A Farewell to Davis

Throughout this course we have discussed the significance of slaves in the New World. As such, it is fitting that the final reading wrap up this discussion by hypothesizing on the importance and profound significance of emancipation.

Davis concludes his writing by stipulating that while emancipation was a clear turning point in U.S. history, it did not mean that African Americans were free from suffering. Moreover, he concludes that African Americans are still under persecution and must continually fight against the subjection of their civil rights. While Davis ends shortly after discussing emancipation’s effects, I would have liked to read his opinion on Jim Crow, particularly in how it served as an extension of slavery by relegating African Americans to an even lesser existence.

I have to agree with Matt StLawrence as well, concerning Davis’ treatment of Lincoln. I too often think of Lincoln with a classical mythos. We frequently represent him as a selfless individual, striving for humanitarianism and the just treatment of all peoples. In fact, if Lincoln isn’t in your top three favorite presidents list, you’re probably doing something wrong. That being said, it is still important to understand that Lincoln was a pragmatist, not a foolhardy idealist. He was honorable and his death was tragic, but he was still just a man sworn to live the will of the people. Perhaps his ability to so aptly defy the populace – or at least approximately half of the country – is what makes him so memorable and distinctive.

Ultimately, Davis’ handling of slavery was excellent. He aptly summarized both northern passions and southern rationalizations for the peculiar institution, while trying not to inject any bias – an incredibly difficult, but still well executed undertaking.

Lincoln’s Luck and Southern Denial

The last chapter of Inhuman Bondage focused on the sequence of events during the Civil War, the build up to the Emancipation Proclamation, the immediate aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the state of the country after the war.
A major theme of this week’s reading that grabbed my attention was the state of denial that the South entered following their defeat to the North. Davis describes how the Southern people entered into a “dreamland of denial” where they held onto their “wartime triumphs and heroism” and claimed that the Union’s victory was not because of its military strength but because of a larger army and greater pool of resources (303). Davis also compares the post-Civil War South to the state of France in 1870 and Germany in 1918 because the South clung to the belief that their borders and territories would remain intact. More importantly, the war-ravaged South assumed that it would recover from the destruction it had experienced and “resume their former place in the Union as equal partners (with the North)” (303). Overall, Davis does an exceptional job illustrating the angst and frustration that plagued the South but he takes it one step further when he says that those hard feelings motivated the South to establish a land of white supremacy in the future.
An additional aspect of the reading that I found particularly interesting was how Davis shared his final thoughts on the emancipation of the slaves and Lincoln’s reelection. Davis said that “In retrospect…Lincoln and his commitment to slave emancipation were saved by a stunning military victory and a massive soldier vote for the Republicans” (321). To me, Davis essentially said that Lincoln was indeed very committed to a Union victory, an emancipation of the slaves, and continuing to be the President. However, I also interpret Davis’s comments to mean that Lincoln was only able to accomplish such feats with the help of Ulysses S. Grant, the tremendous support of the Union army, and some flat out luck. To an extent, I agree with Davis’s comments. President Lincoln and the Union army were quite close to losing the war, the election, and the country but were ultimately able to win thanks to some good fortune.
Lastly, I would like to address the actions of the North following their victory in the Civil War. As EVFARESE said, the North did show significant mercy on the South by allowing them to recover from the damage that they endured from the war. The Union could have easily decided to deliver a knock-out blow to the South and completely destroy the possibility of another threat. However, the North enabled the South to recuperate from the conflict and begin the lengthy process of reconstruction.

After the Civil War

The end of the Civil War brought about a new type of America. Although the war was still fresh in everyone’s minds, citizens, particularly of the North, tried to look past that and rebuild their country. It is important to note that many people in the South were unhappy with the way the war ended and thus still did not full support the United States. JANEWTON notes how Davis mentions that t the country came to terms with the end of the civil war. While this may be the case in the North and in the middle states, most members of the deep South most likely felt otherwise. Imagine having your entire livelihood taken away from you, your main source of income gone. For many in the South the ending of the war and the emancipation of enslaved people was not something they could come to terms with. In my studies in previous years I learned how guerrilla warfare continued in states like Missouri and Kansas, where there were both Confederate and Union sympathizers. Most of these altercations were instigated by angry ex-Confederates so I think to say that the entire nation was at peace with the end of the war would be misguided.

