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Those Who Would Dissolve the Union

Abolitionist agitation over the presence of African slavery in the South created the crisis of the Union, and clearly the South only wanted the provisions of the United States Constitution enforced. It should be added that not once was a practical and reasonable scheme of compensated emancipation advanced by abolition societies — only war and destruction satisfied their moral indignation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Those Who Would Dissolve the Union

“Mr. Randolph thought and expressed the opinion to Mr. [James] Buchanan, that the Anti-Slavery agitation in the North was the only thing that had prevented the passage of a law in the Southern States for gradual emancipation [of slaves].

When the agitation was fairly inaugurated the legitimate uses of the Post-office Department were perverted from their end by packing the mails full of incendiary documents urging our slaves to servile insurrections. General [Andrew] Jackson, on December 2, 1835, recommended that a penalty should be attached to the dissemination of these documents. A bill to restrict the circulation of incendiary matter was introduced and defeated June 8th, by 19 to 25 votes. Not a single New England senator voted for General Jackson’s measure.

From the [Northern] State legislatures, the press, the county meetings, the pulpit, the different societies, no matter what their object, the lecturers, and above all the abolitionists, came this downpour of petitions . . . and those who stood behind this mass of misinterpretation and invective presented it with insulting epithets and groundless accusations.

The petitions prayed for the dissolution of the Union, reviled it as a compact with hell, and left nothing unsaid which could insult a patriotic, law-abiding, humane gentleman from the South.

Daily the Southern men were called on to suspend the legislation of Congress needful to carry on the business of the country, in order to hear themselves insulted by petitions reviling them and their institutions.  The legislatures of several [Northern] States prohibited the rendition of fugitive slaves, and the master who demanded his [reciprocal] rights in these States risked his life doing so.

In this state of excitement the Thirty-First Congress met, to deliberate on the needs of the country; but instead, one party fulminated curses and abuse, and the other, under a sense of insult, repelled it with indignation; indeed, the Southern leaders came at last to the conclusion that no people on earth were so alien to them at heart as those who wielded unlawful weapons against them, under the same flag and the same Constitution.

The country was full of English emissaries sent out be the committees of Exeter Hall, who, knowing nothing of either the free men of the South or their slaves, were hired to break up the public peace and amity by those who forgot that their miners and their ten-year old white slaves, harnessed to the coal carts in the depths of the earth, had not excited their attention or appealed so earnestly to their sympathies as did the comfortable Negroes of the South, whose children at that age were as free as air.”

(Jefferson Davis, A Memoir By His Wife Varina Davis, Volume I, N&A Publishing, 1990, pp. 419-422)

 

 

Confirmed Prejudices and Opinions Up North

The emancipation issue promoted by Lincoln’s Republican Party caused a predictable rupture within its ranks, and revealed the true extent of party concern for the African race. The Massachusetts governor mentioned below wanted no black men in his “strange land and climate,” but accepted them as military substitutes for the white men of his State. The great fear persisted in the North that freed black men would migrate there in search if work and compete with white men.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Confirmed Prejudices and Opinions Up North

“The threat of a black “invasion” (or “Africanization”) of the North was a dominant theme in anti-emancipationist rhetoric. Politicians and editors predicted that three hundred thousand freedmen would “invade” Ohio alone, competing with white labor, filling up the poor houses and jails, and generally degrading society. In a June 1862 referendum, by a majority of more than two to one, Illinois voters endorsed a clause in a proposed State constitution that would exclude blacks from moving into the State.

This issue cut across party lines. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, a former Democrat, now a Unionist, explained “there is a very great aversion in the West – I know it is so in my State – against having free Negroes come among us. Our people want nothing to do with the Negroes.”

One Unionist editor told [Secretary of the Treasury] Salmon P. Chase that the best strategy was to declare that blacks “don’t want to come north and we don’t want them unless their coming will promote the conclusion of the war . . .” Chase himself, while a fervent advocate of emancipation, shared the common assumption that blacks were inherently unsuited to the colder northern climate.

“Let, therefore, the South be open to Negro emigration by emancipation along the Gulf,” he suggested, “and it is easy to see that the blacks of the North will slide southward, and leave no question to quarrel about as far as they are concerned.”

Chase was not the only radical in the Republican party who worried about the political consequences of the “Africanization” issue in the run-up to the fall 1862 elections. Even Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts, whose antislavery credentials had been amply demonstrated three years earlier when he had given tacit support of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, became embroiled in the issue.

In September 1862, Major General John A. Dix wrote to the governors of three New England States asking them to accept into their States a group of two thousand ex-slaves who had sought refuge with the Union army. Governor Andrew responded with a strongly argued letter, soon leaked to the public, in which he explained that Massachusetts was, for blacks, “a strange land and climate” in which the newcomers would “be incapable of self-help – a course certain to demoralize them and endanger others.’ Such an event would be a handle to all traitors and to all persons evilly disposed.”

With timing that was appalling for the [Lincoln] administration, the black migration issue became a crisis in Illinois at about the same time the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The army had been sending refugee slaves to the military headquarters at Cairo – the southernmost town in Illinois. Secretary of War Stanton issued an order allowing these freedmen to be dispersed throughout the State.

This appeared to violate the State’s “Negro Exclusion” law and which was certainly anathema to mainstream public opinion. One Republican wrote to Governor Richard Yates that “the scattering of those black throngs should not be allowed if it can be avoided. The view . . . here is that if the country should become full of them they may never be removed and with the confirmed prejudices and opinions of our people against the mingling of blacks among us we shall always have trouble.”

