Browsing "Southern Culture Laid Bare"

The Equestrian Statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a great American military leader who fought to win and made every effort to attain victory even when vastly outnumbered. He was admired by all, and those who attended his funeral noted the number of black people “among the thousands of mourners who viewed his corpse and followed it to the cemetery.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Equestrian Statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest

“The height of the entire monument is 22 feet. The height of the bronze figure is 9’, and it weighs ninety-five hundred pounds. The cost of the structure approximates thirty-three thousand dollars.

In Forrest Park, Memphis, Tennessee, surrounded by fifteen thousand spectators, at 2:30PM on May 16 [1905] little Miss Kathleen Bradley pulled the cord that released the veil from the magnificent equestrian statue of her illustrious great- grandfather, Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

There was momentary silence as the imposing grandeur of this colossal bronze figure of the great “Wizard of the Saddle” and his steed met the gaze of the expectant crowd, then a wild cheer broke from hundreds of his old surviving followers clustered around the base and was enthusiastically taken up by the vast multitude.

The idea of erecting a monument to General Forrest was first projected in 1886, but it was not until 1891 that it took definite shape and a monument association was organized for this purpose. On November 18, 1900, the design was accepted and the order was given to the sculptor, Charles H. Niehaus. The designer of the base was Mr. B.C. Alsup, and it is built of Tennessee marble. The statue, which was made in Europe, arrived in Memphis on April 16, and was placed on its base a day or two later.

The unveiling of the monument was attended with elaborate ceremonies. In the big parade were most of the surviving staff officers of General Forrest, his general officers, and many of his old veterans who rode with him from 1861 to 1865.

Judge J.P. Young, who was one of Forrest’s old troopers, was master of ceremonies. In the opening proceedings he said in part:

“No one who did not ride with Forrest can have so keen an appreciation of the personal qualities of the man as those who were actually under his direct command, and who, from daily, hourly observation, witnessed his fertility of resource, his vehemence in battle, and his soulful tenderness toward the stricken soldier, whether friend or foe.

But it was no holiday parade. It cost something to ride with Forrest. It meant days and nights of sleepless toil and motion. It meant countless miles under a burning sun in the choking dust. It meant limitless leagues across icy wastes, with a blanket of snow at night for a covering. It meant to run down and destroy miles of freighted supply trains, to burn depots of stores, to scale the parapets of redoubts, and to plunge, mounted, into the seeming vortex of hell, lighted with the fires of a myriad rifles and scores of belching guns.

It meant to meet death face to face like a drillmaster, to look into his dread eyes, to toy with the horrid trappings of his trade, to scorn the daily chill of his breath, and to turn away unscathed or sink into the oblivion of his eternal embrace.”

Of the many eloquent tributes paid to the great soldier that day, one of the most significant was that spoken by Colonel C.A. Stanton, of the Third Iowa Cavalry, 1861-1865, who for two years was directly opposed to General Forrest. He realized Forrest’s methods of war at Brice’s Cross Roads, Ripley. Harrisburg, Old Town Creek, Tallahatchie, and Hurricane Creek.

The spectacle of an officer who had fought in the Federal army delivering an address at the unveiling of a Confederate monument was an interesting one, and when Colonel Stanton was introduced the applause was most generous. Colonel Stanton said in part:

“General Forrest possessed the characteristic traits of the successful soldier; his personal bravery was without limit; his resources seemed to be endless; and his decisions, like Napoleon’s, were instantaneous; he was aggressive, masterful, resolute, and self-reliant in the most perilous emergency; he was comprehensive in his grasp of every situation, supremely confident in himself and his men, and inspired by his presence and example his soldiers fought as desperately as did Hannibal’s fierce cavalry at Canne or the trained veterans of Caesar’s Tenth Legion at Pharsalia.

I think the battle at Brice’s Cross Roads in June, 1864, was one of the best illustrations of General Forrest’s daring courage, his ability in a critical moment to decide swiftly, his relentless vigor of action, and his intuitive perception of the time and place to strike fierce, stunning blows which fell like thunderbolts upon his enemy and won for him in this battle an overwhelming victory over an opposing force which greatly outnumbered his command.