I do think however that the end of the war went better than it could have. Despite some angry southerners, people seemed to to adjust well to this new slaveless nation. Additionally, and rightfully so, President Lincoln came out looking like a hero to all people of the North and formerly enslaved people. The South was also in slightly better spirits after the war because the North was somewhat merciful in their victory. As a clever way to appease some southerners, the North allowed the South to rebuild and create sort of a new identity. This worked to keep relations between the two regions peaceful. This sort of liberty and trust that the North afforded the South after the war was responsible for keeping the South content and as a result could be a reason why the South did not act against the Union again.

Effects of the Civil War

In Chapter 15 of Inhuman Bondage, David Davis writes about the Civil War and describes the lasting impact it had on the United States. The most interesting aspect of Davis’ writing in this chapter, was to me, how the country came to terms with the war after it was over. With the North winning, slavery was effectively finished in the U.S. and President Lincoln was heralded as a hero. Davis gives an example of an African American man kneeling to the President during an instance of slaves being freed. Lincoln responded by telling the man “don’t kneel to me”(298). This is the type of characterization of Lincoln that I have come to expect. He is often portrayed as a beacon of moral superiority and hero of sorts. Davis writing in this section is consistent with that narrative.  Another interesting aspect of the chapter was how the North was able to keep the Civil War deemed a “good war” (299) by not decimating the south after it was over. This is in part because it was necessary in keeping the country together. Robbie Mangone discusses this more in his blog post (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/a-necessary-evil/). In addition, Davis says that another reason it was deemed a good war is that the North didn’t unleash “full vengeance” on the states that had seceded and kept blacks from taking over parts of the south. He also goes on to explain that the North allowed the south to essentially recreate their own identity after the war was over which was huge in keeping tensions between the North and South at a minimum. This is something I hadn’t ever considered before. After a war of that magnitude, it is safe to assume that the South had deep-seated feelings of resentment and hatred for the North. Northerners had to act delicately in order to restore the country to where it needed to be. It was tremendously important that they handled the situation this way and I like that Davis included this in his writing.

Another important point Davis brings up in his writing is the shrewdness of President Lincoln during the war. He describes the President as “keenly aware” (309) of how delicate the issue of slavery still was during the war. The President was sure to act carefully and made sure that his Emancipation Proclamation did not include slaves from Union states like Maryland. This turned out to be a brilliant tactical move, helping the North assure victory. I think Davis did a very nice job throughout the chapter of characterizing the President, describing his impact on the outcome of the war and explaining exactly how significant this war was on the development of the country.

The Teapot Boils: The Inevitable Breakdown

In the final chapter, Wilentz details the final motions as the tensions that had long been building break out in civil war. As AJBEANE says, there had been many attempts to reduce the tension and prevent a civil war, but the fundamental problem was never addressed, and so, looking back, it is clear that the war was inevitable. Lincoln’s election proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, as, despite his vowed intention to not touch slavery where it already was the law, Southern Slave owners were terrified that Lincoln intended to deprive them of their “property.” With the election of Lincoln, and the secession of South Carolina, it would prove only a matter of time before most of the Southern slave-holding states would follow suit. For a time it was thought that, perhaps, the states which had seceded could be cajoled back into the union, but with the fundamental issue still looming, such attempts would prove doomed to failure, and civil war became a certainty.

Fort Sumter is where it became apparent that there would be, must be, war. Initially Wilentz points out that some believed that Fort Sumter could be given up to cool secessionists tempers, and perhaps aid in bringing the secessionists back into the union and preventing more states from seceding. But the political climate insured that such thoughts proved only wishful thinking as it seemed that to give up Fort Sumter without a fight would be a sign of weakness. With the union being unwilling to surrender Fort Sumter, the newly formed confederacy could not stand allowing a hostile fort to remain in such a strategic location, and thus attacked it and set off the final spark to set the civil war fully ablaze.

