Slavery and its True Role in the
Fracturing of the American
Known Historical Excerpts Relevant to The War for
(a.k.a. The American Civil War)
The voice of abolition in
the months just prior to
the issue of secession, the agrarian South felt it had nothing to lose and
everything to gain, while Northern merchants, financiers, and the Federal
coffer stood only to lose. The South did
not need the North for their economic wellbeing nearly as much as the growth
and prosperity of the North depended on the South's continued membership in the
So, it wasn't slavery, as such, that the North objected to, it was the strength of the voice of Southern interests that interfered with the growing Northern appetite for Federal monies, as well as persistent conflict over other regional interests subject to debate at the Federal level that had to be dealt with. It just so happened that slavery was a part of the larger regional equation.
the South threatened the roots of Northern economics and culture from a
position of superior political strength, the North would have reacted
similarly. Indeed, this scenario had
been played out in the Nation's past on numerous occasions. Political and economic grievances such as
these were not new, for
The slave trade had early roots in
· The Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641 included the first legal code to sanction slavery, defining those suitable for enslavement as "lawful captives taken in just warres, and such [non-resident] strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us" (WEW p. 78; JPM p. 35).
By the mid Eighteenth century, slavery in
"The timing of the evolution of slavery as an institution in
New England would seem to support the thesis that slaves contributed to the
expansion and diversification of the New England economy (JPM p. 18).
"The years of greatest growth [in the population of slaves], between 1700 and 1750, coincided with an increase in agricultural productivity, the expansion of local and regional markets, widespread entrepreneurial activity, and the development of craft enterprises into manufactories" (JPM p. 19).
West Indian molasses provided the basis of the
early as the 1750's there were 63 distilleries in
· According to author Daniel P. Mannix in his book, Black Cargoes, the colony of Rhode Island registered a protest to the English Board of Trade in 1763 over the tax on molasses claiming it would greatly harm her slave trade, a mainstay of her economy (JRK p. 67).
The July, 1916 issue of the Hartford Current summarized the operation of the
"Northern rum had much to do with the extension of slavery in the South. Many people in this state [Connecticut] as well as in Boston, made snug fortunes for themselves by sending rum to Africa to be exchanged for slaves and then selling the slaves to the planters of Southern states" (SCV p. 14).
According to the Boston News Letter, at least twenty-three thousand blacks were
brought from Africa to
American slave ships flew the Stars and Stripes – not the flags of the Confederate States of
The eventual abolition of slavery in the North
was made economically viable, in part, due to the growth in the number of white
laborers (JRK p. 54). According to
author Lorenzo Johnson Green, in his 1966 book The Negro in Colonial New England 1620-1776, John Adams insisted
that the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts was due to the protest of
competing white laborers rather than for ethical or moral reasons.
"Argument might have some weight in the abolition of slavery
The acts of gradual emancipation of both
The purpose for a scheme of gradual emancipation
of slaves in
"The gradual abolition statutes did not legislate slavery out
of existence, they were not designed to do that. Slaves were included in the population
"[These] statutes effectively preserved the status quo, delaying the freedom of newborn "free" children until their twenties, denying the possibility of freedom to most slaves over forty (and later, thirty) years of age, ignoring the situation of those between. What, after all, had changed?" (JPM p. 84).
· The status of children born to a slave woman could be described as uncompensated indenture. These children were essentially slaves except that, by law, their time of service was to expire when they reached the age of majority. With the growing acceptance of eventual abolition in New England, "indenture was also used occasionally as a transitional status for groups of enslaved persons who for some reason came under the supervision of a public body unwilling to maintain them as slaves but reluctant to release them into a status of freedom that might require town support" (JPM p. 77-78, 100).
Public officials exercising stewardship over blacks, whether still
legally slaves or those born "free" to a slave, would enter into
contracts with other white citizens for use of their labor. Under this system, "the council was
selling the time of the laborers, not property in them." On September 29, 1848 in his "An address
to the Colored People of the
As long as most New England blacks continued in
slavery, their color or race was not a great limiting factor to those who were
free and independent, as records of successful free
· George H. Moore, in his 1866 book Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts, documents that in 1788 Massachusetts, having instituted a process of gradual emancipation of its slaves, passed a law stating that blacks, mulattos, and Indians who came into the State and remained two months would be publicly whipped (JRK p. 76).
· The method of gradual emancipation used in the North respected "property rights" of the Northern slave holders and sought to minimize the economic impact to the region (JRK p. 75; JPM p. 96, 101; SEM p. 295).
"In most cases, legislative initiatives swept into acceptance in a burst of pietistic or republican sentiment were quickly followed by provisions that limited their economic impact and minimized the degree to which they made any effective change in the relations of slaveholders, slaves, and their communities. Statutes that eroded slaveholding nonetheless preserved slaveowner's property rights in slaves and sought to minimize losses that abolition might entail" (JPM p. 75).
