We Should Raise Cane That Slavery Might Prevail

Article excerpt

It's downright uncomfortable to read a book sometimes. To be reminded, for example, by historian Adam Rothman that we have subsidized sugar production for, oh, 200 years.

Sugar price supports seem riveted into farm bills. Yet they mainly help a few big growers, increase the budget deficit and keep prices of the sweetener higher than they ought to be.

But there's a pedigree to all this aid to a special interest, judging by Rothman's studiously hard-hitting book "Slave Country" ( Harvard University Press, $35, 296 pages).

This was history's recipe. Take an 1804 slave revolt in sugar- growing Haiti. Add the mess-up of European trade during Napoleon's wars. Top off with tariff protection for U.S. sugar growers -- and suddenly Louisiana economically could raise cane.

That had huge consequences, says Rothman, who teaches at Georgetown University. It extended the demand for slaves into the Deep South along the Gulf of Mexico. Agricultural expansion, abetted by King Cotton, became irresistible. And it didn't have to. The South might have gone industrial. Look at its manufacturing prowess today, under the sunshine of right-to-work laws that deter unions.

President Thomas Jefferson hoped "diffusion" of slavery into the vast spaces of the Louisiana Purchase would weaken slavery. He idealized a hinterland of small, freeholding farmers. …