Browsing "Antebellum Realities"

Hurrying Down to Swift Destruction

Southerners replied to abolitionist tirades with examples of the civilizing aspects of African slavery, as well as reminding 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.org

 

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)

The South Against a Seceding North

Though South Carolina had been threatened with invasion over nullifying federal law in the early 1830s, no such threats were made to Northern States in the 1850s as they instituted personal liberty laws which nullified federal law and obstructed federal officers. Had Lincoln not won his plurality in 1860, the secession of the North might have been the case.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The South Against a Seceding North

“There was strong opposition to secession, not only in the Upper South, but also in some parts of the Lower South, the very heart land of the future Confederacy. In every convention except South Carolina’s there were votes against secession, and in Alabama and Georgia the opposition was considerable. In Georgia, Alexander H. Stephens, Herschel V. Johnson, and Benjamin H. Hill gave up their fight for the Union only after their State had seceded and threatened to leave them behind.

In their campaign to save the nation, the [Southern] Unionists resorted both to argument and to delaying tactics. They played on national sentiments; the Revolution and its heroes . . . the Constitution, which largely Southerners had made and was sufficient for all needs if properly interpreted and enforced. Up to this time the South had generally dominated the government, either through Southern-born presidents or . . . Northern men with Southern principles. Most of the Supreme Court had been Southerners, and the court at this time was dominated by the South.

In fact, the whole idea of secession was illogical and wrong, it was argued. The process should be reversed. The North should do the seceding, for the South represented more truly the nation which the forefathers had set up in 1789. Therefore the South should not allow itself to be driven out of its own home.

Henry A. Wise of Virginia was especially vigorous in arguing this point of view. “Logically the Union belongs to those who have kept, not those who have broken, its covenants,” he declared. If he ever had to fight he hoped it would be against a seceding North, “with the star-spangled banner still in one hand and my musket in the other.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, pp. 3-5)

Protesting British and New England Slave Trading

During the colonial period it was common for North Carolina planters needing labor to trade cargoes of tar and pitch to New Englanders for the slaves they imported. On the eve of the Revolution the North Carolina Provincial Congress resolved that “We will not import any slave or slaves, nor purchase any slave or slaves imported or brought into this province by others from any part of the world after the first day of November next [1774].”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Protesting British and New England Slave Trading

“So far as can be determined, no tax was levied on the importation of slaves into North Carolina prior to the Revolution. On the other hand, the Virginia Assembly made numerous attempts to discourage the importation of slaves by imposing from time to time a tax on all slaves brought in from Maryland, North Carolina, the West Indies, and Africa.

The first impressive protest for any considerable body of citizens of the colony against the African slave trade was registered by the freeholders of Rowan County [North Carolina] in 1774. They placed themselves on record against the African slave trade in the following resolution:

“Resolved that the African slave trade is injurious to this colony, obstructs the population of it, prevents manufacturers and other useful emigrants from Europe from settling among us, and occasions an annual increase of the balance of trade against the colonies.”

Due in part to the dearth of labor occasioned by the Revolution, there was a resumption of the slave trade after the war. It was not, in fact, until 1787 that the General Assembly took the initial step in taxing the traffic, basing its action on the general ground that the importation of slaves “into this State is productive of evil consequences and highly impolitic.”

Whatever the motive, a duty of 5 [pounds] was levied on all slaves brought in by water. Slaves between the ages of thirty and forty were made subject to the same duty, while those between the ages of twelve and thirty were subject to a duty of 10 [pounds]. In addition, a general head tax of five pounds was imposed on all slaves imported from the coast of Africa. The act of 1787 did not prohibit, but no doubt discouraged, the slave trade.

Due presumably to the ratification of the Federal Constitution by North Carolina in 1789, the act of 1787 was repealed in 1790, and there was no restriction on the importation of slaves until 1794 . . . and in that year a heavy fine was imposed on the importation of slaves. [Its] passage might have been further delayed had not a terrifying Negro insurrection occurred in San Domingo in 1791. This insurrection thoroughly aroused the people of the State to a realization of the potential danger of a large Negro population.

