05/23/16

Lincoln and Secession

image_pdfimage_print

61st New York Infantry-Lincoln and SecessionAbraham Lincoln is considered one of the two or three best Presidents that the United States has ever had. But like most Presidents he had to learn the job as he went along. And quite honestly, his early decisions on the conduct of the war and who would lead his armies were mostly abysmal. In this post we’ll look at how his call for troops from the states pushed Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee into secession.

Lincoln’s initial strategy of a call for troops precipitated a number of Southern state legislatures to reverse their initial rejections of secession and join the Confederacy. Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee were three states that teetered on the secession issue.

The Virginia Convention of 1861 convened on February 13, 1861 to consider whether Virginia should secede from the United States. Its 152 delegates, a majority of whom were Unionist, had been elected at the behest of the Virginia General Assembly, which also directed that their decision be ratified by a statewide referendum.

Virginia hesitated, and debate raged on for months. On April 4, secessionists badly lost a vote but prepared for the possibility of war nevertheless. Former Virginia governor Henry A. Wise worked behind the scenes and outside the legal process to secure the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry by military means, a move that prompted a furious objection from Unionist delegate John Baldwin of Staunton. After the fall of Fort Sumter on April 13 and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers on April 15, the momentum turned toward secession, and the convention voted on April 17 to leave the Union. Virginians expressed their agreement at the polls on May 23.

Non-slaveholding yeoman farmers made up a majority of the North Carolina population and constituted the core of the Unionist strength. They were disinclined to secede or fight for the preservation of slavery. Also, the Whig Party, which had disintegrated as a national party by 1860, still had a strong following. Whig leaders comprised the bulk of the unconditional Unionist leadership. Other Whigs and conservative Democrats advocated a “watch and wait” policy while maintaining that secession was a fundamental right of each state. The counties in the west, northeast, and Piedmont were areas of Unionist sentiment.

Democrats like Governor John W. Ellis, Senator Clingman, Congressman Thomas Ruffin, and former congressman William S. Ashe led the secessionists. The main areas of secessionist strength were the coastal counties with large slave populations and the counties that bordered South Carolina, especially Mecklenburg. Lincoln’s election prompted this group to launch local secession meetings. The first meeting was held in Cleveland County on 12 Nov. 1860, the second in New Hanover on 19 November. A series of similar gatherings were held across the state. The movement was given a boost by the secession of South Carolina on 20 Dec. 1860.

On 29 Jan. 1861 the General Assembly agreed to put the convention question to the people on 28 February. The legislature also voted to send delegates to the Washington Peace Conference on 4 February.

The convention campaign was vigorously waged. The Unionists were able to set the terms of the debate early, focusing on the question of “Union or Disunion.” Secessionist attempts to redefine the campaign based on southern self-defense failed.

The Unionists carried the northeastern counties and most of the Piedmont and Mountains. They defeated the secessionists by a vote of 47,323 to 46,672. The delegate elections are more indicative of actual sentiment. Only about a third of the 120 delegates elected were secessionists. The Unionists were helped by positive news from the Peace Conference the day before the election. The debate in the campaign had been injurious to the secessionist cause. On 4 March, a few days after the vote, Lincoln gave his inaugural address, which struck some as conciliatory.

The secessionists did not give up, however. On 22-23 Mar. 1861 delegates from 25 counties assembled in Goldsboro and organized the Southern Rights Party. They urged the legislature to call a convention and demanded that the state join the Confederacy. They posed the new debate in terms of South against North. Despite numerous meetings, by early April North Carolina seemed no nearer to secession than it had been in February.

Then came the news that Confederate forces had bombarded Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on 12 April, followed on 15 April by Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops. Governor Ellis responded, “You can get no troops from North Carolina.” Zebulon Vance was pleading for the Union with his arm upraised when word arrived of Lincoln’s summons. “When my hand came down from that impassioned gesticulation,” he recalled, “it fell slowly and sadly by the side of a secessionist.”

Ellis called a special session of the legislature for 1 May and immediately ordered the seizure of Federal property. When the General Assembly met, it voted for a delegate election on 13 May to an unrestricted convention to meet in Raleigh on 20 May, the anniversary of the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The campaign for the convention was characterized by resignation rather than enthusiasm. Both Unionists and secessionists spoke of the need to act in the face of northern aggression. The major debate-whether North Carolina should separate based on “the right of revolution,” as some Unionists advocated, or on the Calhounian doctrine of secession-was over. The radical secessionists favored the latter position.

A total of 122 Democratic and Whig delegates, 108 of whom were native North Carolinians, gathered on 20 May 1861. The delegates held an average of 30.5 slaves each, with the median being 21, which meant that over one-half of the delegates belonged to the small planter class. Sixty-eight delegates had attended college, making them far better educated than those who had elected them. The average personal and real property per delegate was valued at $61,817, placing them among the wealthy citizens of the state.

The convention elected Weldon N. Edwards, a Democratic planter from Warren County, as president. (Edwards defeated William A. Graham of Orange County.) Edwards gave a speech denouncing continued connection with the “Black Republican Union.”

Onetime Unionist George E. Badger introduced a resolution for separation from the Union based on the right of revolution. An alternate ordinance, simply dissolving the Union and representing the radical position, was proposed by Burton Craige of Rowan County. The Badger proposal was defeated by a vote of 72 to 40. An attempt to modify the Craige ordinance failed. The convention then unanimously passed the ordinance of secession and voted to accept the provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America. As requested by Governor Ellis, the convention agreed not to put the secession ordinance to a popular vote. On 21 May 1861 the ordinance was signed and President Jefferson Davis proclaimed North Carolina a Confederate state.

Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union. Tennessee was a complicated state. Like its neighbor Virginia, it was profoundly divided over the issue of secession, with its mountainous eastern section deeply opposed to the idea. They weren’t alone: A special election on Feb. 9 revealed the political gulf between Governor Isham Harris and the people of the state: On the same day that Mississippi left the Union, the voters of Tennessee voted 80 percent against secession.

