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A National Institution

The author of the 1928 source below notes that as of that date, “Liberia, the country of free Negroes, there are over two hundred thousand slaves. In Sierra Leone, the other freemen’s colony, slavery was abolished on January 1 of this year, by decree of the Legislative Council.”

A National Institution

“It would be a task of many pages if I attempted to give a full account of the origin and causes of slavery in Africa. As a national institution, it seems to have existed always. Africans have been bondsmen everywhere: and the oldest monuments bear their images linked with menial toils and absolute servitude.

England to-day, with all her philanthropy, sends, under the Cross of St. George, to convenient magazines of lawful commerce on the [African] coast, Birmingham muskets, Manchester cottons, and Liverpool lead, all of which are righteously swapped at Sierra Leone, Acra, and on the Gold Coast, for Spanish or Brazilian bills on London.

Yet what British merchant does not know the traffic on which those bills are founded, and for whose support his wares are purchased?  France . . . dispatches her Rouen cottons, Marseille brandies, flimsy taffetas, and indescribable variety of tinsel geegaws. Germany demands a slice for her looking-glasses and beads; while multitudes of our own worthy [Boston] traders, who would hang a slaver as a pirate when caught, do not hesitate to supply him indirectly with tobacco, powder, cotton, Yankee rum, and New England notions, in order to bait the trap in which he may be caught. It is the temptation of these things, I repeat, which feeds the slave-making wars of Africa, and forms the human basis of those admirable bills of exchange.

Such may be said to be the predominating influence that supports the African slave trade; yet, if commerce of all kinds were forbidden with that continent, the customs and laws of the natives would still encourage slavery as a domestic affair, though of course in a very modified degree.

A slave is a note of hand that may be discounted or pawned; he is still a bill of exchange that carries him to his destination and pays the debt bodily . . . Thus, slavery is not likely to be surrendered by the Negroes themselves as a national institution.”

(Adventures of a Slave Trader: Being an Account of the Life of Captain Theodore Canot, Trader in Gold, Ivory &Slaves on the Coast of Guinea: His Own Story as Told in the Year 1854 to Brantz Mayer, Garden City Publishing, 1928, excerpts pp. 126-128)

Jun 24, 2020 - Antiquity, Historical Accuracy, Historical Amnesia/Cleansing, Imperialist Adventures, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Slavery Way Down South

Slavery Way Down South

In the Aztec culture, war and the priesthood were the only paths “toward prestige, honors and riches,” with free land and slaves given as rewards for valor while subjugating neighbors. In the century prior to Spanish conquest, the merchant class included “slave traders whose centers of operation were in some of the large cities, but who kept purchasing bases in the furthermost cities.”

Slavery existed in all classic period Mesoamerican cultures: in Maya culture, the condition of slavery was passed down from one generation to another, often as punishment for offenses against the ruling class. “The majority of slaves, however, were prisoners of war or foreigners bought from traders. The destiny of these slaves was uncertain, and many must have ended their days as sacrificial victims.”  

Slavery Way Down South

“Aztec conquests always had religious or economic motives . . . in the principal cities of the Aztecs and their allies lived an artisan group who were in constant need of raw materials for the manufacture of consumer goods which were traded among the Aztecs themselves or exchanged for products from their neighbors and tribute-paying subjects.

Equally important was the development of the quasi-feudal system with an increasing demand for agricultural land and serfs for the benefit of the growing nobility. Last but not least was the need for slaves to be sacrificed to the gods as state and religion merged into one unified system.

In the last years of their brief history, the Aztec nation included more than 300 vassal tribes which never amalgamated into a political or administrative entity.

While Aztec merchants traveled the trade routes, transacting business and paving the way for new conquests, the warriors and governors exercised dominion by exacting tribute and gathering the designated quotas of prisoners to be sacrificed to the many gods of the Aztec pantheon.”

