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Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

The following is a very graphic and long account Nat Turner’s massacre of innocents in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831, during which he and his followers brutally murdered over sixty white citizens: women, children and old men. This tragic event led to severe restrictions on slaves, free blacks, and the ongoing emancipation of slaves that had been common in the South before 1831.  The South laid blame for the murders on Northern abolitionists who incited the slaves to such actions, and led to the South seriously reconsidering the value of political union with the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

“With no large plantations, there were no large slaveholders, and [Southampton] county typified older communities where slavery was passing by personal manumission; the slaves and freed Negroes outnumbered the whites to make a potentially dangerous problem. To 6500 whites, there were 7700 slaves and 1500 freed Negroes. Slave and free, all Negroes lived in intimate proximity to the whites, a situation which did not exist on large plantations where overseers came between the masters and field hands. Field hands in that sense scarcely existed in Southampton County.

The most successful plantations were operated avocationally by professional men, doctors and lawyers, since the plantation represented the aspiration of everyone. In the same way, many of the plantation-conscious farmers supplemented their agricultural incomes by working as artisans in small enterprises. Such a man was Joseph Travis, the honest coach-maker.

He had apprenticed to him a sixteen-year-old boy, who shared the bedroom of Mr. Travis’ foster son, Putnam Moore. Mrs. Travis, whose first husband had died, had a baby by Joseph Travis. This small family had no house servants as such. The few colored families of slaves lived in a single cluster of buildings around the farmyard and there was no distinction between house people and field hands. There the whites and blacks, working together and virtually living together, shared an hourly and constant companionship, and knew one another with the casual intimacy of members of the same family. Though everybody worked hard, the slaves were held to a fairly rigid schedule.

Working five days a week from roughly sunup until sundown, they had Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. They were encouraged to grow garden crops for themselves on allotted plots of ground, either to fill out their diets according to personal tastes or for use in trade or barter. Skills were taught them and, as in other families like the Travis’ who could not afford to free their lifetime investment, sometimes a Negro worked out his freedom at a trade.

Great attention was given to their religious education. They went to the whites’ churches, where the Methodist and Baptist preachers of the peoples’ religion evoked fiery and wondrous images, and they developed their own preachers, who supplanted the whites’. Such a Negro preacher acted as Joseph Travis’ “overseer.”

The overseer of this little family plantation, bearing not even unintentional similarity to Simon Legree, merely acted for the owner with the few Negroes who worked on the farm. With Joseph Travis busy at his coach-making, somebody had to be in charge of the work, though The Preacher extended his leadership over the total lives of the three families in the Travis farmyard, and exerted considerable influence over other Negroes in the scattered community.

He always said that Mr. Travis was a very kind man, maybe even too indulgent with his people, and Mr. Travis regarded The Preacher as something of a privileged character. He had been born in the county of an African mother and a slave father, who ran away when The Preacher was a child. He had been raised by his grandmother, who worked on his religious education, and by his mother, who was deeply impressed with the child’s gift of second sight.

When the owners’ attention was called to his precociousness, they encouraged him to read and gave him a Bible. He culled the Bible for predictions and prophesies which he used to impose his visions on his fellow slaves. He found portents in the sun and moon, portentous hieroglyphics in leaves and suchlike, and in general created of himself a mysterious figure of supernatural gifts.

The Preacher did not regard himself as a humbug in imposing on his fellows. He actually believed he could read signs in the sky. “Behold me in the heavens,” the Holy Spirit said to him, and he beheld and he knew. He knew the signs were directing him toward a holy mission. In the spring of 1828, he heard a loud noise in the heavens and, he said, “The spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it in and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be the last and the last should be free.”

The twenty-first of August was a Sunday, in the season when the white people spent the day away at camp meetings. In The Preacher’s cabin, his wife was fixing Sunday dinner for their child. In the woods below the fields, six of The Preacher’s disciples were gathered in the glen, where to a Sunday feast they added some of the apple brandy which was always handy to acquire. Only one of them belonged to Mr. Travis – Hark Travis, a magnificently and powerfully built black man. Two others, Sam and the ferocious Will Francis, belonged to one of Mrs. Travis’ brothers. As farms were relatively few in the sparsely settled and wooded country, all the Negroes were intimately acquainted.

