The aristocratic cotton manufacturers who supported Henry Clay’s “American System” organized the Massachusetts Whig party out of the chaos of Andrew Jackson’s reelection in 1832. They and their allies saw high tariffs as job insurance, and resented Jackson’s appeal to immigrant labor, farmers and urban workers. These Massachusetts Whigs had grown wealthy from Eli Whitney’s invention and slave-produced cotton from the South, and considered abolitionists as enemies of the Constitution and peace. Both Whitney and the mill owners were responsible for perpetuating slavery in the South as they made cotton production highly profitable.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Disruptive and Inharmonious Boston Abolitionists
“The leaders of the Whig party, for a number of reasons, were particularly responsive to the abolitionist threat. Several members of their class, including Sewall, Edmund Quincy, Ellis Gray Loring, Francis Jackson, James Russell Lowell, William Ellery Channing, and Wendell Phillips, had entered abolitionist ranks and so threatened the newly-restored [upper Boston] class unity.
Although the aristocrats were engaged in a great many reforms, abolitionism never became fashionable or even acceptable to the social elite as a whole, and aristocrats who associated with the abolitionists were quickly ostracized. Consequently, many of the leading abolitionists came from less socially-distinguished families and were most successful in their appeals to the middle class.
The Whig leaders, who regarded abolitionism as a disruptive influence in American society and deplored the abolitionists’ opposition to harmony with the South and the maintenance of the Union, seldom distinguished the moderate abolitionists from the Garrisonian extremists.
Worst of all, from the Whig point of view, the abolitionists, in their demand for immediate, uncompensated emancipation, had attacked property right which the conservative Whigs regarded as fundamental to every other right.
The Whig leaders opposed all denunciations of slavery and slaveholders, many of whom were personal friends, business associates, and political allies. They considered slavery a redundant issue in Massachusetts politics and anti-slavery propaganda worse than meaningless in the North. Although most of them, to be sure, considered slavery an evil, they emphasized that it was an institution wholly controlled by the States, and as such was protected by the Constitution, which was no to be tampered with.
Anti-slavery agitation in the North would only bring about sectional disharmony and, in addition, worsen the condition of the slave in the South. Abbott Lawrence summed up the conservative Whig position when he wrote:
“I am in favor of maintaining the compact as established by our fathers. I am for the Union as it is. I have no sympathy with the abolition party of the North and East. I believe they have done mischief to the cause of freedom in several States of the Union. The abolition of slavery in the States is exclusively a State question and one with which I do not feel that I should meddle or interfere in any shape or form.”
(Cotton Versus Conscience: Massachusetts Whig Politics and Southwestern Expansion, 1843-1848, Kinley J. Brauer, University of Kentucky Press, 1967, excerpts pp. 22-24)