Browsing "Emancipation"

Revisionist Canadian History and Slavery

Few recall that African slavery existed in Canada until 1833 and that between 1787 and 1800 fugitive slaves fled south to New England and the Northwest (Michigan) Territory. Throughout the 1800s Canadians segregated schools and communities, as well as military units.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Revisionist Canadian History and Slavery

“Canadian comments about American racial problems are further colored by the fact that few Canadians are well informed on Canada’s own Negro record. Cowper, in celebrating Justice Mansfield’s decision, thought that “Slaves cannot breathe in England: if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free.” This was adequate poetry but inaccurate current events, for “Mansfield” decision freed no substantial body of slaves, even in England, and in Imperial Britain they remained enslaved until 1834.

Yet today most Canadians assume that slavery in British North America was struck down unilaterally by colonial assemblies which, in fact, lacked power to move against such Imperial laws. A standard account of Ontario’s history, published in 1898, concluded that because of the passage of Simcoe’s Bill (which prohibited the import of slaves) in 1793, “Canadians can therefore claim the proud distinction for their flag . . . that it has never floated over legalized slavery.”

An extensive guidebook to Canada credits the entire Negro population of Nova Scotia to men “who came north as slaves from the British West Indian colonies . . . ,” ignoring totally the Maroon and Refugee elements. An attempt to plumb the character of Canadians found that the Negroes of the Maritime Provinces – 15,000 in all – were descendants of runaway slaves, when in truth not even half are such.

And one of Canada’s leading students of race relations, in writing specifically of discrimination against the Negro, asserts that slavery did not exist in British North America in the Nineteenth Century, although slavery was in fact legal until 1833. In short, there is no accurate historical memory in Canada of British North America’s own experiences with the Negro, and even a clouded awareness of an earlier Negro presence is slight.

In truth, only Canada West [Ontario] served to any considerable extent as a haven for fugitive slaves, but the whole of the Canadian nation later accepted a mythology arising from but one of its units.”

(The Canadian Negro: A Historical Assessment, Robin Winks, Journal of Negro History, Volume LIII, No. 4., October, 1968, pp. 290-292)

Controlling Elections in a Businesslike Manner

The political campaign of 1872 saw Grant win the presidency again though the corruption and scandals of his administration like Credit Mobilier would not surface until after his reelection. His opponent, Northern newspaperman Horace Greeley, was outspoken against the black vote being manipulated by Grant’s party, stating that “they are an easy, worthless race, taking no thought of the morrow.” He thought the freedmen no longer deserved government support, his harsh injunction being “root, hog, or die.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Controlling Elections in a Businesslike Manner

“In the summer of 1872 . . . my immediate recreation was the heated political campaign which was then in full swing . . . the Republicans had put forward their contention along the most radical lines. A black Negro man had practically dictated the platform, claiming complete civil and social rights; endorsing [scalawag Governor W.W.] Holden, who had been removed by impeachment from his governorship; and injecting various “isms” which had been imported by the carpet-bag elements.

The most distinguished of the deserters from Democracy, Samuel L. Phillips, had begun the campaign with the opening sentence, “Hitherto, I have not been a Republican.”

The Democrats . . . had named for governor Judge Merrimon, from the mountain country and a life-long rival of Governor [Zebulon] Vance, a representative of the Union and war sentiment. In those days there was no place for a Democrat on the Democratic ticket.

Judge Merrimon was a ponderous person, addicted to the Websterian style of garment and the Websterian habit of four-hour speeches. Vance had declined the nomination.

The national features of this election were historically and dramatically set. As North Carolina voted in August, it led the procession . . . The Negroes voted for the first time for a president and were drilled [by Republicans] to vote early and often. The presidential contest was between the regular Republican party, supporting Grant, and the Liberal Republicans, whose candidate, Horace Greeley, had been endorsed by the Democrats.

Fred Douglas, the Negro orator, was sent into the denser populations of colored people in the eastern counties. He spoke before a multitude in Warrenton. His racial instinct to magnify himself and display his superiority made him speak along lines that were so much metaphysics to the audience. They had come to hear paeans of praise for [Republican] officeholders and denunciation of the old masters, with jests broad enough to get over the platform.

