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The Civil War’s Basic Cause: Sectionalism

In this late 1940 address to the Southern Historical Association, historian Frank L. Owsley (1890-1956) spoke of the sectional cause of the Civil War and the North’s reluctance to allow the South to seek political independence.  Prof. Owsley was born in Alabama, taught at Vanderbilt University and was a member of the Southern Agrarians.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Civil War’s Basic Cause: Sectionalism

“Before attempting to say what were the causes of the American Civil War, first let me say what were not the causes of the war.

Perhaps the most beautiful, the most poetic, the most eloquent statement of what the Civil War was not fought for is the Gettysburg Address. That address will live as long as Americans retain their love for free government and personal liberty; and yet in reassessing the causes of the Civil War, the address whose essence is was that the war was being fought so “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth” is irrelevant.

Indeed, this masterpiece of eloquence has little if any value as a statement of the basic principles underlying the war.

The Civil War was not a struggle on the part of the South to destroy free government and personal liberty, nor on the part of the North to preserve them. Looked at from the present perspective of the worldwide attempt of the totalitarians to erase free governments and nations living under such governments from the face of the earth, the timeworn stereotype that the South was attempting the destruction of free government and the North was fighting to preserve it seems unrealistic and downright silly.

If the destruction of democratic government by the South and its preservation by the North were not the causes of the Civil War, what then were the causes? The surface answer to this question is that in 1861, the Southern people desired and attempted to establish their independence and thereby to disrupt the old Union; and that the North took up arms to prevent the South from establishing this independence and to preserve the Union.

This [Southern] state of mind may be summed up thus: by the Spring of 1861, the Southern people felt it both abhorrent and dangerous to continue to live under the same government with the people of the North. So profound was this feeling among the bulk of the Southern population that they were prepared to fight a long and devastating war to accomplish a separation.

On the other hand, the North was willing to fight a war to retain their reluctant fellow citizens under the same government with themselves.

The cause of that state of mind which we may well call war psychosis lay in the sectional character of the United States. In other words, the Civil War had one basic cause: sectionalism.

Our national state was built, not upon the foundations of a homogenous land and people, but upon geographic sections inhabited severally by provincial, self-conscious, self-righteous, aggressive and ambitious populations of varying origins and diverse social and economic systems; and the passage of time and the cumulative effects of history have accentuated these sectional patterns.”

(The Fundamental Cause of the Civil War, Frank L. Owsley, excerpt, Address to Southern Historical Association, November 8, 1940)

 

 

Reaping the Economic Benefits of Slavery

History records that the first colony to legally establish slavery was Massachusetts, the Puritans of New England enslaved the Pequot Indians [including children] who resisted their invasions; by 1750 Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade; Yankee notions and rum were traded in Africa for those already enslaved; Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin transformed cotton production in 1793; Manhattan banks supplied easy credit after the Louisiana Purchase opened the western lands to slave-produced cotton; and cotton-hungry New England mills were fed from that new land. It is then easy to see the source of slavery’s perpetuation and it clearly points to those who could have easily ended that relic of the British colonial system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reaping the Economic Benefits of Slavery

“The superabundance of land to which the English colonists, from Adam Smith downwards, attribute the prosperity of new colonies, has never led to great prosperity without some kind of slavery. The States of New England, in which Negro slavery [was permitted], form no exception to the general rule.

[Though] the Puritans and followers of [William] Penn, who founded to colonies of New England, flourished with superabundance of land and without [a great number of] Negro slaves, they did not flourish without slavery . . . [though] they were led to carry on an extensive traffic in white men and children, who, kidnapped in Europe, were virtually sold to these fastidious colonists, and treated by them as slaves.

Even so lately as the last twenty years, and especially during the last war between England and America . . . vast numbers of poor Germans were decoyed to those States which forbid slavery, and there sold for long terms of years to the highest bidder at public auction. Though white and free in name, they were really not free to become independent landowners, and therefore it was possible to employ their labor constantly and in combination.

A black man never was, nor is he now, treated as a man by the white men of New England. There, where the most complete equality subsists among white men, and every white man is taught to respect himself as well as other white men, black men are treated as it they were horses or dogs . . .

In another way, the States which [abolished] slavery have gained by it immensely without any corresponding evil. The great fishing establishments of the [New England] colonies were set up for the purpose of supplying the slaves of the West Indies, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas, commodities which have never been raised on any large scale in America except by the combined labor of slaves.

