Browsing "Slave Revolt Fears"

Frederick Douglas, Disunionist

Frederick Douglas was an admitted confidant of the murderous John Brown, and fled to Canada after Brown’s 1859 raid to avoid prosecution for his part as an accessory to violent insurrection against the Commonwealth of Virginia. Douglas followed the path of radical abolitionists by fomenting hatred and murder, rather than peaceful and practical efforts to solve the riddle of African slavery established by the British and perpetuated by New England slavers — the ancestors of his new friends up North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Frederick Douglas, Disunionist

“In a letter to the American Slaves from those who have fled from American slavery, “ [Frederick] Douglas asserted, “When the insurrection of the Southern slaves shall take place, as take place it will, unless speedily prevented by voluntary emancipation, the great mass of the colored men of the North, however much to the grief of us, will be found by your side, with deep-stored and long-accumulated revenge in their hearts, and with death-dealing weapons in their hands . . . We tell you these things not to encourage, or justify your resort to physical force; but simply, that you may know, be it your joy or sorrow know it, what your Northern brethren are, in these important respects.”

The vast majority of black New Yorkers supported John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. In New York, leading black abolitionists such as Douglas, Garnet and McCune Smith had been informed of Brown’s plan. After the raid, black abolitionists published some of the most thoughtful justifications of the right to rebellion against Southern slaveholders.

Douglas argued eloquently, “They have by the single act of slave-holding, voluntarily placed themselves beyond the laws of justice and honor, and have become only fitted for companionship with thieves and pirates — the common enemies of God and mankind.”

(Slavery in New York, Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris, editors, The New Press, 2005, pp. 258-259)

 

Propaganda to Sustain the Northern War Effort

Of German and English parentage, Lincoln’s chief of staff Henry W. Halleck married the granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton and in early 1861 was worth $500,000 from a career in railroads and banking. He predicted that the North “will become ultra anti-slavery, and I fear, in the course of the war will declare for emancipation and thus add the horrors of a servile war to that of a civil war.” While Halleck directed the propaganda war and often withheld casualty figures from the Northern press, Lincoln’s Secretary of State William H. Seward scoured Europe for mercenaries to fight against Americans struggling for independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Propaganda to Sustain the Northern War Effort

“Politically, Old Brains served Lincoln well. When the President decided to fire a general he had Halleck sign the order; thus the general’s supporters blamed Halleck for the dismissal. Lincoln liked to assume a pose of weakness and simplicity and to give the impression that others were controlling him. When friends enquired about a military move, Lincoln would say, “I wish not to control. That I now leave to General Halleck,” or “You must call on General Halleck, who commands.”

To Horatio G. Wright, commander of the [Northern] garrison at Louisville, Kentucky, Halleck clarified the issue: “The Government seems determined to apply the guillotine to all unsuccessful generals.” Ruefully he added: “It seems rather hard to do this where a general is not in fault, but perhaps with us now, as in the French revolution some harsh measures are required.” Halleck’s realization demonstrated his growing insight of the necessary interrelation of war and politics in a democracy.

[Halleck] struggled for efficiency against [an] entrenched and powerful enemy, the [Republican] politicians, who wanted to include the army in the spoils system.

Writing to a civilian who was active in army reforms, Francis Lieber, Halleck expressed a fear that the governors would build up a “northern States rights party that would eventually overpower all Federal authority.” He had cautioned Lincoln, but “no heed [was] given to the warning,” and now “approaching danger is already visible.”

Since the North was in legalistic confusion during the war, there were other areas where Halleck needed [Prussian liberal Francis Lieber]. The government’s official policy that the Southern States had not withdrawn from the Union, meant that the Confederate armies were mere rebellious mobs and were therefore not protected by established rules of civilized warfare.

But Union generals could not slaughter every captured Confederate, or their own men would receive similar treatment when they were seized. The Northern populace needed a heavy diet of propaganda to sustain their fighting spirit and the government had to cater to them. The Confederacy’s inadequate prison camps . . . were the soup de jour on the propagandists’ menu.

Halleck contributed his share of atrocity stories. In his annual report for 1863, he said that the North treated Rebel prisoners with “consideration and kindness,” while the Confederates stripped Union officers of blankets, shoes even in winter, confined them in “damp and loathsome prisons,” fed them on “damaged provisions, or actually starved [them] to death.”