The Election of 1860 and a Nation in Disarray

In this section of The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz discusses the events leading up to the election of 1860, the election itself, and the consequences of the crucial election.
One theme of this week’s readings that interested me was the South or Slaveholder’s increased confidence in secession or the threat of secession as the solution to nearly all political problems. For example, a movement in the late 1850s to reopen the slave trade attracted support from many prominent southern politicians. The politicians claimed that such an action would make slavery a much more efficient and profitable industry. However, Northern politicians and abolitionists rejected the idea of reopening the slave trade in America or satisfying the demand for a “federal slave code” in the United States. Unhappy Southern leaders like Barnwell Rhett and William Yancey began to declare that the South would secede from the Union if their desired legislation failed to be approved. In addition to issues like slave trade or the federal slave code, Southern politicians like Stephen A. Douglas were able to spread the belief that the South would secede if Abraham Lincoln won the Presidential election of 1860. Although the South did not end up leaving the Union until Lincoln was elected, the constant threat of dissolving the nation posed by the South struck fear and uneasiness in Northern politicians and citizens for years.
Another aspect of the reading that grabbed my attention was the way Wilentz portrays Lincoln’s rise to political prominence and the events of the election of 1860. At first, Wilentz depicts Lincoln as a name merely thrown into the conversation for the Republican nomination in order to defeat the “tainted” Seward and his “loyal wire-puller” Weed (Wilentz, 431). However, he builds up Lincoln’s political savvy and ability as a public speaker and ultimately portrays him as a pristine presidential candidate. Wilentz also illustrated how Lincoln’s “brilliant” political strategy to win the Republican nomination had worked almost flawlessly. Also, Wilentz introduced Lincoln to the audience as a talented underdog with an outside shot of winning the nomination, but as the election heats up Wilentz frames Lincoln into an unstoppable political force destined for the White House.
Lastly, I would like to comment on the debate of whether or not the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States directly contributed to the immediate succession of the South. Although my classmate WIROBERTSON would disagree, I believe that the actions of Southern politicians (like Stephen A. Douglas) spread the fear of a Lincoln dominated White House among pro-slavery Americans and was a main cause of Southern secession. Once it became inevitable to slaveholders that Lincoln would become president, Lincoln’s political opponents worked to foster a “plot to stage a coup d’etat in November or December”, which eventually resulted in the secession of South Carolina in 1860 (Wilentz, 433).

The Inevitable Fracture

Wilentz makes a point to discuss how the institution of slavery caused a major fracture in the Union. He talks about how the “fire-eaters” led the charge of the South’s eventually succession, but it is important to note that there have been threats of succession for many decades leading up to this cataclysm.

Many attempts were made to curb the tension between the North and South. Such as the Democratic National Convention being held in Charleston instead of New York. They had hoped that this would seem like a gesture of goodwill but it had the opposite effect. The presence of the Northern politicians provoked the anger of the Southerns.The voting in this convention ended up in a standstill and forced a reschedule which managed to slightly delay the inevitable fracture. This political unrest in just choosing a candidate only exasperated the issue more.

Wilentz noted that Lincoln had high hopes that secessionists would fail because they had misinterpreted him. He hoped that the sensible people of the South would see through the extremists’ lies and remain members of the Union. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s election had the opposite effect. It turned Deep South moderates and even Unionists into Secessionists. The question soon became not whether or not to secede but when and how.

South Carolina was the first state to secede on December 20 soon followed by Mississippi, then Florida, and the rest of the southern states to Texas. There was a strong counteroffensive in the border states but that only managed to slow the process. With the South seceded the inevitable conflict was on the horizon.

Lincoln and Secession

In Chapter’s 23 and 24 of Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz spends a good deal of time characterizing Lincoln’s political and moral stance  specifically surrounding the issue of slavery.  And after reading Wilentz’s portrayal, I feel that my perception of Lincoln’s platform has changed.  Generally, Lincoln is portrayed as the figure head for the abolitionist movement, leading the charge against slavery.  However, as Wilentz explains in the end of Chapter 23 and throughout Chapter 24, Lincoln’s campaigning was different than his moral standing. Wilentz makes it very clear that Lincoln’s “hatred for slavery ran deep,”(Wilentz 413).  On the other hand, Lincoln realized that strong polarization to the abolitionist movement was not the best political move. So he instead simply stood for “a house divided against itself cannot stand,”(Wilentz 414, nomination address). The stance essentially stated that a divided nation is ultimately dysfunctional, which the majority of Americans understood through current political disputes. This brilliant political move quickly became very influential, not only because it divided the Democratic party, but it also gained support from some moderates.   I agree with SPEDWARDS post in that “Lincoln’s directness lead to a heightened public interest nation-wide,”  yet I propose that perhaps it also simultaneously deepened the divide between abolitionists and pro-slavery activists—the exact cause that Lincoln was trying to eradicate.  Because Lincoln advocated for a homogeneous position on slavery, the American people wanted their own position on slavery (for or against slavery) for the whole country.  The talk of an all free or all slave America could have sparked the seeds for secession from the Union, as Lincoln brought abolitionist perceptions with him into the presidency.  The perceived last effort by the southerners was secession.  I feel that Wilentz does not fully include the possibility of Lincoln’s campaign and political scheme, to deepen the divide between the North and South.