The Preacher, after his custom of keeping himself aloof, joined the frolic in the middle of the afternoon, when several hours of feasting and drinking had his followers in receptive humor. From then until full night he coached them in the details of his predestined mission in which they were to be allowed to participate.

At ten o’clock they left the woods and silently approached the dark farmyard of the Travis house. All lights were out in the house where the family, tired from their trip to the camp-meeting, were asleep. In the farmyard stood a Negro named Austin, who joined them, and brought The Preacher’s band to eight.

The seven followers went to the unlocked cider press while The Preacher studied the situation. When the silent man returned, The Preacher directed Hark, the Apollo, to set a tall ladder against an upper story window sill. The Preacher climbed the ladder, stepped through the open window, and tiptoed through the familiar house down to the front door. When he opened it, his disciples crept in. The fearsome Will Francis held a broadax and one of the men gave The Preacher a hatchet. Without any other weapons, the eight men crept into the master bedroom, where Mr. & Mrs. Travis were asleep.

When The Preacher stood over them, he paused, looking on the face of the kindly man who had given him so many privileges. The other Negroes told him the leader must strike the first blow. After another pause, The Preacher struck suddenly and awkwardly down at the sleeping man.

The hatchet glanced off, giving a blow to the side of the head. Mr. Travis, startled into wakefulness, struggled out of bed, sleepily calling for his wife. When his bare feet touched the floor, Will Francis, with no confusion of purpose, brought the broadax down on his head in a single long stroke. Without another sound, Mr. Travis fell dead to the floor. Whirling, Will came down with the broadax again, and Mrs. Travis died in her bed without ever coming fully awake.

The sounds had not aroused the two sixteen-year-old boys – Mrs. Travis’ son, Putnam Moore, and the apprentice, Joel Westbrook – asleep in the same bed in a room in another part of the house. They were killed before they were awakened.

Last, The Preacher went into the baby’s room. He had often played with the child and fondled it, and the baby smiled at him when he woke up. The Preacher backed out, unable to touch the child, and sent in Will and another follower to knock the baby’s brains out against the brick fireplace.

With the house theirs, they took four shotguns, several muskets, powder and shot, and exchanged their clothes for garments of the dead men. To give a dash to their new costumes, they got some of the red cloth with which the top of the gig was lined and tore that into sashes to go around their waists and shoulders. The material gave out and they made other strips from sheets, which they dyed in the freely flowing blood. The Preacher felt that this unit was now ready to serve as the nucleus around which all the slaves of the county would rally.

With some of the force mounted on Travis’ horses, they went to the small farm owned by Mrs. Travis’ brother, who was also the brother of the owner of Sam and Will. This younger Mr. Francis, a bachelor who lived with his one slave in a single-room house, came to the door when Will and Sam called to him that they had a message from his brother.

When he opened the door they grabbed him. He was a strong man and he fought, calling to his loyal slave for his gun. One of The Preacher’s men shot Mr. Francis’s slave, Nelson, who managed to stagger to the back door and escape in the darkness to the woods. He started out to give the alarm to his master’s brother, the owner of Will and Sam, but he didn’t make it that far. Mr. Francis was finished off before Nelson had reached the woods, going down under repeated blows from the hatchet.

From there The Preacher’s band walked on through the night to the home of Mrs. Harris, a widow with several children and grandchildren. Unbeknownst to themselves as they slept, this family was spared through the agency of their slave, Joe, who joined The Preacher on the condition that his people be spared.

With their first recruit, the band descended on the home of the widow Reese, whose front door was unlocked. They killed her in her sleep, her son as he awakened, caught the white farm manager who tried to escape in the darkness. He got off with his life by feigning death, though he was forever after crippled.

By then other slaves, too frightened to defend the whites but unwilling to join the insurgents, had fled before the band, and nearby plantations were warned. Not willing to risk losing any of his eight followers, The Preacher changed his course.

At sunrise on Monday morning they reached the substantial home of the widow Turner…Mrs. Turner’s manager was already at work at the distillery beside the lane to the house. He was shot and stripped, his clothes going to the last recruit, the Joe who had saved his own people. Mrs. Turner and a kinswoman were awakened by the shot and came downstairs to bolt the door. The fearsome will battered the door down with several strokes of his ax, and the two women were grabbed in the hallway.

