The Buford Expedition, Part Seven: Pierce Rains on the Parade

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

 

Jefferson Buford had his money and his men. He named places to gather and aimed to set out for Kansas in April, 1856. From the start, Buford planned a military expedition. In January, he informed the world that he would take no noncombants and outlined an organization which would have companies and officers. This all put him into a very awkward position come February, when Franklin Pierce issued his law and order proclamation, where he specifically called out

persons residing without the Territory, but near its borders, contemplate armed intervention in the affairs thereof; it also appearing that other persons, inhabitants of remote States, are collecting money, engaging men, and providing arms for the same purpose

Contemplating armed intervention in Kansas affairs? Collecting money? Engaging men? Providing arms? From remote states? This has as much Jefferson Buford as Ely Thayer written all over it, though given Pierce’s record he almost certainly intended only antislavery emigrant aid operations. Still, the president

call[ed] on the citizens, both of adjoining and of distant States, to abstain from unauthorized intermeddling in the local concerns of the Territory, admonishing them that its organic law is to be executed with impartial justice, that all individual acts of illegal interference will incur condign punishment, and that any endeavor to intervene by organized force will be firmly withstood.

Most probably, Pierce would still do nothing against Missourians. Buford’s party might warrant different treatment, particularly with how he had spread it all over the papers and talked openly about how they would go to fight. Should the proslavery president and the proslavery filibuster come into conflict, that might end awkwardly for everyone. Thus Buford sent out the word in March that his men would not go to Kansas armed.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

That settled, they got going. At Buford’s hometown, Eufaula, a hundred men departed on March 31. Buford himself led them out. They stopped at Columbus, Georgia, and collected almost as many again. Some opted to pay their own way and set off straight for Kansas via Nashville, but Buford’s party made it to Montgomery as planned, arriving on April 4.

There were now collected here about three hundred and fifty men, of whom one hundred were from South Carolina, fifty were Georgians, one was from Illinois, one from Boston, and the rest were Alabamians. The Alabama Journal of this date characterizes the emigrants collected in Montgomery as a superior class of young men, quiet, gentlemanly, temperate. Later, some members of the party seem not to have deserved this praise.

Montgomery rolled out the welcome mat for Buford and company, hosting a reception where his lieutenant Alpheus Baker gave “a stirring address” that sounds like a standard proslavery affair: ever since the Missouri Compromise, the South had suffered under “unjust” laws and abolitionist attack. The final battle of the sections would come in Kansas, where

Her chivalrous sons must come to the rescue, to uphold and maintain their constitutional rights and protect their institutions.

Missouri Calls for Help

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Before delving back into the maltreatment of William C. Clark, I wrote about the Kansas Pioneer Association of Jackson County, Missouri. They aimed to do what the Emigrant Aid Societies had done for more than a year: subsidize emigration of politically-reliable white men to Kansas. There they would vote for slavery, vs. the Emigrant Aid Societies’ freedom, and cement the institution’s grip on the nation’s most troubled territory. Missourians had heretofore considered such behavior cheating, but firm principle yielded to clear advantage as often to them as to us. Nor did they come alone to the prosalvery side of the Emigrant Aid Game, though their side did come to the business tardily. Walter Lynwood Fleming explains why in The Buford Expedition to Kansas (PDF). My copy is from Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF) on the grounds that I found it first.

Fleming puts proslavery delay down to how “it was doubtful if the anti-slavery party would ever be strong enough to control the elections” but Yankee Emigrant Aid operations got to work at the job.

In the movement of importing men the North had already two years the start, the South being confident that no exertion would be necessary in order to secure Kansas as a slave State. So there was very little pro-slavery emigration into this debatable land before late in 1856 except from the neighboring State of Missouri.

Fleming then recounts how the first territorial elections went in favor of the South. He neglects how the South ensured what, whether he means the delegate election of November, 1854, or the legislative elections of March, 1855. As a member of the Dunning School, Fleming leaned proslavery about as hard as one could at the turn of the twentieth century. That proslavery Missourians invaded Kansas in large numbers to control the territorial elections seems to simply not register as relevant to him. Come late 1855 “the outlook was gloomy for the pro-slavery cause.”

Thus

Pro-slavery emigrant aid societies were now organized in Missouri, and soon other similar societies were formed in the remaining Southern States. Missouri appealed to her sister States in the South to come to her assistance.

I haven’t found the original appeal online anywhere; my searching turns up Fleming’s citation and ought else. But he does quote from it. Citing the two years of southern reverses, which Missouri had born alone, the appeal held

The time has come when she can no longer stand up single-handed, the lone champion of the South, against the myrmidons of the North. It requires no foresight to perceive that if the ‘higher law’ men succeed in this crusade, it will be but the beginning of a war upon the institutions of the South, which will continue until slavery shall cease to exist in any of the States, or the Union is dissolved.

