Browsing "Antebellum Realities"

The Wise But Unschooled Uncle Remus

The antebellum plantation culture informally educated the African workers in European trades and agriculture, customs and traditions; the postwar Southern economy needed people informally schooled in the useful arts of agriculture and mechanics, and little if any use for workers with advanced university degrees and speaking Latin or Greek. Thus Booker T. Washington’s method was far more acceptable and productive than DuBois’ method of political agitation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Wise But Unschooled Uncle Remus

“Southern historians, trapped by the belief that education is a cure-all, have exaggerated the accomplishments of formal schooling. They like to prove that Sir William Berkeley was inaccurate when he said that there were no free schools in seventeenth-century Virginia. They are dazzled that today we have “a triumphant “progressive” education which progresses even faster than the North.” They gloss over the defects of our much-praised educational system.

The historians would be wise to admit the defects of Southern education as measured by the proclaimed goals of American public schools; indeed they might be skeptical of these goals. They might admit that Berkeley was not a complete fool when he inveighed against schools and presses.

In New England the Prussian-type school was loaded with antislavery sentiments and with notions of social reform repulsive to a region of Christians not dominated by hopes of earthly perfection. The leveling tendencies of the new schools ran counter to the Old South’s conception of hierarchy. Their content was more suited for those who need guidance in town life than for a people whose chief task was to subdue a wilderness and to establish farms.

Someone should tell that the South’s resistance to formal schooling did not grow out of laziness or stupidity. Their resistance was vital part of the region’s attempt to survive as a social and cultural entity. The South unconsciously fought against the idea that the school be allowed to iron out provincial differences in order to make the Southern States into undifferentiated units of the republic.

Southerners have preserved their folkways and ancestral superstitions. Thereby they have avoided the fate of the people of Hawaii, a people who have deliberately escaped their ancestral heritage in order to become Americanized through the public schools. Such a people lack creative originality.

Our chroniclers of the past should quit being ashamed of the cloud of illiteracy which once hung over their province. They should wake up to the fact that Uncle Remus was among the wisest Southerners. They have stressed to such a degree the benefits of the schools that they have neglected the triumphs of informal training outside the school.

This informal education was good because it was useful. Our colonial and frontier ancestors put the art of subduing the wilderness first; they learned to use the ax and the rifle extremely well. With some justice they regarded formal education as an adornment of the upper classes.

The dark spot on Southern civilization of denying formal education to the slaves can be wiped out by an understanding of what was accomplished in the so-called school of the plantation in which the barbarian captive of Africa was Anglicized. This was a type of training more effective than anything the South had experienced since.

The slave was so well inoculated with Anglo-American culture that almost all elements of his African background disappeared. The Negro imbibed the rich heritage of European folklore and became so skilled in English handicrafts and in the intricate practices of plantation agriculture that he was perhaps better educated in the industrial arts than those Negroes who had lived since the time of Booker T. Washington.

(Tolerating the South’s Past, Francis Butler Simkins, Address in Columbia, South Carolina, November 12, 1954, The Pursuit of Southern History, George Tindal, editor, LSU Press, 1964, pp. 319-320)

State Sovereignty Paramount

Jefferson Davis and other West Point graduates of his time were taught from Rawle’s “View of the Constitution,” and understood that should a State subvert its republican form of government, “the national power of the Union could be called forth to subdue it. Yet it is not to be understood that its interposition would be justifiable if a State should determine to retire from the Union . . . The secession of a State . . . depends on the will of the people of such a State.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

State Sovereignty Paramount

“On my way home from Boston I stopped in New York once when the ex-President of our Confederacy and Mrs. Davis were there in the interest of his book, and I went to see them.

“Mr. Davis,” I said, “had I come from the South I should be laden with loving messages from your people. But even in abolition Boston you are held in high esteem as one sincere, honest and earnest.”

“Yes,” he said, “though we disagreed on many issues, I believe I held the respect of my fellow Senators from Massachusetts.”

“But you were not a secessionist in the beginning, Mr. Davis, were you?”

“No; neither in the beginning nor the ending,” he smiled.

“But to me the sovereignty of the State was paramount to the sovereignty of the Union. And I held my seat in the Senate until Mississippi seceded and called upon me to follow and defend her. Then I sorrowfully resigned the position in which my State had placed me and in which I could no longer represent her, and accepted the new work.