While they pleaded for their lives, Will went about his skillful work of execution on Mrs. Turner, and The Preacher pulled Mrs. Newsom, trembling violently, out of the door. He kept striking her over the head with a sword he had acquired. The edge was too blunt to kill the screaming woman and Will, turning from the corpse of Mrs. Turner, methodically finished off The Preacher’s victim with his ax.

They got silver there and more decoration for their costumes, and when they left the silent plantation at full daylight their number had spread to fifteen. They divided, those on foot under The Preacher swinging by the Bryant’s, where they paused to kill the couple, their child, and Mrs. Bryant’s mother, before joining the mounted force at the pleasant establishment of Mrs. Whitehead.

When The Preacher’s force got there, Mrs. Whitehead’s grown son had already been hacked to death in a cotton patch while his own slaves looked on. Inside the house three daughters and a child, being bathed by his grandmother were dead. Will was dragging the mother of the family out into the yard, where he decapitated her, and a young girl who had hidden was running for the woods. The Preacher caught her and, his sword failing him again, beat her to death with a fence rail. Another daughter, the only member of the family to survive, had made it to the woods where she was hidden by a house slave.

When they left the seven dead and mutilated bodies at the Whitehead’s, The Preacher’s band had grown and acquired more weapons and horses. They had also drunk more cider and brandy, and they moved boldly ahead to continue the massacre although they knew that the alarm was out by then. Several of the next small plantations in their line of march were deserted. The band divided again, with Will the executioner leading the mounted force toward the house of his own master, Nathaniel Francis, the brother of The Preacher’s Mrs. Travis and of the bachelor whose slave, Nelson, had been among the first to give the warning.

Though the warning had not reached the Francis plantation, a Negro boy had told Mr. Francis a wild tale of the slaughter of his sister’s family. Having heard nothing of The Preacher’s band, Mr. Francis and his mother were on their way to investigate the grisly scene awaiting them at the Travis household.

Two of Mr. Francis’ nephews, eight- and three year-old boys, were playing in the lane as the Negroes rode silently toward them. The three-year-old, seeing the familiar Will, asked for a ride as he had many times before. Will picked him up on the horse, cut off his head, and dropped the body in the lane. The other boy screamed and tried to hide, but they were too fast for him.

Henry Doyle, the overseer, seeing this, ran to warn Mrs. Francis. He was shot dead in the doorway of the house, but not before he had warned Mrs. Francis. A house slave hid her between the plastering and the roof in one of the “jump” rooms, and kept The Preacher’s band away from her hiding place by pretending to hunt for her. When the Negroes had gone on, the house slave of necessity among them, Mrs. Francis came down to find the other house women dividing her clothes, including her wedding dress. One attacked her with a dirk and another defended her. She escaped to join her husband and be taken to safety.

When the band left the Francis plantation, the alarm by then was general and the Negroes were beginning to get drunk. They headed for the road to the county seat. They found more deserted houses, where faithful slaves had left to hide their masters, and met other slaves who had waited to join the insurrectionists. At young Captain Barrow’s the warning had been received and the overseer had escaped, but Mrs. Barrow, a woman of beauty, had delayed to arrange her toilet before appearing abroad. She tarried so long that the Negroes reached the house before she left. Her husband called to her to run out the back door while he fought from the front.

In leaving, Mrs. Barrow had the same experience with her house slaves as had Mrs. Francis. A younger one tried to hold her for the mob, while an older one freed her and held the young Negro woman while her mistress escaped. In front, Captain Barrow emptied a pistol, a single-shot rifle, and a shotgun, and fought with the butt of the gun across the porch, through the hall, and into the front room. He was holding them off when a Negro on the outside reached through the window sill and, from behind, sliced his throat with a razor.

The Preacher’s men had great respect for Captain Barrow’s bravery. They drank his blood and spared his corpse mutilation. Instead, they laid him out in a bed quilt and placed a plug of tobacco on his breast.

