarchs to enrich their mercantile empires.  Then they were used by politicians in a fledgling new nation to obtain an unfair advantage in political power.  These Africans just couldn’t catch a break.  Slavery was concentrated in the Deep South.  In the hands of the planter elite.  Though few in numbers they dominated political power in their states.  And they planned on doing the same in the new federal government.  To protect their interests.  Wealth.  And power.

But to do that there was that pesky problem getting in their way.  The fact that the planter elite was a small minority of the population.  It was different in the north.  Political power was representative of the population.  Where most of the population paid taxes and voted.  And they were going to extend this theory of representative government to the new federal government.  The North wanted to count all people (including slaves) in determining the states’ tax obligations.  The South didn’t.  The South wanted to count all people (including slaves) in determining representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College (that elected the president).  The North didn’t.  So they compromised.  They would count slaves as three-fifths of a person.  This compromise favored the North on the tax obligation issue.  But it favored the South on the political representation issue.  As a result of the compromise, the South would dominate the House of Representatives and the presidency until the Civil War.

So you see why slavery was so important to the South.  It gave them an unfair advantage in the new federal government.  Thus empowering them to protect their peculiar institution of slavery.  Their interests.  Wealth.  And power.

The Founding Fathers had to Accept Slavery to Establish a Nation based on Liberty

The Founding Fathers saw the inconsistency of slavery and their founding ideal.  Liberty.  Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton were northerners.  Some were already abolitionists.  Some would eventually join that movement.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were southerners.  They owned plantations.  Worked with slave-labor.  Washington actually looked into converting to paid-labor but the realities of the day made the continuation of slave-labor the humane thing to do on his plantation (changing to paid-laborers would have broken up the slave families).  He is the only Founding Father that freed his slaves (after the death of his wife Martha).  And his will stipulated that his heirs help the newly freed people integrate into free society.

Jefferson and Madison clearly prospered on the institution of slavery.  (Well, the Jefferson family had.  Jefferson was a genius in so many ways.  Except in the way of making money.)  Their wealth came from the plantations.  And their political power rested with their brethren planter elite.  Should they move against them they would fall from power.  And should these ‘moderates’ fall from power, southern extremists would replace them.  Who wished to see no restrictions on slave owning or on the slave trade.  They were expansionists.  They wanted to see their way of life, and their slavery, expanded into the new territories.  They would never have gone to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  They would never have ceded any power to the northern interests.  There would have been no compromise between North and South.  And the new nation might never have been born.   

Jefferson and Madison were tainted by America’s original sin.  There’s no disputing that.  But there would have been no America without them.  They were the bridge to the Deep South.  So to make this new nation based on liberty possible, the Founding Fathers had to accept that keeping some of the people in bondage was necessary.  For awhile, at least.  The North promised the South they wouldn’t talk about the issue again for twenty years.  And Jefferson and Madison reassured the planter elite that their way of life would not change.  In more private conversations, they assured them that the new federal government would forever speak with a Southern accent.  In 20 years time, the North hoped the southerners would have fixed this southern problem.  Or that the institution itself would just fade away.  While the Deep South hoped it would become so entrenched that it would be impossible to have these discussions again.

The Cotton Gin, the Fugitive Slave Act and Civil War

As it turned out, events would favor the South.  Thanks to an ingenious invention called the cotton ginEli Whitney unwittingly gave the Deep South what they needed.  For slavery was on the decline.  The big slave crops were not very profitable crops (rice, tobacco, indigo and cotton).  Planters were diversifying.  Requiring farm workers with multiple skills.  Which favored the paid-laborer.  But the cotton gin took one of those unprofitable crops and made it profitable.  By turning a labor-intensive chore (separating the seed from the cotton) into an automated process.  And King Cotton was born.