By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration in March, nothing short of a repudiation of the 1860 Republican platform would satisfy the state’s fire-eaters. The two sides, Unionist and secessionist, stood at a stalemate until the bombardment of Ft. Sumter in early April. While some favored immediate secession, others held that secession was unconstitutional. A larger number futilely hoped for some sort of settlement based on a constitutional compromise regarding the “question of negro slavery.” Even after the outbreak of war, Tennessee, like Missouri and Kentucky to its north, hoped that it could remain neutral.

That changed with Lincoln’s April 15 call for the states to send 75,000 troops to fight the Confederacy. If the federal government was going to “coerce” the seceded states into returning, Tennessee had no choice but to join its Southern neighbors. “Tennessee will not furnish a single man for purposes of coercion but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers,” wrote Harris in response to Lincoln’s request. The legislature (with 32 percent of the House and 16 percent of the Senate dissenting) voted on May 6 to join her “Southern brothers.”

Unlike every other state to join the Confederacy with the exception of Texas and Virginia, however, the legislators insisted that the public ratify their decision. While the state government prepared for secession and war following the vote for secession, Tennessee was technically not yet a member of the separatist government. But on June 8, by a two-to-one majority, Tennessee’s electorate confirmed the General Assembly’s verdict. The Volunteer State thus became the last to secede.

04/29/16

Stephen Douglas of Illinois

image_pdfimage_print

Stephen DouglasStephen Douglas is best known for the Lincoln-Douglas debates that took place across Illinois during the 1858 Senate campaign. The two candidates debated seven times. Douglas won the election and was returned to the Senate.

Many historians suggest that his views cost him the Presidency in the 1860 election to the very same Abraham Lincoln. However, Douglas did have a distinguished and impactful career in the House of Representatives and the Senate that spanned 18 years. He gained the nickname “Little Giant” both for his diminutive stature and his achievements while in the Congress.

Stephen Douglas was born on April 29, 1813 in Brandon, Vermont to Stephen Arnold Douglass and Sarah Fisk. Douglas dropped the second “s” from his name some years later.

He migrated to Winchester, Illinois in 1833, where he served as an itinerant teacher and opened a school for three months at three dollars a pupil. He also studied law, and settled in Jacksonville, Illinois. By the end of the year, he wrote his Vermont relatives, “I have become a Western man, have imbibed Western feelings principles and interests and have selected Illinois as the favorite place of my adoption.” 

In 1934 Douglas began his political career with an appointment as State’s Attorney of Morgan County. He held the position for two years and then moved on to a succession of political positions, including the Illinois House of Representatives, registrar of the Springfield Land Office, Illinois Secretary of State and associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in 1841, at age 27.

He resigned from the Court upon being elected US Representative in 1843, and was re-elected in 1844. In Congress, he championed territorial expansion and supported the Mexican War. In 1846 the Illinois General Assembly elected him a US Senator. The Illinois Democrat had entered the biggest stage in American politics.

In 1850, Douglas supported the omnibus Compromise Bill of Henry Clay. However, it was defeated and Clay who was very ill and handed off the passage of the bill to Douglas. The omnibus bill had been defeated because too many senators were opposed to one part of the bill or another. Douglas realized this and the divided the bill into separate bills. The separate bills were thereby passed.

In 1852, Douglas vied for the Democratic Presidential nomination but was passed over for Franklin Pierce. The following year saw him easily reelected to the Senate.

Douglas was an avid promoter of railroads. He saw them as a means of tying the regions of America together. At the same time he saw them as a way of promoting commerce and trade for his hometown, Chicago. In addition, Douglas had a financial interest Chicago real estate that was expected to benefit if a central route for a transcontinental railroad was built.

In 1854, Douglas became involved in the Kansas-Nebraska controversy. Nebraska Territory, west of Missouri, was then being settled, and Congress needed to provide territorial organization for the region. The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery there (because it was north of the 36°30′ compromise line), and the Compromise of 1850 had reaffirmed this.

Southern leaders proposed a deal: they would support the central route if slavery was permitted in the new Territories. Douglas agreed. In the first version of the Act, Douglas allowed for the Territories to choose slave or free status at statehood, but the Southerners demanded immediate permission for slavery there (an implicit repeal of that part of the Missouri and 1850 Compromises). Douglas discovered a “clerical error”, and revised the Act to suit their wishes.

Douglas was vilified throughout the North. He joked that he could travel from Washington back to Illinois by the light of burning effigies of him. But in order to respond to his critics he invoked “popular sovereignty“, the doctrine that the people of a community were rightfully entitled to decide such issues for themselves.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was assured with the votes of some Northern Democrats and of all Southerners, Democrat and Whig alike. Opponents of the Act saw it as a triumph for the hated Slave Power. The passage of the bill was responsible for the fundamental realignment of the political parties.

The Whig Party dissolved; anti-slavery Northern Whigs formed the Republican Party instead, joined by many “free-soil” Democrats. There was a Senate election in Illinois in 1855: Republicans and dissident Democrats elected “Anti-Nebraska” Democrat Lyman Trumbull, a clear rebuke to Douglas. He was passed over once again in the 1856 Presidential nominating process.

The 1857 Dred Scott decision presented Douglas with a tremendous dilemma. The decision declared that under the Constitution, neither Congress nor a Territorial legislature created by Congress had the power to prohibit slavery in a Territory. This struck down key elements of the Missouri and 1850 Compromises, made the Kansas-Nebraska Act irrelevant, and denied the basis of “popular sovereignty”.

If he rejected Dred Scott, he would lose the Southern support that he needed for the presidential election of 1860. If he embraced Dred Scott, he would lose Northern support. He tried to avoid both hazards, issuing a tepid endorsement of the decision, while continuing to assert popular sovereignty without explicitly saying the Court was wrong.

Campaigning for reelection in 1858, Douglas initially tried to avoid debating his Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln. But Lincoln followed Douglas around the state responding to each Douglas speech a day or two later. Finally, Douglas agreed to a series of seven debates which came to be known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

In the debates, Douglas reiterated his support of popular sovereignty. He demanded to know whether Lincoln would ever vote to admit a new slave state, even if the majority of settlers favored slavery.

He denounced Lincoln for his insistence that slavery was a moral issue that had to be resolved by the nation as a whole. Douglas described this as causing an unnecessary conflict between free and slave states, which threatened to boil up into disunion and war. He also asserted that Lincoln supported civil and social equality between the races, and insinuated that Lincoln even accepted racial intermarriage.

