The Antislavery Bulwark: The Antislavery Origins of the Civil War – Session 2

The Antislavery Bulwark: The Antislavery Origins of the Civil War – Session 2


– So I’m gonna go ahead. I’m Amy Dru Stanley from
the University of Chicago. I also want to note
that I am the student of David Bryan Davis, whose
name, I think, belongs here. His spirit and ideas haunt us. To footnote Michael Johnson,
he once talked about Davis’s scholarship, that we’re all
actually doing the problem of slavery and anti-slavery in
the age of David Bryan Davis, so I just wanted to
invoke his presence here. Okay, we have three wonderful
papers, wonderful panelists. Our first presenter is Corey Brooks. Corey is an Assistant
Professor at York College of Pennsylvania. His current book project
is entitled Liberty, Power, Anti-Slavery Third Parties
and the Transformation of American Politics. It’s forthcoming from the
University of Chicago Press. Brooks is also the
co-editor of the 2007 book, Your Patriotic Duty, which
looks at the Civil War correspondence between a Union
soldier in the U.S. colored troops and his family in Ohio,
and he’s also the author of an op-ed with the
intriguing title of quote, Obama’s Evolving Position
on Same Sex Marriage. It’s similar to Lincoln’s
evolution on antislavery, which appeared in several
newspapers in 2012. Our next presenter is Joe Murphy,
who we say many thanks to. Also I neglected to say
thank you to everybody, thank you to the organizer of the concert. Thank you to CUNY, thank you
to the paper givers, whatever. So thank you to Joe. So Joe is a PhD candidate
at CUNY, and he’s currently finishing his dissertation
which is entitled No More Power, Salmon P. Chase and the Making
of the Antislavery Platform, on the origins of the Antislavery
Constitutional program adopted by the Liberty, Free
Soil and Republican parties. He’s taught at Hunter and at
John Jay, and he’s served as Assistant for the Gotham Center
for New York City History. He’s currently at work on an
article about the pre-Civil War debates on slavery’s constitutional
status on the high seas. Our last presenter is Caleb McDaniel. He is an Assistant Professor
of History at Rice. He’s the author of the prize winning, multiple prize winning 2013
book, entitled The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery,
Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform. Among other things it received
the Curti Award for the best book in American Intellectual History. In that book McDaniel offered
a transnational analysis of abolitionism, revealing
the links between American radicals and European theorists
of democratic politics. He’s currently at work on a
new project on refugee slaves and resilient slaveholders
in the trans-Mississippi during and immediately
after the Civil War. – So let me echo the many
thanks that have been given to Jim and John, and to
the various institutions, including CUNY, that made this possible. And thanks to Amy for the
introduction, and thanks also to all of my co-panelists
today for making this such a rich discussion that started
yesterday and will continue all day and I suspect for
many months, and perhaps years going forward. My paper is entitled The
Slave Power Argument and Abolitionist Partisan Politics. In the summer of 1848, a
month before the Abolitionist Liberty Party merged into the
more moderate Free Soil Party, Joshua Levitt exclaimed to
fellow Liberty Party Manager, Salmon Chase, quote, “The slave power is now
indissolubly incorporated in the “political nomenclature of this country. “We must make the most of that word. “It is not necessary that they
who use it should ever know “who taught it to them. “The incessant use of the term
will do much to open the eyes “and arouse the energies of the people. “We must rescue the government
from the control of the “slave power. “As slavery has evidently
fastened its death grasp upon the “political institutions of the
country, we shall doubtless “be compelled to pursue this
controversy until slavery “itself shall be no more.” Once the issue of slavery’s
extension into territory conquered from Mexico intruded
on the second party system, condemnations of the southern
slave power multiplied across the North with stunning rapidity. Levitt and Chase clearly
understood that it was Liberty Party political
abolitionists like themselves who had taught, to quote
Levitt, more mainstream Northern politicians to use this powerful
rhetorical tool to explain and to combat Southern influence
over federal policy making. From the late 1830s through
the onset of the Civil War abolitionist activists
insisted that overthrowing the slave power represented the
first step on the road to eradicating American slavery. Abolitionists’ role in
pioneering the slave power idea however, has been
consistently under-emphasized or misconstrued. And such hazy understandings
of the slave power argument have also helped shroud the
story of the most influential third party movement in
American political history. Working first through the
Liberty Party, and later through the more moderate Free Soil
and Republican parties, political abolitionists emphasized
the slave power argument that represented the most
promising approach for advancing antislavery politics. Because of its multiple
valences, historians have often emphasized the versions of
this antislavery rhetoric that seem most disconnected from
the abolitionist moral crusade. Typical are works attributing
the concept’s popularity primarily to either a
Jacksonian small producer ethos, or paranoid fears of
outlandish conspiracies against the Republic. Conventional interpretations
have thereby downplayed the core of abolitionist
antislave power politics, and have consequently
also overlooked political abolitionists’ success in
marshaling their slave power analysis to reorient
national political debate. For its political abolitionist progenitors the slave power argument
represented more than just a clever rhetorical move. Abolitionist antislave power
appeal encompassed a studied institutional critique of
the second party system of Whigs and Democrats. With both major parties reliant