Because slavery was a greater factor in their
economy, gradual emancipation in both
One of the assumed results of the elimination of
slavery in New England was the corresponding and eventual disappearance of
"Measures to restrict the participation of free people of color in civic institutions also fall within the rubric of 'negro' removal” such as the "establishment of separate, publicly funded schools for children of color, and the restriction of black suffrage[...] Connecticut and Rhode Island voted outright to rescind the franchise of people of color (in 1818 and 1822, respectively) [...]" (JPM p. 188).
"Explicit strategies to remove people of color physically from communities, states, and nation were already well under way by 1800 and entered a more intense phase around 1820. One of the most effective means of achieving the end was the examination and "warning-out" of transients, an old practice aimed generally at eliminating impoverished and otherwise undesirable strangers who might become a public expense if allowed to remain in a given town [...] Charges of "disorderly behavior" were also grounds for warning out and hence instruments of potential removal wielded by town councils [...]
"The records of the Town Council of Providence, Rhode Island,
provide a particularly rich source of information on one town's campaign for
removal. After 1785 the council
frequently conducted what can only be termed roundups of people of color who
were 'likely to become chargeable' and who, if found to lack legal settlement, could
be warned out of
"Literal attempts to reduce the black population in New England cities and towns included targeting people of color for "warning out" as undesirables under legal settlement laws; taxing their presence; advocating their wholesale transportation to Africa under the aegis of the American Colonization Society; and, finally, conducting terroristic, armed raids on urban black communities and the institutions that served them" (JPM p. 165). "By the early 1820s whites had begun to apply a strategy for their physical removal – assaulting their communities, burning down their homes, and attacking their advocates" (JPM p. 199).
· Close on the heals of efforts to physically remove blacks from New England was an effort to remove them from New England history, or at least formulate a history in which mention of slavery was "revised to emphasis its extreme mildness and brevity and its triumphant early abolition" (JPM p. 210).
"The multitude of real and symbolic efforts to remove people of color from the [historical] narrative and landscape of New England must be understood as a critically important aspect of a larger ideological process: the emergence of antebellum New England nationalism in the articulation of a regional identity morally and culturally distinct from that of the south" (JPM p. 210).
"Fashioning this narrative was at once an ideological process and a self-conscious strategy for achieving political power. Its success as a political strategy is evidenced by the fact that the northern states had, in many important ways, become New England writ large by the onset of the Civil War" (JPM p. 211).
"[B]y the outset of actual war in 1861 the New England nationalist trope of virtuous, historical whiteness, clothed as it was in a distinctive set of cultural, moral, and political values associated with New England's Puritan mission and Revolutionary struggle, had come to define the Unionist North as a whole" (JPM p. 224).
"The moral authority asserted by the idea of a free, white New England also served to rationalize the ambitions of many New Englanders and, ultimately, northerners – both intellectuals and entrepreneurs – to dominate the South commercially and culturally." This assertion of Northern moral superiority would be a feature in rationalizing the confiscation of Southern property after the War and during Reconstruction. Ralph Waldo Emerson would later write, "You at once open the whole South to the enterprise & genius of new men of all nations, & extend New England from Canada to the Gulf, et to the Pacific" (JPM p. 221).
· After 1815 a "virtual amnesia about [New England] slavery and a kind of perpetual, indignant surprise at the continuing presence of people of color became common ingredients" in the gradual rewriting of New England history to purge any mention of over 150 years of indigenous slavery (JPM p. 219-20).
"By 1820 the experience of
"The question at issue may be simply stated. Slavery existed in the
"The expansion of the United States made the slavery conflict a struggle for power between the two sections-North and South-advancing westward in parallel lines. By 1819 the more rapidly growing population of the North gave that section a definite advantage in the lower house of Congress. The South, faced by that fact, endeavored to keep the balance of power in the Senate." (WEW p. 352-53).
y development of New England that erased the domestic institution
of slavery, achieved remarkable success in the symbolic removal of people of
color from their place in
In spite of the history of the economic luxury
of a system of gradual abolition of slavery in the North, abolitionists
insisted that slavery be abolished immediately throughout the United States,
even though it was still a more integral and vital part of the Southern economy
(JRK p. 79-80). In January of 1831, the
Labor union leaders sought his attention regarding the
slavery-like conditions of
· In 1852 Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, was published. Writing from abolitionist stereotypes, Mrs. Stowe had never been to the South and had no first-hand knowledge of slavery. Nonetheless, her book filled the imaginations of Northerners with evil white Southerners "who beat thousand-dollar negro slaves to death for the fun of it" (WEW p. 466).
