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20 June 2020


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Diana Croissant

I have always wanted to believe that fighting the Civil War, with its enormous loss of life, should have a more altruistic motive behind it—which would be the abolition o of slavery. But upon reading the comments here, I’ve come to understand many other motives that might cause men to go into that war and fight.
However, as a person who studied the literature of the time, not the published political documents, I can still believe that the idea that slavery was an immoral practice was becoming a very widely held belief.
I know that perhaps one of the most widely read novelists in the Western world of all time is Charles Dickens. I know that some who aren’t acquainted with all his work may view him only as a sentimental author whose stories had little depth.
Many who haven’t read most of his works or studied him also aren’t aware of how extremely popular he was in his time. When the last installment of The Old Curiosity Shop was arriving on the boats in the harbors of New York, crowds of people formed and were unwilling to wait to read it to find out if Little Nell had died. They came simply to find the answer.
Perhaps Dickens’ best novel Bleak House should be mentioned because of the seemingly minor passages in it in which Dickens writes sarcastically point out what he calls “telescopic philanthropy.” It was during about this time that Belgium King Leopold was a known force in the Congo. Victorian Ladies were doing all sorts of charity work for the poor Black children of Africa. Dickens’ having been an extremely poor child himself in London, was showing their hypocrisy for not being concerned as much about the poor children of England. That said, the point is that Black children were a concern for many of the women of the time.

Many of the most revered authors of the time period in America were not very clear in regard to their feelings about slavery. However, I am always haunted by the last line of Melville’s Moby-Dick, which is spoken by the only survivor of the Pequod, a Black man: “Call me Ishmael.” And, as many may know, that is also the opening line of the novel. Christians know the name as the son of Abraham and Sarah’s maidservant Hagar. Sarah’s son Isaac, of course, is the beginning of the line of people who receive God’s blessing in creating his nation. Hagar is promised that her son Ishmael will be the progenitor of a huge nation of people also—whom we believe are the Arabs, though that is not a term mentioned in the Bible

I mention all of this to suggest that the causes of the Civil War, the reasons for engaging it, may have been diverse and complex. This was a time period in the world in which questions about race were percolating in various ways. I am also convinced, however, that the general religious feeling of the time was that slavery was not a righteous practice, that people of different color than white were to be considered also as God’s people, not chattel for one race of humans. Even slightly before this time, Daniel Defoe’s main character in Robinson Crusoe presented a ‘Man” who became the main characters’ best friend and helper, his MAN Friday, a man who was not a slave and not of white skin.

Babak makkinejad


Having just seen your comments on a different thread, I think it is an established fact that every single extant religion, including all variants of Budhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, had historically endorsed Slavery as constituting part of a Just & Proper Order.

I wonder then if all the Temples, Churches, and Mosques be closed.


Mark Logan

Politicians have no honor.


Diana Croissant,

You are saying that Ishmael in 'Moby Dick' is black?


If there had been no civil war, how long would it have taken for changes in economic and social factors to eventually end slavery in the South?

The Twisted Genius

Diana Croissant,

Are you confusing Ishmael with his friend, Queequeg the harpooner? Queequeg was a heavily tattooed South Sea Islander. Ishmael was a merchant seaman up from New York. I don't know if he was ever referred to as black by Melville. I loved that book as a youngster. My family would go to Mystic Seaport often and I would wander the whaler Charles W. Morgan. I would sit on the deck or in one of the bunks and read Moby Dick. The ship was made fast on the rocks when I was young. Recently she was totally refurbished and now sails New England waters.

The Twisted Genius


That's a good question. Even without slavery, cotton and sugar cane production in the South was not mechanized until WWII. Slavery was an integral part of Southern culture. White Southerners, even most of those without slaves defined themselves in relation to slavery. Social pressure, rather than economic pressure, would have ended slavery, but I don't know how quickly it would have happened. Would it have lasted into the 20th century? Possibly.


Manual labor was cheap under the share cropping system or even without share cropping. Labor was cheap when you did not have to bear the costs implicit in slavery, i.e., housing, food, clothing, medical attention, etc. The slaves were major capital assets and had to be maintained. Hired day labors were cheaper than slaves. Under conditions of slavery farm machinery would have made slaves excessively expensive.



"Slavery was an integral part of Southern culture. White Southerners, even most of those without slaves defined themselves in relation to slavery." Is this your personal opinion?

Mark K Logan


I assumed Lincoln would've viewed the Fire Eaters as fellow politicians.


TTG and Diana Croissant,

I have been mulling over the intriguing question of Ishmael's race. I had always assumed he was a Caucasian, but I never thought much about what he looked like. Still don't. But once the question of race comes into it, I think it is useful to think about what others in the crew looked like, and we do know that Pip, the cabin boy, was black. And there are two or three more blacks, I forget, probably one of the mysterious professional hit team hidden away below decks for the run-in on Moby Dick at the right time. One thing, Queequeg is of a Polynesian race, is an unrepentant tatooed cannibal, and is more purple-colored than black or white, and has his head shaved completely except for a top-knot. He is said to look sort of like George Washington! (The strongest beast in the forest.) He would also be chief of his tribe by the time of the Pequod voyage if he had stayed on his island. Like Ishmael he is very curious about the larger world, and each recognizes this in the other. It makes them friends.