John Hyman, a colored barkeeper and later successful candidate for Congress, had placed on the speaker’s table a glass of sherry for Fred Douglas’s refreshment. Douglas sipped it between perorations, explaining it to his audience that it was not liquor, but sherry wine; and that while it might have been worse, it puzzled him to see how.

This gave great offense. His hearers did not believe him; and John Hyman, who had donated the wine, remarked that “Mr. Douglas’s manners – what he has – may be good enough for his northern friends but they don’t set well with folks who know what manners is.”

The regular Republicans followed the military tactics of Grant, their leader, and they sat down to the task of carrying the State in a thoroughly businesslike manner. The Federal courts were prostituted to their purpose and issues thousands of orders for arrest for Democrats who were accused of belonging to the Ku Klux.

A quarter of a million dollars was spent on tipstaffs and underlings connected with the courts. Every branch of the Government was called upon to furnish its quota of force. The Congress had passed bills promising social equality to the black; every State had a garrison of [Northern] troops placed conveniently to suppress any outbreak which should be kindled by political provocation.

The idea of allowing the possession of the Government to pass out of the [Grant Republican] party’s hands was not tolerated [and] . . . The result of the election was foregone.”

(Southern Exposure, Peter Mitchel Wilson, UNC Press, 1927, pp. 83-87)

 

Canadian Jim Crow

The popular legend of an underground creates the impression that escaped slaves found freedom and social equality in Canada, and standard historical accounts lead Canadians to believe that passage of Simcoe’s Bill in 1793 ended slavery in their country when in reality slavery remained legal in British North America until 1833. Author Robin Winks of Yale University wrote: “Canadians did give refuge to thousands of fugitives, and the mythology of the underground railway, the North Star, and the lion’s paw naturally fed the later Canadian assumption that Negroes fared better in Canada than elsewhere.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Canadian Jim Crow

“Canadian law drew no distinction between black and white in matters of citizenship, of which education was one. In practice, however, there were not infrequently some distinctions likely to be drawn, the whites preferring that Negroes should have schools of their own. When Benjamin Drew visited [Amherstburg, Ontario] in 1854 he found the Negro separate school having neither blackboard nor chairs. The whole interior was comfortless and repulsive. The teacher was a colored woman, apparently doing the best she could under the discouragement of poor surroundings and frequent absences of her pupils.

The coming of so many people of another race and color into southwestern Ontario was not pleasing to all the white inhabitants. Deep prejudice manifested itself at times and an occasional outburst in some newspaper reflected the feelings of an element of the population. The Amherstburg Courier of October 27, 1849, prints a resolution of the district council passed on October 8 of that year, protesting vigorously against the proposed Elgin settlement which was planned by Reverend William King as a home for fugitives from slavery.

This resolution, which appears to have been instigated by a local politician, Larwill, resident in Chatham, declared that “there is but one feeling, and that is of disgust and hatred, that they (the Negroes) should be allowed to settle in any township where there is a white settlement.”

The resolution proceeded to ask for a disallowance of sale of lands to Negroes, suggested a poll tax on Negroes entering the country, asked for an enactment against amalgamation and a requirement that Negroes shall furnish good security that they will not become a burden. It was also suggested that it would be well to ascertain whether it would be impolitic to allow them the suffrage.

Dr. Samuel G. Howe, who visited [Amherstburg] in 1863 to investigate conditions . . . [was told by a Mr. Park of the town] that the Negroes were part of them indolent and part industrious. They tended to neglect their own poor and begged more than the whites. A Captain Averill who was interviewed said that the Negroes were satisfactory as sailors, “the very best men we have,” but they were never made mates and none owned ships of their own.”

(Amherstburg, Terminus of the Underground Railroad, Fred Landon, The Journal of Negro History, Vol. X., No. 1, January 1925, pp. 5-8)

The North's Path to Bloodshed

President James Buchanan knew precisely the origin of the troubles plaguing the country at mid-nineteenth century. The radical abolitionists and the purely sectional Republican party were threats to the peace of the country as they both fomented race war in the South. Not forthcoming from either were peaceful and practical proposals to end slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The North’s Path to Bloodshed

“In his message of December 3, 1860, President Buchanan said to Congress, and virtually to the people of the North (p. 626 Vol. 5, Richardson):

“The long continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States has at length produced its natural effects.  I have long foreseen and often forewarned my countrymen of the new impending danger. The immediate peril arises not so much from these causes as from the fact the incessant and violent agitation of the slavery question throughout the North for the last quarter of a century has at length produced its malign influence on the slaves and inspired them with vague notions of freedom.