(Pre-Columbian Cities, Jorge E. Hardoy, Walker and Company, 1973, excerpts pp. 124; 128; 228)

New York’s Forgotten Past

New York City was the antebellum manufacturing, commercial and shipping center of the United States, and many New York firms found their greatest market in the slave-holding States. This was true of those selling the cheap cotton goods for slave clothing, and luxury items earmarked for the planters. The trade with the South was so great that many companies advertised themselves as “exclusively for the Southern trade.” Manhattan bankers had ready-money at low interest for planters, Northern or Southern, wanting to buy more land to plant cotton for which slaves were needed.

New York passed progressive emancipation bills in the early 1800s and many were sold to Southern planters, but slaves still existed within the State in the 1840s. It is noteworthy that the Duke of York, for whom the city was named, governed the Royal African Company until he took the throne as James II

New York’s Forgotten Past

“In colonial times New York State slave owners were legion, and slavery continued there until just twenty years before the beginning of the Civil War. New York had the largest and most important slave system in colonial times north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The State provided an excellent example of urban slavery, where slaves [worked] next to free whites and acquired a variety of special skills.

The Dutch West India Company introduced slaves into New Netherlands in 1626. They were imported to New York to work on the farms, public buildings, and military works for which free workers were not available. It is doubtful whether New Netherlands would have survived without these slaves, for they provided the labor which ultimately transformed the colony from a shaky commercial outpost into a permanent settlement.

When the British captured New Netherlands in 1664, slavery continued and the slave population multiplied. Slaves were concentrated in New York City and surrounding counties. By 1746 Negro slaves accounted for 15 percent of the total New York population.

[The British occupation of southern New York during the Revolution] thoroughly disrupted slave relations. The British offered freedom to slaves who sought asylum with them . . . [which] undermined the slave system in New York.

In 1790 New York had 21,324 slaves, which increased ten years later to 30,343, the highest number of slaves New York ever possessed. By 1820, New York’s slightly more than 10,000 slaves showed a 33 percent decrease since 1810. By 1830, 75 slaves remained in the State, ten years later there were only four.”

(The Secession Movement in the Middle Atlantic States, William C. Wright, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973, excerpts pp. 165-166)

Planting Anarchism in America

Johann Most, self-styled anarchist communist found sympathetic ears in New York after arriving in 1882.  He promoted “propaganda of the deed,” acts of violence that would energize the masses. After the assassination of President McKinley, he wrote that it was not a crime to kill a ruler. Most gave a speech at Cooper Union twenty-two years after Abraham Lincoln gave his promoting ideas not found in the Constitution; in the latter’s audience was Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, who employed Karl Marx (with Friedrich Engels assisting) as his European correspondent.  

By late 1864, fully a quarter of Lincoln’s army were German immigrants led by expelled revolutionaries of Europe’s 1848 socialist upheavals. Col. Rudolph von Rosa, an early member of the New York Communist Club, led the all-German Forty-sixth New York Regiment.

Planting Anarchism in America

“The failures and disappointments resulting from the series of national elections from 1874 to 1884 at last made an opening for party movements voicing the popular discontent and openly antagonistic to the traditional Constitution.

The Socialist Labor party held its first national convention in 1877. Its membership was mostly foreign; of twenty-four periodical publications then carried on in the party interest, only eight were in the English language; and this polyglot press gave justification to the remark that the movement was in the hands of people who proposed to remodel the institutions of the country before they had acquired its language.

The alien origin of the movement was emphasized by the appearance to two Socialist members of the Reichstag, who made a tour of the country in 1881 to stir up interest in the cause. It was soon apparent that the Socialist party organization was too hindered by the fact that it was too studious and its discussions too abstract to suit the energetic temper of the times. Many Socialists broke away to join revolutionary clubs . . . to fight the existing system of government.

At this critical moment in the process of social disorganization, the influence of foreign destructive thought made itself felt. The arrival of Johann Most from Europe in the fall of 1882 supplied this revolutionary movement with a leader who made anarchy its principle. Originally a German Socialist aiming to make the state the sole landlord and capitalist, he had gone over to anarchism and proposed to dissolve the state altogether, trusting to voluntary association to supply all genuine social needs.