It was ten o’clock Monday morning when they left there, and the two bands soon converged. They then numbered about fifty. The Preacher’s vision of a mass insurrection was coming true. White men were trying to form a force ahead of the band but some of the men, on seeing the bleeding and mutilated bodies of women, hurried back to their farms to hide their own wives and children. Hundreds of women and children were gathering in the county seat at Jerusalem, unaware that the band’s winding course was directed there.

On the way The Preacher’s formidable force passed more deserted places, but got its biggest haul at Walker’s country corner. A children’s boarding school was there and a large distillery, a blacksmith shop, and the wheelwright, and it had taken some time to gather all the people in the neighborhood. Before they could start for Jerusalem, the Negroes were on them. Some escaped to the screams of those being chased and butchered. More than ten were killed there, mostly children.

From the Walker massacre, the band headed directly for Jerusalem. By then eighteen white men had gathered with arms at some distance from the town, where four hundred unarmed people had collected. The Preacher’s band of sixty would have reached the town first except that his lieutenants overruled him when they passed the famous brandy cellar at Parker’s deserted plantation, three miles from town. They tarried there to quench their thirsts.

The eighteen white men came on them in Parker’s field and opened fire. In a short, pitched battle the boldest Negroes, leading a charge, fell, and most of the insurrectionists fled. The Preacher escaped with twenty of his most faithful followers, and headed for the Carolina border.

He was seeking new recruits then. They were slow coming in and victims were getting scarce. Late in the afternoon The Preacher, still supported by the Apollo-like Hark and Will with his broadax, allowed a single armed planter to hold off his band from a lady with two children. That planter’s family had already escaped to safety.

[After camping that night,] . . . at dawn, The Preacher started for the large and handsome home of Dr. Blunt, one of the county’s few plantations of the legend, and on the edge of the district of yesterday’s triumph. Not seeking victims then, The Preacher wanted fresh supplies and recruits to put heart and strength back into the insurrection.

He reached the Blunts’ yard fence just before daylight. A precautionary shot was fired to see if the darkened house was deserted, as expected. Then the powerful Hark broke down the gate, and the group advanced toward the house, looking for salves to join them. The band was within twenty yards of the house when firing broke out from the front porch. Hark Travis, one of the original conspirators . . . fell wounded in the first volley. When The Preacher, shaken but grown desperate, tried to rally his force for an attack, another volley dropped two more. His men broke. At that moment, Dr. Blunt’s slaves came swarming out of hiding places, armed with grub hoes, and rushed the insurrectionists. The Preacher fled with his men, Dr. Blunt’s slaves rounded up several prisoners, including the wounded Hark, crawling toward a cotton patch.

Dr. Blunt, his fifteen-year-old son, and his manager had done the firing, while the women loaded single-shot rifles and shotguns. Before The Preacher’s men arrived, Dr. Blunt had given his own slaves the choice of fighting with his family or leaving. They chose unanimously to fight.

More in desperation than purpose [The Preacher] led the dozen remaining followers to retrace their triumphant steps of the day before. At the first plantation the Greenville County cavalry militia rode them down. They killed will, the ax-executioner, and killed or captured all except The Preacher and two others. The insurrection was over then, though the alarmed neighbors did not know it.

Following the Greenville cavalry, other militia units poured into the county during the next two days, and US Marines from Norfolk. The two men who had escaped with The Preacher were captured. Many who had followed the leader during the successful stages of Monday had returned to their homes. They were hunted down, some killed and others taken to jail. But The Preacher eluded them until the beginning of October.

While changing hiding places on another Sunday, he encountered a poor farmer in some woods. Like his neighbors, this Mr. Phipps was carrying a gun when he came upon the ragged, emaciated, and wretched-looking Preacher, who immediately surrendered.

No demonstration was made against The Preacher when he was brought to jail or when he and fifty-two others were brought to trial. Of these, seventeen were hanged and twelve transported. Of five free Negroes among them, one was acquitted, the others went to Superior Court, where one more was acquitted and three convicted. The Preacher confessed fully to his leadership and to the details of the murder of more than fifty white people.

With The Preacher’s execution, the case was closed and entered the record books as Nat Turner’s Rebellion.

