Browsing "Abolitionists & Disunionists"

From Independence to Independence

(The following is drawn from David Hackett Fischer’s excellent “British Folkways in America.”)

The American Revolution was not a singular struggle but a series of four separate Wars of Independence waged in very different ways by the major cultures of British America.

The first (1775-1776) was a massive popular insurrection in New England. An army of British regulars was defeated by a Yankee militia much like the Puritan bands from which they were descended and urged on by their Calvinist clergy. This war, as stated by John and Samuel Adams was not fought to secure any rights of man in any universal sense, but against what was called “the contagion of venality and dissipation” which was spreading from London to America. New Englanders felt that they had always managed their own affairs and when England tried to stop them – especially their smuggling of goods and slave trade without the Crown’s percentage paid – the war came.

The second war for independence (1776-1781) was more protracted and fought mainly in the middle colonies and coastal south. It was a gentleman’s war of British regulars and professional mercenaries commanded by English gentry, against an increasingly professional American army led by a member of the Virginia gentry. They were fighting for what Jefferson called “the ancient liberties of his Saxon ancestors.”

The third war of independence reached its climax in the years 1779-1781. It was a rising of British borderers in the southern backcountry against American Loyalists and British regulars who invaded the region. The result was a savage struggle which resembled many earlier conflicts in North Britain with much family feuding and terrible atrocities committed on both sides. Prisoners were slaughtered, homes were burned, women were raped, and even small children were put to the sword.

The fourth war of independence continued in the years from 1781 to 1783, a non-violent economic and diplomatic struggle, in which the elites of the Delaware Valley played a leading part. The economic war against England was led by Robert Morris of Philadelphia; the genius of American diplomacy was Benjamin Franklin.

The end of the war resulted in the creation of three “regional republics” of British America – voting blocs of “eastern” colonies of New Englanders; a Southern bloc centered in tidewater Virginia; and a midland bloc of mainly Delaware Valley delegations. The Constitution of 1787 was an attempt to write the rules of engagement among these three regional republics – an agreement which began dissolving in Andrew Jackson’s first term. The nullification issue of 1832 tested the strength of a State’s true sovereignty.

By 1850 the Southern bloc had enough and began reconsidering the value of its political alliance with the others. In 1854 the new Republican party arose from the ashes of the Whig party and absorbed anti-Catholic Know Nothings, Transcendentalists and radical abolitionists. In 1860, this strictly sectional party fielded its second presidential candidate and won a plurality victory in November 1860. Within a month this party would drive South Carolina to independence; other States would soon follow.

In an act of desperation and fearful of his party losing its recently-gained power, this first Republican president violated Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution he was sworn to defend – “Treason against the United States shall consist only of levying War against them; or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” “Them” is the States, individually or collectively.

(Primary Source: Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 827-828)

 

Let the South Depart in Peace

Let the South Depart in Peace

Frederick Grimke’ (1791-1863) wrote about the meaning of American constitutional democracy in his “Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions” of 1848. His work was hailed as a fitting companion to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as both works at the time were deep philosophical studies of this country’s democratic civilization.

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Grimke’ was a Southern aristocrat, well-acquainted with American history and possessed a lifetime’s intimate experience with American legal and political institutions.  He parted with what he saw as Tocqueville’s grand mistake “of identifying equality of condition,” instead holding that the American system contained the promise of equality of opportunity.

On the subject of African bondage, he opposed immediate and uncompensated abolition and found himself frequently at odds with sisters Sarah and Angelina, the latter married to the intense Connecticut abolitionist Theodore Weld. Grimke’s first-hand experience with free black communities around Cincinnati convinced him of their not yet being ready to assume the responsibilities of American self-government.

As the sectional gulf between North and South widened, Grimke’ held that States could not nullify federal laws within the Union but were at full liberty to withdraw from that union and form another. He viewed this as akin to a person who had decided to migrate to another country.

He wrote that “no enlightened person who values freedom would contest the right of an individual to emigration; and likewise, none should threaten or compel a State bent on seceding to remain” in a political union it wished to leave.