Driven from Germany, he had taken refuge in England, but even the habitual British tolerance had given way under his praise of the assassination of Czar Alexander in 1881 and his proposal to treat other rulers in the same way. He had just completed a term of imprisonment before coming to the United States.

Here he was received as a hero; a great mass meeting in his honor was held at Cooper Union, New York, in December 1882; and when he toured the country he everywhere addressed large meetings.”

(The Chronicles of America Series, Allen Johnson, editor, Yale University Press, 1919, excerpts pp. 135-136)  

A Predetermined Military Trial

Though John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln caused a virtual blockade of the entire Atlantic coast from Baltimore to Hampton Roads in Virginia, Secretary of War Stanton had not ordered closed the road to Port Tobacco which led to the Confederacy.  This was the route the alleged assassin was expected to take to escape pursuers.

A Predetermined Military Trial

“[Confederate foreign agent Harry] Hotze must have regretted his lack of caution in commenting two years previously on Lincoln’s fear of assassination. For it was immediately charged that the shooting was part of a plot hatched by the Confederate Government headed by Jefferson Davis. [The] Stabbing and wounding of Secretary of State Seward and an attempt on Vice President Andrew Johnson the same night provided evidence of a widespread plot, and a Confederate courier, Johnny Surratt, was accused of a part in these connected activities.

Surratt was not captured, but his mother and a number of other persons were taken into custody, tried by a military court, and hanged. Booth was shot and killed by a special detail of pursuers dispatched from Washington by the War Department. Orders were issued for the arrest of Jefferson Davis and other members of the Confederate cabinet on like charges.

By waiting over one hundred years to write this history, one has the virtue of hindsight, as well as the disclosure of secret papers of the Lincoln administration which had been kept sealed by request of his heirs until certain persons named therein were dead.

It is difficult to understand why Lincoln’s family wished to protect those at whom the finger of suspicion would have pointed by disclosure of these papers after his murder.

For the papers indicated that the Lincoln Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, had prior knowledge of the reported plot of John Wilkes Booth and others at Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house in Washington, but had failed to either warn Lincoln or give him special protection.

It was obvious even to observers at the time that the real beneficiary, should the plot have succeeded in killing the Vice President and Secretary of State, also would have been next in line for the Presidency. Moreover, the Radical Republicans had refused to support Lincoln at the 1864 [Republican] Convention, and this was the faction supported by and supporting Stanton in the disputes following Johnson’s accession.

Immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton was in full control of the government through martial law, and was in charge of the trials of the so-called conspirators. While the hanging of so many persons without a civil trial did not arouse much comment abroad, the execution of Mrs. Surratt, because Booth had lodged at her house, was the subject of considerable discussion.

But the War Secretary refused [to not hang Mrs. Surratt] on grounds that the executions were necessary to avoid panic among the populace. This would indicate, of course, that the outcome of the military trial was predetermined.”    

(Felix Senac: Sage of Felix Senac, Being the Legend and Biography of a Confederate Agent in Europe, Regina Rapier, 1972, excerpts pp. 182-183)

Filling the South’s Decimated Ranks

The enlistment or outright conscription of black troops by Northern commanders was applauded in the North as they were credited to the State which captured and claimed them. Additionally, the black recruits and their families could not vote so Northern politicians feared no election retribution from constituents who avoided military service.

On the other hand, the South considered black agricultural workers essential to the war effort as Southern armies needed the foodstuffs they produced. But as the Northern armies relentlessly grew from infusions of foreigners and black soldiers, however obtained, the South determined to enlist black men who would fight for their homes and freedom.   

Filling the South’s Decimated Ranks

“[Samuel Clayton of Georgia wrote in January 1865: “We should . . . promptly take hold of all the means God has placed within our reach to help us through this struggle – a bloody war for the right of self-government.  Some say Negroes will not fight. I say they will fight. The enemy fights us with Negroes, and will do very well to fight the Yankees.”

