Login/Sign up

World Association of International Studies

Post John Ashby, London Merchant; on Historical Presentism
Created by John Eipper on 04/08/17 4:58 AM

Previous posts in this discussion:


John Ashby, London Merchant; on Historical Presentism (Timothy Ashby, -Spain, 04/08/17 4:58 am)

John E asked if I found it equally troubling and fascinating to research my direct ancestor who was an investor in the Royal African Company. While in a modern context I consider slavery and the slave trade reprehensible, I believe that it is wrong for modern historians to try to interpret motivations and judge people who lived in the more distant past through the prism of our contemporary morality. (I say "more distant past" because there are people alive today who were members of the SS.)

John Ashby considered himself a businessman (in his 1699 Will he refers to himself as "Merchant of London"). If asked, he probably would have been gravely insulted to be called a slave trader. The RAC dealt in a variety of "commodities," and sadly, black slaves would have been thought of as such. He was a shareholder in the RAC but had no management role. He exported deer skins, furs and indigo from Carolina to England, and bought slaves to work on his Quenby Plantation on the Yadhoo River near Charleston.

John raised an excellent questions out what prompted the rise of the Abolitionist Movement which I am unable to answer. Perhaps fellow WAISers can provide some insight?

JE comments:  "Presentism," the judging of the past by the standards of the present, is a double-edged sword.  Of course it is anachronistic to pronounce judgment on a bygone era, but only by judging the past can we avoid Santayana's trap of repeating it.  And without presentism, one might argue, history itself becomes a bland exercise of royal succession, wars, and sundry dates.

Regarding slavery, we've pointed out that even the Peculiar Institution's defenders knew it was unsavory--note the sordid reputation of slave traders, and the plantation mistress's dismay at her husband's dalliances with the young house servants.

Rate this post
Informational value 
Reader Ratings (0)
Informational value0%

Visits: 113


Please login/register to reply or comment: Login/Sign up

  • Thoughts on Historical "Presentism" (Tor Guimaraes, USA 04/09/17 6:30 PM)
    Timothy Ashby's post of April 8th provides much food for thought. I understand and to some extent agree with Tim that it might be wrong to "judge people [like slave holders, traders, and members of the Nazi SS] through the prism of our contemporary morality." I see an important difference between these groups.

    The Nazi SS monsters committed crimes against humanity but they followed Nazi morality, if one defines morals as the science of the local social customs. They were trained and sworn to do their nasty deeds by their beloved Nazi nation. To non-Nazis they must be condemned as criminals against humanity.

    In contrast, to the slave holders (demand) and traders (supply), Africans should have been viewed as assets, not candidates for extermination. Nevertheless, the crimes against humanity in this case were justified by world history, and business necessity. The thing that boggles my mind is how can a nation that supposedly follows and fervently preaches Christianity allow slavery in its midst for so many years?

    This obvious contradiction is very likely the primary answer to John Eipper's question about "what prompted the rise of the Abolitionist Movement." After all slavery should be unthinkable for decent nations like England and America, and anathema to any real Christian.

    Last we have the widespread phenomenon where humans, after committing horrendous crimes, tend to reject criticism based on their contemporary morality and other excuses. Thus, we still have proud Nazis who "just followed orders," proud Confederates who think slavery was OK because it is actually an ancient custom, etc. By such logic, mass murder by terrorism or by drones can be merely advancing a deliberate agenda of one sort or another, justified as being in defense of freedom, noble private interests, or plainly just the will of God. Truthfully, no matter how heinous or expensive the deed, it can always be explained by a combination of perpetrator's convenience, insanity, religious fervor, and/or continuous thirst for power or money.

    JE comments:  I'm quite sure that Tim Ashby has no problem with applying "presentist" morality to the SS.  Regarding slavery and Christians, there was many a passionate defense of the institution based precisely on Biblical scripture.  Look no further than the speeches of South Carolina fire-belly John C. Calhoun.

    Please login/register to reply or comment:

Trending Now

All Forums with Published Content (44625 posts)

- Unassigned

Culture & Language

American Indians Art Awards Bestiary of Insults Books Conspiracy Theories Culture Ethics Film Food Futurology Gender Issues Humor Intellectuals Jews Language Literature Media Coverage Movies Music Newspapers Numismatics Philosophy Plagiarism Prisons Racial Issues Sports Tattoos Western Civilization World Communications


Capitalism Economics International Finance World Bank World Economy


Education Hoover Institution Journal Publications Libraries Universities World Bibliography Series


Biographies Conspiracies Crime Decline of West German Holocaust Historical Figures History Holocausts Individuals Japanese Holocaust Leaders Learning Biographies Learning History Russian Holocaust Turkish Holocaust


Afghanistan Africa Albania Algeria Argentina Asia Australia Austria Bangladesh Belgium Belize Bolivia Brazil Canada Central America Chechnya Chile China Colombia Costa Rica Croatia Cuba Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark East Europe East Timor Ecuador Egypt El Salvador England Estonia Ethiopia Europe European Union Finland France French Guiana Germany Greece Guatemala Haiti Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran (Persia) Iraq Ireland Israel/Palestine Italy Japan Jordan Kenya Korea Kosovo Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Latin America Liberia Libya Mali Mexico Middle East Mongolia Morocco Namibia Nations Compared Netherlands New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria North America Norway Pacific Islands Pakistan Palestine Paraguay Peru Philippines Poland Polombia Portugal Romania Saudi Arabia Scandinavia Scotland Serbia Singapore Slovakia South Africa South America Southeast Asia Spain Sudan Sweden Switzerland Syria Thailand The Pacific Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan UK (United Kingdom) Ukraine USA (America) USSR/Russia Uzbekistan Venezuela Vietnam West Europe Yemen Yugoslavia Zaire


Balkanization Communism Constitutions Democracy Dictators Diplomacy Floism Global Issues Hegemony Homeland Security Human Rights Immigration International Events Law Nationalism NATO Organizations Peace Politics Terrorism United Nations US Elections 2008 US Elections 2012 US Elections 2016 US Elections 2020 Violence War War Crimes Within the US


Christianity Hinduism Islam Judaism Liberation Theology Religion

Science & Technology

Alcohol Anthropology Automotives Biological Weapons Design and Architecture Drugs Energy Environment Internet Landmines Mathematics Medicine Natural Disasters Psychology Recycling Research Science and Humanities Sexuality Space Technology World Wide Web (Internet)


Geography Maps Tourism Transportation


1-TRIBUTES TO PROFESSOR HILTON 2001 Conference on Globalizations Academic WAR Forums Ask WAIS Experts Benefactors Chairman General News Member Information Member Nomination PAIS Research News Ronald Hilton Quotes Seasonal Messages Tributes to Prof. Hilton Varia Various Topics WAIS WAIS 2006 Conference WAIS Board Members WAIS History WAIS Interviews WAIS NEWS waisworld.org launch WAR Forums on Media & Research Who's Who