February 13, 1861: “The South is now in the formation of a Slave Republic”.

From a letter by Leonidas W. Spratt, former editor of the Charleston Standard and commissioner from South Carolina to the Florida Secession Convention. This letter was sent to a Louisiana legislator, urging that the slave trade be reopened; he used almost identical language in his address to the Florida convention. His main thesis is that in the Confederacy, slavery provides a disfranchised class of workers so that the wealthy can always remain in control of the “democratic” process. It’s interesting to read this in contrast with Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning,” in which she argues that, despite the intentions of the white male voters, the large disfranchised sections of the Confederate populace seized power in various ways during the Civil War, contributing to the Confederacy’s defeat.

      The South is now in the formation of a Slave Republic. This, perhaps, is not admitted generally. There are many contented to believe that the South as a geographical section is in mere assertion of its independence; that, it is instinct with no especial truth—pregnant of no distinct social nature; that for some unaccountable reason the two sections have become opposed to each other; that for reasons equally insufficient, there is disagreement between the peoples that direct them; and that from no overruling necessity, no impossibility of co-existence, but as mere matter of policy, it has been considered best for the South to strike out for herself and establish an independence of her own. This, I fear, is an inadequate conception of the controversy.

        The contest is not between the North and South as geographical sections, for between such sections merely there can be no contest; nor between the people of the North and the people of the South, for our relations have been pleasant, and on neutral grounds there is still nothing to estrange us. We eat together, trade together, and practice, yet, in intercourse, with great respect, the courtesies of common life. But the real contest is between the two forms of society which have become established, the one at the North and the other at the South. Society is essentially different from government–as different as is the nut from the bur, or the nervous body of the shell-fish from the bony structure which surrounds it; and within this government two societies had become developed as variant in structure and distinct in form as any two beings in animated nature.

The one is a society composed of one race, the other of two races. The one is bound together but by the two great social relations of husband and wife and parent and child; the other by the three relations of husband and wife, and parent and child, and master and slave. The one embodies in its political structure the principle that equality is the right of man; the other that it is the right of equals only. The one embodying the principle that equality is the right of man, expands upon the horizontal plane of pure democracy; the other, embodying the principle that it is not the right of man, but of equals only, has taken to itself the rounded form of a social aristocracy.

In the one there is hireling labor, in the other slave labor; in the one, therefore, in theory at least, labor is voluntary; in the other involuntary; in the labor of the one there is the elective franchise, in the other there is not; and, as labor is always in excess of direction, in the one the power of government is only with the lower classes; in the other the upper. In the one, therefore, the reins of government come from the heels, in the other from the head of the society; in the one it is guided by the worst, in the other by the best, intelligence; in the one it is from those who have the least, in the other from those who have the greatest, stake in the continuance of existing order.

In the one the pauper laborer has the power to rise and appropriate by law the goods protected by the State–when pressure comes, as come it must, there will be the motive to exert it–and thus the ship of State turns bottom upwards. In the other there is no pauper labor with power of rising; the ship of State has the ballast of a disfranchised class: there is no possibility of political upheaval, therefore, and it is reasonably certain that, so steadied, it will sail erect and onward to an indefinitely distant period.

For more on Spratt’s address to the Florida Secession Convention, see Dew, pp. 44-45, which cites the Charleston Mercury for the full text of his remarks. His speech is not reproduced in the Journal of the convention, but the fact that he spoke is recorded there. The full text is available online here.

This entry was posted in Causes of the war, Florida, Secession, Slave trade, Slavery, South Carolina. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to February 13, 1861: “The South is now in the formation of a Slave Republic”.

  1. Mark says:

    Intersting, thank you.

    The more complex the language, often times, the more simple the desire. For all the double talk and posturing, this guy is really saying (seems to me) that slavery is much better because those in power stay in power.

    Now, the really intersting question is — why can’t this guy just say that? Why does he have to package this in perfumed and flowery prose? He knew exactly what his basic message was — I love slavery because I can stay in power better.

    But he isn’t going to say that.

    It’s way past time when people — including history teachers — should reduce these verbose and purposely cunning linquistic charades to their essential meaning. Society didn’t do it then , but why on earth don’t we do it now?

    Notice that few proponents of slavery, few slave owners, would dare to be candid and direct. Lee’s famous letter to his wife is an example, as are virtually all speeches and writings that advocate or defend slavery.

    For over 100 years people have used a sentence or two from Lee’s letter to claim he was against slavery. But actually Lee is defending slavery, and the pain and torture that he and others applied to slaves. Pain was “necessary for their instruction”.

    Far from being against slavery, Lee is astonishingly defending the pain inflicted on slaves.

    And we now know, thanks to Elizabeth Pryor, that Lee was no shrinking violet, that he personally took part in orchestating the capture and torture of his mulatto slave girls. Perhaps Lee’s missive to his wife, was trying to mollify her about the suffering of slaves. It is God’s will, Lee was saying. And God knows what he is doing — perhaps in 2000 years God will free slaves, meanwhile, pain is necessary for their instruction.

    Euphamisms and double talk are how these atrosoties can happen in the first place, and how they will continue until stopped.

    It’s no accident that the men who rose to the top in the slave owning empire — Lee, Davis, Toombs, Yancy, Stephens, were also cunning linquistically.

    You didn’t get men to shout “Beat the men, sell the children, take the women to the barn and have your fun, by God this is good stuff!”. Why couldnt men who spoke directly like that get in a position of power?

    Because society prefers euphamisms and double talk. Society punishes direct and honest communication about inflicting pain and suffereing.

    Those who are good at it, ascended into the political controlling class. Men who were bad at it, just got to be lords of their own slave empires, but they didn’t become generals, governors, or leaders of the CSA.

    The question we should face is not about how man can be so cruel and vile to others — but how can society spot and stop linquistic nonsense in the first place.

    If you stop linquistic nonsense, you stop much of the pain and cruelty we inflict upon each other.

  2. Agathman says:

    Actually, I think that Spratt is quite frank in this letter. Certainly more so than most of the leaders of the Confederacy. Writers at the time were writing for an audience of the elite; education, particularly in the South, was reserved for a privileged few, and those few were well educated indeed. Long, complex sentences full of subordinate clauses were par for the course. Spratt’s not trying to conceal his argument here; he thinks that democracy should be limited to that elite, and he thinks that slavery achieves that goal better than free labor does. His writing only seems flowery and obscure to us because we’ve become accustomed to the much sparer prose of our times.

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