Browsing "Abolitionists & Disunionists"

Theories of Conflict and Higher Law

Many in the antebellum South viewed the theories advanced by abolitionists and the new Republican Party as threatening the Union they wished to remain in and forcing their withdrawal. As South Carolina was threatened with coercion in 1832 over nullification, those in the South wondered why the Northern States which nullified federal laws were not threatened with coercion – which well might have impelled those Northern States to secede.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Theories of Conflict and Higher Law

“But whatever the real issue between the sections in the territorial dispute, there was no doubt, in the South at least, of the sectional objectives in defending or in opposing two new theories developed in the North during the decade of the fifties.

These were the theories of the “irrepressible conflict” and of the “higher law.”

Both were considered by the South to be incompatible [with the United States Constitution] . . . both were soundly denounced as a direct infringement of the principle of constitutional guarantees.

The theory of the “irrepressible conflict” was the joint product of Abraham Lincoln’s address before the Republican State Convention in Illinois, delivered on June 16, 1858, and of William Seward’s “Irrepressible Conflict” speech delivered at Rochester, New York, October 25, 1858.

This theory was denounced by every legitimate agency in the South from county assemblies to State conventions. On December 2, 1859, the General Assembly of Tennessee resolved “that we recognize in the recent outbreak at Harper’s Ferry the natural prints of this treasonable, “irrepressible conflict” doctrine put forward by the great head of the Black Republican party and echoed by his subordinates.”

The second of these theories — the theory of the higher law – [was championed by] William Seward of New York.

This theory doubtless sprang from the ranks of the abolitionists in the latter thirties, for as early as June 15, 1841, Representative Kenneth Raynor of North Carolina attacked the position of John Quincy Adams on the slavery question because he “has thrown aside law and Constitution, and has dared to put the issue of this question upon the high and impregnable ground of the Divine law”, a position which Raynor declared “sweeps away everything like human compact and rests the mutual rights of men on what the imagination of fanaticism may picture to itself as a Divine requirement.”

In February 1851, Robert Toombs discovered that a “great question is rising up before us [to] become a “fixed fact” in American politics. It is . . . sometimes called the higher law, in antagonism to our constitutional compact. If the first (i.e, higher law) succeeds, we have no other safety except in secession; if the latter (i.e, the constitutional compact succeeds) “liberty and Union, may be forever one and inseparable.”

Before the end of the following year, the “fixed fact” had found definite expression from the pen of William Hosmer in a volume of some two hundred pages entitled, The Higher Law. Within those pages, the author makes the following contention: “Men have no right to make a constitution which sanctions slavery, and it is the imperative duty of all good men to break it, when made . . . the fact that a law is constitutional amounts to nothing, unless it is also pure . . .”

On February 18, 1861, Fulton Anderson, commissioner from Mississippi to Virginia, warned the Virginia Convention that an “infidel fanaticism, crying out for a higher law than that of the Constitution . . . has been enlisted in this strife”; and in the Alabama Convention of that year L.M. Stone maintained that the “triumph of a Higher Law party, pledged to the destruction of our Constitutional Rights, forced us to dissolve our political connection with [the] hostile States.”

(The South As A Conscious Minority, Jesse T. Carpenter, New York University, 1930, pp 157-160)

Harriet the Deliverer

Harriet Tubman was utilized by Northern forces on the South Carolina coast to help in carry away black laborers who were supporting the Southern war effort. With the plantations overrun and crops destroyed, the African workers had lost their homes and livelihood and left with the liberators who promised farms for all.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Harriet the Deliverer

“They came down every road, across every field, just as they had left their work and their cabins; women with children clinging around their necks . . . all making at full speed for “Lincoln’s gun-boats.”  Eight hundred poor wretches at one time crowded the banks, with their hands extended toward their deliverers, and they were taken off upon the gun-boats, and carried down to Beaufort [South Carolina].

“I nebber see such a sight,” said Harriet [Tubman]; “we laughed an’ laughed . . . One woman brought two pigs, a white an’ a black one; we took ’em all on board; named the white pig Beauregard, and de black pig Jeff Davis.

And so they came pouring down to the gun-boats. At length Colonel Montgomery shouted from the upper deck, above the clamor of appealing tones, “Moses, you’ll have to give ’em a song.” Then Harriet lifted up her voice and sang:

“Of all the whole creation in the East or in the West,

The glorious Yankee nation is the greatest and the best,

Come along! Come along! Don’t be alarmed,

Uncle Sam is rich enough to give you all a farm.”