The Missourians had it mostly right on both counts. They depicted Kansas as coming to a crisis point, which would last at least through the elections of October, 1856. If the proslavery party could not control matters, they would lose the territory. Kansas required

bolt, determined action. Words will no longer do any good; we must have men in Kansas, and that by tens of thousands. A few will not answer. If we should need ten thousand men and lack one of that number, all will count nothing. Let all then who can come do so at once. Those who cannot come must give money to help others to come.

Failure in Kansas would lead, as always, to the loss of the whole West to freedom and the restriction of slavery to the southeast. Excitement reigned through the end of 1855, with the slave states

now thoroughly canvassed by agents of the pro-slavery emigrant aid societies.

Someone would take Missouri up on the offer. According to Fleming, “Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia” rushed to get in line. An Alabaman named Thomas J. Orme published an appeal of his own on November 18, 1855:

If the people of Alabama will raise $100,000, I will land in Kansas 500 settlers. I have over one hundred volunteers now.

The First Congress and the First Slavery Debate

Josiah Parker

Josiah Parker

The Atlantic slave trade usually comes up in American history as a footnote. The slaves came from Africa in miserable conditions. The trade fell into such disrepute that the Founding Fathers prohibited it in the nation’s infancy. The story ends there, though you may hear occasional references to either smugglers continuing the trade or the late antebellum movement to reopen it. As with just about everything, a sea of complications churns just beneath the surface. We neglect them as surplus detail in larger narratives. The action takes places largely away from the United States and before we conventionally begin the story of sectional strife, in an era where we imagine a national consensus against slavery. The story, while not entirely a litany of American sins, frequently demonstrates more national resolution to protect slavery than restrain it.

The Constitution provides that

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

On the face of it this allows Congress to ban the Atlantic slave trade, and any other international trade in people, beginning in 1808. Already we have a problem for a perfectly celebratory history of the United States, as the law does not require such action. The Congress could decline to act and so leave the trade open in perpetuity. It also must permit the importation of slaves until 1808. In that function, the slave trade clause serves as one of the most proslavery passages in the document. Here we have slavery not tolerated or helped indirectly, such as by the apportionment of the Senate or the 3/5 Clause, nor explicitly preserved where it exists and obligating free states to aid in the institution’s preservation as in the Fugitive Slave Clause. Here the Constitution essentially declares an absolute right to import slaves into the United States for a term of no less than twenty years. South Carolina insisted.

That didn’t mean, however, that states could not prohibit the trade. All of them had during the Revolution and most continued to do so. South Carolina opted to reopen its trade in 1803, to considerable national controversy. Before them, Georgia (until 1798) and North Carolina (1790-4) did the same to less outcry. This human cargo might have reached ten thousand per year and dramatically facilitated the spread of plantation agriculture in Georgia and upcountry South Carolina, and reached further into the emerging Cotton Kingdom. Many enslaved people first taken in Charleston ended up in New Orleans.

This all still tells only part of the story. States could, if they so wished, import slaves for a minimum of twenty years. But the federal government had the explicit power to tax those imports at up to ten dollars a person. On Marcy 13, 1789, thirteen days after George Washington took his oath of office, a another Virginian war veteran, Josiah Parker, started the first argument over slavery in the new Congress. Parker presented his plan in an amendment to a tariff. It went simply enough: if Congress had the power to tax slave imports, it ought to do so to the maximum amount allowed. He explained, according to the Annals of Congress:

He was sorry that the constitution prevented Congress from prohibiting the importation altogether; he thought it a defect in that instrument that it allowed of such a practice; it was contrary to the Revolution principles, and ought not to be permitted; but as he could not do all the good he desired, he was willing to do what lay in his power. He hoped such a duty as he moved for would prevent, in some degree, this irrational and inhuman traffic

Parker gathered opposition from both sections. Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, one of the principals behind the Connecticut Compromise that gave us the familiar bicameral congress, declared his support in principle but

could not reconcile himself to the insertion of human beings as an article of duty, among goods, wares, and merchandise.

Others followed Sherman, either for his reasons or otherwise convinced that Parker proposed making a tariff bill into a slavery bill and so ought to instead introduce the matter on its own. James Jackson of Georgia, went further. Of course a Virginian wanted to curb the slave trade. As “an old settled State,” they had slaves to spare. Indeed, the Old Dominion proved

so careless of recruiting her numbers by this means; the natural increase of her imported blacks was sufficient for their purpose

James Jackson

James Jackson

But Georgia, established in the eighteenth century and still very much a frontier, lacked such advantages. Thus, Jackson

thought the gentleman ought to let their neighbors get supplied, before they imposed such a burthen upon the importation.

Jackson also went positively late antebellum in arguing that enslaving Africans improved their condition and free blacks, lazy by nature, because not solid members of the community so much as “common pickpockets, petty larceny villains”. If emancipation really worked so well, why hadn’t Parker’s Virginia tried it? After having thoroughly done so, Jackson insisted

He would say nothing of the partiality of such a tax; it was admitted by the avowed friends of the measure; Georgia, in particular, would be oppressed. On this account, it would be the most odious tax Congress could impose.