This fanned new life into a dying institution.  The Southern economy became a cotton economy.  And the decline in slave-labor did an abrupt reversal.  Fortunes were built on cotton.  As was political power.  And thanks to the unfair advantage given to the Deep South by the Three-Fifths Compromise, the Southern way flourished.  Until immigration flooded into the industrialized north, that is.  Even their unfair advantage could not stop the inevitable.  The political power in the House of Representatives shifted to the North.  And this spelled the beginning of the end for the planter elite.   Compromise no longer favored the Deep South.  And there was a lot of secession talk down there.  A series of compromises followed in an attempt to keep the Union together.  Such as the Fugitive Slave Act that forced the federal government to interfere with states’ rights.  In the North.  Forcing these states to return runaway slaves to the plantations from whence they came.  The 1850s saw a march towards Civil War.  And in April of 1861, General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered his cannon to commence firing on Fort Sumter in Charlestown’s harbor.  Some four bloody years later with over 600,000 dead, the South lost.  The slaves were free.  And the Southern economy collapsed.

The great Republican, Abraham Lincoln, saved the Union.  And freed the slaves.  A fact not lost on the slaves.  The planter elite were Southern Democrats.  The party of slavery.  So you can guess how the newly freed slaves voted.  That’s right, the freed slaves voted Republican.  Because Republicans ended slavery.  Despite the Democrats best efforts to maintain their peculiar institution.  Which makes one scratch his head today.  Today, blacks vote predominantly Democrat.  This same party that oppressed and exploited them throughout American history.  So what changed?  Well, the truth is, not much.  Liberal Democrats continue to exploit the blacks.  But with a little political sleight of hand, the exploiter becomes the protector.  Champion of civil rights.  And the corrector of past wrongs.

Liberal Generosity Destroys the Black Family

You see, liberal Democrats have the same problem the planter elite had.  They’re a minority of the population.  Yet they covet political power.  So how do you get political power in a land with free elections?  Without slavery and the unfair advantage of the Three Fifths Compromise?  Simple.  You have to figure out some other way to exploit these slave descendants.  Their answer?  Enslave them to government. 

Government has the power to tax.  Which gives them a lot of money.  And power.  So the liberal Democrat solution is to tax and spend and bestow government benefits in exchange for votes.  And the liberal welfare state was born.  Gave so much to the black family that they soon become dependent on this liberal generosity.  And the black family who survived slavery.  Reconstruction.  Rampant and systemic discrimination.  Was destroyed.  A helping hand (welfare) became a way of life.  Aid to Families with Dependent Children encouraged single women to have children.  And men to abandon these children.  For the state would step in and be father.  Turns out the state was a horrible father, though.  Kids grew up lacking fatherly discipline and guidance.  And they drifted into trouble.  Public housing grouped these fatherless children together.  And sent them to school together.  Spreading that trouble and bad behavior to the schools.  So both the schools and public housing suffered from the new inner city disease.  Blight.  Spawned by the liberal welfare state.  Leaving no escape for these inner city kids. 

Or so says conservative economist Thomas Sowell.  Born in 1930, he lived through much of that rampant and systemic discrimination.  And the creation of the liberal welfare state and its affect on the black family.  He has firsthand experience as a black man.  And a lifetime of academic research and published works on the subject.  The liberals reject him and accuse him of racism.  Because he dares to say the liberal welfare state has done more harm than good.  Worse, he backs that up with some compelling research.  Unable to attack the message, they attack the messenger.  Which is what people usually do when they have lost the argument.

Though their programs proved a failure, all was not lost.  Sure, they destroyed the black family, but they destroyed them with an addiction.  Addiction to the welfare state.  And one thing addicts can’t do is walk away from their addiction.  So they keep voting to maintain their fix of government benefits.  They keep voting Democrat.  Which was the goal all along.  Not to alleviate any of their suffering.  And unlike the planter elite, the liberal Democrat is not getting only three-fifths of a vote from their black population.  They’re getting the whole thing. 

The planter elite would no doubt be impressed by this political sleight of hand.  And kicking themselves for not thinking of it themselves.