Hence a sense of security no longer exists around the family altar.  This feeling of peace at home has given place to apprehension of servile insurrections. Many a matron throughout the South retires at night in dread of what may befall herself and children before the morning. Self-preservation is the first law of nature and has been implanted in the heart of man by his Creator for the wisest purpose. But let us take warning in time and remove the cause of danger.”

It cannot be denied that for five and twenty years the agitation of the North against slavery has been incessant.  In 1835 pictorial hand-bills and inflammatory appeals were circulated extensively throughout the South of a character to excite the passions of slaves, and in the language of Genl. Jackson, to stimulate them to insurrection and produce all the horrors of a servile war. At the Presidential election in 1860 the Republican Party was greatly agitated over the Helper Book which instigated massacre.

Lincoln and Seward would not say that they were for massacre, but the Abolitionists had the vision of the X-ray and could see through such false pretenses. The doctrine of both “the irrepressible conflict” of Seward and “a house divided against itself cannot stand” of Lincoln, pointed directly to bloodshed.

The Abolitionists voted for Lincoln, and Wendell Phillips, who rejoiced at his election, said in a speech at Tremont Temple, Boston, a few days later: “There was a great noise at Chicago, much pulling of wires and creaking of wheels, then forth stept Abraham Lincoln.  But John Brown was behind the curtain, and the cannon of March 4 will only echo the rifles at Harper’s Ferry.

The Republican Party have undertaken the problem the solution of which will force them to our position.  Not Mr. Seward’s “Union and Liberty” which he stole from Webster’s “Liberty first” (a long pause) then “Union afterwards” (Phillips, Speeches and Lectures, pp. 294, 314).

(A Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern States and War of 1861-65, Captain S. A. Ashe, Raleigh, NC, 1935)

Inciting Race War and Murder

To help suppress the American drive for independence in 1775, Lord Dunmore of Virginia incited a race war by encouraging African slaves the British had imported to massacre their plantation owners –men, women and children. The British repeated this strategy in 1814; wealthy New Englanders attempted it in 1859 through John Brown; Lincoln utilized it in 1863 to suppress another American drive for independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Inciting Race War and Murder:

“With the majority of her young men away at war, Beaufort County’s greatest fear was for a British instigated slave uprising. At the beginning of the war, Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia . . . had threatened: “By the living God, if any insult is offered to me, or to those who have obeyed my orders, I will declare freedom to the slaves and pay the town (of Williamsburg) in ashes.”

He issued such an order for the defense of Norfolk, freeing all indentured servants and slaves “of the rebels, that are able and willing to bear arms.” He added the proviso that they join the British troops. Some two or three hundred Negroes were freed, and joined in the defense of Norfolk as “Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopians.”

In Beaufort County and other eastern counties where there was a large Negro population, this threat of slave uprising was an ever-present cause for concern. In July of 1775, shortly after Dunmore had made his threat, a “Horrid, Tragic Plan” for such an uprising was discovered. A loyal Negro slave who belonged to Captain Thomas Respess revealed the plot [of a] Tory named Johnson, apparently of another county, [who] engineered the plan. A Bath Town slave named Merrick was the Negro leader through whom he worked.

On the night of 8 July 1775, the slaves on each plantation were to turn on their masters, and slay them and their families. They would then join with the slaves from other plantations. Armed with the weapons of their murdered masters, they were to go farm to farm of the neighboring non-slave holding farmers and surprise and murder them. Moving westward through the counties, they were to be met by an agent of the British government, who would supply them with more ammunition. As a reward, they would later be settled in a free government of their own.

Over one hundred mounted patrollers were promptly dispatched to warn all plantation owners and farmers, and were directed to apprehend all Negroes found off their plantations. Over forty Negroes suspected of being leaders in the plot were apprehended. One group of about two hundred and fifty Negroes was located. When surrounded by two companies of Light Horse, they fled into the swamps.

