Browsing "Antebellum Realities"

Intolerant Mountaineers

While the North Carolina mountains are normally described as antislavery and Unionist during the war, it was also strongly resistant to foreigners and a hotbed of Know-Nothingism imported from the North in the mid-1850s. Originally a secret, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and anti-party fraternal order, the “Know-Nothings” was a response to “the vast influx of immigrants” who would drive native-born Americans from northeastern cities toward the West. This immigrant invasion affected the North and was changing the electorate there from those who understood the Framers’ vision of America, to those born in European kingdoms ruled by royalty. The American South remained mostly free of such threats to the republic, and enjoyed many immigrant groups who assimilated; the new, sectional Republican party absorbed the intolerant Know-Nothings.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Intolerant Mountaineers

“At first glance, the North Carolina mountain region might have seemed infertile soil for a party dedicated to curbing the political influence of Catholics and foreigners, both of who were practically nonexistent in [the mountain] district. Nevertheless, many westerners proved susceptible to dire warnings that their democratic system of government was being threatened by hordes of immigrant criminals and paupers who owed primary allegiance to the Pope.

With their rallying cry of “Americans should rule America,” the Know-Nothings made impressive gains not only among the Whigs and boasted that their party had “arisen upon the ruins, and in spite of the opposition, of the Whigs and Democratic parties.”

But as the congressional elections of 1857 approached, the Know-Nothings – seemingly so formidable just two years earlier – now found themselves “weak, broken down, and scattered.” The party had been thoroughly demoralized by its abysmal showing in 1856 . . .”

(Thomas Lanier Clingman: Fire Eater From the Carolina Mountains, Thomas E. Jeffrey, excerpt pp. 105-107; 115)

Creating Engines for Political Security

The “glittering prize” of political party victory was control of the distribution of political offices, and Lincoln astutely arranged the patronage to control his party as well as keep jealous competitors at bay. The Collectors of Customs posts were most important, and were decisive in Lincoln’s decision for war rather than lose his tariff money and appointing powers.  Count Gurowski, the Polish immigrant and political gadfly mentioned below, believed in the European tradition that “treason” was simple opposition to royalty. In the United States, however, Article III, Section 3, defines treason only as waging war against “them,” the States, or adhering to their enemies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Creating Engines for Political Security

“The arduous task of cabinet-making was far from completed before Lincoln was beset with a swarm of office-seekers. Indeed, Washington was a veritable mecca for patronage mongers bent upon securing consulships, Indian agencies, postmaster-ships, or anything else in the gift of the appointing power [of the President].

Those who witnessed the rush of job hunters could not easily forget the spectacle. Wrote home a Michigan Congressman: “The City is overwhelmed with a crowd of rabid, persistent office-seekers – the like never was experienced before in the history of the Government.”

An Indiana member reminisced later: “I met at every turn a swarm of miscellaneous people, many of them looking as hungry and fierce as wolves, and ready to pounce upon members [of Congress] as they passed, begging for personal intercessions, letters of recommendations, etc. . . . the scuffle for place was unabated.”

And the eccentric Count Adam Gurowski, viewing the scene, confided to his diary in this same month of March 1861 his impressions:

“What a run, a race for offices. This spectacle likewise new to me. The Cabinet Ministers, or, as they call them here, the Secretaries, have old party debts to pay, old sores to avenge or to heal, and all this by distributing offices, or by what they call it here, the patronage. They, the leaders, hope to create engines for their own political security, but no one seems to look over Mason and Dixon’s line to the terrible and with lightning-like velocity spreading fire of hellish treason.”

Politically and financially, the collectors of customs posts were among the most important at the disposal of the Administration. That at the metropolis of the Empire State was the most lucrative. “There is no situation in the U. States which enables the incumbent to exert such influence . . . as the Collectorship of New York,” one political observer had written in the 1840’s; to another this position was second only in influence to that of Postmaster-General.”

Under the caption “Fat Offices of New York,” Horace Greeley’s Tribune informed its readers in 1860 that ranking first in importance and revenue was the collectorship, with its fixed salary of $6,340, and some $20,000 more in the form of “pickings and fees.” Before Lincoln’s first administration had run its four years, the Surveyor of the Port estimated the number of employees in the New York Custom House at 1,200 and the assessment on their salaries for political party purposes at 2 percent.”