on slave holding support to win national contests
for control of Congress and the Presidency, abolitionists
charged that even the most outspoken antislavery Whig
and Democratic politicians remained structurally
beholden to the slave power. This diagnosis of the
slave power’s sway over the party system convinced
abolitionists of the need for third party political
action, and then became the Liberty Party’s, and later
the Free Soil Party’s most pervasive, and perhaps
most persuasive and compelling line of argument. To fully understand the origins
of the American Civil War we must appreciate first
the partisan dimensions of political abolitionists’ slave
power argument, along with their consistent and ultimately
successful pursuit of a victorious northern dominated
party as a pre-condition for antislavery policy making. As abolitionists embarked on
efforts to promote their policy agenda of combating slavery
everywhere under federal jurisdiction, which Jim Oakes
has discussed at length, and which Joe Murphy will
elaborate upon shortly, as they embarked on efforts
to promote that policy agenda they encountered fierce
resistance, which they consistently turned to their own benefit. As they responded to the
assault on Northern civil liberties, epitomized especially
by the Congressional gag rule on antislavery petitions,
abolitionists elaborated an increasingly forceful
condemnation of proslavery political power. As early as 1837 abolitionists
characterized proslavery congressional forces as an
ominous, slave holding power in the national councils. In 1838 Michigan abolitionist
Seymour Treadwell’s American Liberties and American
Slavery repeatedly assailed this slave holding power that
was insidiously, but rapidly, undermining all our institutions. There could, Treadwell
averred, be no alternative to degrading vassalage to the
slave holding power of the South as long as slavery shall continue. In 1839 abolitionist jurist
William Jays’ A View of the Action of the Federal
Government offered a similarly thorough expose of slaveholders
disproportionate sway. The slave power in
Congress, Jay demonstrated, had consistently controlled
federal policy with the aid of inflated
representation it received for three-fifths of slaves. “Equally culpable Northern
politicians,” Jay criticized, “facilitated Southern domination
by consistently submitting “to proslavery demands.” Politically minded abolitionists
were thus elated when Ohio Democratic Senator Thomas
Morris broadcast similar sentiments, also in 1839. Serving out his lame duck
term after being discarded by fellow Democrats in
Columbus, Morris warned that “the slave power commanded the
whole power of the country, “and both political parties.” While Morris’s speech did at
points link the slave power of the South and banking
power of the North, scholarship emphasizing
Democratic antislavery impulses has tended to overstate both
the novelty and Jacksonian origins of Morris’
antislave power arguments. Morris was not the first to
use the phrase or the concept of the slave power, but his
Senate oration vastly widened its reach, and political
abolitionists soon seized on the term as a pithy, potent
shorthand for the more complex analyses that abolitionists
like Treadwell and Jay had been honing for years. In observing the next two
national elections for Speaker of the House in December of 1839,
and for President in 1840, abolitionists saw confirmation
of their increasingly vocal warnings that membership in
either major party necessarily entailed deference to the slave power. The 1839 Speakership contest
demonstrated how little abolitionists could
expect from Democratic or Whig partisans, even the
putatively antislavery Whigs of the upper north. In this contest a block of
hard core proslavery states rights’ men rejected both
major party caucus nominees, who were incidentally both slaveholders, but were insufficiently committed
to the defense of slavery by the states’ rights mens’ perception, and thereby the states’ rights
bloc stalemated the choice for Speaker through 10
inconclusive ballots. When a subset of these
proslavery holdouts offered to cooperate with mainstream
Whigs to elect young state’s rights Virginian Robert M. T. Hunter, every northern Whig
acquiesced, and Hunter scored a three vote majority on the 11th ballot. Even Whigs who self-identified
as abolitionists, like Ohio’s Joshua Giddings
and Vermont’s William Slade, voted for Hunter when their
party’s interest so demanded. Yet in observing the elections
disappointing conclusion, political abolitionists like
Levitt further envisioned constructing an analogous
single-minded antislavery bloc that could similarly wield
a decisive balance of power. Quoting Levitt, “Now there
are in the House as many “abolistionists as state right’s men. “Had they been only as much
opposed to slavery as they are “true to their party, they
might with ease have secured “the election of a man
unstained at least with the open “crime of slave holding,
and thus have broken up, “probably forever, one
of the prerogatives of “the slave power, that of
appointing all of the presiding “officers of our national legislature.” The ensuing congressional
sessions debates conducted amidst the pressures of an
upcoming presidential campaign further persuaded abolitionists
that to pursue their goals they must stand outside
the existing party system. The House passed a new
more stringent gag rule in January of 1840. And while antislavery Whigs
fought boldly if unsuccessfully to defeat this new gag,
they again demonstrated that their partisanship trumped
antislavery convictions. William Slade’s five and a
half hour plea for immediate abolition at the capital
concluded by exhorting antislavery Whigs to cast presidential
ballots for Virginia-born antiabolitionist Whig
William Henry Harrison. An abolitionist lauded Slade
for having attacked the monster slavery and
demonstrating that its influence in our country was all powerful,
but bemoaned that Slade lays abolitionism out the
question in electoral politics even though he seemed to be
quite conscious of Harrison’s deadly hostility to the