Most odious or not, inserting Parker’s tax into the general tariff bill proved a deal breaker. He withdrew the amendment and, as requested, put forward a separate bill. Four months later, the House opted to postpone consideration of it until the next session. Parker’s idea would come back in the future, but never became law.

Thomas Fleming’s First Dead End: Compensated Emancipation

Thomas Fleming, a historian and novelist, has produced a remarkable essay. Therein, he presents two ways to rid the nation of slavery without a war: compensated emancipation and diffusion of slaveholding. We can’t rerun history and do things differently to know that for sure, but Fleming points to real historical circumstances where both solutions put an end to slavery. The essay covers several topics that each deserve their own post for full consideration, as they reference common pro-Confederate tropes and for reasons of length and clarity. Kansas coverage will resume in a few days.

LincolnAccording to Fleming:

The first solution came from Abraham Lincoln. It was the solution that the British used to free a million slaves in the West Indies in the 1830s – compensated emancipation. Not once but twice Lincoln offered the South millions of dollars if they would agree to gradually free their slaves over the next 40 or 50 years.

 

Why not just buy all the slaves? It worked for the British. Surely it could work for the United States. On the face of it, this seems like a perfectly reasonable argument. When examined in more detail, it proves far less plausible. The millions of slaves living in the United states amounted to not millions of dollars invested in human property, but billions:

In 1805 there were just over one million slaves worth about $300 million; fifty-five years later there were four million slaves worth close to $3 billion.

The British had eight hundred thousand slaves to free and did so, ultimately, at the cost of twenty million pounds sterling. The United states had nearly four million who, together, beat the combined value of all the nation’s railroads and factories. Only the land itself, all the American portion of the continent, might have held greater cash value. The money to pay for the nation’s slaves at anything like fair market value would have taken appropriations on par with the cost of waging the war itself, something that no Congress confronted with anything less than an insurrection on the scale of the Civil War would have contemplated. Furthermore, the cooperation of the South would be essential to any compensation scheme. The Southern caucus would have to both allow its loyalists in the North to defect on the issue and then come over themselves, at least in significant numbers, to pass any bill that would buy up the nation’s slaves. This would almost surely mean forcing enslavers to sell their human property at a loss, as well as foreclosing the major avenue for economic and social advancement for the section’s poorer whites.

The white South proved unwilling to do any such thing both in the 1860s and every other time the subject came under serious consideration, whether the nation could raise the cash or not. When Ohio proposed compensation and colonization in 1824 with the eventual concurrence of eight other states, including Delaware in a rare departure from slaveholder solidarity, six of the slave states rejected the proposal emphatically. South Carolina’s legislature declared

the people of this state will adhere to a system, descended to them from their ancestors, and now inseparably connected with their social and political existence.

Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama concurred, so this amounts to more than an episode of South Carolina extremism. States so committed would hardly dispatch senators or elect representatives who would happily comply with any emancipation scheme, even the most gradual and mild. Nor could one expect their constituents to cooperate happily with it if they did. That commitment proved no less weaker in 1862. In Delaware’s case, it had actually deepened. Only the tremendous strains put on marginal slavery regimes by the war itself induced Missouri and Maryland to accept emancipation, and without compensation, prior to the Thirteenth Amendment.

The British managed compensated emancipation, but the United States did not manage a slavery regime under the same circumstances as the British Empire did. People of both nations enjoyed reaping the profits of slavery, but Britain kept slavery at arm’s length. One could not legally hold slaves within the United Kingdom, only in its colonies. A slave who set foot in Britain became that moment free, a fact long understood by the English courts. Those colonies, as Americans ought to know very well, did not enjoy full, equal rights, representation, or sovereignty with the mother country. Parliament had the full power to legislate on a colony’s behalf, regardless of the objections of any local assembly that might exist. Whites in Jamaica or Barbados might oppose emancipation, even with compensation, but their presence didn’t come with built-in senators and representatives to fight on their behalf. A proslavery lobby did exist, and delayed the progress of freedom significantly, but it had to operate in a free Britain and compete against industrial interests significantly more developed than those in the United States.

Politically, emancipation thus came more easily to Britain. It did so socially and intellectually as well. Proslavery writing stresses the intimacy of the American way of bondage. They called slavery a domestic institution and meant it not just in a general sense that they practiced it locally, but also much more intimately. Enslaved women received cruel tutelage on that point. The enslaved lived with the enslaver. Well-off southern whites grew up with enslaved companions. The enslaved cooked their meals. They slept in the enslavers’ rooms to remain available to the their every whim, no matter the hour and without delay. An enslaver might harbor fears for the institution’s future, but it permeated every moment of his or her life. By contrast, most British enslavers came to the colonies to establish a slave labor camp and get rich enough to hand management over permanently to an overseer. He would then go home, never intending to remain in perpetuity among the enslaved.

Parliamentary debates over emancipation conspicuously lack the kind of arguments about black inferiority which pervaded American discussion of slavery. Though Britain certainly had its share of white supremacists, their ideas did not lay the bedrock upon which one could launch a defense of slavery like proslavery writers did to a unique extent in the United States. Living among the enslaved, seeing them tortured, torturing them yourself, and yet also pretending that you governed them in a kind and fatherly manner required both a level of ideological commitment and personal delusion probably only sustainable to a large scale in the exceptional milieu of eighteenth and nineteenth century America.