Judah Benjamin stated . . . “It appears to me enough to say that the Negroes will certainly be made to fight us if not armed for our defense . . . I further agree with you that if they are to fight for our freedom, they are entitled to their own.  Public opinion is fast ripening on the subject.”

[Jefferson] Davis in a letter to John Forsythe in February 1865: “It is now becoming daily more evident to all reflecting persons that we are now reduced to choosing whether the Negroes shall fight for us or against us, and that all arguments as to the positive advantage or disadvantage of employing them are beside the question, which is simply one of relative advantage between having their fighting element in our ranks or in those of the enemy.”

The Confederate Congress authorized on March 3rd, 1865, the raising of 300,000 blacks as soldiers. On April the 28th, the major-general commanding in Florida directed ten prominent citizens of Florida each “to proceed at once to raise a company of Negroes to be mustered into the service of the Confederate States for the War.”  But Lee and Johnston had already surrendered. The dissolution of the Confederacy defeated this last desperate measure to recruit the decimated ranks of the Southern army.

The black recruit was sought in Florida assiduously for the Union army after the first year of the war. When the Federal forces quit [Jacksonville’s occupation] in the autumn [of 1862] they carried some Negroes away with them.  Invasion of East Florida by Negro troops under Colonel [T.W.] Higginson quickly followed. “The object of this expedition, “ reported General Saxton, Higginson’s chief, “was to occupy Jacksonville and make it the base of operations for arming the Negroes and securing in this way possession of the entire State of Florida” – in other words, inciting servile insurrection.

The Federal army failed to obtain many black recruits, but Higginson concluded that black troops “were the key to the successful prosecution of the war for the Union.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, William Watson Davis, Columbia University, 1913, excerpts pp. 227-228)

Bringing Down the Vengeance of Heaven

In 1620 a Dutch trading vessel entered Virginia’s James River with twenty Negroes aboard, and sold them to the settlers as laborers. But it was not in Virginia that a legal basis for slave ownership was first created, as Massachusett’s “Body of Liberties” promulgated in 1641, held that “There shall never be any bond slavery, villeinage, nor captivity among us, unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves, or are sold, unto us.” And from this came New England’s domination of the transatlantic slave trade.

Bringing Down the Vengeance of Heaven

“Taking a hint apparently from the Mahommetans, the clergy had denounced it as a scandalous and outrageous thing for one Christian to hold another in slavery; and their preaching on this point had been so successful, that about the time of the discovery of America it had come to be considered a settled matter, not in England only, but throughout Western Europe, that no Christian ought to be, or lawfully could be, held as a slave.

But with the customary narrowness of that age, this immunity from slavery was not thought to extend to infidels and pagans. While the emancipation of serfs was going on, black slaves, brought by the Portuguese from the coast of Guinea, became common in the south of Europe, and a few found their way to England.

The first Englishman to be engaged in this business was Sir John Hawkins, who, during the reign of Elizabeth, made several voyages to the coast of Guinea for Negroes, whom he disposed of to the Spaniards of the West Indies.

The Queen granted several patents to encourage this traffic; yet she is said to have expressed to Hawkins her hope that the Negroes went voluntarily from Africa, declaring that if any force were used to enslave them, she doubted not it would bring down the vengeance of Heaven upon those guilty of such wickedness.

The newly discovered coasts of America were also visited by kidnappers. Few, if any, of the early voyagers scrupled to seize the natives, and to carry them home as slaves. Sir Ferdinando Gorges, so active and so conspicuous in the early settlement of New England, had a number of these captured natives, whom he claimed as his property, kept under restraint, and employed as guides and pilots. The practice of the early English settlers in America, and their ideas of the English law on the subject, corresponded exactly with . . . Jewish provisions, indeed it would seem to have been regulated by them.

Thus they took with them, or caused to be brought out, a large number of indented Christian servants, whose period of bondage was limited to seven years, and who, till after the Revolution, constituted a distinct class in the community. Indeed, of the white immigrants to America preceding that era, the larger portion would seem to have arrived there under this servile character.