A great part of the commerce . . . of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, has always consisted of a carrying trade for the Southern States . . .

At the present time, which is the great market for the surplus of farmers in the non-slaveholding States on the western rivers? New Orleans. And how could that market exist without slavery? Capitalists again, natives of the States which forbid slavery, reside during part of every year in the slave States, and reap large profits by dealing in rice, sugar and cotton, exchangeable commodities, which, it must be repeated, have never been raised to any extent in America except by the labor of slaves.

The States, therefore, which [abolished] slavery, having reaped the economic benefits of slavery, without incurring the chief of its moral evils, seem to be more indebted to it than the slave States.

If those who [abolished] slavery within their own legal jurisdiction should also resolve to have no intercourse or concern with slave-owners, to do nothing for them, and to exchange nothing with them, we should see an economical revolution in America . . .

It is evident that the most Southern States of the Union cannot abolish slavery without incurring great dangers, which the North had no reason to apprehend when it emancipated its black population . . . [and were] gradually introduced into the society . . .

The Northern States had nothing to fear [as the] blacks were few in number . . . But if the faint dawn of freedom were to show two millions of men their true position, the oppressors had reason to tremble.

And as soon as it is admitted that the whites and the emancipated blacks are placed upon the same territory in the situation of two foreign communities, it will be readily understood that there are but two chances for the future: the Negroes and the whites must either wholly part, or wholly mingle.”

(Selections from the Economic History of the United States, 1765-1860, Guy Stevens Callender, (original 1909) Reprints of Economic Classics, 1965, excerpts, pp. 793-799)

Financing the War with Inflation

As Lincoln was unable to finance his war with the traditional tax and customs revenue sources, he turned to paper fiat money to be printed as needed, though the Constitution permits only gold and silver as legal tender. The predictable speculation in the value of greenbacks versus gold prices caused murky markets to emerge. In New York’s “Gold Room,” decisions were guided not so much by patriotic motives as the desire for profit. It was said that “Sectional feeling often entered largely into bull and bear contests in the Gold Room, and Union men and rebel sympathizers fought their battles sometimes, as much to gratify this as to make money.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Financing the War with Inflation

“To help finance the Civil War, the federal government began issuing “demand notes” in July 1861. These government obligations were not a legal tender currency and were freely convertible into gold upon presentation to a federal depository. During the course of 1861, the Union’s financial condition deteriorated, and in December the Treasury issues a very bleak report on the budgetary situation.

In the face of such news, bankers concluded that investors would lose confidence in the demand notes and the banks would soon experience a massive outflow of gold. On December 30, the banks suspended specie payments of gold [for greenbacks]. The government followed suit almost immediately.

Soon thereafter, in February 1862, Congress passed the first of the Legal Tender Acts. These acts authorized the government to issue “greenbacks” – a currency that was to be legal tender for both public and private debts. Of course, since demand notes were no longer convertible into gold, neither were greenbacks . . . [though] all available evidence indicates that the public believed that at some future date convertibility would be reinstated and all greenbacks would be redeemed in gold.

[Because Lincoln] was unable to finance the war with the available tax revenues . . . Greenbacks were a way of using inflation to pay for the war. Speculators knew that the degree to which the Union would have to rely on future greenback issues depended on just how much the war would ultimately cost. A long, expensive war would require more greenback issues and make it less likely that greenbacks would ever be exchanged for gold dollars on a one-for-one basis.

Not surprisingly, a formal market for buyers and sellers to trade gold came into existence within two weeks of the suspension of convertibility. The first organized dealings took place at the New York Stock Exchange on January 13, 1862. At about the same time a second market formed . . . in New York City . . . known as the Gold Room.

An important question for our purposes is how the gold market used the [political and war] information coming to it. Did the financial market react quickly to news that was available, or did it take several days to digest it? A closely related question is whether news of battles . . . reached all participants at the same time.

In a report on the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 1864, the New York Herald explicitly noted that the government frequently withheld information from the public to minimize alarm and protect intelligence and sources.

The daily registry of the Gold Room was a quicker messenger of successes and defeats than the tardier telegrams of the Associated Press. A private secretary of a high official, with no capital at all to save his position, which gave him authentic information of every shaping of the chess game of war a full twenty hours in advance of the public, simply flashed to the words “sell, buy” across the wires, and trusted the honor of his broker for the rest.

