January 13, 1864: The opposition and slavery

The Emancipation Proclamation

Money quote from this New York Times editorial: “It is indeed astonishing that men in the North, who never saw a slave, and who have not a dollar’s worth of interest in the institution, are so much more concerned for the fate of Slavery than they in whose social system it had closely interwoven itself, and who had property in it to the extent of hundreds of millions.”

Northern Democrats, opposed to anything Lincoln did, argued that insistence on abolishing slavery was prolonging the war. The Times perhaps goes a bit overboard in the opposite direction, taking the view of an Arkansas former rebel as representative of the whole white South.

Slave population - Arkansas, 1860

Slavery was very localized along the Mississippi in Arkansas, and not surprisingly, many Arkansans from the rest of the state had little use for the institution and the aristocracy it supported. I suspect the story was rather different in, say, Mississippi. The power structure was so firmly in the hands of the slaveocracy in the Cotton states that it would have taken a real revolution to unseat them. In practice, of course, many of the same people who had run those states before the war would return to power afterward.


The Opposition and Slavery.

Gen. GANTT, of Arkansas, formerly of the rebel army, but now a thorough Union man, declared, in his speech at Cincinnati, that the people of Arkansas “turn from Slavery with loathing indescribable,” and with great indignation adverted to the fact that “while we who are so much interested pray for deliverance from this curse, there is a sneaking party in the North who would force us to keep the curse with us.” It is indeed astonishing that men in the North, who never saw a slave, and who have not a dollar’s worth of interest in the institution, are so much more concerned for the fate of Slavery than they in whose social system it had closely interwoven itself, and who had property in it to the extent of hundreds of millions.

The chief stimulus of the opposition party of the North against the Administration is its Anti-Slavery war policy. It is the Emancipation Proclamation, and the other measures connected with it, that form their great grievance. They pretend that these acts of President LINCOLN are the great barriers to the speedy termination of the war, and peaceable restoration of the Union. They insist upon this, though they are constantly confronted with new manifestations of directly the opposite feeling upon the part of the resurgent Unionism of the South. Hardly a day elapses that we do not get tidings of new accessions to the Union cause in some part of the South within our lines. But there has been hardly a single instance of a Southern man of any character, thus converted, who has borne testimony that the Anti-Slavery acts of the Administration are standing in the way of the restoration of the Union. On the other hand, they all bear witness that Slavery is the greatest of all barriers to any such restoration, and they are the most impatient of all men for its summary annihilation. Gen. GANTT tells the Cincinnati people: “You would think, if you visited us, that the seat of Abolitionism had been transferred from New-England to Arkansas.” The whole development of Unionism everywhere tends to just that form.

Now, we should like to see this accounted for on any theory consistent with the assertion of the Anti-Administration party of the North, that President LINCOLN’s policy toward Slavery has been bad policy for the Union. Are not these Union men of the South better acquainted, than they, with the, Southern disposition?

Having lived in the midst of the rebellion for months, and many of them, in fact, almost up to the present time, can it be said that they don’t understand, as well as those five hundred or a thousand miles away, where its vulnerable point lies, and what the best way to reach it? Or are these men hypocrites? Do they pretend to be Union men when in fact they are not? And do they thus advocate the extremest Anti-Slavery policy, not as they say because it is best calculated to restore the Union, but the surest of all methods to make an end of it forever? The supposition is monstrous. No men in the country hate the rebellion so intensely, or have so great reason to hate it. It has subjected them to losses and to sufferings immeasurably beyond anything known here in the North. Their love for the Union is not, as with us, a mere sentiment; it is a passion, fiercely inflamed by a sense of personal wrong.

But those Southern men who declare at once for the Union and for the annihilation of Slavery, are in no respect of a different mold from Southern men generally. There is no earthly reason why they should identify restoration and emancipation, and not others, wherever those others are brought within the protection of our advancing armies. In fact, the causes which have produced this, will only work with all the greater energy in the States yet to be recovered. The reaction against the rebellion will be all the greater the longer and harder the rebellion is pressed. If the sufferings inflicted by the rebellion in Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas have wrought there such hostility to Slavery, its cause, the sufferings in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, far more prolonged and therefore far severer, must generate a still intenser hatred of it in these States. Our Northern “Conservatives,” as they style themselves, will find that the interval between them and the Southern Unionists will be continually growing wider as territory is redeemed from the “Confederacy.” They will find that they will have to change their ground in spite of themselves, or else become the laughing-stock of the world — stickling for what they call Southern Pro-Slavery rights in the Union, when the prime concern of every Union man in the South will be to get clear of Slavery as an unmitigated curse, and an object of “indescribable loathing.”

The truth is that this concern of the Anti-Administration party of the North for Slavery comes mainly from old political prejudices in favor of the institution, with little or no regard for the vast changes wrought by the war. It was their doctrine once that the safety of the Union lay in a religious care for the interests of Slavery, and an unquestioning compliance with all of its demands; and they blindly cherish the idea that there can be no true Unionism now which docs not have a similar spirit. Their “one idea” is that to bolster up Slavery is to bolster up this Union, and that the two are inseparable. Whatever room there might once have been for this belief, it is now absurd. The rebellion has wrought a complete change of relations, and there is no applicability of old ideas to the new order of things. The very policy, in respect to Slavery, which once might have been the most conservative of the Union, is now the most hostile to it. Southern Unionists understand this fact, and merely accommodate themselves to it. It is high time that the Anti-Administration men of the North, who still call themselves Unionists, should begin to learn of them.

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4 Responses to January 13, 1864: The opposition and slavery

  1. MaryHolloway Savell says:

    Great article; however the war was started and fought over the ever increasing tariffs that the north was attaching to the goods shipped from the south. The South had a higher standard of living and it was courtly and civilized. All very formal.

    • Allen Gathman says:

      Nope, tariffs had actually gone down from their peak in the late 1840s, and they weren’t tariffs on goods shipped internally between south and north– there were never any such tariffs. The tariffs were on imported manufactured products from Europe.

      And if you read the statements from the seceding states about their reasons for seceding, you’ll see that they quite explicitly say that it was over the perceived threat to slavery. The South’s standard of living was not at all evenly distributed; there was great inequality. Certainly the standard of living for the 4 million people who were enslaved was not that great.

      Declarations of causes of secession.

  2. Greg Eatroff says:

    Export tariffs were banned by the US Constitution. The tariffs in place before the civil war (and after, for that matter) were on foreign imports like British textiles and Cuban sugar. That’s right, some tariffs directly benefitted southern plantation owners.

    Also, during secession winter tariffs were at their lowest level since the 1820s. Contrary to post-war myths about “ever-increasing tariffs” there had not been a tax hike since 1842 (and that one had the support of future Confederates like John Tyler and Alexander Stephens), and there had been two major reductions since — in 1846 and 1857. Only AFTER the cotton state senators walked out of congress did Republicans have the votes to increase tariffs. It would have been quite impossible had southerners stayed where they were.

    Oh, and Virginia voted against secession AFTER tariffs went up in 1861. The story that tariffs were a meaningful cause of the war is, quite simply, bogus from top to bottom.

  3. Greg Eatroff says:

    As for the south having a higher standard of living, that’s only true if you don’t count black people as actual people. Instead of counting as capita for per capita wealth, a third of the population of the south counted as wealth. That rather twists the numbers, does it not?

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