[In] 1795 the legislature placed a further restriction on the importation of slaves by making it unlawful for any person removing to the State, “with intent to settle or otherwise,” from any of the West Indian or Bahama Islands to bring with him any Negroes or people of color above the age of fifteen years, under penalty of 100 [pounds] for each and every slave or person of color brought in.

To many public men of the time the danger from this source seemed imminent; so much so that, in 1798, Governor Samuel Ashe issued a proclamation calling on the people of the State to prevent the landing of slaves or free persons of color. He stated in his proclamation that several shiploads of San Domingan Negroes had set sail, and that one shipload had arrived in Charleston.

Despite precautions, West Indian Negroes found their way into the State. The landing of a number of emancipated Negroes from the island of Guadaloupe at Wilmington in 1803 so alarmed the inhabitants of the town that they memorialized Congress to take action to prevent the introduction into the United States of any persons of that class.”

(Slaveholding in North Carolina, An Economic View, Rosser Howard Taylor, Negro Universities Press, 1969 (original UNC Press, 1926), pp. 23-26)

 

Higher Law Treason

Many viewed William H. Seward’s “higher law” speech treasonous as it claimed “laws” which superseded the United States Constitution – the compact agreed to by all the States as the law of the land. In reality, the abolitionists who sought a separation from what they referred to as “a covenant with Hell,” and unstable theorists like Seward, were the disunionists in 1860.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Higher Law Treason

“[Future President] Franklin Pierce addressed a Union meeting in Manchester [New Hampshire] in November 1850. His speech reveals his true sentiments on the most important issue of his time. When several Baptist ministers “hissed” at his remarks in favor of the Union, Pierce responded that the “feeble demonstration of moral treason to the Union, to humanity, to the cause of civil liberty would disturb neither him nor the meeting.” He declared, “If we are precipitated into a war by fanaticism, we cannot conquer. Both sections of the country may be immolated. Neither could come out of the contest short of ruin.”

Pierce was consistent in believing the preservation of the Union was more important than any one issue. The New Hampshire Patriot reported Pierce’s speech: “Who did not deplore slavery? But what sound-thinking mind regarded that as the only evil which could rest upon the land? The [abolitionist] men who would dissolve the Union did not deplore slavery any more than he did . . . The resort to disunion as an experiment to get rid of a political evil, would be about as wise as if a man were to think of remedying a broken arm by cutting his head off.” Pierce closed with the shout, “The Union! Eternal Union!”

When Senator Seward of New York followed [Daniel] Webster’s [7 March 1850] speech with one in which he declared that there is a “higher law” than the Constitution and that God was opposed to slavery, the Patriot editorialized, “If Mr. Seward’s doctrine were to be endorsed by the people at large there would be an end not only of the Union but of every rational form of government”. . . Webster would later call the “higher law” doctrine “Treason, treason, treason!”

(Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son, Peter A. Wallner, Plaidswede Publishing, 2004, pp. 168-169)

Henry Clay Prophesies the Success of Abolition

Henry Clay, an officer of the American Colonization Society, predicted the collision which would follow total emancipation in the American South. Others of that time saw this logical result as well; Jefferson Davis of Mississippi saw the dilemma that if African slavery were extinguished, what would become of its carcass? Could people unfamiliar with Anglo-Saxon law, traditions and customs and without European heritage become full participants in American government?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Henry Clay Prophesies the Success of Abolition

“In the slave States the alternative is, that white men must govern the black, or the black the white. In several of these States the number of slaves is greater than that of the white population. An immediate abolition of slavery in them, as these ultra-abolitionists propose, would be followed by a desperate struggle for immediate ascendancy of the black race over the white race, or rather it would be followed by instantaneous collision between the two races, which would break out into a civil war that would end in the extermination or subjugation of the one race or the other.”

(Freedom’s Ferment, Alice Felt Tyler, University of Minnesota Press, 1944, page 479)

 

 

 

The Abolitionists Mad and Fatal Course

Henry Clay, the “great compromiser,” pleaded with abolitionists to cease their incendiary activities which threatened to disrupt the Union in a speech before the United States Senate in February 1839. The States he labels as “free” were former slave and slave trading States which were offering no peaceful and practical solutions to the African slavery they greatly helped nurture and perpetuate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Abolitionists Mad and Fatal Course

“ . . . Abolition should no longer be regarded as an imaginary danger. The abolitionists, let me suppose, succeed in their present aim of uniting the inhabitants of the free States, as one man, against the inhabitants of the slave States. Union on one side will beget union on the other.

