In this post we’ll discuss Professor Wilson’s second essay. He starts by reminding us of his attempt in the first essay to distract us from the primary strength of the Republican Party in 1860. He says, “the antislavery sentiment of some Northerners was never in itself sufficient to support the election of a Republican president, much less a war of invasion and conquest of the Southern people by the federal government. Other and more powerful interests lay behind the rise of the Republican party. The most important of these interests were capitalists who wished to use the federal government in numerous ways to enhance their wealth (which they presented as necessary to the prosperity and progress of the whole country).” As discussed in Part One, it was antislavery [not abolitionist, but antislavery] feeling that was the most powerful driver of the Republican Party. Yes, it’s true that antislavery alone was not enough to win the presidency; however, antislavery was the largest component by far. Professor Wilson wants us to forget that. And his still wants us to think Lincoln and the Republicans started the war, in the face of the clear truth of history that Jefferson Davis started the war. Were there “capitalists who wished to use the federal government … to enhance their wealth?” When have there not been? It doesn’t make that the driving force behind the Republican Party.
Professor Wilson tells us, “The most fundamental American political division had been revealed in the conflict of Jefferson and Hamilton in the first days of the U.S. government. Jeffersonians, largely though not entirely Southern, believed that the ‘consent of the governed’ found its bottom-line in the will of the people of each State, that the federal government was one of specific and limited authority explicit in the Constitution, and in general that government governed best when it governed least and, unlike the monarchies of the Old World, left the people to peacefully enjoy the fruits of their labour [sic]. From the beginning Hamiltonians, largely affluent Northerners, had seen the federal government as a tool, the powers and activities of which were to be stretched and expanded at every opportunity, and the Constitution as a spring-board of power that was to be reinterpreted at will.”
The most fundamental American political division, in fact, first made itself known in the Continental Congress, in the discussions about Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence. He included a clause that attacked the institution of slavery in his draft, which John Adams described as a “vehement philippic against Negro slavery” [John Adams to Thomas Pickering, 6 Aug 1822]. This clause was removed at the insistence of proslavery delegates from South Carolina and Georgia. This division extended into the Constitutional Convention. James Madison noted, “the States were divided into different interests not by their differences of size, but by other circumstances; the most material of which resulted partly from climate, but principally from the effects of their having or not having slaves. These two causes concurred in forming the great division of interests in the U. States. It did not lie between the large & small States: It lay between the Northern & Southern. And if any defensive power were necessary, it ought to be mutually given to these two interests.” [James Madison, Speech in the Federal Convention, 30 Jun 1787] A couple weeks later he said, “It seemed now to be pretty well understood that the real difference of interests lay, not between the large & small but between the N. & Southn. States. The institution of slavery & its consequences formed the line of discrimination.” [James Madison, Speech in the Federal Convention, 14 Jul 1787] There are two great compromises of American history after the Constitution was ratified. One was the Compromise of 1820 and the other was the Compromise of 1850. The central question of both those compromises revolved around slavery and its expansion. There was one issue that was guaranteed to cause argument after argument in the Congress. That was slavery. For Professor Wilson to suggest any other issue as the fundamental American political division is simply to go against the truth.
Professor Wilson claims, “Fundamental to these conflicts was a basic regional division in the American economy. The South produced the immense majority of foreign exports–tobacco, cotton, rice, sugar–without which there could have been no foreign trade. Part of the Northern economy was mercantile–involved with the carrying trade in Southern products. But after the War of 1812 the Northern economy was increasingly industrialised [sic] as an outlet for surplus capital and population. That economy could produce nothing that was not produced by the more advanced British industry. Northern industrialists thought they needed tariffs (taxes) on imports so that the price of British goods would be raised and Northern goods could be sold at great profit for just a little less than the taxed imports.” Professor Wilson’s assertion that without southern exports there could have been no foreign trade is false. There were northern exports as well, and in addition in times of large trade deficits the balance of payments was made up with foreign investment in the United States. “Americans’ tastes for imported merchandise outran their ability to pay for these imports by exporting American products in most of the years between 1790 and 1860. The exceptions occurred primarily during periods of domestic economic depression when falling American in comes reduced import demand sharply while commodity exports remained relatively stable. … How were these trade deficits financed? Special circumstances were important in some periods. … Another such special factor became important during the 1850s. Exports of California gold in that decade by themselves covered over three fourths of the merchandise trade deficit. In a majority of the years from 1790 to 1860 earnings from shipping and from exports of gold and silver were not sufficient to offset the American payments deficits with respect to the rest of the world. … Between 1790 and 1860 net foreign capital invested in the United States grew from about $70 million to over $380 million.” [Sidney Ratner, James H. Soltow, and Richard Sylla, The Evolution of the American Economy: Growth, Welfare, and Decision Making, pp. 216-218] Professor Wilson’s claim that, “Northern industrialists thought they needed tariffs (taxes) on imports so that the price of British goods would be raised and Northern goods could be sold at great profit for just a little less than the taxed imports” is equally false. As Professor Wilson states, European industry was more mature than U.S. industry. The U.S. implemented protective tariffs due to the infant industry argument. “An infant industry, the argument contends, needs protection if it is to exist and develop in a world where industries in other countries have already perfected modern techniques of manufacturing, management, raw material supply, and so on. Without protection, competition from the more mature industries of other countries such as Great Britain would stifle and perhaps destroy the native infant industry.” [Ibid., p. 198] It’s true that in actual operation, the tariffs also served to increase profits in the protected industries, and it’s also true that modern economic scholarship casts doubt on the efficacy of the infant industry theory; however, it was still the motivation behind the protective tariff at the time. Professor Wilson doesn’t seem to mind that Louisiana’s sugar production was protected by a tariff.
Professor Wilson takes on the Wilmot Proviso: “The Wilmot Proviso said that slavery would not be legal in any of the huge territory to be acquired by the ongoing war with the Mexican dictator Santa Anna. The ground had been prepared by Northern anger over the blocked rent-seeking agenda and by a furor a few years earlier against the admission of the independent Republic of Texas to the Union. This furor had persuaded much of the Northern public, especially the fourth made up of the foreign-born, that when Northerners moved west it was a mission to settle a continent and when Southerners moved west it was a diabolical conspiracy to spread slavery. The measure, which President Polk decried as politically motivated, unnecessary, and dangerous, was quickly passed in the House by a resentful Northern majority, failed in the Senate, and was passed again by the House the next year. The measure clearly violated the Missouri Compromise line, widely regarded as sacred, which had heretofore been applied to all new territory.” The furor over Texas was related to the fact that Texas would be a slave state. It was Southerners themselves who fed the notion that when Southerners moved west it was to expand slavery. They complained that cutting off the expansion of slavery meant the territories would be closed off to the South. If they weren’t moving to expand slavery, then they wouldn’t have had that complaint. Finally, the Wilmot Proviso did not violate the Missouri Compromise line, since that line applied only to the Louisiana Purchase territory. Professor Wilson knows this. He just doesn’t want you to know it.
Professor Wilson continues, “A few years later, the proponents of the Proviso policy would dishonestly erupt in hysteria claiming that Southerners had overthrown the sacred Missouri Compromise by the Kansas-Nebraska acts which allowed the people of any territory to vote to legalise [sic] slavery if they chose. (Even though the Kansas-Nebraska acts resulted not from Southern demands but from the machinations of Northern politicians.)” As always, Professor Wilson’s claims are at odds with the full truth. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Professor Wilson is correct when he claims that the machinations of this particular Northern politician had much to do with it. Douglas wanted to make Chicago the eastern hub of the transcontinental railroad. He needed Southern votes to get that done, though. The price Southerners put on their support was the repeal of the Missouri Compromise line, which would then allow slavery in the Nebraska Territory. This, of course, led to “Bleeding Kansas.” So Professor Wilson is absolutely not telling the truth when he claims that it didn’t result from Southern demands. He knows the full story, but he doesn’t want you to know the full story.
