Browsing "Antebellum Realities"

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)

The South Versus the Asylums of Religious Zealots

Author Margaret L. Coit has written that “The Old South was a school for statesmanship” and that Southern men “rode high in the saddle of the USA” from the 1776 Revolution to the 1861 Revolution. It is no exaggeration that the “Virginia Dynasty” was virtually synonymous with the founding of the American experiment, and with the exception of John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster, nearly every outstanding American political figure was a Southern man.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The South Versus the Asylums of Religious Zealots

“The difference between the Southern civilization and the Northern,” says Thomas Nelson Page, “was the result of the difference between their origins and subsequent surroundings.” Then he tells the familiar story of how the Northern colonies “were the asylums of religious zealots” who came in search of freedom and became themselves “proscriptors of the most tyrannical type.”

To the Southern colonies, on the other hand, came “soldiers of fortune and gentlemen in misfortune . . . In the first ship-load of [Virginia] colonists there were “four carpenters, twelve laborers and fifty-four gentlemen.” The Southern settlers “came with the consent of the crown, the blessings of the Church, and under the auspices and favor of men of high-standing in the kingdom.”

With the best blood of England in their veins and the best of the Old World traditions in their cultural equipment, they produced a civilization “as distinctive as that of Greece, Carthage, Rome or Venice”; one that “made men noble, gentle and brave, and women tender, pure and true . . . It was, I believe, the purest, sweetest life ever lived.”

Page acknowledges, as many other traditionalists do, that the Southern planters were not wholly of Cavalier blood. They represented, he says, “the strongest strains of many stocks – Saxon, Celts, and Teuton; Cavalier and Puritan.”

(The South Looks at its Past, Benjamin Burks Kendrick and Arnett Alex Mathews, UNC Press, 1935, pp. 17-18)

 

Disunionists of the North

The demented John Brown has been described as a political assassin, one who desires “not simply to murder, but also to attract attention – to incite and terrify as many people as possible.” This new type of assassin was praised through skillful propaganda by Northern journalists and hailed by some as a hero of the people. After Southerners learned of the wealthy Northerners who financed and abetted Brown’s terrorism, they realized they were in political Union with an enemy who sought their destruction and took appropriate measures.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Disunionists of the North

“At Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in the fall of 1859, Herman Melville beheld “the portent,” the murderous raid that proved to be “the meteor of the war.” For the majority of Northern Americans, John Brown was no hero; he was an incendiary abolitionist.

Boston, New York, Philadelphia all held large public rallies, called “Union meetings,” to denounce and disown him. To be for “the Union” in 1859, it should be recalled, was to be against anti-slavery agitation and anti-Southern politics, so much so that the Republicans took to deprecating those who attended or spoke at such meetings as “Union savers,” an epithet denoting someone who spent to much energy worrying about the future of the union and not enough worrying about the electoral success of the Republican party.

Nathaniel Hawthorne famously wrote of Brown’s execution that “no man was more justly hanged.” That was Philadelphia’s sentiment too. Henry M. Fuller rebuked those Northerners who were treating Brown as a hero and martyr. “We have no sympathy with that modern hero-worship which exalts crime and deifies a felon, which sends comfort, counsel and material aid to the cell of a homicide, encouraging treason and justifying murder.”

John C. Bullitt charged that Brown was the bitter fruit of decades of incendiary abolitionism and anti-Southern rhetoric. “The man must be blind indeed who does not see in it the legitimate fruits of seeds that have been sown, and which have been most industriously cultivated, by certain classes of people until they have germinated in this mad attempt.”

Brown “but was working out practically what for years has been promulgated in various parts of the North, in many newspapers, from the pulpit, and the hustings. What has Virginia done to deserve to be attacked by an armed band of zealots? “She has but maintained her institutions as handed down from the men who framed the government.”