principles of liberty. Harrison’s candidacy and the
1840 presidential campaign persuaded a growing number
of antislavery activists that they must withdraw
from the major parties. While the founding of an
abolitionist political organization is sometimes mischaracterized
as motivated primarily by anxieties over the taint
of participating in a corrupt partisan process, political
abolitionists’ decision to erect a new party resulted
as much from tactical considerations as from
moralistic camaraderism. The question of independent
antislavery nominations could be viewed, political
abolitionists explained openly, as a mere question of
expediency as much as one of personal morality. For most political abolitionists
the move into third party politics represented a practical
response to overwhelming evidence that the Whig and
Democratic parties would never meaningfully challenge slavery. As both major parties
depended on Southern support, to be a partisan of either the
Whig or Democratic ranks was, political abolitionists
charged, to be ex oficio pro slavery. The call for an abolitionist
presidential ticket thus grew naturally out of the
conclusion that the slave power that controls the office
of the presidency controls likewise the nation. The President, political
abolitionists observed, represented the very
incarnation of the party that supports him, and each new
president’s politics became, for the time being, the
politics of the nation. Emphasizing Whig and Democratic
complicity in slaveholder’s dominance of the national
government, spokesmen for the new Abolitionist Liberty Party
advocated third party voting as the only feasible electoral
strategy for advancing a national antislavery policy agenda. Even after the disastrous
1840 campaign in which abolitionist James Birney won
less than half of one percent of the national total, while
Harrison carried nearly every Northern state. Until the slave power was
routed from control of national politics, Northerners of whatever
political persuasion could never expect honest democratically
responsive government. Philadelphia liberty man
Samuel Hastings thus expounded, “It matters not what
professions of love to the slave “a man may make. “If he is elected as a party
man, he must do the work “of the party first. “If they require him to vote
for a slaveholder for Speaker, “or to vote for a
slaveholder for President, “or in a thousand ways to
sustain the slave power, “he must do it.” The Liberty Party offered the
only option that would allow abolitionists to concentrate
our votes upon candidates that it will be necessary to question. With the Whig Party harboring
more antislavery sympathizers, and sometimes attempting to
pass itself off as a true Liberty Party, political
abolitionists especially challenged ostensibly antislavery Whigs,
assailing the anticipated 1844 nomination of Kentucky
Whig Henry Clay as the most compelling evidence of Northern
Whigs submission to the Southern dictation. As a perceived moderate who
nonetheless owned dozens of slaves and scathingly
denounced abolitionist agitation, Clay struck Liberty partisans
as the most dangerous man in the nation, as no other
politician could so effectually persuade the people of the
free states to compromise conscience and liberty on
the altar of expediency. While Liberty men acknowledged
the sincere antislavery feeling among many Northern
Whigs, that sentiment was swallowed up by a devotion
to Clay, and is thus made to uphold and strengthen the
reign of the slave power. Thus Liberty men especially
castigated Northern Whig leaders who provided
indispensable antislavery cover for Henry Clay and the slave power. For example, when Connecticut
Whigs nominated abolitionist attorney Roger Baldwin for
Governor, a man with whom Levitt had collaborated to free the
illegally enslaved Amistad Africans a few years earlier,
Levitt charged that the Whig state convention’s
simultaneous endorsement of Clay for President confirmed that
Mr. Baldwin’s known opposition to slavery, his spotless
morals and his faithful professional services in
the Amistad case are held up by the Whig Party to attract
a certain class of voters who could otherwise not
now be induced to vote for a slaveholder. After years of Liberty attacks
on Clay as the symbol of the Whig Party’s proslavery
proclivities, it should have come as little surprise that
Liberty leaders balked when Northern Whigs attempted to
wheedle antislavery voters into supporting Clay as
a lesser of evils in the 1844 presidential contest. To Liberty men, Northern
Whig’s proposal to elect a slaveholder in hopes of
blocking slavery’s expansion seemed like setting the
wolf to guard the sheep. When Democratic James Polk
narrowly defeated Clay and incited war with Mexico,
a broad cross section of Northern congressmen began
to pronounce increasingly combative attacks on the slave
power that sounded much like those Liberty men had been
articulating for years. And these came through most
thoroughly in heated clashes over the Wilmot Proviso’s
demand that slavery be barred from all newly acquired federal territory. Antislavery and antislave power
sentiments quickly came to infuse the rhetoric of
Northern congressmen. So much so that a Virginia
congressman fumed in early 1847 that the U.S. House had
been rendered a magnificent abolitionist society. As debates over the
slave power proliferated, political abolitionists embraced
new opportunities to build more extensive, if more
moderate, coalitions that could place politicians independent
of the slave power, first in Congress, and
later in the White House. Through decades of agitation
political abolitionists understood their efforts
to, to quote Levitt again, “dethrone the inexorable
slave power” initially as Liberty men, and later as
Free Soilers, and finally as Republicans, as the
crucial first step towards extirpating American slavery. Thank you. (applause) – Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming. Thank you first of all to
James Oakes and John Stoffer for organizing this wonderful conference. It’s good to see friends,