(Harriet, the Moses of Her People, Sarah Bradford, Citadel Press, 1961, pp. 101-102)

Moral Tormentors

Moral Tormentors

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of it victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.”  C.S. Lewis

 

 

Unfounded Fears of Slavery Expansion

Lincoln receives insufficient credit for his part in defeating the compromise measures of 1860-61 which would have averted war, whose effects are still felt today. The author below asserts that slavery had reached its natural limits and was “a cumbersome and expensive system [that] could show profits only as long as it could find plenty of rich land to cultivate” and a market that would take the product. He adds that “the free farmers in the North who dreaded its further spread had nothing to fear. Even those who wished [slavery] destroyed had only to wait a little while – perhaps a generation, probably less. It was summarily destroyed at a frightful cost to the whole country and one-third of the nation was impoverished for forty years.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Unfounded Fears of Slavery Expansion

“In the forefront of that group of issues which, for more than a decade before the secession of the cotton States, kept the Northern and Southern sections of the United States in irritating controversy and a growing sense of enmity, was the question of whether the federal government should permit and protect the expansion of slavery into the western territories . . . It was upon this particular issue that a new and powerful sectional party appeared in 1854, that the majority of the Secessionists of the cotton States predicated their action in 1860-1861, and it was upon this also that President-elect Lincoln forced the defeat of the compromise measures in the winter of 1860-61.

It seems safe to say that had this question been eliminated or settled amicably, there would have been no secession and no Civil War . . .

Disregarding the stock arguments – constitutional, economic, social and what-not – advanced by either group, let us examine afresh the real problem involved. Would slavery, if legally permitted to do so, have taken possession of the territories or of any considerable portion of them?

The causes of the expansion of slavery westward from the South Atlantic coast are now well-understood. The industrial revolution [in the North and in England] and the opening of world markets had continually increased the consumption and demand for raw cotton, while the abundance of fertile and cheap cotton lands in the Gulf States had steadily lured cotton farmers and planters westward. Where large-scale production was [possible, the enormous demand for a steady supply of labor had made the use of slaves inevitable, for a sufficient supply of free labor was unprocurable on the frontier . . . and slave labor was usually not profitable in growing grain.

This expansion of the institution was in response to economic stimuli . . . [and the] movement would go on as long as far as suitable cotton lands were to be found or as long as there was a reasonable expectation of profit from slave labor, provided, of course, that no political barrier was encountered.

But by 1849-50 . . . and by the time the new Republican party was formed to check the further expansion of slavery, the westward march of the cotton plantation was evidently slowing down. The only possibility of a further westward extension of the cotton belt was in Texas. In that alone was the frontier line of cotton and slavery still advancing . . .

In New Mexico and Arizona, Mexican labor is cheaper than Negro labor, as has always been the case since the acquisition of the region from Mexico. It was well-understood by sensible men, North and South, in 1850 that soil, climate, and native labor would form a perpetual bar to slavery in the vast territory then called New Mexico. [By 1860], ten years after the territory had been thrown open to slavery, showed not a single slave; and this was also true of Colorado and Nevada. Utah, alone of all these territories, was credited with any slaves at all . . . [and] the census of 1860 showed two slaves in Kansas and fifteen in Nebraska.

The Northern anti-slavery men held that a legal sanction of slavery in the territories would result in the extension of the institution and domination of the free North by the slave power; prospective immigrants in particular feared that they would never be able to get homes in this new West. Their fears were groundless; but in their excited state of mind they could see neither the facts clearly nor consider them calmly.

In the cold facts of the situation, there was no longer any basis for excited sectional controversy over slavery extension . . . [but] the public mind had so long been concerned with the debate that it could not see that the issue had ceased to have validity. In the existing state of the popular mind, therefore, there was still abundant opportunity for the politician to work to his own ends, to play upon prejudice and passion and fear.”

(The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 86-91)

That the Union Not be Abandoned to its Enemies

Many Southerners like Georgia’s Benjamin H. Hill wanted to hold out against secession after Lincoln’s election, and labeled the purely sectional Republican Party as disunionist and an enemy of the Constitution. He reasoned that if Andrew Jackson could coerce South Carolina for nullification thirty years prior, why not coerce the guilty Northern States who nullified the federal fugitive slave law?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

That The Union Not Be Abandoned To Its Enemies

“On the fifteenth of November [1860], following [Howell] Cobb, [Robert] Toombs and [Alexander] Stephens, Hill appeared before the Assembly and made an eloquent argument against immediate secession or any precipitate action. The speech is primarily a closely reasoned appeal for moderation and a plea that passion and prejudices be discarded in the face of the imminent crisis.

