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Cody Gadd

Professor April Holm

HST 404

November 16, 2017

Race and Slavery in 1860: An Analysis of Two Counties

There were many complex issues that caused the Civil War to take place over a hundred

and fifty years ago, but the main issues at the center of it involved race and slavery. In his book

Half Slave and Half Free, Bruce Levine talks about the growing divide between the North and

the South in cultural values, social makeup, and economy, then goes on to say that “at the bottom

of that antagonism lay the institution of slavery, and eventually the slavery issue reshaped and

redefined the terms of political life . . . the war grew out of the long-escalating political conflict

over it.”1 In the period leading up to the Civil War, neither the North nor the South was willing

to adjust or let go of the cultural values, political power, or allegiance to their position on slavery

to avoid the ultimate conflict.

This can be seen in an analysis of newspaper publications in two unique counties located

near the Mason-Dixon Line: Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The

two counties were less than two hundred miles apart in distance, but Augusta County was south

of the Mason-Dixon Line in what would become Confederate Virginia while Franklin County

was north of the Mason-Dixon Line in Union Pennsylvania. Augusta County had two

newspapers of note, the Democratic Staunton Vindicator and the Whig Staunton Spectator.

Franklin County had the Democratic Valley Spirit and the Republican Franklin Repository. The

year 1860 was chosen for study in these newspapers because it was the year prior to the outbreak

of the Civil War as well as an election year. The issue of slavery, particularly slavery in the
1
Bruce Levine. Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005), xi.
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territories and who had control of that, was the dominant question in the 1860 presidential

campaign and election.

Both the North and the South wanted to hold on to political power and influence

regarding their position on slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law. The Staunton Spectator reported

on an editorial from the New York Times that presented an argument that southern states had no

reason to feel any “apprehension” regarding attempts by northern states to do away with any

laws of Congress related to slavery. The editor of the Spectator added a comment about how the

Times neglected to mention a Personal Liberty Bill passed by Connecticut “in opposition to the

Fugitive Slave Law, which it entirely nullifies.”2 The Franklin Repository showed concern for

the amount of political power held by the South. The editor discussed that Congressional

representatives from the South were tired of “encroachments of the North” and that they were

being “oppressed” by the North. He made a case for a reduction in political power for the South

based on size, stating that there were less than half a million people in the South interested in

slavery, another five million whites who had no interest in the “Peculiar Institution,” but fifteen

million whites in the North who “do not crack the plantation whip over human chattels,” so

therefore, based on size, the North should have more political influence and the South less.3

Another editorial in the Repository ridiculed the idea of unequal political power and

representation as claimed by the South. It stated that “the slave power – the one fortieth of the

whites of the United States – have usurped about the seven eights of all the important offices

under the National Government since the formation of the Republic.”4

The Vindicator published an article with complaints about the country being worked up

about three Northern states that passed Personal Liberty bills to void the Fugitive Slave Law. It

2
“Hostile Legislation,” Staunton Spectator, January 10, 1860, 2.
3
“The Oppressed South,” Franklin Repository, January 18, 1860, 4.
4
“The Equal Share,” Franklin Repository, February 1, 1860, 1.
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was argued that Congress passed the law in order to carry out the Constitutional provision to

“render back to the master any slave who may have escaped from service.” In Pennsylvania, a

man named Myers carried several escaped slaves to Maryland on behalf of the owner to be

placed back in service but he was arrested and tried for kidnapping, found guilty, and sentenced

to eight years in prison. The Vindicator’s position was that Personal Liberty laws were a

“flagrant violation of the constitution.”5 The next month, the Vindicator argued for economic

pressure against the North to attempt to stop their support of abolitionism. A bill that was before

the Virginia Legislature was written to encourage purchase of goods from the state of Virginia

and to discourage the purchase of goods from the North. It specifically mentioned a factory in

Massachusetts that manufactured fabric for home use which was mostly purchased by

Southerners. The article stated that “It is a fact beyond doubt that the trade of the North – in other

words, that the North – is at the mercy of the South; and if each of the Southern Legislatures

would pass some such prohibitory bill … we would soon see the North forced into a conservative

policy.”6

The Franklin Depository presented an editorial that questioned why the Democratic Party

was so concerned with blacks as an issue in its party politics and quest for political power, a

situation the paper called “Nigger democracy.” The article contained many derogatory terms

such as “darkey,” “cuffy,” and “sambo” in describing the focus of the party on blacks as opposed

to having “more sympathy for whites . . . poor white men and their families are the parties who

suffer the most” due to no jobs, no means of support, and having to “herd with negroes.” The

editorial claimed that the Republican position was not against slavery itself, but rather against the