But while the servitude of Christians was thus limited, the colonists supposed themselves justified in holding Negroes and Indians as slaves for life.”

(Despotism in America: An Inquiry into the Nature, Results and Legal Basis of the Slave-Holding System in the United States, Richard Hildreth, John P. Jewett and Company, 1854, excerpts pp. 178-180)

Republican Party Deportation Movement

The Republican party’s platform of 1860 was not antislavery, but aimed at restricting those of African descent to the American South and not allowing blacks into western lands reserved for their European immigrant constituency. When their war caused displaced Africans to flood northward and threaten the jobs of white workers, Republicans admitted northern race prejudice and responded with unrealistic assurances to their voters as well as a deportation plan for the black race.

Republican Deportation Movement

“Following a familiar pattern, antislavery politicians and editors of every rank and persuasion cried that emancipation would staunch the flow of colored immigrants from the South; that it was bondage rather than freedom that was driving them into the North. Free the slaves, they said, and a warm climate, a sentimental attachment to their native land, and northern race prejudice would induce them to stay on southern soil.

Many went further, predicting the same forces would send all or most of the northern Negroes rushing southward. Two optimistic radicals, Congressman George W. Julian of Indiana and Albert J. Riddle of Ohio, expected that freedom in the South would drain the North and Canada of their colored populations. They were joined in this soothing refrain by their colleagues from Pennsylvania including the leading radical Republican in the House, Thaddeus Stevens.

In reply to a Missouri congressman’s accusation that Indiana would not receive Negro immigrants, Representative Albert G. Porter of Indiana retorted that black labor was not needed in his State; that Hoosiers had “elected in favor of the white race by prohibiting slavery”; that Missouri had chosen slavery and thereby agreed to accept its disadvantages; and that if any “inconveniences” should follow emancipation “the duty to be just to the freedmen is yours, and you cannot fairly shift either the burden or the duty to us.”

Yet after listening to [proposed solutions to emancipation] the Republican party finally adopted a voluntary Negro colonization as its official policy. The blacks that were to be freed and who consented to leave were to be sent outside the United States. Before the Civil War there had been active, if ineffective, colonization societies in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. War revived the nation’s flagging interest in the scheme.

In his message to Congress in December 1861, President Lincoln recommended that slaves seized under a confiscation act passed in August of 1861 and those that might be freed by State action be removed to “some place, or places, in a climate congenial to them,” and asked lawmakers to consider also including free Negroes who were willing to depart.

A deportation movement now got underway in earnest with a vanguard of Midwestern Republicans” Senators Lyman Trumbull, John Sherman, James R. Doolittle, Orville H. Browning of Illinois, Henry S. Lane of Indiana, and Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith of Indiana.”  

(Free But Not Equal: The Midwest and the Negro During the Civil War, V. Jacque Voegeli, University of Chicago Press, 1967, excerpts pp. 20-23)

The Fatal Precedent

The origins of the Mexican War are far more complex than usually presented in modern textbooks, with England figuring prominently into the reasons behind a hurried annexation. A need to preserve Texas as a reliable supplier of cotton, while limiting American expansionism, propelled Britain into mediating Mexican-Texan difficulties. While New Englanders opposed annexation on supposedly moral grounds, they coveted California which would give them a port more convenient for whaling and their opium traffic with India – the latter creating severe addiction problems in China.

John C. Calhoun opposed James Polk’s war with Mexico with a plea “that America never take one foot of territory by an aggressive war.” He added, “If fight we must, let us fight a defensive war.” He dismissed Polk’s assertion of “war exists with Mexico” as a “palpable falsehood.”

The Fatal Precedent

“The way Polk got the [Mexican] war started ensured that it would be vehemently protested in certain quarters. Shortly after Texas was annexed (December 29, 1845), Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor, commander of the army in Louisiana, to move to Texas to protect its southern flank on the Rio Grande.

In reality, the southern flank was the Neuces, 150 miles to the north; Mexico claimed the area between the two rivers, and the pretensions of Texas and the United States was without foundation. An American reconnoitering party of sixty-three men encountered a Mexican force near the Rio Grande and was attacked. Eleven were killed, five wounded and the rest captured.