(No Party Now, Politics in the Civil War North, Adam I.P. Smith, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 54-56)

Sep 2, 2016 - Abolitionists & Disunionists, From Africa to America, New England's Slave Trade, Race and the South, Slavery Comes to America    Comments Off on New Englander’s Must Look to Their Consciences

New Englander’s Must Look to Their Consciences

 

Thomas Roderick Dew ‘s father was a slaveholder in antebellum Virginia, who provided for his education at the College of William and Mary. After graduation in 1820, he travelled Europe and returned to teach political economy at his alma mater. He later responded eagerly to the Virginia legislature’s request for a disquisition on the abolition of slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New Englander’s Must Look to Their Consciences

“In 1831 it still was the custom of the Virginia legislature to look to the college of William and Mary for guidance. In that year the Assembly made a request of Professor Thomas Roderick Dew that he produce for them a summary of the long controversy on the abolition of slavery.

The professor began by casting his eyes back through history. Where were the great civilizations? He saw them in Greece, in Rome, along the Nile. Captives, instead of being put to death, were put to work. The arts, architecture, freedom, private property, leisure – in fact the true civilizations – flourished only where there was slavery.

This was Dew’s preamble. He proceeded then to prove that slavery benefitted the Negro. Unfitted for freedom by nature, slavery gave him protection, care, and security. His lot was much more desirable, the professor found, than that of the miserable free worker who was exploited and meagerly paid in the North where materialistic clamor and vulgar commercialism made civilization impossible.

Nor did the Scriptures condemn slavery or in any manner suggest the slave owner had committed any offense against God or man. New England traders had bought them – English regulations and, later, the laws of the new Republic, required their retention. Let those responsible for this look to their consciences. The slave owner need not feel any twinges. God approved. It was foreordained to be.

As for freeing them, or sending them to Liberia, that would be worse than slavery. As free men they would be exploited as wretched wage slaves. They would lack all protection, care and security. In Liberia quick death awaited them.

So well pleased were [members of the legislature] that, at their suggestion, he had his paper published in Richmond, title, Review of the Debate [on the abolition of slavery] in the Virginia Legislature of 1831-1832. So popular was it that a second edition was required. Soon other legislatures were repeating it. Pulpits rang with it. Newspapers printed large excerpts with extravagant endorsement.”

(The South and the Southerner, Ralph McGill, University of Georgia Press, 1992, pp. 113-115)

 

Abolitionists Growing More Warlike

The crisis of the Union in the 1850s was caused by an increasing willingness of radicalized Northerners to use force, especially fomenting slave insurrection in the South, to end the African slavery inherited from the British. Rather than seek a practical and peaceful means of ending the institution — from which their own section had profited greatly through the slave trade and cotton milling — abolitionists preached fire, sword and anarchy. On the latter, anarchist Ralph Waldo Emerson admitted “I own I have little esteem for governments.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Abolitionists Growing More Warlike

“Emerson welcomed the fact of anarchy as a confirmation of his belief that men could live without institutions. “I am glad,” he said, “to see that the terror at disunion and anarchy is disappearing.” John Brown’s raid raised even more extravagant hopes for the triumph of transcendental anarchism. “ . . . John Brown was an idealist. He believed in his ideas to that extent that he existed to put them all into action . . .” said Emerson at a John Brown meeting . . . The example of Brown was just what the country needed [and Henry David] Thoreau’s sentiments were almost identical.

Emersonian transcendentalism [had] . . . changed from a contemplative philosophy into an activist creed. The “American Scholar” was no longer a withdrawn and harmless figure, reading the eternal truths of “Nature.” He was John Brown, an idealist whose inner voice commanded him to shed blood. Emerson had always hoped that he would one day see “the transformation of genius into practical power.”

During the Kansas conflict, [William Lloyd] Garrison remained true to his [pacifist] principles by having no truck with those who were enlisting in the free-State forces or sending arms to help them. Yet a curious note crept into his 1856 criticisms of the Kansas effort. If someone had to be armed, he protested, it should be the slaves in the South rather than the northern whites in the territories. If the resort to force had to be made, he seemed to be saying, it should be on such a scale as to bring down the whole slaveholding structure.

Wendell Phillips compromised himself more directly by donating money to a Kansas rifle fund in 1855 [and the] nonviolent [abolitionist] ranks were thinning. By 1858, Garrison was bemoaning the fact that abolitionists were “growing more and more warlike, and more disposed to repudiate the principles of peace, more and more disposed to talk about “finding a joint in the neck of the tyrant, and breaking that neck, “cleaving tyrants down from the crown to the groin,” with a sword which is carnal, and so inflaming one another with the spirit of violence and for a bloody work.” He feared that this thirst for violence would destroy “the moral power” of the abolitionists.

At a meeting for the observance of Brown’s martyrdom, Garrison endorsed Brown in a way that seemed amazingly inconsistent: “As a peace man – an “ultra” peace man – I am prepared to say” “Success to every slave insurrection at the South.” God, it seems, had decided that slavery must come to a violent end. A slave rebellion was not something Garrison was advocating, it was simply “God’s method of dealing retribution upon the head of the tyrant.” The implication was that although John Brown had violated holy commandments, he was nevertheless an instrument of divine judgment – like fire or pestilence. No responsibility rested with the abolitionists; it was the slaveholders themselves who had invited the wrath of God by refusing to heed the moral appeals of thirty years of antislavery agitation.”

(The Inner Civil War, Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union, George M. Frederickson, Harper & Row, 1965, pp. 39-42)

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)