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Southern Slave Owners: A Monster and a Saint

Written by Gary North on March 7, 2014

I was hoping that 12 Years a Slave would win the Academy award as the best movie. It did.

I am teaching a course for the Ron Paul Curriculum for first-year high school students. It is a detailed examination of classic autobiographies. Before I had seen the movie, I had selected Twelve Years a Slave as one of them. Now that the movie has won the Academy Award, my students will pay much closer attention to the book.

It is a very good movie. In relation to the amount of money spent to make it, it is the best recent Hollywood movie I’ve seen. They spent about $20 million on this movie, not counting marketing. This is incredibly low. Yet the production quality is excellent. The photography is excellent. Everything about it is excellent. It shows that you can produce a really good movie cheap, as long as you can get cooperation from the actors: pay percentages, not salaries. There were only two big-money actors in it, Brad Pitt, who was a co-producer, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who is a hot property these days. Also in the cast were Paul Giamatti and Alfre Woodard, but neither is a headliner.

Unlike most Hollywood historical movies, this one was faithful to the original book. When it says that it is based on a true story, it is being accurate. There are a few discrepancies, but with only two exceptions, they are minor. In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, where Brad Pitt’s character argues against a slave owner with respect to the ethics of slavery, the dialogue is taken right out of the autobiography. Other sections of the movie are also taken directly from the autobiography.

This is one of the greatest autobiographies I’ve ever read. It is amazingly eloquent. It is a page-turner. Even without the movie, I think students probably would have been interested in it. Now, because of the movie, I don’t think there’s any question about this.

I went back again this week to see it a second time, because I had to produce a lecture on the accuracy of the movie in relationship to the book. I wanted to make certain that I have the facts correct. I was once again struck by this fact. The most evil man in the movie, who was the owner of the author for a decade, was portrayed by a very skilled actor, Michael Fassbender. He gained a nomination for best supporting actor.

The character he plays was a monster. But he made a mistake, a mistake that is now legendary. He did not know that one of his slaves was not only literate, he was one of the great prose writers of 19th-century America: Solomon Northup. He also had something like a photographic memory. Even more damaging, he remembered the highlights with great precision, and he was able to put them in prose that was spellbinding. His literary skills were aimed at his owner, and when you are done reading about the owner, you realize that the actor, if anything, underplayed the extent to which the man was a monster.

One hundred and sixty miles down the Red River lived the richest slave owner in Louisiana. He was the most beloved slave owner in America — beloved by his slaves, not his peers. His name was John McDonogh.


He alone among all the slave owners in the South for over 200 years devised a system that made his slaves incomparably efficient. They were so efficient that he ceased to have any responsibility for managing his plantation, including all of the rental properties that he owned. The slaves did everything. They worked like maniacs. They literally ran from job to job. Another slave owner wanted to buy one of them. He was willing to pay $5,000 — in the range of $100,000 in today’s money. McDonogh refused to sell. He had a secret.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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18 thoughts on “Southern Slave Owners: A Monster and a Saint

  1. Patrick Duffy says:

    When you take the labor of another man, that man is a slave. When the IRS takes a man's labor, the government is holding you as a slave. What's the difference? Lincoln did not 'free' the slaves, but transferred the slave master to the exclusive use of the 'government'. No more 'private' ownership of slaves was allowed, only GOVERNMENT OWNED SLAVES.

  2. Adrian Heath says:

    As good and smart a slave owner as McDonogh was he still violated Exodus 21:16 – And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. and Deuteronomy 24:7 – If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.

  3. That the leftist-dominated Hollywood crowd could make a movie that is in anyway accurate is a remarkable if unlikely feat – but the explanation clearly lies in the editorial bias of both the professor who republished the obscure (and by then public domain) autobiography, and the Hollywood elitists who decided to turn it into a slick Hollywood production.

    Faced with a choice of making a movie about a white man loved by his black and minority slaves, who used the principles of the free market and entrepreneurialism to both free them and to grow very wealthy — and a movie about an evil white SOB who abused the black men and women held as his slaves – which movie do you think that Hollywood Marxist-progressives will line up to throw their money at, in their ongoing efforts to re-present history with their own perverted twist?

  4. Herbert Moore says:

    It should be remembered that slaves were brought from (primarily) Africa by Northeastern maritime enterprises and sold as slaves to the South and others (even some in the North) for labor. If slavery was so bad, why were the Northeastern states so engaged in it? Why didn't they free the slaves once they embarked on American soil? I haven't seen the movie but knowing Hollywood and doctored history, it doesn't take much imagination. Now we need a movie on the indentured servants that came to America, or maybe that story wouldn't be so engaging. Slaves were expected to work and the slave owners thus had some obligation to maintain their health and viability. Life on the Plantation was a far cry more humane than the trip across the Atlantic Ocean on a slaver.

  5. Amen!

  6. Enoch Powell says:

    While the Boers and British initially both had slaves—but later
    only paid servants—the blacks themselves commonly took slaves
    as a way of life. However, the modern liberal “revision” is to call
    the peoples whom other blacks enslaved, “clients,” and the black
    slave owners are likewise euphemized as, “patrons.”

    The only other people whose slave-trade industry came close to
    the size of that of the British were the Arabs. They reputedly even
    marched their shackled West African slaves mercilessly across
    the burning Sahara Desert to the east coast, and thence by boat
    to Arabia. The remnants of an “avenue” of mango trees
    (inadvertently “seeded” by these slaves) stretching intermittently
    for enormous distances reputedly can still be seen from the air.
    Elephants also apparently followed this “avenue” for shade during
    their trans-Saharan migrations, and utilized the ripening fruit.

