What it’s all about

Slave sale, Charleston SC
Slave sale, Charleston, SC

An advertisement from the Jackson Mississippian, August 28, 1860:

Fifty Negroes for Sale.
Slave Depot, Crystal Springs.

We have established a Depot at Crystal Springs, Mississippi, for the sale of Negroes, and as our facilities for buying cheap and desirable Negroes are unsurpassed, we can say to purchasers, that we will make it to their interest to call on us before purchasing elsewhere, and purchasers who are visiting New Orleans, would find it convenient and to their interest to examine our stock.

Relying entirely on making large and quick sales to sustain us in offering such liberal inducements, and any Negro sold by us, that does not come up to our representation, as per bill of sale, will be taken in exchange with as little trouble as possible to the purchaser.

Being permanently located here, we can be found at all times to make our guarantee good. We have just received a large lot of young and likely Negroes and will continue to receive, as may be required, No. 1 Men, Boys, Women, Girls and Families; also, extra Cooks, Washers and Ironers, Blacksmiths, &c.

M. N. Robertson3 & Co.
Crystal Springs, Miss.

Was the war about slavery? Public statements during the war can be misleading.

The Founding Fathers, both in the North and South, generally regarded slavery as an evil, but one that they could not easily remedy. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1820 that

I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. The cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me in a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.

Yes, I know, that wasn’t her ear he had her by, but at least publicly he felt bad about it. With the rise of Northern abolitionism, and the opportunity for expansion of slavery afforded by the territory gained after the Mexican-American war, Southern rhetoric began to harden. By the 1850s many Southerners were no longer apologizing for slavery, but proclaiming it to be a positive benefit to both whites and blacks (see John Bell, or Charles O’Conor, for instance).

Meanwhile, when the war came the North didn’t want to alienate the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, all slave states, so Lincoln and the Republican leadership tried to make it very clear that they wanted only to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories. They agreed that the Constitution did not allow the Federal government to abolish slavery in existing states. Furthermore, many of the white citizens of the “northwest” — Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana — were as hostile to free blacks as they were toward slavery. They didn’t want slaveowners bringing them, but they didn’t want free blacks immigrating to those states either. They certainly didn’t want to fight a war to free the slaves. Most Union soldiers, at least at the start of the war, were fighting to preserve the Union. During the war, many abolitionists were very impatient with the Union’s failure to clearly declare the goal of destroying slavery entirely; it took until 1863 for that to become official policy.

As for the South, after seceding the Confederacy wanted recognition by European countries. They knew that Europeans were deeply opposed to slavery, for the most part, so most Southerners played up state’s rights and downplayed slavery in their public statements. Nevertheless, the right that those seceding states were claiming was first and foremost the right to hold human beings as property. Southerners felt that this “right” was threatened by the Republicans, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, and that was what made a Lincoln victory intolerable to them.

It’s peculiar; the North didn’t go to war to abolish slavery, but the South went to war to preserve it.

1I went through Crystal Springs on my bike on the way to New Orleans in 2007, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The town’s web site today informs us that, like most places in the US older than twenty years, it is “historic”. It’s also the home of the PTA, and was once known as the “tomatopolis of the world”. The Chamber of Commerce neglects to mention the slave depot, but that probably isn’t much of a tourist attraction2.

Copiah County line
About 2 miles north of Crystal Springs.

2In fairness, I should point out that I never saw a Confederate flag as I rode the whole length of Mississippi, while they are common in Missouri. Furthermore, people in Mississippi, both white and black, were unfailingly polite, helpful, and friendly toward me.

3It seems likely that “M.N. Robertson” is Marcus N. Robertson, born Oct. 28, 1824 in Monticello, MS, and buried in Old Crystal Springs Cemetery. After the war the 1870 census listed him as a dry goods merchant with a fair amount of property4.

Monticello, MS Courthouse
Courthouse in Monticello, MS, birthplace of Marcus N. Robertson

4 From Clan Donnachaidh Genealogy:
MARCUS N.2 ROBERTSON (NATHANIEL1)6 was born October 28, 1824 in
Monticello, Lawrence, Mississippi7, and died April 28, 1886 in
Mississippi8,9. He married MARY SUSAN MCDONALD January 02, 1845 in Hin
Co, Mississippi10. She was born September 10, 1829 in South Carolina11,
and died March 03, 1874 in Mississippi12,13.

1870 Fed Census, page 162, Coahoma Co, Ms; P.O. Friars Point shows him as a
Dry Goods Merchant with $35,000 value of real estate and personal property
value at $60,000. Born in Mississippi. Age 46 and married to Mary, a
born in S. C. FHC #0552226; ms/24

Burial: Old Crystal Springs Cemetery, Crystal Springs, Copiah Co, Ms14

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7 Responses to What it’s all about

  1. Chris Moore says:

    The South’s motives in seceding from the Union are revealed quite clearly in the Confederate Constitution that the fire-eaters wrote and ratified in the months prior to Lincoln’s inauguration. It is basically a plagarized copy of the U.S. Constitution with a few critical modifications. They made sure to put “Almighty God” in right up front, to give themselves divine legitimacy. But the crucial sections are in Article IV. Here are some excerpts.

    We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.