Many of the captured Negroes confessed to their part in the plot. Records do not specify the punishment . . . [although] the law prescribed death for such an offense. Johnson, the instigator of the plot, escaped. Though the threat hung over the eastern counties for the remained of the war, no other attempt at an uprising was recorded.”

(History of Beaufort County, C. Wingate Reed, Edwards & Broughton, 1962, pp. 120-121)

Africa's Long Heritage of Human Bondage

Prior to the British and New England transatlantic slave trade which brought Africans to the America’s for labor, human bondage was a well-established institution in Africa.  Though seen as a scramble for African colonies by European nations, the 1884-85 Berlin Conference also looked for an end to the slaving operations of Zanzibari/Swahili strongman Tippu Tip.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Africa’s Long Heritage of Human Bondage

Nigerian history along the coast, like that of Sierra Leone and the Gambia, begins with the Portuguese. A Portuguese ship reached the Bight of Benin in 1472. Traders of other countries, including the British in particular, then began to reach this wild, forlorn, fragrant coast — they sought “pepper, Elephant’s teeth, oyl of palm, cloth made of cotton wool very curiously woven, and cloth made of the barke of palme trees.”

Soon came traffic much more lucrative, that in human beings. Indeed slavery dominates Nigerian history for almost three hundred years, with all its bizarre and burning horrors. We have already touched on slavery in East Africa; on the West Coast its history was different.

First: the origin of the Atlantic trade was the discovery of America and the consequent development of sugar plantations in the West Indies. When the American aborigines were killed off (by English, French and Spanish settlers), as they were promptly, a labor force had to be found somewhere, and slaves from Africa were a marvelously cheap (as valued by African tribes) and convenient device to this end. The trade brought fantastic profits.

In the Cameroons in the early days the purchase of a slave from African tribes was “two measures of Spanish wine” and he could be sold for a thousand ducats, the profit being 5,000 percent. As late as 1786, a slave could be bought from African tribes in Nigeria for 2 pounds and sold in America for 65 pounds. In that period, 100,000 slaves or more were shipped across the Atlantic each year.

Second:  Aside from the British and Portuguese there were slave traders of several other nationalities, but Britain got a monopoly of the business by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1712.

Third:  Africans were as much involved in the overseas slave traffic as the Europeans since the latter did not dare as rule penetrate inland from the sea — the interior was too dangerous.

Instead, they bought slaves from warlike African tribes — the Ashanti on the Gold Coast for instance — who seized and collected other Africans and marched them to the coast. As much barbarity accompanied these raids on Africans by Africans as accompanied the actual voyage across the ocean.

Fourth:  Africans also sought and captured slaves for themselves. In Northern Nigeria for example, slavery was almost universal until most recent times; slavery did not become illegal in Nigeria till 1901, and a few domestic slaves are still alive who have never been emancipated. A case can be made for slavery and the slave trade.  It is that tribal wars took place in the African interior without cessation, and that it was better for a man to be taken prisoner and made a domestic slave or even sold into slavery, than to be killed and perhaps eaten.

On a slave raid the object was to get the prisoner alive and with luck, he might survive the trip to America or Arabia. On balance, the slave trade (despite its inferno-like horrors) may have saved more lives than it cost. In any case it is the origin of a great many healthy, useful and progressive Negro communities in the Western world.

(Inside Africa, John Gunther, Harper & Brothers, 1955, excerpts)

 

Blackout of Honest Government

Even Northerners saw the ill-effects of a vindictive postwar Reconstruction which reduced a free people to bondage and political despotism. It appears that Northern army commanders also felt remorse at what they had wrought in the destruction of the American South. A minority report of a Congressional committee declared that “History, till now, gives no account of a conqueror so cruel as to place his vanquished foes under the domination of their former slaves. That was reserved for the radical [Republican] rulers in this great Republic.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Blackout of Honest Government

“Psychologically and in every other respect the Negroes were fearfully unprepared to occupy positions of ruler-ship. Race and color came to mean more to them than any other consideration, whether of honest government, of justice to the individual, or even of ultimate protection of their own rights.