This leaves us at the end of a road not taken. For compensated emancipation to have worked in the United States would have required a very different United States. To arrive at such a polity would have required transformations that one must expect the white South to fight bitterly, just as it fought bitterly against the different transformations that finally did end American slavery. Even should those cultural changes have taken place, the nation would then have confronted the still formidable practical obstacles to emancipation.

I departed from Fleming’s text to consider a common claim in neo-Confederate circles, but fairness demands that I also acknowledge he knows full well that the South refused compensation. The usual suspects don’t even get that far, instead preferring the notion that Lincoln and the Republicans really didn’t care about slavery. The few who do just barely better will insist that the antislavery movement instead refused to even consider compensation. That the South rejected it doesn’t enter into things, as that would admit that the South understood slavery as its paramount concern and waged a war on its behalf. Once one admits that, one must either don the white hood proudly or find a different cause.

King, Stone Mountain, and the Pablum Past

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

If you go down to Georgia you can see the kind of landmark that traditionally gets Americans excited. We have the biggest bas-relief in the world carved into the north face of Stone Mountain. I haven’t seen it myself, but I have seen some of the artist’s other work. From the park viewing platform, Mt. Rushmore makes an impression. I imagine that the carving on Stone Mountain does as well, what with Stonewall Jackson, Robert Lee, and Jefferson Davis all on horseback with hats over their hearts. Both carvings depict small pantheons, great men worthy of having their memory literally etched in stone. A reasonable person looking at both would understand that the monuments communicate just that: the creators found them so important that they went people for centuries hence to know and admire them. To look upon their works, take them as your example, and live according to their values, would ennoble and elevate you and your society. To forget them would lesson us immeasurably. One does not, after all, carve people one considers unimportant or unpleasant into the side of a mountain.

Stone Mountain has not avoided the criticism that other such monuments have faced in the months since the Charleston shooting. Nor should it, given both its prominence and the fact that the second Ku Klux Klan first met there. Its massive size, however, renders some of the reasonable remedies impractical. We cannot relocate the carving to a museum. Nor does it seem likely that we shall manage some kind of contextualizing display of similar prominence. Sandblasting it away sounds reasonable, but unlikely to happen. What could the state of Georgia do, blast out the other side of the mountain and carve a giant bust of Frederick Douglass? Not exactly. Douglass had very little to do with Georgia, just like the three Confederates, but the state does have a worthy equivalent in Martin Luther King, Jr. The state thus proposes

On the summit of Stone Mountain, yards away from where Ku Klux Klansmen once burned giant crosses, just above and beyond the behemoth carving of three Confederate heroes, state authorities have agreed to erect a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Specifically, an elevated tower — featuring a replica of the Liberty Bell — would celebrate the single line in the civil rights martyr’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech that makes reference to the 825-foot-tall hunk of granite: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”

When I first heard this, I thought it a step in the right direction. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, of license plate fame, came out with an unintentional endorsement:

This decision by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association is wholly inappropriate in that it is an intentional act of disrespect toward the stated purpose of the Stone Mountain memorial from its inception as well as a possible violation of the law which established the Stone Mountain Memorial Association and charged it with promoting the mountain as a Confederate memorial.

An intentional act of disrespect towards celebration of the Confederacy sounds pretty good to me. The SCV continues:

The erection of monuments to anyone other than Confederate heroes in Stone Mountain Park is in contradistinction to the purpose for which the park exists and would make it a memorial to something different.  The park was never intended to be a memorial to multiple causes but solely to the Confederacy.  Therefore, monuments to either Michael King or soldiers of any color who fought against the Confederacy would be a violation of the purpose for which the park was created and exists. The opinions of the park’s current neighbors and opponents are of no bearing in the discussion.

This requires a small bit of unpacking. I understand that the environs of the park have undergone a demographic shift since the carving. Maybe once upon a time they could boast of the kind of whiteness you would expect of the local Klavern. Given regular Klan rallies took place on the mountain into the 1950s, that could make for less a metaphor than literal truth. Now the neighborhoods that Jackson, Lee, and Davis oversee have a black majority. If that makes pilgrimages to the site by the SCV a bit uncomfortable, they could console themselves with the fact that the mountain preserved in its own way a vision of white control that they appear to value greatly. Black opinions don’t count.

The reference to Michael King comes from an old smear. The story goes that King answered to Michael from birth. Somewhere along the way he decided that he needed a more impressive name and cynically chose Martin Luther. He never changed his name legally, just one way in which everyone “knew” him for a fraud. King’s father, Martin Luther King, Sr., held that both he and his son got Michael put on their birth certificates out of confusion. They always went by Martin. If this sounds a bit wild to us, we should keep in mind that there remains no obligation to use one’s legal name in all things so long as one doesn’t intend fraud by it. Consistent use of Martin hardly sounds like the act of a mountebank. Next the SCV will tell us that King had an obsession with white prostitutes and worked as a trained operative for the Communist Party to incite servile insurrection.