Impartial history has given General Forrest high rank as one of the greatest cavalry leaders of modern times. No American, North or South, now seeks to lessen the measure of his fame, and no one can speak of him without remembrance of the men who served with him and whose soldierly qualities made it possible for him to win his wonderful victories.

This monument is history in bronze; it illustrates an eventful era in our national history; it commemorates General Forrest’s fame and it represents all the gallant soldiers of his command; it attests the splendid courage which won triumphant victories and did not fail when reverses came; it stands for heroic deeds which are now the proud heritage of all American citizens.

It is eminently fitting that this figure should stand here within the borders of the Volunteer States, whose soldiers have marched and fought “from valley’s depth to mountain height and from inland rivers to the sea,” in every war in the history of our republic, with a valor which has helped to make the name and fame of the American soldier immortal.”

(Historic Southern Monuments: Representative Memorials of the Heroic Dead of the Southern Confederacy, B. A.C. Emerson, The Neale Publishing Company, 1911, pp. 313-318)

A More Perfect Union Formed in 1861

A More Perfect Union Formed in 1861

“The congress of delegates from the seceding States convened at Montgomery, Alabama, according to appointment, on February 4, 1861. Their first work was to prepare a provisional constitution for the new confederacy, to be formed of the States which had withdrawn from the Union, for which the style “Confederate States of America” was adopted.

The constitution was adopted on February 8, to continue if force for one year, unless superseded at an earlier date by a permanent organization. On the next day [February 9] an election was held for the chief executive offices, resulting, as I afterward learned, in my election to the Presidency, with the Hon. Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia as Vice President.

President Jefferson Davis’s Inaugural Address [excerpt]:

“Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations. It illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established. The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the United States, and which has been solemnly affirmed and reaffirmed in the Bill of Rights of the States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government.

Thus the sovereign States here represented have proceeded to form this Confederacy; and it is by abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained; so that the rights of person and property have not been disturbed. The agent through which they communicated with foreign nations is changed, but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations.

We have changed the constituent parts, but not the system of government. The Constitution framed by our fathers is that of these Confederate States. In their exposition of it, and in the judicial construction it has received, we have a light which reveals its true meaning. Reverently let us invoke the God of our Fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which by his blessing they were able to vindicate, establish, and transmit to their posterity.”

(The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Jefferson Davis, DaCapo, 1990, pp. 197-203)

The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War

Major-General Fitzhugh Lee simply and methodically described why the Southern soldier fought in 1861, and under what privations and suffering these Americans fought outnumbered by 5 to 1 odds for four years — and came close to success. He sums up why the war and reasons for it will not go away. He prophesied that the time would come when the world would recognize that the failure of the Confederacy was a great misfortune to humanity.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War

“An impartial study of the early history of the American republic from the period of a band of patriots, following on the wave of Washington’s sword, transferred power from king to people, will demonstrate that when Colonies were transformed into States, the latter delegated, in a written Constitution, the powers to be conferred on the United States, but all powers not so delegated were reserved to the States themselves, because they had never parted from them. Hence, sovereign power belonged to a State, while only derivative, and not primitive, power was possessed by the general government.

The States did not confer upon the Government they were then forming a right to coerce one of their number for any purpose, for it is not natural that the creator should create either executive, judicial or legislative authority anywhere which should be potent to destroy its life or diminish or alter the power it had reserved for its own purposes. A State speaks through its representative bodies, and the majority of delegates in a convention direct its course.

The people of the original thirteen States believed in State sovereignty, and Pennsylvania and the New England States are upon record as primarily holding such opinions. The Southern people were educated in the belief that the allegiance of the citizen was first due to his State, and that in any conflict between his Commonwealth and the United States, or other country, his place was at her side — at her feet he should kneel and at her foe his gun should be pointed.

This is the only explanation of the great and enthusiastic response by the masses of the people to the actions of their State Conventions, when they decided their States should no longer be members of the Federal Union, but, resuming their original independence, be free afterward to make such other alliances they might deem best to protect their rights and promote their growth and glory.

