Or at least that’s what the working title of what I’m trying to research is. I dunno. It’s clunky isn’t it? The only thing I’m sure I like (or at least I think I like) is the word “containment.” See, what I’m trying to get at is . . . you know what? Just keep reading. Some of what I’m saying you’ve probably heard before but I’ll try and narrow it down so that I’m not engaging in complete regurgitation.
As I said in my last post the American narrative seems to be one of continual and upward progress. Indeed, this seems to be a running theme in Western thought; from Plato to Rousseau to the Victorian thinkers Herbert Spencer and Edward Tyler (who misapplied Darwin’s theory of biological evolution to social evolution) the running idea was that societies invariably change inevitably and for the better. On a side note, Marx believed much the same thing. He just added an additional phase after unfettered capitalism; socialism.
What does this have to do with slavery? Well, again as I said in my last post, the fact that chattel slavery undergirded the development of American capitalism doesn’t square well with the idea that America must be on its way to a neoliberal utopia. Slavery is therefore seen as a blip; an anomaly; a “speedbump on the road to neoliberalism” to blatantly rip of my friend James P. It therefore must be “contained” (as I put it) in a specific time and place. It is only something that happened in the American South during the antebellum era which ended promptly with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation after which nothing bad ever happened to non-white people again.
Therefore the regional memory of New England serves the overall historical narrative of the United States. New England is seen as a bastion of liberalism where slavery had no place. Associated as it is with Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, the Boston Tea Party and the Shot Heard ‘Round the World it is largely absolved from the legacy of African American slavery. By extension, the entire country is as well.
This is not to say that there weren’t courageous abolitionist New Englanders. There were. Charles Sumner, Moses Brown and Harriet Beecher Stowe come to mind. However, slavery (and complicity in it) did happen here. The question is, what happens when it becomes evident and one cannot “contain” slavery to the south?
The answer, in many cases, seems to be alternate, “mini-containments” (I know — I really need a better term here). Slavery tends to be conflated or associated with historical “losers,” or “undesirables.” Slavery in and around the Boston area seems to be associated with Tories, who it is already OK to hate. Here in Western MA, it seems to be associated with Dutch colonists in New York State who would ultimately give way to the English. This “containment” of slavery to loyalists and Dutch colonists serves the progressivist narrative of Anglo-America.
Make sense? Feel free to rip me apart in the comments.