Posts Tagged ‘slavery’
Anyone studying 19th century American history will likely have read Eric Foner. WGBH Forum Network provides an audio video lecture Foner provided on Lincoln and slavery in November of 2008 at The Boston Athenaem. It provides some interesting insights on Lincoln’s views on slavery and the Civil War. You can access it here.
Eric Foner is professor o history at Columbia University.
In this world of hustle and bustle, having books read to me is a wonderful luxury. Today I found a terrific site, Freeaudio.org, that takes largely public domain works and provides them free to the public in audio form. This trumps my Kindle 2 text-to-speech feature in that real human readers are easier to listen to.
I picked up the American Library version of Frederick Douglass’ works back in January and love it, but with freeaudio.org, I can clean the garage and “listen” to a professional reading of Douglass’ work as performed by Marvin Pain, an excellent reader.
I will be adding the site to my “Primary Sources” links. Note that some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches are also available.
I plan on submitting a donation and asking that they begin putting up some of the biographies and autobiographies of our American Civil War military men as well as soldiers diaries.
The actual number of free-state settlers that made it to Kansas was far more modest than the expectations set in the press but the perception was in the public psyche.
When the Kansas Territory’s first governor, Andrew Reeder, called for elections of the Kansas Territorial Legislature on March 30, 1855, pro-slavery Missourians crossed the border in droves and took advantage of a poorly conceived suffrage law that required little to no proof of residency to vote. The government they elected was widely recognized as bogus but Reeder let the election stand and President Franklin Pierce endorsed it. The new government created exceptionally pro-slavery laws, some verging on the absurd. Free-state men revolted by setting up their own shadow government in Topeka claiming that its laws and elected officials would become legitimate once statehood was achieved. This exacerbated further the rift between the two factions and opened the door for the Lecompton government to take legal action against the free-soil men, indeed eventually accusing some of treason.
“If one government was valid, the other was spurious, either morally or legally, as the case might be. If the acts of one were binding upon the citizens, then submission to the authority of the other by, for instance, paying its taxes or serving in its militia would constitute sedition, or even treason.” (i)
Polarization of the factions increased.
(i) David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1976), 206.
One of the most surprising things I learned from reading Michael F. Holt’s exceptional book, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s, was that the “Sacking of Lawrence” was not the murderous affair I had always thought it was. It led to further research on my part and the realization that I was guilty of combining the stories surrounding the raid on Lawrence with other violent events occurring in the region, an area in which I am a resident. As is often the case with history, I had developed a mythical sense of the day, one that went well beyond the simple destruction of property. This new post series summarizes the findings of my search for the truth about the events of May 21, 1856. Its writing helped to crystallize my understanding of why the Kansas and Missouri borderland became such a focal point for politics in the 1850s. It also revealed that there has been much liberty with the facts and that even today, historians do not agree on all of the specifics.
To expand the discussion, let me share my perspective on the question I raised, whether The Compromise of 1850 was an effective political action or a forecast of disaster.
Michael F. Holt makes an excellent case in his classic, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s , that the Compromise of 1850 was more a forecast of disaster than effective political action. His argument is founded on the premise that the Compromise was effectively a deathblow to the Second American Party System and the notion that the health of America’s political parties in the mid-19th century was crucial to containment of sectional strife. As long as “men had placed their loyalty to their own party and defeat of the opposing party within their own section ahead of sectional loyalty, neither the North nor the South could be united into a phalanx against the other.” (1)
This conclusion is, of course, more easily arrived at when looking back at the period through the lens of generations with the full knowledge that the country would be ripped apart within fifteen years in a tumultuous Civil War. The perspectives of the politicians who negotiated the Compromise of 1850 would have, at the time, been much different. Indeed, they might have seen it as artful politics. The agreements made in the Compromise appeared to solve, at least temporarily, the country’s major ills which – on the surface – revolved around slavery and the country’s expansion.
But the effect was the displacement of the country’s trust in “party” as voice and defender of political views. The void caused men to affiliate more with their section, North and South. The scene was set for the country’s festering issues to rise again to a boil, this time without the benefit of cross-sectional parties that had so successfully contained discord in the past.
Thus my conclusion is that the Compromise of 1850 was BOTH an effective political action AND a forecast of disaster. It was effective for a time in that it allowed the country to continue forward with at least a fragile agreement on monumental issues. But its destruction of the Second American Party System led the country toward potential destruction.
And so…. what do you think? Comments welcome.
See images of the original document – The Compromise of 1850 here.
My study of Antebellum America this term has revealed a significant gap in my library. That has been filled with the arrival this week of Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies. I purchased The Library of America edition. I like the look and feel.
It includes three works:
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
- My Bondage and My Freedom
- Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
From historian Bruce Levine,
“Frederick Douglass’s magnificent autobiography, The Life and Time of Frederick Douglass is indispensable.”
I look forward to getting to know this important American.
Bruce Levine, Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War, Revised (Hill and Wang: New York, 2005), 264.
There is much in Bruce Levine’s Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War that informed my study of Antebellum America. Most of it fit with my understanding of the era and the issues with which Americans grappled. I gained much, however, from adding Levine’s insights to my own.
Several things stood out as surprising to me in my reading of Levine’s work. One epiphany came from Levine’s treatment of racism that existed in the North prior to the Civil War. It is easy for today’s generations to naively assume that since the North fought, in part, to end slavery, the peoples engaged in that effort felt some affinity for the black man. But Levine points out that “while deploring slavery as an institution,” many northerners “despised African Americans as much as southern whites did.” (1) But, Levine posits,
“Racism had a different significance in the free and slave states. Whereas in the South racism enlisted in the cause of keeping African Americans enslaved, in the North it aimed chiefly to force blacks out of the white population’s vicinity and path. Precisely because it served such very different practical ends, in different locales, antebellum America’s ubiquitous anti-black racism could not indefinitely reconcile northerners to southern demands and could not permanently calm slaveholders’ anxieties about northern intentions.” (2)
So while Northern religious and social values of the era were increasingly “antithetical to bondage,” they should not be interpreted as an invitation to the black man to fully join in Northern Antebellum white society.
About the image: The History Teacher provides an excellent description about this image in a larger lesson titled Free Black Activism in the Antebellum North and penned by Patrick Rael of Bowdoin College. He provides a description about the image that I believe will be helpful and which I quote here. I recommend a full reading of his essay which is available here.
“How you find yourself?”
Etchings such as this mocked the social pretensions of free black urbanites who, through their habits of consumption and display, were thought to desire social status above their stations. This image was one of a series, entitled “Life in Philadelphia” by political cartoonist Edward Clay, which lampooned the behavior of a range of city dwellers, white and black. The text on this image reads:
Mr. Ceasar: “How you find yourself did hot weader Miss Chloe?”
Miss Chloe: “Pretty well I tank you Mr. Cesar[,] only I aspire too much!”
The humor here, such as it is, depends on a malapropism, or a ludicrous misuse of words that signals their speaker’s inability to master proper English. This form of parody helped to define stereotypes of free blacks in nineteenth-century America, and continued well into the twentieth century.”
Image Source: Lithograph by Edward Clay, Life in Philadelphia, plate 4 (Philadelphia: S. Hart, 1829); courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia.
(1) Bruce Levine, Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War, Revised (Hill and Wang: New York, 2005), 251.
(2) Patrick Rael, “Free Black Activism in the Antebellum North,” The History Teacher February 2006 <http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ht/39.2/rael.html> (18 Jan. 2009).