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Battle Cry of Freedom
Notes (Moon Reader highlights)
Ryan Faulhaber, [12.10.21 14:21] The Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era - James M. McPherson (Highlight: 31; Note: 2)
◆ 1 The United States at Midcentury
▪️ It was not so much the level of wages as the very concept of wages itself that fueled much of this protest. Wage labor was a form of dependency that seemed to contradict the republican principles on which the country had been founded. The core of republicanism was liberty, a precious but precarious birthright constantly threatened by corrupt manipulations of power. The philosopher of republicanism, Thomas Jefferson, had defined the essence of liberty as independence, which required the ownership of productive property. A man dependent on others for a living could never be truly free, nor could a dependent class constitute the basis of a republican government. Women, children, and slaves were dependent; that defined them out of the polity of republican freemen. Wage laborers were also dependent; that was why Jefferson feared the development of industrial capitalism with its need for wage laborers. Jefferson envisaged an ideal America of farmers and artisan producers who owned their means of production and depended on no man for a living.
▪️ Bondage seemed an increasingly peculiar institution in a democratic republic experiencing a rapid transition to free-labor industrial capitalism. In the eyes of a growing number of Yankees, slavery degraded labor, inhibited economic development, discouraged education, and engendered a domineering master class determined to rule the country in the interests of its backward institution.
▪️ The South, replied Massachusetts clergyman Theodore Parker in 1854,
▪️ In 1857 President James Buchanan declared the Mormons to be in rebellion and sent troops to force their submission to a new governor. During the Saints’ guerrilla warfare against these soldiers in the fall of 1857, a group of Mormon fanatics massacred 120 California-bound emigrants at Mountain Meadows. This prompted the government to send more troops.
◆ 2 Mexico Will Poison Us
▪️ “The Liberty Party is not dead,” he declaimed, “but translated.” Vowing to “fight on, and fight ever” for “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men,” the delegates returned home to battle for the Lord.
▪️ Seward would soon emerge as one of Taylor’s main advisers. “Freedom and slavery are two antagonistic elements of society,” he told a Cleveland audience. “Slavery can be limited to its present bounds”; eventually “it can and must be abolished.”
▪️ Nevertheless, those stresses had wrenched the system almost to the breaking point. Free Soilers hoping to realign American politics into a struggle between freedom and slavery professed satisfaction with the election. “The public mind has been stirred on the subject of slavery to depths never reached before,” wrote Sumner. “The late election,” agreed one of his confreres, “is only the Bunker Hill of the moral & political
▪️ revolution which can terminate only in success to the side of freedom.“
▪️ The Compromise of 1850 undoubtedly averted a grave crisis. But hindsight makes clear that it only postponed the trauma.
◆ 3 An Empire for Slavery
▪️ To secure these rights the law seemed to ride roughshod over the prerogatives of northern states. Yankee senators had tried in vain to attach amendments to the bill guaranteeing alleged fugitives the rights to testify, to habeas corpus, and to a jury trial. Southerners indignantly rejected the idea that these American birthrights applied to slaves. The fugitive slave law of 1850 put the burden of proof on captured blacks but gave them no legal power to prove their freedom. Instead, a claimant could bring an alleged fugitive before a federal commissioner (a new office created by the law) to prove ownership by an affidavit from a slave-state court or by the testimony of white witnesses. If the commissioner decided against the claimant he would receive a fee of five dollars; if in favor, ten dollars. This provision, supposedly justified by the paper work needed to remand a fugitive to the South, became notoriou
Ryan Faulhaber, [12.10.21 14:21] s among abolitionists as a bribe to commissioners. The 1850 law also required U. S. marshals and deputies to help slaveowners capture their property and fined them $1000 if they refused. It empowered marshals to deputize citizens on the spot to aid in seizing a fugitive, and imposed stiff criminal penalties on anyone who harbored a fugitive or obstructed his capture. The expenses of capturing and returning a slave were to be borne by the federal treasury.3 The operation of this law confirmed the impression that it was rigged in favor of claimants. In the first fifteen months after its passage, eighty-four fugitives were returned to slavery and only five released. During the full decade of the 1850s, 332 were returned and only eleven declared free.4 Nor did the law contain a statute of limitations. Some of the first fugitives returned to slavery had been longtime residents of the North. In September 1850, federal marshals arrested a black porter who had lived in New York City for three years and took him before a commissioner who refused to record the man’s insistence that his mother was a free Negro, and remanded him to his claimant owner in Baltimore.
