November 2, 1860: Hannibal Hamlin, mulatto?

Hannibal Hamlin
Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin

The New York Times of November 2, 1860 quotes from the Montgomery (AL) Mail:

The Montgomery (Ala.) Mail grows more furious as election approaches. In a recent issue it says:
“Unquestionably our people are preparing to take care of themselves, in the event of the success of Black Republicanism. The agents of the Free-Soil power are getting more chary in the expression of their sentiments and opinions about the duty of the South — from all quarters come the notes of resistance. As soon as the election is over our citizens will be pretty well united. God send that day speedily!

We glory in the fact that the “Overt-Act” men are gradually disappearing. The blood of the South is becoming hot. The day is not three weeks off when the ‘agents’ and ‘pioneers’ will have to be very, very cautious. The best men of the South — aye, and of the North, too — have declared that the South must not, cannot live under Black Republican rule. If for no other reason, the South would resist the Lincoln Administration on account of the mulatto HAMLIN. And the true Southern sentiment is making itself felt. Every day adds to its strength. Glorious South Carolina will lead the way, and Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi will follow and stand by her side.”

The “overt-act” movement mentioned dismissively here is the argument that the South should not secede simply in response to Lincoln’s election, but only if he undertook some “overt act” toward interfering with slavery in the existing Southern states.

Hannibal Hamlin, who served as a Representative, Governor, and Senator from Maine before the 1860 election, had a dark complexion, and was widely rumored in the South to have African-American ancestry. The fire-eater R. Barnwell Rhett said in a July 9, 1860 speech that “Hamlin is what we call a Mulatto…they design to place over the South a man who has Negro blood in his veins.” Some modern writers repeat the rumor as a source of African-American pride, but it doesn’t seem to have any basis in fact.

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