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The Americans of 1860

An honest appraisal of events leading up to the national convulsion of 1860-1865 begins with understanding the American mind of that era. The literature is clear that Northerners rid themselves of slaves in their midst by selling them southward and did not want the black man among them – but restricted to the South. Northern workingmen too feared black freedmen coming northward seeking employment at wages less than that which white men would accept. But war came and the black man solved Lincoln’s dwindling enlistment problem as refugee freedmen were put in the ranks; white veterans were showered with generous bounties after 1863 to reenlist and eventually muster out – if they lived – rather wealthy men.

The Americans of 1860

“There is no evidence to show that the American people of 1860, not only those living in slaveholding States, but also the vast majority of Americans living in the former slaveholding States of the north and others, thought the Negro capable of skipping over the tendencies which the white man had derived from thousands of years of his well-developed civilization, and passing with or without a few years training, from the mental condition and inheritance of barbarians and slaves into full equality with the free citizens of a self-governing republic, whose laws, traditions, habits and customs were totally alien, far more alien than those of the Japanese and Chinese.

The Americans of that day did not feel that a mere statute law permitting the Negro to equal the white man in autonomous government could enable him to do so. The slave system was considered fundamentally not as a matter of morals, of right and wrong, but merely as an economic arrangement which was essentially the outgrowth of an inequality and difference in inheritance between the average white and black man.

It is safe to say that all of the Southerners and most of the Northerners knew that the Negroes were not a race resembling angels in ability, to pass from one extreme to the other without passing through the middle.

Therefore, it cannot be said that there was a basic antagonism between the Northern and Southern people in regard to the slavery question in the Southern States. If there was any real vital difference between the North and South, it was on what constituted a sectional control of the federal government. And Northerners in 1860 failed to realize that the Republican party of 1860 answered perfectly to Washington’s definition of a geographical party against the formation of which he solemnly warned his fellow-countrymen in his Farewell Address.”

(The Peaceable Americans of 1860-1861: A Study in Public Opinion. Mary Scrugham, Columbia University, 1921, pp. 57-60)

Unable to Settle the Great Differences

“The South in 1860 knew only that the party which was hotly intolerant of the whole body of Southern institutions and interests had triumphed in the elections and was about to take possession of the government, and that it was morally impossible to preserve the Union any longer.

“If you who represent the stronger portion,” Senator John C. Calhoun stated in 1850, in words which perfectly convey this feeling in their quiet cadences, cannot agree to settle the great questions at issue on the broad principle of justice and duty, say so; and let the States we both represent agree to separate and depart in peace.”  (Division and Reunion, 1829-1909. Woodrow Wilson. Longmans, Green and Co., 1912; pp. 209-210)

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.)

 

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.

 

 

May 26, 2022 - Antebellum Realities, Historical Accuracy, Slavery Comes to America    Comments Off on Courage is the Rarest of Virtues

Courage is the Rarest of Virtues

Courage is the Rarest of Virtues

“According to Princeton law professor Robert George, nearly all his students declare that they would have been abolitionists had they lived in the South in the late 1850s. But he shows that only the tiniest fraction of them, or any of us, would have spoken out against slavery, or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them – and us – would have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and happily benefited from it. Here’s how Professor George makes his point.

He tells the students he will credit their abolitionist claims if they can show that in leading their present lives they have stood up for the rights of unpopular victims of injustice and where they have done so willingly.

  1. They would be loathed and ridiculed by powerful individuals and institutions in our society and;
  2. They would be abandoned by many of their friends and;
  3. They would be shouted down with vile names and;
  4. They would be denied valuable professional opportunities as a result of the moral witnessing and;
  5. They might even lose their jobs after such witnessing.

In short, he challenged the college students to show where they have – at risk to themselves and their futures – stood up for a cause that is unpopular within the elite sectors of today’s society. It is a revealing challenge to students but would be even more illuminating if applied to academic historians. It evokes an ancient wisdom, “Courage is the rarest of virtues.”