family, colleagues, mentors and students. I see you, Curtis. (laughing) Thanks for coming, everyone. The title of my paper is
Like the Veiled Prophet of Khorossan, Salmon P. Chase
and the Meaning of the Antislavery Platform. It’s often forgotten,
until recently that is, that the Liberty, Free
Soil and Republican parties all endorsed the same basic
platform regarding slavery. The core of that platform
was a program known as denationalization or divorce. That program demanded a
complete separation of slavery from the federal government, quite literally a
denationalization of slavery. This meant among other
things abolishing slavery in federal jurisdictions like
Washington, D.C. and the federal territories. It also meant preventing new
slave states from joining the Union, and changing the
general orientation of federal policy so that it favored
freedom and discouraged slavery. The idea here was to withdraw
federal support for slavery and circumscribe the South
with a chain of free states and territories, to isolate
the slave economy and force the Southern states into
abolishing slavery on their own. The striking thing about
this program, at least from a modern perspective, is that
it did not call for a direct federal action against
slavery in the states. In other words, it respected
the premise that slavery was a state institution
which only the states had the power to abolish. Yet the proponents of
denationalization were confident that if enacted the program
would bring about universal abolition in the United States. It’s chief architect,
Salmon P. Chase, had quote, “no doubt at all as to the
constitutional power of the “general government to affect
directly and indirectly “the extinction of slavery.” Ere long Chase wrote, “Slavery
will be driven back within “her legal limits. “There I trust, like the
veiled prophet of Khorossan, “to be stripped of her silver
veil, to be exposed in all her “monstrous deformity, and to
perish amid the execrations “of those whom she has so
long deluded and betrayed.” This seems like wishful thinking,
and in many ways it was. Slavery as an institution
was far more resilient than activists like Chase
assumed, something the Civil War would make very clear later on. But plenty of people in the
1840’s and 50’s believed that denationalization would
force the Southern states to abolish slavery on
their own, and quickly. Pro and antislavery groups
deferred on almost every point about slavery and federal
power, but they were agreed on this, that slavery could
not survive a withdrawal of federal support. To understand why they
thought this we must place denationalization into
its 19th century context, viewing it against the
backdrop of contemporary assumptions about slavery,
property and federal power. Though it did not call for
direct federal interference in the States, denationalization
was an aggressive policy for achieving universal abolition. There were two basic aspects to Chase’s denationalization program. The first was to withdraw
federal support for slavery in all areas under the direct
jurisdiction of Congress. The second strategy was to have
the free states of the North reduce their relations to
slavery, interpreting their constitutional obligations
as strictly as possible, always favoring freedom. Now withdrawing federal
support for slavery meant a number of things. Above all it meant repealing
slave codes in Washington, D.C. and the federal territories,
and even in federal forts, arsenals and post offices
inside the slave states. It also meant preventing new
slave states from joining the Union, a policy that
would reduce the power of slave owners in Congress
by guaranteeing a plurality of free states. Beyond these measures,
withdrawing federal support meant prohibiting the use of slaves
on federal public works projects, and discontinuing
the policy of seeking compensation for slaves lost
in wars and in accidents and rebellions on the high seas. In short, it meant that every
department of the federal government would treat
slavery as a local institution whose protection was a
state, not a federal concern. Slaves would be considered
persons at the national level. Only in the states would
they be considered property. Withdrawing free state
support could take many forms, but two strategies prevailed. The first was for Northern
courts and legislatures to deny slave owners the right
other hold slaves within their limits, that is to
emphatically reject the idea that owning slaves numbered
among the privileges and immunities of American citizenship. The second was for state courts
and legislatures to adopt a narrow interpretation
of the Fugitive Slave Law, the federal Fugitive Slave
Law, which in practice meant minimizing the role state
officers played in the recapture of alleged fugitives. Legislatures in the free
states could also enact personal liberty laws
providing runaways with access to basic rights like habeas
corpus and jury trial. Beyond these two strategies,
free states could also repeal laws beneficial to
slave owners from the so-called stay laws, again laws which
allowed slave owners to hold slaves in a free state
for up to nine months, two laws complementing
the Fugitive Slave Law. Last but not least, free state
legislatures could repeal race prejudiced laws on the
grounds that they imitated the presumption of slavery
in Southern states. In this way the free states
could join the federal government in establishing
an antislavery legal regime based on the presumption that all persons, regardless of skin color, were free. Together they could jump start
the process of state by state abolition, which had begun
in the North in the late 18th century, but which had
ground to a halt after 1804. Denationalization makes more
sense when we consider that by the 1830s slavery had, as
some of our earlier panelists had shown, had become a de
facto national institution. Congress had renewed slave
codes in Washington, D.C., and recognized those in
the Louisiana and Florida territories. U.S. diplomats sought
compensation for slaves lost or emancipated on the high seas. Federal authorities hired
slaves to work on public works projects, and the U.S.