The SCV goes on:

Furthermore, the erection of a monument to anything other than the Confederate Cause being placed on top of Stone Mountain because of the objections of opponents of Georgia’s Confederate heritage would be akin to the state flying a Confederate battle flag atop the King Center in Atlanta against the wishes of King supporters.  Both would be altogether inappropriate and disrespectful acts, repugnant to Christian people.

No one would want to put an unwelcome flag atop the King Center, as everyone would understand it as an expression of dominance over the memory of King by those who oppose all he stood for. Likewise, those who want to put a King monument atop Stone Mountain want to repudiate its Confederate legacies and replace them with something better. If the SCV sees these positions as equivalent, then it has told us more than it probably intended about itself.

The local NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference weighed in on the King monument as well. Doubtless some in the SCV will take their opposition as proof that no racial animus plays into the SCV’s own. They would only need to neglect the reason for the opposition and the SCV has told us that black opinions don’t matter to it, so the maneuver must come naturally. Just as we would not follow Jefferson Davis’ example, so we do not need to take our cues from the SCV. Therefore, I present the reasons:

“The proposal to include Dr. King [on Stone Mountain] is simply to confuse black folk about the issues,” said John Evans, president of the DeKalb County branch of the NAACP. “It’s an attempt to gain support from blacks to keep these racist and demeaning symbols.

And:

“Why are governments spending tax dollars to preserve monuments of hate?” asked [SCLC president Charles] Steele. “And more so, why put any reference of Dr. King, one of Georgia’s most favorite sons, anywhere near these three traitors?”

They have a very strong point, which has moved me from considering the King monument at least promising to a poor idea indeed. Having King celebrated in close company with the Confederate pantheon would prove very good for their resumes, but not so much for King’s. To put King in their company implies that they deserve it and that King would welcome them. The SCV perceives the same dynamic, but the other way around. To them, associating King with the Confederates would sully the brave white supremacists in gray and elevate him.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I see no way out of that dilemma. Putting the two symbols together in the same context asserts a sympathetic connection between them. We should admire both similarly. It looks and feels fair on first examination, but doesn’t actually work that way. Fairness toward symbols necessitates fairness toward what they represent, which one cannot adopt without accepting the cruel, violent, rapacious works of white supremacy done under their banner or reduction of one or both symbols to utter meaninglessness. We have enough secular saints that we refuse to learn from even as we pretend to celebrate them. We have already done too much to wipe away King’s cause and the resistance to it in favor of a pablum past.

Deprived of its controversies, that “history” has nothing to teach us. It asks us to confront nothing and question ourselves not at all. If we lived in a perfectly just society, and always had, then that might not make for much of a problem. But no civilization has managed that yet. Without such an unparalleled achievement, clinging to the pablum past makes us not neutral but rather partisans for both past evils and their present day continuations. We should remember Martin Luther King, Jr., faults and all, but we should also remember him as a man white Americans feared and hated just as much as they celebrated him. White Americans jailed him and his supporters. They beat and killed civil rights activists. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to drive King to suicide. These facts do not go away because we pretend otherwise.

A Free State Fourth, Part Six

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Charles Robinson stood up before the Lawrence Fourth of July gathering and denounced the proslavery party as a band of slavers not content with forcing black slavery upon the country. They wanted to chain up whites as well. To convince his audience that he had not gone off the deep end, Robinson produced lines from proslavery papers where the authors proudly strutted about, declaring their mastery. Ships and houses might have masters, but men? Those with black skin had masters. To enforce their mastery, the proslavery men would make any utterance of antislavery beliefs a crime and outlaw every perpetrator. They said themselves that they would and had set up committees to watch for such transgressors and drive them from Kansas, or just kill them.

Robinson’s examples came from Kansas and Missouri, fittingly enough, but he made sure to add in others to connect the abuses the free staters had endured and expected to endure thereafter with slavery itself rather than simply the circumstances of one territory on the frontier. Thus he also delved into newspapers and sermons from farther abroad:

A Charleston paper from 1835 declared

‘the gallows and the stake’ awaited the abolitionist who should dare to appear in person among us.

The Augusta, Georgia Chronicle had it

The cry of the whole South should be death, instant death to the abolitionist, whenever he is caught.

The Columbia, South Carolina Telescope added

Let us declare through public journals of our country that the question of slavery is not and shall not be open to discussion; that the system is too deep-rooted among us, and must remain forever; that the very moment any private individual attempts to lecture us upon its evils and morality, and the necessity of putting means in operation to secure us from them, in the same moment his tongue shall be cut out and cast upon the dunghill.

A Parson Brownlow finished the tirade:

The true-hearted citizens of East Tennessee and property-holders ought to enter into leagues, and whip, black, and ride on a rail, irrespective of age, calling, family, association, every preacher, citizen, or traveller, who dares to utter one word in opposition to slavery, or who is found in possession of an abolitionist document. These are our sentiments, and we are willing and ready to help others to carry them out.