Professor Wilson claims, “When the Wilmot Proviso broke upon the country, Southerners had been going about their daily lives, those who were not in Mexico exhibiting their American patriotism in arms. Southerners had no agenda for ‘spreading slavery.’ But they deeply resented the implied offense to their honour [sic] and apprehended the effects of an obviously hostile Northern majority. And in their view of the Constitution, the legality or prohibition of slavery was to be decided by the American peoples who would create new sovereign States in the acquired region, when (or after) those sovereign States came into being.” Wilson is once again being rather disingenuous here. He implies that Southerners were the only ones fighting in Mexico, which is not true. He also neglects the fact that Southerners like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington supported the Northwest Ordinance, which prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory. His claim that “Southerners had no agenda for ‘spreading slavery’ ” is also false. From the beginning, many prominent Southerners looked to expand slavery. Southern states that ceded land to the nation for expansion specified that those cessions were conditional on slavery being allowed in the territories to be formed from those cessions. “Once the Northwest Ordinance was adopted under the Confederation, it remained the basic policy for the Old Northwest under the Constitution. Congress reaffirmed it on August 2, 1789, and again as the successive territories of the region were erected–Indiana (1800), Michigan (1805), Illinois (1809), and Wisconsin (1836). Thus Presidents Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, and Jackson all assented to the principle that Congress possessed a constitutional power to prohibit slavery in the territories. But not everyone who believed that the power existed believed also that it ought to be exercised. Some political leaders embraced the view that the power of Congress should be used in a way that would recognize the claims of both sections. Accordingly, Congress accepted cessions of western land from North Carolina in 1790 and from Georgia in 1802, with the condition that ‘no regulation made or to be made, by Congress, shall tend to emancipate slaves.’ It organized the Southwest Territory (out of the North Carolina cession) in 1791 and the Mississippi Territory (originally the northern zone of West Florida, to which the Georgia cession was later added) in 1798, both without restrictions upon slavery. Meanwhile, it admitted Kentucky (separated from Virginia) as a slave state in 1792.” [David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, pp. 54-55] The Missouri Crisis of 1820 was over the expansion of slavery. If Southerners didn’t want to expand slavery into Missouri, there wouldn’t have been an argument over it. If Southerners weren’t interested in expanding slavery into the territories gained from Mexico they wouldn’t have opposed the Wilmot Proviso. “By 1848, many southerners were asserting that they would never lend their support to a presidential candidate or to a party which advocated any federal law affecting ‘mediately or immediately’ the institution of slavery.” [Ibid., p. 61] “On December 14  the Georgia convention approved resolutions which, as the ‘Georgia Platform,’ became the cornerstone of southern policy for several years. These resolutions began by declaring that Georgia did ‘not wholly approve’ of the Compromise [of 1850], but that she would ‘abide by it as a permanent adjustment of this sectional controversy.’ They then proceeded to state categorically the basis on which Georgia would remain in the Union: ‘The state of Georgia will and ought to resist even (as a last resort) to the disruption of every tie that binds her to the Union, any action of Congress upon the subject of slavery in the District of Columbia, or in places subject to the jurisdiction of Congress incompatible with the safety and domestic tranquility, the rights and honor of the slave-holding states, or any refusal to admit as a state any territory hereafter applying, because of the existence of slavery therein, or any act, prohibiting the introduction of slaves into the territories of Utah and New Mexico, or any act repealing or materially modifying the laws now in force for the recovery of fugitive slaves.’ ” [Ibid., p. 128] Expansion of slavery was intimately connected with expansion of the United States. You can see how slavery expanded with the United States here. Southerners also wanted to expand slavery southward and supported filibustering expeditions. The most famous filibuster was the Southerner William Walker. His actions, whether he was personally motivated by slavery or simply personal power, were supported by those who wanted to expand slavery. Expansion of slavery wasn’t limited to that, either. “In the later fifties, two principal agencies of expansionism were De Bow’s Review, an ardently prosouthern periodical published at New Orleans, whose editor, James D. B. De Bow, wanted to make New Orleans the commercial center of a rich tropical empire; and the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society of southerners who aspired to extend slavery and the power of the south all around the circle of tropical and semitropical golden lands bordering the Gulf of Mexico. In 1860, the Knights, with an imperial program of expansion, claimed a membership of 65,000, including all but three of the governors of the slave states, and several members of President Buchanan’s cabinet.” [David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, p. 197] Professor Wilson knows all about the Knights of the Golden Circle. He doesn’t want you to find out about them.
Professor Wilson contends, “A furor over ‘the extension of slavery’ had arisen which, coupled with strengthening Northern resentment at the Southern obstruction of capitalist-favoured [sic] legislation, would end a little over a decade later in the seizure of the White House by a new party, the Republicans, elected entirely by Northern votes and boastfully and forthrightly dedicated to Northern economic interests and to making sure that all new territory would be ‘Free Soil,’ the exclusive domain of white men–black people, slave or free, forever excluded.” Notice how he subsumes the biggest issue, slavery, in favor of the more minor issue. And when he does deign to mention it, he twists the issue. It’s true that many free soilers were also rabid racists, but the drive to expand slavery wasn’t made for the purpose of allowing free black men easy access to the territories. Professor Wilson would like us to believe Southerners at this time were egalitarians dedicated to helping African-Americans, when in fact the opposite was true. But the free soil movement was about keeping slavery out of the territories. One reason was definitely to keep slaves from competing with free labor in the territories, thus holding down free labor wages. But that’s not the only reason. The driving force behind the free soilers was a conviction that slavery was a wrong. If Professor Wilson wants to contend that the vast majority of white Americans in the 19th Century North were racist, my answer is “Well, duh.” Nobody contends anything different. Professor Wilson, though, wants to put the entire onus on Northerners and paint Southerners as something quite different. Most whites in America in the 19th Century, North as well as South as well as West, were racist.
Wilson next claims, “The further importation of slaves into the United States was forbidden in 1808 with Southern approval.” This is technically true, but as we’ve come to see with Professor Wilson, the full story is a bit different from what he’d like us to believe. In the Constitutional Convention, a compromise led to the continuation of the slave trade until 1808 at the earliest. As James Madison tells us, “The southern states would not have entered into the union of America, without the temporary permission of that trade. And if they were excluded from the union, the consequences might be dreadful to them and to us. We [Virginia] are not in a worse situation than before. That traffic is prohibited by our laws, and we may continue the prohibition. … The gentlemen from South-Carolina and Georgia argued in this manner: ‘We have now liberty to import this species of property, and much of the property now possessed, has been purchase, or otherwise acquired, to contemplation of improving it by the assistance of imported slaves. What would be the consequence of hindering us from it? The slaves of Virginia would rise in value, and we would be obliged to go to your markets.’ I need not expiate on the subject. Great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the union would be worse. If those states should disunite from the other states, for not indulging them in the temporary continuance of this traffic, they might solicit and obtain aid from foreign powers.” [James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention on the Slave Trade Clause, 17 Jun 1788] Madison also wrote, “The Petitions on the subject of Slavery have employed more than a week, and are still before a Committee of the whole. The Gentlemen from S. Carolina & Georgia are intemperate beyond all example and even all decorum. They are not content with palliating slavery as a deep-rooted abuse, but plead for the lawfulness of the African trade itself–nor with protesting agst. the objects of the Memorials, but lavish the most virulent language on the authors of them.” [James Madison to Benjamin Rush, 20 Mar 1790]
Wilson says, “The issues and conditions had changed in 1819 when Missouri, settled largely by people from Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky, wrote its constitution and applied for admission to the Union. A Northern majority in Congress attempted to bar the admission of Missouri on the grounds that its constitution allowed slavery. … President Monroe and his cabinet and the elder statesmen Jefferson and Madison immediately recognised [sic] for what it was this attempt to bar the sovereign people of Missouri from the Union under the constitution they had written. It was a cynical play for power, to rally elements of the North against the Southern Jeffersonians who had ruled for two decades and to dilute future Southern influence.” He says, “There was no active emancipation involved in either the Northwest Ordinance or the Missouri Compromise, and many people visited and even remained considerable periods in the upper region with their slaves. In the 1820s Illinois seriously considered the legalisation [sic] of slave-holding.” He continues, “The Missouri controversy darkened Jefferson’s last years. Jefferson had always thought slavery a bad thing and wished something could be done about it. But the sovereignty of the people of the States was more vital than the intractable matter of the black slaves. Jefferson said the conflict was ‘a fire-bell in the night’ that was ‘the death-knell’ of the American Union. He was not referring to slavery as the danger that would destroy the Union, contrary to what has often been asserted. The danger to the Union was not slavery, which had long existed, but the attempt of the North to dictate to the people of a sovereign State the nature of its society.” So let’s take a look at what Jefferson and Madison actually had to say instead of what Professor Wilson would like us to believe they said.
Here’s Jefferson’s letter to John Holmes to which Professor Wilson referred:
Monticello Apr. 22. 20.