If there was a sufficiently large number of “insiders” competing with each other, then the market would quickly transform war news into changes in the price of greenbacks, despite the fact that the news was not coming through published sources.

The observation of [New York Herald writer] Kinahan Cornwallis are consistent with this notion: “Almost every individual speculator in the Gold Room, whose transactions were large enough to make it of consequence, had a correspondent in the national capital, who sent him a telegraphic dispatch as occasion required . . .”

(Greenback Prices as Commentary on the Union Prospects, Guinnane, Rosen and Willard, Civil War History, The Journal of the Middle Period, Kent State University Press, December 1995, Volume XLI, No. 4, excerpts, pp. 315-318)

 

Charleston’s Colored Masters

Many of antebellum Charleston’s free black population owned slaves, and the Brown Fellowship of that city was organized in 1790 by black commercial slaveowners who saw no need to emancipate their black brethren. In 1796, Samuel Holman, a mulatto slave trader from Rio Pongo, West Africa was admitted to that colored society, which preserved the distinction between free persons of color and slaves.  On the eve of war in Wilmington, North Carolina, the labor utilized in erecting Dr. John D. Bellamy’s mansion included free black carpenter with slave workers who underbid white carpenters. The latter petitioned the legislature in the mid-1850s to increase the tax on slaves so white workers could find work.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Charleston’s Colored Masters

“Many prominent citizens like Christopher Gustavious Memminger, an influential lawyer and politician of Charleston County, believed that the free black community served a useful role and protected the interest of slaveholders.

Since many of the well-to-do colored persons were slave masters and landholders, the whites concluded that the free black elite would join them in support of the institution of slavery. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the lines were drawn by the free black populace and the views of white supporters of the colored community seemed accurate.

On April 12, 1861 . . . the black masters saw the opportunity to affirm their commitment to South Carolina and sided with the white slaveowners. A group of free blacks from Charleston City, including a number of colored slaveowners, issued the following statement:

“. . . [Our] attachments are with you, our hopes and safety and protection from you . . . our allegiance is due to South Carolina and in her defense, we will offer up our lives, and all that is dear to us.”

The sentiments of the Charleston black slaveowners were shared by the black slaveowners of other counties. For example, William Ellison, a cotton planter and the owner of 63 slaves, offered his aid to the Confederate Army in Sumter County.

As the Confederate Army began to make successful advances in the summer of 1862, the black masters continued their farming operations with slave labor. As the war raged on, shortages of meat and other foodstuffs were not the only dilemma faced by the colored masters. Even the wealthiest colored masters could not always purchase clothing for their families and slaves. Quite often the slave masters employed their female slaves to make homespun clothing.

[After 1863, many black masters] sought to liquidate their human chattel . . . before the Union Army forced them to emancipate their slaves. As the war continued to worsen for the Confederacy, other colored masters probably attempted to sell their slave property but could not find a willing buyer because the Union Army was advancing towards South Carolina.

Yet even as the Confederacy was falling into disarray, many of the black masters refused to sell their slaves, while others chose not to grant their servants nominal freedom. As late as 1865, there were 81 colored slave masters who owned 241 slaves in Charleston City. Many of these slaveowners used their slaves as workers and did not intend to emancipate them.

Among the invading troops [at Charleston in early 1865] were the Twenty-first US Colored Troops. When they reached the city, a crowd of jubilant free blacks and slaves greeted the soldiers; but the colored masters of Charleston perceived the invasion as apocalyptic destruction rather than salvation.”

(Black Slaveowners, Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860; Larry Koger, University of South Carolina Press, 1985, excerpts, pp. 189-192)

War to Enhance the Power of Lesser Regions

Copperheads, or Peace Democrats, were not Southern secession sympathizers but those who saw peaceful solutions in compromises worked out in a Constitutional convention of the States, which would end the bloody war between Americans. Northern leaders like the eloquent and rational Horatio Seymour of New York were regarded with suspicion by Lincoln and his supporters, and nothing more than an ambitious schemer for power. They awaited an opportunity to put Seymour at a disadvantage, and then seek ways to remove him from office.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

