October 19, 1860: More suppression of free speech in the South

Texas Vigilantes

An article from the Jackson Semi-Weekly Mississippian, October 19, 1860:

A Female Emissary.
An examination was held at Charleston, S. C., on Friday morning, by Mayor Macbeth, of one Mrs. Catherine Bottsford, a female of rather prepossessing appearance, charged by several respectable citizens with uttering and disseminating among the slave population seditious sentiments.  During the investigation she admitted entertaining the Abolition sentiments attributed to her and of being an admirer of John Brown.  She denied, however, any attempt to circulate her opinions.  The evidence and affidavits submitted showed to the contrary, and she was required to give bail in the sum of $300 for her good behavior.  Failing in this she was turned over to Magistrate Kampaux who committed her to jail.
We learn from the Courier that the accused states that she has resided in the city about nine months, during which time she has followed the occupation of a seamstress.  She also states that she hoped to obtain the situation of a teacher.  Officer Schoubee, who arrested her, had been watching her movements for some time past.  The case will probably undergo investigation at the January term of the Court of General Sessions. 

As we’ve seen repeatedly, the South was in a state of panic over the threat of slave insurrection. Vigilantes were inclined to act against anyone even suspected of anti-slavery sentiments, as a part of the abolitionists’ vanguard.

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2 Responses to October 19, 1860: More suppression of free speech in the South

  1. Mark Douglas says:

    The above case is pathetically weak one, to use as an indictment of the South’s violent suppression of free speech. How you could even find such a weak example, is beyond me.

    The South had violently and systematically stopped free speech from 1820 on.

    So extreme was the hatred in the South for free speech, that Southern Congressmen were calling for the arrest of people in the NORTH who dared to publish anti slavery material –and demanded those publishers be sent to the South for “proper punishment”. These same Congressmen insisted that Northern speech was “a matter of life and death” to Southern people, because it would incite the rebellion of slaves.

    Slaves, the South insisted, were docile happy creatures who enjoyed being slaves. Davis himself said “The African Slave is the most contented laborer on Earth, with natural affection for his master”

    Davis mistook the grovelling and compliance of tortured slaves for “affection”.

    Davis said slaves only became dissatisfied when the “evil serpent abolitionist whisperd the ‘lie of freedom’ into his ear” This was the common belief in the South — slaves enjoyed being slaves, it was the crazy abolitionist that was causing the problem.

    In fact, even 150 years later, historians who should know better, adopt this same insane attituded. As if slaves didn’t hate being slaves on their own. As if the evil serpent was those who were against slavery, not the violent terrorist known as slavers.

    Shelby Foote, despite his cute little manners, is one that blames the North for freeing the slaves “before they were ready”. Slavery was the biggest sin of the USA, he claimed, but the second biggest sin was to free the slaves “before they were ready”,

    But that’s off topic —–

    In fact, before 1820, there were 130 some anti slavery newspapers or publications in the South. But starting it 1820, and the “anti-incendiary laws” all those were shut down.

    Not only were the writers shut down, it was illegal to even own or possess anything which MIGHT “cause a slave to be dissatisfied”. Men were tortured for owning the wrong book or pamphlet, ( See Anti-slavery leaders of North Carolina, By John Spencer). Ships were searched from 1810 on, for written material against slavery. US Mail was intercepted regularly. If a person was accused of owning the wrong book, he was searched, and so was his house.

    The punishment for owning the wrong book was physical torture – carried out to the glee of crowds. Then the victim was taken to jail, if he survived the torture.

    Debow, of Debow’s review, wrote in 1845, that “Almighty God has silenced the opposition to slavery by his Holy Word”. Not really –the torture and threats and searches did that.

    Anti slavery southerners were either squashed, or they moved to the North, men like Cassius Clay and Hiton Helper.

    The South of course put the whammy and Uncle Sammy’s freedom of speech in the South — they even punished preachers for questioning slavery. But that was not enough for them. They wanted the free states to violently suppress speech too.

    South Carolina’s Declaration of Causes shows how irate they were about free speech in the North (of course, there was none in the South). The Declaration decried that the North had “denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection. ”

    How DARE those people in the North write books against slavery!! How dare they call slavery a sin!! Slavery is a “Divine Gift” said Davis. Slavery is ordained of God, and likewise, the torture of slaves is ordained by God.

    Almost unmentioned now, even the sexual explotation of slave women (or men for that matter) was ordained by God. The bible passages which the South used to justify slaver, also justify the torture of slave women and men, and command the slave woman to be pleasing the to master.

    Another thing South Carolina cited was that Lincoln had “declared that that Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free, and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. ”

    Bad old Lincoln. How dare he say such things. How dare anyone speak or write, or voice their opinion. They tortured people in the South for saying things like that. And they were not going to put up with it from people of the North.

    The Civil War started in 1820, with the South’s war on free speech, which they won for 41 years. They oppressed free speech much longer than the Nazis. And they would have oppressed it even longer, had they not issued their Ultimatums in March of 1861 — to spread slavery into the territories, and to silence opposition among the people there.

  2. Agathman says:

    Well, thanks, I guess, for the impassioned response. I agree that the incident mentioned is a minor one, but it’s part of the pattern that you have detailed above. In this blog I’m restricting myself to writing about events that occurred or were published exactly 150 years before my posting date, and to accounts in contemporary sources. I think that gives a more immediate perspective, akin to what a literate citizen might have seen day to day at the time. I’m not attempting to write an exhaustive history, and I’m trying to restrain my urge to editorialize too much — I really want to let the events and writers of the time speak for themselves.

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