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The Egyptian Military Suspends their Constitution while some here can only Dream

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 13th, 2011

A Military Coup by any other Name

The Army’s in charge in Egypt (see Military rulers suspend Egyptian constitution by Marwa Awad and Dina Zayed posted 2/13/2011 on Reuters).

Egypt’s new military rulers said on Sunday they had dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution and would govern only for six months or until elections took place, following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

As bad as this sounds, the military is the stable force in Egypt.  They’ve pledged to honor Egypt’s treaties during their rule.  Israel welcomed this news.  As did many governments in the region.  Perhaps the military will be able to win the peace.  Much like our Founding Fathers did after their revolution.  Time will tell.  We hope for the best for the Egyptian people.  The region.  And the world.

The Intent of the Constitution was to Oppress the People?

Suspend the constitution?  You know there are some here in the United States that would like to suspend the Constitution.  To hear some talk about the Constitution, the Founding Fathers were nothing but a bunch of racist, sexist, slave-owning bigots.  And these people mock the Tea Party people for all of their constitutional talk (see What “original intent” would look like by David Schultz posted 2/13/2011 on Salon).

Tea Partiers would be surprised how little freedom they’d have if we read the Constitution literally.

I dare say more people in the Tea Party have read the Constitution than those who argue against them.  Those on the left always say we need to take things in context.  When discussing barbaric customs of some indigenous people.  Or even the right to choose.  We can’t remove the context of environment and/or custom from these things.  But we can when it comes to our founding.

It wasn’t a perfect world in 1787.  We had just defeated the British Empire in a war that lasted 8 years.  And the people were in no mood to replace one central power with another.  Getting a national constitution wasn’t easy.  There were many conflicting interests.  And the states just wanted to go back to the way things were before the Revolution.

But when the Confederation Congress couldn’t pass a ‘national’ tariff over the objection of a single state that benefited well under the status quo, they had to do something.  If the new nation was to survive.  Few nations thought we would.  Some were just waiting in the wings for the collapse.  It was primarily those who served in the military that pushed the idea of nationhood along.  They fought alongside men from different states in a unified army.  These were the first ones to think as Americans.  And it was one man in particular, a retired George Washington, who brought the men together in Philadelphia in that hot and muggy summer in 1787.

It wasn’t easy.  States didn’t want to give up power.  They feared consolidation.  The states didn’t want some faraway seat of power telling them how to conduct their business.  In the context of the times, there was no nation. There were states.  Sovereign states.  Working together in a confederation.  Yes, they understood there were things a national government could do better (coin money, treat with foreign nations, build and maintain a military force, etc.).  But they were leery giving this new central government any power for fear that once they did, there would be no end to this transfer of power.  So the Founding Fathers developed federalism.  Shared sovereignty.  Most of the power would remain with the states.  And only those things strictly enumerated would go to the federal government. 

To begin with, the original document was silent on the right to vote. Voting rights were largely a matter of state law, and in 1787 most states limited the franchise to white, male, Protestant property owners, age 21 or older. The original Constitution did not allow for direct popular voting for president or the United States Senate, and there was no clear language even allowing for voting for members of the House of Representatives.

In the context of the times, white protestant males were the only people voting in the British world.  And Americans came from British stock.  No surprise here.  And a popular vote was not included for a very good reason.  The Founding Fathers feared a pure democracy.  Because once people learn they can vote themselves the treasury, they do.  Also, the states wanted to make sure their interests were represented in the central government.  That’s why state legislators were to elect their senators.  To keep a short leash on the new central government. 

The original Constitution didn’t include a Bill of Rights. Alexander Hamilton, one of the framers and authors of the Federalist Papers, argued against it. The Bill of Rights protects many rights the Tea Party considers hallowed, such as the freedom of speech and assembly and a right to bear arms. Lacking a Bill of Rights, these freedoms wouldn’t be protected against limitation by the national government.