In history, the unelaborated reference to “Nat Turner’s Rebellion” has been made so casually for so long that the tag has no association with the terror and horror of mass murder. Also, to the population of the United States today the slave insurrection in Haiti is a remote thing, part of the inevitable and the just march of events. But to the South, where white refugees had fled – at least one to Southampton County – the Haiti massacre was the dread reminder of what could happen to them. With Nat Turner, it had happened. The deep fear of the blacks’ uprising against them had been implemented. It was never to leave.”

(The Land they Fought For, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday & Company, 1955, excerpts, pp. 14-22)

 

The Original Confederacy

The Original Confederacy

The original governing document after the British colonies seceded from England was titled the Articles of Confederation, adopted on November 15, 1777, but not formally ratified by all thirteen States until March, 1781. Hence, the original American government was “Confederated,” the people (and their military arm) referred to as “Confederates,” and the flag they flew was a Confederate flag.

Interestingly, many of the Revolutionary leaders who formed this confederated government were not advocates of what they then knew as “democracy,” and they were unwilling to accept the idea that the Articles of Confederation were an expression of any eighteenth century democratic philosophy.

These leaders and creators of the Articles created a “separation of powers” which is often equated with today’s view of democracy and liberty. To James Madison and John Adams the purpose of such an instrument was to give both men of property and those without a voice in government as well as a check upon one another. Their fear was, that without this check, society could not prevent the exploitation which would probably ensue if either one got control of the government.

Also, the Articles were considered to be the constitutional expression of the philosophy of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and what was considered to be “democracy” was written into the revolutionary State constitutions regarding legislative supremacy, governors and the judiciary subservient to legislatures, and churches losing their past privileges.

John Adams wrote in 1817 of those romanticizing the Revolution and forgetting the mighty political battles that took place then and afterward. “There is,” he wrote, “an overweening fondness for representing this country as the scene of liberty, equality, fraternity, union, harmony and benevolence. But let not your sons or mine deceive themselves. This country, like all others, has been a theater of parties and feuds for near two hundred years.”

That Revolutionary generation of English colonists had experienced the rule of the Mother Country for all their lives, and the newspapers of 1775-76 were rife with essays distrusting office-holders, insisting on annual elections, rotation in office and constitutional restrictions on holding political office. Americans of that time were lectured upon that men in power naturally lusted for more power and that restraints were needed on officeholders lest the peoples’ liberties be put in danger.

In 1787’s convention Edmund Randolph pointed out that the authors of the Articles of Confederation were wise and great men, but that “human rights were the chief knowledge of the time.” He followed this by stating that our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions . . . that the powers of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches . . . [and that none] of the [State] constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy.”

As the governing document, or “constitution” of the United States from 1781 to 1789, the Articles simply dissolved (though deemed “perpetual” when ratified) in the latter year as 11 States then bound to it voluntarily seceded and formed a more perfect union – but initially without Rhode Island and North Carolina whose people were suspicious of the new constitution’s grant of additional power to the central government in Washington.

After those two States withdrew from the Articles and joined the other eleven, this new Constitution passed through serious ruptures such as New England’s threats of secession in 1814 and serious tariff crises, until finally collapsing in war between North and South in 1861.”

Bernhard Thuersam

Corruption and Protective Tariffs in Postwar Washington

The shipping interests of New England, dealing in slaves and goods, sparked the initial war with England, and later New England manufacturer’s hunger for protectionist tariffs drove the South to create a more perfect Union among themselves. After Southern Representatives and Senators left Congress in 1861, the Northern Congress immediately voted high tariffs, land grants, and subsidies to its numerous wealthy patrons who spent lavishly in Washington. The Collis Huntington mentioned below is cast by historians as the consummate villain, and came to symbolize the greed and corruption of the Gilded Age. Much of his money came from defrauding the American taxpayer in Western railroad schemes. His stepson, Archer Milton Huntington, used his inheritance to purchase Gov. Joseph Allston’s plantation and several others just south of Murrell’s Inlet, SC in 1930 — and renamed Brookgreen Gardens.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Corruption and Protective Tariffs in Postwar Washington

“The descriptive powers of Washington correspondents had so captured the imagination of the American that some Republican journalists after the Panic of 1873 and the scandals later revealed considered it advisable to play down the brilliance of social life in the capital.