As the emancipation of slaves began in the North
during the late eighteenth century, "black codes" were adopted, enacting a form of "racial
cleansing" to prevent blacks from cohabiting with Northern white society
and, due in part to the horror stories of slave uprisings in the Americas, to
"protect themselves from the dangers posed by free blacks" (CA p.
130). The enacting of "black
codes" continued throughout the North.
Also seen as a threat to white laborers, blacks were widely
As documented above, New Jersey and
In 1851, the
o Oregon's constitution, adopted on November 9, 1857, stated, "[n]o free negroe or mulatto, not residing in this state at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall come, reside or be within this state [...]" (JRK p. 55; BBM p. 172). Restrictions also prohibited blacks from owning property, making contracts or filing lawsuits (CA p. 130).
Ironically, Southern blacks who fought for the North in the War for Southern Independence were prevented from residing in Northern States after the War because of these same black codes (CA p. 150).
Taking advantage of the fervor over slavery in
the territories and the highly explosive Kansas-Nebraska Act (WEW p. 474-75),
the Republican Party was officially organized in 1854 at
An ardent Whig Party member and disciple of
Henry Clay's "American System" of federal economic intervention
through subsidized "internal improvements," protective tariffs and
Speaking on October 16, 1854 in
“When Southern people tell us that they
are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge
the fact. When it is said that the
institution exists and that it is very difficult to get rid of it in any
satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying [...] If all
earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing
institution. My first impulse would be
to free all the slaves, and send them to
· While some in the North decried slavery, Northern and European consumer and industrial demand and Northern financiers kept slavery viable in the South. The English received over 80% of exported American cotton and employed about four hundred thousand workers in their cotton mills (WEW p. 526).
Unlike most leading politicians of the day, some
abolitionists were unwilling to compromise on the issue of slavery, even to the
point of dissolving the
· Where the abolitionist speeches, sermons and editorials left off, fanatical abolitionist, John Brown, picked up. He didn't hesitate to spill the blood of slaveholders and others as necessary to do his part in eradicating slavery.
On May 24, 1856, Brown led a raid on
Brown sought to form a republic of fugitive
slaves in the
· The South held its breath as it awaited Northern opinion over John Brown's execution. While most Northern opinion was against Brown, a few prominent voices began to raise him up as a saintly martyr.
o Ralph Waldo Emerson fueled Southern fears as he wrote, "That new saint, than whom nothing purer or more brave was ever led by love of men into conflict and death [...] will make the gallows glorious like the cross" (SEM p. 602).
Some Northern newspapers also contributed to the
mounting North-South tension after Brown's execution. The
"John Brown Dead – The first act in the tragedy has been
performed. The great State of
"Now may God help the right ! and give us tongues of fire, and hands that shall never weary, to wage an eternal crusade against the diabolical sin of slavery.
"Peaceful be the sleep of the murdered Brown, and glorious his awakening" (SDC p. 65).
During the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate on
September 18, 1858, in
"I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them marry with white people. I will say in addition that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which, I suppose, will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality; and inasmuch as they cannot so live, that while they do remain together, there must be the position of the superiors and the inferiors; and that I, as much as any other man, am in favor of the superior position assigned to the white man" (WEW p. 500; JRK p. 27; MLR p. 113).
· In 1861, John Hughes, Archbishop of New York, warned the U.S. War Department that his flock was "willing to fight to the death for the support of the constitution, the government, and the laws of the country, [but not] for the abolition of slavery" (SEM p. 666).
English author Charles Dickens, an avid student
of the forces behind
"The struggle between North and South has been of long duration. The South having the lead in the federation had fought some hard political battles to retain it... But in the last presidential election, which was a trial of strength between South and North, the South considering itself subject to the North within the federation, carried out its frequent threat and desire of secession" (CA p. 88).
Dickens biographer, Peter Ackroyd, reiterated Dickens' view on the popular opinion regarding slavery and the war:
"The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states" (CA p. 89).
· In his December 28, 1861, All the Year Round follow-up article entitled "The Morrill Tariff," Dickens summarized his observations of the harmful effects of protectionist tariffs on the Southern economy being at the root of the North-South conflict:
"If it be not slavery, where lies the partition of the interests that has led at last to actual separation of the Southern from the Northern States? [...] Every year, for some years back, this or that Southern state had declared that it would submit to this extortion only while it had not the strength for resistance. With the election of Lincoln and an exclusive Northern party taking over the federal government, the time for withdrawal had arrived [...] The conflict is between semi-independent communities [in which] every feeling and interest [in the South] calls for political partition, and every pocket interest [in the North] calls for union [...] [T]he quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel" (CA p. 90-91).
