Browsing "Antebellum Realities"

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)

 

Theodore Roosevelt's Tribute to Lee

In his Life of Thomas H. Benton (Houghton-Mifflin, 1900), Theodore Roosevelt traced the important influences which formed Benton’s character to the militant spirit found in his native South, and further mentions that important influence on the Southern army and its commander.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Theodore Roosevelt’s Tribute to Lee

“No man who is not willing to bear arms and to fight for his rights can give a good reason why he should be entitled to the privilege of living in a free community. The decline of the militant spirit in the Northeast during the first half of this century was much to be regretted.

To it is due more than to any other cause the undoubted average individual inferiority of the Northern compared with the Southern troops – at any rate, at the beginning of the [War].

The Southerners, by their whole mode of living, their habits, and their love of outdoor sports, kept up their warlike spirit, while in the North the so-called upper classes developed along the lines of a wealthy and timid bourgeoisie type, measuring everything by a mercantile standard (a peculiarly debasing one, if taken purely by itself), and submitting to be ruled in local affairs by low, foreign mobs, and in national affairs by their arrogant Southern kinsmen. The militant spirit of these last certainly stood them in good stead in the civil war.

The world has never seen better soldiers than those who followed Lee, and their leader will undoubtedly rank, without any exception, as the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth . . .”

(Roosevelt’s Tribute to Lee, Rev. J.H. McNeilly; Confederate Veteran, June 1900, page 257)

Indispensable African Slaves

In his message to Congress on 29 April 1861, President Jefferson Davis cited the Northern threat to the South’s labor system as a cause of withdrawal from political union with the North. The murderous raid of John Brown in 1859 had convinced the South of the North’s violent intentions, which were supported by influential and wealthy men.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Indispensable African Slaves

“As soon . . . as the Northern States that prohibited African slavery within their limits had reached a number sufficient to give their representation a controlling voice in the Congress, a persistent and organized system of hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves in the southern States was inaugurated and gradually extended. A continuous series of measures was devised and prosecuted for the purpose of rendering insecure the tenure of property in slaves . . .

Senators and Representatives were sent to the common councils of the nation, whose chief title to this distinction consisted in the display of a spirit of ultra-fanaticism, and whose business was . . . to awaken the bitterest hatred against the citizens of sister States, by violent denunciation of their institutions; the transaction of public affairs was impeded by repeated efforts to usurp powers not delegated by the Constitution, for the purpose of . . . reducing those States which held slaves to a condition of inferiority.

In the meantime, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction.

Under the supervision of a superior race, their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South . . . and the productions of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man.

With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced.”

(The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 134-135)

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.org

 

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 Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion, Charles W. Ramsdell (1929); The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 86-91)

 

Fruits of the Abolitionist Victory

The passage below is taken from a novel, though one based upon common sense and the historical realities of North and South. Though many like the author claim that “Jim Crow” laws occurred about 1900, they actually have their basis in the North as New York in the 1820s, for example, dealt with the threat of a black swing vote by raising property qualifications for black voters and free blacks had limited access to antebellum northern public transport. The author aptly describes a “lost cause” myth which would have developed in the postwar North to glorify its defeat, and locating a convenient scapegoat.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Fruits of the Abolitionist Victory

“Southerners were appalled, as well as perplexed, at the growing problems of discrimination and segregation in the North. That the North would have fought for the freedom of the black man, then turn around and display animosity at him for moving into the North and expressing his newly-found freedoms, seemed hypocrisy at its worst to the average citizen of the Confederacy.

The turn of the century brought to the United States what became known as the “Jim Crow” laws, named after a traditional song and dance, ironically of the South. Contemporary Southern social analysts have blamed the animosities felt in the North against the former slaves and sons and daughters of formers slaves, on several things.

First, there was the idea in the north that the Civil War had, in essence been a “black man’s war” in which hundreds of thousands of northern boys had sacrificed life and limb for the emancipation of the black man. The immediate woes that beset the United States after the war ended in defeat for the North needed some focal point, and the poor, uneducated former slave – the stranger to Northerners – became the convenient scapegoat.

In addition, the freeing of slaves flooded the job market in the North with workers who were willing to work for “slave wages” – much less than the ex-Union soldiers, also looking for jobs at the end of the war in 1863. Many veterans were fired from jobs and replaced with ex-slaves. The results were riots all over the North over nearly a decade.

The Southerner’s more lenient attitudes toward black people stemmed from generations of living with blacks, growing up with them, working beside them in the fields, and later, in the factories. Most Southerners would have admitted, even during the War between the States that they had always felt an uneasiness – a guilt, even – in seeing blacks held in servitude as slaves.

The stories of mistreatment and whippings had always been regarded in the South as ludicrous, pre-war propaganda by Abolitionists who had never seen a black man or woman. Certainly there were instances of a cruel overseer who applied punishment a little too often, but slaves in the old South had been considered property – and expensive property, as well – and were to be treated like an item of value. As one Southern social historian put it, you wouldn’t take a sledge-hammer to your brand new, expensive horseless carriage the first time it didn’t run; you would find out why it wasn’t working and fix it.

Southerners saw black men and women grow up, fall in love, marry, give birth, laugh, cry, and mourn the deaths of family members. There was something wrong here, many felt. These black people were not really property, like a plow or a horseless carriage. Under the skin, though many a Southerner, we are a very much alike.

It had to be a terrible moral burden, a society-wide, sublimated guilt about slavery that, once the war was over and the name-calling by Abolitionists had ended, could finally be seen in its true light, and was dealt with swiftly by the hurried measures to free the blacks from bondage.

To the average Southerner, blacks were not only property, but people too. To the Northerners, blacks were first a symbol, then a threat.”

If the South Had Won Gettysburg, Mark Nesbitt, Thomas Publications, 1980, pp. 88-89)