(Lincoln and the Patronage, Harry J. Carman & Reinhard H. Luthin, Peter Smith, 1864, excerpts pp. 53-54; 59-60)

 

Mission of Peace and Goodwill Comes to Naught

The prime object in establishing the Constitution in 1787 was to insure domestic tranquility, and even the New York Tribune itself editorialized in November and December 1860 that: “We hold with Jefferson to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become oppressive or injurious . . . we insist on letting them go in peace.” New York, in its ratification of the Constitution in 1787, expressly reserved the right to secede should it determine the need. The author below rightly sums up the Southern peace initiatives: “Well might the Southern leaders have adopted for their own the language of the Psalmist, “I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.” It is then clear the immediate cause of the war was the Republican Party, and its refusal to pursue peaceful solutions.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Mission of Peace and Goodwill Comes to Naught

“Nor did [President Jefferson Davis] content himself with mere words of peace. He acted promptly on the resolution from Congress and appointed three commissioners from our government to the government of the United States. “These commissioners,” says Mr. Stephens, “were clothed with plenary powers to open negotiations for the settlement of all matters of joint property, forts, arsenals, arms, or property of any kind within the limits of the Confederate States, and all joint liabilities with their former associates, upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith.”

Let me ask, could anything have been fairer?

These commissioners promptly proceeded on their way. A few days after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln at Washington they formally notified his Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, that “the President, Congress and people of the Confederate States earnestly desire a peaceful solution” of pending questions between the two governments.

Suffice it to say that it was through no fault of these commissioners, or of the people and government they represented, that their mission of peace and goodwill to their late allies of the North came to naught.

Yet another effort for peace was made from a Southern official quarter in those portentous, ominous months following the sectional victory at the polls in November 1860. The Border Southern States were yet within the old union, hoping against hope for continued union, peace and justice. Among these Border States was Virginia, the oldest, most powerful of them all. By unanimous vote of her Legislature all the States of the union were invited to send delegates to a conference, to devise a plan for preserving harmony and constitutional union.

This conference met in Washington, February 4, 1861, the very day on which the Congress of the seceded Cotton States assembled in Montgomery. The demands or suggestions of the South in this Peace Congress were only that constitutional obligations should be observed by all parties; nay, that certain concessions to the North would be agreed to, by means of constitutional amendment, if only the constitution, as thus amended, might be obeyed.

This did not suit commissioners from the Northern States, as was bluntly stated by one of them, then and there. Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, who was slated for a portfolio in Lincoln’s cabinet, and therefore spoke at least quasi ex cathedra. So the Peace Congress proved of no avail.

We find a similar situation in the Congress of the United States at its regular session that winter. Of the condition there Mr. Pollard says, in his book “The Lost Cause”: “It is remarkable that of all the compromises proposed in this Congress for preserving the peace of the country, none came from the Northern men; they came from the South and were defeated by the North.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 26-28)

 

 

Peaceable Americans Form a More Perfect Union

In President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address he pointed out that “sovereign States here represented have proceeded to form this Confederacy; and it is an abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government remained.” He added simply, “The agent through which they communicated changed.” Thus there was no “destruction of the Union” as was charged by the North, but merely a reduction in the number of constituent States forming the union of 1787.

Bernhard Thuersam www.Circa1865.org

 

Peaceable Americans Form a More Perfect Union

“On February 15, 1861, before the arrival of Mr. Davis at Montgomery to take the oath of office, the Congress passed a resolution providing “that a commission of three persons be appointed by the President-elect as early as may be convenient after his inauguration and sent to the government of the United States, for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that government and the Confederate States of America, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two governments, upon principles of right, justice, equity and good faith.”

Truly, as Mr. [Alexander] Stephens, of Georgia, one of the delegates to this Montgomery Congress, says . . . “[the Confederate Congress] were no such men as revolutions or civil commotions usually bring to the surface . . . Their object was not to tear down, so much as it was to build up with the greater security and permanency.” And we may add that they meant to build up, if so permitted, peaceably.

In this spirit of amity and justice, the first act of the Louisiana State convention, after passing the ordinance of secession [from union with the United States], was to adopt, unanimously, a resolution recognizing the right to free navigation of the Mississippi River (which flows down from Northern States of the great inland basin and empties into the sea within the confines of Louisiana), and further recognizing the right of egress at that river’s mouth and looking to the guaranteeing of these rights.