Lincoln forced Douglas to commit himself on the question of Dred Scott versus popular sovereignty. In the second debate, at Freeport, he asked a direct question: “Can the people of a United States Territory, in any lawful way … exclude slavery from its limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?”

If Douglas answered “No”, he would fully endorse Dred Scott, and would alienate Illinoisans and other Northerners. If he answered “Yes”, he would reject Dred Scott, and would alienate Southerners. Douglas declared that while the Supreme Court had barred explicit prohibition of slavery, that didn’t really matter, because the people of a Territory could exclude slavery in practice by “unfriendly legislation”. This became known as  the Freeport Doctrine.

It was barely enough to satisfy the voters of Illinois and Douglas won with a narrow majority in the Illinois legislature. But the Freeport Doctrine was vehemently rejected by most Southerners. The “Fire-Eaters” denounced Douglas as no better than an abolitionist.

The 1860 Presidential election matched Lincoln and Douglas again. However, the Democrats split along sectional lines and the Southerners nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, the sitting Vice President while some former Whigs nominate John Bell under the banner of the Constitution Party.

The four way race ended with Lincoln winning the Presidency with almost 40% of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes. Douglas came in second with almost 40% of the vote but only 12 electoral votes. Six weeks after Lincoln’s election South Carolina voted to secede from the Union and began the secession of the other Southern states.

Douglas was opposed to secession and at Lincoln’s request he undertook a number of speaking engagements in the Border States and the Midwest to rouse the spirit of Unionism; he spoke in Virginia, Ohio and Illinois.

Douglas died in Chicago from typhoid fever on June 3, 1861. He was buried on the shore of Lake Michigan.

 

 

 

 

 

04/28/16

Daniel Webster of Massachusetts

image_pdfimage_print

Daniel Webster circa 1847Daniel Webster of Massachusetts was an outspoken advocate for the shipping and industrial interests of his state. He was a powerful orator and was nationally known for his speaking ability. Webster was a prominent Whig who championed the elites of his region. “He was a thoroughgoing elitist, and he reveled in it,” says biographer Robert Vincent Remini.

Daniel Webster was born in Salisbury, New Hampshire in 1782. He and his nine siblings grew up on their parents’ farm, a small parcel of land granted to his father. His ancestors were among the early settlers of Salisbury.

Webster attended Phillips Exeter Academy, a preparatory school in Exeter, New Hampshire, before attending Dartmouth College. After he graduated from Dartmouth (Phi Beta Kappa), Webster was apprenticed to the lawyer Thomas W. Thompson in Salisbury. But his career was short lived as he left to support his older brother’s studies by working as a schoolteacher.

After a year, he returned to the law in 1802 and two years later he moved to Boston where he clerked for Christopher Gore. Gore’s practice encompassed international, national, and state politics. Webster learned about many aspects of the law and met many Massachusetts politicians. In 1805, he was admitted to the bar.

He returned to New Hampshire shortly after being admitted to the bar due to his father’s declining health. He set up a law practice in Boscawen but after his father’s death in 1896 he handed over his practice to his brother and moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Daniel Webster was a Federalist who had been educated at the Federalist-leaning Dartmouth College. In 1807 Thomas Jefferson had pushed through the Embargo Act of 1807, stopping all trade to both Britain and France. As New England relied on commerce with the two nations, the region strongly opposed Jefferson’s attempt at “peaceable coercion.” Webster wrote an anonymous pamphlet attacking it.

The trouble between the United States and Britain escalated into the War of 1812. Webster gave a speech in the same year at the Washington Benevolent Society, a speech that proved critical to his career. The speech condemned the war and the violation of New England’s shipping rights that preceded it, but it also strongly denounced the extremism of those more radical among the unhappy New Englanders who were beginning to call for the region’s secession from the Union.

Webster’s outspokenness led to his election to the House of Representatives in 1812. He would remain in the House until March 1817. He was an outspoken critic of the Madison administration and its wartime policies, denouncing its efforts at financing the war through paper money and opposing Secretary of War James Monroe‘s conscription proposal.

Notable in his second term was his support of the reestablishment of a stable specie-based national bank; but he opposed the tariff of 1816 (which sought to protect the nation’s manufacturing interests) and House Speaker Henry Clay’s American System.

Webster did not seek a third term and he returned to his law practice which he moved from Portsmouth to Boston. He had married in 1808 and was to have four children with his wife Grace.

Webster was one of the foremost constitutional lawyers of the early 1800’s. He argued 223 cases before the Marshall Court, winning about half of them. Marshall patterned some of his Court decisions after Webster’s briefs, and Webster played a crucial role in helping many of the justices interpret matters of constitutional law. As a result many people began calling him the Great Expounder of the Constitution.

With the help of a coalition of Federalists and Republicans, Webster was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts in June 1827. His first wife died in 1828 and he remarried a year later.

Webster became New England’s champion in the fight over the Tariff of 1828. Webster changed his position to support a protective tariff in 1828 explaining that after the failure of the rest of the nation to heed New England’s objections in 1816 and 1824, “nothing was left to New England but to conform herself to the will of others.” The region was heavily invested in manufacturing and he would not now do it injury.

Webster’s speaking ability came to the fore during the Nullification Crisis when he famously summed up his position in opposition to nullification of federal laws “Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!”

In 1836, Webster was one of four Whig Party candidates to run for the office of President, but he only managed to gain the support of Massachusetts. This was the first of three unsuccessful attempts at gaining the presidency. In 1839, the Whig Party nominated William Henry Harrison for president. Webster was offered the vice presidency, but he declined.

However, Harrison appointed Webster as his Secretary of State, a position that he retained under John Tyler after Harrison’s death a month after his inauguration. In September 1841, an internal division amongst the Whigs over the question of the National Bank caused all the Whigs (except Webster who was in Europe at the time) to resign from Tyler’s cabinet.

In 1842, he was the architect of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which resolved the Caroline Affair, established the definitive Eastern border between the United States and Canada (Maine and New Brunswick), and signaled a definite and lasting peace between the United States and Britain. Webster succumbed to Whig pressure in May 1843 and finally left the cabinet. Webster later served again as Secretary of State in President Millard Fillmore’s administration from 1850 until 1852.

