“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

Abraham Lincoln

Republican Senator Tom Cotton said slavery was a necessary evil.

I just read a few pages the other day about this.

A good many of the Southern planters got sucked into keeping up with the Joneses – the Joneses in this case were the landed aristocracy of England. The planters set up accounts with merchants in England, who took their crops such as tobacco as consignments on one side of the balance sheet, and the merchants provided fancy china dishes and silverware, lacy dresses in the latest fashion, shiny shoes, and other materialistic wants on the other side of the balance sheet.

Lots of the planters were living beyond their means. They would even pass along debts to their heirs – and if they completely refused to pay, the merchants cut them off – no more goodies for you – how embarrassing.

Basically, the merchants had them by the balls.

But that isn’t completely true, is it?

The planters were the ones spending more than they were making. In the parlance of conservatism, the planters were irresponsible.

And that degree of being behind in their finances included not paying workers for labor, for a whole lifetime, because their workers were slaves. If they didn’t have slaves and had to pay market rate for labor, they would be even farther behind, to the point the merchants would start cutting off their credit.

So if slavery was “necessary” for anything, it was to maintain the “lifestyle” of the upper class, kinda-sorta within a budget. Does this justify the owning of one human being by another, as property?

And the same goes for the early big government buildings in Washington DC, like the Capitol – built in no small part by slaves. Less expensive, so “necessary” to keep the budget down. God forbid they pay more in taxes to pay skilled workmen a living wage. Does this justify the owning of one human being by another (in this case an “entrepreneur” hiring out his slaves), as property?

Now with that perspective, let’s back up a little bit – was slavery “necessary”?

Words mean something, and it seems important to get THIS ONE right.

Once you’re stuck in the rat race of having a nicer carriage than Mr. Smith down the road, and that everyone in your carriage also be dressed nicer than everyone in Mr. Smith’s carriage…

Can we make a broad generalization here that consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses is sometimes an insidious force that leads to people selling their soul?

Slavery WAS necessary for slave owners to maintain a more luxurious lifestyle.

And in hindsight, hopefully we can look back and wish they’d found a better angle of perspective, and a little more courage to make living within their means and paying their workers the new kind of cool.

Instead, we had to fight a war to stop it.

And even once we stopped slavery, it was replaced by sharecropping, which was in many ways even worse than slavery in the motivation for abuse.

So, no, slavery was not a necessary evil – unless you’re an irresponsible jerk that spends more money than you have. (And God knows conservatives hate those kind of people.)