And this process of reciprocal consolidation will be attended with all the violent prejudices, embittered passions, and implacable animosities, which ever degraded or deformed human nature. A virtual dissolution of the Union will have taken place, while the forms of its existence remain.

The most valuable element of union, mutual kindness, the feelings of sympathy, the fraternal bonds, which now happily unite us, will have been extinguished for ever.

One section will stand in menacing and hostile array against the other. The collision of opinion will be quickly followed by the clash of arms. I will not attempt to describe scenes which now happily lie concealed from our view. Abolitionists themselves would shrink back in dismay and horror at the contemplation of desolated fields, conflagrated cities, murdered inhabitants, and the overthrow of the fairest fabric of human government that ever rose to animate the hopes of civilized man.

Nor should these abolitionists flatter themselves that, if they can succeed in uniting the people of the free States, they will enter the contest with a numerical superiority that must insure victory. All history and experience proves the hazard and uncertainty of war. And we are admonished by Holy Writ, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. But if they were to conquer, whom would they conquer?

A foreign foe – one who had insulted our flag, invaded our shores, and laid our country waste? No, sir; no, sir. It would be a contest without laurels, without glory; a self, a suicidal conquest; a conquest of brothers over brothers, achieved by one over another portion of the descendants of common ancestors, who, nobly pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, had fought and bled, side by side, in many a hard battle on land and ocean, severed our country from the British crown, and established our original independence.

The inhabitants of the slave States are sometimes accused by their Northern brethren with displaying rashness and sensibility to the operations and proceedings of the abolitionists.

[But] Let me suppose that the people of the slave States were to form societies, subsidize presses, make large pecuniary contributions, send forth numerous missionaries throughout all their borders, and enter into machinations to burn the beautiful capitals, destroy the productive manufactories, and sink in the ocean the gallant ships of the Northern States. Would these incendiary proceedings be regarded as neighborly and friendly, and consistent with the fraternal sentiments which should ever by cherished by one portion of the Union toward the another?

Would they excite no emotion? Occasion no manifestations of dissatisfaction? Nor lead to any acts of retaliatory violence?

I beseech the abolitionists themselves, solemnly to pause in their mad and fatal course . . . let them select some one more harmless, that does not threaten to deluge our country in blood. I entreat that portion of my countrywomen, who have given their countenance to abolition, to . . . reflect that the ink which they shed in subscribing with their fair hands abolition petitions, may prove but the prelude to the shedding of the blood of their brethren.

I adjure all the inhabitants of the free States to rebuke and discountenance, by their opinion and their example, measures which must inevitably lead to the most calamitous consequences.”

(The South, A Documentary History, Ina Woestemeyer Van Noppen, D. Van Nostrand Company, 1958, pp. 258-260)

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

Major Joseph A. Engelhard points out below that the American South did not populate itself with African slaves, this was done by others.  It is true that Providence, Rhode Island was the slave trading capital of North America by 1750, wresting this dubious honor from Liverpool.  Further, the voracious cotton mills of antebellum New England needed slave-produced raw material and Manhattan bankers advanced attractive loans to Southern planters to expend their operations.  Engelhard served in the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment 1861-65, was elected North Carolina Secretary of State in 1876, and in 1878 encouraged young Southern men at the University of North Carolina to be proud of their forefathers and the country and constitution they created.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

“If in any part of the United States there exists moral deformity, or outrage, or unseemly appearance of social or political evil, you can say that no portion of it can be traced to our door. It is true, we have been charged with the error and evil of Slavery, but history and the verdict of all men must be that slavery was introduced here against our will, first by the Dutch and afterwards by the Slave Merchants of the North.

Upon the garments of the South there is no stain of the “Slave Trade.” Those infamies and the profits of that traffic alike, belong to others.