I thank you, Dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on the Missouri question. it is a perfect justification to them. I had for a long time ceased to read the newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant. but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once concieved and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper. I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. the cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me in a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one state to another would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation, by dividing the burthen on a greater number of co-adjutors. an abstinence too from this act of power would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress, to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state. this certainly is the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government. could congress, for example say that the Non-freemen of Connecticut, shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other state?
I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of ‘76. to acquire self government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it. if they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world.
to yourself as the faithful advocate of union I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect. Th. Jefferson
So the fire-bell of which Jefferson speaks is the conflict over slavery’s expansion. It is neither slavery itself, as Professor Wilson rightly says, nor is it what Professor Wilson claimed it was–dictation to the people of a state. The “wolf by the ear” is slavery. Jefferson was an advocate of, and proposed in this letter, the failed hypothesis of “diffusion.” This hypothesis suggested that if slavery expanded to other states, its power would be diffused and emancipation would sooner result. This idea was popular among many in the slave states, but it never proved to be correct. Jefferson suggests also that if opponents of slavery wouldn’t protest about it, it would quell problems in Congress. He also claims, as Professor Wilson said, that it was up to the people of a state to determine. However, that’s not what Jefferson felt was the “fire-bell.” I thought this letter was quintessential Thomas Jefferson. He claims to be in favor of emancipation in the letter, yet his prescriptions all support the continuation of slavery. It’s typical of his trying to have it both ways on the slavery issue.
In a long letter to Robert Walsh, James Madison said the following: “Whether the Convention could have looked to the existence of slavery at all in the new States is a point on which I can add little to what has been already stated. The great object of the Convention seemed to be to prohibit the increase by the importation of slaves. A power to emancipate slaves was disclaimed; Nor is anything recollected that denoted a view to controul [sic] the distribution of those within the Country. The case of the N. Western Territory was probably superseded by the provision agst. the importation of slaves was rapidly going on, and the only mode of checking it was by narrowing the space open to them. It is not an unfair inference that the expedient would not have been undertaken, if the power afterward given to terminate the importation everywhwere, had existed or been even anticipated. It has appeared that the present Congress never followed the example during the twenty years preceding the prohibitory epoch. The expediency of exercising a supposed power in Congress, to prevent a diffusion of the slaves actually in the Country, as far as the local authorities may admit them, resolves itself into the probable effects of such a diffusion on the interests of the slaves and of the Nation. … On the whole, the Missouri question, as a constitutional once, amounts to the question whether the condition proposed to be annexed to the admission of Missouri would or would not be void in itself, or become void the moment the territory should enter as a State, within the pale of the Constitution. And as a question of expediency & humanity, it depends essentially on the probable influence of such restrictions on the quantity & duration of slavery, and on the general condition of slaves in the U.S. … Under one aspect of the general subject, I cannot avoid saying, that apart from its merits under others, the tendency of what has passed and is passing, fills me with no slight anxiety. Parties under some denominations or other must always be expected in a Govt. as free as ours. When the individuals belonging to them are intermingled in every part of the whole Country, they strengthen the Union of the Whole, while they divide every part. Should a State of parties arise, founded on geographical boundaries and other Physical & permanent distinctions which happen to coincide with them, what is to controul [sic] those great repulsive Masses from awful shocks agst. each other?” [James Madison to Robert Walsh, 27 Nov 1819] Madison approaches the question from a more cerebral position than Jefferson. He’s also concerned about the effect on the Union, but his concern is over slavery as an issue where the dividing line is geography.
In a letter to James Monroe, Madison wrote, “I find the idea is fast spreading that the zeal wth. which the extension, so called, of slavery is opposed, has, with the coalesced leaders, an object very different from the welfare of the slaves, or the check to their increase; and that their real object is, as you intimate, to form a new state of parties founded on local instead of political distinctions; thereby dividing the Republicans of the North from those of the South, and making the former instrumental in giving to the opponents of both an ascendancy over the whole. If this be the view of the subject at Washington it furnishes an additional reason for a conciliatory proceeding in relation to Maine. [James Madison to James Monroe, 10 Feb 1820] Here he sees opposition to expansion of slavery as a political tool by the leadership of the groups opposed to expansion to gain partisan, not strictly geographic as Professor Wilson would like us to believe, political advantage.
While it is technically true that, “There was no active emancipation involved in either the Northwest Ordinance or the Missouri Compromise,” the fact is that any slaveowner who wished to emigrate to any territory where slavery was not allowed would have to either sell or emancipate his slaves. Indeed, Edward Coles is just one example of a slaveowner who moved to Illinois and emancipated his slaves as a result of that move. Professor Wilson doesn’t want you to understand that nuance.
Wilson claims, “The Northern attempt to forbid slavery in Missouri did not result in the freedom of one single slave. The issue was where the slaves would be located. In fact, the Northern attempt to control ‘the expansion of slavery’ was counter-productive and hostile to black people because de-concentrating the slave population over a larger territory would encourage ameliorated conditions and eventual emancipation.” This is, of courser, all poppycock. The attempt to forbid slavery in Missouri failed. So there was no way it could result in the freedom of a slave, since it failed. And as noted earlier, the diffusion theory was shown to be equally without credibility. Enslaved people reproduced, and naturally increased. As slavery expanded, so did the population of slaves. Therefore, there was and could be no “ameliorated conditions and eventual emancipation” as the result of expanding slavery. And his claim that those who wanted to cut off the extension of slavery were unconcerned with the welfare of the slaves is mendacity at its best. The thought behind cutting off expansion of slavery was that by surrounding slavery with a “cordon of freedom,” slavery would be cut off, and like a scorpion surrounded by fire would “sting itself to death.” The end of slavery would mean an improvement in the welfare of African-Americans. A proslavery person wouldn’t think so, so one is forced to wonder about Professor Wilson’s view of slavery.
Wilson claims, “One of the many ignored Northern realities of the time is that some Yankees expected the black population to die out when removed from the protection of slavery, and the white population to be exterminated or drive out. Then the South would be repopulated by New Englanders who knew how to make maximum profit, using immigrants who were less expensive and more efficient workers than blacks.” I’m sure that if pressed Professor Wilson could come up with one or two wackos who actually thought that. But he’s attempting here to define the whole by the fringe. It’s ridiculous, and his use of this is another example of mendacity on his part. Also, enslaved labor was less expensive than free labor, not more expensive.