Robinson began in telling his audience that he would not preach abolition to them. He spoke concerning the plight of Kansas alone and would not ask them to oppose slavery elsewhere. With these lines he turned around and did so anyway. Though Robinson did not ask them to draw the inference, he clearly indicted slavery at large. Their own papers and showed that slavery required the end of white republicanism. It demanded extinguishing free speech and free lives along with the freedom and lives of the slaves. This held not just for slavery in Kansas or Missouri, but slavery everywhere it reached.

If Robinson’s audience would not follow the thinking to its natural end, then at least he couched it in their personal interests in Kansas. That could keep their minds on the destruction of white republicanism that brought them around to begin with, rather than put them off. If they did follow Robinson’s argument all the way, he might make a new abolitionist or two.

Stringfellow’s Defense of Slavery, Part Seven

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

“Negro-Slavery, No Evil.” Full text. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

The Bible on Slavery, Hebrew and Christian Scriptures

Defense of Slavery, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, lieutenant of David Rice Atchison and spokesman for the Platte County Self-Defense Association defended slavery on religious grounds. He went to the 1850 census to find proof that it benefited the slaves, finding there that free blacks suffered all manner of difficulty their enslaved counterparts did not. Then he proceeded to note that slavery brought benefits to the white race in the form of more churches per person. They built those churches for less and to accommodate more than did the holier than thou New England abolitionists, a clear win for slave labor. Furthermore, the slaveholding states built solid, orthodox churches not given to heretical doctrines like Adventism, Mormonism, Unitarianism, or Universalism. One might add Abolitionism to the list, as Stringfellow surely intended his readers to do.

The benefits to whites did not end at the church door:

We find in the census the first great test of the superior condition of our own over other countries, is in the larger proportion of our dwellings, to our families. It needs no argument to show that country the happiest which has most homes for its people. Not only is their physical condition, their mere comfort promoted, but there is nothing which more certainly conduces to health and good morals. The watchful care of the home circle, the cheerful happy fireside, preserve not alone the body from disease, but the mind, the heart from corruption and vice. We turn then to the census, and compare the homes and families of New England with the homes and families of these old slave States.

Me., N. H., Vt., Mass., R. I., Conn., 518,532 Families. 447, 789 Dwellings. Md., Va., N. Ca., S. Ca., Georgia, 506,868 Families. 496,369 Dwellings.

With equal population, New England has 11,564 more families, these Southern States 48,580 more dwellings! New England has 70,743 families without a home! In New England, the land whose “homes” the abolitionists delight to praise, one in every seven of the families is homeless! while in these Southern States but one family of fifty-two is without a home. Taking the average of the number composing a family, and New England has 373,700 of its population thrown upon the world, who have no place for a home!

Not only can those Yankees not church themselves properly, they can’t even manage regular houses. If they do so well without slavery, then why do so many of them lack a roof over their heads? Even with all those big cities, New England comes up short to the plain folk of the south with their humble cabins and opulent plantation houses.

One might argue back that Stringfellow neglects population growth. The North did grow faster than the South and one can’t expect new houses to just pop up on the occasion of every birth. Stringfellow anticipated that and had an answer: The North did not, in fact, grow faster than the South.

Anybody looking at the population aggregates in the census knows otherwise, but Stringfellow zeroes in on natural increase. His measure of the health of society depends on the growth rate of people adding to the population by the hallowed tradition of childbirth. Immigration does not count, as immigrants come from different environments. Their condition has to do with where they came from as well as their current residence. Taking the immigrants out of the equation, Stringfellow finds

With equal population, with 11,564 more families, New England has 16,535 less annual births: the natural increase by birth being 27 per cent. greater in the Southern States than in New England! Estimating the number of families, the proper mode of estimating natural increase, and these Southern States increase by birth more than 29 per cent faster than New England. Here again we find the laws of nature vanquished; the rule reversed: the North, instead of supplying population to the South, is far behind in natural increase.

Those figures include South Carolina and Georgia in the South, two states that many nineteenth century Americans saw as downright toxic, malarial swamps entirely unfit for the white race to inhabit and toil within. Only black people could work safely in such disease-haunted lands.

Samuel R. Walker on Southern Constitutionalism

James Dunwoody Brownson DeBow

James Dunwoody Brownson DeBow

This post draws from Samuel R. Walker’s filibustering advocacy in DeBow’s Review (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), but the passage says at least as much about constitutional thought in the late antebellum South as about filibustering. The simple, popular narrative has Southerners united by an intense localism and a set of shared propositions about the nature of the Union. These include the voluntary nature of the Union, the resting of ultimate sovereignty in state legislatures and conventions, the supremacy of local state law over federal enactments, and a constellation of other ideas variously summed up as nullification, states rights, and ultimately secession. 