“What are our grievances?” asks Hill; and then he proceeds to enumerate them, outlining the discriminatory policies and propaganda of the Republican party and laying special emphasis on the nugatory action of various free-State legislatures, affecting the fugitive slave laws. Hill represents the Republican Party as the real disunionist party, and quotes from various abolitionists who damn the Union and Constitution because they permit slavery. The grievances, then, are plain, and agreed of all Southern men.

Moreover, Hill believes the redress of grievances is not so hopeless a prospect in the immediate future. But suppose, for the sake of argument, redress of grievances within the Union is impossible, surely it is worth the effort; and all are agreed . . . that if such redress fails, then secession must come. But what are the remedies then, which are proposed within the Union.

First, the demand must be made by all the Southern States that the laws protecting slavery and requiring the rendering up of fugitive slaves must be enforced. The demand can be made as an ultimatum if need be. If necessary, let the federal government enact a force bill against any recalcitrant Northern State refusing obedience, as was done against South Carolina in 1833. Let the wrangling about slavery cease, and the entire machinery of government, if necessary, be put behind the enforcement of existing laws.

And Lincoln must come to this view. His only strength is in the law; he is bound by oath to carry out the law. A Southern president had once coerced a Southern State; now let a Northern president coerce a Northern State, if it comes to that. Hill insists that such a resolute attitude has never been taken by the Southern States, and he pleads that the Union not be abandoned to its enemies without making this effort to save it . . . He asks: “Is this Union good? If so, why should we surrender its blessings because Massachusetts violates the laws of that Union? Drive Massachusetts to the duties of the Constitution or from its benefits . . . Let us defend the Union against its enemies — not abandon it to them.

On December 6, Cobb, in an address to the people of Georgia announcing his resignation from [President James] Buchanan’s cabinet, averred that : “the Union formed by our fathers, which was one of equality, justice and fraternity would be supplanted on the 4th of March by a Union of sectionalism and hatred — the one worthy of the support and devotion of free men, the other only possible at the cost of Southern honor, safety and independence.”

This was followed up on December 23 by Toombs telegram to the Savannah Morning News, after the failure of the Crittenden Compromise: “I will tell you upon the faith of a true man that all further looking to the North for your constitutional rights in the Union ought to be abandoned. It is fraught with nothing but ruin to yourself and posterity.”

(Secession and Reconstruction, Haywood J. Pearce, Jr., University of Chicago Press, 1928, pp. 43-45)

 

A Union of Willing States, Not Conquered Provinces

Far from being united against Southern independence, the North endured military rule as Lincoln saw fit to silence criticism of his war policy against Americans by arresting newspaper editors and dissenters, including the grandson of Francis Scott Key. Even the Supreme Court feared arrest from a president who clothed himself in powers not granted by the Constitution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Union of Willing States, Not Conquered Provinces

“Many [antebellum Northerners] . . . saw the Union in more conditional terms, as an agreed-upon relationship, not one resting upon coercion or compulsion. Millions of Northern Democrats, for example, denied the validity or value of a Union held together by force. Many felt so strongly about the invalidity of a coercive Union that they resisted and defied the Lincoln government during the Civil War in order to proclaim their views.

Even nationalists of an antislavery point of view could have doubts about a Union maintained by force. In 1801 when John Quincy Adams feared that Aaron Burr might break up the recently-created union he was not sure that it ought to held together by force. “If they break us up – in God’s name, let the Union go,” he wrote. “I love the Union as I love my wife. But if my wife should ask and insist upon a separation, she should have it though it broke my heart.”

Sixty years later another son of Massachusetts and an abolitionist, Wendell Phillips, used the wifely metaphor again – this time in confronting an actual breakup of the Union. Phillips spoke after secession had taken place. “A Union is made up of willing States, not of conquered provinces,” he said. “There are some rights, quite perfect, yet wholly incapable of being enforced. A husband or wife who can only keep the other partner within the bond by locking the doors and standing armed before the door had better submit to peaceable separation.”

(The Other South, Southern Dissenters in the Nineteenth Century, Carl N. Degler, Harper & Row, 1974, page 121)

Union Davis, Radical Lincoln

Jefferson Davis was the conservative who tried vainly to save the Union in the face of Republican attempts to pit North against South, and force the South to seek a more perfect union without the North. The greatest ironies of that era was Rhode Island being the slave trading center of North America by 1750; Yankee inventor Eli Whitney making cotton planting more productive and thus perpetuating slavery; and the cotton mills of Massachusetts with their ravenous appetite for slave-produced cotton – they could have ended slavery easily.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Unionist Davis, Radical Lincoln

“Davis appeared as a politician in 1843, and, indeed, as leader of the Democratic [Conservative] party of Mississippi. We pass over the different phases of the internal political life of the Union, in which the chasm which separated North and South was growing wider.