Army, let’s not forget, removed Indian tribes
from the old southwest, opening up huge tracts
of land for slave owners. But even free state policies
like providing commodity to slave owners and having
state officers execute fugitive remands reinforced
the general idea that slavery had become a national institution. Denationalization was
about resisting that trend. It aimed to localize slavery
by beating it back into the states where it already
existed, and revoking the federal patronage that
allowed those states to postpone abolition. The denationalization
program involved a series of 19th century assumptions about
slavery and federal power. The first was that slavery
was inherently weak, and that it’s existence depended
on the artificial support provided it by the federal government. And expanding the frontiers
of the slave economy and protecting slave property in
areas outside the slave states, the federal government had
ensured the continued viability of slavery in the Union. But deprived of that support,
so the argument went, slavery would quickly wither away and die. This strand of antislavery
logic slows up most clearly in the case for blocking
slavery’s westward expansion, that is into the territories,
which by the way was just one aspect of the
denationalization program. Time and again Chase and
others claim that prohibiting slavery in the federal
territories would increase the pressure on the slave states themselves. It was widely believed that
slavery depended on access to new land, for one thing. Cotton depleted soil so
quickly and thoroughly that new land was always
needed to maintain output. But more importantly
expansion determined the value of slave property. The economic appeal of
slavery was in the master’s ownership of his slaves bodies,
not just their labor power. This gave masters the
singular advantage of quickly transporting their entire
labor force to fertile new lands in the American
West, using that slave property as collateral for obtaining loans. So if Congress prohibited
slavery’s expansion, so the reasoning went, slave
owners would find themselves trapped in the states with
their investments mired in useless land, and a rapidly
depreciating population of bound laborers. A second assumption was
that slave prices would drop precipitously once
denationalization took place. It would subvert and
delegitimise slavery not only in the border South, where
hostile free state policies would inject fatal volatility
into regional slave markets, but eventually everywhere
in the South, as doubt and instability spread from the
margins of the slave economy to its vital core, the deep South. Not only that, but free soil islands, not just Washington, D.C.,
but the hundreds of federal forts, arsenals and post
offices inside the South itself would serve as magnets for runaways, while a presumption of
freedom in federal areas would tempt slaves to challenge
their legal status in federal courts. The coast wide slave trade,
the main artery of the internal slave trade, would no longer
have the implicit backing of the federal government,
making it very difficult for slave owners to retrieve
slaves who emancipated themselves on the high seas. All of this, according to the
logic of denationalization, would undermine the value of
slave property and leave the slave states little choice
but to abolish slavery on their own. Surrounded on all sides
with little prospect of maintaining parity in Congress,
slave owners would find it neither profitable nor
desirable to buy, sell or work human property. Many of them would respond
by voluntarily emancipating their slaves, but more
importantly, Southern legislatures would begin the process of
abolishing slavery voluntarily, recommencing the process
of state by state abolition begun in the North. Salmon Chase, not only the
architect of denationalization, but the person most responsible
for its inclusion in the Free Soil and Republican Party
platforms, based his program on the primary strand of
antislavery constitutionalism. He argued that slavery was
a state institution with no connection whatsoever
to the federal government. In other words, Congress had
no power to uphold or protect slavery in areas under
its direct jurisdiction. This was a clever reversal
of the so-called federal consensus, the premise usually
associated with state’s rights slave owners that
Congress could not under any circumstances touch slavery in the states. This was a mainstay of
proslavery constitutionalism, and it was generally
respected in the North, even among abolitionists. The ingenious trick of
antislavery constitutionalism was to turn that premise inside out. If Congress had no power to
regulate or abolish slavery in the states, as slave owners
were so quick to point out, then it was also true that
it had no power to establish, maintain or protect slavery
outside of those states. Political abolitionists like
Salmon Chase had developed this logic over the course of
their debates with proslavery leaders like John C. Calhoun. In arguing about slavery’s
constitutional status in places like Washington, D.C. and
in U.S. coastal waters, proslavery leaders had
basically admitted that slavery itself depended on federal
support, and that withdrawing that support would
constitute a direct attack on slavery in the states. In other words that there would
be little difference between indirect and direct
action against slavery. Calhoun and others had also
revealed the extent to which proslavery thinking depended
on a loose construction of the Constitution, in
particular on the idea that rights to slave property were national,
that is extraterritorial rights, guaranteed protection
under the U.S. Constitution, a claim which in fact could not
be found in the text itself. In developing their response
abolitionists like Chase insisted that the federal