The lobbyists as a class, male and female, flourished [in Washington] as never before. The railroad magnates, hungry for public land grants and subsidies, bid against each other for the favors of politicians. Collis P. Huntington, promoter of the Central Pacific, came to Washington with $200,000 in a trunk for “legal expenses” to obtain a Federal charter. General [Richard] Franchot, his agent, spent $1,000,000 for “general legal expenses” over and above his salary of $30,000.

[Lincoln’s financier] Jay Cooke undertook almost singlehanded to underwrite the expenses of the Republican presidential campaign. The rewards, however, were commensurate.

In 1871 Thomas A. Scott received a 13-million acre grant for the Texas Pacific Railroad, and Jay Cooke obtained a grant of 47 million acres for the Northern Pacific in 1868. By 1870, four Western [railroads] had received as much public land as the combined States of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Even Speaker [of the House James G.] Blaine was heavily involved in the Fort Smith and Little Rock Railroad, shares of which he tried to sell to his fellow members of Congress.

The venality of Congressmen had become a by-word. “A Congressional appropriation costs money,” said Colonel Sellers in The Gilded Age. “A majority of the House Committee . . . was $40,000. A majority of the Senate Committee . . . say $40,000, a little extra for one or two Committee Chairman . . . say $10,000 . . . Then seven male lobbyists at $3,000 each, one femal lobbyist at $10,000 – a high moral Congressman or Senator here or there – the high moral ones cost more because they give a certain tone to a measure – say ten of these at $3,000 each. Then a lot of small fry country members who wouldn’t vote for anything whatever without pay. Say twenty at $500 apiece.”

Neither were the manufacturers of New England neglecting their special interests. John L. Hayes was lobbying among the members of Congress seeking for the continuation of the tariff on [imported] textiles to protect the mills of the North. The wool interests in the Middle West were endeavoring to increase the tariff on imported cloth, and the steel and iron magnates of Pennsylvania, headed by Representative “Pig iron” Kelley kept an anxious eye on the importation of steel rails from England; several of the charters granted to railroads specified that the rails laid down must be of American manufacture.

The tariff issue was, indeed, beginning to overshadow the “Southern question” as the fundamental concern of the Republican party.”

(The Uncivil War, Washington During Reconstruction, 1865-1878; James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts, pp. 183;194-195)

Imagining a Lost Cause

Imagining a Lost Cause

Let us imagine for a moment that the French army and fleet were not present at Yorktown to augment Washington’s army, and that the British prevailed in their war to suppress the rebellion of their subjects populating the American colonies below Canada. As the victorious redcoats swarmed through those colonies they arrested and imprisoned rebel leadership including Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, et al. All were sure they would swing from sturdy tree limbs for their part in a Lost Cause.

Though the outcry from American Loyalists demanded the execution of rebel leaders, the King decided to not create martyrs and mercifully allowed them to lead peaceful lives after taking a new oath of fealty to the Crown. They would be treated as second-class subjects and forever viewed with suspicion as former rebels.

The official history of that civil war was then written which proclaimed that the rebels fought in defense of African slavery — in short, that the American Revolution was fought to perpetuate slavery and the King fought for the freedom of the black race. Willing court historians suppressed Britain’s deep involvement in the slave trade, and later gate keepers of orthodoxy maintained the fiction to avoid official censure and loss of position.

It is remembered that on November 7, 1775, Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore (John Murray), issued his emancipation proclamation in Norfolk announcing that all able-bodied, male slaves in Virginia who abandoned their masters and took up arms for the King would be free . . . “Negroes and others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s Troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper sense of duty to His Majesty’s crown and dignity . . .”

A rebel newspaper correspondent wrote: “Hell itself could not have vomited anything more black than this design of emancipating our slaves.” The proclamation deemed anyone opposing the proclamation as “defending slavery.”

Lord Dunmore afterward was hailed throughout the world as the Great Emancipator and savior of the black race, and that had he not freed the bondsmen from the slave holding colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia, chattel slavery would have continued forever.

The irony of this official history was not lost on those who had witnessed the populating of the American colonies and how the official Royal African Company (RAC) brought slave ship after slave ship to work the plantations that enriched the British Empire. The RAC was established in 1660 by the Stuart family and London merchants, for the purpose of trading along the west coast of Africa – especially for slaves. It was led by the Duke of York (for whom New York City is named), the brother of Charles II.

