War for slavery

A major portion of the last chapter in Inhuman Bondage was the actual civil war and how it was handled. The thing that the book speaks on, that is not surprising to me at all, is how a large number of African Americans took part in the fight for the Union side. Another unsurprising note added into the chapter is how they spoke on the African American reactions. Inhuman Bondage talks about how people kneeled at Abraham Lincoln’s feet and he had to tell them “don’t kneel to me.  This is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” (298)

A major part that I had never realized until I read this chapter was the monetary importance that slavery carried. Slavery would have been worth almost 80% of the Gross National Product at that time. The slaves worth was more than the national railroads and business investments. To put that much money into the institution of slavery is seemingly impossible, but it also clears the reason that the South was so big on fighting for slavery. With this much invested into an idea that took a major part in funding the economy, it makes sense that the south was willing to go to complete separation and war with the north to continue with their ways.

Another portion of this chapter that I feel should be emphasized is how they describe the actual war. As always, the book speaks on how the Civil war was the deadliest war for Americans, but it also points out the new tactics that were the cause of such violence. The Civil war was the first time we saw trench warfare, booby traps, rapid-firing Gatling guns, and self-igniting shells. (301) The Union completely destroyed confederate lands in order to win the war and devastate those from the south. I feel it is this warfare that leads to the vocabulary spoken about in SaFunderburgs post from this week.

The Bruised Ego of the South

This final chapter of Inhuman Bondage went along very well with Tuesday’s reading and our class discussion. I found Davis’ treatment of the issue of Southern pride stimulating to read. I appreciated his frankness of the South’s postwar state of denial. It was interesting that he compared the defeated South to France in 1870 and Germany in 1918 due to their emphasis on wartime victories and heroism while declaring the North’s victory relatively unimportant (303).

Matt Landini’s post (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/the-war-of-northern-aggression-victimizing-the-challengers/) articulated some great points about the problem of Southern preoccupation of retaining a sense of pride after the Civil War. Matt mentioned that “it is surprising that we continually whitewash history, rather than accepting past mistakes” (referring to the South).

I believe that this “whitewashing” in the aftermath of the South’s defeat was largely a result of the post-war goal of achieving hasty reunion while avoiding the issue of race. Of course, this approach was taken with good intentions of returning to “normal” as quickly as possible while avoiding hostility between the North and South. However, this approach “required repression from memory of the revolutionary realities of the war” (300). As such, not much time or energy was spent on ideological reflection after the war, and more time was spent on nursing the South’s bruised ego. So, as soon after the war was over with, its racial aspects were swept under the rug and the topic of emancipation was all but unmentionable (300). This might be a questionable cause and effect relationship to consider, but I wonder whether the remnants of racism present in the South today are a result of this lack of discourse concerning slavery after the Civil War. It’s pretty interesting to wonder if more current race relations would be different had the South been urged to deal with its defeat more constructively immediately after the war.

Going back to Matt’s post and his mention of Southern pride and their refusal to accept their past mistakes, I think it’s important to realize that the South didn’t feel as though they’d made a mistake by clinging to their slave system. The Union’s victory did nothing to prove to the South that slavery was wrong, it just imposed “the necessity of slave ‘emancipation’” (303). In essence, forced emancipation proved that they would have to implement their virulent racism in a new way, which they ended up successfully accomplishing with the passing of the Black Codes (303). Although Jefferson Davis and others had claimed slavery to be merely an incident and not the cause of the civil war, Jefferson Davis’ overt lamentations about emancipation being the greatest crime of the century suggest otherwise (304). In the end it became clear to leaders on both sides that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War.

