The Battle of Christiana

The Crafts escaped Boston with the help of non-violent resistance, abetted by threats of violence. Shadrach Minkins escaped thanks to actual violence. Millard Fillmore and John P. Bigelow sent in Army, Navy, and police to take Thomas Sims back to Georgia, by force if need be. After Sims, many fugitive and free blacks left Boston rather than gamble on whether they could follow the Crafts and Minkins or whether they would be taken like Sims. But fugitive slaves lived in places other than just Boston and passed through many more on their way to freedom.

Christiana's location, near the Maryland state line

Christiana’s location, near the Maryland state line

The Quaker village of Christiana, Pennsylvania, in Lancaster County between Philadelphia and Gettysburg, welcomed fugitive slaves who came its way and helped them along. In September of 1851, Noah Buley, Nelson Ford, George Ford, and Joshua Hammond arrived in Christiana. They belonged to Maryland wheat planter Edward Gorusch and fled in advance of his temper two years prior. Gorusch came up short on wheat and apparently went looking for someone to blame.

Armed with the new law, Gorusch, his son, and three federal marshals, and a posse of relatives came to Christiana looking for his runaways. They hid on the farm of William Parker, himself an escaped slave, who would had protected others who came his way. The slaves and Parkers spent a tense night waiting for them. A few hours before dawn, on September 11, 1851, one of the fugitives went out into the yard and spotted fifteen men skulking across the way.

Parker knew his business and had a plan in place. His wife sounded a horn to alert their neighbors as the posse rushed into the first floor of the farmhouse. They found two dozen black men armed and ready. A standoff ensued and two of Parker’s Quaker neighbors arrived to suggest that the slave catchers go away empty-handed.

The Battle of Christiana

The Battle of Christiana

They refused, Gorusch swearing that he would have his property or go to hell. Parker insisted they leave his farm, but affirmed that he meant them no harm despite the small matter of fifteen or so rounds they had fired into the house already. Someone (Both sides blamed the other.) fired a shot and general mayhem erupted. Gorusch did not survive it. His son came out badly wounded. The slave catchers withdrew and the fugitives and Parker fled to safety in Canada.

Not quite a year after Millard Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law, black men shed white blood to defend their freedom. The Lancaster County newspapers declared it the first blow of civil war. The Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune called it the inevitable fruit of the Fugitive Slave Law. To the American Right, the Battle of Christiana followed the tradition of usurping national law by force and so amounted to another act of treason like those which kept Shadrach Minkins free. To the South, fanatical abolitionists deluded otherwise happy slaves into absconding and murder alike.

Up in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass answered white shock and astonishment everywhere:

We have said that the pro-slavery people of this country don’t know what to make of this demonstration on the part of the alleged fugitive slaves of Christiana. This, however, is possibly a mistake. There is in that translation a lesson which the most obtuse may understand, namely, that all NEGROES ARE NOT SUCH FOOLS AND DASTARDS AS TO CLING TO, life WHEN IT IS COUPLED WITH CHAINS AND SLAVERY.

Millard Fillmore did not back down; he sent in the Marines. They and federal marshals canvassed Lancaster County and came up with five whites and thirty-six blacks to arrest and indict. Washington demanded Canada extradite Parker and two other ringleaders, but went ahead with trying those it could reach when denied. Following Daniel Webster’s logic, the government charged them with both violation of the Fugitive Slave Act and  high treason.

Castner Hanaway, a white Quaker, came to trial first. He certainly came to Parker’s farm that night; he and his horse gave cover to Dickerson Gorusch. Five lawyers, including Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, defended Hanaway and Philadelphia jury spent fifteen minutes finding him not guilty after a trial that degenerated into farce. The government dropped the other indictments after Hanaway’s November acquittal.

The Story of Thomas Sims

A broadside commemorating the first anniversary of Sims' seizure.

A broadside commemorating the first anniversary of Sims’ seizure.

Thomas Sims arrived in Boston as Shadrach Minkins left. Born in Georgia and trained as a mason, he fled slavery at the ripe age of seventeen by stowing away on a ship. Like the Crafts, he departed from Savannah. Like William Craft, his education made him a valuable commodity to his owner, James Potter. Like Ellen Craft, he did not face the worst of slavery’s cruelty. Years later he told the Nashville American, in a story reprinted in The New York Times, that Potter showed him uniform kindness and

went so far as to put a nominal price on Simms’ mother and children that they might be enabled, through friends, to purchase their freedom, which they did.