Grimke’ understood this policy of peaceful departure from the 1789 Union by a group of States to be a lesser evil than war. Grimke’ also believed – as did Jefferson – that a number of regional American confederations might later be created; and while they would have distinct political governments, they would continue to belong, if not to the original union, but to the American democratic civilization which he so greatly prized.”

(The Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions, Frederick Grimke, John Williams Ward, editor. Harvard University Press, 1968. Review essay by Adrienne Kohn, South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 71, 1970.)

 

The Fruit of Lincoln’s “Victory”

In his “Note on American Heroes” author Donald Davidson wrote of the Lincoln myth still in use today by historians who have ceased to be what they claim and knowingly have become mere myth-perpetuators.

The Fruit of Lincoln’s “Victory”

“The Union that Lincoln is said to have wanted to reestablish was never really set up. If Lincoln was a supporter, as in a dim way he may have been, of the Jeffersonian notion of a body of free and self-reliant farmers as the bulwark of the nation, then why did he fight the South?

Lincoln made war upon his own idea, and that the fruit of his victory, represented in sprawling, confused, industrial America is a more pitiful sight than the desolate Lee plantations, for it is hardly even a noble ruin.

However effective it may have been as a war measure, Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation was an inept bit if civil statesmanship, for it put the Negro problem beyond the hope of any such solution as America has been able to use for the Indian problem.

By letting himself by used as the idealistic front for the material designs of the North, Lincoln not only ruined the South but quite conceivably ruined the North as well; and if fascism or communism ever arrive in America, Lincoln will have been a remote but efficient cause of their appearance.”

(A Note on American Heroes, Donald Davidson. The Southern Review, Winter 1936, pg. 439)

Abolitionist Jonathan Walker

Abolitionist Jonathan Walker was born in Massachusetts in 1799, a State known as the first to codify African slavery and deeply involved in the transatlantic slave trade. This brought already enslaved Africans from the Dark Continent’s west coast to the West Indies and North America.

Walker is said to have migrated to the Florida Territory in 1837 attracted by work in railroad construction.

Said to be concerned about working conditions for African slaves used for labor, Walker first conspired with fellow-abolitionist and Quaker Benjamin Lunday to establish a colony of escaped slaves in Mexico. Walker is most notorious for aiding seven African slaves in 1844, who at his suggestion attempted to reach the Bahamas by boat. It is claimed that he fell ill during the voyage and the craft lost its direction with the Africans unable to navigate, but all saved from disaster by a passing sloop in search of wrecks to salvage. All were taken to Key West and turned over to civil authorities; the Africans were likely boarded at the island’s barracoon while awaiting return to their employment. Walker was imprisoned for his crime.

Anchored off Key West on Saturday, July 12, 1844, Master Edwin Anderson aboard the USS General Taylor noted in his diary that at 1PM a corporal’s guard from the island’s US garrison came alongside with Walker who was to be conveyed to Pensacola. Anderson recorded that the prisoner was “confined in double irons and placed below in the hold.” Arriving at Pensacola on the 18th of July, Walker was turned over to the city marshal and held at the city jail. Some accounts claim that the Africans were confined with him, though it was more likely they were returned from where Walker had enticed them.

Tried in federal court at Pensacola, Walker was punished with eleven months imprisonment and a fine of $10,000 which was said to have been paid by Northern abolitionists. It was claimed that Walker’s right hand was “branded” with S.S. to indicate “slave stealer,” though this was likely invented for the benefit of gullible Northern audiences. After release from prison Walker returned to Plymouth, Massachusetts where he found but little sympathy for his actions.

Walker’s abolitionist friends saw him as valuable to their own ends and sent him on a five-month lecture tour of the North to further whip audiences into an anti-Southern frenzy. After events such as this, the American South began reducing its commerce with the North while recalculating the benefit of political union with the Northern States.

Herein lies an important cause of Southern independence, or “secession,” from the United States. The States that prosecuted the war to deny that independence, were led by those New England States primarily responsible for the African slaves in North America and had profited handsomely from the transatlantic slave trade that brought them – already enslaved – from Africa. To his credit, Lincoln had proposed compensated emancipation to deal with slavery, which the sons of New England slave traders loudly denounced.