I was on my way to Montgomery when I received, much to my regret, the message that I had been elected provisional President of the Confederate States of America. I regretted it then and I have regretted it ever since.”

(Words From Jefferson Davis, Confederate Veteran, March 1913, page 108)

 

Yancey’s Prophetic Foresight

Born at Ogeechee Falls, Georgia in 1814, educated at academies in New York and New England, South Carolina and later Alabama editor, William Lowndes Yancey prophetically predicted the rise of the consolidationist Republican party. He foresaw the States becoming “but tributaries to the powers of the General Government,” and their sovereignty enfeebled.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Yancey’s Prophetic Foresight

“. . . Yancey had been an unconditional Unionist . . . But in 1838 disturbing reports, which led him to pause, study the Constitution, and consider the nature of the Union, began to reach his desk. His indignation and fears seem to have been first aroused by the abolitionist petitions which were agitating Congress and the country, and in one of his editorials declared:

“The Vermont resolutions have afforded those deluded fanatics – the Abolitionists – another opportunity for abusing our citizens, and endeavoring to throw firebrands into the South, to gratify a malevolent spirit. They well know that they have no right to . . . meddle with our rights, secured to us by the Constitution; but to gratify the worst of feelings, while at the same time and in many instances, the endanger our safety, they press upon Congress the consideration of this subject.”

This editorial went on to express a fear that there was “a settled determination, on the part of those fanatics, to form themselves into a small band of partisans,” and thereby to gain the balance of power and determine elections.

Yancey’s fears of despotism under the cloak of the Federal Union were intensified by the election of the friends of the United States Bank. He reported a series of resolutions condemning the bank, supporting the President [Jackson] in his fight on it, and approving “well conducted State Banks.” The second resolution [declared]:

“We deem the struggle now going on between the people, and the United States Bank partisans, to be a struggle for pre-eminence between the State-Rights principles of 1798, and Federalism in its rankest state; and that in the triumph of the Bank, if destined to triumph, we would mournfully witness the destruction of the barriers and safeguards of our Liberties.”

In the spring of 1839 Yancey and his brother bought and consolidated the Wetumpka [Alabama] Commercial Advertiser and the Wetumpka Argus. The next spring when Yancey took personal charge of the newspaper, he announced that it would support a policy of strict construction in national politics and a State policy of reform in banking, internal improvements, and public education within reach of every child.

[With the] opening of the presidential campaign of 1840, [Yancey] believed the issue between State rights and consolidation to have been clearly drawn. Twelve years of Jacksonian democracy had destroyed the bank, provided for the extinction of the protective features of the tariff, and checked internal improvements at federal expense. Therefore, if the friends of the bank, the protective tariff, and internal improvements expected to enjoy the beneficence of a paternalistic government, they must gain control of the administration at Washington, and consolidate its powers. Thus to them the selection of a Whig candidate for the presidency was an important question, and from their point of view Henry Clay seemed to be the logical choice.

[Yancey editorialized] to show that the abolitionists, having defeated [Henry] Clay in the convention, now contemplated using their power to defeat Martin Van Buren in the election, disrupt the Democratic party, and absorb the Whigs.

To Yancey it seemed clear that [a] coalition of Whigs and abolitionists would put the South in a minority position . . . that the minority position of the South demanded “of its citizens a strict adherence to the States Rights Creed.”

He declared:

“Once let the will of the majority become the rule of [Constitutional] construction, and hard-featured self-interest will become the presiding genius in our national councils – the riches of our favored lands offering but the greater incentive to political rapacity.”

Furthermore, he foresaw with inexorable logic that once the general government was permitted to exercise powers, not expressly given to it, for subsidies to industry and for the building of roads and canals, it was as reasonable to claim constitutional authority for subsidies for agriculture and labor.

Yancey foretold with prophetic insight the consequences of the application of the consolidationists creed. He said it would result in a “national system of politics, which makes the members of the confederacy but tributaries to the powers of the General Government – enfeebling the sovereign powers of the States – in fact forming us into a great consolidated nation, receiving all its impulses from the Federal Capitol.”

And in strikingly modern language he warned the people that, if the tendencies toward consolidation continued, the Constitution would “have its plainly marked lines obliterated, and its meaning . . . left to be interpreted by interested majorities – thus assembling every hungry and greedy speculator around the Capitol, making the President a King in all but name – and Washington a “St. Petersburg,” – the center of a vast, consolidated domain.”