(Causes of the Civil War. Philip Leigh. Shotwell Publishing, 2020, pg. 163)

Chief Justice Taney and Dred Scott

What follows is an abridgment of an article written by a descendant of Chief Justice Taney to clarify the legal question presented and facts considered. Taney was 12 years old when Washington died and lived long enough to see the Constitution overthrown by military force. It is said that his arrest was ordered for defying Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus.

Chief Justice Taney and Dred Scott

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced “tawney”), 1777-1864, is mostly known for his decision in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case in 1857. Largely forgotten is his 30 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, and his steadfast understanding that the Constitution is a compact among sovereign States. In his view, most matters of importance were the domain of States, not the federal government, and the Court was to interpret the Constitution according to the original constitutional meaning when it was first adopted.

The primary question the Court was to decide in the Dred Scott case was whether black people in the United States were “citizens” of the United States. It must be recalled that in the antebellum United States people were first citizens of the individual States, and by virtue of that, the United States.

Taney’s Court was to determine whether people of African descent were actual members of the American political community under the original intent and meaning of the Constitution. His study and understanding reflected that the United States in 1789 were primarily white, Anglo-Saxon people and black people were not part of what was an original political creation of Europeans. The racial viewpoint of the latter toward African people was primary in his consideration.

He and his Court saw that in all States, North and South, laws restricted relations between the white and black races because it was widely believed that “a perpetual and impassable barrier was intended to be erected between the white and black race.” Clearly, this is in general an accurate assessment of 17th and 18th century colonial law.

The Court also explored whether the Declaration of Independence proposition that “all men are created equal” altered the legal and social status of black people in America. Taney argued that if understood in its proper historical context where blacks and whites occupied different legal and social spheres, “it is too clear that black people were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this Declaration” in 1789.

It was clear then as it is now, that the Declaration of Independence stood only for the proposition that the American colonists, as Englishmen, had the same rights to self-determination and self-government as their British kinsmen. The Founders of course provided for future amendments to their work, but Taney and his Court were considering this legal question in 1857.

Taney’s Court also investigated whether the Constitution itself had changed the status of black people so as to make them part of the American political and legal community. Taney noted that as the Preamble declared that the United States was formed “by the people” – which was those who were members of the different political communities in the several States forming the United States. Taney concluded that as most States, North and South, had long distinguished between blacks and whites in terms of social and legal rights, and the Constitution itself implicitly distinguishing between the races in its Migration and Importation clause (permitting the abolition of the slave trade after 1808) and the Fugitive Slaves clause, black people were simply not intended as part of “the people” described in the Constitution.

As Taney reviewed federal statutes to further divine the Founders’ minds in 1789 and what they considered “the people of the United States,” he found two federal laws passed within a few years of ratification. One was the first naturalization law of 1790, which provided that only “free, white persons” could become citizens and therefore this was the political community. The other was the first militia law of 1792, which required the enrollment of every “free, able-bodied white male citizen.”

Though one could contest Chief Justice Taney’s interpretations at that time, eminent historian Carl Brent Swisher wrote in his well-respected biography of Taney that his decision was based upon an “accurate portrayal of relations between the two races in communities where both lived in considerable numbers” at the time it was written.

Thus, investigating this important question in 1857, Chief Justice Taney concluded that people of African descent were not citizens of the United States, and therefore the Dred Scott case did not fall under federal jurisdiction. To rule otherwise, Taney warned, “would require that the Court give to the words of the Constitution more liberal construction in their favor than they were intended to bear when the instrument was framed and adopted.”

Such a “liberal construction” would exceed the Supreme Court’s authority.

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)

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)

 

Republicans, Sectionalism and War

Michigan Senator Lewis Cass was born in New Hampshire in 1782 and quite possibly had seen President George Washington as a young man. A lifelong Democrat and devoted Northwestern man who watched the latter territory develop, he longed to see the sectional troubles developing in the 1850’s resolved with faithful compromise. The nascent Republican party was not to be compromised with, and after electing its first president with a small plurality in 1860, plunged the country into a war it never recovered from.

Passing in 1866, he lived long enough to witness Washington’s republic perish in the flames of sectional warfare.