He says, “In 1853, the Kansas-Nebraska acts were passed, killing the 1850 Compromise by allowing the question of slavery to be decided by the people of a Territory rather than by a geographic line, and raising a very slight possibility that there might be slavery above the Missouri Compromise Line. This was not done at the demand of Southerners, who indeed believed that only a sovereign State and not the people of a territory could decide this issue. The new and needless laws had to do with the schemes of Northern capitalists and politicians to expedite the construction of a transcontinental railroad from Chicago.” I’ve already addressed this and shown why Professor Wilson is not being wholly truthful here [and it was passed in 1854, not 1853]. David Potter goes into this: “[Stephen A.] Douglas returned to Washington in December 1853, still hoping to organize the Nebraska Territory. But with this continuity there was also much discontinuity. After the death of his wife less than two months before the end of the previous session, he had gone to Europe for an extended trip just as Franklin Pierce came into the presidency. On his return, he found that Pierce had failed to exercise any effective initiative and was surrounded by partisan southerners, while Gadsden, long the advocate of a railroad by the southern route, was on a mission to Mexico. Worse still, he quickly learned that he could no longer count on support from Senator [David] Atchison [of Missouri] for his Nebraska Bill, and in fact he soon came under heavy pressure from Atchison. During the congressional recess, Atchison had entered the first phase of a campaign for reelection in Missouri, in which he was opposed by Thomas Hart Benton. The campaign was a grudge fight, for the Atchison forces had unseated Benton in 1851 after thirty years in the Senate. The Old Roman wanted revenge, and knew how to get it, for he was a popular, dangerous, and often unscrupulous adversary. Probing for Atchison’s vulnerable spots, Benton had hit on his support for the Nebraska Bill, which would make Nebraska free soil, and which was therefore objectionable to Atchison’s proslavery supporters. Benton had, in fact, impaled Atchison on a dilemma: if Atchison supported the bill, he was betraying Missouri’s slavery interests; if he opposed it, he was betraying Missouri’s railroad interests. After a severe mauling by Benton, Atchison had begun to say that he would see Nebrfaska ‘sink in hell’ before he would hand it over to the free-soilers. Also, he had perceived a way to reverse the dilemma and impale Benton: take the Missouri Compromise feature out of the Nebraska Bill, and confront Benton with a choice of accepting it, which would antagonize his free-soil supporters, or opposing it, which would antagonize the Missouri railroad interests that supported him. … Atchison apparently declared later that he had originated the idea of repealing the Missouri Compromise and had forced Douglas to carry out his plan by threatening to take over the chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and bring in a bill himself if Douglas would not do so. Whether Atchison in fact made such a threat scarcely matters. Without doubt he let Douglas know that he had changed his mind and would not again support a Nebraska Bill with the Missouri Compromise still intact. Douglas knew that Atchison was a powerful senator–indeed the senior member of the Senate in point of service–and a messmate of James M. Mason and Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia and Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina–as powerful a trio as there was in the Senate. He knew, too, that his bill had not passed in 1853 even with Atchison’s support, and if that was true, it certainly could n not pass in 1854 without Atchison’s support. More fundamentally, Douglas recognized that with Eastern antirailroad interests opposed, the bill could not possibly pass if it incurred heavy opposition from southern senators also. Yet southerners simply had no incentive to vote for a measure which would create another free territory and would also help Chicago or St. Louis to snatch the Pacific railroad away from the southern cities at a time when their prospects were brighter than ever before. The Nebraska proposition therefore must be framed with concessions to win some southern support, or it would fail.” [David M. Potter, The Impeding Crisis, 1848-1861, pp. 154-156] Douglas introduced a bill on January 4, 1854 that had no repeal of the Missouri Compromise. “He quickly discovered that this minimum was not enough, for the southerners pointed out, quite correctly, that the Act of 1820 still applied. … Atchison and others apparently applied strong, and perhaps even harsh, pressure on this point.” [Ibid., pp. 158-159] Douglas tried to add a section that claimed all questions pertaining to slavery in the territories would be left to the people in those territories. “But the South’s more astute legal minds were still not satisfied even with this second step, for unless the Act of 1820 were repealed outright, it would still exclude slaves until the territorial government arrived at the decision to let them in–which such a government could never be expected to do if no slave interest had been permitted to establish itself in the first place. Representative Philip Phillips of Alabama perceived this point and aroused other southern Democrats to its significance. They were privately urging Douglas to make a further concession when Senator Archibald Dixon, a Kentucky Whig, arrived independently at the conclusion that repeal by inference was not enough. On January 16, Dixon offered an amendment for the explicit repeal of as much of the Act of 1820 as prohibited slavery north of 36°30′. [Ibid., pp. 159-160] Douglas then agreed to include it in his bill. So Southerners did indeed pressure Douglas into repealing the Missouri Compromise. It was their idea. Professor Wilson knows this. He hoped you would never find out.
Professor Wilson tells us, “A point that is nearly always hidden in discussions of the conflict over slavery: No Southerner ever insisted that any State, new or old, had to be a slave state.” This is technically true; however, they did insist that territories allow slavery, which, if enough slaveholders were in the territory, would lead to a slave state. They did fight an ultimately unsuccessful undeclared war in Kansas to make that territory a slave state.
Professor Wilson makes this claim: “It is now established with almost Soviet rigour [sic] that the War to Prevent Southern Independence was ’caused by’ or ‘about’ slavery. It is, in fact, absurd to attribute such an immense and revolutionary event to one cause. Earlier generations of historians, more objective and learned than the current crop, wrote about clashing economic interests and cultures and political ambitions and agitations as among the causes. The emphasis on slavery these days is not the result of some new historical wisdom or newly discovered truth. Rather it is the result of Americans today being obsessed with race and victimology, of the unfortunate tendency of many Americans to sugar-coat acts of aggression with idealistic rationalisations [sic], and the cyclical intensification of the ‘blame the South’ theme that has been chronic throughout American history.” I think it’s hilarious that he, out of one side of his mouth, condemns “victimology” and out of the other side of his mouth engages in it. I’m sure he does prefer the lost cause historians who tried to minimize the impact of slavery and desperately grasped at any straw they could to try to divorce the Civil War [which is the best term. I’ve previously explained why Wilson’s term is wrong] from the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, they and Wilson fail to reckon with what the men of the confederacy themselves said was the reason why they needed to be a separate country–to protect the institution of slavery from a perceived threat to its continued existence. It just so happens the “current crop” of historians who give slavery its proper emphasis are dedicated to what is truthful, not what Professor Wilson would like us to believe. Note I said they give slavery its proper emphasis. That’s because Professor Wilson is engaging in a strawman fallacy. Today’s historians also note subsidiary factors such as a difference in culture, caused by the presence of slavery in the South, different economic interests caused by the presence of slavery in the South, different political parties caused by differences in support for slavery, agitation over the slavery question, and the response to secession of the Cotton States over slavery.
Professor Wilson says, “Those who tout slavery as the whole and only cause of The War always cite the secession ordinances of the seven Deep South States that seceded first. Indeed, these did mention interference with slavery as one of the causes of separating from the Union. The current crop of historians have converted this one aspect into a blanket claim that the war was all about slavery, leaving an impression that it was entirely the South’s fault for defending an evil institution against the benevolent agenda of the North for freedom.” Here we have more straw men erected by Professor Wilson. Again, historians today do recognize subsidiary factors. The problem Professor Wilson has is that without the conflict over slavery there would have been no secession. Note also how he constructs his straw man, using what he would like you to think of as the victimization of the South. No historian claims there was a “benevolent agenda of the North.” Of course, Professor Wilson doesn’t want us to remember that, because he’s busy constructing a façade to hide the actual truth of history. He continues, “This makes the gigantic hidden assumption that the federal government had no choice about invading and destroying the South and that it did so to free the slaves.” This is real dishonesty on Professor Wilson’s part. Historians today do not assert the Union entered the war started by the confederacy in order to free the slaves. As to having “no choice,” there’s always a choice. Just as FDR had a choice of not asking for a declaration of war after Pearl Harbor and instead surrendering to the Japanese, Lincoln had a choice of not trying to suppress the rebellion after Fort Sumter and instead meekly surrendering. Lincoln, like FDR, had a sense of honor, though. Professor Wilson says, “Though historians like to cite Lincoln’s few pretty words about the immorality of slavery, the status and welfare of the African-American population carried no significant weight in the Republican agenda.” Lincoln had much more than “few pretty words” regarding slavery’s immorality. One can’t read Lincoln’s speeches and letters from 1854 onward with any honesty and claim he only had a “few pretty words about the immorality of slavery.” And he apparently thinks being a slave was just fine, because the slaves sure didn’t. They regarded becoming free as a gain in their status and welfare.
Professor Wilson claims, “Even if slavery in a senses was a cause of secession, that does not make it a cause of The War, for a war of conquest to prevent secession was a choice. And not an obvious one to many Northerners as well as Southerners. A choice made even more questionable by the fact of Lincoln’s unprecedented election by only two-fifths of the people and the seceded States’ declared willingness to negotiate in good faith.” As I said above, Lincoln did have a choice to meekly submit to the confederates. And the “willingness to negotiate in good faith” is a joke. I’m sure a bank robber would certainly be willing to “negotiate in good faith” with the police to allow him to keep his ill-gotten gains and get away without being arrested.
Professor Wilson claims, “The South had no need to fight to ‘preserve slavery,’ which had long existed and was in no immediate peril.” Professor Wilson knows this statement is false from the secessionists’ perspective. He just doesn’t want you to know that. He continues, “When the States declared that hostility to slavery was their reason for secession, they meant that they did not accept the right of ill-disposed, irresponsible outsiders to carry out an endless program of hateful slander and petty interferences with their daily life in a Union which their fathers and grandfathers had created for their liberty and well-being.” Sounds good, but it’s a lie and Professor Wilson knows it. He knows the secession commissioners warned that the continued existence of slavery was in danger. He knows the Declarations of Causes clearly show that the secessionists were worried slavery would be abolished, thus causing their secession. He knows that Henry Benning of Georgia told the Virginia Secession Convention on 18 Feb 1861, “What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North-was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery.” Continuing with Wilson, “The ’causes’ of the war were many, but strictly speaking what the war was ‘about’ was the nature of the Union. Black slaves had been an integral part of the American (not just Southern) society for well over two centuries and nobody had gone to war either to keep them or to emancipate them. Indeed, Lincoln declared that he had neither the desire nor the power to interfere with slavery, and he would not know how to go about it even if he had the intent and the power. (Illinois did not admit black people to citizenship and sharply discouraged them from living there.) Lincoln would not and could not inaugurate war to free the slaves.” It depends on how “strictly speaking” you want to be. One could limit one’s parameters and say the war was about secession, whether it would be successful or not. But secession was about protecting slavery. He’s right that slavery was an integral part of American society, but no administration had previously been elected that was as hostile to slavery as the Lincoln administration, according to the secessionists. South Carolina: “On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.” Mississippi: “There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union.” Texas: “In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.” Wilson then claims, dishonestly, “He could and did, however, inaugurate war.” That’s a baldfaced lie. Lincoln wasn’t the one who fired on Fort Sumter. Jefferson Davis started the war, because he wanted a war to start. Lincoln merely accepted the war that Davis started.