(William L. Yancey’s Transition from Unionism to State Rights, Austin L. Venable, Journal of Southern History, Volume X, Number 1, February 1944, pp. 336-342)

Yankee Tinkerer Perpetuates Slavery

Eli Whitney of Massachusetts invented his new labor-saving device at a time when the liberating effects of the new republic were emancipating those who had been enslaved by African tribes, sold to British slave-traders, and shipped to North America on New England slavers.  With cotton cultivation made profitable, slavery would expand. 

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Yankee Tinkerer Perpetuates Slavery 

“The handiwork of a Yankee tinkerer in the summer of 1792 changed everything. Eli Whitney was a genius of a type who would become familiar in the course of the next century, like Robert Fulton, John Deere, Cyrus McCormick, Samuel F. B. Morse, and Thomas Edison, who fused native mechanical aptitude with the entrepreneurial instincts of the dawning industrial age. It was said that as a boy in Massachusetts during the Revolution, Whitney had set up his own small forge and made nails to sell to his neighbors, and then converted them to hairpins after the war.

After graduating from Yale, he went South to take a position as a tutor. As a guest in the home of the widow of General Nathaniel Greene, in Georgia, Whitney overheard several of her neighbors discussing the problems of cotton cultivation. Planters were well aware that a potentially vast market for American cotton was developing in England, where textile manufacture had been revolutionized by the factory system . . .  

Whitney later wrote, “There were a number of very respectable gentlemen at Mrs. Greene’s who all agreed that if a machine could be invented which would clean cotton with expedition, it would be a great thing both to the inventor and to the country. I involuntarily happened to be thinking on the subject and struck out a plan of a machine in my mind.” It was the cotton gin, which would ultimately transform American slavery, project it into its boom time, and transform it into a pillar of the nineteenth-century American economy.

[Whitney] Established a factory at New Haven, and was soon shipping gins Southward, where they would lead to a spectacular burgeoning of cotton cultivation, which would soon be matched by an exploding demand for slaves. [New England] Slave traders made fortunes buying up “surplus” slaves, and long, grim lines of them chained together in awkward lockstep made a familiar sight on the roads leading westward from Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas to the slave markets of the frontier Southeast.”

(Bound For Canaan, Fergus Bordewich, Harper Collins, 2005,   pp. 41-42)

 

 

 

 

New England Town Meeting Superstition

The fabled New England town-meeting was no more than a local debating body of radical commoners who sought “to destroy all privilege, political, economic and social.” While they debated and drank against the aristocracy, the real power brokers of New England made political appointments and decisions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Town Meeting Superstition

“In the year 1764 Boston had a population of about sixteen thousand persons, and it is a popular superstition that its town-meeting was a thoroughly democratic forum where, if ever in this troubled world, the voice of the people might make itself heard.

The fact was, however, that the average number of voters in the decade from that year to the revolution was only about five hundred and fifty-five, or three and one-half percent of the population. Not only so, but of these sturdy citizens who turned out thinking they were freely voting for their rulers, nearly all were unconscious puppets in the hands of political leaders.

That extremely useful machine tool, the caucus, had been deftly used for many years, although the discovery that such was the case seems to have come somewhat as a shock to the young John Adams.

“This day I learned,” he wrote in his diary in February 1763, “that the Caucus Club meets, at certain times, in the garret of Tom Dawes . . . There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one end of the garret to the other. There they drink flip, I suppose, and there they choose . . . selectmen, assessors, collectors, wardens, firewards and representatives are regularly chosen in the town.

At this stage, therefore, it is evident that the “people” whose voice was heard consisted of the members of the Caucus and Merchants’ Club harmoniously and unobtrusively working together in the sphere of practical politics, each for the “benefit of his business.”

(The History of New England, Vol. II; Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776, James Truslow Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1941, pp. 304-305)

“In God’s Name, Let Them Go Unmolested”

Delaware was a slaveholding State in early 1861 and Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs of Georgia expected that State to adhere to the South in its new experiment in government. Congressmen James A. Bayard and William G. Whiteley were two Delawareans who advocated peace between the sections and sympathy for Southerners seeking a more perfect union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“In Gods Name, Let Them Go Unmolested”

“Congressman Whiteley [of Wilmington, Delaware] served on the Committee of Thirty-Three and signed a minority report of that Committee. The minority report was signed by five congressmen, all from either Southern or border States. Whiteley and these congressmen advocated peaceful secession. They believed that:

“. . . the doctrine of the indissolubility of the general government has no foundation in the public law of the world . . . ”

Also, . . .”that no power has been conferred upon the general government, by the Constitution . . . to keep a State in the Union.” They became specific when they stated that: “You cannot coerce fifteen sovereign States . . . That a separation, which has become inevitable, shall be bloodless.”