When Polk received the news, he asked Congress to appropriate funds to support Taylor, declared that the Mexicans had invaded the United States and “shed American blood on the American soil,” and requested not a declaration of war but a recognition that “war exists” by virtue of Mexico’s action.

The Democratic majority in the House limited debate to two hours, read but a few of the documents Polk had submitted, and passed a bill calling for volunteers and appropriating $10 million. Just sixteen congressmen voted against the bill.

Among the few in Congress who spoke against the action was John C. Calhoun. Unlike northern opponents of the war, he had strongly favored the annexation of Texas, but he thought the war was avoidable, set a dangerous precedent . . . The passage of the appropriations bill with its “war exists” preamble in effect transferred to the presidency Congress’s power to declare war, for the president as commander in chief could order troops anywhere, provoke a fight, and present Congress with was a fait accompli.  

The precedent could prove fatal, Calhoun insisted, for it “will enable all future presidents to bring about a state of things, in which Congress shall be forced, without deliberation or reflection, to declare war, however opposed to its convictions of justice or expediency. The precedent would, indeed, be applied to Calhoun’s own State fifteen years later.”

(States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, Forrest MacDonald, University of Kansas Pres, 2000, excerpts pp. 150-151)

“The Massachusetts Idea”

On September 22, 1864, the Illinois State Register reported “A new feature . . . We noted the sale of three likely able-bodied men yesterday – color not stated, as it is immaterial to Uncle Abe – at $400, $450 and $600 respectively . . . They were bought to fill a Woodford County order.” Only three days later the paper wrote “the demand for substitutes seems to be on the increase. Yesterday their par value averaged $700 to $900. About a dozen, most of them Negroes, were picked up and are already in the service of Father Abraham.”   

 Milton S. Littlefield was a prewar Republican organizer in Illinois, and was later sent by Lincoln to fervent abolitionist Gen. David Hunter in South Carolina as “an agent and symbol of altering Presidential idea about the Negro and the war.” Littlefield was notorious for shaving enlistment bounties into his own pocket, and in the postwar was renowned for his railroad bond frauds in North Carolina.

The Massachusetts Idea”

 “[Lincoln secretary] John Hay called the procedure “the Massachusetts idea” in a talk about it with Sherman and Grant, neither of whom liked it. Sherman, indeed had defied an act of Congress, passed on July 4, 1864, authorizing Northern governors to send agents into the South to recruit Negroes “who shall be credited to the State which may procure the enlistment.”

When some such agents had asked Sherman where they might begin to receive their colored men, he had named eight cities all in Confederate territory far from any Union troops.  The idea was not limited to Massachusetts though it had been part of that State’s motivation . . . [and] had been a part of the Massachusetts purpose in forming the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, which the doomed young Shaw led off to war to the applause of abolitionists and poets in Boston, and the 55th which furnished the man hanged in Jacksonville [for rape].

President Lincoln, in the message in which he announced and Amnesty and Reconstruction Proclamation which preceded the ill-fated expedition to Olustee, mentioned as one of the advantages of enlisting Negro soldiers that of “supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men.”

Nothing could be more clear than Littlefield’s statement in his appeal for enlistments on the Florida expedition calling attention to the Federal bounty each recruit would receive and another bounty “from the State to which he will be accredited.”  (There was a gap between the $300 he promised and the $700 Jefferson County [New York] paid.)

Perhaps as the officer “charged with the payment of all bounties to colored recruits” in the Department of the South, he was partial to Jefferson County. Also it is possible that some of the bounty money stuck to his hands or those of his cousin, friends and associates there.

The process in which he took part, however, was not a rare deal but a plan publicly blessed by local taxpayers and high public officials. During the war the Northern States paid nearly $300,000,000 in bounties for recruits.”

(Prince of Carpetbaggers, Jonathan Daniels, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1958, excerpts pp. 103-104)

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