Professor Wilson writes, “Lincoln’s party paid little attention to the status or welfare of African-Americans. they did, however, as soon as they controlled Congress, pass: 1) The highest tariff on imports in American history. 2) A national banking system by which favoured [sic] institutions were entitled to create money out of the air and virtually control the credit and currency of the country (predecessor to the Federal Reserve). 3) A massive giveaway of public lands, which previously had been sold at modest prices to genuine settlers. (A popular plank of Lincoln’s platform was ‘Vote Yourself a Farm,’ meaning a Homestead Law by which those who settled 160 acres of public land could own it. But the real purpose of this law was to give away millions of acres of land to favoured [sic] railroad and mining interests. It never occurred to the emancipators to allow a single square inch of land in the great empty spaces of the Midwest to the freed slaves. That would be allowing them into Northern territory, to prevent which was a high priority for all nearly all Northerners, including the most avid opponents of slavery.) 4) A contract labour [sic] law by which virtually enslaved gangs of foreign workers could be brought in–to keep down the wages of native American labour [sic]. 5) A Morrill Act for ‘land-grant colleges’ which inserted the federal government into education for the first time. (Morrill, the Vermont Senator who was responsible for this legislation also gave his name to the ‘Morrill Tariff.’) Not much to do with slavery, except that slavery helped to produce the immense crops of the South which made up the vast majority of America’s foreign trade, which the ruling interests of the North were not about to relinquish.” Wilson doesn’t tell you that the tariff got so high in order to pay for the war Jefferson Davis started. The National Banking Acts were passed in 1863 and 1864, not “as soon as they controlled Congress,” as Wilson falsely asserts. They were passed to help finance the war Jefferson Davis started. The Homestead Act was passed in 1862, again not “as soon as they controlled Congress,” as Wilson falsely asserted. Its true purpose was not what Wilson falsely claimed, but was to give land to families. It’s true there was a great deal of fraud, but that doesn’t prove the purpose of the bill was fraud. The Contract Labor Law was passed in 1864, again not “as soon as they controlled Congress,” as Wilson falsely claimed. His claim that it “virtually enslaved” foreign workers is equally false. They were required to repay the cost of emigration by pledging their wages for a term not to exceed 12 months. Their children weren’t the property of anyone, they weren’t the property of anyone, and after pledged term they kept all their wages. This act was designed to encourage immigration, not to depress wages. The Morrill Land Grant Act was passed in 1862, again not “as soon as they controlled Congress,” as Wilson falsely claimed. It provided a huge boost to education by allowing for several universities to be chartered. Perhaps Professor Wilson doesn’t like for people to be educated. Educated people, after all, would see through his propaganda. In any event, as usual he only tells a carefully selected part of the story. He doesn’t talk about Congress cutting off expansion of slavery into the territories, abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, repealing the Fugitive Slave Law, the Confiscation Acts, or the Lincoln administration freeing slaves beginning in August of 1861. “Not much to do with slavery?” Wrong as usual, Professor Wilson. As Professor James Oakes points out, the Republicans began attacking slavery almost from the beginning of the war. Professor Wilson knows this. He’s merely trying to keep you from knowing it. Oh, and “Vote Yourself a Farm” wasn’t part of the Republican Platform. It was a campaign slogan.
Wilson claims, “Large segments of Northern opinion at first received secession calmly. ‘Let the erring sisters go in peace.’ Southerners, however rashly and unwisely, were simply invoking the good old American founding principle of ‘consent of the governed.’ Abolitionists felt freed of contamination. But then the capitalists began to collar the editors and the politicians. the North could not afford to let the highly productive Southern economy get beyond its grasp. Lincoln announced that he would initiate no hostilities but he would collect the tariff at the ports.” It’s true there were many in the loyal states who said, basically, “Good riddance” to the secessionists. And it’s true that there were business interests who used Southern products and wanted to keep their supply intact. But that wasn’t what put the loyal states solidly behind the war effort. It was the firing on Fort Sumter, ordered by Jefferson Davis, who knew exactly what he was doing. And as usual, Professor Wilson only gives a part of the story when he talks about what Lincoln said. In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln said, “In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.” In other words, he will enforce the law, which is his constitutional duty. For Lincoln it was more than the tariff. It was also holding, occupying, and possessing the Government’s property and places. Professor Wilson only talks about the tariff. Anything else doesn’t serve his propaganda goals.
According to Wilson, “Quite true that Lincoln posed no immediate threat to slavery. That does not mean that he posed no threat to the south, however. Historians comb through every word uttered or written by Southerners at the time to identify evil and unworthy motives and are ingenious in explanations of why Southerners really meant something else more evil and devious than what they actually said. At the same time, Northern motives and actions are assumed as righteous on the basis of Lincoln’s occasional pieties.” Wow, talk about projection.
Wilson claims, “For the Republicans, widely regarded as radical troublemakers, to succeed to power Northerners had to be led to believe that the South was an actual threat to their way of life and values as well as to their economic interests. This impression Lincoln’s party worked hard to implant. Relentless propaganda portrayed the South as a benighted land ruled by a few tyrannical aristocrats who lorded it over the slaves and a mass of degraded whites and conspired with Northern Democrats to rule or ruin the Union and reduce the Northern working man to slavery. This slander was a false picture of the South, where democratic rule and rough social equality was as prevalent as in the North, if not more so. But the idea that Southern actions were explained by ‘a slave power,’ a conspiracy of a few aristocrats who completely dominated the South, was deeply implanted and is still invoked by historians who should know better. This false picture is essential to the moral justification of the Union cause. If the South was a democratic society in which the majority of the citizens made a free choice to separate from the North, their ruthless conquest seems far less righteous.” There is so much wrong with this claim. First, the Republicans weren’t widely regarded as radical troublemakers. That’s just a falsehood. While every political party puts out propaganda to support their position, and the Democrats had their own propaganda machine, it was the Southerners’ own actions that turned public opinion against them. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 especially galled the public in the free states, because it turned them into slave catchers. Unlike Professor Wilson and his ilk, most professional historians aren’t interested in morally justifying one side. Their job, as they see it, is to understand this period of time and to communicate that understanding to us. As Professor Gary Gallagher has conclusively shown, the soldiers fighting for the Union had enough of a moral justification for themselves in the goal of preserving the Union. Professor Wilson’s claim here is just ahistorical nonsense, and he knows it. He continues, “Thoughtful leaders of the South and eventually a large majority of the people saw secession as a way to avoid permanent economic exploitation and constant interference in their day-to-day life, which was likely to grow worse with the federal machinery in the hands of the first avowedly sectional party in American history.” This is just an out-and-out falsehood. The secessionists told us exactly why they were seceding, and they were unanimous that they were seceding to protect slavery from a perceived threat to it in the form of Abraham Lincoln in the presidency. And the Republican Party wasn’t “avowedly sectional.”
Wilson asserts, “A few Southerners talked of re-opening the importation of slaves from Africa, but this was mostly a desire to tweak the Yankees’ beaks. The idea never got any purchase and was quickly quashed by mainstream opinion. This same opinion ruled when the foreign slave trade was absolutely forbidden by the Confederate Constitution. A few Southerners talked of finding new slave states in the Caribbean or Central America. Most notably a soldier of fortune from Tennessee, William Walker, conducted a brief government in Nicaragua until the Yankee mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt had him murdered for interfering with his business.” As usual, Professor Wilson combines a little bit of actual fact with falsehoods. There was a serious move to reopen the slave trade. It wasn’t “mostly a desire to tweak the Yankees’ beaks.” Here are excerpts are from James Paisley Hendrix, Jr., “The Efforts to Reopen the African Slave Trade in Louisiana,” Louisiana History, Vol X, No. 2, Spring, 1969, pp. 97-123:
“A general Southern effort to reopen the foreign slave trade began to develop in the early 1850’s, largely in the Southern commercial conventions. This movement reached its peak when an 1859 convention passed a resolution advocating the reopening of the African traffic. A majority of Louisiana’s delegates to this convention favored reopening.