consensus be read strictly, that slavery was not a
constitutionally guaranteed right, that it depended entirely on state laws. For Chase the Constitution
recognized slavery’s existence in the states, but it did
not bestow a national status on the institution. In fact, it recognized
slaves only as persons, not as property, which they
could only be under state law. Chase and others backed this
up with narrow interpretations of the Fifth Amendment’s
due process clause, which prohibited Congress from
depriving persons of their liberty, and the Tenth Amendment’s
enumerated powers clause, by which all powers not
expressly granted to the federal government were reserved to the states. We usually associate these
arguments with proslavery leaders like Calhoun, but
they were also the foundation of the antislavery platform. In this sense Chase’s recognition
of the federal consensus of exclusive state control
over slavery was not a compromise with evil, but
a deliberate strategy to strengthen the case for
divorce, to trap slave owners in their own constitutional logic. In substance denationalization
was the same legislative agenda abolitionists had been
pushing since the early 1830s. Chase however adapted that
agenda to the realm of party politics, streamlining
what had been a discrete set of initiatives into a
straightforward policy prescription, divorce. And whereas abolitionists
openly promoted universal abolition, Chase insisted
that the sole objective of antislavery politics was
to divorce slavery from the federal government,
nothing more, nothing less. Insofar as political parties
used votes to repeal laws and reorient federal policy,
Chase argued, their objectives were limited by the terms
of the federal consensus. Northern votes did not,
could not reach slavery in Southern states. Parties were more directly
inhibited by the federal consensus than abolition
societies like the American Antislavery Society,
which had no direct impact on the making and unmaking of
laws, and thus had every right to pursue universal abolition. Antislavery parties,
according to Chase, could not, at least not officially. Now none of this means that
Chase and his allies abandoned the cause of universal abolition. In 1842 Chase told a fellow
Liberty Party leader that while the party’s main
objective was to denationalize slavery, it would also seek
to quote, “establish liberty, “to secure to each man the
fullest exercise of all “his faculties and powers”, end quote. In a sense Chase’s recognition
of the federal consensus was no craven arrangement
with the slave power. It was a calculated move
aimed at solidifying the antislavery platform and
increasing its appeal among voters North and South. Thank you. (applause) – Well, as each of my colleagues
was rising and thanking everyone, I kept thinking
moments of terror. What if I forget? (laughing) So I extend the blanket
thanks, and also hope that you’ll extend immunity to
any future speaker who may forget to do so. We’re all very thankful to be
here, and I think it’s been a great conference so far. My remarks this morning are
really to deal with the question of where Garrisonians in the
American Antislavery Society fit within this larger story
of antislavery politics and the antislavery platform
that Joe and Corey have already laid out. And on the one hand they clearly
are part of the same story. Garrisonians denounced the
slave power as much as any political abolitionist. The Declaration of the American
Antislavery Society in 1833, as several have pointed out,
more or less accepted the federal consensus that
Joe has just discussed. But on the other hand, after
1840 a series of schisms within the abolitionist
movement propelled political abolitionists like Chase and
Levitt out of the American Antislavery Society and
into third party political movements like the Liberty
Party, the Free Soilers and the Republicans. Meanwhile Garrisonians who
remained in the American Antislavery Society adopted
policies that seemed to push them farther and farther
outside the mainstream of antislavery politics. Consider for example a
notorious resolution passed by the Society in May of 1844,
which resolved that secession from the present United
States government is the duty of every abolitionist since
no one can take office or throw a vote for another
to hold office under the United States Constitution
without violating his antislavery principles. That resolution summarizes
the Garrisonian’s two most controversial policies, so
let’s look more closely at what they meant by
secession from the present U.S. government. They meant first of all
the individual refusal of abolitionists to vote or
hold office because to do so required swearing an oath
to support a constitution that Garrisonians believed was proslavery. In 1854 of course Garrison
famously burned a copy of the Constitution at a
Fourth of July meeting in Massachusetts, which was
an act that in some ways extended logically from this
resolution 10 years before. But in calling for secession
Garrisonians were also calling for disunion, the
term by which their platform is better known. Beginning in 1844 the
Society adopted No Union With Slaveholders as its official rallying cry, and they called on the North
to demand that slaveholders either abolish slavery or face
the consequences of disunion. So if we return to the
question where do Garrisonians fit in the political
antislavery movement with those views in mind, it’s easy
to conclude that the answer is not well, or maybe even not at all. Political abolitionists
believed it was possible to act against slavery under the Constitution. Garrisonians did not. Political abolitionists
believed that they could vote and run for office. Garrisonians did not. Political abolitionists
sought ways of ending slavery without ending the Union. Garrisonians seemed to
have invited secession, almost gleefully at times. These contrasts are some