Additionally, the maritime colonies of Rhode Island and Massachusetts surreptitiously engaged in slaving, with the former colony surpassing Liverpool in 1750 as the center of the lucrative transatlantic slave trade. Thus New England’s maritime ventures and its competition with England was greatly to blame for sparking the rebellion.

Although the British were certainly responsible (along with the Portuguese, French and Spanish) for the presence of African slaves in North America, they were victorious in that civil war and wrote the official histories of the rebellion. Subsequently, all British universities, newspapers and books were in unison denouncing the American rebels as racist white supremacists who refused the black man equality, and any monuments to their dead were simply evidence of glorifying and romanticizing a Lost Cause. Imagine.

Bernhard Thuersam

 

 

The Gratification of a Favorite Passion

The mass immigration from Europe during the late antebellum years changed the social and cultural profile of the Northern States and deeply affected how that section viewed the new western territories, which they desired for expansion and free of a black population. Those immigrants being unfamiliar with the Anglo-Saxon culture, laws and traditions of their new home helped create a North which differed greatly with the South, and helped create two distinct sections that would either separate, or come to blows.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Gratification of a Favorite Passion

“The more Southerners viewed their own civilization the more they feared the dangers of its disintegration by the infiltration of Northern radicalism and its actual overthrow by continued Northern agitation and outright attack. They shuddered at the thought that they should ever by forced to embrace Northern ways.

The deluge of immigrants with their strange and dangerous ideas had made of Northerners another race. Even basically, it was held, Northerners and Southerners were of different origins. It was the open-hearted Cavalier against the tight-fisted Puritan of the North – “the advocate of rational liberty and the support of authority, as against the licentiousness and morbid impulse of unregulated passion, and unenlightened sentiment. “

As William H. Russell put it, Southerners believed that the “New Englander must have something to persecute, and as he has hunted down all his Indians, burnt all his witches, and persecuted all his opponents to the death, he invented abolitionism as the sole resource left to him for the gratification of his favorite passion.”

In the North, there was corruption in State and municipal governments; the rulers were King Numbers, agrarian mobs, lawless democracies, black and red Republicans. There were overgrown grimy cities filled with crime and poverty. Beggars were everywhere – not like the South where an Englishman had spent six months and could say, “I never saw a beggar.”

There was free-soilism, abolitionism, freeloveism, Fourierism, Mormonism, a fanatical press “without honor or modesty,” free thought and infidelism, “intemperance and violence and indecorum” of the clergy . . . Northerners were a people whose wisdom is paltry cunning, whose valor and manhood have been swallowed up in corruption, howling demagoguery, and in the marts of dishonest commerce.

Capital and labor were in perpetual conflict; there was neither the orderly relation which existed between master and slave nor the social security the slave possessed. There was likely to be a violent social upheaval, not unlike the French Revolution, and the South did not care to be a part of the country undergoing it. The Southerner wanted his own country, one that he could love and take pride in.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 11-13)

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

With Benjamin Harrison in the White House in 1889, the Republican party moved quickly to restore its political hegemony and construct numerous barriers to future Democratic victories. In a two-pronged effort the McKinley Bill would establish high tariff rates to protect northeastern manufacturers from foreign competition and encourage campaign contributions; the Force Bill ostensibly prevented corruption in Federal elections – but in reality gave Federal district judges the power to manipulate congressional elections in the South by shearing as much authority as possible from local election officials.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

“When Congress assembled in December, 1889, the Republicans were in complete control of both branches for the first time in sixteen years. With a great deal of satisfaction, therefore, their leaders revived the partisan measures that a Democratic majority in one house had previously thwarted.

In the opening days of the session they prepared several items of legislation designed to strengthen and lengthen Republican power. Their high tariff supporters were to be rewarded with the McKinley bill with its inflated schedules; the [treasury] surplus was to be obliterated by a veritable orgy of Federal spending; and any subsequent restoration of the Democratic party to power was to be hampered by a set of Federal election laws that would weaken the Solid South with Negro ballots and, if necessary, Northern bayonets.