5
“Nullification of the Fugitive Slave Law,” Staunton Vindicator, February 3, 1860, 2.
6
“Non-Intercourse with the North,” Staunton Vindicator, March 2, 1860, 2.
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extension of slavery to play down the party’s opposition to it.7 The Valley Spirit made the case

that abolitionists did not see slavery as an “element of political power” but getting rid of slavery

would actually hurt Northern interests in Pennsylvania. Blacks in the North were counted in the

census but in the South they were not counted. The Spirit promoted the idea that abolishing

slavery would actually take political power from the North because the slaves would then be

counted in the census and it would give twenty more Congressional members to the South. The

article stated “Do the abolitionists wish to endow the Southern States with more political power

than they already possess? The rooting out of slavery would not promote Northern interests. It

would directly conflict with the interests of Pennsylvania.”8

The issue of who should have control over slavery in states and territories was also

prevalent in 1860. The Staunton Vindicator made it a point to remind Democratic Virginians that

they had an obligation to send representatives to a convention in Richmond where the purpose

was “to plank out the platform of principles upon which the Democracy of Virginia are to stand

during the coming canvass. . . to decide issues which rise high above the questions which

ordinarily engage the attention of parties and politicians.” The primary issue to be addressed was

whether a slaveholder from the South who moved into Union territories would have their

“property,” or slaves, protected as the “Federal Constitution provides.”9 The Staunton Spectator

published an article stating that most Southern slave owners had no wish to take slaves into a

territory that was free. The Spectator quoted from a letter written by a Dr. Breckenridge to his

nephew, the Vice President, where he discussed “disunion” as an action that would “cause . . .

national calamities rather than a solution to them.” He viewed the solution as not a breaking up

of the country, but a “due enforcement of the laws.” Breckenridge believed that the answer was

7
“The Nigger Again,” Franklin Repository, April 25, 1860, 4.
8
“The Abolition of Slavery,” Valley Spirit, May 2, 1860, 4.
9
“The Meeting on Monday the 23rd,” Staunton Vindicator, January 20, 1860.
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for slavery to remain in its current place without extension into free territories. He asked “Why

then cannot all parties and both sections agree to let the matter alone and cease agitation.”10 The

Franklin Depository reported on the Nebraskan governor’s veto of a bill to abolish slavery in

that territory as proof that the Democratic Party wanted to expand slavery into all states and

territories no matter what the repercussions. The article stated “It seems as if the Democratic

Party were animated by an undying spite against Freedom. Otherwise, why should they persist in

trying to force Slavery upon communities situated in high latitudes like Nebraska, where they

know the sentiment of the people is against it …”11

The Staunton Vindicator discussed the pro-slavery laws that were put in place by the

New Mexico territory’s legislature. The writer argued that a territorial legislature does and

should have the political power to pass laws that support slavery, going on to state that “the

people of a territory, if they want slavery, will have it, and if they do not want it, they will not

have it . . .wherever slavery is profitable, there slavery will go.” Regarding profit, the writer

asserts that the South does not have slaves and the North does not oppose slavery because of

morals, that it is rather a “question of finance.”12 A personal story of the question of slavery in

states and territories was reported in the Staunton Spectator about a Mrs. Lemmon who brought

her slaves from Virginia to New York. While she was in New York, the slaves were freed

because slavery was prohibited in New York. Mrs. Lemmon sued, saying that she had certain

rights as a citizen of Virginia and these rights did not stop because she was in New York. She

lost the case in the New York Court of Appeals, with Judge Denio stating “the right to hold

slaves…is not one of the privileges and immunities of …New York.”13 The Valley Spirit

10
“State of the Country,” Staunton Spectator, January 31, 1860, 2.
11
“Slavery in Nebraska,” Franklin Repository, February 1, 1860, 1.
12
“Slavery in the Territories,” Staunton Vindicator, April 20, 1860, 2.
13
“The Lemmon Slave Case,” Staunton Spectator, May 1, 1860, 2.
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published an article that put the blame for the extension of slavery and pushing for sectionalism

on the Democratic Party in the South. The article stated the following.

The impatient hot heads of slavery-extension, however, in their mad zeal


for spreading the iniquitous system of paid labor over all portions of the
country – even into regions where the fell spirit of slavery …during the
recent sessions of the sectional, political organization at Charleston, have
illuminated the sentiments of Southerners…All the horrors of Disunionism
with which the country has been threatened by these locofoco Southern
sectionalists . . . emanated from Southern Sectionalism.14

Allegiance to slavery or opposition to it as a part of the culture was something that was

deeply seated in both the North and the South. A politician from the South said in 1860, “Slavery

is our King, Slavery is our truth, Slavery is our right.” 15In an editorial in the Staunton Spectator,

the Spectator argued that it is understandable why John Brown believed that white Virginians

would come to his side and support him at Harper’s Ferry in his “insane enterprise against