▪️ Several months later slave catchers seized a prosperous black tailor who had resided in Poughkeepsie for many years and carried him back to South Carolina. In February 1851 agents arrested a black man in southern Indiana, while his horrified wife and children looked on, and returned him to an owner who claimed him as a slave who had run away nineteen years earlier. A Maryland man asserted ownership of a Philadelphia woman who he said had run away twenty-two years previously. For good measure he also claimed her six children born in Philadelphia. In this case the commissioner found for the woman’s freedom. And in the cases of the Poughkeepsie tailor and the New York porter, black and white friends raised money to buy their freedom. But most fugitives who were carried south stayed there.5
▪️ Most abolitionists had traditionally counseled nonviolence. Some of them, like William Lloyd Garrison, were pacifists. But the fugitive slave law eroded the commitment to nonviolence. “The only way to make the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter,” said black leader Frederick Douglass in October 1850, “is to make half a dozen or more dead kidnappers.”
▪️ It is not possible to measure precisely the political influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. One can quantify its sales but cannot point to votes that it changed or laws that it inspired. Yet few contemporaries doubted its power. “Never was there such a literary coup-de-main as this,” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In England, Lord Palmerston, who as prime minister a decade later would face a decision whether to intervene on behalf of the South in the Civil War, read Uncle Tom’s Cabin three times and admired it not so much for the story as “for the statesmanship of it.” As Abraham Lincoln was grappling with the problem of slavery in the summer of 1862, he borrowed from the Library of Congress A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a subsequent volume by Stowe containing documentation on which she had based the novel.
▪️ Our whole commerce except a small fraction is in the hands of Northern men,“ complained a prominent Alabamian in 1847.
▪️ Financially we are more enslaved than our negroes.“
▪️ we purchase all our luxuries and necessaries from the North. . . . Our slaves are clothed with Northern manufactured goods [and] work with Northern hoes, ploughs, and other implements.
▪️ Two econometric historians have argued that by world standards the southern economy in 1860 did not lag significantly in commercial and industrial development. Using three per-capita indices—railroad mileage, cotton textile production, and pig iron production, Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman found that the South ranked just behind the North in railroads but ahead of every other country. In textile production the South ranked sixth and in pig iron eighth. But the railroad index they used is specious, for railroads connect places as well as people. By an index that combines popula
Ryan Faulhaber, [12.10.21 14:21] tion and square miles of territory the South’s railroad capacity was not only less than half of the North’s but also considerably less than that of several European countries in 1860. Combining the two measures of industrial capacity used by Fogel and Engerman, the South produced only one-nineteenth as much per capita as Britain, one-seventh as much as Belgium, one-fifth as much as the North, and one-fourth as much as Sweden—rather significant differences which tend to undermine the point they are trying to make. See Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston, 1974), 254–56.
▪️ Contemporaries and historians have advanced several explanations for this “failure of industrialization in the slave economy,” as the subtitle of a recent study has termed it. Following the lead of Adam Smith, classical economists considered free labor more efficient than slave labor because the free worker is stimulated by the fear of want and the desire for betterment. A slave, wrote Smith, “can have no other interest but to eat as much, and to labour as little as possible.” Yankee opponents of slavery agreed. “Enslave a man,” declared Horace Greeley, “and you destroy his ambition, his enterprise, his capacity. In the constitution of human nature, the desire of bettering one’s condition is the mainspring of effort.”36 The northern journalist and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted made three extensive trips through the South in the 1850s which resulted in three books that portrayed a shiftless, indolent, rundown society as the fruit of bondage. The subsistence level at which slaves and many “poor whites” lived discouraged the development of a market for consumer goods that could have stimulated southern manufacturing.37
◆ 4 Slavery, Rum, and Romanism
▪️ The Democratic national convention adopted no fewer than three planks pledging fidelity to the Compromise of 1850, and affirmed that “Congress has no power . . . to interfere with questions of slavery”—except of course to help masters recover fugitives.