Union soldiers from
Contrary to fellow Englishman Charles Dickens'
assessment of the War – and Article 1, Section 9, clause 1, Confederate States Constitution – John Stuart Mill, in his
February 1862 Fraser's Magazine
article, "The Contest in America," asserted that the underlying
motivation of the South's secession was an ambitious plan to extend slavery
throughout the Caribbean and the Americas, from
"the Potomac to Cape Horn," and to reestablish the world slave
trade (CA p. 92).
This contention of Mills' would prove useful to
In a message to Congress on March 6, 1862,
· To the surprise of many Yankee soldiers, many Southern blacks were not slaves. Knowing of the South only through stereotypes and often thinking that all Southern blacks were slaves, Yankee soldiers sometimes accused free blacks of hiding their masters, especially if the person's home were nicely furnished. During such encounters, the Yankees would often steal the free black person's food and belongings, and even destroy their homes (JRK p. 133-34).
· The loyalty of Southern blacks in the presence of Yankee soldiers was varied. Some slaves went over to the Union troops, while others remained loyal to their white families (JRK p. 133-34). Rarely, though, did Southern blacks give Yankee soldiers their complete trust (ELJ p. 143).
· Union soldiers reporting on the June, 1862 battle of Seven Pines claimed that two black Confederate regiments proved themselves ruthless opponents, showing no mercy to either dead or wounded Yankee soldiers (ELJ p. 223).
· The wife of Union general Ulysses S. Grant, a slave owner herself, kept her slaves until the close of the War (WEW p. 518, 543).
In a letter dated August 22, 1862, to
"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the
On August 25, 1862,
"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone; I would also do that" (WEW p. 508).
During the battle of
Since slavery was secure under the
· In December of 1862, Lincoln sought to alleviate the fears that emancipated slaves would come into the North and compete for the labor of white workers by assuring Congress that each State can "decide for itself whether to receive them" (JRK p. 55; BBM p. 173).
· With the war losing its popularity in the North in 1862, the people of the North were not so willing to send their husbands and sons to die in "Mr. Lincoln's war" to restore the Union, let alone for the emancipation of slaves (WEW p. 544).
It was not until well into the War that
contrary to popular belief,
The Conscription Act of March 3, 1863, forced
Northern men into service through a military draft. The draft was biased against the poor in that
a man could pay $300 to commute his service for a particular draft. A man could also find a permanent substitute
to serve in his place through a three-year enlistment.
In May 1865, Confederate POWs held at
CA When in the Course of Human Events by Charles Adams, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, Ma. 2000. (A look at the case for Southern secession and the execution of the war by the North.)
CKB Black Confederates Compiled and Edited by Charles Kelly Barrow, J. H. Segars, and R. B. Rosenburg, Pelican Publishing Co., 2001. Originally published as Forgotten Confederates, 1995. (A fascinating compilation of first-hand accounts, newspaper articles, photographs, and letters documenting service to the Confederacy by blacks in military
and non-military capacities.)
ELJ Black Confederates
and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia by Ervin
L. Jordan, Jr., The University Press of
FWS War for What? by Francis W. Springer, Nippert Publishing,
GE Facts and Falsehoods
Concerning the War on the South 1861-1865 by
George Edmonds, Science Hall Lamb, 1904.
Reprinted by Crown Rights Publishing, Wiggins,
GKW New Jersey Slavery
and the Law, Gary K. Wolinetz,
Southern States of the American Union by
J.L.M. Curry, G. P. Putnam's Sons,
JPM Disowning Slavery,
Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780-1860 by Joanne Pope Melish, Cornell
University Press, Ithaca and London, 1998.
Examines the neglected importance of
South Was Right! by
James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy, 1998. (A fascinating and
well-footnoted look into little known facts critical in understanding the War
MLD The Confederate
Constitution of 1861 by Marshall L. DeRosa,
MLR Truths of History by Mildred Lewis Rutherford,
Founder's Constitution, edited by Philip B.
Kurland and Ralph Lerner, the
PMA By These Words by Paul M. Angle, Rand McNally & Co., 1954. (Text of selected documents of American history.)
SCV The Gray Book Published by Gray Book Committee S.C.V., The Sons of Confederate
Veterans. Reprinted by
Crown Rights Publishing, Wiggins,
Logic of History by Stephen D. Carpenter,
S. D. Carpenter, Publisher,
SF The Civil War, A Narrative - Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote, Vintage Books, New York, 1986 (A standard of the history of the War.)
TJD The Real Lincoln, A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War by Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Prima Publishing, Roseville, California, 2002 (A well researched look at Lincoln's role in the transition in the United States away from the original limited Federal form of government toward one with more centralized Hamiltonian powers, and also the implementation of the "American System")
WEW A New American
History by W. E. Woodward, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.,
On Murry Hill,
First published footnoted edition August 2, 2001
Last updated on October 18, 2005