Virginia.” The editor put blame on Democrats for claiming disloyalty to slavery and the South

when anyone did not agree completely with their views. In the case of John Brown, it stated

“The Democratic leaders had been telling Brown that there were those in Virginia who

sympathized with him, until a conviction of the truth of the statement was forced upon him.”16

The Valley Spirit published an article describing a speech by Stephen A. Douglas about Harper’s

Ferry in which he supported federal involvement of a raid across state lines to come to the aid of

John Brown. In contrast to the Spectator, Douglas argued that the Republican Party was to blame

for their deep seated cultural teachings and doctrine. He went on to discuss Lincoln’s statement

“I believe this government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free” as

“revolutionary” and against the culture of the Republic as a whole.17

14
“Sectionalism Illuminated,” Franklin Repository, May 9, 1860, 4.
15
Eric Foner. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation & Reconstruction. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 33.
16
“Democracy and Slavery,” Staunton Spectator, February 7, 1860, 2.
17
“Great Speech of Stephen A. Douglas on Harper’s Ferry Invasion,” Valley Spirit, February 22, 1860, 1.
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The editor of the Franklin Repository took great exception to the position of the Valley

Spirit as well as the Democratic Party because of the support given to the South and slave

holders regarding the cultural foundation of the right of working to support one’s family. He

accused them of being obsessed with allegiance to blacks as their only “theme.” He wrote the

following.

Who, among working men, that has any respect for himself and his wife and
children, wishes to see this free State of Pennsylvania overrun with Slavery;
every branch of industry which now affords support for thousands of white
people, who are willing to work for a living, supplied with the labor of negroes
whose bodies and souls…belong to their masters – recognized as such by the
law?18

The Repository continued with the theme of the cultural right to work to support one’s family

with an article that complained about a comment made by Senator Wigfall of Texas when he said

that “poverty is a crime.” The article stated the following.

Hitherto the rank and file of the locofoco party in the North, have followed
blindly …these dupes have been told, over and over again, that there was
not, nor could there be from the nature of the case, the smallest particle of
sympathy between the haughty owners of “working people” in the South
and free “working people” of the North …

The writer went on to say that the general culture of the South is that “Slavery is the natural and

normal condition of all ‘poor men’” and that poor men in the North should immediately separate

themselves from the “manacles” of a party who wanted to extend slavery.19

In the Staunton Vindicator, an article demonstrated the deep seated allegiance some held

to slavery when the author made the shocking proposition that all free blacks should be forced

into slavery so the North would want to sell them to the South, making it unnecessary to try to

reopen the African slave trade. The author stated “I contend that the same moral law by which

we hold our negroes as slaves, justifies us in making slaves of all negroes upon which we can lay

18
“The Nigger Democracy,” Franklin Repository, March 7, 1860, 2.
19
“Is Poverty a Crime,” Franklin Repository, April 11, 1860, 4.
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our hands, wherever they may be found.”20 The Staunton Vindicator editors had such an

allegiance to slavery that when black musicians visited Pennsylvania to perform, they stated that

they would return home happier with their own status as slaves than what they observed of their

“free black brethren” in Pennsylvania.21

In “Strike for Freedom,” the Franklin Repository editor said that the Republican Party

would win the presidential election and move through the South to spread its allegiance to

abolitionism. He wrote “The election of a Republican President would be the signal for the

uprising of Republicanism in the South. The masses, who have been so long down-trodden by

the Slave Oligarchy, would arise in their might and emancipate themselves…” He went on to say

that the spread was bound to happen and that “you might as well try to dam up a rapidly flowing

stream of water with sand as to attempt to prevent the spread of truth, religious or political.”22

The Repository published an ad for a runaway slave named Littleton as the owner asked, but

illustrated their position on abolitionism when they questioned why a 37 year old man was called

“Boy” and why over half of his body was covered in injuries and scars. They wrote that he was

“anxious to get to the Black Republicans” and pointed out that he had many questionable injuries

such as a shot in a place that he could not have done himself. They stated that if he was found,

they would take him to the nearest Republican headquarters and that perhaps the owner should

be given over to the runaway instead of the other way around.23 A story reported by the Saunton

Spectator illustrated the cultural allegiance to slavery that was supposedly held by even the

enslaved like Mary Elizabeth, a 22-year-old black woman whose owner died and emancipated

20
“Southern Retaliation,” Staunton Vindicator, March 30, 1860, 2.
21
“Music,” Staunton Vindicator, April 11, 1860, 5.
22
“Strike for Freedom,” Franklin Repository, May 2, 1860, 4.
23
“$50 Reward – Runaway,” Franklin Repository, July 11, 1860, 8.
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her in his will. According to the article, she “voluntarily enslaved herself” during a session of the