The Southern masses were the private soldiers of the armies; they may not have understood all the public questions involved, or the gravity of secession, or the importance of pending issues as thoroughly as the statesmen of the period, but they must have been thoroughly impressed in a conscious manner with the right of secession and with a fidelity and loyalty to the commands of their respective States.

It has been said that the man is under no circumstances so independent as he is when the next step is for life or death. The men who were to be enrolled as the soldiers of the new Confederacy of States, to battle for its existence, knew they were taking a step which might bring to them a hostile bullet and a soldier’s grave.

The existence of the slightest doubt as to the justice of the course of their States, or the presence of the smallest suspicion that their bayonets would glisten with treason, would have surely brought that independence of action spoken of, against which the pleading eloquence of their leaders would recoil as the waters are dashed back from a great rock.

No earthly mandate can compel men to leave their firesides, families and friends, and embrace death with rapture, unless their God-given consciences stamp with approval the motives which control their conduct.

With a free, fair and honest ballot, undisturbed by extraneous influences, and untouched by the modern methods of bribery and corruption, the masses of the people, from which came the unbroken ranks of gallant men, voted with practical unanimity to ratify the decision of their State Conventions. The movement to change the map of North America and make two republics grow where only one grew before, was enthusiastically received by the great body of the Southern people.

When I see the battle-scarred soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, with uncovered head and profoundest reverence I bow before those dauntless heroes, feeling that if the greatest suffering with the least reward is worthy of the highest honor, these deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with their greatest army commanders in the brotherhood of glory.

It was a wonderful exhibition of courage, constancy, and suffering, which no disaster could diminish, no defeat darken. The soldiers went to battle from a sense of duty, and were not lured into the ranks by bounties or kept there by the hope of pension. The records show 600,000 Southern men were enlisted during the whole war, while 2,700,000 represent the total enlistments of their opponents during the same period.

“It would be difficult to convince the world,” General Lee would often say, “of the numerical superiority of our opponents.” And yet, for four years success trembled in the balance, though fate denied the Confederate soldiers the final victory, it “clothed them with glorious immortality.”

There was no “passion-swept mob rising in mad rebellion against constituted authority,” but armies whose ranks were filled by men whose convictions were honest, and whose loyalty to the Southern cause was without fear and without reproach — men who remained faithful to military duty in the conflict between fidelity to the Confederate banners or adherence to the trust assumed in the marriage vow, who resisted the pressures of letters from home, and whose heart-strings were breaking from the sad tale of starvation and despair at the family homestead.

As the hostile invasion swept over more territory the more frequent the appeals came, marked by the pathos and power which agony inspires,  until at last the long silence told the soldier his home was within his enemies’ lines, and the fate of his family was concealed from his view.

Under such conditions the private soldier of the South promptly fell into line. If saved from the dangers of the contest, his reward was the commendation of his immediate commanding officers and the conscientiousness of duty faithfully performed. If drowned amid the hail of shot and shell, his hastily buried body filled a nameless grave, without military honors and without religious ceremonies.

No pages of history recounted in lofty language his courage on the field or his devotion to his country, or described how, like a soldier, he fell in the forefront of battle. His battle picture, ever near the flashing of the guns, should be framed in the memory of all who admire true heroism, whether found at the cannon’s mouth, or in the blade of the cavalry, or along the blazing barrels of the infantry.

There he stood with the old, torn slouch hat, the bright eye, the cheek colored by exposure and painted by excitement, the face stained with powder, with jacket rent, trousers torn and the blanket in shreds, printing in the dust of battle the tracks of his shoeless feet. No monument can be built high enough to commemorate the memory of a typical representative private soldier of the South.

Very truly yours,

Fitzhugh Lee”

(The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War, Major-General Fitzhugh Lee, Ben La Bree, 1895, excerpts, pp. 7-8)

 

American Patriots Against Overwhelming Odds

The last land battle of the war in North Carolina exhibited the great heroism and fortitude of the Southern patriot; most North Carolina soldiers were with Lee in Virginia and suffered knowing that large numbers of enemy troops had overrun their State and their families left to the mercy of Sherman’s vandals. General Joe Johnston’s force numbered only some 20,000 men – many the remnants of garrison troops and the wrecked Army of Tennessee.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

American Patriots Against Overwhelming Odds

“General Joseph E. Johnston attacked General Sherman at the hamlet of Bentonville [North Carolina] on the 19th of March [1865] inflicting a signal repulse. Brigade after brigade of the Federals were crushed, and but for a gallant charge of the Federals under [General B.D.] Fearing the center would have been entirely destroyed.