War to Enhance the Power of Lesser Regions

“The Democratic upsurge in the elections of 1862, the widespread suspicion of the federal government’s growing power, the deep popular objection to the abolitionists and the Emancipation Proclamation were all embodied in Horatio Seymour, newly elected Governor of New York. As chief executive of the Union’s most populous State, Seymour was in a position to assume the leadership of the States’ rights forces – a leadership that might take him into the White House. Seymour brought an integrity that was incorruptible and a scholarly intelligence beyond the wont of politicians. Neither quality, however – even when backed by the mounting discontent and growing war-weariness – could prevail against the power and propaganda of the national government. Abraham Lincoln beheld the rise of Horatio Seymour with well-place apprehension.

The governor’s inaugural address began by calling attention to his oath to support the constitutions of both the United States and New York . . . [and that] the rights of the States must be sacred. A consolidated government, declared the governor, would destroy “the essential home-rights and liberties of the people.”

With a realism strange to the political oratory of war, Seymour placed the unionism of the central and Western States on economic grounds; the West needed the Southern markets. But there were constitutional implications as well in the situation. Division of the country would produce a centralization of power. The small States, explained Seymour – and by small States he meant New England – were more willing than the larger ones to centralize power, because they had a disproportionate power in the national government.

The division of the Union, or the disenfranchisement of the Southern States – making them territories – would enhance the power of the lesser regions. And in turn, this concentration of political power would place the national economy in leading-strings to the limited economic pursuits of New England. The national debt would be owned on the Atlantic seaboard and would divide the country into the “perilous sectional relations of debtor and creditor regions.” Then, the Governor continued, the advantages of the protective tariff, growing out of this debt, would accrue to the same creditor States that enjoyed the excessive political power.

The only way to prevent these developments was the restoration of the Union – complete in all its parts. The vigor of the war would be increased when the national effort was concentrated on restoring the Union, and not upon a “bloody, barbarous, revolutionary, and unconstitutional scheme” that gratified hatred, party ambition, and sectional advantage!

Interspersed through this economic and political dissertation, and illustrating his exposition, were Seymour’s comments on the unconstitutionality of the Emancipation Proclamation, arbitrary arrests, and conscription.

Promptly the address became a sensation . . . [though] William Cullen Bryant of the Post ruminated that while Seymour spoke much truth on arbitrary arrests, yet these methods had saved Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri for the Union. But Horace Greeley, eschewing any thought of rationality, denounced the address as “dexterous dishonesty” concocted of cowardice, drunkenness, and masked disloyalty by a demagogue.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Alfred A. Knopf, 1955, excerpts, pp. 281-284)

 

Veritable Social Revolution in the South

FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Francis Perkins, belief that more Southerners wearing shoes would spark a consumer tsunami, is on par with New England’s early wartime belief that much good would come from giving former slaves land to cultivate on occupied Hilton Head and the Sea Islands. The logic was that the new-found wealth of the freedmen would be spent on Yankee notions and manufactured goods, and Northern industry would benefit.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Veritable Social Revolution in the South

“Some years ago Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins raised the temperature of many Southerners to fever height by suggesting that if the people of that section could be persuaded to wear shoes a veritable “social revolution” would result. The mass-production system of the United States, the secretary told a welfare council in May, 1933, depends upon purchasing power, the proper development of which would lead to prosperity beyond anything we “have ever dared to dream of.”

If the wages of the millworkers of the South could be raised to such a level that they could afford shoes, a great demand for footwear would result. Indeed, said the secretary, when it is realized that “the whole South is an untapped market for shoes” it becomes clear that great “social benefits” and “social good” would inevitably come from the development of our “mass-production system” to meet this latent consuming power.

Southern editors and speakers indignantly denied the canard that Southerners bought no shoes and retorted that such comments were only what might have been expected from a woman, especially one who knew nothing about the South.

It was even suggested that should all the inhabitants of the South suddenly wake to wearing shoes the resultant wear and tear on streets, sidewalks, and hotel carpets might cause grave financial loss to the area.

That was in 1933 . . . [and it was maintained that] Markets can only exist where there is demand; demand comes close upon the heels of knowledge. Knowledge, or education in the ways of the West, has therefore been considered essential if “backward” peoples are to be induced to purchase western goods. [Henry M.] Stanley, the African explorer, in an address before the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, published in 1884 [asserted] that if Christian missionaries should clothe naked Negroes of the Congo, even in one dress for use on the Sabbath, “320,000,000 yards of Manchester cotton cloth” would be required . . . Should they become sufficiently educated in the European moral code to feel the necessity for a change of clothing every day, cloth to the value of [26 million pounds] a year would be necessary.