the reasons why many recent historians continue to
see the Garrisonians as self righteous separatists
who adopted quote, “a remarkably passive plan of
action”, to quote Jim Oakes from several books ago. I don’t know if he’d stand by that today. But both Jim and other historians
have said that Garrison essentially led his small
band of followers into a seemingly endless pursuit
of self purification, that he and his disciples
privileged purification over the practical result of abolition. Others have viewed Garrisonian
insistence on a proslavery constitution in particular
as a dogma that rendered disunionists catatonic or
even conservative in ways that ultimately served the
interests of the slave power. Now these are not new views. In fact, Garrisonians faced
the same charges from political abolitionists at the time. The Garrisonian Samuel May,
Jr. remembered attending a Massachusetts antislavery
meeting in 1846 when a political abolitionist rose to
charge Garrisonians quote, “with backing out”, and
threw out sundry sneers about nonresistance and camaraderism
and told now those who took the side of the question which
I have maintained sat still and sucked their thumbs. Now it wouldn’t surprise
you I hope to know that I disagree with those
characterizations of Garrison’s disunionist movement. I don’t think that they were
thumb-sucking bystanders to the antislavery political movement. And in particular I think
that that depiction rests on three shaky assumptions
that don’t always hold up under closer scrutiny. The first assumption is that
Garrisonians refused to vote solely for reasons of moral
self purification or theological beliefs to keep themselves clean
from the stain of politics. But in fact, as other historians
have shown, they had a variety of reasons for
remaining outside the political process, including the fact
that many of the most active Garrisonians could not legally
vote because they were women or because they were not White. Garrisonian men who refused
to vote did so partly in continued solidarity with
abolitionist women whose active leadership role in the American
Antislavery Society was one of the other reasons
why political abolitionists and evangelicals bolted the group in 1840. So I think we do need to
remember that by theorizing and defending a non-voting posture,
Garrisonians staked out grounds for antislavery
activism on which disfranchised citizens and noncitizens could also stand. The second assumption I
challenge is that Garrisonian disunionism stemmed most
of all from the religious come outer views represented
by nonresistance, the term that I mentioned earlier. And here I would just say
that Garrisonians themselves vehemently rejected this charge. As Wendell Phillips put it,
just because a man thinks the federal government bad, it
did not follow that he thought all government so. And Garrison also insisted on
the same distinction between disunionism and nonresistance, which was this sort of radical
brand of Christian pacifism that verged on anarchism. But Garrison insisted these
were two distinct performs, and if we look more closely
at the 1844 resolution, we can see why. First of all, it called
not for secession from all government, as the most
radical nonresistance did, but secession from the present
United States government. And second, it grounded
Garrisonians’ refusal to vote not on a belief that all
politics were hopelessly corrupt and sinful, but rather on the
narrower belief that voting under the United States
Constitution would violate specifically antislavery,
not nonresistance principles. But perhaps the strongest
reason I think for rejecting the idea that disunionism
was a form of anarchism is the fact that Garrisonians
often spoke as if actual disunion would never
actually be necessary, and was not in fact their goal. As early as 1846 Garrison
said that disunion probably would never occur because
slaveholders quote, “knew right well that the
dissolution of the Union “was the dissolution of
slavery”, as he put it. And before they would allow
the North to actually leave, they would quote, “let their
slaves go free as soon as “they were convinced that
disunion was a live possibility.” “I have little doubt”, Garrison
further declared in 1854, “that if the North would
only rise up as one man “and declare that either
slavery must be abolished “or the Union dissolved,
the South would emancipate “her slaves from the instinct
of self preservation, “conscious that she could
not maintain an independent “existence.” As Garrison put it in 1854,
were this to take place quote, “then we should be
united indeed as a people “with one policy for all,
with no conflicting interests “and with every root
of bitterness removed.” Statements like that I think
show that behind Garrisonians disunionism was actually an
intense hope that disunion would be averted by abolition. And these statements also
undermine a third and final assumption that often governs
historians’ depictions of Garrisonians, that their
disunionism was morally stringent, but not strategic, that it was a principle,
but not an actual plan. And I believe that Garrisonians
wouldn’t have recognized this depiction of themselves either. I would argue that they
actually believed, rightly or wrongly, that disunionism
would have the practical result of ending slavery. As the Civil War began Wendell
Phillips emphasized that quote, “I have advocated
disunion for 15 years because “I thought it a practicable
and peaceable method of “freeing the North from
the guilt of slavery.” Usually we stop there,
but he went on to say, “and of planting at the
South the seeds of early “and entire emancipation.” Now this wasn’t just a sort
of about face prompted by the beginning of the Civil War. Garrisonians made those
statements consistently throughout the antebellum period. Edmund Quincy, for example,