Edward King said that the Southern States were asking for nothing except that the Northern States abide by the Constitution and keep their part of the federal compact, which they “entered into after full deliberation and reflection.” Instead of that, they were “repudiating the Constitution and its concessions, denouncing the domestic institutions of our sister States, calumniating their citizens, instigating in their midst domestic insurrection and revolt, organizing political parties on the basis of interfering with their institutions, and denying their equal, unqualified rights in the common territories of the Union.”

Such conduct was “fast sweeping us into the dark abyss of dissolution and consequent civil war.” Charles Ingersoll too warned that “if this antislavery madness goes on, the Union must be dissolved,” and “with the termination of the partnership, comes the same day, civil war.” He fears it will be a ferocious one, “the most tremendous the world has ever seen.”

(Philadelphia Against the War, Arthur Trask, Northern Opposition to Mr. Lincoln’s War, D. Jonathan White, editor, 2014, Abbeville Institute Press, pp. 247-249)

Cincinnati's Anti-Black Past

In 1804 and 1807 Ohio had enacted “Jim Crow Laws” that required Negroes entering the State to post a $500 bond to guarantee good behavior, as well as a court document proving they were free. Though the bond requirement was not strictly enforced, by 1829 Cincinnatians were greatly alarmed by the large black population and ordered them to comply or leave the city within thirty days.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Cincinnati’s Anti-Black Past

“There was an abolition mob in Cincinnati a fortnight before my arrival, and the excitement had hardly subsided then. Let it be remembered, Ohio is a non-slave State. Two boys were playing near the canal, and bothering a Negro man, who got into a passion and stabbed one of them with a knife. The Negro was apprehended; but the citizens were so indignant at the outrage that they determined to hunt the Negroes out of the town altogether. For this purpose, they met at Fifth Street Market, some thousands strong, with rifles and two fieldpieces, and marched in regular order to the district of the city where the Negroes principally resided.

The blacks were numerous, and rumor said they were to show fight. Many of them had arms. Some said they fired on the citizens, and others not. There was some firing; but I could not ascertain if any of the blacks were killed, the accounts were so various. The end of the matter was, that they hounded them out of the town, and not a Negro durst show his black face in the town for a week. Many of them fled to the authorities of the town for protection; and the jail-yard was crowded with the poor creatures who had fled for their lives.

An arrangement was immediately come to, between the authorities and the citizens; to the effect that no Negro should be allowed to live in the city who could not find a white man to become his security, and be answerable for his conduct. There were two days of mobbing. The second day they gutted an abolition establishment, and sunk the press in the middle of the Ohio River, where it now lies . . .”

(Lynch Law — North and South, William Thomson, The Leaven of Democracy, Clement Eaton, editor, Braziller Press, 1963, page 424)

Free Soil Iowa Without Black People

The free soil and anti-slavery mantras of the prewar Republican party meant confining the black man to the South and reserving the western territories to European immigrants who did not want to compete with cheap labor. Lincoln and his fellow Republicans felt that the best use of the territories was “for homes of free white people”; Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois admitted the white supremacy basis of his party, stating that “We, the Republican party, are the white man’s party.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Free Soil Iowa Without Black People

“It is surprising that so many forceful anti-Negro views could be aired on the frontier and yet escape the scrutiny of so many historians. At the constitutional conventions of almost every western State, the single most pressing question was the admission or status of the black population. “Shall the territories be Africanized?” was the way Senator James Harlan of Iowa phrased it.

Both proslavery and antislavery delegates vied with each other in verbalizing their resentment of black people, and their insistence that equality was entirely unacceptable to white residents of the States. Some even jeopardized their State’s admission to the Union by offering anti-Negro laws that were in clear violation of the wishes of Congress. And, as the slavery controversy grew and civil war appeared more imminent, colorphobia increased in the western States.

The 1850 Indiana Constitutional Convention illustrated the fury of this colorphobia. One delegate argued:

“. . . that we can never live together upon an equality is as certain as that no two antagonistic principles can exist together at the same time.”