The reason why they argued against a Bill of Rights was that they said they didn’t need it.  The Constitution enumerated the powers of the new central government.  Anything not enumerated was a power retained by the states.  The fear was that if they included a Bill of Rights and forgot to include a right then that right wouldn’t be protected.  But a Bill of Rights became conditional for ratification by some states.  James Madison opposed it (for the reasons just mentioned) but worked tirelessly to include it.  Because he and Hamilton knew it was the price of ratification.

Most importantly, as written, the Bill of Rights limited only national power — not state power

Again, the Constitution was all about limiting the power of the federal government.  It had nothing to do with limiting states’ powers.  No state would have ratified if it did.  This is the concept of federalism.  To keep Big Government small.  The states had their own constitutions.  And if a state became too oppressive, people could move to a state that wasn’t. 

And then there’s the matter of slavery. Article I, Section 1 of the original Constitution permitted slavery and the slave trade… Slavery did not end until the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

I believe that was Section 2 of Article 1.  And the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free a single slave.  But I’m nitpicking.  Again, historical context.  Slavery and Social Security have a little in common.  One is a failed institution.  The other is about to fail.  And the cost to fix or undo them is/was absolutely prohibitive.  And socially undoable. 

Article I, Section 9 did address the slave trade by agreeing to table it for 20 years.  It was the only way to get the southern states to join the union.  Because emancipation would wipe out close to have of the equity on many southern balance sheets.   Though immoral, the institution of slavery was legal.  Ending it would simply destroy the southern economy.  Much like what happened after the American Civil War when northern carpetbaggers came down and bought properties at fire-sale prices.  So there is a reason why the Founding Fathers didn’t address slavery more in the Constitution.  Because it wasn’t as easy to fix as Social Security.

And let’s not forget Alexander Hamilton, who argued against the need for a bill of rights and in favor of judicial review. The famous “Report on Manufactures” and “Report on Public Credit” he prepared as George Washington’s treasury secretary argued for an expansive federal government role in assisting the economy — hardly something the Tea Party constitutionalist would endorse.

Hamilton worked in business at a very young age.  And he was in awe of the British Empire.  Of their wealth and power.  He wanted an American Empire.  He wanted to jumpstart American industry.  And wanted to use a tool familiar to him.  Mercantilism.  It was the way the great empires became great.  In the British Empire, America was a supplier of raw goods.  We had no manufacturing base to speak of.  Hamilton wanted to use government to build one fast.  Today government wants to control the economy.  Hamilton wanted to create an economy where there was none.  There’s a bit of a difference.

It should be clear that many of the liberties and rights today’s Tea Partiers demand and benefit from just didn’t exist in the original form of the Constitution. It took many amendments and clarification from the courts to secure them. On top of that, if the ideal the Tea Party espouses ever was realized, it would just mean the states would have more authority to suppress rights.

The amendment process was part of the original Constitution.  The authors provided the means to change the Constitution.  They just didn’t make it very easy.  Unlike a court ruling, many people would have to agree to a change.  Not just a partisan few.  Or a partisan judge.

The Tea Party gets it.  It’s those who rail against them that don’t.


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LESSONS LEARNED #23: “Those who seek a third party cede the election to the opposition.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 22nd, 2010

SLAVERY WAS ALWAYS a complicated issue.  Many of the Founding Fathers saw the contradiction with the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence.  And there were the economic costs.  George Washington wanted to transition to paid laborers as the generations of slaves he inherited were consuming an ever growing share of his harvest.  (You only pay paid-laborers; you didn’t have to house and feed them and their families.)  He had whole families that included babies and the elderly long past their working prime.  People would buy slaves in their working prime but wouldn’t take their parents and grandparents, too.  He didn’t want to break up the families.  And he couldn’t free them.  Someone had to take care of those who could no longer work.  So he would.  Even after death.  He freed his slaves in his will and directed his heirs to train and help them so they could integrate into the workforce.  (Not every slave-owner, though, was as caring as Washington).