Whiteley signed a statement advocating the secession of all slaveholding States, including Delaware. Specifically, it proposed that there should be no war, but peaceful separation. Succinctly, they stated their position:

“Whether any State has or has not the right to seceded under the Constitution, it is a matter of fact that four States have already seceded; and that in a few short months — perhaps weeks — all of the other slaveholding States will have in like manner seceded, with the purpose of maintaining their new position, by force of arms, if no adjustment is made of the differences between them and the non-slaveholding States.”

After the firing on Fort Sumter, William G. Whiteley held to his previous position. On June 27 at a mass meeting in Dover he stated:

“In God’s name, let them go unmolested . . . Would Delaware give money or men to hold States as conquered provinces? . . . Could the South be subjected? Never!”

(The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States, William C. Wright, Associated University Presses, 1973, pp. 86-87)

North Illustrates Little Regard for the Union

Northern anti-slavery agitators fomented discord and disunion long before 1861 and did their utmost to cause the South to seek a more perfect union. And that South rightly asked why the North agreed to the Compromise of 1850 when it had no intentions of abiding by it. If the abolition of slavery was indeed their crusade, why did abolitionists not encourage the example of the British with compensated emancipation, thus averting war and wanton destruction?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

North Illustrates Little Regard for the Union

“In the North, sincere if fanatical abolitionists and opportunists alike used the slavery issue for political advancement. In the South, the voices . . . grew more passionate in their crusades for independence. Northern agitators gave them the ammunition.

When the Southern States had adopted the Compromise of 1850, the Georgia legislature summarized the attitude of them all. Serving notice that the preservation of the Union depended on the Northern States’ faithfully abiding by the terms of the Compromise, the Georgia delegates stressed its particular application to the federal laws regarding fugitive slaves.

This was a very real issue to the planters, and nothing so impressed the individual Southerner with Northern hostility as the protection given runaways in the North and the actual attacks on federal officials trying to enforce the laws on stolen property. On this last point, the Georgians stated, “It is the deliberate opinion of this convention that upon the faithful execution of the fugitive-slave bill depends the preservation of our much-loved Union.”

Yet in the North, many people continued to repudiate and defy the fugitive slave laws, which constituted about the only thing the South got out of the Compromise. To the Southerners trying to promote secession, this breach of faith served to illustrate the little regard in which the North held Union.

Then Northern literature erupted into what amounted to an anti-Southern propaganda mill. In 1851 appeared Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that inflammable work of the imagination, to start the decade in a spirit of recriminations. With the pamphlets and literature which took up where Mrs. Stowe left off, newspapers joined in the denunciations of their fellow Americans. To support the fictional pictures of the benighted Southerners, the New York Tribune stated flatly that plantations were “little else than Negro harems,” and that, of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Tyler (who was still living) “hardly one has failed to leave his mulatto children.”

Even Virginia, which produced these Presidents, had been brought to ruin by “pride and folly and . . . [Negro] concubinage . . . ” while South Carolina, with its “chivalry-ridden inhabitants,” like the other States, “is a full thousand years behind the North in civilization.” Emerson and Longfellow, Lowell and Whittier, the new literary pillars of that civilization, conjured up pictures of the vileness of their Southern neighbors.”

(The Land They Fought For, The Story of the South as the Confederacy, 1832-1865, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday and Company, 1955, pp. 44-45)

Idle Talk of Preserving the Republic

With his deep understanding of the strict constitutional limitations on the federal agent in Washington, John Tyler deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest American presidents, along with Jefferson Davis.  He rightly saw the result of Andrew Jackson’s threatened coercion of South Carolina as a threat to the Union itself.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Idle Talk of Preserving a Republic

“Shortly after the election of 1832 [John] Tyler broke with the [Jackson] Administration. The occasion of the breach was the nullification crisis. But up to this time he was regarded as a Democrat in good if not regular standing. Jackson’s policy toward South Carolina was so objectionable to him that he aligned himself with the anti-Administration forces, and finally left the Democratic party. To support or even acquiesce in the President’s measures would be, as he considered, to sacrifice his State’ rights principles — a sacrifice which at no time during his entire career was he willing to make.