Comments at the 1844 Iowa Constitutional Convention [were]:

“We could never consent to open the doors of our beautiful State and invite [the black] to settle our lands.”

“The ballot box would fall into his hands and a train of evils would follow that would be incalculable.”

“The Negro not being a party to the government, has no right to partake of its privileges.”

“There are strong reasons to induce the belief that the two races could not exist in the same government upon an equality without discord and violence.”

[The Iowa Journal of History, Vol. I]

(The Black West, William Loren Katz, Open Hand Publishing, 1987, pp. 49-50)

Jefferson's Debatable Equality

Jefferson’s idealistic preamble passage regarding “all men are created equal” has been problemmatic though most agree that creation is where the equality ends — subsequent political equality is established by men.  Regarding the status of blacks at the time of the Constitution being ratifed, Chief Justice Taney found in his Dred Scott decision that Africans were indeed persons but not included in “the political people” of the United States and without standing as citizens. New York’s 1821 suffrage requirement for blacks mentioned below is considered by many to be the origin of “Jim Crow Laws.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Jefferson’s Debatable Equality

“In one matter [of antebellum views of democracy] there was a definite reactionary movement. This was the issue of free Negro suffrage. Virginia and North Carolina joined Maryland and Kentucky in taking from the free Negro the ballot he had theretofore possessed. In like manner, all new States of the period, North as well as South, denied suffrage to free Negroes.

The action of the old Southern States was paralleled by that of the Northern States. Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania took the ballot from the Negro. And New York in 1821 limited Negro suffrage by requiring that he possess a freehold valued at two hundred and fifty dollars over and above all indebtedness. Hence only five of the Northern States granted equal suffrage to Negroes.

Whether or not Jefferson, Mason, and other Revolutionary proponents of natural rights philosophy intended to include Negroes in the statement “all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights” is a debatable question, but in actual practice the American people had decided by their constitutional provisions that Negroes were not included in the political people. From the very day of the Declaration of Independence the race problem had caused the American people to make an exception to the doctrine that “all men are created equal.”

(Fletcher M. Green, Democracy in the Old South, paper written for the 1945 Southern Historical Association presidential address. The Pursuit of Southern History, George Brown Tindall, editor, LSU Press, 1964, pp. 186-187)

Serfs, Slaves and Irishmen

The emancipation of Russian serfs in 1861 followed the unrest fomented by the 1848 socialist revolutions in Europe, but it should not be too closely compared to Lincoln’s act in 1863. Then, the impetus was purely military and followed the pervious examples set by the British in 1775 and 1814 which promised freedom for those who rose up against their owners and contributed to British victory. Contrary to Lincoln’s writ of fire and sword, the Russian act of emancipation was peaceful and serfs were not enfranchised to rule over the Russian nobility.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Serfs, Slaves and Irishmen

“The rationale of serfdom, that is, the tying of the peasant to the land he tilled, was that it ensured labor (and hence income) to the landowning noble, enabling the latter to devote himself to serving the state. The enserfment of the peasants had been gradual, but by the middle of the seventeenth century the peasant and his descendants were legally obliged to remain on the land of their master. When the state granted land to new or old nobles for services rendered, the peasants on that land were transferred from state peasants into serfs.

[When Tsar Peter III released the nobility from state service] the peasants [expected reforms and] became resentful. Hitherto, peasant revolts had been localized though frequent, but in the reign of Catherine the Great the intensified discontent expressed itself in Pugachov’s rebellion, which lasted two years and threw official Russia and the nobility into a panic.

Serfs cultivated the land allotted to them, and in recompense for the use of this land they were required to work also on the land reserved for the use of the landowner. Three days a week was probably the average requirement but in the worst cases, and in busy weeks, this might be doubled . . .

The landowner could increase his serfs dues and duties, he could seize their property, he could forbid them from buying from, selling to, or working with persons outside the estate, he could make them into domestic servants, sell them either separately or with their families, force them to marry so as to breed more serfs, or forbid them to marry disapproved partners. Except in case of murder or banditry, the landowner administered rural justice and could send troublesome serfs to Siberia or into the army. Whipping was commonplace.

