Blog Post

Response to Joanne Freeman

I recently read an article by Joanne Freeman titled “I’m a Historian. I See Reason to Fear- And to Hope.” In the article, Freeman illustrates a sentiment common amongst historians during this trying time. It is natural for historians to look to the past in an attempt to predict how our current circumstances will turn out and affect the rest of history when things finally do change. As is said, history does repeat itself which makes all history relevant to the present moment.

However, what if a time period in history doesn’t seem so important? It was so long ago so it must not have an relevance to the present day right? Wrong. Take the antebellum period. Antebellum means before the war and in American history it refers to the period of time after the War of 1812 and before the Civil War. This is also sometimes lovingly referred to as “The Golden Age of the South”. However, I tend to remember it as the time period when the South’s economy relied on the labor of enslaved peoples. In addition to this the United States was actively manifesting it’s destiny of taking land away from people who’d already called it home for centuries. The antebellum period is still relevant today because the people in power are still trying to dominate those who are not.

Everything in the antebellum period was built on the backs of others. Built on the backs of the enslaved, the oppressed. America was built on oppression and it still oppresses and erases people to furthers its own goals. We still exploit people for our own gain although it is not as obvious it still exists. We enslave people in poverty while the rich get richer and use immigrants just to deport them when they are no longer useful. We use neocolonialism instead of invasions to exploit the economies of less powerful nations. We use this instead of enslavement, but it’s still the same principle even though people aren’t physically seeing it in the United States.

We took away the Mexican’s homes in the Mexican-American War and we took away the Native American’s homes and sent them through the Trail of Tears so we could drill for oil in the Seminole Wars. Then we put them on reservations and then tried to tap into their water supplies for a Pipeline for some big company that was doing just fine without it. Many Native Americans live without water and the water they do drink is contaminated due to pollution and factories.

African-Americans and Black people are no longer enslaved, but instead of de jure segregation, they are affected by de facto segregation. Gentrification which is done under the guise of giving them more places to live only raises the price of living and forces them out to find somewhere else more affordable.

I say all of this to illustrate that all history is relevant especially in the antebellum period of the United States. We all need to grapple with the fact that the U.S. is built on the backs of the less fortunate and will find new and more creative ways to exploit them for our own gain just like we did then. Our country has a long-established pattern of behavior of exploitation and oppression. That is our legacy.