Those ideas really did exist in the minds of period Southerners, but they did not live there alone. Nor did they, as one sometimes hears, equally dominate the minds of Northerners. Conflicts over the nature of the state and freedom dominate American history, not happy consensus. That remains true even if one restricts consideration of what Americans thought to what white male Americans thought, as virtually everyone then did. Some Southerners and some Northerners believed those things. Others believed other things.

To whatever degree the antebellum South’s leaders believed the ideology ascribed to them, they spent most of the period acting in almost completely the opposite way. Unless it came to preserving slavery in the face of national movements against it, Southerners searched in vain for a situation where they could happily prefer to let states do as they would. This only makes sense, as the South consistently dominated the federal government and so usually had a de facto veto power on federal policy. Any fair reading of the decade before the Civil War testifies to that. If anything, Southern power in Washington reached a remarkable apex in the 1850s. Had secession not intervened, the Southern-dominated Supreme Court probably would have handed down a second Dred Scott-style ruling which would have eliminated the power of Northern states to forbid slavery within their bounds within a few years.

They knew all of that. The doctrinaire states rights ideology probably did not command a majority of the Southern ruling class until after the war. Even during the Secession Winter, the decisions of many states came contingently and as near things indeed. The Upper South stayed out of the rebellion until Sumter, but even South Carolina’s decision came in part thanks to a railroad opening and running its maiden voyage full of Savannah businessmen into Charleston at just the right time. Those businessmen assured the South’s most doctrinaire radicals that if they bolted the Union, Georgia would surely follow. Complaints about the timidity of moderates enervating the counter-revolution fill the writings of fire-eaters and their more sober but still radical counterparts within the Southern mainstream.

Walker gives us something quite like that:

It was a prevailing feeling when our Colonies had, by their united efforts, achieved their independence, that they should lose their recollection of their former separate positions as individual States in the greatness of the result achieved by their Union. This idea was a natural one: we and our fathers have been educated in it, and we seem to view our federal as a centralized government, rather than a federation of independent States, linked together by a league, offensive and defensive, with a common purpose of free government; a common interest in commercial prosperity; a common protection in war, and advancement in peace. A more enlightened view is beginning to prevail and extend among the people, as its necessity increases, and the philosophy of our system is properly considered.

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, Secretary of State, Senator, and the generation's leading secession and slavery booster.

John C. Calhoun

Here we have the complete opposite of the popular narrative. Walker testifies to a nationalist mindset often overlooked in quick glances at the antebellum era. Reading between the lines just a little, he even tells us that nationalist thought generally prevailed and that ideas about states rights, nullification, and all the rest developed as a reaction against the North’s great population growth and increasingly vocal antislavery movement. Its necessity, to safeguard slavery, had increased in the minds of the slaveholding white South. But even in 1854, the ideology had not prevailed. Louisiana, fan of filibustering and home of DeBow’s Review, in particular had a nationalist bent despite its location in otherwise more radical Lower South.

Old Calhoun might have invented a Southern consensus and rooted it back in the foggy mists of the revolution as the official ideology of everyone, but each time he called on the South to join it he found no shortage of uninterested Southerners. Sometimes, as when it came to the Pacific railroad and the Missouri Compromise, he declined to even join himself.

Kansas-Nebraska: The Fight in the House

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton (D-MO)

Stephen Douglas, with Franklin Pierce’s help, committed the Democracy to passing his KansasNebraska Act despite the House’s delaying tactics. They put the party machinery to work, twisting arms and greasing wheels with patronage. By May 8, Douglas thought he had a majority and opted to dig Kansas-Nebraska out of its legislative grave by bringing up and tabling all fifty bills ahead of it. That dragged on for fifteen days. The speeches meant probably even less in the House than they did in the Senate as the larger body inherently reduces the influence of each ordinary member, but each speech consumed time and every hour spent debating meant one less hour of the session spent voting on the bill. But they spoke anyway. Politicians must register their approval or disapproval and many men considered vital principles at stake.

Thomas Hart Benton, still convinced the agitation on slavery brought no good to either section, proceeded to burn all the bridges he might have taken to regain his Senate seat:

What is the excuse for all this turmoil and mischief? We are told it is to keep the question of slavery out of Congress! Great God! It was out of Congress completely, entirely, and forever out of Congress, unless Congress dragged it in by breaking down the sacred laws which settled it! The question was settled and done with. There was not an inch square in the Union on which it could be raised without a breach of compromise.

Congressional non-interference, to which Douglas and others insisted they aspired, Congress had achieved in 1850. Between the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise, the territorial acts for Oregon, Utah, and New Mexico, and California’s statehood, Congress completely settled the matter. Only by breaking past compacts could Congress interfere in slavery. So why did it need to pass this new law touching on slavery, if Congress wanted only to keep its hands off slavery?

Benton had the facts with him and for four hours held forth against the signature issue of his home state, knowing very well that the Missouri legislature would never send him back to the Senate after all of this. But Benton put a bullet into Andrew Jackson back in the day. He could take a frustrated ambition in the twilight of his life. Old Bullion got a bit more than that when his district declined to reelect him and then Missouri at large rejected him for governor in 1856.