Although there were many landowners who were kindly, educating and sometimes liberating favoured serfs, there were others who were brutal; social isolation and almost absolute power led some landowners to excesses which in other circumstances they would have found revolting.

Englishmen travelling through Russia often compared Russian peasant life, not always unfavourably, with the condition of the Irish. Bu many foreigners were shocked by the condition of the poorer peasants.

An American wrote that the village poor “generally wanting the comforts which are supplied to the Negro on our best-ordered plantations, appeared to me not less degraded in intellect, character and personal bearing. Indeed, the marks of physical and personal degradation were so strong, that I was irresistibly compelled to abandon certain theories not uncommon among my countrymen at home, in regard to the intrinsic superiority of the white race over the others.”

(Endurance and Endeavor, Russian History 1812-1986, J.N. Westwood, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 74-76)

Lack of Northern Devotion to the Union

The North’s incessant slavery agitation caused the South’s peaceful secession from the Union in 1861, though this did not warrant a war waged against it. When eleven States seceded from the Articles of Confederation, Rhode Island and North Carolina did not wage war to bring the eleven back into that Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Lack of Northern Devotion to the Union

“As, then, the North has the absolute control over the government, it is manifest that on all questions between it and the South where there is a diversity of interests, the interest of the latter will be sacrificed to the former, however oppressive the effects may be, as the South possesses no means by which it can resist, through the action of the government.

[The] relation between the two races in the Southern section [constituted] a vital portion of her social organization . . . [and] Every portion of the North entertains views and feelings more or less hostile to it. Those most opposed and hostile regard it as a sin, and consider themselves under the most sacred obligation to use every effort to destroy it . . . While those who are least opposed and hostile regard it as a blot and a stain on the character of what they call the nation, and feel themselves bound to give it no countenance and support.

On the contrary, the Southern section regards the relation as one which cannot be destroyed without subjecting the two races to the greatest calamity, and the section to poverty, desolation, and wretchedness, and accordingly feel bound, by every consideration of interest and safety, to defend it.

This hostile feeling on the part of the North . . . long lay dormant, but it only required some cause to act on those who felt most intensely that they were responsible for its continuance to call it into action. The increasing power of this [federal] government, and of the control of the Northern section over all its departments, furnished the cause. This was sufficient of itself to put the most fanatical portion of the North in action, for the purpose of destroying the existing relation between the two races in the South.

The first organized movement towards [slavery agitation] began in 1835. Then, for the first time societies were formed, presses established, lecturers sent forth to excite the people of the North, and incendiary publications scattered over the whole South, through the mail. [By Congress refusing to hear antislavery petitions] . . . That was the time for the North to have shown her devotion to the Union; but unfortunately both of the great parties of that section were so intent on obtaining or retaining party ascendancy that all other considerations were overlooked or forgotten.

With the success of their first movement, this small fanatical party began to acquire strength, and with that, to become an object of courtship to both the great parties. The necessary consequence was a further increase of power, and a gradual tainting of the opinions of both of the others parties with their doctrines, until the infection has extended over both, and the great mass of the population of the north, who, whatever may be their opinion of the original abolition party . . . hardly ever fail [to] cooperate in carrying out their measures.

Instead of being weaker, all the elements in favor of abolition are stronger now than they were in 1835, when it first commenced, while all the elements of influence on the part of the South are weaker. Unless something decisive is done, I again ask, what is to stop this agitation . . . if something is not done to arrest it, the South will be forced to choose between abolition and secession? Indeed, as events are now moving, it will not require the South to secede, in order to dissolve the Union. Agitation will of itself effect it, of which its past history furnishes abundant proof . . .”

(The Life of John C. Calhoun, Gustavus M. Pinckney, Walker, Evans & Cogswell, 1903, excerpts, pp. 180-187)