Negroes on juries let color blind them, and the rejected the wisest counsel, Northern and Southern, against banding together politically, instead of dividing on issues and policies of government . . . but Negroes proscribed their own race if any voted Democratic — their preachers excommunicating them, their womenfolk bringing all their feminine powers to play against them, and Loyal Leagues intimidating and doing violence to them.

Their idea of the new order was “De bottom rail’s on de top, An we’s gwine to keep it dar.”

Carpetbaggers were as little desirous of promoting Negroes into high office in the South as their Northern colleagues were in their States; and Scalawags, actuated by racial antipathies more than Carpetbaggers, objected to Negroes holding any offices. Both were quite desirous that Negroes vote – but not for Negroes.

A Georgia Negro wrote [Massachusetts Senator] Charles Sumner [in 1869] that there was no other place in the Union where there were so “many miserable hungry unscrupulous politicians . . . and if they could prevent it no colored man would ever occupy any office of profit or trust.” Even so, Negroes frequently held offices far beyond their capacity to administer them.

Radical leaders imposed their views on the Negroes . . . [the Dalton Georgia Citizen wrote on 10 September 1868 that] ”every man knows that the Republican party, under the lead of God, President Lincoln and General Grant, freed the whole colored race from slavery; and every man knows anything, believes that the Democratic party will, if they can, make them slaves again.”

A Carpetbagger characterized Henry M. Turner, preacher, politician and [who] presided at many Negro conventions, as a “licentious robber and counterfeiter, a vulgar blackguard, a sacreligous profaner of God’s name, and a most consummate hypocrite. Yet the Negroes elected him to the Georgia legislature — if he had received his deserts, he would have gone to the penitentiary; he was a thief and a scoundrel, and yet they voted for him.”

“If the colored people have not the elements of morality among them sufficiently to cry down on such shameless characters, they should not expect to command the respect of decent people anywhere.”

General William S. Rosecrans, amidst a [postwar] Confederate atmosphere at White Sulphur Springs, asked General Lee, in writing, whether he thought the South must in reality be ruled by “the poor, simple, uneducated, landless freedmen” under the corrupt leadership of whites still worse. Lee and thirty-one other prominent Southerners signed an answer declaring their opposition, basing it on no enmity toward the freedmen, “but from a deep-seated conviction that at present the Negroes have neither the intelligence nor other qualifications which are necessary to make them depositories of political power.”

As for Federal commanders, Rosecrans, Sherman, George H. Thomas, George G. Meade, Winfield S. Hancock, George B. McClellan, Don Carlos Buell, Henry W. Slocum, John A. McClernand, William S. Franklin and others either were silently ashamed or expressed their abhorrence of what was going on. The editor of Scribner’s Monthly saw Southerners in despair and he blamed the Federal government: “They feel that they were wronged, that they have no future, and they cannot protect themselves, and that nothing but death or voluntary exile will give them relief.”

The editor of The Nation by 1870 had come to view the South with a different light from that of 1865. In the South the people had forgotten “that in free countries men live for more objects than the simple one of keeping robbers’ hands off the earnings of the citizen.” There people were worse off than they were in any South American republic; for in the latter place tyrants could be turned out through the right of revolution, but the South with the army on its back could no longer resort to this ancient remedy.

Southerners must continue to suffer enormities “which the Czar would not venture toward Poland, or the British Empire toward the Sautals of the Indian jungle.” The North with all its charities had done less good than the Carpetbaggers had done harm.

[Carl] Schurz had learned much since his first visit to the South in 1865. He saw fearful acts perpetrated against the South, all in the name of patriotism, and particularly in Louisiana, “a usurpation such as this country has never seen, and probably no citizen of the United States has ever dreamed of.”

(History of the South, Volume VIII: The South During Reconstruction, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1947, (142-146; 160-161)

No Sacrifice Too Great for Independence

Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin was one of the most vocal advocates of arming the slaves to fight the North and offering freedom in return for defending their country. He said in February 1865, “Let us say to every Negro who wishes to go into the ranks on condition of being made free, “Go and fight – you are free.” Let us imitate [the Yankees] in this. I would imitate them in nothing else.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

No Sacrifice Too Great for Independence

“On 12 October [1864] a radical editorial appeared in the [Richmond] Sentinel. Probably influenced by [Judah P.] Benjamin, it wrote that the South “would sooner sacrifice slavery a thousand times than to be conquered by the Yankees and have it sacrificed by them. If it becomes necessary we can enlist the Negro element on our side. We can make all the offers that the Yankees can, and some they cannot.”