We can refer to only one incident and two speeches, the first of which Davis made on the occasion of his defense of the new railroad line, Mississippi-still Ocean, and in which he with glowing patriotism praised the strength of the bond which held together States of the Union; and the other of which was made by a man who, as a genuine radical, had opposed the war against Mexico as unnecessary and unconstitutional.

This other speaker said in a certain way eloquently giving momentum for the secession of the Southern States: Every people who have the will and power for it possess also the right to rise, shake off their government and establish a new one which suits them better. This is an invaluable, sacred right which will at some time free the world.

And who . . . was this man who in a certain manner pressed into the hands of the Southern States the right of throwing off a hated government? It was Abraham Lincoln, who made this speech on the 12th of February, 1858 in the House of Representatives. The one who praised and invoked the concord of the Union was, by his contemporaries, stigmatized as a traitor. The other is esteemed and venerated to-day by many, as the defender and preserver of the Union!

Only as a curious fact for the superficial critics of the whole conflict, it may here be stated that at the beginning of the settlement of the country, the Southern States had a greater aversion to slavery than the Northern States.

From 1720 to 1760, South Carolina unceasingly protested against the introduction of slave labor. Georgia forbade it by law. Virginia decidedly opposed it and levied a tax of ten dollars on each Negro. They were originally forced to adopt this [labor] system through the avarice of English merchants, and the despotism of the English ministers which had later, certainly for the South, its demoralizing features.

It was the South also which at first prohibited the slave trade, and Virginia at the head. When Jefferson Davis was born, the slave trade was in the hands of only Northern merchants who had made terms with the slave planters of South Carolina.

Other curious facts may here be introduced. A statue of Lincoln was executed, which represented him as loosing the chains of the slave. What would the beholder say if the following words he wrote after the secession of South Carolina were chiseled on the pedestal:

“Does the South really fear that a Republican administration could directly or even  indirectly interfere in its slave affairs? The South would in this matter be just as safe as in the time of Washington.”  Or, that he wrote on the 4th of May, 1861: “I have not the intention of attacking the institution of slavery; I have no legal right, and certainly no inclination to do it, etc, etc.”

(Jefferson Davis, Southern Historical Papers, R.A. Brock, Editor, Volume XIX, 1891, pp. 409-410)

 

 

Occupied Richmond, July 4th 1865

Richmond citizens quietly observed Independence Day, 1865 with enemy troops occupying their city — celebrating their triumph in vanquishing the American defenders of that city.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Occupied Richmond, July 4th 1865

“The 4th of July may be said to have been celebrated in Richmond this year. Cannon were fired at morning, noon and night. A few Chinese crackers were fired off by vagabond boys, white and black, at the corners of the streets in the early morning and in the evening, their pyrotechnic resources, I take it, being too scanty not to make it advisable to husband them to closely.

In the morning, a flag was hoisted on the Spottswood Hotel, and a short speech made from the roof of the building by [occupation forces commander] General Osgood. Somewhat later in the day a small crowd, made up mainly of Negroes and Union soldiers, with a sprinkling of citizens and children, congregated in the Capital Square. A lady was introduced to the assembly and read the Declaration of Independence, but in so low a tone and amid such noise of talking and walking about as made it quite impossible for anyone to hear her. The conclusion of her reading was marked by music from a military band which was in attendance.

Speeches were then made by a surgeon and two chaplains, and after a benediction the company dispersed. No applause was elicited by any of the speakers. The soldiers evidently were in the character of onlookers; the Negroes were doubtful if they were expected to applaud or would be allowed to do so (they were carefully removed by the soldiers detailed as police from the crowded steps near the speakers’ stand); and as for the citizens — to ask any men, Unionist or secessionist, to hear such speeches and applaud them would be asking too much.

All places of business were closed throughout the day, but the city wore no holiday aspect. That part of the rebel population which appeared in the streets were seemingly indifferent spectators of what went on around them. The boys and the Negroes, and the Union soldiers in a graver way, alone seemed to enjoy the occasion.”