When the natives have been educated they would abandon their idleness and sloth, [John Williams, missionary to Tahiti said in 1817], and become industrious workers. Then, he asserted, they will apply to our merchants for goods . . . “

[When FDR called for a New Deal in the South] He certainly must have been aware of the implications of the thesis that the poorly housed, undernourished, and ill-clad Southerner must be given greatly increased purchasing power to enable him to better his economic condition, thus strengthening the demand for manufacture products and consequently improving the economy of the nation as a whole.

It is also certain that the concern which Secretary Perkins felt for the shoeless Southerner was not without precedent. When the armies of Grant and Sherman liberated the Southern Negro, the economic implications were not lost on the people of the victorious section. Following in the wake of the Union armies a host of teachers and missionaries flocked to the South, determined to Christianize and educate the freed Negro . . . with a decidedly abolitionist tinge, to be sure.

[These] people, their robes of self-righteousness wrapped firmly around them . . . carried with them the New England school, complete with curriculum, texts and method, but they also took with them the attitudes and beliefs of the social reformer and, specifically, the militant abolitionist. Politically, the teachers and missionaries became the tools of the [Republican] Radicals in their program of reconstruction . . .

Sensing in the alphabet and the book the key to the white man’s position of dominance, the open-sesame which would unlock the magic door of equality and wealth, the Negro, like the Polynesian, flocked to the church and the school. As one observer wrote, the “spelling book and primer” seemed to them Alladin’s [sic] lamp, which will command over all the riches and glory of the world. In brief, they believed that education was “the white man’s fetish,” which would guarantee wealth, power, and social position.

Some of the teachers [and missionaries] understood the inevitable result of the extension of freedom, Christianity, and education to the Negro – the development of a vast new market for northern goods, which would result in great profits to northern mills.”

(Northern Interest in the Shoeless Southerner, Henry L. Swint; Journal of Southern History, Volume XVI, Number 4, November 1950, excerpts, pp. 457-462)

Sen. Fulbright on Southern Poverty

Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas advised his fellow congressmen from the North as to why the South lagged behind in economic development and education, and the reason for this. Fulbright was a signatory of the Southern Manifesto of March 12, 1956 that denounced what was viewed as unconstitutional actions of an activist and legislation-enacting Supreme Court, and all advised legal means of resistance.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Senator Fulbright on Southern Poverty

“From 1946 when the Senate first dealt with Harry Truman’s proposed Fair Employment Practices Commission, (FEPC) and on through a series of filibusters and bitter civil rights contests, Fulbright has been prominent among the Southern bloc. He has been a leader in debate and strategy; he has spoken out as strongly and frequently as any other Southerner.

More than most, he has addressed himself to the South’s unique problems — poverty, ignorance, disease, lack of economic opportunities. He has tried to place these problems in historical perspective, and in that sense can he himself best be understood.

The historical facts of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and its bitter aftermath, crippled the South. The South WAS treated like a conquered territory; it WAS exploited; it DID become ever more insulated and removed from the mainstream of American life. Its fears, frustrations and antagonisms are without parallel in the American experience.

In common with other Southern politicians, Fulbright has been frustrated in attempting to effect change. With his own business background and intimate knowledge of financial conditions in Arkansas, he particularly has resented the domination of outside economic interests — Northern economic interests.

Once, when opposing the routine appointment of a Philadelphia banker to the Federal Reserve Board, he gave a revealing glimpse into his own attitudes:

“The people of the North are extremely solicitous of our welfare and progress,” he said. “They assure us that if we furnish better schools and abolish poll taxes and segregation, strife will cease and happiness [will] reign. They are critical of our relative poverty, our industrial and social backwardness, and they are generous in their advice about our conduct.

Their condescension in these matters is not appreciated . . . because these people . . . have for more than a century done everything they could to retard the economic development of the South.