“This general Southern movement was basically related to the continuing demand of that region for more slaves. Alfred H. Conrad and John R. Meyer have shown that investment in slavery-related operations in the antebellum South returned, on the average, a profit as high as could be achieved in other available forms of investment. Therefore, it seems evident that profits were being made in Southern agriculture and that they were intrinsically related to the institution of slavery.” [pp. 97-98]
“At the state level, Louisiana confined its interest in reopening the trade to the commercial conventions until the late 1850’s. Then in 1858 and 1859 both houses of the legislature took under consideration African apprentice schemes. It is true that as early as 1839 the New Orleans _Courier_ had suggested a revival of the foreign traffic. In addition, Dr. J. W. P. McGimsey of Baton Rouge had initiated the reopening movement in the commercial conventions by a resolution to the 1855 New Orleans meeting, and Louisianians generally supported reopening the trade in the remaining conventions.” [p. 99]
These apprentice schemes were designed to get around the Federal statute prohibiting the foreign slave trade by calling the imported slaves “apprentices” and giving them long-term indentures.
“On March 2, 1858, fifty-one years to the day after President Jefferson had signed into law the congressional act closing the foreign slave trade, [Representative J. W.] Taylor [of East Felicity Parish] introduced the following bill:
“Section I. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana, in General Assembly convened, that James H. Brigham, and his associates, be and they are hereby authorized to import into the State of Louisiana, for agricultural and other laboring purposes, twenty-five hundred free Africans;
“Provided, they shall be indentured as apprentices, to labor for a term of years, which the parties may agree upon between themselves, not less than fifteen years.
“The proposal was referred to the committee on Agriculture and became known as the African Apprentice Bill.” [pp. 100-101]
“On March 3, 1858, Representative Wright reported favorably on the bill on behalf of the committee on Agriculture and a debate followed. The central point discussed appears to have been the legality of the measure. Representative Lewis Texada of Rapides Parish voiced his concern over potential conflict with the Federal law, but after a majority in the lower house agreed that there was no such conflict, he withdrew his opposition.
“Having temporarily appeased the legal question, the House suspended its normal rules of procedure and called for a vote on the bill. Representatives Herring and Price recorded the results of 46 yeas and 21 nays. A motion was made to reconsider these results but was tabled. Thus a bill which in effect was a disguise for the reopening of the African slave trade passed one house of the Louisiana legislature by more than a two to one margin.” [pp. 102-103]
The bill then moved to the state’s Senate, where the senate committee, on 9 Mar 1858, unanimously recommended it be passed. It was prevented from passing only by a series of parliamentary tactics, including members absenting themselves during quorum calls to prevent action being taken. The article describes these tactics and talks about how the bill was brought up again the following year and failed to pass again.
“In May 1859, at Vicksburg, a majority of 40 to 19 approved the statement: ‘In the opinion of this Convention, all laws, State or Federal, prohibiting the African Slave Trade, ought to be repealed.’ … With the price of slaves steadily rising, as it had since the beginning of the century, a prime field hand who could have been purchased for less than $400 in 1800 was worth $1,500 in 1857. Only men of property could pay so much; poor men had been priced out of the market. If the ownership of slaves should become too concentrated, too much a prerogative of the rich, the nonslaveholding whites might withdraw their support, which was vital in defending the planter regime against its northern enemies. But slaves from Africa would be cheap slaves, and their low price might enable the South to broaden the basis of slaveholding–to ‘democratize’ the practice of slaveholding. Thus, the New Orleans Delta asserted, ‘We would re-open the African slave trade that every white man might have a chance to make himelf owner of one or more Negroes.’ Governor Adams declared, ‘Our true purpose is to diffuse the slave population as much as possible, and thus secure in the whole community the motives of self-interest for its support.'” [David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, pp. 397-399]
The majority of the people of the United States, though, opposed it. Regarding the clause prohibiting the Atlantic slave trade in the confederate constitution, “The prohibition came from no opposition to slavery itself, but rather from a long held belief that with some four million slaves in the South now, more than a sufficient population existed to provide for any future needs in such property. Having no carrying trade of their own, Southerners also resisted becoming dependent upon Yankee merchants for providing them with anything, including slaves, and moreover feared that the introduction of more blacks from outside only served to reduce the value of those already held. As a gloved fist raised toward the Border States, they decided to empower Congress to prohibit trade with other slave states not members of this confederation. It was probably with no sense of irony at all that immediately after the slave provisions, they appended the old Bill of Rights along with the Eleventh Amendment.” [William C. Davis, A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy, p. 87] They still had a movement to reopen the slave trade even with that provision in their constitution.
The claim that Cornelius Vanderbilt had William Walker murdered is simply laughable. Walker invaded the country of Honduras and was executed by a firing squad of that government’s soldiers.
Wilson next claims, “Things reached critical proportions when men from Missouri and armed ‘settlers’ from New England clashed over control of the territorial government of Kansas. Much of the violence was the usual frontier disorder and dispute over land claims, but some had to do with the sectional conflict. As far as the Northern press and subsequent historians are concerned, the whole thing was a question of Missouri ruffians beating up on saintly New England pioneers. This is very far from the truth. There was violence from both sides including Yankee atrocities against civilians in Missouri (which continued throughout The War and Reconstruction) and the stealing and mass murder endeavours [sic] of one of those saintly New Englanders, John Brown. Young William Quantrill, who came from Ohio to assist the antislavery forces, was so disgusted by their violence, greed, and hypocrisy that he joined the Southern side.” This is more of what we’ve gotten used to seeing from Wilson–taking some historical facts carefully cherry-picked out of context and then surrounding them with falsehoods.
Of course, no one claims the Free Staters were “saintly.” That’s simply Professor Wilson being dishonest again. But the proslavery Border Ruffians did indeed start the violence.
“For many Southerners, Kansas was an all-or-nothing proposition. If it went for slavery, the rest of the territories would so so as well. If it went for Abolition, slavery extension was stymied, perhaps doomed. Warren Wilkes, a South Carolinian who led an armed force of Southern settlers in Kansas, wrote, ‘Kansas is … the turning-point in the destinies of slavery and abolitionism. If the South triumphs, abolitionism will be defeated and shorn of its power for all time. If she is defeated, abolitionism will grow more insolent and aggressive, until the utter ruin of the South is consummated. If the South secures Kansas, she will extend slavery into all territory south of the fortieth parallel of north latitude, to the Rio Grande; and this, of course, will secure for her pent-up institution of slavery an ample outlet, and restore her power in Congress. If the North secures Kansas, the power of the South in Congress will be gradually diminished, and the slave population will become valueless. All depends upon the action of the present moment.’ … Forcing slavery upon Kansas was [Missouri Sentator David R.] Atchison’s cause célèbre. Atchison had persuaded Stephen Douglas to make the repeal of the Missouri Compromise a part of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which, as acting vice president, he signed into law along with President Pierce. Atchison encouraged Missourians to go to nearby Kansas and vote for proslavery candidates to counteract antislavery emissaries from the East. He declared: ‘If a set of fanatics and demagogues a thousand miles off [in New England] can afford to advance their money and exert every nerve to abolitionize Kansas and exclude the slaveholder, what is your duty, when you reside within one day’s journey of the Territory, and when your peace, quiet, and property depend on your action?’
“It mattered little to Senator Atchison and his ilk that interstate voting was illegal. As one of his Missouri confederates, General B. F. Stringfellow, said in a speech, ‘To those who have qualms of conscience as to violating laws, state or national, I say the time has come when such impositions must be disregarded, sinc eyour rights and property are in danger. And I advise you, one and all, to enter every election district in Kansas … and vote at the point of the bowie-knife and revolver.’
“Such calls for violent lawbreaking fell on willing ears. Thousands of Missourians were ready at election time to go into Kansas, take over the polling booths there, and cast their ballots for proslavery candidates. Armed with bowie knives, shotguns, and pistols, they crossed over on horses or in wagons stocked with whiskey jugs and festooned with hempen rope brought along to hang any ‘d—-d Abolitionist’ who got in the way.” [David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, pp. 139-141]
Free Stater violence was done in response to proslavery violence. “The Missourians did their assigned work. In the election for a Kansas delegate to Congress on November 29, 1854, they elected a proslavery candidate by casting 1,729 fraudulent votes. The election on March 30, 1855 saw even worse fraud, as the invaders cast more than 80 percent of the 6,307 recorded votes, ensuring that thirty-nine of Kansas’s forty representatives supported slavery. The border ruffians terrorized the few polling officials who dared to try to stop the outrage.