That particular kindness did not extend to Thomas. His training as a mason made him too valuable to just let go. Potter set a price of $1,800. Sims said he could find a man with $1,800 if Potter would let him look. Potter refused.

Some time thereafter, Potter planned a trip to New York. Sims suggested that he might see Potter there, which says something about their relationship. A slave openly talking about running away with his owner, even as a joke, would probably not fly very often. Potter owned 103 slaves and so must have faced all the pressures to keep a tight lid on any sort of dissension among his human property, but he let that one go.

John P. Bigelow, Boston's mayor

John P. Bigelow, Boston’s mayor

Sims stowed away on his boat and soon arrived in Boston, where he got a job as a waiter. Potter tracked him down and called on the local authorities to do their duty under the Fugitive Slave Law. This put Boston’s Whig mayor, John P. Bigelow on the spot. He did not provide help in the form of Boston police to secure Shadrach Minkins and his inaction brought him criticism from the slave catchers, Millard Fillmore, and Daniel Webster.

Determined not to face the wrath of his party again, Bigelow allowed the federal marshals to deputize his police to arrest Sims. They did so and took Sims on April 4, 1851. Remembering the storming of the courthouse to free Shadrach, the police locked it tight with a heavy chain and, joined by a detachment of soldiers, put it under guard.

With violence out of the question in the face of such armed opposition, Boston’s abolitionists had only legal maneuvers at their disposal. The usual flurry of paper, and corresponding protest meetings, ensued to no avail. On April 11, after a trial, 300 police and soldiers packed Thomas Sims off to the naval yard, where 250 soldiers stood ready to ship him back to Georgia.

Sims returned to Savannah and in short order found himself on the auction block in Charleston. Sale brought him to New Orleans and then Vicksburg. There Sims eventually found himself again with the army, this time of his own choosing. He bolted to the Union lines and returned to Boston on a pass bearing Ulysses S. Grant’s signature. He arrived in time to see the 54th Massachusetts, the first black regiment recruited in the North, presented its colors.

But as far as anyone knew at the time, Thomas Sims went South for good. His case represents the inverse of Shadrach Minkins’ both in the immediate outcome and larger political context. Boston abolitionists reached new heights in keeping Shadrach free, sparking alarm and outrage in proslavery, pro-compromise quarters. Thomas Sims saw the state reach new heights in enforcing the new fugitive slave law: hundreds of soldiers and police armed and ready to fight back against the abolitionists who themselves fought back only months before.

Boston’s black community noted the outcome as well, departing for safer pastures by the score. Others armed themselves, to the alarm of white neighbors. They prepared themselves to take the advice of Frederick Douglass:

The only way to make the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter is to make half a dozen or more dead kidnappers. […] A half dozen more dead kidnappers carried down South would cool the ardor of Southern gentlemen, and keep their rapacity in check.

To Southern eyes, that must have read as no less than a call for race war. So far, nobody had died. How long could that last?

Fillmore & Webster on Boston

Millard Fillmore signed James Mason’s Fugitive Slave Act into law on September 18, 1850. Slave catchers from Georgia reached Boston in search of the Crafts on October 25. The Boston abolitionists chased them out of town and packed the Crafts off to England.  On February 15, 1851, federal marshals seized Shadrach Minkins and the local abolitionists stormed the courthouse to take him back and spirit him off to Canada. He arrived there on the seventeenth or eighteenth.

Fillmore did not take that flouting of the law laying down. On the eighteenth he issued a proclamation 

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore

calling on all well-disposed Citizens, to rally to the support of the Laws of their Country, and requiring and commanding all officers, civil and military, and all other persons, civil or military, who shall be found within the vicinity of this outrage, to be aiding and assisting, by all means in their power, in quelling this, and other such combinations, and assisting the Marshal and his Deputies in recapturing the above mentioned prisoner; and I do, especially, direct, that prosecutions be commenced against all persons who shall have made themselves aiders or abettors in or to this flagitious offence; and I do further command, that the District Attorney of the United States [George Lunt], and all other persons concerned in the administration or execution of the Laws of the United States, cause the foregoing offenders, and all such as aided, abetted, or assisted them, or shall be found to have harbored or concealed such fugitive, contrary to law, to be immediately arrested and proceeded with according to law.