Webster returned to the Senate in 1845,  where he opposed both the Texas Annexation and the resulting Mexican-American War for fear of its upsetting the delicate balance of slave and non-slave states.

In the United States presidential election, 1848, he sought the Whig Party’s nomination for the President but was beaten by the military hero Zachary Taylor. Webster was once again offered the Vice-Presidency, but he declined saying, “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.” Taylor died 16 months after the inauguration, the second time a President who offered Webster the chance to be Vice President died.

During the debates over the Compromise of 1850, Webster once again exhibited his eloquence on the floor of the Senate. Webster gave one of his most famous speeches, later called the Seventh of March speech, characterizing himself “not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man but as an American…” In it he gave his support to the compromise, which included the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Webster returned to the State Department in July 1850 where he became embroiled in prosecutions of those who aided Shadrach Minkins in 1851 from Boston officials who intended to return Minkins to his owner. The juries convicted none of the accused. His popularity in New England fell to a low and he was passed over for the 1852 Whig nomination for the presidency.

A rump “Native American Party” put his name on the ballot without permission and he collected a few thousand votes, even though he died just before the election. Daniel Webster died on October 24, 1852 at his home in Marshfield, Massachusetts, after falling from his horse and suffering a crushing blow to the head, complicated by cirrhosis of the liver, which resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage.

The great irony was that his son Fletcher went on to serve as a Union Army infantry colonel in the Civil War that Webster tried to prevent. Fletcher Webster commanded the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and was killed in action on August 29, 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run.

 

04/26/16

John C. Calhoun: The Men who dominated National Life

image_pdfimage_print

John C. CalhounBefore we move on to the the last several events that led up to the Civil War, it is important that we look at the men who dominated national life and the Congress in the antebellum period. Their political careers overlapped and they had a huge impact on the history of the United States.

Let’s start with John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Born in South Carolina in 1782, Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. After 1830 while still holding national office as Vice President, Calhoun’s views evolved and he became a proponent of of states’ rightslimited governmentnullification and free trade.

Calhoun served in a succession of political offices starting in 1811 when he was sworn into the House of Representatives. He was to remain in the House for six years. He then was appointed Secretary of War in 1817 by President James Monroe.

As Secretary of War Calhoun proposed an expansible army similar to that of France under Napoleon, whereby a basic cadre of 6,000 officers and men could be expanded into 11,000 without adding additional officers or companies. Congress wanted an army to defend the nation in the event of war against Britain or Spain over Florida. Once the crisis was settled diplomatically the need subsided and Calhoun’s plans were shelved.

In 1825 Calhoun was elected Vice President by the House of Representatives in a landslide. He was to serve four years with John Quincy Adams and four years with Andrew Jackson. He was one of two vice presidents to serve under two different presidents.

Eventually, Calhoun split with Jackson over the policy of hard cash, which he felt favored Northern financial interests. Calhoun opposed an increase in the protective tariff. When his position was defeated he returned to his South Carolina plantation to write “South Carolina Exposition and Protest“, an essay rejecting the centralization philosophy.

This led to the theory of a concurrent majority through the doctrine of nullification,”the right of a State to interpose, in the last resort, in order to arrest an unconstitutional act of the General Government, within its limits.” Jackson, who supported states’ rights but believed that nullification threatened the Union, opposed it.

Calhoun and Jackson came to a breaking point over a previous recommendation when Calhoun was Secretary of War. In May 1830, Jackson discovered that Calhoun had asked President Monroe to censure then-General Jackson for his invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818.

Calhoun was then serving as James Monroe’s Secretary of War (1817–1823). Jackson had invaded Florida during the First Seminole War without explicit public authorization from Calhoun or Monroe. Calhoun’s and Jackson’s relationship deteriorated further. Calhoun defended his position and by February 1831 the break between the two men was irrevocable.

In 1832, states’ rights theory was put to the test in the Nullification Crisis, after South Carolina passed an ordinance that nullified federal tariffs. Congress passed the Force Bill, which empowered the President to use military power to force states to obey all federal laws. Jackson sent US Navy warships to Charleston harbor, and even talked of hanging Calhoun. South Carolina then nullified the Force Bill.

Cooler heads prevailed and Congress passed the Compromise Tariff of 1833, a proposal by Senator Henry Clay to change the tariff law in a manner which satisfied Calhoun, who by then was in the Senate.

Calhoun ran for the Senate in 1832 and was elected by the South Carolina legislature. After the Compromise Tariff of 1833 was implemented, the Nullifier Party, along with other anti-Jackson politicians, formed a coalition known as the Whig Party. Calhoun would gain his most lasting fame and his most influence as a senator.

Calhoun led the pro-slavery faction in the Senate in the 1830s and 1840s, opposing both abolitionism and attempts to limit the expansion of slavery into the western territories; actively anti-Wilmot Proviso. He was a major advocate of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which required the co-operation of local law enforcement officials in free states to return escaped slaves.

In a famous speech on the Senate floor on February 6, 1837, Calhoun asserted that slavery was a “positive good.” He rooted this claim on two grounds: white supremacy and paternalism.

“I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good… I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe—look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poorhouse… I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.”

Calhoun cooperated with Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren, who became president in 1837. Democrats were very hostile to national banks, and the country’s bankers had joined the opposition Whig Party. The Democratic replacement was the “Independent Treasury” system, which Calhoun supported and which went into effect.

Calhoun, like Jackson and Van Buren, attacked finance capitalism, which he saw as the common enemy of the Northern laborer, the Southern planter, and the small farmer everywhere. He therefore united these groups under the banner of the Democratic Party.

Van Buren’s successor was William Henry Harrison, a Whig, who died a mere month after taking office. He was succeeded by John Tyler, a former DEmocrat, who appointed Calhoun as Secretary of State in 1844. Calhoun would serve in that position for less than a year but had a huge impact on American foreign policy.

He was able to resolve  the Oregon boundary dispute, claimed by both Britain and the U.S. Calhoun compromised by splitting the area down the middle at the 49th parallel, ending the war threat.

Tyler and Calhoun, who were both Southerners, were eager to annex the independent Republic of Texas. Texas was slave country and the Southerners wished to bring Texas into the Union as a slave state. When the Senate could not muster a two-thirds vote to pass a treaty of annexation with Texas, Calhoun devised a joint resolution of the Houses of Congress, requiring only a simple majority. Texas joined the Union and war broke out with Mexico in 1846.