President Davis’ inaugural address, delivered February 18, 1861, breathe the same spirit of friendship toward our brothers of the North. He said in part:

“Our present political situation . . . illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established.”

(Living Confederate Principles, Lloyd T. Everett, Southern Historical Society Papers, No. II, Volume XL, September 1915; Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1991, excerpts pp. 24-25)

 

A Minority Party Blunders into War

William H. Seward lost the Republican presidential nomination to a political novice from Illinois, and was quietly licking his wounds while that novice was ignoring the secession crisis in Springfield. As Seward was the creation and protégé of New York newspaperman Thurlow Weed, he might have exerted party leadership to bring on a constitutional convention of the States to properly settle the issues. Weed was no friend of secession, but saw signs that the conservative South was open to negotiation – as the Crittenden Compromise offered. Seward deferred to Lincoln, and Lincoln stumbled into war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Minority Party Blunders into War

“Aside from misconceiving the importance of the secession movement, the Republicans were also placed at a great disadvantage by their lack of experience as a majority party and their lack of a leader to chart their course for them. The crisis overtook them before they could remedy these defects.

It demanded that they produce a formula to save the Union, and made this demand at a time when they had never even borne the responsibility of appointing a postmaster. They were yet a minority party, not destined to assume office for three months to come.

They had never been anything other than a minority party, skilled in opposition tactics, steeped in opposition psychology, unused to responsibility, unaccustomed to the formulation of policy. Unprepared as they were to cope with a crisis, they clung to their nominal position as a minority group and shrank from taking affirmative action. The future belonged to them; they alone could pledge it; and consequently they alone could wield the initiative.

This handicap might have been overcome by clear-cut and decisive leadership. But in the moment when an unexpected crisis and unfamiliar responsibility fell simultaneously upon Republican congressmen, they found themselves with no unquestioned leader. Abraham Lincoln was, of course, the elected chief, but he had been silent for more than half a year.

Mr. Lincoln was, in the eyes of many simply an ex-congressman from Illinois, now President-elect . . . Certainly they gave no sincere allegiance to the unknown quantity from Springfield, and if anyone held the position of leadership it was Lincoln’s rival, William H. Seward. Seward had been the leader of the Republican party, and especially of the Republicans in Congress, for nearly six years . . . and probably the most intelligent member on the Republican side of the Senate.

The moral grandeur of “lost causes” held little appeal for him. Consequently, he became a superb politician, a master of artifice, equivocation, and silence. With Lincoln silent in Springfield, the public gaze turned upon Seward, the leader in Congress, and, as rumor had it, the next Secretary of State.

Had Seward been prepared to act vigorously at this juncture, he might have exerted an enormous influence. But he was, himself, inhibited at this critical moment by his reticence in assuming leadership so soon after his defeat for the [presidential] nomination, by his underestimate of the crisis, and by his anxiety not to take any step that would impair his prospective influence with the new administration.

Amid this welter of confusion [in Republican ranks], Congress at last convened [in] joint session [to hear President James Buchanan] set forth his belief that the States cannot legally secede, but that the Federal government could not legally restrain them; in it he recommended that Congress call a constitutional convention . . .”

(Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis, David M. Potter, Yale University Press, 1942, excerpts pp. 80-82)

 

Republicans Frustrate Compromise Efforts

Well-aware of his meager claim to electoral victory with only 39% of the popular vote, Lincoln told Republican Congressman James Hale of Pennsylvania that supporting the compromise plan of Kentucky’s John J. Crittenden would mean the end of the Republican Party and of his new government. During several compromise efforts between December 1860 and March, 1861, Lincoln wrote important Republican leaders in Congress to oppose any settlement with the South, which of course ensured secession and his war upon the South. Again, it is clear that the cause of secession and war was the Republican Party, and Lincoln placing party survival over saving the Founders’ Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Republicans Frustrate Compromise Efforts

“[Crittenden desperately] was trying to halt what he called the “madness” possessing the South and begged northerners in Congress to make the “cheap sacrifice” and “little concessions of opinions” that his pan required in order to save the country.

Crittenden directed his plea primarily to Republicans. They held the balance of power in Congress, and their reaction would decide the fate of the Crittenden program. Northern Democrats who had been traditionally more conciliatory toward the South . . . could be expected to give the program substantial support.

Some Republicans agreed with Crittenden that a few concessions to the South to preserve the union might be worthwhile, if the price was not too high. From the beginning, [Republican] antagonism doomed Crittenden’s high hopes [though] Unionists in both houses of Congress, however, fought for legislation that encompassed Crittenden’s plan.