In writing to Governor John Floyd, of Virginia [January 16, 1833], he declared that “if South Carolina be put down, then may each of the States yield all pretensions to sovereignty. We have a consolidated government, and a master will soon arise. This is inevitable. How idle to talk of preserving a republic for any length of time with an uncontrolled power over the military, exercised at pleasure by the President.”

(John Tyler, Champion of the Old South, American Political Biography Press, 1939/2006, pp. 112-113)

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

Southerners reacted to abolitionist tirades with arguments of the civilizing aspects of African slavery, and reminded them that their own fathers had shipped the Africans in chains to the West Indies and North America. The invention of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney along with the hungry cotton mills of that State perpetuated slavery, and new plantation expansion into the Louisiana territory was fueled by Manhattan lenders – all of whom could have helped end African slavery in North America. The following is excerpted from the introduction of “Cotton is King,” E.N. Elliott, editor (1860), and from “Liberty and Slavery,” Albert Taylor Bledsoe.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

“Geographical partisan government and legislation . . . had its origin in the Missouri [Compromise] contest, and is now beginning to produce its legitimate fruits: witness the growing distrust with which the people of the North and South begin to regard each other; the diminution of Southern travel, either for business or pleasure, in the Northern States; the efforts of each section to develop its own resources, so as to render it independent of the other; the enactment of “unfriendly legislation,” in several of the States, toward other States of the Union, or their citizens; the contest for the exclusive possession of the territories, the common property of the States; the anarchy and bloodshed in Kansas; the exasperation of parties throughout the Union; the attempt to nullify, by popular clamor, the decision of the supreme tribunal of our country; the existence of . . . a party in the North organized for the express purpose of robbing the citizens of the Southern States of their property; . . . the flooding of the whole country with the most false and malicious misrepresentations of the state of society in the [Southern] States; the attempt to produce division among us, and to array one portion of our citizens in deadly array to the other; and finally, the recent attempt to incite, at Harper’s Ferry, and throughout the South, an insurrection, and a civil and servile war, with all its attendant horrors.

All these facts go to prove that there is a great wrong somewhere, and that a part, or the whole, of the American people are demented, and hurrying down to swift destruction.

The present slave States had little or no agency in the first introduction of Africans into this country; this was achieved by the Northern commercial States and by Great Britain. Wherever the climate suited the Negro constitution, slavery was profitable and flourished; where the climate was unsuitable, slavery was unprofitable, and died out. Most of the slaves in the Northern States were sent southward to a more congenial clime.

Upon the introduction into Congress of the first abolition discussions, by John Quincy Adams, and Joshua Giddings, Southern men altogether refused to engage in debate, or even to receive petitions on the subject. They averred that no good could grow out of it, but only unmitigated evil.”

(The South: A Documentary History, Ina Woestemeyer Van Noppen, D. Van Nostrand Company, 1958, pp. 265-266)

Truth, the Chief Good

Henry Lee’s Letter to Son Carter Lee, September 30, 1816

“Important as it is to understand nature in its range and bearing, it is more so to be prepared for usefulness, and to render ourselves pleasing by understanding well the religious and moral knowledge of right and wrong, to investigate thoroughly the history of mankind, and to be familiar with those examples which show the loveliness of truth, and demonstrate the reasonableness of our opinions by past events.

Read therefore the best poets, the best orators, and the best historians; as from them you draw principles of moral truth, axioms of prudence and material for conversation. This was the opinion of the great Socrates. He labored in Athens to turn philosophy from the study of nature to the study of life. He justly thought man’s great business was to learn how to do good, and to avoid evil. Be a steady, ardent disciple of Socrates; and regard virtue, whose temple is built upon truth, as the chief good.

[But] virtue and wisdom are not opponents; they are friends and coalesce in a few characters such as [Washington]. A foolish notion often springs up with young men as they enter life, namely, that the opinion of the world is not to be regarded; whereas, it is the true criterion, generally speaking, of all things that terminate in human life. To despise its sentence, if possible, is not just; and if just, is not possible. H. Lee.”

(Life of General Henry Lee, Revolutionary War Memoirs, R.E. Lee, editor, DaCapo, 1998, page 60)