We also know that Queequeg went down with the ship.

Now, how do we know that Ishmael is white? I think that Chapter 54 holds the answer to the question; usually, of course, a question never asked. This goes to the racial complexity of Lima, Peru. Slavery existed in Peru until roughly 1855. To this day the Spanish upper class of Peru guards its racial identity carefully. There are actually pre-Incan tribes even the Incas left alone, called "chunchos" (savages, with legendary uncanny, paranormal powers), and these Selva tribes are part of a weird racial mix that includes, among others, Afro-Peruvians, native highlanders, Orientals, and, of course, the descendants of the Spanish colonial overlords.

In Chapter 54, Ishmael has grown older--some years have gone by since the voyage of the Pequod-- and we do not know when that fictional journey took place, though we do know that Melville's actual voyages in the Pacific took place in 1841, and his book was published in 1851. This later Ishmael seems to have become financially successful, since he is staying at the Golden Inn of Lima, an expensive, most likely, the preminent hotel. Here he is in conversation with two Spanish dandies, Don Pedro and Don Sebastian. He is telling of an incident on another ship, the Town Ho. The two Spanish dandies pepper him with questions. "Where is Buffalo?" (Which, come to think of it, is a pretty strange name.)

Now, the long and the short of it is that if Ishmael had been a black man, or even a metis, he most likely have not been allowed in that hotel at that time. The Spanish have two terms, 'castizo' and 'mestizo'--pure-bred or mixed--which state the old and well-established Iberian and colonial racial view. It is most unlikely that two Spanish dandies would have accepted a black man, a man of the slave caste, even if he were financially successful, a foreigner, as a social equal, or been willing to sit down and have a merry hour or two drinking and eating tapas with him in a very posh bar, I assume, surrounded by elegant couples. (And even today in Lima, I have read that a man might be rich, successful, important, but nevertheless having Indian blood, he might be a complicated problem for an old colonial family if women were involved.)

I assume that this encounter at the Golden Inn took place after slavery was abolished in Peru, but that wouldn't change the fundamental rules of conduct at all. It would be an unbearably tense situation. In South Carolina, when Wade Hampton--to this day regarded as a great hero--on an occasion, after the War, sat down at table with a black man and broke bread with him, it caused a tremendous sensation. In much the same way, at either the Hot or the Warm, as the Springs were called, when General Lee went over and cordially introduced himself to some Northerners vacationing there, this too was seen as a significant leadership signal. Of course, I don't think it worked all that well in South Carolina, though it did in Virginia.

One other reason I think Ishmael was white: Melville would have told us if he were black. And one needs to read 'Benito Cereno' for his chillingly ambiguous commentary on the black man. One line in that story struck me when I noticed it again last night and learned that Ralph Ellison in his famous 'Invisible Man' had used it, or part of it, the shadow part, only, as an epitaph for the novel. Benito Cereno does not get over becoming a prisoner of Babo, and he simply seems to give up and wither away and die not long after the whole incident should have been over with and recovered from. Justice has been done. The sinister, very small, thirty- year old Senegalese named Babo, who has led the mutiny, has been taken to Lima and executed. Burned alive? (Incidentally, the story is set in 1799, so slavery will be legal in Peru for many decades more.) Benito Cereno is asked what possibly can be the matter with him, what is this "shadow" that seems to be hanging over him?

Benito Cereno says simply: "The Negro."


Babak Makkinejad


Ishmael was served a meal in an inn at the start of the novel. He must not have been a African-American.

And who but a Western Diocletian would muse about taking a sea voyage for reasons of "spleen"?

This is the same Wunderlust Spirit that also had possessed Thor Heyerdahl, who organized the Kon Tiki voyage in 1948. Outside of the Western Diocletia, all sane and proper people would have considered him mad as a hatter.

By the way, there was an un-named Persian sailor that went done with that ship.



As I recall Heyerdahl was trying to prove it possible to sail across the Pacific with a stone age technology. In doing so he established that the civilization preceding the Incas could possibly have done so, he also established that the pre-Incans could have used fleets of such craft for off-shore fishing or north-South travel along the coast. There is an documentary on the expedition on youtube and I believe a more recent expedition took place.

The Twisted Genius


Yes, it is my opinion that slavery was an integral part of Southern culture. A massive segment of the Southern population, approaching half, consisted of enslaved blacks. How could Southern culture not include slavery. The economic growth enabled by slave labor is what allowed Southern white "high" culture to develop and flourish. There was much in that culture worthy of admiration including the practices of honor and chivalry, but I can’t ignore the enabling institution of slavery in the development of that high culture. This high culture sprang from the cavalier/royalist English beginnings where everyone was expected to know their God ordained place in society, be it aristocrat, yeoman or slave. The poorer, non-slave holding white farmers could aspire to that ideal, but only if they did not have to compete with the slave population.

I have seen these and similar ideas proposed by several historians, but I found a short essay by Gordon Rhea which lays out how slavery was incorporated into antebellum Southern society.