“The proslavery leaders ‘elected’ by the ruffians organized a bogus legislature that passed stringent laws protecting slavery in Kansas. These so-called black laws mandated absurdly severe punishments for antislavery activity: two to five years of hard labor for anyone possessing an Abolitionist publication; five years of hard labor for writers or publishers of antislavery writings; and the death penalty for those who induced slaves to revolt. To speak against slavery was a felony. B. F. Stringfellow boasted in September 1855, ‘We now have laws more efficient to protect slave-property than any state in the Union’; he insisted that the laws ‘have already silenced Abolitionists; for in spite of their heretofore boasting, these know they will be enforced to the very letter and with the utmost rigor.’ ” [David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, pp. 141-142]
“A number of Free State figures had already met death or humiliation at the hands of the border ruffians. In the spring of 1854 the Kansas courts denied the self-defense case of the Free State settler Cole McCrea in the shooting of a border ruffian simply because his lawyer, James H. Lane, refused to swear allegiance to the proslavery legislature. Around the same time a proslavery committee commanded the prominent Free State lawyer William Phillips of Leavenworth to leave Kansas. When Phillips refused to obey, he was seized and taken to Rialto, Missouri, where his head was shaved and he was disrobed, tarred and feathered, and ridden on a rail before being sold for a dollar by a black man forced to conduct the mock auction. Phillips remained uncowed and returned to Kansas but later was killed by Missourians.” [David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, pp. 144-145]
“The historical record indicates that the proslavery side committed most acts of violence. Of the fifty-two who died in the Kansas slavery battles of 1855 to 1858, almost 75 percent were Free State settlers. Of the thirty-six Free State casualties, twenty-eight were murders; the remaining eight occurred during battle. In contrast, only eight on the proslavery side were murdered. Among the rest, five died in battle, two were killed accidentally by their own violence, and one was shot when he disturbed a Free State meeting.
“The eight proslavery people murdered included the five John Brown killed at Pottawatomie. It was John Brown who, more than anyone else, ‘brought Southern tactics to the Northern side,’ as a contemporary journalist put it. There was appropriateness in Brown’s using terror to avenge the sack of Lawrence and the caning of Sumner, typically Southern acts of violence met by characteristic Northern timidity. Sumner’s helpless passivity before Brooks’s sadistic attack was not unlike the inability of the citizens of Lawrence to resist the invading border ruffians. The Missourian David Atchison told his troops outside Lawrence that the gutless Free-Staters who had not fired a shot, ‘tonight … will learn a Southern lesson they will remember.’ The federal officer Nathaniel Lyon sneered at ‘the wanton cowardice’ and ‘the craven fear of Northern men in abandoning their helpless families to the merciless outrages of the inexorable savages.’
“John Brown agreed with these sentiments. He called the Free State residents of Lawrence ‘cowards, or worse’ for not resisting the border ruffian invasion. At Pottawatomie he would prove that a Northern group could slaughter the enemy just as Southern mobs had for decades: on a negligible pretext, using a sneak attack when the enemy was defenseless, and with disregard for possible punishment–punishment that for Brown, as for 90 percent of the antebellum Southerners involved in mob action, never came.” [David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, pp. 163-164]
As David Potter wrote, “Thus, while antislavery men were first to organize migration as a means of continuing the contest over slavery, Missourians were first to openly invoke the use of force.” [David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, p. 200]
Among the first of these was the so-called “Platte County Self-Defensive Association,” led by B. F. Stringfellow. “Over the summer of 1854, the Self-Defensives accused a local man of forging passes for runaways. Convicted of abolitionism, they shaved his head and gave him forty-eight hours to leave the county. In July 1854, the Platte County Self-Defensives publicly tried a Massachusetts man, who was waiting to move to Kansas, for abolitionism. Sentenced to twenty-four lashes, the man was ultimately escorted to Iowa.” [Nicole Etcheson, Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, pp. 32-33] The first casualty was a free-state man named Dow, who was murdered by a proslavery man named Coleman on November 21, 1854 just south of Lawrence. [James C. Malin, “The Proslavery Background of the Kansas Struggle,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol X, No. 3, Dec. 1923, p. 299]
“As boatload after boatload of detested Yankees and Northern settlers passed up the tawny river, the naturally hospitable Missouri slaveholder was surprised, astounded, then disturbed; and as the volume of Northern emigration swelled in numbers, his soul was filled with fury and bitter hatred. Even at the present day different sections of the Union seriously misjudge each other; but in 1854 an impassable gulf intervened between free and slave sections. They could never fairly comprehend each other’s motives. To the slave-owner the ‘peculiar institution’ was God-ordained; it was inextricably bound up with his whole industrial and social system. By what principle did these ‘pauper’ laborers and abolition fanatics dare to approach the borders of western Missouri and disturb the already unstable equilibrium of a slave community? Had it not been agreed that Nebraska should be a free state and that Kansas should be a slave state? Was not this a fair proposition? If threats and bluster would not deter these Northern interlopers, then more serious measures must be employed. In June, 1854, before a single Eastern colony had set foot on Kansas soil, the Platte County Argus declared that
” ‘they [Northern emigrants] must be met, if need be, with the rifle. We must meet them at the very threshold and scourge them back to their caverns of darkness. They have made the issue, and it is for us to meet and repel them, even at the point of the bayonet.’
“Prompt steps were taken to put this programme [sic] into practice.” [W. H. Isely, “The Sharps Rifle Episode in Kansas History,” American Historical Review, Vol XII, No. 3, April, 1907, p. 550]
For his claim that William C. Quantrill went to Kansas “to assist the antislavery forces” and “was so disgusted by their violence, greed, and hypocrisy that he joined the Southern side,” Wilson cites the neoconfederate author Paul R. Peterson and his book, Quantrill in Missouri, which disparages abolitionists, gets John Brown’s time in Kansas all wrong, gets the start of “Bleeding Kansas” all wrong, and is really just an apologia for Quantrill. The book doesn’t support Wilson’s claim that Quantrill went to Kansas “to assist the antislavery forces.” On page 6, Peterson writes, “The money that Quantrill and his mother made together barely made ends meet. At the time many who found themselves financially handicapped were encouraged to resettle farther west. Very quickly Quantrill believed that a better life for him lay to the west. He convinced his mother that his chance for success was in resettling and farming in the new Kansas Territory. So in early March 1857, Caroline Quantrill entrusted her nineteen-year-old son to Harmon V. Beeson, a friend and prominent Canal Dover businessman, who was going to Kansas.” So Wilson’s own source says Quantrill went to Kansas to make money. A more accurate biography states, “Two Canal Dover men, Col. Henry Torrey, whose title came from service in the Mexican War, and Harmon V. Beeson, whom Quantrill’s father had tried to shoot, decided to try their luck in Kansas. Both were having financial problems and looking for fresh opportunities. Beeson’s seventeen-year-old son, Richard, a friend of Quantrill’s, planned to accompany them. The rest of their families would follow later, once the men were established in the new promised land. Bill Quantrill wanted to go with them. His venture to Indiana had not brought riches, and he had no prospects at home. Surely, he could make his fortune or at least work a farm, in a new territory. He asked Beeson and Torrey if he could accompany them, but they were not eager to have him. There was something unsavory about Quantrill, always had been. They did not trust him. But when Mrs. Quantrill pleaded his case, they gave in. If only her son could get himself a farm, she explained, then the whole family could move to Kansas and escape the poverty that bound them to Ohio.” [Duane Schultz, Quantrill’s War: The Life and Times of William Clarke Quantrill, p. 11] Peterson does make the unsupported assertion, on page 10, that Quantrill “changed his political convictions when he witnessed the lawlessness of the radical abolitionists as well as the jayhawking raids.” In reality, Quantrill had no “political convictions” regarding slavery. He was there for profit and plunder. Quantrill was a thief who stole from Torrey and Beeson, and when friends of his from Ohio moved to Kansas as well, he stole from them, too. He also revealed his duplicitousness. “To the people of Stanton, he condemned slavery as it was practiced across the border in Missouri, and he argued for Kansas remaining a free-state. Writing to his mother, he took the opposite position, in favor of Missouri and slavery, referring to Kansans as the most lawless people anywhere.” [Duane Schultz, Quantrill’s War: The Life and Times of William Clarke Quantrill, p. 18] Rather than changing his mind, Quantrill was looking for profit. As Quantrill was from Ohio, when he went to the proslavery side it could be considered changing sides. “At that early date Quantrill easily changed sides, his sole concern being pillage.”