(The South As It Is, 1865-1866, John Richard Dennett, Viking Press, 1967, pp. 9-10)

An 1830 View of Slavery in the South

The former slave-trading and slave-holding North forgot it was theirs and British ships which brought the African to America, a Massachusetts inventor who perpetuated slavery with his gin, and Massachusetts mills which sought large supplies of slave-produced cotton. Had New Englanders wished to end slavery, they had only to end their demand for slave-produced cotton. The extract below is from Mr. Hayne’s 1830 debate with Daniel Webster on the nature of the federal union, and Hayne clearly delineates the origin of African slavery in the Southern States, who profited from the nefarious trade, and who did their Christian best with what they had inherited.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

An 1830 View of Slavery in the South

“Sir, when arraigned before the bar of public opinion on this charge of slavery, we can stand up with conscious rectitude, plead not guilty, and put ourselves upon God and our country. We deal in no abstractions. We will not look back to inquire whether our fathers were guiltless in introducing slaves to this country. If an inquiry should ever be instituted in these matters, however, it will be found that the profits of the slave trade were not confined to the South.

Southern ships and Southern sailors were not the instruments of bringing slaves to the shores of America, nor did our merchants reap the profits of that “accursed traffic.” But, sir, we will pass over all this.

If slavery, as it now exists in this country be an evil, we of the present found it ready made to our hands. Finding our lot cast among a people, whom God had manifestly committed to our care, we did not sit down to speculate on abstract questions of theoretical liberty. We met it as a practical question of obligation and duty.

We resolved to make the best of the situation in which Providence had placed us, and to fulfill the high trust which had developed upon us as the owners of slaves, in the only way in which such a trust could be fulfilled without spreading misery and ruin throughout the land.

We could not send them back to the shores from whence their fathers had been taken; their numbers forbade the thought, even as we did not know that their condition here is infinitely preferable to what it possibly could be among the barren sands and savage tribes of Africa . . .

[With the false philanthropy of Northern abolitionists and the] shedding of tears over sufferings which had existence only in their own sickly imaginations, these “friends of humanity” set themselves systematically to work to seduce the slaves of the South from their masters. By means of missionaries and political tracts, the scheme was in great measure successful. Thousands of these deluded victims of fanaticism were seduced into the enjoyment of freedom in our Northern cities. And what has been the consequence?

Go to these cities now, and ask the question. Visit the dark and narrow lanes, and obscure recesses, which have been assigned by common consent as the abodes of those outcasts of the world — free people of color. Sir, there does not exist, on the face of the whole earth, a population so poor, so wretched, so vile, so loathsome, so utterly destitute of all the comforts, conveniences and comforts of life as the unfortunate blacks of Philadelphia, and New York and Boston.

Sir, I have had some opportunities of making comparisons between the condition of the free Negroes of the North and the slaves of the South . . . Sir, I have seen in the neighborhood of one of the most moral, religious and refined cities of the North, a family of free blacks, driven to the caves of the rock, and there obtaining a precarious subsistence from charity and plunder.”

(The Webster-Hayne Debate on the Nature of the Union, Herman Belz, Editor, Liberty Fund, 2000, pp. 44-46. Speech of Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, January 25, 1830)

 

Virginians Choose Self-Determination

Virginians in 1861 deliberated on continuing their voluntary relationship with the federal government created by the States, remembering Jefferson’s words his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:

” . . . reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Virginian’s Choose Self-Determination

“James W. Sheffey, speaking five days before President Lincoln’s inauguration said:

“We love the Union, but we cannot se it maintained by force. They say the Union must be preserved — she can only be preserved through fraternal affection. We must take our place — we cannot remain neutral. If it comes to this and they put the question of trying force on the States which have seceded, we must go out . . . We are waiting to see what will be defined coercion. We wait to see what action the new President will take.”

Thomas Branch, speaking the day after President Lincoln’s inaugural address said:

“My heart had been saddened and every patriotic heart should be saddened, and every Christian voice raised to Heaven in this time of our trial. After the reception of Mr. Lincoln’s inaugural, I saw gentlemen rejoicing in the hotels. Rejoicing for what sir? For plunging ourselves and our families, our wives and children in civil war? I pray that I may never rejoice at such a state of things. But I came here to defend the rights of Virginia and I mean to do it at all hazards; and if we must go to meet our enemies, I wish to go with the same deliberation, and with the same solemnity that I would bend the knee in prayer before God Almighty.”

George W. Brent, speaking on the 8th of March said:

“Abolitionism in the North, trained in the school of Garrison and Phillips, and affecting to regard the Constitution as “a league with Hell and a covenant with death,” has with a steady and untiring hate sought a disruption of this Union . . . Recognizing as I have always done, the right of a State to secede, to judge of the violation of its rights and to appeal to its own mode for redress, I could not uphold the Federal Government in any attempt to coerce the seceded States to bring them back in the Union.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverley Munford, L.H. Jenkins Printer, 1909, pp. 265-267)

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