A Necessary Evil

The Civil War is often seen as a terrible tragedy in American History, but Davis raises valuable points about the importance of the Civil War. It was a revolution of such great magnitude that it had never been seen before in America. The country was so divided on the issue of slavery and the states rights when it came to slavery that the only way they would reach a quick and decisive decision was through a war or crisis such as this. “Given the economic growth and vitality of Southern slavery in 1860, it is difficult to imagine any other historical scenario that would have led to full and universal slave emancipation in the nineteenth or even early twentieth century.” (Davis 299) In his post WIROBERTSON said that “The North seemed much more open to compromise” but I think in reality neither side was willing to compromise. The North was eventually just going to keep pushing and pushing for more and more. The South was scared to give anything because they didn’t want their rights infringed on. They knew that the North wasn’t going to just stop with limiting slavery. They heard the talk all around the country and saw that it was growing more and more radical with every passing decade. The sides were just too far apart to reach a solution, so it took the destruction of one side for a decision to be made. The South was strong and its economy, which was reliant on slaves, was an essential part of the American economy as a whole.

The aftermath led to controversy even though the issue of slavery had been decided once and for all. Some blamed the blacks for what had happened. (Davis 299) Others marginalized the issues and focused more on the specifics of the war. They didn’t want to focus on the overarching questions that had divided the country.

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.


Secession Becomes a Reality

In today’s readings from Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy, the “big bang” takes place… so to speak. On November 6, 1860, on the day of Lincoln’s election to power, all of the talks concerning secession finally come true, as South Carolina passes legislation to “strike back at the North and secede from the Union before Lincoln could take office” (Wilentz, 436). After years of tension between northern and southern states, failed compromises and extremist politicians, South Carolina has finally had enough and has left the Union. More states were to follow, as Wilentz writes that the “swiftness with which the rest of the Deep South followed suite was breathtaking” (Wilentz, 437), as Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee all leave the Union by June 8, 1861. According to Wilentz, Lincoln’s rise to power “turned many  Deep South moderates and even erstwhile Unionists into secessionists” (Wilentz, 436), as the question was “not whether to secede but when and how” (Wilentz, 436). It shocks me that one president (whose party described themselves as a “white man’s party (Wilentz, 433) could inspire so much disagreement. It made me wonder whether secession was an inevitable result of the presidential turnover, or was it really due to Lincoln’s particular election?

What has always baffled me concerning secession is the debate between “the preservation of a traditional Southern heritage and states rights vs. the preservation of slavery” as the main cause for secession. Personally, I see the two issues being completely interconnected. Antebellum Southern culture (the culture the states so desperately wanted to preserve) was essentially a culture founded on and maintained by human bondage. When Wilentz discusses the South’s desire to “[leave] the Union to preserve their old institutions from a revolution [that] threatened to destroy their social system” (Wilentz, 439), the social system that the North was attempting to destroy and the South was trying to preserve was one where daily life was routed in and informed by slavery.

Just before secession, one of the most interesting characters we have run into so far over the entire course has easily been John Brown, a radical abolitionist who attempted to achieve abolition by any means necessary. Although he failed, I agree with ALKAROUT where Brown opened the door for possibilities of more organized forms of insurrection against slavery. What amazes me is the impact one figure (and relatively small raid) had on the South’s relationship with the North, with “new funds for military preparations and expressed solidarity with their sister slaveholding states” (Wilentz, 426) emerging in the immediate aftermath of Brown’s defeat and how. Many southerners saw it impossible to live in in a country under a government where Brown was considered a Christian martyr, as they considered his actions to be dangerous and unjust. Had a violent Southern rebellion be led against Northern abolitionists, it would have most likely been condemned by the government.

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.


Leading up to Secession

Many events took part in factoring into the decision for South Carolina so secede from the Union. Of course they had been upset for quite some time with the abolitionists in the north and they were starting to feel that few if not no northerners could be trusted to hold represent them as president. They were shocked to see how far some northerners would go to see abolition when John Brown took hostage a federal armory. He had hoped to have many more people join him, especially other major figures like Frederick Douglass who firmly said no and it would be foolish to take the armory. Brown also intended to rally slaves as he went through to fight for him, but they were not very interested. Finally John Brown gave up after a day and half and was captured by Robert E. Lee. Just before his execution he wrote out his final prophecy and that was that the US was a guilty land and its crimes “will never be purged away; but with Blood.” (424) His words struck a large amount of the population who saw that maybe he war right and that a war was imminent. I think that Brown solidified the possibility of war in citizens’ heads. Many thought that it might occur, but Brown’s violent actions and his prophecy surely convinced a large amount of Americans that secession and war was in the future.