After this defeat Sherman was unwilling to suffer another so he waited for General Schofield to join him, and this combined force consisted of over [88,000] men. The Confederate [Corps] of General D. H. Hill numbered 2,687 men.

In regards to the Confederate soldiers of 1861-1865 Judge de Roulhac Hamilton wrote:

“How splendid they were in their modest, patient, earnest, love of country! How strong they were in their young manhood, and pure they were in their faith, and constant they were in their principles. How they bore suffering and hardship, and how their lives were ready at the call of duty!

Suffering they bore, duty they performed, and death they faced and met, all for the love of the dear old homeland; and all this for the glory and honor of North Carolina. As they were faithful unto thee, guard thou their names and fame, grand old mother of us all. If thy sons in the coming times shall learn the lesson of the heroism their lives inspired and their deeds declared, then not one drop of blood was shed in vain.”

(Land of the Golden River, Lewis Philip Hall, Hall Enterprises, 1980, pp. 101-102)

"Feelings Understood Only by Southern Men"

Famed blockade-running Captain Mike Usina of Charleston stated that the South truly had no naval traditions prior to the war, “but the record of the Southern sailors during the war is second to none that the world has ever produced, and should the emergency arise again, the descendants of the same men will emulate the example set by their fathers.” His faithful leadsman was a slave named Irwin.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

“Feelings Understood Only by Southern Men”

“My leadsman was a slave owned by myself. On the last trip of the Atalanta, while under fire, the ship going very fast toward shoal water, I thought possibly he might get rattled, and to test him I said: “Irwin, you cant get correct soundings, the ship is going too fast, I’ll slow her down for you.”

He answered, “This is no time to slow down sir, you let her go, I’ll give you the bottom”; and he did, he being a leadsman without peer. I have had him in the chains [lashed to the spar] for hours in cold winter weather, with the spray flying over him cold enough to freeze the marrow in his bones, the ship very often in very shoal water, frequently but a foot to spare under her, and sometimes not that.

Yet I never knew him to make a mistake or give an incorrect cast of the lead. He is the man whom, when pointing to the island of New Providence I said: “Every man on that island is as free as I am, so will you when we get there.”

He answered: “I did not want to come here to be free, I could have gone to the Yankees long ago if I had wished.” And afterwards when the war was over, I said to him: “I am going to England, perhaps never to see Savannah again, you had better go home.”

His answer was: “I cannot go without you”; and he did not. The feeling that existed between us can only be understood by a Southern man; by a Northern man, never.”

(Chronicles of the Cape Fear, James Sprunt, Broadfoot Publishing, 1916/1992, pg. 426)

Republicans Instilled Lessons of Hatred and Hostility

Acclaimed historian Dr. Clyde Wilson has written that the Republican party was solely responsible for carrying out the bloodiest war in American history against the American South, to destroy self-government. In South Carolina, a Republican-rigged postwar convention erected a corrupt political regime kept in power by Northern bayonets, carpetbaggers and freedmen.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Republicans Instilling Lessons of Hatred and Hostility

“When the war came to an end, and the Southern States lay prostrate at the feet of their conqueror, they experienced the bitterest consequences of the humiliation of defeat. There were no revengeful prosecutions (a few judicial murders in the flush of the victory excepted). The Congress devoted itself to the work of reconstruction . . . on the principle of equal rights to all men . . . there seemed to be no reason why the States should not proceed harmoniously in the career of peaceful progress.

But there was an element in the population which rendered such a principle fatal to all peaceful progress. In many of the States, and in South Carolina particularly, a majority of the people had been slaves. All these were suddenly elevated to the rank of citizens. Were this all, even then there might have been hope.

The slaves had always lived well with their masters, bore no resentment for past injuries, and if they were let alone in their own mutual relations, the two races might, and doubtless would have harmonized and soon discovered the art of living together in peace. But this was not to be.

