A Great Evil to the Cause of Human Liberty Itself
“We must remember that by 1860 a “Cold War” had been in progress between the North and the South for some thirty years. There were political and ideological extremists on both sides. If Southern leaders were determined that the US Constitution would be followed to the letter or they would withdraw, Northern extremists were just as determined to dominate the South and force it to remain in the 1789 federation.
Politically the South felt she was being “frozen out” of a voice in the federal government. The Democratic party was split between opposing views of its Northern and Southern wings, and there appeared no way of resolving their differences. The Whig party was dying as an audible voice in government with no hope of recovery. The new Republican party was controlled by radical leaders who were bent upon winning an election with the surest way being the destruction of the South’s labor system of African bondage. This institution was already in its twilight years for in 1860 only 10 percent of Southerners owned slaves. Only one man in the South owned over 1000 slaves with 187,356 owning less than five Negro servants.
However, the great majority of Southerners felt that the Constitution gave no authority to Congress to interfere with a State’s internal labor system – North or South. But if slavery were to be legalized out of existence, there should be some way for the country as a whole to assume the responsibility for dissolving the institution without putting the burden or the stigma upon one section where slave-labor happened to form a basis of its economic system. The slave-labor system was essentially mass-production agriculture and New England mills hummed with the product of this labor system.
That said, the slave-labor system in the South did not arise because the Englishmen who settled Virginia were particularly committed to the enslavement of their fellow human beings. It arose for the same reason and at the same time that the transatlantic slave trade arose in New England – because it was profitable. Slavery came to the South for the same reason that cattle-raising came to Texas, cattle-slaughter to Chicago, the exploitation of Okies to California, and the exploitation of immigrants to Northern factory owners. It came because, in a new and vast land where everyone had come for opportunity. The soil and the climate of the American South were peculiarly adapted to the use of chattel labor imported from the hot climate of Africa.
From 1831 to 1861 Southerners were aroused to defense by the vindictiveness of the fanatics who were as callously indifferent to the means as they were irresponsible for the ends.
To Northern abolitionists, the emancipation of slaves achieved the goal of “freedom”; to all Southerners, four million black people in a society of five and a half million whites created an appalling problem. It was a problem that Lincoln, contrary to the myth of a logical progression toward human liberty, understood very well. He wrote on slavery: “I think no wise man has yet perceived how it could be at once eradicated without producing a great evil even to the cause of human liberty itself.”
(Martin County During the Civil War. James H. McCallum, M.D., Enterprise Publishing Co., 1971, pp. 4-6)