 

 

The Real Cause of the Civil War

The Real Cause of the Civil War

The Washington Peace Conference of early February 1861 was held in a city already involved in a military build-up caused by frenzied Republican editors and politicians. The Conference’s chairman, former President John Tyler described “an atmosphere where lunacy . . . prevails.” Those from the Southern States who understood the founders’ aversion to standing armies, resented the constant parading of US troops through the streets while regarding them as “a menace and a threat on the part of the North.”

The military buildup in a time of peace was fueled by Joseph Medill’s Chicago Tribune’s scare tactic of a supposed Southern army converging on Washington. The editor proclaimed himself a “volunteer sentinel on the walls.” Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne again advised Lincoln of “a widespread and powerful conspiracy,” which was in truth Americans in the South working together to form a more perfect union.

Vermont delegates to the recent Republican Convention were in town to oppose all concession to the South’s requests as a surrender of principle which would demoralize and destroy the polyglot Republican party – in other words, party over peace. Local newspapers excitedly reported rumors of secessionists poisoning army horses while Republican Radicals took delight in knowing that “grinning artillery” was ready “to rattle grape, if necessary.” Medill’s newspaper thought this a “charming medicine” for the disease called treason.” The New York Tribune wrote that “the only Peace Conference that we want is the one now assembled in Washington under General Scott.”

Treason, of course, is specifically and unmistakably defined in Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution as waging war against “them” – the individual States.

(Old Gentleman’s Convention: The Washington Peace Conference of 1861. Robert Gray Gunderson, University of Wisconsin Press. 1961)

 

 

It Was Not About Slavery

If continued black labor in the South was essential to the economic survival of the region and the ultimate reason for seeking independence, it was equally essential that the economic survival of Northern financial, textile, and manufacturing industry interests. It was not unexpected that after the Confederate States of America was formed in early February 1861 and enacted a modest 10% tariff which would have decimated northern ports, that those northern interests urged war against the South. It was not about slavery.

The following is excerpted from Mark R. Winchell’s posthumous “Confessions of a Copperhead” recently released by Shotwell Publishing. See www.shotwellpublishing.org.

It Was Not About Slavery

“If the North was fighting for an imperial vision of American hegemony rather than for the abolition of slavery, what motivated the South? The statement of South Carolina’s anti-flag scholars quotes several Confederate officials, who declared they were fighting to preserve slavery.

It would perhaps be more accurate to say that the Confederacy was formed to assure the economic survival of the American South. (The revolutionist’s declaration of independence from England was motivated by similar economic considerations.)  In 1861, African labor seemed essential to that survival [just as New England’s poverty-wage slavery held mill workers to their employment.]

Of even greater concern, however, was the agricultural tariff passed by the US Congress on behalf of Northern industrial interests. This tariff made it difficult for Southerners to sell cotton and other crops in European markets. An independent South, free of the tariff, would have prospered among the community of nations. If Lincoln was willing to assure the perpetuation of slavery, this former corporation lawyer was not willing to ease the tariff.”

(Confessions of a Copperhead, Culture and Politics in the Modern South, Mark R. Winchell, Shotwell Publishing, 2022, pg. 183)

The Conspiracy Which Brought on War

President-elect Lincoln instructed his party stalwarts to either avoid what would become the Washington Peace Conference chaired by former-President John Tyler, or if in attendance to refuse any peaceful compromise as it would dissolve Republican party unity.

The Conspiracy Which Brought on War

“On February 2, 1861, Hon. Stephen A. Douglas in a letter published in the Memphis Appeal, wrote of the Republican leaders as follows:

‘They are bold, determined men. They are striving to break up the Union under the pretense of serving it. They are struggling to overthrow the Constitution while professing undying attachment to it and a willingness to make any sacrifice to maintain it They are trying to plunge the country into a cruel war as the surest means of destroying the Union upon the plea of enforcing the laws and protecting public property.’

Shortly after Douglas wrote this letter Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan wrote a letter to Gov. Austin Blair which proves the guilty conspiracy of the men determined on war. Virginia had solicited a conference of States to see if some plan could not be devised and agreed upon to prevent war and save the Union.