▪️ The most poignant of these cases involved Margaret Garner, who in January 1856 escaped with her husband and four children from Kentucky to Ohio. When a posse was about to capture them, Margaret seized a kitchen knife, slit
▪️ the throat of one daughter, and tried to kill her other children rather than see them returned to slavery. The state of Ohio requested jurisdiction over Garner to try her for manslaughter, but a federal judge overruled state officials and ordered the Garners returned to their owner. That worthy gentleman promptly sold them down the river to New Orleans. On the way there one of Margaret’s other children achieved the emancipation she had sought for him, by drowning after a steamboat collision
▪️ The question was, who would pick up the pieces of the smashed political parties? In the lower South, Democrats would soon sweep most of the remaining shards of Whiggery into their own dustbin. In the upper South, Whigs clung to a precarious existence—under different names—for a few more years. In the North, matters were more complicated. Some antislavery Whigs like William H. Seward hoped to rejuvenate the party for the 1854 state and congressional elections by absorbing Free Soilers and anti-Nebraska Democrats. But the latter groups declined to be absorbed. Instead, along with many Whigs they proposed to abandon “mere party names, and rally as one man for the re-establishment of liberty and the overthrow of the Slave Power.” (political parties were very fluid)
▪️ The founding fathers, said Lincoln, had opposed slavery. They adopted a Declaration of Independence that pronounced all men created equal.
▪️ But such action, Douglas had protested, would be contrary to the settlers’ “sacred right of self-government.” Nonsense, replied Lincoln. Slavery was contrary to that right. “When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man . . . that is despotism. . . . The negro is a man. . . . There can be
Ryan Faulhaber, [12.10.21 14:21] no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another,
▪️ Indeed, the Church entered a period of reaction during the papacy of Pius IX (1846–78). The 1848–49 revolutions and wars of unification in Italy made Pius “a violent enemy of liberalism and social reform.” He subsequently proclaimed the doctrine of papal infallibility and issued his Syllabus of Errors condemning socialism, public education, rationalism, and other such iniquities. “It is an error,” declared the Pope, “to believe that the Roman Pontiff can and ought to reconcile himself to, and agree with, progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.” The American Catholic hierarchy took its cue from the Pope.
▪️ Republicans and Know-Nothings had succeeded in breaking down the Whigs and weakening the Democrats in most parts of the North. (Republicans have been nativists from the start)
◆ 5 The Crime Against Kansas
▪️ Buchanan had held so many offices that he was known as “Old Public Functionary”
◆ 6 Mudsills and Greasy Mechanics for A. Lincoln
▪️ Taney had no great love of the institution for its own sake, having freed his own slaves. But he did have a passionate commitment “to southern life and values, which seemed organically linked to the peculiar institution and unpreservable without it.
▪️ Therefore “we slaveholders say you must recur to domestic slavery, the oldest, the best, the most common form of Socialism” as well as “the natural and normal condition of the laboring men, white or black.”
▪️ Southerners claimed that free labor was prone to unrest and strikes. Of course it was, said Abraham Lincoln during a speaking tour of New England in March 1860 that coincided with the shoemakers’ strike. “I am glad to see that a system prevails in New England under which laborers CAN strike when they want to (Cheers). . . . I like the system which lets a man quit when he wants to, and wish it might prevail everywhere. (Tremendous applause.)” The glory of free labor, said Lincoln, lay in its open competition for upward mobility, a competition in which most Americans finished ahead of where they started in life. “I want every man to have the chance—and I believe a black man is entitled to it—in which he can better his condition.” That was the significance of the irrepressible conflict and of the house divided, concluded Lincoln, for if the South got its way “free labor that can strike will give way to slave labor that cannot!”62
◆ 7 The Revolution of 1860
▪️ When he finally moved, in mid-October, he did so without previous notice to the slaves he expected to join him, without rations, without having scouted any escape routes from Harper’s Ferry, with no apparent idea of what to do after capturing the armory buildings. It was almost as if he knew that failure with its ensuing martyrdom
▪️ Brown had made the word Treason “holy in the American language”
▪️ While abating none of the antislavery convictions expressed in the 1856 platform, it softened the language slightly and denounced John Brown’s raid as “the gravest of crimes.” Gladly accepting the issues handed to Republicans by the opposition, the platform pledged support for a homestead act, rivers and harbors improvements, and federal aid for construction of a transcontinental railroad.