Meanwhile, Calhoun had resigned as Secretary of State in March 1845 and returned to the Senate in November of the same year. Calhoun by then believed that the country was threatened by a totally corrupt party system. He believed that in their lust for office, patronage and spoils, politicians in the North pandered to the antislavery vote, especially during presidential campaigns, and politicians in the slave states sacrificed Southern rights in an effort to placate the Northern wings of their parties.

He was the driving force behind the drafting and publication of the “Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress, to Their Constituents.” It listed the alleged Northern violations of the constitutional rights of the South, then warned southern voters to expect forced emancipation of slaves in the near future, followed by their complete subjugation by an unholy alliance of unprincipled Northerners and blacks, and a South forever reduced to “disorder, anarchy, poverty, misery, and wretchedness.”

By 1850, Calhoun was gravely ill with tuberculosis. During the debate over the Compromise of 1850, which Calhoun rejected, he was so ill that one of his colleagues read his speech, calling upon the Constitution, which upheld the South’s right to hold slaves; warning that the day “the balance between the two sections” was destroyed would be a day not far removed from disunion, anarchy, and civil war.

John C. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850 in Washington. He was returned to Charleston and interred in the St. Philip’s Churchyard.

 

04/25/16

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

image_pdfimage_print

Bleeding Kansas-The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854The original intent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was to open up the vast new territories of the West for farming. By creating a governmental infrastructure the Congress hoped that it would make a transcontinental railroad feasible. These two goals were laudable but in the writing of the bill the idea of popular sovereignty was written in the act.

What was popular sovereignty? It was the concept that allowed the voters of the moment to decide if Kansas and Nebraska would enter the Union as free states or slave states. It was to set up the conditions for a border war between supporters of slavery and Free Soilers.

Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois who wrote the bill hoped that the formula of “popular sovereignty” would ease national tensions over the issue of human bondage and that he would not have to take a side on the issue. Instead, it ignited a spark that eventually led to civil war.

Douglas was the Democratic party leader in the United States Senate, the chairman of the Committee on Territories, an avid promoter of railroads, an aspirant to the presidency, and, above all, a fervent believer in popular sovereignty.

Douglas was an early supporter of a transcontinental railroad, especially one that had its terminus in Chicago, Illinois. A bill to organize the Nebraska Territory passed the House and went to the Senate. It was taken up by the Senate’s Committee on Territories which was chaired by Douglas.

Missouri Sen. David Atchison announced that he would support the Nebraska proposal only if slaveholders were not banned from the new territory.  The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery north of the Missouri state line. Other Southern senators were not as flexible as Atchison. By a vote of 23 to 17, the senate voted to kill the motion by tabling it with every senator from states south of Missouri voting for the tabling.

During the senate adjournment a group of senators, including Atchison,  formed the nucleus that would insist on slaveholder equality in Nebraska. Aware of their opinions and power, Douglas knew that he needed to address their concerns in order to move forward with the bill.

By the time that the bill was reported out of committee it had changed dramatically. In the new bill the territory of Nebraska was extended north all the way to the 49th parallel, and any decisions on slavery were to be made “when admitted as a state or states, the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.”

But the bill still presented problems for the Southern senators. Without the explicit repeal of the Missouri Compromise, slaveholders would be reluctant to move to the new territory until slavery was actually approved by the settlers, settlers who would most likely hold free-soil views.

Kentucky Whig Archibald Dixon introduced an amendment that did just that, much to Douglas’ surprise. A similar amendment was offered in Map of the United States in 1854-The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854the House to match the Senate’s version.

On January 23 a revised bill was introduced in the Senate that repealed the Missouri Compromise and divided the territory into two territories, Kansas and Nebraska. The division was the result of concerns expressed by settlers already in Nebraska as well as the senators from Iowa who were concerned with the location of the territory’s seat of government if such a large territory was created.

The reformulated bill stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate in both Houses of Congress. The Democrats held large majorities in each house, and Stephen Douglas, “a ferocious fighter, the fiercest, most ruthless, and most unscrupulous that Congress had perhaps ever known” led a tightly disciplined party. The Free Soilers were at a distinct disadvantage.

The debate would continue for four months. Douglas remained the main advocate for the bill while Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, William Seward of New York and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts led the opposition. In the end the bill passed. The final vote in favor of passage was 37 to 14. Free state senators voted 14 to 12 in favor while slave state senators overwhelmingly supported the bill 23 to 2.

The debate then moved to the House. The opponents of the bill used a delaying tactic. The legislation was referred by a vote of 110 to 95 to the Committee of the Whole, where it was the last item on the calendar. Realizing from the vote to stall that the act faced an uphill struggle, the Pierce administration made it clear to all Democrats that passage of the bill was essential to the party and would dictate how federal patronage would be handled.

The debate raged through April and into May. In the end, it passed by a 113 to 100. Northern Democrats split in favor of the bill by a narrow 44 to 42 vote, while all 45 northern Whigs opposed it. In the South, Democrats voted in favor by 57 to 2 and Whigs by 12 to 7. President Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30.

The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act would set of a border war between the pro-slavery supporters, dubbed border ruffians by opponents, and the anti-slavery “Jayhawkers“. Both groups sent settlers into Kansas in order to vote for their particular beliefs. Violence was inevitable.

04/22/16

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

image_pdfimage_print

Slaves in antebellum America-The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850The most divisive law of the antebellum period was easily the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 just as the Dred Scott decision was the most divisive court ruling. The law was passed as part of the Compromise of 1850 along with five other specific laws that attempted to maintain the balance between slave states and free states.

The act was passed by the was passed by the Senate 27-12, and by the House 109-76 on September 18, 1850. It was immediately signed by President Millard Fillmore. It was a successor to the earlier Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. That law  was written with the intention of enforcing Article 4, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which required the return of runaway slaves.

It sought to force the authorities in free states to return fugitive slaves to their masters. But officials in Northern states used a variety of means to circumvent the earlier law. They passed “personal liberty laws“. These laws mandated a jury trial before alleged fugitive slaves could be moved and others forbade the use of local jails or the assistance of state officials in the arrest or return of alleged fugitive slaves. In some cases, juries refused to convict individuals who had been indicted under the Federal law.