Chandler wrote Blair that he opposed the conference and that no Republican State should send a delegate. He implored the Governor to send stiff-necked delegates or none and added these sinister words: ‘Some of the manufacturing States think that a war would be awful; without a little blood-letting this Union will not be worth a curse.”

(The Conspiracy Which Brought on War, S.A. Cunningham, Confederate Veteran, Vol. XXIV, No. 10, October 1916, pg. 436)

The Triumph of Industrialism

Prior to 1861 the American union was a federation of member States which jealously guarded their own territory and sovereignty to decide upon their own internal affairs. This also included determining whether or not to continue membership in that federation and departing it for another as was done in 1789. Also, by 1861 the North had become a far different region that the American South through industrialization and the relentless immigration of foreigners lacking an understanding of American republicanism.

The Triumph of Industrialism

“The ordeal which beset the United States in 1861 was related to the upheaval on the continent in 1848, and to the spasm which shook England in 1832. In a veiled and confused yet crucial way it, too, was a test of strength between the industrial way of life and the agrarian.

When the Machine first reached this country it took root in the North, and there alone it was able to make even slow headway. The ruling elements in the South were inclined to despise the innovation, for they had black slaves to do their hard labor. In this they were merely repeating history.

The slave owners in ancient Greece had had a similar attitude toward machinery; so had the slave owners in ancient Rome and China and Mexico. These, it must be realized had not lacked the cunning to invent mechanical devices. A Greek mathematician named Hero who lived in the First Century actually built a working steam engine. But did it occur to him to put the contraption to practical use? It did not.  Instead, he installed it in a temple to amaze the worshippers by the way it worked the doors.

That was typical. The clock and the compass, gunpowder and the printing press – these were all invented in relatively ancient times. Yet until relatively modern times they were kept as mere playthings. Ingenious patricians with time on their hands were continually thinking up cunning devices; but never with the idea of applying them to save toil. They themselves did not toil, neither did any of their friends. They had slaves for that. So why bother? And that was precisely the attitude of the white gentry of the South and in their eyes an interest in machinery was vulgar.

In the North, however, the very opposite held true. Bondage had long since been outlawed in that section in part for climatic and other reasons it had too obviously failed to pay. Having no slave labor, the Northerners had naturally been forced to try to save labor. Since this could be done more easily in industry than agriculture, there had been an equally natural compulsion to favor the factory over the farm. The great boom of the 1850s was almost entirely confined to the North and it equipped that region with so much new machinery that it was able to manufacture six times as much merchandise as the South. As a result, the interests of the North, especially New England, became increasingly wrapped up in the fortunes of industrialism.

But as the collapse of that boom had revealed, those fortunes were increasingly insecure. When the Panic of 1857 finally waned and the Yankee industrialists began to pick themselves up from the dust, there was blood in their eyes.

They felt they had been betrayed. For years the industrialists had been complaining that their foreign rivals had them at a disadvantage and pleaded with Congress to come to their aid. They demanded these things: higher tariff walls to keep out cheap foreign merchandise; lowered immigration standards to admit cheap foreign labor; increase subsidies to shippers carrying Northern merchandise overseas; advance more generous loans to railroad companies; create one currency to replace the various State bank notes; and lastly, change the African slave into a free consumer who would spend his money buying Northern products.

But the Southerners had opposed that program to a man. Moreover, being superior politicians, they had always been able to make Congress vote their way. Now, however, the Northerners had their dander up and forged a political alliance with the radical farmers of the West and elected a cagey frontier lawyer named Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. Whereupon, there was war.

The South decided to secede from the 1789 Union. They decided they would rather have half a continent of their own than a whole one run by damn Yankees. Like agrarians everywhere else, their outlook on life had remained essentially provincial. They believed that a citizen’s first loyalty belonged not so much to his country as to his immediate countryside.

Rather than let the South gain independence, the North was ready to lay it to waste. With the Government furnishing the capital, and patriotism the incentive, they rushed to lay hold of more and more machinery. At the time it was called the “Civil War,” and later this somewhat sinister name was softened to the “War Between the States.” In effect, however, it was the “Second American Revolution.” The first had secured the triumph of republicanism on these shores; the second insured the triumph of industrialism.”