Daniel Webster, disgraced in Massachusetts but now Fillmore’s Secretary of State weighed in on the 20th. After some hagiography about Washington on the occasion of his birthday, Webster wrote that:

Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster

We have recently been informed, Gentlemen, of an open act of resistance to law, in the city of Boston; and if the accounts be correct of the circumstances of this occurrence, it is, strictly speaking, a case of treason. If men combine and confederate together, and by force of arms or force of numbers effectually resist the operation of an act of Congress, in its application to a particular individual, with the avowed purpose of making the same resistance to the same act in its application to all other individuals, this is levying war against the United States, and is nothing less than treason.

Setting aside for the moment that the act of Congress in question was the Fugitive Slave Law, I have trouble disagreeing. Trying to overthrow national laws by main force sounds like the acme treason.The Boston abolitionists did not state sit-ins or non-violent protests. They literally stormed the courthouse.

For their treason or, to use Calhoun’s idiom, their nullification, eight people, four black and four white, received indictments. Boston juries refused to convict them to the delight of the abolitionist press and the outrage of Southerners and northern conservatives.

The Story of Shadrach Minkins

An advertisement for the auction that sold Shadrach to his penultimate owner.

An advertisement for the auction that sold Shadrach to his penultimate owner.

The Boston Vigilance Committee put the Crafts on a boat to England after expending great effort in hiding them from their would-be captors. The slave catchers went back to Georgia empty-handed, but the sensational ways that the Boston abolitionists flouted James Mason’s Fugitive Slave Law won them a great deal of national attention.

Millard Fillmore had promised the Crafts’ owner help in recovering them if he wanted a second try, but their departure for England put them beyond his reach. The same did not hold for Boston’s other fugitives.

John DeBree, a navy man, bought Shadrach Minkins in Virginia in 1849. He worked in DeBree’s house, but absconded on May 5, 1850. Like the Crafts, he made his way to Boston, probably by sea, and got a job there as a waiter at Taft’s Cornhill Coffee House, an upscale establishment not a block away from the courthouse.

DeBree’s slave catcher, John Caphart, arrived in Boston on February 12, 1851. Three days later, the legal niceties sorted and warrants issued, two men Shadrach waited on seized him from the coffee house and hurried him to the courthouse. They had to use the federal courthouse because Massachusetts law forbade the use of state facilities for slave catching.

The capture did not go unmarked. Shadrach did not put up a fight, but did make a scene. Boston’s white and black abolitionists got on the case in short order and more than a hundred packed into the courtroom for Shadrach’s preliminary hearing. Six lawyers volunteered to help in his defense and the court gave them three days to prepare. Shadrach and the lawyers stayed in the courtroom to confer, with the press and various other interested parties drifting in.

Outside the building an abolitionist mob gathered, hundreds strong. The lawyers had three days to defend Shadrach. The mob took three hours to do them one better. That afternoon, around twenty black men charged the doors and spirited a stunned Shadrach away. Boston’s abolitionists hid him in an attic, got him across the river to Cambridge, then to Concord, and finally along the Underground Railroad to Canada where he lived out the rest of his days in Montreal.

This may not sound like it differs much from the Crafts’ story. Shadrach escaped with the help of Bostonian abolitionists. But it did take things one step farther. The Crafts hid and the abolitionists harassed and threatened their pursuers. To save Shadrach, Bostonian abolitionists turned to violence. Black men used violence to save a fugitive slave from his pursuers. In the South, that had to look like a slave revolt played out in miniature. And the abolitionist press cheered it.

How could they rest easy, how could the white South have any confidence in the security of its laws, its slavery, and the lives of all its white people if the North would stand by and let black people overthrow white law by force? How long before abolitionists armed, trained, and dispatched legions of Nat Turners? How long before the slaves found out and learned they had white allies? The Unionist South nailed its colors to the Fugitive Slave Law and barely months after the law came into force, had this to show for it.

Survivors in Blue and Gray

A South Carolina artilleryman at Petersburg.