The Missouri Supreme Court routinely held that voluntary transportation of slaves into free states, with the intent of residing there permanently or definitely, automatically made them free. The Fugitive Slave Law dealt with slaves who went into free states without their master’s consent. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), that states did not have to offer aid in the hunting or recapture of slaves, greatly weakening the law of 1793.

The Southern states saw the non-cooperation of Northern states as a means of gradually bleeding away their property rights. In some cases Southern slaveholders organized raids into Northern states in order to capture fugitive slaves.

In 1847 and 1849, planters from Bourbon and Boone Counties in northern Kentucky led raids into Cass County, Michigan to recapture runaway slaves. The raids failed of their objective but strengthened Southern demands for passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

The Compromise of 1850 gave the Southerners in Congress the opportunity to strengthen the earlier law. The new law made any Federal marshal or other official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave liable to a fine of $1,000 (about $28,000 in present-day value).

Law-enforcement officials everywhere now had a duty to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave on no more evidence than a claimant’s sworn testimony of ownership. The suspected slave could not ask for a jury trial or testify on his or her own behalf.

In addition, the law made any person aiding a fugitive slave subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Meanwhile, officers who captured fugitive slaves were entitled to to a bonus or promotion for their work.

The opportunities for the abuse of the law were rampant. Being unable to testify in court many free blacks were captured and transported South to spend years in slavery even though they were free. The case of Solomon Northup, free-born black man from New York State is just one among many. His story was told in 12 Years a Slave, a book that he wrote after he was freed by a court in Louisiana.

In November 1850 Vermont’s  legislature approved the “Habeas Corpus Law,” requiring Vermont judicial and law enforcement officials to assist captured fugitive slaves. This law rendered the federal Fugitive Slave Act effectively unenforceable in Vermont and caused a storm of controversy nationally because it was a “nullification” of federal law, a concept that had become highly charged in debates over slavery.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court  declare the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional in 1854, as a result of a case involving fugitive slave Joshua Glover, and Sherman Booth, who led efforts that thwarted Glover’s recapture. Ultimately, in 1859 in Ableman v. Booth the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the state court.

In November 1850 Vermont’s  legislature approved the “Habeas Corpus Law,” requiring Vermont judicial and law enforcement officials to assist captured fugitive slaves. This law rendered the federal Fugitive Slave Act effectively unenforceable in Vermont and caused a storm of controversy nationally because it was a “nullification” of federal law, a concept that had become highly charged in debates over slavery.

In essence the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 made every person who aided or assisted a runaway slave into a criminal. It’s enforcement in the North brought the issue of slavery home to citizens there. Abolitionists were faced with the prospect of breaking the law or going against their personal beliefs. Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852 was one response to the law.

Abolitionists continued to aid runaway slaves and after the signing of the law Canada became a destination of choice. There the former slaves would enjoy absolute freedom without a fear of being returned to their former state of slavery.

 

 

 

04/21/16

Harriet Tubman is perfect for the $20 bill, but which Tubman?

image_pdfimage_print
Harriet Tubman is perfect for the $20 bill, but which Tubman?
                                    An 1885 photo of Harriet Tubman by H. Seymour Squyer. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

So now that it’s confirmed that Harriet Tubman will grace the front of the $20 bill, the next question is: Which Harriet Tubman? The antebellum abolitionist who supported John Brown and criticized Lincoln for his incrementalist approach to abolishing slavery, or the post-war figure of legend who was the subject of sentimental biographies?

Designs for the new bill haven’t been released, and it could be well into the next decade for the newly designed currency to begin circulating. But the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will have some interesting choices when it comes to representing Harriet Tubman. The iconography of Harriet Tubman imagery generally falls into two categories: The best-known, and perhaps best-loved, images depict her as a little old lady, after the war, primly dressed and often sporting a head wrap. But while Tubman may have looked grandmotherly, she also was a ferociously brave and determined woman, and was occasionally depicted as such.

Typical of the first sort of image is a photograph made around 1885 by H. Seymour Squyer, showing Tubman full length in a dark dress wearing what was probably a colorful cloth on her head. But when the National Portrait Gallery featured an image of Tubman in a 2013 exhibition devoted to African Americans and the Civil War, they used another reproduction of a Tubman image, showing her dressed not for a Victorian photography studio, but in her outdoors garb, holding a gun.

[The National Portrait Gallery looks at African Americans and the Civil War]

Harriet Tubman is perfect for the $20 bill, but which Tubman?

Taken from a book about Tubman, this was a shockingly confrontational image. Although Tubman served in the U.S. Army during the war, and even led an armed raid that freed hundreds of slaves, the inclusion of a gun in a 19th-century image of an African American woman was startling. It also reminded readers that the acts for which Tubman is most celebrated—missions into Southern states to rescue slaves from bondage—were illegal, though obviously not immoral. After the infamous 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, even her own rescued relatives ran the risk of being returned to slavery. Tubman wasn’t working within the system; she saw clearly that the system couldn’t be reformed or repaired, only broken and replaced.

After the war, Tubman turned her formidable energies to the care of her family and the championing of women’s suffrage. As she aged, she seemed to soften in appearance. She was plagued by ill health and pain from a childhood injury (at the hands of a slave owner) though she lived well into her 90s. Photographs made late in her life show her diminished, and tired, as one might expect. But they also have the effect of softening the broader memory of who she was, and how she accomplished her heroic legacy. Popular books about her also lapsed into anodyne hagiography.

She was a fighter, and impatient for the freedom of her people and the suffrage of her sex; she repeatedly put her life on the line for what she believed in. And one hopes that’s how she appears on the $20 bill.

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic. Follow @PhilipKennicott

Editor’s note: This is purely a personal opinion but I prefer the earlier image. It personifies Harriet Tubman as the freedom fighter that she was. Remember, she was the woman called Moses among those who she led to freedom from their lives as slaves.

04/20/16

The Compromise of 1850

image_pdfimage_print

Henry Clay in the Senate-The Compromise of 1850The period after the Mexican War was a contentious time with between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The United States had acquired vast territories as a result of its victory over Mexico. The Compromise of 1850 would organize all of these territories and hold off disunion for another decade.