    Article I
    (3) To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes; but neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce; except for the purpose of furnishing lights, beacons, and buoys, and other aids to navigation upon the coasts, and the improvement of harbors and the removing of obstructions in river navigation; in all which cases such duties shall be laid on the navigation facilitated thereby as may be necessary to pay the costs and expenses thereof.

    Article IV
    Sec. 9. (I) The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.

    (2) Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.

    (3) No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs,. or to whom such service or labor may be due.

    (3) The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several Sates; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

    The Southern radicals gave up the namby-pamby language of “persons” found in the U.S. Constitution and cut right to the point with “slaves”, “slavery”, “institution of negro slavery”, “negroes of the African race”, etc. This was the first official act instituted by the secessionists. What does that tell us about their real concerns?

    Notice also, they wanted this to specifiy a “permanent” arrangement; a word missing from the U.S. Constitution. Lincoln and other legal minds in the country, traced the permanency of that document to the language found in the Revolutionary government founded under the Articles of Confederation. That contract did specify a permanent commitment of the states to be bound in a central government. When Madison, et al, wrote a new Constitution, they did so under the directive of the Continental Congress to “revise” the original Articles, and according to Lincoln’s reasoning retained the “permanent” nature of the contract.

    The authors of the Confederate Constitution apparently wanted to prohibit any Confederate states in the future from doing what they claimed was a legitimate right, namely seceding.

  2. Chris Moore says:

    One last note on the Confederate Constitution. The list of signers reads like a who’s-who list of the most outspoken fire-eaters and plantation owners of the day.

    HOWELL COBB, President of the Congress.
    South Carolina: R. Barnwell Rhett, C. G. Memminger, Wm. Porcher Miles, James Chesnut, Jr., R. W. Barnwell, William W. Boyce, Lawrence M. Keitt, T. J. Withers.
    Georgia: Francis S. Bartow, Martin J. Crawford, Benjamin H. Hill, Thos. R. R. Cobb.
    Florida: Jackson Morton, J. Patton Anderson, Jas. B. Owens.
    Alabama: Richard W. Walker, Robt. H. Smith, Colin J. McRae, William P. Chilton, Stephen F. Hale, David P. Lewis, Tho. Fearn, Jno. Gill Shorter, J. L. M. Curry.
    Mississippi: Alex. M. Clayton, James T. Harrison, William S. Barry, W. S. Wilson, Walker Brooke, W. P. Harris, J. A. P. Campbell.
    Louisiana: Alex. de Clouet, C. M. Conrad, Duncan F. Kenner, Henry Marshall.
    Texas: John Hemphill, Thomas N. Waul, John H. Reagan, Williamson S. Oldham, Louis T. Wigfall, John Gregg, William Beck Ochiltree.
    Missing are most of the men who eventually administer and fight the coming War Between the States. Jeff Davis, Alex Stephens, Judah Benjamin, Robt. Lee, Jos. Johnston, Braxton Bragg, etc.

  3. Agathman says:

    Well done, Chris. I’ve just added a link to the full text of the Confederate Constitution in the Research Materials list on the right.

    It’s interesting also to note the enshrinement of the Jacksonian Democratic platform in this constitution. The prohibition of funding any internal improvements was a key point — the North wanted railroads, canals, etc. to be funded by the government to expand commerce, and homestead and land grant acts to provide land for settlers and educational institutions. I’m not quite sure why the Democrats were so opposed; it’s ironic, because the effect of all these changes was to democratize the country economically, helping to build a middle class in the end. I suppose it also moved wealth from the agrarian plantation owners to the industrial Northern robber barons.

  4. Chris Moore says:

    Another offshoot of this “Jacksonian” anti-infrastructure mentality will play out to the great detriment of the South during the Civil War. Their lack of (compared to the North) a thorough railroad system and non-standard railroad tracks severely limits the ability of the Rebels to move men and materials efficiently, even while maintaining interior lines of communications. Each private rail line used its own gauge of track, so a train starting in say, Virginia, could not travel to Mississippi without unloading all of its freight and reloading onto another of the proper track gauge at least once. Locomotives could only be run on the rail line they were designed for without a complete retrofit of their undercarriage/axle mechanisms. A fairly clear example is found in the events surrounding the Chickamauga/Chattanooga campaign. Longstreet’s Corp takes nearly as long to move by rail from Virginia to Georgia as it takes for the Union to move 2 separate Corps from Virginia up through Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and back down to Chattanooga. During the war, the North increases the total amount of railways by a substantial margin, while the South loses railroad mileage. See McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” for details about the logistical and infrastructure advantages that benefitted the North.

    What would this country be like with the Interstate Highway system? Shouldn’t we let the free-markets build their own roads? To get an idea of how far it can swing the other way, read Stephen Ambrose’s book about building the first trans-continental railroad lines. The government gave private enterprise monies and huge tracts of land so those so-called “trusts” could turn around and pillage and plunder in the rail transportation business for many decades. (Maybe still?) What we need is smaller government. Quit spending our tax dollars on commerce.

  5. Agathman says:

    Surprising that Yancey’s not on the list of signers.

    Oh, and have you read How the North Won by Hattaway and Jones? Really good analysis of military strategy and tactics in the war, including the infrastructure issues.

  6. Please can you seen me a more information about the cheifs the first chief elected.

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