Other editorials in somewhat similar vein followed on 14 and 24 November – after Lincoln had been re-elected and Sherman was marching to the sea. In the latter editorial the Sentinel flatly advocated the arming of the slaves in case General Lee and the other military authorities felt it was necessary for Southern success.

The Negroes who fought in the ranks were to be given their freedom at the end of the war. For it was not a case, the Sentinel said, where the Confederate people could cling to pre-conceived notions and prejudices about slavery. If they did not arm the Negroes to fill their depleted ranks, they were likely to lose their independence, and no sacrifice was too great to keep them from getting under the Yankee yoke.

Simultaneously with the appearance of these editorials the Confederate Congress had assembled on 7 November, and Jefferson Davis, reputedly on Benjamin’s suggestion, recommended the employment of 40,000 slaves in the army but not to be used as soldiers except in the last extremity; after the war they were to be emancipated.

It was an opening wedge for the use of large numbers of Negro troops in the Confederate ranks . . . [and] General Lee, Governor Smith of Virginia, Senator Brown and Benjamin argued ably for the measure on the ground of military necessity. In a letter on 21 December to his old college-mate Frederick Porcher of Charleston, who had written him primarily to urge the arming of the slaves, Benjamin indicated that President Davis was only waiting for public opinion to ripen on the subject.

Early in February, 1865, the Confederate peace commissioners, Judge Campbell, Alexander H. Stephens, and R.M.T. Hunter, returned from their unsuccessful meeting with Lincoln and Seward at Fortress Monroe. A mass meeting was then held in the African Church at Richmond on 9 February to rally the people for a further desperate effort. The African Church, then the largest auditorium in Richmond, was frequently borrowed from its Negro members for such assemblies.

{Judah Benjamin spoke] “I want all the bacon, everything which can feed soldiers, and I want it as a free gift to the country. Talk of rights! What rights do the arrogant invaders leave you? Look to the trenches below Richmond. Is it not a shame that men who have sacrificed all in our defence should not be reinforced with all the means in our power? Is it any time now for antiquated patriotism to argue refusal to send them aid, be it white or black?

I wish to call your attention to some figures, which I wish you to seriously ponder. In 1860 the South had 1,664,000 arms-bearing men. How many men have the Yankees send against us? In 1861, 654,000; in 1862, 740,000; in 1863, 700,000; in 1864 they called out 1,500,000.

Here you have the figures that they brought out 3,000,000 men against 1,664,000 Confederates., who lived at the beginning of the war to draw sword in their country’s service. Our resources of white population have greatly diminished, but you had 680,000 black men of the same ages, and could Divine prophesy have told us of the fierceness of the enemy’s death grapple at our throats, could we have known what we now know, that Lincoln has confessed, that without 200,000 Negroes which he stole from us, he would be compelled to give up the contest, should we have entertained any doubts upon the subject?”

Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Statesman, Robert Douthat Meade, Oxford University Press, 1943, pp. 305-307)

 

Black Soldiers on Both Sides

The first black unit, including black line officers, in the War Between the States was the Louisiana Native Guards of New Orleans, accepted into State service by Governor Thomas D. Moore on May 2, 1861. The Daily Crescent assured its readers that “They will fight the Black Republicans with as much determination and gallantry as any body of white men in the service of the Confederate States.”  The author below illustrates that black men served on both sides.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Black Soldiers on Both Sides

“Chapter XX: In Which is Recalled the Fact Negroes Served on Both Sides In That War and Yankee Recruiters Fished a Long Way From Home and Hardly Got Their Bait Back.

The Civil War wasn’t entirely a white man’s fight. Negroes served in both the Federal and Confederate forces. Soon after Edmund Ruffin pulled the trigger at Charleston, Negroes tried to enlist in both the Northern and Southern armies but their services, as was the case in the Revolution, were at first declined.

This attitude changed rather quickly in the North. The Federal Congress, in July of 1862, passed a law permitting the enlistment of Negro troops. Their pay at first was fixed at $10 a month compared to $16.50 for white troops. Fred Douglas protested to Lincoln and Old Abe told him that if he were a Negro he’d be glad to fight for his freedom free of charge. Douglas and the other Negro leaders continued to protest and the pay differential was wiped out.

