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Those Yankees!

Thomas Jefferson, a Southerner, proposed the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory (belonging to Virginia) though Congress failed to approve the plan by one vote. “Thus,” Jefferson wrote, “we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent in that awful moment.” Seven years later, a Massachusetts man invented the cotton gin that inspired New England mill owners.

Bernhard Thuersam,


Those Yankees!

“If it hadnt been for cotton and Yankee inventiveness, chattel slavery would have died a natural death in the South, as it did in the North, long before the [War Between the States]. In the years following the Revolution, the accent throughout the Colonies was on freedom. More and more leaders in the South were speaking out against slavery and being listened to with respect.

In 1791 William and Mary College conferred the degree of LL.D on Granville Sharp, a noted Abolitionist from England. As late as 1832, a bill to provide for the emancipation of slaves was passed by one House of the Virginia Legislature and defeated in the other by only one vote. Manumission societies were springing up everywhere.

The movement wasn’t exactly a matter of ethics. It was mostly economic. Tobacco and indigo and rice just couldn’t support a wasteful slave economy. There was cotton and the South could grow a lot of it . . . but getting out the pesky seed killed off the profit.

A program of gradual emancipation under which the children of slave parents were to be freed at the age of 25 was gaining momentum when a Yankee school-teacher down in Georgia by the name of Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. The year was 1791. Everyone went cotton crazy and slavery, instead of dying out, was tremendously expanded. Many Southern States passed laws forbidding manumission. Those Yankees!

Virginia was our first slave State . . . and the biggest. During the War, forty-eight counties in western Virginia split off from Virginia and remained loyal to the Union with a slave population of 18,371.

All the Negroes were not slaves. There were 260,000 free Negroes in the South owning property valued at more than $25,000,000. About one in every one-hundred of these owned Negro slaves. Most of them owned just two or three but there were some big Negro slave-owners too.  Cypian Ricard, of Macon [Georgia], had a big plantation and 91 slaves. Charles Roges had 47 and Marie Metoyer had 58. The richest man and the biggest slave-owner in Jefferson County. Virginia, was a Negro.

Negroes were in business in the South too, other than farming. Solomon Humphries of Macon, was the town’s leading grocer. Jehu Jones was proprietor of one of Charleston’s best hotels. Thomy Lafon down in New Orleans, was worth half a million dollars. He contributed so much to the city the State legislature ordered a bust to be carved and set up in a public building in his honor.”

(My Old Kentucky Home, Chapter XVI, W.E. Debnam, The Graphic Press, 1955, pp. 38-39)


The North’s Extended Payday

Beyond eliminating Negro slavery in the South, the war “hastened the transformation of the North from a country of farmers and small manufacturers to a highly organized industrial region.” The North had no shortage of those who saw no need to carry a rifle, as great profit awaited those supplying war materiel.

Bernhard Thuersam,


The North’s Extended Payday

“With the war, too, came what moral philosophers have said was moral decay in wholesale volume, an apparently illimitable increase in man’s cupidity. Scandals uncorked during and right after the fighting showed that [Northern] soldiers had been given clothing and blankets made of shoddy, technically a material of reclaimed wool, such as old rags, which gave a new term to our language.

Soldiers also got boots made largely of paper; they were fed meat that had come from diseased cattle and hogs; they rode hags that had been doctored to make a sale to the cavalry. Only too often the very guns put into their hands would not shoot. One big order for such weapons, refused by ordnance offices in the East, was sold and shipped to General [John] Fremont in the West.

Likely the moral condition of the country was lower than usual. Perhaps the moral philosophers should take into account the possibility that man’s inherent cupidity fluctuates, like a thermometer, with the number and quality of opportunities to commit theft, legal or otherwise; that the honesty of too few men is constant.

The decade after 1865 in the United States appears in retrospect to be an extended payday for the vast military exploit just concluded. Somebody observed it was as if Booth’s bullet had released all the chicanery and cupidity of thirty-five million people. Pastor’s warned that God’s hand would smite the Republic. And yet, the more numerous and grosser sort continued to admire the “smart” man.

The most notoriously smart figures of the postwar period in the United States were three characters who without too much exaggeration were also known as the men of disaster. They were Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk. Many called them wreckers, “Foul hyenas,” said an editorial writer of the time, “who when their prey was full rotten came to sink their slavering jaws into the carrion.”