Republicans, Sectionalism and War

During the deliberations of the Compromise of 1850, Lewis Cass believed slavery to be a misfortune to the South, but only “the passage of ages” could bring about emancipation without the destruction of both races.

On the date July 6, 1854, the Whigs and Free-Soilers, or the “Free Democracy” of Michigan, met and formed a new party. The name Republican was adopted with old party trammels soon cast aside and all bent to the task of forming a party upon the cornerstone of unionism and freedom. This new party was opposed to State sovereignty as well as constitutional interpretations which were contrary to their views, and gave their strength to this party which advocated nationalism.

Though claiming to be a party of Americans for America, its absorption of the fiercely anti-Catholic Know-Nothings meant that only Protestants were to be tolerated.

It was a source of regret to Cass that a party with a “sectional” aim should find support in the country. For above all else he loved the Union, hoping against hope that harmony would be restored. But Michigan, so long faithful to him gave Fremont a popular plurality and elected a Republican legislature with an overwhelming majority.

“You remember, young man,” Lewis Cass said to James A. Garfield in 1861, “that the Constitution did not take effect until nine States had ratified it. My native State [of New Hampshire] was the ninth. So I saw the Constitution born, and I fear I may see it die.”

Though only nine of thirteen States ratified the third Constitution in June, 1788, the others remained fully independent States. And logically, should conventions of any of the thirteen (or subsequent States admitted) revoke or rescind their ratifications to resume their full-independent status and pursue another political arrangement, any lover of freedom and liberty would applaud this.

Lewis Cass, Andrew C. McLaughlin, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1891, pp. 301-324)

Jun 4, 2021 - Antebellum Realities, Democracy, Foreign Viewpoints, Historians on History, Uncategorized    Comments Off on Cultural Mediocrity and Majority Tyranny Sweeping the Globe

Cultural Mediocrity and Majority Tyranny Sweeping the Globe

Two young visitors from the Old World who briefly studied America, Alexis de Tocqueville of France and Russian Alexandr Lakier, were historians, jurisprudents, and both involved in public service careers. It is said that Alexis de Tocqueville was fascinated by the idea of political equality in America and wished to obtain first-hand knowledge of this. While Tocqueville, the philosopher, spoke with the upper classes, Lakier was a better reporter on the typical American. Tocqueville arrived in 1831, Lakier in 1857.

Cultural Mediocrity and Majority Tyranny Sweeping the Globe

“Tocqueville came with overpowering credentials. He was able to see everybody who was anybody – presidents, senators, judges, university presidents, scholars, men of letters. He managed, in the brief time he was here, to interview statesmen like Albert Gallatin, John Quincy Adams and Edward Livingston; jurists like Chancellor Kent and Joseph Story; scholars like Edward Everett, Francis Lieber and Jared Sparks; luminaries like Daniel Webster and William Ellerry Channing, and his thinking was profoundly influenced by what these distinguished men told him.

Lakier came on his own, and depended on fortuity for his interviews. He talked with the most miscellaneous people – shipboard acquaintances, workingmen, petty officials, farmers, fur traders, and newly arrived immigrants – a pretty good cross-section of American society.

There was a pervasive melancholy in much that Tocqueville wrote, a conviction that though democracy was indeed the wave of the future, that wave would drown out much that was precious – that democracy would expose every Old World society to the threat of cultural mediocrity, majority tyranny, and the ultimate subversion of liberty.

Lakier, who was by nature more sanguine and more buoyant, looked with confidence to the future – a future that would see the triumph of equality and a closer friendship between the United States and his own nation.

Lakier saw too, that the example of America could not be confined to the Western Hemisphere, but would sweep around the globe . . . “They will have an influence on Europe, but they will use neither arms nor sword nor fire, nor death and destruction. They will spread their influence by the strength of their inventions, their trade, and their industry. And this influence will be more durable than any conquest.”

(A Russian Looks at America: The Journey of Aleksandr Lakier Borisovich in 1857, University of Chicago Press, 1979, excerpts x-xiii)

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