With the progress of Northern arms grew up an institution founded ostensibly, perhaps really, for the protection of the rights of the newly emancipated slaves. This institution, known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, became for the time the ruling power in the State. It interfered in all the concerns of whites and blacks, its officers were generally men who not only had no love for the South, but who made it their mission to foster in the minds of the blacks a bitter hatred and mistrust of the whites.

They were, on all occasions, the champions of the Negroes rights, and never failed to instruct them that it was to the Republicans that they were indebted for all the rights which they enjoyed. In the train of the Bureau came the schoolmistresses who instilled into the minds of their pupils the same lessons of hatred and hostility.

The consequence was, that though the personal relations between the races were friendly, though the blacks invariably addressed themselves to the whites as to true friends for all offices of love and kindness, of which they stood in need, they would never listen to them, if the latter wished to talk about politics.

This feeling was intensified by the introduction of the Union League, a secret society, the members of which were solemnly bound never to vote for any but a Republican. By such means, the Negro presented a solid phalanx of Radicalism . . . a new business arose and prospered in Columbia, a sort of political brokerage by which men contracted with speculators to buy the votes of members when they were interested in the passage of any measure. Here was a corruptible Legislature under the influence of men utterly corrupt.

In South Carolina . . . Society was divided into the conquered whites, who were destined to satisfy the voracious appetites of the carpetbagger, and the needy and ignorant Negro, directed by his hungry teachers. The whites had no rights which they were bound to respect; if they paid the enormous taxes which were levied upon him, the Negro was satisfied; he had done all that it was necessary for him to do in the degenerate State.”

(Last Chapter of Reconstruction in South Carolina, Professor F.A. Porcher, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XIII, pp. 76-79)

Enlightened Southern Labor Management

While the older brother of Jefferson Davis, Joseph E. Davis, was conducting enlightened labor management techniques in Mississippi, New England factory and mill owners worked young women, and children under ten, hard sixteen-hour workdays in dimly lit sweat-shops. Their meager pay was usually insufficient to cover living expenses and left nothing health care—Africans in the South enjoyed cradle to grave medical care and security.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Enlightened Southern Labor Management

“ . . . Joseph Davis demonstrated the enlightened methods of slave management that he had developed from modifications of the ideas of Robert Owen, Frances Wright, and other reformers of an earlier era. In the words of a family member, “[The cabinets] were well built, with plastered walls and large fireplaces, two large rooms and two shed rooms behind them.” Each had its own henhouse from which the slaves could sell surplus chickens and eggs and a small garden patch for their own use.

Davis was determined to make his [plantation] enterprise a model of labor management as well. As one of nine Mississippians who owned more than 300 slaves in 1860, Davis was faced with a major administrative task [and had learned] that people worked best when treated well and given incentives rather than when driven by fear of punishment.

He established a court, eventually held every Sunday in a small building called the Hall of Justice, where a slave jury heard complaints of slave misconduct and the testimony the accused in his own defense. No slave was punished except upon conviction by this jury of peers. Sitting as a judge, Davis seldom intervened except to ameliorate the severity of some of the sentences.

Davis insisted that the overseers, too, must bring their complaints before the court, and they could not punish a slave without [their] permission. In addition to self-government, Davis provided more direct incentives for his laborers. Convinced that every human being should be allowed to develop to his full potential, the master encouraged his slaves to acquire skills in areas that interested them.

He provided opportunities for training in current trades and crafts. Moreover, skilled workers were allowed to enjoy the benefits of their more valuable labor; Davis ruled that all slaves might keep anything they earned beyond the value of their labor as field hands.

Davis was sensitive to the needs of his workers and regularly rewarded them for unusual achievements, in addition to providing gifts for a birth or wedding, or in consolation for a death. He expected them to work hard for their own benefit as well as his, and he was quick to commend and encourage those who performed well.

Davis’s benevolent management methods seemed amply vindicated by the example of his most able slave, Benjamin Montgomery, who seized the opportunities Davis provided and became an invaluable assistant as well as confidant and companion to his master. Born in Virginia in 1819, the brilliant Montgomery learned to read and write along with his young master.