I intend to read Anne Norton’s “Alternative Americas" upon your suggestion. I am curious to see how she addresses the non-white half of the antebellum South.

The Twisted Genius


Although I agree that Ishmael was most certainly white, his being served a meal at the inn is not a determining factor. The whaling industry and whaling ports were dominated by Quakers. Their beliefs of equality were far before their time. The Quakers and Mennonites denounced African-American slavery in 1688. They remained a hotbed of abolitionism.

I detect your disdain for the Wanderlust Spirit. I see you are a Hobbitt content to live a quiet life within the confines of the shire rather one who "breaks the hearts of kith and kin and roams the world at will."

Babak makkinejad


Not disdain, only an observation.

Another item that separates Western Diocletians from others, the Spirit of Exploration.

Babak makkinejad


T.H. was a dreamer.

Any sensible man from the Near East to the Far East would have considered him to be mad: "Why is not he pursuing a degree in Law or Medicine, marry a suitable girl from a good family with better connections, and spend his life acquiring land and property? An in time, earn the respect of others as ossified as himself."

For this obtains to this day in the Near East, in India, and in China: where Wunderlust and the attendant Light of Intellect are extinguished in hundreds of millions of minds.



This is not a front page post.

The Twisted Genius


Wasn't meant to be. It was just a brief response to your last question. I have since seen your last suggestion of a leading a CW/WBS initial cause discussion. I'm up for that. But I first have to read up on the deeper whats and whys of the Morrill Tariff. The civic and political virtue thing might be a bridge too far, bur we'll see how it goes.



Thor Heyerdahl was not just a dreamer but an ethnographer, zoologist and botanist. The Kon-Tiki expedition held a special fascination for me. I recall visiting the museum in Oslo some decades later.

He could be considered an experimental scientist who wanted to prove certain hypotheses. He aimed to demonstrate the possibility of cultural cross-pollination among widely dispersed ancient people.

I have also read diaries of Portugese sailors from the 16th century who describe amazing markets of produce, fabrics and spices across the eastern coasts of Africa and the western coast of India. It would appear that the “natives” too got around.

Babak makkinejad


T.H. could not have existed anywhere but West of the Diocletian line.

1948, 3 years after the end of a war that had seen the occupation of Norway, he is out there trying to get an expedition organized.

I heard of an Italian who was studying the music of song birds, never ever East and South of the Diocletian line.

Kilo 4/11


Re: “if those hotheads in Charleston could have controlled their emotions just a little longer”

If they had “controlled their emotions” a bit longer, Lincoln would have succeeded in bottling up the South’s most important port. From there, interdiction of seaborne trade would have been easy, cutting off the South’s lifeline to the wider world. Reinforcing Sumter was an act of war; Lincoln’s cabinet knew this, that’s why most of them advised him against it. Lincoln was simultaneously pursuing the takeover of Fort Pickens, at the entrance to Pensacola Harbor. With these two harbors rendered useless to the South, the Confederacy would have been severely weakened before a shot was fired.

As for your being “more convinced than ever that preserving the institution of slavery was central to the Confederate cause”, frankly, TTG, I don’t give a damn. I wish to hell that the South had been able to keep blacks enslaved for another two or three generations; it might have trained them up enough to be useful, to eschew crime as a way of life, and in general, to appreciate their freedom.





Babak -

Strange comment that you make regarding exploration and Diocletian's Line. Maybe currently, but I tend to doubt even that. Historically you seem to discount exploration by ibn-Rustah Isfahani, Ali of Herat (the original Kilroy-was-here worldwide graffiti tagger), Sataspes, ibn-Battuta, ibn-Hawqal, ibn-Majid (the Lion-of-the-Sea and perhaps the original model for Sinbad, either him or maybe a composite of the hundreds of Arab & Persian sailors that roamed throughout the Indian Ocean. Don't forget Zhang Qian, Gan Ying, Hong Bao, Zheng He, Polynesians, and Micronesians. All east of the line I believe.

And of course predating them were all the Phoenician seafarers of Pygmalion of Tyre and his predecessors who probed the Mediterranean & Red Seas, and investigated the littorals, ports & islands of the eastern Atlantic. Perhaps they sailed to Ptolemy's 'Fortunate Isles' in the western Atlantic long before Columbus. And they probably circumnavigated Africa long before the Portuguese.

I think you are right about Heyerdahl though. Regarding the Polynesians, Heyerdahl had it backwards. He should have sailed east from the Tuamotus in a good Polynesian double-hulled canoe instead of an unmanageable balsa raft. He completely ignored the large body of works on Austronesian maritime technology, their wayfinding aptitude, and their far ranging voyages across the South Pacific.

Babak makkinejad


Ibn Rustah of Isfahan lived in 10 century, before the Light of Intellect and the attendant idea of exploration was extinguished, across an entire civilization.

I know that my discourse on the Diocletian Line's contemporary ramifications make many people uncomfortable, both Eastern and Western.

Easterners because they find it insulting and Westerners because it goes against their firm belief in their own normativeness.

I am going to stick to my opinion.

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