A South Carolina artilleryman at Petersburg.

I come late to this party, but I lived in a bunker made of spreadsheets at the time. Via Kevin Levin of CW Memory, I’ve learned that some historians share my discomfort with the usual understanding of soldiers in war. I think that understanding goes something like this:

As the apotheosis of patriotism, a soldier on the battlefield comes quite near to divinity himself. To such a person, we owe not just the gratitude we would have toward any civil servant performing an important task but a kind of reverence. A soldier is Superman come among us, somehow more than human, and we should act accordingly and with great deference to his (and rarely, her) every sentiment. We have a powerful moral imperative to honor his sacrifices and those of the soldiers that did not come home.

Reverence makes us feel better about ourselves, but it also has a way of encouraging us not to ask questions of people who, whatever course their lives took, have not actually left behind our species for a better one. Skepticism becomes disrespect and so we must close our eyes to the nuances of the real world. That cannot be healthy for us and cannot help us understand events in the past or present. Understanding comes through asking questions, not from refusing to do so.

But that leaves one without any framework within which to understand the soldiers. In that absence, the usual frame can easily slide back in. My personal interests do not lay very close to the level of individual soldiers, so I don’t think I noticed the lack until I read Kevin’s post. He quotes Michael J. Bennett’s essay in This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions about the Civil War-Era North, which looks like it needs to go on my pile of books to read:

How can these accounts be folded into the current narrative of the war?  The answer is that they cannot.  The best way to reach an understanding of what really happened at Bull Run and the events that followed is to rethink what soldiers when through in combat.  Watching GIs commit “un-American acts” against German soldiers in Italy during World War II pushed the combat artist George Biddle to seek a reassessment of the soldiers’ combat ordeal.  He wrote that it was unfair for civilians to think of soldiers as heroes or stars.  Instead, he thought it more appropriate that soldiers be viewed as survivors of a great disaster like a mine collapse or a burning building.  Only then could civilians truly understand the desperate circumstances and decisions under which soldiers fought. (p. 150)

My bold.

That makes a lot of sense to me. As the subject doesn’t naturally draw me, I have not asked many soldiers about their experiences. I recall only two: my grandfather and a man I went to college with. Though I had access to him for a good twenty years and a good decade of interest in history before I worked up the nerve to have the conversation, I asked my grandfather only once. I did not hear the usual stories one would expect, and which the media has primed us for, when it comes to veterans of the Second World War.

I felt bad afterwards. He volunteered quite a bit, but I clearly stirred some very unpleasant memories. I only ever saw him cry that day and at my grandmother’s funeral. A cousin took him to Saving Private Ryan and apparently got a similar response. He obviously did not feel like a hero, but rather a survivor.  He spent some effort, I don’t think entirely successfully, convincing himself that the war had to happen and his job had to be done. He clearly preferred an alternative he suggested then: each country sends its biggest couple of guys to fight it out somewhere and abide by the results.

Which brings us back to imagining people complexly again, I suppose. The heroic narrative denies soldiers their humanity, turning them into cardboard cutouts of patriotic virtue just as much as a narrative of historic Southerners always chomping at the bit for secession, or present day Southerners locked in embittered Confederate stasis for a hundred and fifty years denies them their humanity. They could have more than one thing in their head at a time, just like everyone else.

A soldier might fight for flag, for family, for a culture he wants to preserve, for Union, slavery, adventure, independence, to prove his manhood, to escape things at home, the list goes on and on. But that soldier remains a person. His warfare does not remove his humanity any more than it enhances it. That same soldier also feels fear, sees things few of us would like to see, and lives with the memories of terror and horrors that may far exceed peacetime imagining. The soldier creates victims of war with his weapon, but in doing so he also himself becomes a victim.

I don’t mean to equate shooter with target here, but the vast number of soldiers required for anything resembling a modern war precludes recruiting just from the minority of humans who don’t have any problem killing others. Rather war puts them in positions where they receive encouragement to do so and where circumstances and concern for their own futures demand it. The two are not quite the same, but it almost makes more sense to view a soldier like we would a person who accidentally ran over someone with their car. We naturally care more about the victim, or at least we want to, but the person behind the wheel or behind the gun pays a personal price for the act as well.