The South saw it as an opportunity to tip the balance in favor of the slave states. The North would never agree to this train of events and it appeared that the country was headed for a breakup and the possibility of civil war.

During the deadlock of four years, the Second Party System broke up, Mormon pioneers settled Utah, the California Gold Rush settled northern California, and New Mexico under a federal military government turned back Texas’s attempt to assert control over territory Texas claimed as far west as the Rio Grande.

In an attempt to sort out the various territorial and policy issues Senator Henry Clay, a Kentucky Whig, proposed a number of compromises to resolve these issues. But rather than place everything in one bill Clay urged Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, to divide Clay’s bill into several smaller bills, and pass each separately. Clay who was very ill and would die two years later felt that he did not have the strength to push the bills through the Senate.

The Compromise of 1850 came to coalesce around a plan dividing Texas at its present-day boundaries, creating territorial governments with “popular sovereignty” (without the Wilmot Proviso) for New Mexico and Utah, admitting California as a free state, abolishing the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and enacting a new fugitive slave law.

Most Northern Whigs, led by William Henry Seward who delivered his famous “Higher Law” speech during the controversy, opposed the Compromise because it would not have applied the Wilmot Proviso to the western territories and because of the new fugitive slave law, which would have pressed ordinary citizens into duty on slave-hunting patrols. Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs supported the Compromise. Southern Whigs, many of whom were from the border states, supported it because of the stronger fugitive slave law.

The initial debates were quite acrimonious with compromise floor leader Henry S. Foote of Mississippi drawing a pistol on Senator Benton. Vice President Millard Fillmore and Senator Benton verbally sparred, with Fillmore charging that the Missourian was “out of order.”

In early June 9 representatives from 9 Southern states met at the Nashville Convention to consider what to do if the compromises were passed. Some talked about secession but the moderates won and they proposed a series of compromises, including extending the geographic dividing line designated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to the Pacific Coast.

The initial “omnibus” bill was defeated on July 31st with the majority of Clay’s Whig Party opposed to the measure. Clay left the Senate to recuperate from tuberculosis at Newport, Rhode Island and Douglas took over the shepherding of the bill. He immediately divided the measure into five separate bills.

President Zachary Taylor who had been neutral on the “omnibus” bill died in early July 1850 and Vice President Millard Fillmore succeeded him. Fillmore was in favor of the compromise and gave it his full support. The Northern Democrats held together and supported each of the bills and gained Whigs or Southern Democrats to pass each one.

The six bills were passed and signed by Fillmore between September 9th and September 20th.

  1. California was admitted as a free state. It passed the House 150-56. It passed the Senate 34-18.
  2. The slave trade was abolished (the sale of slaves, not the institution of slavery) in the District of Columbia.
  3. The Territory of Utah was organized under the rule of popular sovereignty. It passed the House 97-85.
  4. The Territory of New Mexico was organized under the rule of popular sovereignty. It passed the House 108-97. It passed the Senate 30-20.
  5. A harsher Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the Senate 27-12, and by the House 109-76.
  6. Texas gave up much of the western land which it claimed and received compensation of $10,000,000 to pay off its national debt.

The Compromise of 1850 Map

Many historians contend that the Compromise of 1850 postponed the Civil War for the next decade. What we do know is that over the decade a number of events took place that strengthened the North and pushed the country to war.

  • The divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 introduced by Stephen Douglas, which repealed the Missouri Compromise.
  • This led to open warfare on the Kansas-Missouri border.
  • The Republican Party was formed in 1854 as a coalition of anti-slavery “Conscience Whigs“, Know Nothings and Free Soil Democrats.
  • During the decade the Northwest grew more wealthy and more populous and became closer in ideology to the Northeast.
  • The Southern stages for the most part stagnated.
  • The Fugitive Slave Law polarized the North and the South .
  • The free economy of the northern states to continue to industrialize adding many more miles of railroad, steel production, modern factories, and population.

 

 

 

04/19/16

The Mexican War and the Wilmot Proviso

image_pdfimage_print

David Wilmot-The Mexican War and the Wilmot Proviso The Wilmot Proviso was a failed attempt by the so-called Barnburner wing of the Democrat Party to ban slavery in any territory to be acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War or in the future.  The term barnburner was derived from the idea of someone who would burn down his own barn to get rid of a rat infestation, in this case slavery. Led by David Wilmot, a Democrat congressman from Pennsylvania, they were opposed to the further spread of slavery.

The fight to stop the spread of slavery was caused by the Mexican War that lasted from April 25, 1846 until February 2, 1848. This period in American history was driven by the spirit of Manifest Destiny. It was a widely held belief that it was America’s destiny to spread all of the way to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1836 the Texans had won their independence and founded the Republic of Texas but pressure began to build almost immediately for Texas to become a state. The annexation of Texas was contentious in the U.S. Congress, where Whigs were largely opposed. Finally, in 1845 Texas agreed to the offer of annexation by the U.S. Congress and became the 28th state on December 29, 1845. Texas entered the Union as a slave state.

The Mexican War began as a boundary dispute between the United States and Mexico. Simultaneously, John C. Fremont and a group of armed men appeared in California. He raised the American flag at a fort on Gavilan Peak but left California in March 1846. However, he returned to California and assisted the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, where many American immigrants stated that they were playing “the Texas game” and declared California’s independence from Mexico.

Tensions between the two countries continued to heat up despite attempts by the American government to negotiate with their southern neighbor. Mexico was not inclined nor able to negotiate. In 1846 alone, the presidency changed hands four times, the war ministry six times, and the finance ministry sixteen times. Mexican public opinion and all political factions agreed that selling the territories to the United States would tarnish the national honor.

Talks broke down when a more nationalistic government came to power. President James K. Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor and his forces south to the Rio Grande, entering the territory that Mexicans disputed. Mexico laid claim to all the lands as far north as the Nueces River—about 150 mi  north of the Rio Grande.

The U.S. claimed that the border was the Rio Grande, citing the 1836 Treaties of Velasco. Mexico rejected the treaties and refused to negotiate; it claimed all of Texas. Taylor ignored Mexican demands to withdraw to the Nueces. He constructed a makeshift fort (later known as Fort Brown/Fort Texas) on the banks of the Rio Grande opposite the city of Matamoros.