With access to the large (plantation] library, Ben improved his literary skills and was soon copying letters and legal briefs as the office clerk. He learned to survey land to plan the construction of levees essential for flood protection on Davis Bend. He drew architectural plans and participated in the construction of several buildings, including the elaborate garden cottage.

(Joseph E. Davis, Pioneer Patriarch, Janet Sharp Hermann, University Press of Mississippi, 1990, pp. 53-58)

Endlessly Contemplating the Past on the Front Porch

The years after 1865 saw the family as the core of Southern society and “within its bounds everything worthwhile took place.” Even in the early twentieth century Southerners working in exile up North imported corn meal and cured hams, and missed the North Carolina home where “Aunt Nancy still measures by hand and taste,” and where “the art of cooking famous old dishes lives on.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Endlessly Contemplating the Past on the Front Porch

“The governing families [of the South] . . . possessed modesty and good breeding in ample measure; much informal geniality without familiarity; a marked social distinction that was neither deliberate nor self-conscious. Indeed, the best families in the South were the most delightful segment of the American elite.

Southern charm reached its culmination in the Southern lady, a creature who, like her plantation grandmother, could be feminine and decorative without sacrificing any privileges except the masculine prerogative to hold public office. Count Hermann Keyserling in 1929 was impressed by “that lovely type of woman called “The Southern Girl,” who, in his opinion, possessed the subtle virtues of the French lady.

What at times appeared to be ignorance, vanity or hypocrisy, frequently turned out to be the innate politeness of the Southerner who sought to put others at ease.

To a greater degree than other Americans, Southerners practiced what may be regarded as the essence of good manners: the idea that the outward form of inherited or imposed ideals should be maintained regardless of what went on behind the scenes. Southern ideals were more extensive and inflexible than those prevailing elsewhere in America. To the rigid code of plantation days was added, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the repressions of puritanism imposed by the Protestant clergy, who demanded that the fiddle be silenced and strong drink eschewed “on pain of ruin in this world and damnation in the next.”

Although Southerners were among the hardest drinkers in America, one reason they voted for Al Smith in 1928 was because he openly defended drinking. Many critics called this attitude hypocrisy, even deceit; the Southerners, however, insisted upon making the distinction between hedonistic tendencies and long-established ideals. If such evasiveness did not create a perfect code of morals, at least it helped to repress the indecent.

The home in the twentieth century remained the core of a social conservatism fundamentally Southern, still harboring “the tenacious clan loyalty that was so mighty a cohesive force in colonial society.” A living symbol of the prevailing domestic stability was the front porch where, in the leisure of the rocking chair, the Southerner endlessly contemplated the past. Here nothing important had happened since the Civil War, except that the screen of trees and banisters had grown more protective.

The most obvious indication of the tenacity of home life was the survival of the Southern style of cooking. Assaults upon it came from the outside, with scientists claiming that monotony and lack of balance in the eating habits of millions resulted in such diseases as pellagra.

National advertising imposed Northern food products upon those Southerners who would heed. Federal subsidies after 1914 enabled home economics to carry the new science of nutrition into Southern communities and schools. Yet no revolution in diet took place. Possibly, the . . . teachers overstepped . . . when they sought to introduce the culinary customs of Battle Creek and Boston. Their attempted revolution failed for the same reason as that of the Yankee schoolma’ams during Reconstruction.”

(The South Old and New, A History 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, excerpts pp. 292-295)

An End to Southern Abolition

Left alone regarding African slaves in their midst, Southerners, like the North before them, would have found solutions to what they saw as a great alien population among them, and a labor system they saw as detrimental to their progress. Southern emancipation efforts halted after the Nat Turner massacres in Virginia, which the South saw as fomented by fanatical abolitionists. Had the North channeled its energies into practical and peaceful solutions rather than violent ones, the country might have avoided that destructive war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

An End to Southern Abolition

“I had a very interesting conversation with Governor [William] Graham on the subject of slavery, when I passed the day with him in the Spring of 1874. I told him that I had recently seen the commencement oration of my uncle, the Rev. John Haywood Parker, delivered at his graduation in 1832; and that it was an argument in favor of the abolition of slavery in North Carolina.