That said, I have one reservation. I imagine Bennett probably talks about this in the full essay, which I’ve yet to read, but I think it’s worth saying anyway: Mine collapses and burning buildings just happen. Rarely are they the result of deliberate sabotage. Wars, by their very nature, require people deciding that they shall make war upon one another and so, consequently, that other people shall pay the costs in their blood, broken bodies, and scars less visible but no less real. Those disasters don’t just happen; we make them happen.

Do I hate the South?

Let's talk about this today.

Let’s talk about this today.

I have not had the question posed to me here, but I have often in other venues been asked if I hated the South. More often I am simply accused of so doing. I need a bit of a break from the spreadsheets, so today I want to talk about that.

As I said back in this blog’s infancy, I consider the South to amount to the major slave states of 1860. The region does not make sense to me any other way. Nothing else unifies Appalachia, the Chesapeake Tidewater, the Carolina lowcountry, the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Texas, Kentucky, and all the rest of the typically Southern states and exclude equally Southern, in geographic terms, states like California. We can talk around it, but the main things that separate them from the rest of the nation either amount to slavery itself or traits deeply intertwined with it.

In the recent demographic posts, I’ve noted frequently just how profoundly the North and South differed and that difference boils down in each case to slavery. The South had vastly more black people, but they hardly moved there like European immigrants moved to the North. Rather they came to the South as slaves and most stayed there as slaves. The concentration of black Americans in the South came about due to slavery and persisted due to slavery, with a side helping of vicious Northern racism. That in turn wedded the South still more deeply to slavery as the only means white Southerners saw to keep control of their huge black population. I don’t think one can speak of the demographics without slavery or slavery without the demographics.

And the South, mostly, went to war to keep its slaves. It spent six hundred thousand or so (we don’t know exactly how many) lives to keep ownership of those four million.

Those are terrible, ugly things to say. I understand how a person would take offense to hearing them. I would not want to hear that my ancestors thought lynching, segregation, or slavery formed a major part of their regional identity. I would probably take special umbrage at hearing it from people who had similar, if not quite so extensive, histories of racism in their own regional pasts. Emotions work that way and Southerners have the same brain software as the rest of us.

The previous paragraphs have listed Southern sins. But they also list American sins. While the South practiced slavery with unrivaled enthusiasm, the institution hung on in most parts of the North into the 1840s and a small residual of “apprentices for life” still toiled in New Jersey in 1860. The South made protection for slavery contingent on its joining America to begin with, but the rest of the nation also let it do that and plenty of Northern conservatives, including men we think of as antislavery like Abraham Lincoln, committed themselves quite strongly to protecting it right up into the war.

Despite the Confederacy’s best efforts, we cannot separate Southern history from American history. Slavery deeply shaped the South, but it shaped the North too. For most of the nation’s early history, Southerners and Southern interests dominated national politics. Our concepts of freedom, citizenship, policing, and everything else baked in that same mix with chattel slavery. At least into the mid-1840s, the United States more had slavery and tolerated freedom than it had freedom and tolerated slavery. The nation has yet to really come to grips with that, or with the ways it happily continued the worst of slavery’s legacies openly for another century and covertly, to a lesser degree, even to the present day.

How can a nation deal with that? Every country of any age has parts of its history no one would mention with pride. The United States has slavery, stealing land from and haphazardly exterminating the Indians, and more sins I could mention. But few come close to slavery when it comes to pervading everything about America. Yet we still have people proudly waving the flags of the nation that fought to preserve slavery against the threat posed to it by the election of a Republican. We still have people who deny that fact and insist that the Confederacy was benign, or somehow only accidentally associated with slavery. That can’t be the best way to deal with the shameful chapters of our national past, though I can’t say we invented it or are alone in practicing it. Few nations care to honestly face the lesser deeds of their past generations.

Except Germany. One can, I have read, hardly fly a German flag (the modern one, not the Nazi flags)  on one’s lawn without drawing troubled looks. I don’t think all of the ways Germany has grappled with its national past work well. National bans on the display of flags do not seem like an answer. But neither is upholding the Confederacy as a noble cause tragically lost, unless one actually thinks that black people ought to live as slaves. Doubtless some people actually think that. More find sympathy for the Confederacy through the connections between their views of government and either the Confederates’ actual or imagined beliefs. They’re ignoring how the Confederates and their antecedents formed those beliefs almost exclusively in defense of slavery, but humans of all stripes have great skill at ignoring unpleasant facts.