Our lot has been to civilize, to humanize, to Christianize the victims of the avarice of others. Like men we fought for the institution, not, however, for its sake, but because through it all our sacred rights were assailed. The men who proclaimed victory at Mecklenburg; the men who fought seven years for it afterwards; the men who built the country’s strongest entrenchments in the Constitution; who extended most widely its area; who illustrated it with most honor in the National Councils, and who exposed and lost all to defend every approach of danger to it, never – never could be truly charged with the responsibility for human Slavery.

One thing all men must say of us, that the Southern people in two hundred years did more to elevate and render good and happy the African than all the world in all time ever did. And upon that record we stand.”

(Address of the Hon. Joseph A. Engelhard, Before the Philanthropic and Dialectic Societies of the University of North Carolina, June 1878, Edwards & Broughton & Co., 1879, pp. 11-12)

Spending the Money of Future Generations

Robert Hayne of South Carolina followed Jefferson’s admonition that the national debt was not something to be passed on to future generations; it was considered immoral for a president not to pay the debts incurred under their administrations before leaving office. In encouraging an unending public debt, Daniel Webster, on the other hand, Webster was promoting the American System of Whig politician Henry Clay which would give the government an endless supply of money with which to buy influence and power.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Spending the Money of Future Generations

“The gentleman from Massachusetts (Webster), in alluding to a remark of mine that before any disposition could be made of the public lands, the national debt (for which they stand pledged) must be first paid, took occasion to intimate (that Southerners desire to pay the national debt) “arises from a disposition to weaken the ties which bind the people to the Union.”

But, adds he gentleman, “so far as the debt may have an effect in binding the debtors to the country, and thereby serving as a link to hold the States together, he would be glad that it should exist forever.” Surely then, sir, on the gentleman’s own principles, he must be opposed to the payment of the debt.

Sir, let me tell that gentleman that the South repudiates the idea that a pecuniary dependence on the Federal Government is one of the legitimate means of holding the States together. A monied interest in the Government is essentially a base interest . . . it is opposed to all the principles of free government and at war with virtue and patriotism. In a free government, this principle of abject dependence if extended through all the ramifications of society must be fatal to liberty. Already we have made alarming strides in that direction.

The entire class of manufacturers, the holders of stocks with their hundreds of millions in capital, are held to the Government by the strong link of pecuniary interests; millions of people, entire sections of the country, interested, or believing themselves to be so, in the public lands and the public treasure, are bound to the Government by the expectation of pecuniary favors.

If this system is carried on much further, no man can fail to see that every generous motive of attachment to the country will be destroyed, and in its place will spring up those low, groveling, base and selfish feelings which bind men to the footstool of despots by bonds as strong and as enduring as those which attach them to free institutions.”

(The Webster-Hayne Debate on the Nature of the Union, Herman Belz, Editor, Liberty Fund, 2000, pp. 42-43. Speech of Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, January 25, 1830)

One American Ruler to Enforce Obedience

The peaceful political separation desired by the American South in early 1861 was best summarized by President Jefferson Davis’ in his inaugural address: “We seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated. All we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

One American Ruler to Enforce Obedience

“From Mr. [Robert] Toombs, Secretary of State, Message No. 5, Department of State, Montgomery, Alabama, May 18, 1861.

To: Hon Wm. L. Yancey, Hon. Pierre A. Rost, Hon. A. Dudley Mann, Commissioners of the Confederate States, etc.

Gentlemen: My dispatch of the 24th ultimo contained an accurate summary of the important events which had transpired up to that date, and informed you that the Executive of the United States had commenced a war of aggression against the Confederate States.

On the 20th instant the convention of the people of North Carolina will assemble at Raleigh, and there is no doubt that, immediately thereafter, ordinances of secession from the United States, and union with the Confederate States, will be adopted.

Although ten independent and sovereign States have thus deliberately severed the bonds which bound them in political union with the United States, and have formed a separate and independent Government for themselves, the President of the United States affects to consider that the Federal Union is still legally and constitutionally unbroken . . . He claims to be our ruler, and insists that he has the right to enforce our obedience.

From the newspaper press, the rostrum, and the pulpit, the partisans of Mr. Lincoln, while they clamorously assert their devotion to the Union and Constitution of the United States, daily preach a relentless war between the sections, to be prosecuted not only in violation of all constitutional authority, but in disregard of the simplest law of humanity.