It is no secret that the South was considered like a conquered territory after 1865. Since that time, the tariff policy and freight rate structure were designed by the North to prevent industrial development in the South; to keep that area in the status of a raw material producing colony. Above and beyond these direct restrictions, the most insidious of all, the most difficult to put your finger on, is the all-pervading influence of the great financial institutions and industrial monopolies.

These influences are so subtle and so powerful that they have in many instances been able to dominate the political and economic life of the South and West from within those States as well as from Washington.”

From his first moment in Congress . . . [Fulbright] has fought for passage of a federal aid to education bill . . . [as he believed] that the best hope for amicable race relations lies in improving education.

“It is paradoxical,” he once said, “that Southern educational systems should be expected to produce well-rounded, broad-minded, and wholly dispassionate individuals whose well-developed intellectuals can suddenly reject lifelong patterns of conduct. This is a high standard to expect for schools without adequate facilities — stemming from a tax base incapable of producing sufficient revenue. Southern States — and particularly my own — have made valiant efforts in recent years to devote greater portions of their resources to education, but . . . only since the 1930’s has the South begun to share in the prosperity and affluence of America.”

(Fulbright, The Dissenter, Johnson and Gwertzman, Doubleday & Company, 1968, excerpts, pp. 148-150)

 

Lincoln’s Pecuniary Interests at Council Bluffs

Though popular histories portray Lincoln as a simple and self-educated man who rose from a lowly background to become president, he was in reality a shrewd politician and wealthy corporate attorney. His clients before 1860 included the Illinois Central Railroad, then the largest railroad in the world, and an annual income of about $5000, more than triple that of the Illinois governor. After the War, Lincoln’s heavy-handed policy of military might was continued by his generals sent to eradicate the Plains Indians in the way of government-subsidized transcontinental railroads.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s Pecuniary Interests at Council Bluffs

“A year prior to his nomination to the presidency — to be exact, in August, 1859 — he had visited Council Bluffs, Iowa, to look after his real estate holdings there and incidentally see the country.

A contemplated railroad to extend westward from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast was a live, but no new topic. For years such a possibility had been discussed, and in the first national campaign conducted by the Republican Party in 1856, a Pacific railroad was made a rather prominent issue. Shortly before his trip to Council Bluffs, Abraham Lincoln had purchased several town lots from his fellow [Illinois Central] railroad attorney, Norman B. Judd, who had acquired them from the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. Council Bluffs at this time was a frontier town, containing about fifteen hundred people.

General [Grenville] Dodge . . . relates that “during Lincoln’s visit, some of the citizens of Council Bluffs took him to a high bluff known as Cemetery Hill, just north of the town. He was greatly impressed with the outlook; and the bluff from that time has been known as Lincoln’s Hill . . .

From here he looked down upon the place, where by his order, four years later, the terminus of the first trans-continental railway was established.”

The platform of the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president in May 1860 at Chicago, declared in the sixteenth plank:  “That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction . . . ”

General Dodge [said]: “There is great competition from all the towns on both sides of the Missouri River for fifty miles above and below Council Bluffs, Iowa, for the distinction of being selected as [the] initial point. President Lincoln, after going over all the facts that could be presented to him, and from his own knowledge, finally fixed the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad where our surveys determined the practical locality — at Council Bluffs, Iowa.”

(Lincoln and the Railroads, John W. Starr, Jr., Arno Press, 1981 (original 1927), excerpts, pp. 196-202)

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad

The “Big Four” of Central Pacific Railroad fame included Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford, both of New York. While the War Between the States raged in the East, they made a fortune through generous government subsidies usually obtained by bribery or special treatment for Republican Party donors. While that party claimed to be waging war against the American South to eradicate slavery, the government-supported railroad companies used virtual slave labor for construction crews. The railroad crews used white supervisors of Chinese laborers in the same manner as Northern regiments of colored troops were led by white officers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad    

“Early in January 1865 Crocker’s agents scoured Sacramento, Stockton, and San Francisco for laborers . . . [but many] quit when they had earned enough money to pay stage fare to Virginia City. But children, too, were scarce in the foothills and for months the labor shortage remained acute. In the company’s new San Francisco office [Leland] Stanford . . . petitioned the War Department to send out five thousand Rebel prisoners to be put to work under the guard of a few companies of Union soldiers. But the war ended and the scheme had to be shelved.