Others were murdered “by their inhuman keepers,” and the “horrors of Belle Isle and Libby Prison exceed even those of “British [floating prison] Hulks” or the “Black Hole of Calcutta.” Southerners [he claimed] applauded these “barbarous” acts as a “means of reducing the Yankee rank.” Laws of war justified retaliation and the “present case seems to call for the exercise of this extreme right,” he concluded.

[Halleck’s] General Orders No. 100 were entitled] “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field,” [and] Southerners denounced it for legalizing crime [committed by Northern forces]. [Lieber, like Clausewitz] believed that total war could not and should not be limited [and] said that restrictions on violence – such as General Orders 100 – were “hardly worth mentioning.”

(Halleck, Lincoln’s Chief of Staff, Stephen E. Ambrose, LSU Press, 1990 (original 1962), pp. 65; 88; 102; 104; 128-131)

Impending War Against the American South

Frederick Douglas was an admitted confidant of the murderous John Brown, and escaped into Canada after Brown’s 1859 raid to avoid prosecution for his part as an accessory to violent insurrection against the Commonwealth of Virginia. Douglas followed the path of other abolitionists by fomenting hatred and murder, rather than peaceful and practical efforts to solve the riddle of African slavery established by the British colonial system and perpetuated by New England slavers, cotton mills and Manhattan bankers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Impending War Against the American South

“In a letter to the American Slaves from those who have fled from American slavery, “ [Frederick] Douglas asserted, “When the insurrection of the Southern slaves shall take place, as take place it will, unless speedily prevented by voluntary emancipation, the great mass of the colored men of the North, however much to the grief of us, will be found by your side, with deep-stored and long-accumulated revenge in their hearts, and with death-dealing weapons in their hands . . . We tell you these things not to encourage, or justify your resort to physical force; but simply, that you may know, be it your joy or sorrow know it, what your Northern brethren are, in these important respects.”

The vast majority of black New Yorkers supported John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. In New York, leading black abolitionists such as Douglas, Garnet and McCune Smith had been informed of Brown’s plan. After the raid, black abolitionists published some of the most thoughtful justifications of the right to rebellion against Southern slaveholders.

Douglas argued eloquently, “They have by the single act of slave-holding, voluntarily placed themselves beyond the laws of justice and honor, and have become only fitted for companionship with thieves and pirates — the common enemies of God and mankind.”

(Slavery in New York, Ira Berlin and Leslie Harris, editors, The New Press, 2005, pp. 258-259)

 

Protesting British and New England Slave Trading

During the colonial period it was common for North Carolina planters needing labor to trade cargoes of tar and pitch to New Englanders for the slaves they imported. On the eve of the Revolution the North Carolina Provincial Congress resolved that “We will not import any slave or slaves, nor purchase any slave or slaves imported or brought into this province by others from any part of the world after the first day of November next [1774].”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Protesting British and New England Slave Trading

“So far as can be determined, no tax was levied on the importation of slaves into North Carolina prior to the Revolution. On the other hand, the Virginia Assembly made numerous attempts to discourage the importation of slaves by imposing from time to time a tax on all slaves brought in from Maryland, North Carolina, the West Indies, and Africa.

The first impressive protest for any considerable body of citizens of the colony against the African slave trade was registered by the freeholders of Rowan County [North Carolina] in 1774. They placed themselves on record against the African slave trade in the following resolution:

“Resolved that the African slave trade is injurious to this colony, obstructs the population of it, prevents manufacturers and other useful emigrants from Europe from settling among us, and occasions an annual increase of the balance of trade against the colonies.”

Due in part to the dearth of labor occasioned by the Revolution, there was a resumption of the slave trade after the war. It was not, in fact, until 1787 that the General Assembly took the initial step in taxing the traffic, basing its action on the general ground that the importation of slaves “into this State is productive of evil consequences and highly impolitic.”

Whatever the motive, a duty of 5 [pounds] was levied on all slaves brought in by water. Slaves between the ages of thirty and forty were made subject to the same duty, while those between the ages of twelve and thirty were subject to a duty of 10 [pounds]. In addition, a general head tax of five pounds was imposed on all slaves imported from the coast of Africa. The act of 1787 did not prohibit, but no doubt discouraged, the slave trade.