The authorized exponents of the sentiments of [Lincoln’s party] . . . avow that it is the purpose of the war to subjugate the Confederate States, spoliate the property of our citizens, sack and burn our cities and villages, and exterminate our citizens . . .

[The] real motive which actuates Mr. Lincoln and those who now sustain his acts is to accomplish by force of arms that which the masses of the Northern people have long sought to effect – namely, the overthrow of our domestic institutions, the devastation and destruction of our social interests, and the reduction of the Southern States to the condition of subject provinces.

It is not astonishing that a people educated in that school which always taught the maintenance of the rights of the few against the might of the many, which ceaselessly regarded the stipulation to protect and preserve the liberties and vested rights of every member of the Confederacy as the condition precedent upon which each State delegated certain powers necessary for self-protection to the General Government, should refuse to submit dishonorably to the destruction of their constitutional liberty, the insolent denial of their right to govern themselves and to hold and enjoy their property in peace.

In the exercise of that greatest of the rights reserved to the several States by the late Federal Constitution – namely, the right for each State to be judge for itself, as well of the infractions of the compact of the Union, as of the mode and measure of redress – the sovereignties composing the Confederate States resolved to sever their political connection with the United States and form a Government of their own, willing to effect this purpose peacefully at any sacrifice save that of honor and liberty, but determined even at the cost of war to assert their right to independence and self-government.”

(A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy 1861-1865, James D. Richardson, Volume II, US Publishing Company, 1905, excerpt, pp. 26-31)

John Brown and His Greater Villains

The violent attack of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry “and his apotheosis by Northern abolitionists had struck fear and rage into the hearts of Southerners and had revived talk of secession that had all but died out in 1859.” This sad event all but confirmed the suspicion of many Southerners that the North wished to destroy the South, and the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

John Brown and His Greater Villains

“On Wednesday morning, October 19, John Brown and [Aaron Dwight] Stevens were placed in a wagon and driven to the railway station under a strong guard of Marines to protect them from the possibility of a merciful lynching.

But when they reached the waiting train and the shouts of “Lynch them, lynch them!” rose, the Governor was there to call back, “Oh, it would be cowardly to do so now!”  The Sheriff of Jefferson County and the United States Marshal for the Western District of Virginia committed their four prisoners to the jail at Charlestown to await trial.

There was no apparent reason why the prisoners should not be brought to justice as soon as possible, for the evidence was clear, the law demanded immediate trial, and the State of Virginia recognized no advantage in submitting the case to the Federal courts. The Federal government was directly [affected] by the attack on the arsenal and indirectly by the whole nature of the conspiracy, but Virginia was insisting on a primary principle in retaining jurisdiction.

In the case of John Brown himself there was little hesitation; in that of his companions more debate occurred, for the temptation was strong to embody in fact a subsidiary principle concerning the slave problem by turning Stevens over to the Federal Government for prosecution . . . the great advantage the Federal court possessed [was] being able to summon “the greater villains” who resided beyond the jurisdiction of the State of Virginia; and meanwhile some of these villains had made haste to reside beyond the jurisdiction of the United States.

The immediate trial and the wounds of two of the prisoners provided unexpected capital for the “liberal” newspapers in the North. At first the Republican press hurried to repudiate John Brown and all his works, for it was felt that this sort of thing might prove disastrous in the Presidential contest of the next year, but it was not long before editors and politicians alike recognized an opportunity in the situation.

The Chicago Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln in 1860 unanimously resolved that the attempt of John Brown was criminal . . . But in the autumn of 1859 the “liberal” press . . . deplored the conditions which made [Brown’s attack] necessary; it deplored the misguided effort in a holy cause, but abhorred the barbarous conduct in Virginia in suppressing that effort. [William Lloyd] Garrison wrote in the Liberator:

“In recording the expressions of sympathy and admiration which are so widely felt for John Brown, whose doom is now swiftly approaching . . . that, judging him by the code of Bunker hill, we think he is deserving of high-wrought eulogy as any who ever wielded sword or battle-axe in the cause of liberty . . . ”

(John Brown, The Making of a Martyr, Robert Penn Warren, J.S. Sanders and Company, 1929, pp. 393-395)