 

Election of 1860 and Secession

The topic of slavery dominated politics during the mid-19th Century.  It divided social classes, political parties, and most importantly the North and the South.  Adamant on maintain slavery’s presence and expansion, Southerners repeatedly threatened seceding from the United States for decades.  Beginning in late 1860, shockingly soon after the election of Abraham Lincoln, this threat became a reality, as South Carolina seceded, and several other states soon followed suit. In this post I will attempt to answer ANBURTON’s question (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/secession-becomes-a-reality/), “[Was] secession an inevitable result of the presidential turnover, or was it really due to Lincoln’s particular election?”  Also, I will explore the factors causing the South to secede.

I do think Lincoln’s election directly caused the immediate secession of the South.  This decision, however, seemed overly radical, especially considering Lincoln’s moderate nature.  Lincoln firmly believed that the spread of slavery needed to halt, but he never threatened altering the institution where it already existed.  In addition, he did not support radical abolitionists, such as John Brown (Fun Fact: Today is the 154th anniversary of his execution).  The South’s severe opposition to Lincoln struck me as greedy, as his election did not threaten slaveholders’ social structure at home, only their long-enjoyed national dominance in politics. The reaction also may have resulted from misinformation about Lincoln’s positions.  Other candidates certainly tried to damage Lincoln’s campaign by attributing radical ideals to him.  Furthermore, I suspected that fire-eaters manipulated the public into believing that Lincoln posed a direct threat to the entire institution of slavery.  The fact that southern fire-eaters enjoyed Lincoln’s victory provided evidence, “No less pleased, though, were the southern fire-eaters … southern militants took the next step toward creating their slaveholders’ republic” (Wilentz 434). Clearly the South made a regrettable decision by seceding from the Union.  Whether the reaction resulted from a greedy attempt to preserve widespread dominance, or from misinformation about Lincoln’s moderation, the election of Lincoln certainly ignited the amount of panic necessary to end in secession.

I really enjoyed and appreciated Wilentz’s coverage of the election of 1860 and secession.  I found his treatment of the topic thorough, interesting, and easy to follow.

A House Divided…

In the final chapters, Wilentz describes the series of events leading to the first shots of the Civil War. One of the main political debates explained in the text is that between Lincoln and Douglas during the 1858 Senate elections in Illinois. Douglas arose victorious in the polls, but Lincoln definitely won all facets other than the election. He gained great popularity for his strong morals concerning the issue of slavery.

A main topic of blog posts in earlier weeks has been the somewhat futile effects of the many compromises made in the years leading up to the Civil War. CHMASONE’s post on November 20 explains this point by stating that political negotiations such as the Compromise of 1850 “all failed and only delayed the unavoidable conflict.” I believe this same principle was the main difference in Douglas’ and Lincoln’s platforms and ultimately, led to Douglas’ demise and Lincoln’s success in politics. Like many before him, Douglas constantly was on the fence concerning the issue of slavery. He supported popular sovereignty, which in itself can be seen as a cop-out because instead of dealing with an issue as a nation, it allowed particular sects to decide for themselves, thus widening the gap between northern and southern thought. Senator Douglas also went back and forth with his backing of the Dred Scott case, showing his lack of certainty in the area. On the other hand, Lincoln used a strong and assertive moral high ground stance throughout the debates. He condemned “the monstrous injustice of slavery itself” (414). Although he knew he would receive disapproval from southerners nationally, he stood by his morals no matter the opposition. I believe Lincoln’s directness in this situation led to heightened public interest nation-wide, and eventually led to his presidency in 1860.

As Lincoln moved on to the presidential election of 1860, he kept his beliefs of stopping the spread of slavery. Wilentz describes Lincoln as a politician during this time and how he had to express his views, but also attract votes from southern states. TASIMMONS’ blog post on December 1st draws a parallel to this point and states that Lincoln had to “remain moderate” in order to win the presidential race. I agree with this point to an extent. Lincoln definitely had to tone down some of his views in the midst of the election, but Lincoln had always been considered a moderate republican. His views did not change from the debates in 1858 to the election of 1860. I think people often make the mistake of thinking Lincoln was quite radical with his beliefs concerning slavery but in reality, his main goal was to only stop slavery’s spread and then to eventually eradicate it. Lincoln was very against the institution of slavery based on his strong morals, but his plan to stop it was actually quite moderate all along.