Why can’t the South take more of the German example, though? Why can’t America in general? My own history education involved very little save a dry, clinical discussion of slavery which stripped from it most of its horrors. I have no doubt others had better luck, including many in the South. But admitting Southern history as American history also implicates us all and I imagine most don’t rush for that distinction.

I wrote that last paragraph so I could write this one, though. I never expected to see a black president in my lifetime. I estimated that at least a hundred years from now. I never dreamed that one would win the White House with electoral votes from two former Confederate states, let alone one that flipped from the Democrats to the Republicans almost immediately after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts and never previously came back. All of the previous could give the impression that the South acts like a hivemind, frozen in amber in 1860.

The South does not. Even during Reconstruction, some white Southerners took up the cause of the former slaves, including some who fought devotedly for the Confederacy just before. A region’s norm does not constitute a kind of irresistible edict which all residents must follow. Rather they choose just as much as anybody what norms they adopt and which they reject. However much the region has long been the Mount Olympus of the American right, especially its uglier parts, it has also always had its own movements toward equality and social justice. Those movements have in their own ways both contributed meaningfully to the broader American tradition and at times exceeded the devotion of otherwise similar movements in more Northern climes.

Just like everywhere else, living people fill the South instead of stereotype clones. They have their own particular cultures within broader regional and national cultures which have all the same dynamism that any living culture has. If the era of flying Confederate flags in defiance of integration has not quite fully passed into history, it has clearly gone pretty far along that path. The 1960s saw mass rallies that abounded with Confederate flags, fire hoses, and the occasional lynching. (The fairly vicious, if not quite so often openly brutal, ways Northern locales preserved their own segregation don’t get quite the same press in white America despite coming a good decade after the South started settling down.)

The sense I have of the region as an outsider, and what I hear from Southern friends and writers I trust, doesn’t much resemble that today. It seems increasingly  common that people obnoxiously waving their Confederate flags around and championing secession or defending slavery and segregation receive the kind of reception that I have seen to the same in my rather less than progressive corner of the North: At best we see such people as cranks and more often have some concern about their intentions toward any local minority, whether skin color, religious, or sexual.

Maybe we picked up some lessons from the Germans after all. Nationally, the United States has rarely stood out as an early adopter or fast learner. The Germans had twelve horrible years to atone for. We have centuries to make right. I wish we would go faster, but we did start settling accounts from much further in the red.

Do I hate the South? After writing all of that, I don’t know. The question involves not just the region’s past, but also all manner of confounding present day politics. I definitely hate certain things about the South in both contexts. Liberally inclined gay atheists such as myself have plenty of reason to look askance across the Mason-Dixon Line. But I hate the same bone-deep social conservatism when I look out my window and see it in Michigan and I hardly consider my particular community all that racially progressive either.

It makes no sense to me to hold modern Germany responsible for Hitler. Why would I hold the modern South responsible for Jeff Davis or Lester Maddox? That only makes sense in the limited contexts of Southerners trying to carry on their work, who do not speak for the whole South any more than a yahoo in a pickup with a rebel flag on it (which I have seen in my hometown) speaks for the whole North.

The Sections by Race

My past census and longitudinal posts have focused on slavery, but I’ve also alluded to the racial mix of the sections. Most black Americans lived in the South, mostly as slaves. I largely assumed the corollary that the North had a pretty incredibly white population. Partly I don’t think of it very much because I live in a very white part of the North. Partly the reality of slavery draws the eye. I probably have some unconscious or partly conscious desire not to think about what the extreme whiteness of the section implies about it, even after grappling with some examples of period racism. Even when black Americans arrived in the North, they found plenty of white Americans eager to get rid of them and keep them away.

Black American in the nation and the sections (Click for a larger version.)

Black Americans in the nation and the sections. (Click for a larger version.)