Due presumably to the ratification of the Federal Constitution by North Carolina in 1789, the act of 1787 was repealed in 1790, and there was no restriction on the importation of slaves until 1794 . . . and in that year a heavy fine was imposed on the importation of slaves. [Its] passage might have been further delayed had not a terrifying Negro insurrection occurred in San Domingo in 1791. This insurrection thoroughly aroused the people of the State to a realization of the potential danger of a large Negro population.

[In] 1795 the legislature placed a further restriction on the importation of slaves by making it unlawful for any person removing to the State, “with intent to settle or otherwise,” from any of the West Indian or Bahama Islands to bring with him any Negroes or people of color above the age of fifteen years, under penalty of 100 [pounds] for each and every slave or person of color brought in.

To many public men of the time the danger from this source seemed imminent; so much so that, in 1798, Governor Samuel Ashe issued a proclamation calling on the people of the State to prevent the landing of slaves or free persons of color. He stated in his proclamation that several shiploads of San Domingan Negroes had set sail, and that one shipload had arrived in Charleston.

Despite precautions, West Indian Negroes found their way into the State. The landing of a number of emancipated Negroes from the island of Guadaloupe at Wilmington in 1803 so alarmed the inhabitants of the town that they memorialized Congress to take action to prevent the introduction into the United States of any persons of that class.”

(Slaveholding in North Carolina, An Economic View, Rosser Howard Taylor, Negro Universities Press, 1969 (original UNC Press, 1926), pp. 23-26)

 

Lincoln Follows Dunmore's Proclamation

Though standard histories leave Lord Dunmore’s 1775 emancipation proclamation out of the story of that conflict, it is indeed true as related below that the slaves of Patrick Henry, Jefferson and George Washington would have been emancipated had the revolution failed. Yet that war is viewed as a political and economic war, not a moral war.  Lincoln’s intent to encourage race war in the South was identical to Lord Dunmore’s intent to defeat the South. In 1814, Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane did the same to wreak havoc in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Lincoln Follows Dunmore’s Proclamation

“The author [John Wilkes Booth, Francis Wilson] thinks in common with so many of his fellow countrymen, North and South, that the point at issue between the sections was a moral one rather than political and economic. The idea vitiates the value of his historical contribution. This almost universal misconception would be absurd or pathetic if it were not also tragic in its partisan representation of a great people. Would that history be were taught correctly, or the facts were set forth in proper proportion!

But alas for the story when he leans on others! For example, “The President [Johnson] now [1865] gave his attention to the Negro, for whose freedom, unquestionably, the war was fought.” Thus an incidental outcome of the conflict is herewith made the primary cause of strife!

It is to weep! Not merely because the admirable [author] says this, but because it is the pathetic delusion of millions of people.

If, in 1776, the British had won, the slaves of Washington, Mason, Henry and Jefferson would have been set free by virtue of Lord Dunmore’s proclamation of emancipation. But the Revolutionary struggle was not begun or waged on the issue of slavery, not to anybody’s present understanding. [Royal] Governor Dunmore was not concerned, primarily, with the freedom of the Negroes; he hoped that the promised freedom would handicap the rebellion against British authority.

President Lincoln freely admitted that his proclamation was “a war measure”; and he had been in favor of perpetuating, by Constitutional amendment, if need be, the “bonds of slavery” wherever it existed within the bounds of the United States. Such was the form of the Thirteenth Amendment as passed by a Northern Congress in 1861.

Why not believe Lincoln when he specifically said he was not waging the war to free the slave? Why not believe the testimony (now wholly lost sight of in the pathetic fallacy of the “moral” issue) of contemporary witnesses that the Northern armies would have melted away had any such idea been understood in 1861?”

General Grant held slaves. Lee was an emancipationist. A.W. Bradford was the Union Governor of Maryland in 1862-1864. He was a large slaveholder, while his neighbor, Bradley T. Johnson, a distinguished Confederate general, owned no slaves. Lincoln’s proclamation did not affect slavery in Maryland because slavery in Maryland was protected under the Union.”

(John Wilkes Booth, Francis Wilson, Houghton-Mifflin. Reviewed by Matthew Page Andrews, Confederate Veteran, April 1929, page 129)

John Brown and His Greater Villains

The violent attack of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry “and his apotheosis by Northern abolitionists had struck fear and rage into the hearts of Southerners and had revived talk of secession that had all but died out in 1859.” This sad event all but confirmed the suspicion of many Southerners that the North wished to destroy the South, and the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

John Brown and His Greater Villains

“On Wednesday morning, October 19, John Brown and [Aaron Dwight] Stevens were placed in a wagon and driven to the railway station under a strong guard of Marines to protect them from the possibility of a merciful lynching.

