One of the great conundrums of American history is the “treasury of virtue” claimed by New England as it allegedly struck the chains of slavery off the black man. Though the war was begun by Lincoln as simply one to “save the Union,” with Massachusetts troops conspicuously rushing to his side, New England abolitionists were quick to morph the war into an abolition crusade.
In truth, the ancestors of the crusading abolitionists grew wealthy in the transatlantic slave trade which exchanged Yankee notions and rum for enslaved Africans, then sailed to the West Indies and North America to deposit those that survived the murderous middle passage. The exploitation of the black man continued with Eli Whitney’s invention, cotton-hungry New England mills, and Manhattan banks which revived a dying and unwanted peculiar institution. It is then fair to state that the original “slave power” was New England.
Restless Yankees Infested with Guilt
During the Victorian Age, an aphorism held that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” In England the adage may have been coined to salve the consciences of plutocrats wallowing in wealth gained at the expense of a wretched factory proletariat, but in the United States, at least, it had broader connotations.
When times were hard and the struggle to make ends meet the Yankees accepted their lot uncomplainingly, as if that was what God had destined for them.
When times were good and life was easy, they became restless and infested with feelings of guilt. In such circumstances, their tendency was to look around for evil and band together to strike it out. [The] years after the 1849 gold rush were a period of unprecedented prosperity that lasted almost a decade. Fads and fancies proliferated, but most commonly, Yankees focused their reforming energies upon slavery, or, more properly, upon which they perceived as the slave power.”
(States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, Forrest MacDonald, University of Kansas Pres, 2000, excerpts pg. 165)