A plan of importing, under contract, thousands of peons from Sonora and other Mexican states never got beyond the discussion stage . . . [but another] dubious possibility remained – the lowly Chinese. There were already thousands of them on the Coast . . . crowded into the wretched warrens of a score of “Chinatowns.”

A threatened strike of his white crews proved the deciding point. [Fifty] Chinese were herded on freight cars in the Sacramento yards and hauled to the end of the track. By sunrise they went to work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. At the end of their first twelve hours of prodding industry Crocker and his engineers viewed the result with gratified astonishment.

Another gang of fifty was hired at once, then a third. Finally all doubt vanished and the Chinatowns of the state were searched for every able-bodied male who could be tempted by the bait of steady work and forty dollars a month.

Of course the white laborers of the Coast resented the affront. To counteract this injury, railroad spokesmen were presently referring to the Chinese as “the Asiatic contingent of the Grand Army of Civilization,” and Stanford was incorporating into company reports long defense for them . . . To charges that the Chinese were held in a state of virtual serfdom by the labor contractors with whom the company dealt, Stanford stated: “No system similar to slavery . . . prevails . . . Their wages . . . Paid in coin at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents . . . in proportion to the labor done by each . . . These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them with supplies of food, the value of which they deduct monthly . . .”

By the end of 1865 the company was committed to the use of Chinese for most of their labor, and Stanford was hopeful that the force might be increased to fifteen thousand during the coming year. Of course no such supply was available in California . . . [but accordingly] boats from Canton were presently tying up at San Francisco piers, their rails swarming with yellow faces, while labor leaders predicted economic ruin for the Coast and threatened reprisals.

The advent of the Chinese relieved white men of pick and shovel work; many became gang foremen, others were promoted to teamsters, powdermen, or stone-workers. Moreover, the Chinese lived in their own camps, cooked their own meals, and knew their place. Thus the superiority of the Caucasian was undiminished, his dignity enhanced. Harmony reigned in the Sierra canyons and real progress began to be made.”

(The Big Four, The Story of the Building of the Central Pacific, Oscar Lewis, Borzoi Books, 1938, excerpts, pp. 69-72)

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

The existence of African slaves in the American South was largely the result of foreign interests and New England slavers importing already-enslaved black people from Africa. With the agricultural expansion of the United States enabled by the Louisiana Purchase, large numbers of laborers were required to work the fields.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

“An illicit market in Mobile supported foreign slave trade despite the federal prohibition against it since 1808. Reports appeared occasionally of African natives working in the city. In March 1859, according to the British consul, “twenty wild African Negroes” worked in Mobile. Since these slaves spoke only their native dialect, residents concluded that the slaves were recently imported. Their appearance sparked excitement among the citizens about the foreign slave trade.

Later in 1859 the schooner Clotilde, owned by the Northern-born steamboat builder Timothy Meagher, transported what was reputedly the last cargo of contraband slaves from Africa to the United States. Slavers then transported 116 survivors of this voyage to John Dabney’s plantation on the Alabama River a few miles north of Mobile. Some slave-owners in the area secretly purchased some of the Africans, and the shipowner and captain retained the rest.

Slave ownership remained confined to a small proportion of the free population of Mobile, slightly less than 6 percent in 1830 and 1840. Masters and mistresses came from widely different backgrounds and occupations. In 1860, New Englanders like Thaddeus Sanford, a newspaper publisher turned farmer; Gustavus Horton, a cotton broker; and William, Rix, a merchant, owned slaves. So did foreign-born Mobilians like Israel I. Jones and Jonathan Emanuel, [both] English-born merchants; Ann Yuille, a Scottish baker’s widow; and Albert Stein, a German-born hydraulic engineer.

In 1850, 191 women owned 807 slaves. Women made up nearly 10 percent of large slaveholders, those with 11 or more slaves, in 1850. By renting some of their slaves to local employers, widows received good incomes.

Sarah Barnes, sixth largest slaveowner in Mobile in 1850, presumably rented some of her 52 slaves to others. So did two other women with large slaveholdings in the 1857 city tax book. Eliza Goldthwaite, widow of a former State judge, who claimed 17 slaves, and Sarah Walton, widow of a former mayor of Mobile and mother of Octavia Walton Levert, owned 20 slaves.”

(Cotton City, Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Harriet E. Amos, University of Alabama Press, 1985, excerpt, pp. 87-89)

 

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