As a big herd of anywhere from six hundred to a thousand head of Ohio beef approached New York City, Drew had his drovers salt them well, then, just before reaching the market place, let them drink their fill. Cattle were sold live-weight. Drew’s processing with salt and water added many tons to the average herd [and] “Watered stock” soon became a term in Wall Street.

Jim Fisk was a genial, handsome fellow . . . Both men and women liked him. He could sell them stuff they did not want before they realized they had bought it. When New Orleans fell into federal hands, Fisk took off to buy cotton for a Boston syndicate, which made a mint of money quickly.

(The Age of the Moguls, Stewart H. Holbrook, Doubleday and Company, 1953, excerpts, pp. 20-24)

New England Commerce Born of the Slave Trade

By 1750, Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the triangular transatlantic slave trade, with British shipbuilders complaining to Parliament that New Englanders were luring their shipwrights away with promises of high pay.  Yankee notions and rum were shipped to Africa to be traded for slaves, thence to the West Indies to trade slaves for molasses, then returning to New England to make more rum for future slave voyages. The American South had no involvement in this inhumane and illicit traffic.

Bernhard Thuersam,


New England Commerce Born of the Slave Trade

“The planting of the commercial States of North America began with the colony of Puritan Independents at Plymouth, in 1620, which was subsequently enlarged into the State of Massachusetts. The other trading colonies, Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as New Hampshire (which never had an extensive shipping interest) were offshoots of Massachusetts.

They partook of the same characteristics and pursuits; and hence, the example of the parent colony is taken here as a fair representation of them. The first ship from America, which embarked in the African slave trade, was the Desire, Captain Pierce, of Salem; and this was among the first vessels ever built in the colony.

The promptitude with which the “Puritan Fathers” embarked in this business may be comprehended, when it is stated that the Desire sailed upon her voyage in June, 1637. The first feeble and dubious foothold was gained by white man at Plymouth less than seventeen years before; and as is well known, many years were expended by the struggle of the handful of settlers for existence.

So that it may be correctly said, that the commerce of New England was born of the slave trade; as its subsequent prosperity was largely founded upon it. To understand the growth of the New England slave trade, two connected topics must be a little illustrated. The first of these is the enslaving of Indians. The pious “Puritan Fathers” found it convenient to assume that they were God’s chosen Israel, and the pagans about them were Amalek and Amorites. They hence deduced their righteous title to exterminate or enslave the Indians, whenever they became troublesome.

As soon as the Indian wars began, we find the captives enslaved. The ministers and magistrates solemnly authorized the enslaving of the wives and posterity of their enemies for the crimes of the fathers and husbands in daring to defend their own soil. In 1677, the General Court of Massachusetts ordered the enslaving of the Indian youths or girls “of such as had been in hostility with the colony, or had lived among its enemies in the time of war.”

By means of these proceedings, the number of Indian servants became so large, that they were regarded as dangerous to the Colony. They were, moreover, often untamable in temper…Hence the prudent and thrifty saints saw the advantage of exporting them to the Bermudas, Barbadoes, and other islands, in exchange for Negroes and merchandise; and this traffick, being much encouraged, and finally enjoined, by the authorities, became so extensive as to substitute Negroes for Indian slaves, almost wholly in the Colony. Among the slaves thus deported were the favourite wife and little son of the heroic King Philip.”

(A Defence of Virginia, and Through Her, The South, Robert Louis Dabney, E.J. Hale & Son, 1867, pp. 32-35)

Aug 4, 2016 - Foreign Viewpoints, Sharp Yankees    Comments Off on British View of Yankees

British View of Yankees

British View of Yankees

“In England the term “Yankee” was applied to all Americans, South as well as North, and “carried with it the implication of crass commercial dealings, shrewd bargaining, and even sharp practices.” By 1815 the word “Yankee” in England evoked a general image of uncouth and curious rustics whose energies were almost exclusively given over to pursuit of economic gain. Southerners attempted to free themselves from this stigma.

For instance, William C. Preston, while traveling in England, insisted in a conversation with an English lady that he was a “Virginian,” not a “Yankee.” But she replied: “Aye, a proud Virginian. But to us you are all Yankees, rascals who cheat the whole world.”

Northerners also resented the charge that they were greedy, selfish, grasping, and lacking in genteel taste, intellectual distinction, and private as well as public decorum. Henry David Thoreau wrote that “the Yankee, though undisciplined, had this advantage at least, and he is especially a man who, everywhere and under all circumstances, is fully resolved to better his condition.”