As all the numbers have agreed, the vast majority of black people living in America during its first seven decades lived in the South. But seeing it on the chart makes it clear that as early as 1790, the North and South are both almost similarly removed from the mix that the national aggregate would expect of around 19.27% black, if in opposite directions. One can’t really blame that early split on waves of immigration. Their story comes, at least in part, through the relatively gentle downward trend in the national line as they swell the white population at a rate greater than the native-born black population can grow naturally. The only black immigrants reaching America in substantial numbers, of course, arrived in the bellies of slave ships.

White Americans as Percent of National and Sectional

White Americans in the Nation and the Sections. (Click for a larger version.)

And white Americans give the inverted version of the same story. In absolute numbers, both sections have more white people than black people, but except for the 1820 census the North always had a substantially greater white population than the national figures would suggest, its surplus also constituting the South’s deficit and to a large degree its slave population. I think it would overstate the case to call the sections worlds apart, but they certainly had substantial differences despite their shared language, history, and other cultural ties.

All of this reminds me of the perennial immigrant story: People come to America and find it full not of opportunity but rather locals who would prefer to throw them back in the sea. (My own town did this, if with Lake Huron instead of the Atlantic Ocean.) The first generation or so faces serious hostility, ends up in an ethnic ghetto, and has limited opportunities. But a few generations later, that ghetto is home to entirely different immigrants except for an aging population of grandparents. The hard realities that forced the immigrants into the ghetto fade out of the national memory, except as a vague gloss on the cultural narrative common to all immigrants. In fact, the children and great-grandchildren of the ghetto often become part of the next generation of nativists insisting on throwing the new immigrants back into the sea. You could almost set your watch to it.

Most black Americans have ancestors on this continent going back more generations than many, perhaps most, white Americans. I know I can’t trace any ancestors back prior to 1808, or even 1898, without crossing the Atlantic. Their concentrations, then and now, tell a different story. Generations of white Americans insisted on White America, period and so perpetuated the vicious patterns of first generation immigration and far worse for long after slavery ended. I don’t know how finished they are yet.

Of course, that spills back over the other way too. The hated immigrants, the Irish, provided a handy population to recruit to fight to keep local born black people in slavery and, if less willingly, to destroy it. Irish New Yorkers rioted against a draft that they feared would put free black labor in competition with their own for the better part of a week in 1863. It took the Army to restore order.

We have to treat history as sets of topics to have any sensible order to it at all, but the past had all the messy interconenctedness of the present. Slavery, immigration, social justice, labor, and numerous other topics all intertwine deeply.

Longitudes and Weirdness by the Numbers

I said way back when I started posting up data from older censuses than 1860 that I wanted to do some longitudinal analysis. The subsequent census-by-census posts form the groundwork for that, including my ill-considered use of standard deviations. Enough data entry and scene-setting, let’s look at the United States over seven decades.

Slaves as percents of the total population. (Click for a larger version.)

Slaves as percent of the total population. (Click for a larger version.)

The basic lines for North, South, and National are the percentages drawn straight from the aggregate data for the sections and the nation as a whole. I also included minimum and maximum average deviations for the nation as a whole to show the statistical limits before demographic weirdness kicks in. Past those lines amounts to a statistically significant difference from the national norm. Above the National Max line comes an unusually high level of slavery. Below comes just the opposite, an unusual lack. The North Max and South Min mark out the boundaries of deviation from the expected sectional norms, meaning high slavery for the North and low slavery for the South.

Plotted out on the y-axis, the separation between the sections really stands out. So does the distance between their norms, with Northern maximum slavery hitting zero quite early on. The Southern minimum level of deviation from the slavery norms roughly parallels the national slavery statistics, but always at a higher level.

That said, the math has some kinks in it. The large number of practically free places first appearing in the 1860 census drives the national norm down very hard, but represents very few people. The peak where the national maximum slavery deviation exceeds the Southern aggregate comes in the first census after heavily enslaved Louisiana joined the nation.

Overall, the lines trend toward freedom. But they do not do so uniformly. Rare slavery vanished in the North, but ubiquitous slavery spread through the South, peaking around 1830. After that, the Southern population very slowly and slightly moves more in the direction of freedom. I don’t read much into that, however. Such a small change, especially absent a serious political move away from slavery, (quite the opposite happened) looks very much like the white population, free by definition, growing at just a bit faster rate than the slave population did. However, the movement in the Southern minimum tells the other side of that story: the less enslaved parts of the south progressively enslaved fewer and fewer of their people, dragging the minimum down even as on the other end states pulled the maximum higher and higher. The section pulled apart as the years went by, giving evidence to support Deep South fears about the Upper South turning Yankee.