Alexander Stephens

Alexander Stephens (Former Whig, now Constitutional Unionist-GA)

Douglas himself took the floor on occasion. Georgia’s, and the Georgia Platform’s, Alexander Stephens served as the parliamentary manager and chief debater on his side. Gaunt and bloodless, Georgia planter cut a strange figure. He lacked the eloquence and wit that other politicians of his age reveled in. He replaced it with direct, cold, dry recitations of facts and logical dissections, like Mr. Spock by way of the nineteenth century. The cold exterior hid a bitter partisan who, in his own words, applied whip and spur to force Kansas-Nebraska through.

Stephens informed the House that the South never accepted the Missouri Compromise. Back in 1820 the sections did not have a meeting of the minds; the North plainly defeated the South and forced its will upon the section. When the North would not take that victory for enough in 1850 and extend the 36°30′ line to the Pacific, the South considered the treaty broken and itself free to reopen the issue. Each place should choose for itself, as 1820 and 1850 proved how poorly Congress chose. Furthermore, Stephens pressed, the North, with its immigrant-fattened population twice that of the South, would surely have every advantage in populating new territories. Did Northern men think their constituents too lazy to win such a slanted fight? The South essentially conceded fighting at a great disadvantage and the North would not even accept the contest then. What would it take?

Despite all the screws to which Pierce, Davis, Cushing, and Douglas put to the Northern Democracy, everyone knew they contended over a small number of votes. The tension running so high and a win at least conceivable for both sides, restraint went out the window. A group trying to run a filibuster openly taunted various Southerners. They returned the favor. At one point an angry crowd surrounded the ringleader, Ohio’s Lewis D. Campbell, weapons drawn. Others restrained a Virginia member from playing some chin music on him. The Speaker, Kentucky’s Linn Boyd, intervened just in time to order the arrest of the Virginian by the sergeant-at-arms and adjourn before someone could spill blood.

The States Speak

Salmon P. Chase

Salmon P. Chase (FS-OH)

Most sectional disputes prior to Kansas-Nebraska involved something like a united South forcing its will on a divided North. The South had its own internal divisions that we should not ignore, but the common interest in preserving slavery usually trumped the North’s indifference to the subject. The South did not always win all that it wanted, and never pleased its radicals, but one can reasonably argue that Southern, proslavery interests prevailed more often than not. That only stands to reason. A committed minority that cares far more about its signature issue than its opposition often prevails in a democratic system. The rickety constitutional structure of the American republic, packed to the gills with anti-democratic measures proved an able accomplice. Had matters involved just what the House of Representatives preferred, the Wilmot Proviso would have sailed into law. The Senate changed all of that.

One might expect, given the reversal of the usual pattern, that the House’s plan to bury the Kansas-Nebraska act would have succeeded. The more united section would prevail over the less united. Probably the men in the House who voted to bury the bill expected something like that. With Nebraska wrapped up in the Missouri Compromise repeal from the get-go, future Congresses would have a far harder time bringing it back than Stephen Douglas had in pushing the bill through the Senate. The South would accept the loss and move on. Maybe Union-minded Southerners would even come around and vote to defeat the bill as one provocation too far and to show themselves Union men first and Southern men second.

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas (D-IL)

Politicians with such hopes had good reason to hold them. In early 1854, as the Senate debated, ten free states had their legislatures in session. Only Douglas’ own Illinois could rouse itself to pass a resolution in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska act, and that with considerable pressure from his supporters. Only fifty of the legislature’s hundred members voted on the issue. Rhode Island condemned it unanimously. Maine, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin damned the bill by large margins. The New York legislature instructed its delegation directly to vote against Kansas-Nebraska. In the other five, Democratic majorities made their influence felt through inaction. Pennsylvania and New Jersey contemplated the issue, but refused to take a vote. Salmon Chase’s own Ohio kept the subject tabled, fearing reaction either way. The California Democracy, in firm control of the state, likewise opted for silence.

Lewis Cass

Lewis Cass (D-MI)

Other states did not have their legislatures in session, but voice their objections by other means. Connecticut, the conservative home of manufacturers with strong Southern business ties, saw its state conventions for both parties vote anti-Nebraska resolutions through. In Pierce’s own New Hampshire, which held the first election after the bill came before the Senate, the Democracy’s majority in the governor’s race dropped by two-thirds and the party lost its House majority of 89. Pierce insisted that Nebraska had nothing to do with the result, which would have surprised the voters. The Pennsylvania Democratic convention let Douglas down too, resisting pressure to toe the administration line. In Detroit, home of Mr. Popular Sovereignty Lewis Cass, elected an anti-Nebraska Whig mayor by the kind of margin that the Democracy customarily enjoyed. The town’s Democratic paper, the Times, insisted that Michigan stood against Nebraska and if the Little Giant’s bill passed, there would be hell to pay.

To answer all of that, and more, the South responded tepidly. Georgia and Mississippi endorsed the bill. The Tennessee Senate came just short, endorsing its principles but not Kansas-Nebraska itself. Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, and Texas opted for the same silence that Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California chose.