Rockbridge Circuit Court, which could authorize the “voluntary enslavement of free negroes.”24

When Abraham Lincoln was elected as the first Republican president of the United

States, it was seen by the people of Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania

as either an epic victory for or a frightening threat to the cultural values, political status, and

position on the practice of slavery. Even though Lincoln said that his aim was not abolitionism

but preservation of the Union, as Eric Foner wrote in his book Forever Free, “In the eyes of

many white southerners, Lincoln’s victory placed their future at the mercy of a party avowedly

hostile to their region’s values and interests.”25 After the Constitution was adopted, politics had

been monopolized by states with an allegiance to slavery, but even though Lincoln got almost no

votes in the South, he had won; Foner stated that Lincoln’s victory was a sign that the North now

held the power. An examination of the newspapers in Augusta and Franklin Counties can also

help shed light on the viewpoint of people in the North and South on the outcome of the election

and the future of slavery. The Franklin Repository published as article titled “The Victory.” It

stated the following.

The battle has been fought and the victory won! The spirit of the people
rose with the fierceness of the contest! The loud, wild, angry war-whoop
of disunion did not frighten the brave sons of liberty! …A new honest
administration will take control, and the poor man will get a job… and
the Free Homestead bill will provide opportunities for … livelihoods
free of slavery.26

The perspective from the South on Lincoln’s election and slavery is seen in an editorial in the

Staunton Vindicator. It gives “Suggestions to the People of Virginia” and is recommended by the

editor as “embracing the true idea.” The primary suggestion given is that Virginians “preserve a

24
“A Sensible Negro,” Staunton Spectator, September 25, 1860, 2.
25
Eric Foner. Forever Free, 32.
26
“The Victory,” Franklin Repository, November 14, 1860, 4.
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masterly inactivity” in the face of what was certainly a “threatening” situation without passion,

excitement, or wildness by anyone. It was vital, said the Vindicator, that Virginia keep the bigger

goal in mind which was the “maintenance of her rights and honor at any cost.”27

The people and events of Augusta and Franklin Counties as seen in the newspapers in

1860 are illustrative of the complicated issues surrounding race and slavery that led to the Civil

War. These issues ran deep into the society and culture of that time. As Levine said, “Neither

side was ready to make so massive and humiliating a retreat without being militarily compelled

to do so.”28

Bibliography

“The Abolition of Slavery.” Valley Spirit. May 2, 1860.

“Democracy and Slavery.” Staunton Spectator. February 7, 1860.

27
“Sound Advice,” Staunton Vindicator, November 16, 1860, 2.
28
Bruce Levine. Half Slave and Half Free, xi.
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“The Equal Share.” Franklin Repository. February 1, 1860.

“Fifty Dollar Reward – Ranaway.” Franklin Repository. July 11, 1860.

Foner, Eric. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation & Reconstruction. New York: Vintage
Books, 2005.

“Great Speech of Steven A. Douglas on Harper’s Ferry Invasion.” Valley Spirit. February 22,
1860.

“Hon. Wm. Yancey.” Staunton Vindicator. October 5, 1860.

“Hostile Legislation.” Staunton Spectator. January 10, 1860.

“Is Poverty a Crime.” Franklin Repository. April 11, 1860.

“The Irrepressible Conflict.” Franklin Repository. March 14, 1860.

“The Lemmon Slave Case.” Staunton Spectator. May 1, 1860.

Levine, Bruce. Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War. New York: Hill & Wang,
2005.

“The Meeting on Monday the 23rd.” Staunton Vindicator. January 20, 1860.

“Music.” Valley Spirit. April 11, 1860.

“The Nigger Again.” Franklin Repository. April 25, 1860.

“The Nigger Democracy.” Franklin Repository. March 7, 1860.

“Non-Intercourse with the North.” Staunton Vindicator. March 2, 1860.

“Nullification of the Fugitive Slave Law.” Staunton Vindicator. February 3, 1860.

“The Oppressed South.” Franklin Repository. January 18, 1860.

“A Sensible Negro.” Staunton Spectator. September 25, 1860.

“Slavery in Nebraska.” Franklin Repository. February 1, 1860.

“Sound Advice.” Staunton Vindicator. November 16, 1860.

“Southern Retaliation.” Staunton Vindicator. March 30, 1860.


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“State of the Country.” Staunton Spectator. January 31, 1860.

“Slavery in the Territories.” Staunton Vindicator. April 20, 1860.

“Strike for Freedom.” Franklin Repository. May 2, 1860.

“Sectionalism Illuminated.” Franklin Repository. May 9, 1860.

“$50 Reward – Ranaway.” Franklin Repository. July 11, 1860.

“The Victory.” Franklin Repository. November 14, 1860.