But when they reached the waiting train and the shouts of “Lynch them, lynch them!” rose, the Governor was there to call back, “Oh, it would be cowardly to do so now!”  The Sheriff of Jefferson County and the United States Marshal for the Western District of Virginia committed their four prisoners to the jail at Charlestown to await trial.

There was no apparent reason why the prisoners should not be brought to justice as soon as possible, for the evidence was clear, the law demanded immediate trial, and the State of Virginia recognized no advantage in submitting the case to the Federal courts. The Federal government was directly [affected] by the attack on the arsenal and indirectly by the whole nature of the conspiracy, but Virginia was insisting on a primary principle in retaining jurisdiction.

In the case of John Brown himself there was little hesitation; in that of his companions more debate occurred, for the temptation was strong to embody in fact a subsidiary principle concerning the slave problem by turning Stevens over to the Federal Government for prosecution . . . the great advantage the Federal court possessed [was] being able to summon “the greater villains” who resided beyond the jurisdiction of the State of Virginia; and meanwhile some of these villains had made haste to reside beyond the jurisdiction of the United States.

The immediate trial and the wounds of two of the prisoners provided unexpected capital for the “liberal” newspapers in the North. At first the Republican press hurried to repudiate John Brown and all his works, for it was felt that this sort of thing might prove disastrous in the Presidential contest of the next year, but it was not long before editors and politicians alike recognized an opportunity in the situation.

The Chicago Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln in 1860 unanimously resolved that the attempt of John Brown was criminal . . . But in the autumn of 1859 the “liberal” press . . . deplored the conditions which made [Brown’s attack] necessary; it deplored the misguided effort in a holy cause, but abhorred the barbarous conduct in Virginia in suppressing that effort. [William Lloyd] Garrison wrote in the Liberator:

“In recording the expressions of sympathy and admiration which are so widely felt for John Brown, whose doom is now swiftly approaching . . . that, judging him by the code of Bunker hill, we think he is deserving of high-wrought eulogy as any who ever wielded sword or battle-axe in the cause of liberty . . . ”

(John Brown, The Making of a Martyr, Robert Penn Warren, J.S. Sanders and Company, 1929, pp. 393-395)

 

Indispensable African Slaves

In his message to Congress on 29 April 1861, President Jefferson Davis cited the Northern threat to the South’s labor system as a cause of withdrawal from political union with the North. The murderous raid of John Brown in 1859 had convinced the South of the North’s violent intentions, which were supported by influential and wealthy men.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Indispensable African Slaves

“As soon . . . as the Northern States that prohibited African slavery within their limits had reached a number sufficient to give their representation a controlling voice in the Congress, a persistent and organized system of hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves in the southern States was inaugurated and gradually extended. A continuous series of measures was devised and prosecuted for the purpose of rendering insecure the tenure of property in slaves . . .

Senators and Representatives were sent to the common councils of the nation, whose chief title to this distinction consisted in the display of a spirit of ultra-fanaticism, and whose business was . . . to awaken the bitterest hatred against the citizens of sister States, by violent denunciation of their institutions; the transaction of public affairs was impeded by repeated efforts to usurp powers not delegated by the Constitution, for the purpose of . . . reducing those States which held slaves to a condition of inferiority.

In the meantime, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction.

Under the supervision of a superior race, their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South . . . and the productions of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man.

With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced.”

(The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 134-135)

Serfs, Slaves and Irishmen

The emancipation of Russian serfs in 1861 followed the unrest fomented by the 1848 socialist revolutions in Europe, but it should not be too closely compared to Lincoln’s act in 1863. Then, the impetus was purely military and followed the pervious examples set by the British in 1775 and 1814 which promised freedom for those who rose up against their owners and contributed to British victory. Contrary to Lincoln’s writ of fire and sword, the Russian act of emancipation was peaceful and serfs were not enfranchised to rule over the Russian nobility.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Serfs, Slaves and Irishmen

“The rationale of serfdom, that is, the tying of the peasant to the land he tilled, was that it ensured labor (and hence income) to the landowning noble, enabling the latter to devote himself to serving the state. The enserfment of the peasants had been gradual, but by the middle of the seventeenth century the peasant and his descendants were legally obliged to remain on the land of their master. When the state granted land to new or old nobles for services rendered, the peasants on that land were transferred from state peasants into serfs.