    Ironically, white Christian people have been castigated for being
    slave traders and owning slaves, even though blacks owned just as
    many slaves (if not more)—and even though the slave traders bought the slaves from the blacks’ own chieftains who sold their own people to the slave traders.

    Overall, whites treated their slaves quite well. The only “abuses”
    were when they had to administer punishment for severe violations
    of the law (which punishment they also imposed upon their own
    white brethren who broke the law). Slave owners were themselves severely punished, if they abused their slaves.

    However, blacks who owned slaves usually treated their slaves
    worse than dogs; and even tortured and executed them at their
    whim. One of the most famous modern books/movies denouncing
    the history of the slave trade was Amistad. The story centers
    around one poor African slave who eventually won his freedom.
    However, what the movie does not mention, is the fact that after
    he won his freedom—he returned to Africa to become a slave
    trader himself!—abusing and selling his own people into slavery!
    San-Bushmen are today enslaved by the Owambo and Herero.

    [From BULALA]

  7. Adrian Heath says:

    The idea is to campare our conduct to the standard of God's law rather than that of other slave owners.

  8. Rattlerjake says:

    I have NO desire to watch or hear about another propaganda film about slavery, whether accurate or not. Blacks have ridden this gravy train long enough; today blacks have far more opportunity than any other race yet are still not satisfied. I could care less about their history or their complaints.

  9. Jerri Lynn Ward says:

    He didn't steal the people. He converted their status from slave to bond servant rather than letting them be sold to others who would not have done so. I think that what he did was Biblical.

  10. Adrian Heath says:

    Jerri Lynn, I realize Dr. North was praising the good slave owner compared to the evil. However, the principal was clear in Exodus ~ even if McDonogh did not commit man stealing himself the slave was " found in his hand". He is therefore culpable. Now suppose the slave was a fellow believer, then Deuteronomy would also apply.

  11. You are right, Adrian, this man was not a "saint", he invented an efficient way to exploit his slaves, even had them doing the accounting of the "sale" of the slave's re-purchase of himself, had them rent out his property, oversee his slaves with other slaves, in short, grow VERY wealthy off of their "stolen" labor. According to the document Dr North linked to, in order to participate in his scheme, the slave had to agree to purchase himself, his wife, and any children, and after finally purchasing all that, had to agree to purchase passage back to Liberia. Because this "saint" of a Master believed them to be an inferior race, not fit to live near white people. He even profited more, in that he was able to purchase 2 NEW slaves for every 1 that completed this scheme. In addition, he made it clear that if any "participating" slave commited an act deemed by him to be a crime the agreement was voided, all "work credits" were wiped out, and he would be sold to another slaveowner. What a "sainted" system! A slave works for, say, 10 years, commits a "crime", then loses all that he has and is sold away! Nice! Just because this "master" didn't rape his slave women and didn't flog his slaves doesn't make him a "saint"!

  12. AMEN !

  13. Adrian Heath says:

    It is a huge subject, and covered exhaustively in Dr North's TOOLS OF DOMINION ~ of which I quote here – page 244

    "The only form of non-criminal lifetime servitude authorized today
    by the Bible is for men who voluntarily become permanent household
    servants and for women who voluntarily marry these lifetime servants."

  14. gary jew says:

    no surprise that gary north supports jew hollwoods anti white propaganda films. im sure that crap movie fails to mention african slaves were sold by black africans to carribean based jews, and brought into n.america where the white man did not want them as he imported his own women and children from europe.

    slavery a jew enterprise, then …and now. burn in hell hollywood, gary north, and jew slavers

  15. ed rhodes says:

    I thought the doctor told you never to miss your medications.

  16. ed rhodes says:

    As a teacher, Gary North should know that being "faithful to the original book" in no way means "it is based on a true story." If a movie of "Alice in Wonderland" is faithful to the book, does that make it a true story?

    There is an air of incredulity to all of this. Why is a self-proclaimed "Tea Party Economist" writing about a black man kidnapped into slavery? And why is he teaching it to his students? And is it mere coincidence that the best-seller "12 Years a Slave" came out one year (1853) after the best-seller "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852) during a time of growing antagonism between north and south?

    And what contribution was made by the editor of the book, David Wilson, a white lawyer and New York State legislator, to whom the book was dictated? It appears likely that Wilson was actually the ghost writer of the book.

    "12 Years a Slave" is said to have been authenticated by the two historian-editors of its 1968 edition. One of the editors (Sue Eakin) was a lifelong "civil rights worker," and the other (Joseph Logsdon) was the author of a biography of Horace White, who was involved in the 19th-century management of "The Nation," a publication that still calls itself "the flagship of the left."

    That would strongly suggest the politics and motivation of the two "authenticators."

    Just wondering if a book about a Christian being kidnapped by Muslims and kept a slave for 12 years would be turned into an award-winning film.

  17. Adrian Heath says:

    Yes Ed, Here is an example close to that. Patricius (St Patrick was held a s slave by pagans in Ireland. http://www.amazon.com/St-Patrick-Ireland-A-Biogra

    I like your research though. It does raise questions about the Authenticators.

  18. Adrian Heath says:

    I would also add John Know held as a galley slave