(The Role of the Yankee in the Old South, Fletcher Green, UGA Press, 1972, page 2)

Jul 2, 2016 - Northern Culture Laid Bare, Sharp Yankees    Comments Off on Unstoppable Yankee Avarice

Unstoppable Yankee Avarice

While in the western theater early in the war, Grant observed the brisk illicit traffic passing around his lines as Yankee traders and speculators bribed Northern officers to allow their passage to purchase cotton. Later in the war, General W.H.C. Whiting in command of the Cape Fear District at Wilmington wrote President Davis that blockade runners with Northern goods aboard seemed to pass through the blockade more easily.

Bernhard Thuersam,


Unstoppable Yankee Avarice

“The amount of greed and corruption that attended the business of blockade-running was about what might have been anticipated, and involved not only Southerners and Britons, but some grasping Yankees.

When Gazaway B. Lamar (though born in Georgia, Lamar removed to Brooklyn in 1845 and became successful in business, and for several years president of the Bank of the Republic, New York), a pre-war smuggler of Africans into the South, headed a company that vigorously operated four steamers, and along with Fraser and Company of Charleston, and Fraser, Trenholm of Liverpool reported lucrative returns, it is no wonder that some Northerners watched these traders enviously! The contraband commerce had all the attractions of gambling for high stakes.

More than half the ships and cargoes tried in the New York prize court were British, but the British name too often concealed Northern interests. Some Yankees were as ready to evade trading-with-the-enemy laws as their fathers had been in 1812. Northern goods, their labels altered to flaunt famous English names, passed through Boston or New York on long roundabout trips, Boston-Bermuda-Wilmington, or New York-Nassau-Mobile, and sometimes were even shipped with bold directness to Charleston or Matamoros.

At its height, the New York trade with Bermuda, Nassau and Havana was scandalously large. A “ring” of dealers, shippers, and blockade-runners helped organize the traffic and made arrangements with the Custom House for shipments. In the autumn of 1864, information was given Naval Officer William E. Dennison that blockade-runners had been heard to boast of ease with which they could clear outward-bound goods through the [New York] Custom House. Several men swore that one employee, the son of H.B. Stanton the noted Abolitionist orator, had taken bribes, and he and his father were dismissed.

[As for Yankee cotton-buying in the West, Grant] . . . “in private conversations to the end of the war, he always spoke of them as a gang of thieves.” As Lincoln crisply put it, “The army itself is diverted from fighting the rebels to speculating in cotton.” Rear Admiral Porter said of the Treasury agents sent down by [Treasury Secretary Salmon P.] Chase to control the situation: “A greater pack of knaves never went unhung.”

Yet his own gunboat crews were equally unscrupulous, one Senator later declaring that they had made a hundred millions during the war. Charles A. Dana wrote: “Every soldier dreams of adding a bale of cotton to his monthly pay.” And David Perry of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry, son of a mayor of Bloomington, Illinois, made a yet graver charge.

“Many lives have been sacrificed during the past summer and fall, he informed his father as the year 1862 ended, “that certain high officers might make their fortunes with cotton-trade, and many a poor darkey who had fled to us has been traded off, by officers holding high positions in the army and before the world, for cotton. The truth is, when an impartial history of this war shall be written, it will expose a greater amount of fraud and corruption than the world has ever before seen. Even your Bloomington general, Hovey, traded Negroes for cotton and sacrificed many lives . . . for the sole purpose of making money.”

By Autumn [1862], a correspondent of the New York Tribune was asserting flatly, “One of the causes of the want of discipline, energy and military power in the army of the Southwest is the mania for cotton speculation which has seized upon the officers of the Army, from generals down to quartermasters and lieutenants.”

Loyal Union planters saw their cotton pounced upon by greedy [Northern] officers who waved papers, talked of the violation of obscure military orders, and shipped the crop away with almost no concealment of the fact of private interest.

The ebullient “Russ” Jones of Chicago, close friend of both Grant and Elihu Washburne, made no secret of his activities. He wrote Congressman Washburne at the beginning of 1863 from Holly Springs, Mississippi, that Grant had treated him kindly.

He hoped the army would push farther South, “as I want to get as far into the enemy’s country as possible. If we get out safely with what cotton we have bought, I shall clear four or five thousand for my share . . .” Jones, former Galena businessman and Republican politician, continued to serve in his patronage post of Marshal. In 1869 he was named Minister to Belgium by Grant, and was very active in Republican politics and Chicago street railroads. At one time he managed some property and investments for Grant.”

(The War for the Union, Allan Nevins, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971, excerpts, pp. 342-353)