He replied that it was at that same commencement of 1832 that Judge Gaston, in his address to the Literary Societies, had made his famous plea to the young men of the State, that they should realize their duty of taking up that great problem and removing the burden of slavery which was depressing the influence, the development, and the best interests of the State. Governor Graham said that in 1832 the abolition of slavery was freely discussed in the State and was favored by many of our best and wisest men.

I asked him how it came about that there was such a sudden and total change in public opinion within the next twenty years. He replied that there were several concurrent causes of this. In the first place Nat Turner’s Insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831, had much to do with it. That short but bloody outbreak excited such horror and alarm that people feared talk of freeing the Negroes lest it might tend to suggest the idea of freedom to their minds and lead them to similar attempts at freeing themselves by force.

Also it was just about this period that the Quakers and others in the North began to send to Congress petitions for the abolition of slavery; and the struggles in Congress and the resentment of the people of the South at what they considered an interference in their domestic affairs caused a great revulsion of feeling. The Southern people were willing to consider the subject themselves, but they would not be dictated to.

I afterwards mentioned this conversation to Judge [George] Howard who agreed with Governor Graham; but he added that another element in the problem of abolition of slavery was the acquisition of immense territory by the Mexican War and then the discovery of gold in California immediately afterwards.

This opened so much additional territory for the extension of slavery in Texas and the Southwest, and so stimulated all values that slave property was more than doubled in value. When a Negro man was worth three or four thousand dollars, as he was before 1832, the abolition of slavery was one question. When the same Negro came to be worth one thousand dollars, as he came to be before many years had passed, the question of abolition had become a quite different one.”

(Nonnulla, Memories, Stories, Traditions More of Less Authentic, Joseph Blount Cheshire, UNC Press, 1930, pp. 136-137)

Emancipation in 1845 South Carolina

Always fearful of slave revolts as the black population steadily grew, and shaken by reality in the Nat Turner massacre of women and children, Southerners logically erected anti-emancipation laws to control slave populations. The constant agitation of slave revolt by Northern abolitionist fanatics, culminating in John Brown’s 1859 crime in Virginia, was an effective means to end even voluntary emancipation in the South. Peaceful emancipation initiatives from the North would have had a better effect and avoided war.

Bernhard THuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Emancipation Sentiment in 1845 South Carolina

“In 1840 there came up to the Court of Appeals the noted Carmille case. A slaveowner, Carmille, had died leaving a will which with reference to his slaves provided that they should be set free if possible . . . or conveyed in trust to certain trustees who would allow them to hire their time, paying only a nominal sum to the trustees.

This was unquestionably in conflict with the policy of the [South Carolina] statutes on the subject of emancipation. [A] court held that the will of the testator was not contrary to the principles of the act of 1820 and was not in violation of the State’s policy toward the Negro, and that the will ought to be carried out.

The decision . . . aroused the sentiment of the legislature and caused the passage of the sweeping act of 1841. The act of 1841 was intended apparently to close every avenue of approach to emancipation. These laws are always of course to be taken as a final indication of public sentiment. There was evidently a large class of persons who honestly desired to see a less severe policy pursued. Their views cannot be better expressed than in the clear and rugged style of Justice O’Neall. In 1845 he said:

“I think its policy [i.e., of the legislature against emancipation] so questionable that it ought to be repealed. A law, evaded as it is, and against which public sentiment, within and without the State, is so much arrayed, ought not to stand. It is better by far, that a wise and prudent system of emancipation, like that of 1800, should exist, rather than that unlicensed emancipation according to private arrangement should take place.

What is there in the policy of South Carolina to forbid emancipation by an owner, of a faithful, honest, good slave? Have we anything to fear from such a liberal and humane course?

Until fanaticism and folly drove us from that position of the law our State had uniformly favored emancipation by owners, of their slave property, with such limitations and guards as rendered the free Negro not a dangerous, but a useful member of the community, however humble he may be. It is time we should return to it and say to all at home and abroad, we have nothing to fear from occasional emancipation.”

(Control of Slaves in South Carolina, H.M. Henry, PhD Dissertation Vanderbilt University, 1914, pp. 173-174)