America in 1860

The events of 1860 hardly require an introduction. The election of Lincoln in November and subsequent secession of South Carolina that December speak for themselves. Events quite overtook the census, but the data did reach Washington and see use in Union war plans. The text apologizes for not having all the tabulations and analysis intended, but the war got in the way.

The sixth census found the nation on the edge of war. Though Lincoln did not win a landslide, except in the Electoral College, his opponents had three candidates to divide their votes and so his election only stood to reason. At the heart of the conflict, of course, lay the nation’s 3,953,757 slaves and the future of their condition. Would the alchemy that transformed blood and misery into plantation profits endure or would the victories the Slave Power won over the previous decade prove its last hurrah?

The North in the seventh census. (Click for a larger version.)

The North in the seventh census. (Click for a larger version.)

The nation’s slaves accounted for 12.58% of its population in 1860. Only sixty-one (0.0015%) of those lived in the North and only eighteen in a Northern state: New Jersey. Most of the North’s slaves actually lived in the Utah territory (26, 0.06% of its population.) The Dakota Territory, listed as South Dakota but including the land of that state and modern North Dakota, stands out on another extreme: not a single black person lived there, free or slave. A state or territory could enslave no more than 0.01% of its population and count as normal by Northern standards. After a long run, New Jersey leaves that club. Utah takes its place.

The South in the seventh census. (Click for a larger version.)

The South in the seventh census. (Click for a larger version.)

In the South, as usual, just the opposite story played out. By Southern lights, the North remained bizarrely free. The rest of the nation reverse the comparison. Anything above 15% enslaved counted as significantly far from the national mean. Delaware (1.60%), the District of Columbia (4.24%), Maryland (12.69%), and Missouri (9.72%) come in under that bar, but no other Southern state could. Of the remainder, only Kentucky’s 19.51% even comes close.

But as usual the South could flip things around again and say that by Southern norms, none of those states with a nationally “normal” level of slavery fit inside the South. They would need at least 17.87% enslaved for that, excluding even runner-up Kentucky. Also by Southern lights, anything up to 46.34% enslaved fit into the normal range. Louisiana (46.86%), Mississippi (55.18%), and South Carolina (57.18%) break that demographic ceiling.

I know I’ve said this before, but the numbers really put things in sharp relief. One can easily say the South stood apart from the rest of the United States, distinctly its own place, but every region and every locale within it would claim that status for itself. We all have our own distinctiveness. But demographically, the places closest to the national means do not belong in North or South. Delaware in 1860 would fit within the 1790 North, but even its less than two thousand slaves amount to almost thirty time times the entire Northern slave population.

Of course local distinctiveness comes in hierarchies. Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina form a South within the South. The Deep South in general does much the same. The Upper South and Border States do as well. Setting aside the demographics for a moment, it makes perfect sense to view a region as a containing associated sub-regions that differ from the norms in varying degrees and varying ways. The South and North respectively had more in common with their sectional neighbors than one another, but that does not mean their differences melt away. The real world gave, and continues to give us, many Souths and many Norths, which form parts of many Americas from which people draw and to which they hold multiple, coexisting loyalties. The statistics illuminate some of that messiness and give us measures to judge it by.

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