[When Tsar Peter III released the nobility from state service] the peasants [expected reforms and] became resentful. Hitherto, peasant revolts had been localized though frequent, but in the reign of Catherine the Great the intensified discontent expressed itself in Pugachov’s rebellion, which lasted two years and threw official Russia and the nobility into a panic.

Serfs cultivated the land allotted to them, and in recompense for the use of this land they were required to work also on the land reserved for the use of the landowner. Three days a week was probably the average requirement but in the worst cases, and in busy weeks, this might be doubled . . .

The landowner could increase his serfs dues and duties, he could seize their property, he could forbid them from buying from, selling to, or working with persons outside the estate, he could make them into domestic servants, sell them either separately or with their families, force them to marry so as to breed more serfs, or forbid them to marry disapproved partners. Except in case of murder or banditry, the landowner administered rural justice and could send troublesome serfs to Siberia or into the army. Whipping was commonplace.

Although there were many landowners who were kindly, educating and sometimes liberating favoured serfs, there were others who were brutal; social isolation and almost absolute power led some landowners to excesses which in other circumstances they would have found revolting.

Englishmen travelling through Russia often compared Russian peasant life, not always unfavourably, with the condition of the Irish. Bu many foreigners were shocked by the condition of the poorer peasants.

An American wrote that the village poor “generally wanting the comforts which are supplied to the Negro on our best-ordered plantations, appeared to me not less degraded in intellect, character and personal bearing. Indeed, the marks of physical and personal degradation were so strong, that I was irresistibly compelled to abandon certain theories not uncommon among my countrymen at home, in regard to the intrinsic superiority of the white race over the others.”

(Endurance and Endeavor, Russian History 1812-1986, J.N. Westwood, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 74-76)

Colonial Fears of Slave Insurrection

The great fear of slave insurrection prompted severe restrictions on slave freedoms in the early 19th century South with the horrid example of Santo Domingo’s massacre of whites a stern lesson of what to expect. The extreme concern by Virginians and North Carolinians over the continued slave importations to the Southern colonies on British and New England ships fell on deaf ears in the mid-1700’s; Royal Governors were instructed to ignore colonial legislative efforts to restrict slave imports and forced to accept the British colonial labor system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Colonial Fears of Slave Insurrection

“Although in 1808 North Carolina felt considerable alarm over the plot which was discovered in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, this State did not have another threat of conspiracy until 1821. Previous to this, however, runaway Negroes on various occasions had organized camps and defied the police. In 1811 a party of men searched Cabarrus Pocosin and found a camp occupied by three men and two women. It contained a “vast deal of plunder” and a great number of keys. In 1818 a group of whites went in search of runaways and killed one of them.

It was a group of runaways, at one time reported to be eighty in number, who caused the so-called insurrection of 1821. The Negroes had taken refuge in a swamp in Onslow County near a place called White Oaks on Trent River, and the whites feared an insurrection among the Negroes from Wilmington to Washington [North Carolina]. On August 7, two justices of the peace in Onslow County unlawfully called out two detachments of militia, 200 men who remained under arms twenty-six days.

In September Bladen and Carteret Counties also called out the militia. The panic among the whites in that section of the State was widespread. Many white families fled from their homes. William L. Hill, colonel of the Onslow militia, on several occasions stated that the ranks of the Negroes “were filled with the most daring runaways, who well armed and equipped had long defied civil authority, and in open day had ravaged farms, burnt houses, and had ravaged a number of females.” By the middle of September the band had been dispersed and the whites had returned to their everyday life.

In December, 1825, Tarboro was greatly excited “by the partial discovery of an insurrectionary plot among the “blacks” of Edgecombe [county] and, “if it is believed, some of the adjacent counties.” The plot was hatched, according to a petition which reached the Legislature, by “those preachers who under the semblance of religious worship instill into the minds of the blacks, the most diabolical opinions & prepare them for the perpetration of the most horrible crimes.”

The Negroes had been told that the National government had set them free in October and that they were being unjustly held in servitude. Christmas Eve was to have been the time for rebellion, but the plot was discovered, the militia called out, and the patrol strengthened.”

(Antebellum North Carolina, Guion Griffis Johnson, UNC Press, 1937, pp. 514-515)

 

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