On April 25, 1846, a 2,000-strong Mexican cavalry detachment attacked a 70-man U.S. patrol under the command of Captain Seth Thornton, which had been sent into the contested territory north of the Rio Grande and south of the Nueces River. In the Thornton Affair, the Mexican cavalry routed the patrol, killing 16 American soldiers.

The war lasted slightly more than a year and a half with the complete defeat of the Mexican forces. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 ended the war. The treaty gave the U.S. undisputed control of Texas, established the U.S.-Mexican border of the Rio Grande, and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming.

In return, Mexico received US $15,000,000 ($492,399,038 today) – less than half the amount the U.S. had attempted to offer Mexico for the land before the opening of hostilities and the U.S. agreed to assume $3.25 million ($87,687,500 today) in debts that the Mexican government owed to U.S. citizens.

Enter the anti-slavery forces who attempted to halt the spread of slavery by passing the Wilmot Proviso as a rider on a $2,000,000 appropriations bill intended for the final negotiations to resolve the Mexican–American War. Their first attempt was in August 1846, just three months into the war. It passed the House but failed in the Senate, where the South had greater representation.

The amendment was brief and to the point:

Provided, That, as an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the Republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the Executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.

It was reintroduced in February 1847 and again passed the House and failed in the Senate. In 1848, an attempt to make it part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo also failed.

With the introduction of the Wilmot Proviso the issue of the spread of slavery moved from one of abstraction to one involving practical matters. t soon became clear to the South that this long postponed attack on slavery had finally occurred. Rather than simply discuss the politics of the issue, historian William Freehling noted, “Most Southerners raged primarily because David Wilmot’s holier-than-thou stance was so insulting.” 

Combined with other slavery related issues, the Wilmot Proviso led to the Compromise of 1850, which helped buy another shaky decade of peace. Radical secessionists were temporarily at bay as the Nashville Convention failed to endorse secession. Moderates rallied around the Compromise as the final solution to the sectional issues involving slavery and the territories.

04/18/16

The Rise of the Abolitionists

image_pdfimage_print

Slave Kidnap Poster from Boston-The Rise of the AbolitionistsSlavery and abolition of the practice have gone hand and hand in the United States almost from the beginning of the “peculiar institution”. We know that slavery began in 1619 when a Dutch trading ship sold 20 slaves to the Colony of Virginia as indentured servants.

Click image to enlarge.

But we have often overlooked the beginnings of abolition in America, After earlier laws in Massachusetts (1641) and Connecticut (1650) limited slavery to some extent, a 1652 Rhode Island law clearly limited bond service to no more than 10 years or no later than a person attaining the age of 24.

Non-slaveholding farmers in Virginia think slave labor threatens their livelihoods. They persuade the General Assembly to discuss a prohibition of slavery or a ban on importing slaves. In response, the assembly raises the tariff on slaves to five pounds, which about equals the full price of an indenture, so as not to make importation of slaves as initially attractive or preferable to a mere indenture for a term of years.

In 1775 Quakers in Pennsylvania with the aid of other non-Quakers form the first abolition society, the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, in Philadelphia. It was reorganized in 1784 as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, (better known as the Pennsylvania Abolition Society) and was incorporated in 1789. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society still exists today, dedicated to the cause of racial justice.

Even though the Declaration of Independence declared that “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” slavery remained legal in the American colonies.

In 1777 Vermont, then the Republic of Vermont, prohibited slavery in its constitution. The following year Virginia banned the importation of slaves. It is the first state to ban the slave trade, and all other states eventually followed. In 1780 Pennsylvania adopted a law calling for the gradual emancipation of slaves. Massachusetts banned slavery in its constitution.

In 1782, Virginia liberalizes its very strict law preventing manumission; under the new law, a master may emancipate slaves in his will or by deed. The following year New Hampshire passed a law saying that children of slaves would be born free. In 1784, Rhode Island and Connecticut pass laws providing for gradual emancipation of slaves.

In 1816, Henry ClayJames MonroeBushrod WashingtonRobert FinleySamuel John Mills Jr. and others organize the American Colonization Society to send freed slaves to Liberia. The Society funds the migration of about 10,000 free blacks to return to Africa. Abolition has entered a new phase with an emphasis to return the slaves to their African homelands. Groups calling for migration and outright abolition begin to diverge along the abolition path.

In 1831 Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing The Liberator. It would be a watershed event and abolitionist across the United States will become more united in the goal of emancipation of slaves. From this time forward many abolitionists call for immediate emancipation.

In 1833 Abolitionist Lydia Maria Child of Massachusetts publishes An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called AfricansWendell Phillips and Charles Sumner are persuaded to become abolitionists.

In the same year the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan. Frederick Douglass was a key leader of this society and often spoke at its meetings as well. According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, “The society’s antislavery activities frequently met with violent public opposition, with mobs invading meetings, attacking speakers, and burning presses.”

The following year, Anti-Slavery “debates” are held at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lane had been founded by abolitionist evangelist and writer Theodore Dwight Weld with financial help from abolitionist merchants and philanthropists Arthur Tappan and Lewis Tappan. The anti-slavery speaking circuit is born and would flourish in the North right up to the onset of the war.

Committed abolitionists Angelina Grimké Weld and her sister Sarah Grimké were born in Charleston, South Carolina, but move to Philadelphia because of their anti-slavery philosophy and Quaker faith. In 1836, Angelina publishes An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, inviting them to overthrow slavery, which she declares is a horrible system of oppression and cruelty. Angelina would marry Theodore Dwight Weld in 1838.

Divisions begin to appear in churches across America. In 1844, The Methodist Episcopal Church, South breaks away from the Methodist Episcopal Church on the issue of slavery. At the same time black abolitionist, Charles Lenox Remond, and white abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, declare they would rather see the union dissolved than keep the Constitution only through the retention of slavery. The following year Southern Baptist Convention breaks from the Northern Baptists but does not formally endorse slavery.

In the same year Frederick Douglass published his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. The book details his life as a slave. He soon joins William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery speaking circuit. Douglass’ natural speaking ability makes him one of the circuits most popular orators and he soon become well-known across the North.