Professor Wilson next claims, “Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, a pompous pseudo-intellectual disliked even by his allies, made a speech blaming Kansas troubles entirely on Southerners, a violent, criminal, unredeemable people unworthy of civilised [sic] company. He used such obscene language against South Carolina and her Senator Butler that several Northern Senators cried ‘Shame!’ Sumner had previously announced that he would never participate in the barbarous Southern custom of dueling. So Representative Brooks of South Carolina, Butler’s nephew and a veteran of the Mexican War, walked into the Senate when it was not in session and thrashed Sumner with a gutta-percha cane. Sumner feigned serious injury and spent most of the next two years in Europe, returning to the Senate only one day–to cast a vote for the tariff.” This is more of the same from Wilson. Nothing he said about Sumner’s speech is true. You can read the speech here. There is no obscene language and there is nothing in the record showing anyone crying, “Shame!” He didn’t blame the problems in Kansas entirely on Southerners. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois was one of the senators he called out in his speech. He also referred to President Buchanan of Pennsylvania. He didn’t call Southerners “a violent, criminal, unredeemable people” who were “unworthy” of civilized company. Brooks’ cowardly assault on a man who couldn’t defend himself was proof to a significant number of Northerners, though, that Southerners were indeed “a violent, criminal, unredeemable people.” Sumner didn’t feign injury. “On the following day [May 26] Sumner still appeared to be progressing satisfactorily, though the wound on the right side of his head began suppurating. He felt able to make a statement to the House investigating committee, which called at his rooms. That evening Dr. Boyle ‘applied collodion, which prevented the escape of pus.’ He was still ‘pretty comfortable’ on the morning of May 27, though he complained of more pain. Giddings, who visited him that afternoon, found him sitting up. ‘His countenance appeared natural, and his conversation was cheerful.’ With little or no fever, he ‘insisted that he would resume his seat in a few days.’ That evening he suffered a relapse. Dr. Perry found him with ‘more fever than at any time before, skin hotter than natural–pulse between 80 and 90, fuller and harder than at any time before.’ During the evening his pain, ‘principally confined to the posterior part of the head,’ became quite intense, and, restless and uneasy, he passed a sleepless night. The next morning Dr. Boyle found Sumner ‘excited and feverish, his pulse about a hundred.’ The glands on the back of his head and neck had begun to swell. Almost certainly septicemia had set in.” David H. Donald, Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War, pp. 313-314] Professor Donald took on the claim that Sumner was feigning injury: “This accusation, which has found some defenders among later historians of pronounced antiabolitionist sympathies, rests upon very flimsy evidence. The only medical testimony that supports it is the statement of Dr. Boyle, a Southern physician, strongly opposed in politics to Sumner and very friendly to both Senator Butler and Presto Brooks. Even if Dr. Boyle had been an unprejudiced observer, his testimony as to Sumner’s superficial wounds, lack of fever, etc., would have only limited medical value, for it was given on May 27, before septicemia was aapparent. In his frequently overlooked testimony on the following day, Dr. Boyle added that Sumner had begun to run a fever, that infection had set in, and that he had prescribed opiates. If Dr. Boyle’s testimony is accepted in its entirety, it proves only what no one ever denied: that Sumner seemed to be recovering quite satisfactorily during the first few days after the assault, but that infection set in on the evening of May 27. Opposed to Dr. Boyle’s slight evidence are elaborate, sworn statements by the four physicians who were in charge of Sumner’s case from May 27 until the end of the year. Dr. Harvey Lindsly declared that when he came on the case, Sumner was unable to resume his public duties, and that he had urged him to go to the seashore or to the mountains to recuperate. Dr. Caspar Wister of the eminent Philadelphia family of physicians, opposed in politics to Sumner, made an early diagnosis that Sumner’s recovery depended upon his ‘entire abstractions from all excitement’ and, on re-examining him in late September, held that he was ‘still an invalid,’ requiring constant medical care. Dr. R. M. Jackson, who was a Democrat, swore that Sumner was ‘still extremely unwell’ when he came to the Pennsylvania mountains and that he left Cresson prematurely, ‘still an invalid.’ Dr. Marshall S. Perry, one of the most respected doctors in Boston, was positive that Sumner was so badly injured that mental or bodily exertion would cost him his life.” [Ibid., pp. 324-325] And Sumner didn’t return just to vote on a tariff bill. “When the new session of Congress opened in December 1857, Sumner was able to force himself to attend, but he could not take much interest in politics. The feud between President Buchanan and Senator Douglas over the Kansas question, which threatened to split the Democratic party, attracted only his most cursory attention; like any other invalid, he was concerned chiefly with his own health. He found that listening to the Senate debates jangled his nervous system. After only a few days of attendance he felt ‘the weight spreading over his brain.’ He thought that it might help if he kept away from the Senate, though remaining within call if his vote was needed, but still he grew no better. … On December 20 Sumner left Washington, and he remained away during most of the next five months.” [Ibid., p. 331]
Wilson next claims, “By 1860 a fourth of the Northern population was made up of recent immigrants. Unlike the peaceful farmers who had come from Germany in the colonial period, those who came after 1848 were infected with Napoleonic militarism and revolutionary zeal. Between 1840 and 1860 the American white population increased by one-third from immigrants alone–including at least a million and a half Germans. They settled mainly in Lincoln’s Midwest and made up from 8 to 17 percent of the population of every Midwestern State in 1860. Lincoln recognised [sic] early the importance of this constituency to his ambitions by secretly purchasing a German language newspaper and subsidising [sic] several others. Recent German immigrants were prominent in the convention that nominated Lincoln and as Republican campaign orators. It appears that these immigrants tipped the balance, swinging the traditionally Democratic and Southern-oriented Midwest into the Republican column and making Lincoln’s election possible. The civil war that broke out in Missouri at the beginning of The War resembled a fight between Confederate Americans and recently-arrived German Unionists.” As far as I can tell from the US Census of 1860, the free states had 18.79% of their population foreign born. It’s very difficult to imagine from that statistic that 25% of the population of the free states was made up of recent immigrants. Of course, we don’t know which carefully selected states he’s using as “the North.” It’s true that a significant part of the Midwestern states were made up of foreign born people. Lincoln did in fact purchase a German language newspaper. I find no evidence, however, that he subsidized any others. The Germans who arrived were looking for a better life, like all other immigrants. It looks as though we can add German immigrants to the growing list of people Professor Wilson doesn’t like.
He continues, “The German revolutionaries brought with them an aggressive drive to realise [sic] in America the goals that had been defeated in their homeland with the failure of the revolutions of 1848. Their drive was towards ‘revolution and national unification,’ the slogan of the revolutionary Frankfurt Convention. The most prominent among them, Carl Schurz, shortly after his arrival, expressed disappointment at the non-ideological nature of American politics and vowed to change that. The Germans brought into the American regional conflict and into Republican rhetoric a diagnosis of class conflict (crusade to overthrow the ‘slave-drivers’) and a spirit of militarism. This subverted the traditional moderate party politics of the Union.” The revolutions of 1848 in Europe were about democratizing the monarchies of that continent. Interesting that Professor Wilson doesn’t like democratization as well. The Frankfurt Convention of 1848 was part of this movement. “The Frankfurt National Assembly was finally able to adopt a proposed constitution for Germany on March 28, 1849. This document provided for universal suffrage, parliamentary government, and a hereditary emperor. Germany was to have a unified monetary and customs system but would maintain the internal autonomy of the constituent German states.” I don’t know what Professor Wilson has against universal suffrage or a representative government. There was already a spirit of militarism in the South prior to these emigrations, and Southern politicians had long since abandoned moderation when it came to the protection of slavery. Professor Wilson knows this. He’s hoping you don’t.
Wilson ends with a flourish: “Consider the enormity that Southern men, sons and grandsons of the founders of the country, fighting for their cherished self-government, are killed by foreigners in blue preaching an alien doctrine. Lincoln was not ‘preserving the Union’ as he sometimes claimed. He was establishing an empire on a different model.” What poppycock! Those confederates betrayed their country and their ancestors. They fought for their cherished right to keep black people enslaved. The “alien doctrine” being preached was freedom, a republican form of government where elections matter, and following the law.
Clyde Wilson is an expert in history. Unfortunately, he’s eschewed history in favor of propaganda and falsehoods. That’s sad.