The final major event that lead to secession was the election of Abraham Lincoln into office. This election was very hard fought and caused the Democratic party to split in two, forming Northern and Southern branches. I think if anyone other than a pro-slavery president was elected, the South would surely secede. And that is exactly what happened when Lincoln was elected. ROMANGONE raises a good point regarding the fact that even though some Southern Democrats were divided on certain issues, they all stood together in opposition of Lincoln. Within the same month of Lincoln’s election South Carolina had seceded, closely followed by many other states who would go on to form the confederacy. I think that Lincoln’s election was the tipping point of the road to secession. It was as though the idea of secession had been brewing for so long and with the 1860 election, the South finally snapped. There were many events on the road to secession, but none more important than the election of Abraham Lincoln.

The Southern Scare: Southern Fear of British Abolitionism

In Chapter 14, Davis makes the case that one of the driving forces behind the South’s fear of restriction on the expansion of slavery was British abolitionism. Davis makes the case that the south saw this British abolitionism as a new form of british control as NIPAPPAYLIOU noted. “… Southerners believed that Britain was attempting to spread their abolitionist ideas throughout the world as a new form of imperialism.” This fear of British cultural imperialism coincided with a period of vehement anti-British sentiment, which fed into anti-Federalist sentiment, as the federalists were viewed as being too pro-British. This anti-British sentiment, alongside connections between Britain and abolitionism, and a fear that Britain was seeking to collapse slave-holding economies so that their newly slave-free colonies could become competitive, lead to intense suspicion of Northern abolitionists as potentially being unpatriotic and likely to be in bed with British interests. The irony of this all was of course that, despite Britsh abolitionism and anti-British sentiment which was strongest in the south, when the Civil War finally came to the fore, Britain would consider joining the war, but on the Southern side, rather than the Northern side. Thus while Southern fear may not have been entirely unwarranted, with regards to beliefs that Britain was seeking to abolish slavery more broadly, it was almost certainly overstated.

Antebellum Southern Stubbornness

The decade leading up to the Civil War featured tenacious animosity between politicians.  Southern proslavery figures constantly butted heads with their Northern counterparts, and politicians pushing for compromise had extremely limited success in appeasing both groups.  In both Davis’s and Wilentz’s accounts, slavery legislation seemed to favor the South.  The North appeared willing to allow slavery to continue where it already existed and simply wanted to slow or halt its expansion.  The proslavery South, however, never seemed satisfied and continually pleaded for more slavery.  The repeated threat of disunion revealed excessive Southern discontent and lack of adaptability.

The South came out of the Missouri Crisis with Missouri as a slave state and even maintained the possibility of more slave states in the future despite growing criticism of the institution.  This criticism was even limited by the proslavery gag rule.  Nonetheless, the South kept battling for more slave states, best evidenced by the blatant disregard for the Missouri compromise in the debate of Kansas’s status. David Brion Davis provided a hilarious consequence of overly aggressive pursuits for more slave influence by Jefferson Davis.  Jefferson Davis’ push for “federal protection of slave property” alienated the North and split the Democratic party (293).  This split allowed for Southerners’ worst nightmare to come true as Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election as the first outspoken opponent to slavery.

Southern resistance to popular sovereignty, essentially the only proposed compromise, marked the South as more stubborn.  In addition, no Northern legislature prior to 1860 infringed on slaveholders’ right to own slaves.  The Fugitive Slave Act, however, significantly affected and altered lives of antislavery proponents in the North.  It was no surprise that this Act stirred up the strongest opposition, as it inherently imposed Southern ideals in the North.  Not to mention its inhumane principles.  The North seemed much more open to compromise, but this policy clearly crossed the line.

The South came off as ungrateful and greedy in antebellum politics.  It had enjoyed prolonged dominance and still maintained its most prized possession, slavery.  Whether its vigor stemmed from Anglophobia, as WEKING suggests (http://sites.davidson.edu/his141/a-great-experiment-british-abolition-and-southern-paranoia/), racism, or sheer greed, the South should have been content with the continuation of such a controversial and widely hated practice.