In the lower house, on December 5 [1860], Alexander Boteler of Virginia successfully moved that a committee of one member from each State (the Committee of Thirty Three) be established to work out a plan to save the Union. Republicans cast every negative vote on the resolution, giving an early indication that they were opposed to compromise. Republicans blocked every other compromise measure suggested in the Committee of Thirteen.

Crittenden’s followers still refused to admit defeat. The Virginia legislature invited all the States to send representatives to a “Peace Conference” in Washington in February. Although none of the States that had already seceded sent delegates, twenty-one States did join the conference. Once again Republican leaders opposed compromise plans, claiming they did not want to cripple Lincoln’s freedom to deal with secession by committing him to a program before his inauguration.

An Indiana Republican delegate wrote to his governor from the conference: “We have thus done all in our power to procrastinate, and shall continue to do so, in order to remain in session until after [Lincoln’s inauguration on] the 4th of March.” The Senate voted on the original Crittenden plan and defeated it by a 20 to 19 vote. Not one Republican supported the plan.

The Republican decision to frustrate compromise efforts was one of the most significant political decisions in American history. Although it would be unreasonable to assert that had Republicans supported compromise they would definitely have ended the secession movement and prevented the Civil War, such a result was quite possible given the wide support that Crittenden’s plan attracted.

All the pro-Southern aspects of the compromise disturbed the Republicans; but their ire was raised in particular by the territorial provisions. The Republican party’s strength was contained in its antislavery wing, which was held together by opposition to any expansion of slavery [into the territories].

Had Republicans abandoned their opposition to slave expansion in 1860, they would have committed political suicide. Such a concession to the South would have constituted a repudiation of their own platform, “an admission that Southern complaints were valid,” and a confession that Lincoln’s election as president warranted secession.

Republican voters by the thousands cautioned their congressmen and leaders not to compromise with the South and agitated at home against conciliation, as when Pittsburgh Republicans broke up a unionist meeting by turning off the gas, smashing seats, and yelling “God d —-n John J. Crittenden and his compromise.”

(The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire: 1854-1861, Robert E. May, LSU Press, 1973, excerpts pp. 210-212; 214-217)

John Brown’s Co-Conspirators

In the mid-1850s there appeared the political assassin who murdered the obscure and innocent rather than the mighty, as was often financed by the latter as an instrument for political purposes. The mighty who encouraged and financed John Brown included preacher Theodore Parker, physician Samuel Gridley Howe, manufacturer George Stearns, teacher Franklin Sanborn and millionaire Gerrit Smith. Add to this group Frederick Douglass, who fled to Canada rather than face trial for complicity in Brown’s crime.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

John Brown’s Co-Conspirators

“Meanwhile, John Brown passed on through to Ohio, continuing eastward and arriving in Boston, Massachusetts on January 4, 1857, where he first called on Franklin Sanborn, Secretary of the Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee. Two days later he called on Amos Lawrence . . . who noted him to be, “a calm, temperate and pious man, but when aroused ifs a dreadful foe.”

Lawrence was sizing up Brown to ascertain his future usefulness, for Lawrence was both wealthy and influential.

Charles Howe invited influential activists and newspapermen to meet with John Brown in the offices of his Institute for the Blind . . . [where] Brown outlined his plans for leading a band of 100 Terrorists to “Fight for Exclusion in Kansas [Territory]” and “carry the war into [the homeland of bonded African Americans in the Southern States].”

During these days in Boston, Brown also met with Charles Howe, Thomas Higginson, George Stearns . . . Theodore Parker, but not all together at the same time, and thereby he kept some from knowing about the other’s involvement.

With Stearns sitting as Chairman and Sanborn as Secretary, the Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee “voted to give John Brown control over the 200 Sharps rifles stored in the cellar of the minister, John Todd, in Tabor, Iowa, plus 4,000 ball cartridges and 31,000 percussion caps.” That same day, January 7, [reporter] James Redpath’s commendation of Brown appeared in the New York Tribune.

About this time Redpath took Brown to call on Charles Sumner [where] Brown admired the coat Sumner had been wearing during his caning at the hands of Preston Brooks. Then on January 11, Brown was a dinner guest of George Stearns and family at their home in Medford, Massachusetts. During the visit, Brown captivated George, his wife and children with tales of alleged attacks by settlers from the Southern States. From that point forward, George Stearn’s wife would often urge her husband to help finance Brown’s campaign.”

(Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced the American Civil War, Volume Two, the Demagogues; Howard Ray White, excerpts pp. 268-269)

The Seeds of Sectionalism and War

Both Jefferson and Hamilton recognized that sectionalism had been a part of American politics since colonial days, and the emerging West was adding a third section to the political landscape. The political problem facing Federalists and Republicans was “how to win the allegiance of the absconding swindlers, murderers, fugitive slaves, bankrupts, brigands and failures” who settled the wild areas of the West. And certainly those Westerners would give their political allegiance to whomsoever got them what they wanted. Therein lay the seeds of future war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Seeds of Sectionalism and War

“[Jefferson] saw that factions were forming in the United States, and the political parties were emerging. This was something the Founding Fathers had not envisioned when they wrote and agreed upon the Constitution. But it was clear enough to Jefferson that, on one side, there was a Federalist Party, led by Hamilton.

This party, he felt, had made a virtual prisoner of Washington . . . and was hiding behind his prestige to effect its nefarious scheme of converting the United States into a monarchy for the specific benefit of Northern financiers. Hamilton, Jefferson somewhat wildly wrote, “was not only a monarchist, but for a monarchy bottomed on corruption.”

Jefferson saw the Federalists as aristocrats who were the enemies of natural law and the rights of man. They interpreted the Constitution to mean the Federal government could seize any rights not specifically denied it, in order to destroy liberty. They were hand in hand with the financiers of Great Britain, and their opposition to slavery was not humanitarian, but just a hypocritical way of seeking to undermine the economy, and hence the power, of the agricultural Southern States.

On the other side, in Jefferson’s view, there ought to be the “anti-Federalist” party, which would stand for strict construction and the rights of States in order to safeguard the rights of man. As he saw them, the anti-Federalists were those who feared the creation of a national bank as another Federalist plot to destroy these rights; they were the true revolutionaries, whereas the Federalists represented the forces of reaction.

As revolutionaries, the republicans were therefore the enemies of monarchical Great Britain and the friends of revolutionary France. If they believed in slavery, it was because – well, of course nobody could really believe in slavery; the South was at heart republican and of course someday slavery would be abolished, but not right now. It was not the time to raise that question: the times now demanded opposition to the anti-revolutionary Federalists.

The anti-Federalists should form a party.”

There was meanwhile a nation to govern – one whose destiny lay clearly in the West. Here, between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, were two-hundred thousand American settlers whose political opinions could be decisive. Both saw opportunities to speculate in western lands [but] both feared that the balance of political power might shift from the East Coast to these broad western lands with the swift growth of population there. It was a possibility that occurred to western politicians as well.”

(Eminent Domain: the Louisiana Purchase and the Making of America, John Keats, Charterhouse, 1973, excerpts pp. 242-244; 247-248)

 

New England Sets the Example for the South

Lord Acton writes that “secession is not a theory of the Constitution, but a remedy against a vicious theory of the Constitution” — the right of a minority to withdraw from a political agreement which they no longer wish to be part of, and to escape the tyranny of the majority. Even a nationalist like Hamilton saw the balance necessary between national and State governments, and that both will be prevented from trespassing on each one’s constitutional limitations. The States would be further protected by the strictly delegated, and few, powers of the general government.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

New England Sets the Example for the South

As a consequence of troubles between Napoleon’s Berlin decree and the British response, President Jefferson determined to lay an embargo on all American vessels – with a subsequent Bill passed December 22, 1807.

“The embargo was a heavy blow to the ship-owning States of New England . . . the others were less affected by it. “The natural situation of this country,” says Hamilton, is to divide it interests into . . . navigating and non-navigating States. This difference in situation naturally produces a dissimilarity of interests and views respecting foreign commerce.”

Accordingly the law was received in those States with a storm of indignation. Quincy, of Massachusetts, declared in the House: “It would be as unreasonable to undertake to stop the rivers from running into the sea, as to keep the people of New England from the ocean . . .”

The doctrine of State-rights, or nullification, which afterwards became so prominent in the hands of the Southern party, was distinctly enunciated on behalf of the North on this occasion.