Negro troops were used in the main by the North for garrison duty and labor forces and, after Appomattox, for occupation duty in the South; but they saw action in 250 battles and skirmishes, including the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg in which Negro troops were scheduled to have led the charge after that mine was exploded. They missed the assignment due to a foul-up in orders.

Northern governors sent 1,405 agents into captured areas of the South in an attempt to recruit Negro slaves to help fill their State draft quotas but business was mighty poor. They worked for several months but got only 5,052 recruits. When the war ended there were 178,975 Negroes in the Yankee armies, comprising 116 regiments.

In the South, free Negroes came forward at first in large numbers to offer their services to the Confederacy. Richard Kennard of Petersburg gave $100. Jordan Chase, of Vicksburg, gave a horse and authorized the government to draw on him for $500. Down in New Orleans, Thomy Lafon gave $500. An Alabama Negro gave 100 bushels of sweet potatoes. At Charleston a little Negro girl gave twenty-five cents. Confederate war bonds found many Negro subscribers (The Negro in the Civil War, Quarles).

Negroes by the thousands were employed in Southern war factories. Free Negroes were paid the prevailing wage. Slaves impressed into service were given food, shelter and clothing and their owners paid $25 a month. If a slave ran away or died, the owner was paid $354.

Negroes in the South rendered their greatest service to the Confederacy by tilling the farms and taking care of the folks at home while the white men were at the front. The slaves could have ended the War overnight had they chosen to rise in rebellion. Southern armies would have headed back home en masse at even the rumor of such a development.

As the War dragged on, the need for men became finally so desperate the Confederate Congress, acting on the recommendation of General Lee and the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, passed a law in March of 1865 authorizing enlistment of Negroes, both slave and free.

They were to be paid the same as white troops; and slaves, if they remained loyal through the War, were to be set free. President Davis signed the law on March 13. It was less than a month before Lee’s surrender.”

(Then My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!, W.E. Debnam, The Graphic Press, 1955, pp. 49-50)

Martin Van Buren and Racialized New York Politics

Free black persons in the antebellum North lived under what could be termed “Jim Crow” laws, with New York machine politician Martin Van Buren leading the way to disenfranchise free blacks by creating discriminatory property holding requirements for their race. Van Buren was the son of Abraham Van Buren of Kinderhook—tavern keeper, Revolutionary War veteran, and New York slaveholder.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Martin Van Buren and Racialized New York Politics

“But some Southern blacks also realized the limits of freedom and equality in New York City. James P. Thomas, an enslaved black barber in Nashville, was more independent than most . . . [operating] his own business [and] returning a set portion of his earnings to his owner. When a white patron in Tennessee offered a generous payment if Thomas would accompany him and his family on a Northern sojourn in the 1840’s, Thomas agreed, hoping to save sufficient funds to secure freedom for himself and for several other family members.

In his post-Reconstruction autobiography, Thomas conveys a sharp sense of the awkward position in which black Southerners found themselves in free New York. He wrote of New York with a mixture of admiration for the vitality of city life and an unexpected sense of anger over the status and treatment of black Northerners. In particular, Thomas was enraged at being ousted from a theater, remembering, “I felt as though I would like to meet another man who would have the affrontry to advise me to run away to live in New York.”

The State’s 1821 constitutional convention — which enfranchised all New York’s adult white men while simultaneously maintaining the property requirements for African American men — racialized New York politics. The new political landscape, which would soon lead to the ascendancy and then dominance of the Democratic party in New York and nationally, rested upon the bedrock of racial exclusion.

Convention delegates, led by future president of the United States Martin Van Buren, justified the removal of property qualifications for most of New York’s property-less men by enacting a $250 property-holding requirement that applied exclusively to New York’s African American men. Van Buren, in particular, argued that “democracy” only made sense with racial exclusion. Thus the coming of mass democracy in New York . . . coincided with the designation of African Americans as a politically subordinate caste.”

(Slavery In New York, Ira Berlin & Leslie Harris, editors, The New Press, 2005, pp. 274-275)

 

 

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