If the Democrats were to survive the onslaught that the Republicans planned for them, they would require unflagging minority leadership in Congress. Shrewd parliamentary leadership would be needed there to employ effectively the minority’s somewhat limited resources.

The elections bill . . . was designed to appeal to lovers of human, rather than property rights. Its provisions were to be simple, just, and, to all outward appearance, eminently nonpartisan. Those who opposed its passage would place themselves in the position of defending Negro disenfranchisement, unconstitutional usurpation by Southern whites, and downright criminality. To attack the elections bill would be equivalent to a shameless confession of guilt.

Both measures were designed to cripple the Democratic party. The Tariff bill was not simply the negation of avowed Democratic principle; it was both the repayment of Republican campaign debts and the promise of future contributions.

“Fat-frying” had made Republican victories possible in 1888; high tariff schedules would now satisfy old customers and establish a new group of beneficiaries whose financial support might ensure Democratic defeat indefinitely.

The ulterior motives behind the elections bill were equally clear. Pious declarations that it was not a political weapon might assist its passage, but once it became law, the President would be empowered to enforce its provisions with the full support of the Army and Navy.

By this time it was clear to everyone that the Republicans were not motivated by humanitarian impulses in their efforts to protect the Negro in his constitutional rights; they were attempting to restore the political control over the Southern election machinery which they had exercised during the Reconstruction era”

(Arthur Pue Gorman, John R. Lambert, Louisiana State University Press, 1953, excerpts, pp. 145-148; 157)

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

The late M.E. Bradford understood that the centrality of freedom was the core of Southerners’ insistence on their right to govern their private and local affairs in their own way, and was the same for citizens of all other States. He held that “the only equality Americans can universally approve is accidental, a corollary of liberty or simple equality before the law with limited scope.” Bradford made his readers painfully aware of Lenin’s belief that the only way to make men equal is to treat them unequally.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Seductive Promises of Demagogues

“The wrath [Bradford] directed against Lincoln, like the wrath he directed against Julia Ward Howe, the authors of the Reconstruction amendments, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and all those who had imposed the teleological will of an instrumental government and judiciary upon an unsuspecting nation, had little to do with personal animosity.

It stemmed from his indignation against people he viewed as so intellectually blind as to be incapable of understanding the enormity they had wrought or so morally blind as not to care, provided only that they accomplished their immediate ends. Such attitudes, for Bradford, embodied the reverse – indeed the repudiation – of the obligations of stewardship and amounted to the despoiling of the children as well as the desecration of the fathers.

Bradford refused to apologize for the severity of his message – that the Northern victory had extracted a terrible cost from the country and its culture. Rejecting the cult of equality as the opiate of the intellectuals, Bradford rejected the fashionable identification of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution, referring to “the Great Divide of the War Between the States.”

He explained: “it has been more and more the habit of our historians, jurists, and political scientists to read the Continental Enlightenment, and the Age of Revolution that was its political consequence, back into the beginnings of our national beginnings by way of an anachronistic gloss upon the Declaration of Independence.”

He constantly reminds his readers that the Constitution, not the Declaration, embodies the country’s law, which it exists to articulate and protect. Thus, he argues in an uncharacteristically optimistic vein, the “Constitution makes it difficult or even impossible for us to alter our political identity on whim or when momentarily carried away by the adjuration of demagogues.”

By the time Bradford died [in 1993], he had reason to know that the American political identity he cherished was under formidable assault, primarily at the hands of the Supreme Court justices – those supposed custodians and interpreters of the Constitution itself.

Experience and history taught Bradford, as he believed they had taught the Framers, that in politics one must conjoin the “caution of David Hume and the pessimism of Saint Paul,” especially with respect to the seductive promises of demagogues. In the time of the Framers, as in our own, he insisted, caution and pessimism should lead to a deep mistrust of the myths of equality with which demagogues love to seduce the more gullible of the citizenry, and he approvingly quoted Rufus King of Massachusetts, “the unnatural Genius of Equality [is] the arch Enemy of the moral world.”

(M.E. Bradford’s Historical Vision, EF & ED Genovese; A Defender of Southern Conservatism, M.E. Bradford and His Achievements, Clyde N. Wilson, editor, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 79-82)

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)

 

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)

 

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