This data largely repeats what I’ve said in past census-by-census posts, but those got long and wordy and didn’t put the entire trend together. All in all, these lines show the story of a demographically divided nation which spent seventy years growing further apart before the war erupted. By national norms, the South got weird fast. By Southern norms, parts of it got weirder still. At least for innumerates like me, the chart makes much more apparent the trends silently lurking in the raw numbers.

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.

America in 1850

The Mexican Cession probably made the Civil War inevitable. It may have happened anyway, but the debate it opened over the previously settled future of the West and thus the nation overturned the old political order built on keeping slavery out of national politics as much as possible. Possibly the South could have divided Texas into four or five new slave states to maintain parity in the Senate, but eventually they would exhaust that option and end up in a situation similar to what the Wilmot Proviso imagined. By pressing hard to secure slavery not just a place in the national future, but an unprecedented place of dominance, the South helped to create a broader antislavery coalition in the North which went on to elect an unremarkable one-term congressman and Illinois railroad lawyer president.

The sixth census shows the fruits of that war. I thought about creating a separate category for the new territories this census, something like the Far West, but as I compiled the figures I realized just how deeply Northern their demographics looked: overwhelmingly white (The census did not trace Hispanic origin.) with tiny numbers of slaves not so different from what many Northern states had in recent censuses. Texas and the Oregon Country (in the persons of Oregon and Washington Territories) make their first appearance as well.

In 1850, the nation enslaved 13.82% of its people. Of those 3,204,313 slaves, a mere 0.01% lived in the North.

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

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

The North’s 0.01% share of the nation’s slaves amounted to 262 people, 236 of which lived in New Jersey where they constituted 0.05% of its population. The remaining 26 lived in the new Utah Territory, where they accounted for 0.23% of the population. The Armistice of 1850 organized Utah and New Mexico without reference to slavery at all. That usually gets reported as enacting popular sovereignty and they took from it authorization to enact slave codes. Legally that act made them slave territories but with so few people and so few slaves on top of the ambiguity in the Armistice makes their classification a matter of some interpretation. At any rate, New Jersey still held 90.08% of the North’s slave population. Most of the slaves who vanish from the census after 1840 benefit from the states electing to free superannuated slaves who fell through the cracks of their eighteenth century emancipation laws.

At this point looking at Northern standards seems almost futile, and of course the North all comes in well below the national norms for slavery. But by the section’s lights, anything above 0.03% enslaved counts as unusual. New Jersey and Utah both qualify, as one would expect when every other jurisdiction comes in with no slaves at all. Any slavery amounts to unusual slavery, by Northern standards, in 1850.

1850 South

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

The national average deviation leaves up to 29.67% enslaved as statistically normal. By that measure, only Arkansas (22.73%), Delaware (2.50%), the District of Columbia (7.13%), Kentucky (21.48%), Maryland (15.50%), Missouri (12.82%), Tennessee (23.88%), and Texas (27.36%) qualify. The rest of the section practiced slavery to an especially notable degree.

But just as by Northern standards any slavery violates the norm, by Southern standards a lack of slavery does the same. Anything below 19.35% enslaved puts a place out of pace with the section. That club includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Missouri. With the exception of Kentucky, that list amounts to the border states of 1860.

On the other end of the scale, by sectional standards anything more than 46.95% enslaved stands out from the pack. Louisiana (47.28%), Mississippi (51.09%), and reigning slavery champion South Carolina (57.59%) hold that distinction. Given the demographics, one would expect those states to lead the way in fire-eating. South Carolina and Mississippi do not disappoint, but Louisiana stands a bit apart. Its sugar plantations survived largely due to protective tariffs, and its leaders knew it. The state also housed the South’s great metropolis and leading port, New Orleans. In contrast especially to South Carolina, Louisiana favored expansionism. The Carolina aristocrats, accustomed to their position as a permanent minority, disliked expansion because it threatened to upset the apple cart. In New Orleans, they dreamed of a cotton and sugar empire the embraced the whole Caribbean basin. Slavery joined them together, but did not make them identical.