Governor Trumbull, of Connecticut, summoned the legislature to meet, and in his opening address to them he took the ground that, in great emergencies, when the national legislature had been led to overstep its constitutional power, it became the right and the duty of the State legislatures “to interpose their protecting shield between the rights and the liberties of the people, and the assumed power of the general government.”

They went farther and prepared to secede from the Union, and thus gave the example which has been followed, on exactly analogous grounds, by the opposite party.

John Quincy Adams declared in Congress that there was a determination to secede. “He urged that a continuance of the embargo much longer would certainly be met by forcible resistance, supported by the legislature, and probably by the judiciary of the State . . . Their object was, and had been for years, a dissolution of the Union, and the establishment of a separate confederation.”

Twenty years later, when Adams was President, the truth of this statement was impugned. At that time the tables had been turned, and the South was denying the right of Congress to legislate for the exclusive benefit of the North Eastern States, whilst these were vigorously and profitably supporting the Federal authorities.

It was important that they should not be convicted out of their own mouths, and that the doctrine they were opposing should not be shown to have been inaugurated by themselves.

(The Civil War in America: Its Place in History; Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Volume I, Essays in the History of Liberty, J. Rufus Fears, editor, Liberty Fund, 1985, excerpts pp. 231-234)

 

Joseph Davis Encourages Black Entrepreneurs

As a young man, Jefferson Davis learned life at the feet of his older brother Joseph Emory Davis (1784-1870) the management skills necessary to operate his own Mississippi plantation, “Hurricane.” As described below by author Hudson Strode, Jefferson “was convinced that servitude was a necessary steppingstone to the Negro’s eventual freedom and “measurable perfectibility,” and that those brought from Africa “were benefited by their contact with white civilization and Christianity.” Further, he viewed “the instrument of supplying cotton to the textile industry, which meant better employment in England and on the Continent, as well as New England, the Negro made a real contribution to world prosperity.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Joseph Davis Encourages Black Entrepreneurs

“In one special characteristic Jefferson was deemed a spiritual son of his brother: “he could hardly comprehend anyone’s differing from him in political policy after hearing reasons on which his opinion was based.”

While Jefferson reveled in Joseph’s talk and Joseph’s books in the evenings, by day he was diligent in the pursuit of agriculture. He carefully remarked his brother’s methods of slave management and agronomic techniques. In Natchez with Joseph sand James Pemberton, he had bought ten carefully selected slaves. He had put his faithful body servant in charge of them . . . Pemberton, with a shrewd understanding of both the black man’s and white man’s psychology, [and who was] indispensable.

But even more so was Joseph, who was noted throughout Mississippi for his model plantation. Strange as it may seem, the democratic plutocrat Joseph had been influenced by the utopian philosophy of the socialist Robert Owen, whose “A New View of Society” he had read before meeting him on the stagecoach in 1824.

As Joseph’s Negroes testified both before and after the War Between the States, they were mostly kindly treated. No overseer was ever given the right to punish them. The Negroes enjoyed a kind of self-rule devised by Joseph, in which the older or more settled ones acted as the jury for offenders. Though the Negroes themselves set the penalty, the master reserved the right to pardon or mitigate the severity of the sentence, which Jefferson noted he did more than often.

The slaves were encouraged to be thrifty, resourceful and inventive. They could raise their own vegetables and produce their own eggs to supplement their weekly rations. Eggs bought by the big house were paid for at market prices, though they could also be sold at any market.

When a slave could do better at some other employment than daily labor, he was allowed to do so, paying for the worth of regular field service out of his earnings. One of the slaves ran a variety shop, and sometimes he would buy the entire fruit crop from the Davis estates to sell and ship. Joseph chose his favorites from among the Negroes for advancement according to their qualities and aptitudes. Any individual talent that revealed itself was nurtured.

Jefferson was particularly impressed by a responsible and gifted Negro named Benjamin Thornton Montgomery, whose father, John, had been born a slave in Loudon County, Virginia. John had been taught to write by his master’s young son . . . John’s bent was carpentry, he became an expert in building. Then he took up civil engineering, devising his own instruments.

John passed on his knowledge of reading and writing to his son Ben Montgomery, who had acquired a little library of his own by the time Jefferson came to Hurricane. As the Montgomery boys grew up they helped Joseph with his large correspondence, business and political.”

(Jefferson Davis, American Patriot: 1808-1861, a Biography of the Years Before the Great Conflict, Hudson Strode, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955, excerpts pp. 111-113)

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