(Something Went Wrong: A Summation of Modern History, Lewis Browne, MacMillan Company, 1942, excerpts pp. 113-116)

The Choice Between War and Peace

Lincoln was without question a sharp Whig attorney who knew the intricacies of Illinois politics. On the national stage he led a conglomeration of former Whigs, anti-Catholic Know Nothings, radical abolitionists, free-soilers, Transcendentalists and tariff protectionists who valued their own interests above all. As stated in the second paragraph below he knew that his political support from this rainbow of varied interests and controlled by Radicals, would fall apart should any compromise to save the Union be embraced. He placed his party above his country.

His predecessor James Buchanan was not a supporter of secession but aware that a president waging war against a State was committing treason – Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution. His attorney-general confirmed this. A president could not raise an army – only Congress could do this – Lincoln circumvented the Constitution with Republican governors sending him their own State troops until Congress met in July. By that time congressmen were aware that they faced arbitrary arrest for “treason” should they oppose Lincoln’s actions.

The Choice Between War and Peace

 “Lincoln’s cabinet was almost equally divided between Conservatives and Radicals. The Radicals favored an immediate attempt to resupply Fort Sumter even should this precipitate war. These men thought the new Confederacy would crumble upon the first show of force, because a small junta had caused all the trouble, and the Southern people would have no heart in a conspirators’ war.

The Conservatives believed that given peace and adequate time, the Union could be reconstituted. Would it not be better to withdraw the small garrisons from forts to so as to prevent immediate hostilities and secure the Border States to the Union? Seward knew there were no military reasons for keeping Sumter and had no doubt that it would soon be evacuated. On March 7, Lincoln told a caller that if Sumter were abandoned, he would have to leave the White House the same day.

On March 12 1861 Stephen Douglas began a debate designed to force the Radical Republicans either the accept or attack Lincoln’s peace policy as stated in his inauguration speech.

He reviewed at length the legal status of federal authority in the South. As the laws stood, the Executive could not use the army and the navy to enforce the law in the Southern States. What would be involved in the use of force? He had secured estimates from competent military authorities as to the troop requirements in the event of war. At least 285,000 men would be needed to compel submission and it would cost at least $316,000,000 to keep them in the field for a year. How could eighteen States ever pay the cost of subjugating fifteen?

The Republicans sat silent as he talked, smiling contemptuously. When he finished, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, attacked him as the country’s outstanding alarmist. Douglas lost his temper and taunted the Republican Radicals with desiring the Union dissolved. The Republicans were unyielding, the few Northern Democrats were impotent but the galleries applauded wildly.”

(The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War, George Fort Milton, Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1934, pp. 548-551)

Scourging Republicans from the Temple of Freedom

Scourging Republicans from the Temple of Freedom

As the Democratic party split into North and South factions in early 1860, it paved the way for the new, sectional Republican party — comprised of former Whigs, abolitionists, transcendentalists, and anti-Catholic Know-Nothings — to triumph in November with a 39% plurality. Aware of the extreme danger Republicans posed to the Union, rational Southern men traveled northward to alert their Democratic brethren.

One voice was William L. Yancey, born at Warren County, Georgia but educated at Williams College in northwestern Massachusetts, where he likely absorbed that State’s tradition of threatening secession from the 1789 union should that State’s equality in the federation be threatened. He relocated to Elmore County, Alabama in 1837 and eventually represented his district in the United States House of Representatives.

Aware of the extreme danger to the Union should the Democratic party fragment in 1860, he joined “Southern men of all parties who came north in an effort to arouse the masses to the danger of the situation.” He was then prevailed upon to make an extended campaign from Memphis to Boston, speaking to many audiences.

In a speech at Nashville on August 14, 1860 and published in the Nashville Union and American shortly afterward:

“Yancey denied that he was a disunionist per se; but declared that in the event of a Republican victory, “I hope to God there will be some man or set of men, whom Providence will rear in our midst . . . that there will be some great Washington [to] arise who will be able to scourge them from the temple of freedom, even if he is called a traitor – an agitator, or a rebel during the glorious process.”

(Source: The Secession Movement: 1860-1861, Dwight L. Dumond, The MacMillan
Company, 1931, pg. 110)

 

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