So Washington, John Adams and some of the other Founding Fathers saw slavery as an institution that would eventually wither and die.  They saw it as immoral.  As well as an inefficient economic system.   It would just have to die out one day.  So they tabled the discussion to get the southern states to join the union.  But they did put an end date on the slave trade.  Twenty years should be enough time they thought.  And in those 20 years, the South would figure out what to do with the slaves they had.  Because no one in the north could figure that one out.  Who would compensate the slave owners for their emancipated ‘property’?  And there were no biracial societies at that time.  No one could imagine that a formerly enslaved majority will become peaceful neighbors with their former minority masters.  Especially in the South.

But the cotton gin changed all of that.  The one thing that slave labor was good for was big single-crop plantations.  And there was none better than King Cotton.  Separating the seed from the cotton was the one bottleneck in the cotton industry.  Ely Whitney changed that in 1791.  Cotton production exploded.  As did slavery.  The southern economy changed.  As did the political debate.  The southern economy was a cotton economy.  And cotton needed slaves.  The South, therefore, needed slavery.

CARVED OUT OF the new Louisiana Territory were territories that would organize into states and request admittance into the union.  But would they be free or slave?  The first test was resolved with the Missouri Compromise (1820).  Henry Clay (the Great Compromiser) kept the peace.  Saved the union.  For awhile.  The compromise forbade slavery north of Missouri’s southern border (approximately the 36th parallel) in the Louisiana Territory (except in Missouri, of course).  Martin Van Buren saw this as a temporary fix at best.  Any further discussion on the slavery issue could lead to secession.  Or war.  So he created the modern Democratic Party with but one goal.  To get power and to keep power.  With power he could control what they debated.  And, once he had power, they wouldn’t debate slavery again.

During the 1844 presidential campaign, the annexation of the Republic of Texas was an issue.  The secretary of state, Daniel Webster, opposed it.  It would expand slavery and likely give the Senate two new democratic senators.  Which was what John C. Calhoun wanted.  He succeeded Webster as secretary of state.  The new northern Whigs were antislavery.  The southern Whigs were pro-cotton.  The Whig presidential candidate in 1844 was Henry Clay (the Great Compromiser).  He wasn’t for it or against it.  Neither was Martin Van Buren, the Democrat frontrunner.  They wished to compromise and avoid this hot issue all together.

Well, Clay wasn’t ‘anti’ enough for the antislavery Whigs.  So they left and formed the Liberty Party and nominated James. G. Birney as their candidate.  Meanwhile, the Democrats weren’t all that happy with Van Buren.  Enter James Knox Polk.  He didn’t vacillate.  He pledged to annex Texas.  And the Oregon territory.  The Democrats nominated him and said goodbye to Van Buren.

The Whig and Liberty parties shared the northern antislavery votes, no doubt costing Clay the election.  A fait accompli, President Tyler signed off on the annexation of Texas before Polk took the oath of office.

BUT ALL WAS not well.  Those sectional differences continued to simmer just below the boiling point.  The Fugitive Slave Law now made the ‘southern’ problem a northern one, too.  Federal law now required that they help return this southern ‘property’.  It got ugly.  And costly.  Harriet Ward Beecher’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin only inflamed the abolitionist fires in the North.  And then Stephen Douglas saw a proposed transcontinental railroad that could take him to the Whitehouse. 

The railroad would go through the unorganized Nebraskan territory (the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase).   As Washington discussed organizing this territory, the South noted that all of this territory was above 36th parallel.  Thus, any state organized would be, by the terms of the Missouri Compromise, free.  With no state below the 36th parallel added, the balance of power would tip to the North.  The South objected.  Douglas assuaged them.  With the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  Which replaced the Missouri Compromise (the 36th parallel) with popular sovereignty.  And Kansas bled.

The idea of popular sovereignty said that the people of the new organized state would determine if they were free or slave.  So the free and slave people raced to populate the territory.  It was a mini civil war.  A precursor of what was to come.  It split up the Whig and Democratic parties.  Southern Whigs and Northern Democrats quit their parties.  The Whig Party would wither and die.  The new Republican Party would rise from the Whig’s ashes.  They would address the cause, not the symptoms.  And at the heart of all the sectional divides was the issue of slavery itself.  It had to be addressed.  As Abraham Lincoln would say in 1858, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

ZACHARY TAYLOR CHOSE Whig Millard Fillmore as his vice president to appeal to northern Whigs.  When Taylor died some 2 years into his first term, Fillmore became president.  His support of the Compromise of 1850 (admit California as a free state, settle Texas border, grant territorial status to New Mexico, end the slave trade in the District of Columbia and beef up the Fugitive Slave Law) alienated him from the Whig base.

In the 1856 presidential contest, the Republicans nominated John C. Frémont.  The Democrats nominated James Buchanan.  And Millard Fillmore (compromiser and one time Whig) ran on the American Party ticket.  There was talk of secession should Frémont win.  It was a 3-way race.  Buchanan battled with the ‘compromiser’ in the South.  And with the ‘abolitionist’ in the North.  The race was close.  Buchanan won with only 45% of the vote.  But Frémont lost by only 2 states.  He had won all but 5 of the free states.  Had Fillmore not run, it is unlikely that these free states would have voted for the slavery candidate.  So Fillmore no doubt denied Frémont the election.

AMERICA’S ORIGINAL TRUST buster, Teddy Roosevelt (TR), said he wouldn’t run for reelection.  And he didn’t.  He picked Howard Taft as his ‘successor’.  TR was a progressive frontier man.  He had that smile.  This made him a popular and formidable candidate.  Taft just wasn’t as much of a TR as TR was.  So some asked TR to run again.  Against his own, hand-picked ‘successor’.  Which he did.

Taft won the Republican Nomination, though.  Undeterred (and having a really big ego), TR formed a third party, the Progressive Party.  He moved to the left of Taft.  So far left that it made Woodward Wilson, the Democrat candidate, look moderate. 

The 1912 presidential election turned into a 3-man race.  Between 3 progressives.  Taft ‘busted’ more trusts than did TR.  But he just wasn’t TR.  Woodward Wilson was probably the most progressive and idealist of the three.  But in the mix, he looked like the sensible candidate.  Roosevelt beat Taft.  But Wilson beat Roosevelt.  Wilson won with only 45% of the vote.  And gave us the income tax and the Federal Reserve System.  Big Government had come.

IN THE 1992 presidential campaign, George Herbert Walker Bush (read my lips, no new taxes) ran in a 3-way race between Democrat Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.  Perot bashed both parties for their high deficits.  He was a populist candidate against the status quo.  He went on TV with charts and graphs.  He called Reaganomics ‘voodoo’ economics.  While Bush fought these attacks on his 12 years in the executive office (8 as vice president and on 4 as president), Clinton got by with relative ease on his one big weakness.  Character. 

Exit polling showed that Perot took voters from both candidates.  More people voted that year.  But the increase was roughly equal to the Perot vote (who took 19%).  If anyone energized the election that year, it wasn’t Clinton.  He won with only 43% of the vote.  The majority of Americans did not vote for Clinton.  Had the focus not been on Reaganomics and the deficit (where Perot took it), Clinton’s character flaws would have been a bigger issue.  And if it came down to character, Bush probably would have won.  Despite his broken ‘read my lips’ pledge.

HISTORY HAS SHOWN that third party candidates don’t typically win elections.  In fact, when a party splinters into two, it usually benefits the common opposition.  That thing that is so important to bring a third party into existence is often its own demise.  It splits a larger voting bloc into two smaller voting blocs.  Guaranteeing the opposition’s victory. 

Politics can be idealistic.  But not at the expense of pragmatism.  When voting for a candidate that cannot in all probability win, it is a wasted vote.  If you’re making a ‘statement’ with your vote by voting for a third party candidate, that statement is but one thing.  You want to lose.


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