declared in 1853 that quote, “I believe, and I presume
the great mass of the people “believe, and certainly
the slaveholders believe, “that as soon as that alternative,
abolition or disunion, “is presented to the slaveholders,
slavery will not exist “for six months.” Phillips also echoed those
sentiments earlier in 1848. He said in The Liberator,
“Our only object is the “abolition of slavery, but
dissolution would be very soon “followed by that. “This the wise and
farsighted Southerners know. “Hence such cling to the Union. “The plan of the abolitionist
was therefore to show “slaveholders that the North
was willing to abandon them “to their fate. “Let us not any longer
hold back the storm”, declared Phillips, “the very
fear of which will, we know, “make the trembling master
grant his victim a peaceful “and bloodless emancipation.” There in a sentence I think
is the disunionist plan, that slaveholders would
enact emancipation because of fear of the specter of the
dissolution of the Union. Now if you think about it,
it’s a plan that again, to come back to the
denationalization platform, shares some striking
similarities with what political abolitionists were saying. It, for example, agreed that
slavery depended for its survival on nation support,
support that if withdrawn would spell slavery’s doom. Disunionists even spoke as
though emancipation would begin at the South. Edmund Quincy in 1853 even
said with his tongue only slightly in cheek that if
the South was convinced of disunion, South Carolina
would be the first to act in emancipating its slaves. (audience laughs) And that shows that the
Garrisonians also believed that this emancipation
would proceed by a state by state abolition. Now there were differences, of course. One difference is that
Garrisonians emphasized slave violence and the prospect
of slave violence if the Union were ended. They called particular
attention to the Constitution’s provisions that the federal
government would assist in putting down domestic slave insurrections. And so often these appeals to
disunion were also attempts to conjure up images of
the Haitian Revolution and slave rebellion, of what
would happen if slaveholders did not free their slaves. As soon as the slaveholders
saw that the physical support of the North would be
removed, predicted Quincy, they would submit because
the hands of their slaves would then by at their throats. And a second difference between
the Garrisonians and the denationalizers is that
they believed that the legal denationalization of slavery
as Joe has laid it out, that that alone would not
set in motion the events that political abolitionists hoped would occur. Remember that Garrison said
only if the North stood up as a man, as one man, would
Southerners be convinced that disunion was a real possibility. That if checked from
expansion into the territories or from particular kinds
of federal patronage, that alone would not frighten
them enough to emancipate their slaves. Professor Oakes has pointed
out for example that the denationalization platform
often conjured this image of a scorpion stinging
itself when surrounded by a ring of fire, and that was
actually an image that was broached by Garrisonians
in 1847 at a meeting of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society. But it’s telling that for
Garrisonians the ring of fire was not a cordon of free states. It was a cordon of public
opinion, a ring of fire that surrounded slaveholders with
an absolute refusal to have any communion with slavery. They believed that if Southerners
were convinced of that, then they would free their slaves. Now is that wishful thinking? You know, Joe raised the
question, and certainly I think it’s wishful thinking in
some of the same ways that political abolitionists thought wishfully. But I do think that it was
based in some ways on an analysis of the slave
power every bit as rigorous as that of political abolitionists. When Garrisonians reflected
on the sort of swaggering slave power that had gone
from strength to strength since the formation of the
Union, they were convinced that as fearful as slaveholders
might be of rebellion or disunion, they feared very little else. And Phillips in fact asked
rhetorically in 1854, “When has the South ever failed? “When in any crusade has
she ever been beaten?” It’s for that reason that
Garrisonians stressed that they had to generate a
united sectional antislavery in Northern public opinion,
that only that would spark a rapid Southern emancipation. In conclusion I think if
we think about disunionism in this way, as a plan rather
than just as a principle, I believe that several
otherwise puzzling things about the Garrisonians become
easier to understand. We can better understand,
for example, why they were actually encouraged by
the formation of the Republican Party and the Free Soil Party. Why they ultimately
joined the Union when the Civil War began. And most of all I think we
can better understand why the Garrisonians continued so
diligently for over 30 years to speak and lecture and
publish newspapers and do all of the things they did. I mean whatever else we can
say about the Garrisonians, I think we should agree
that they did not sit still. They were very active, and
I’ll give two examples. One is that they sent
lecturers from their societies out into the field, often into
the districts of political abolitionists who were
seeking election or reelection to try to stir up public opinion. Another example of sort
of a very archetypical Garrisonian activity were
the antislavery fairs that were hosted by abolitionist
women every year, and in some cases more than
once a year, from Ohio to Massachusetts throughout
the antebellum period where free produced goods and
also antislavery pamphlets and material culture would be
sold to passersby in search of a Christmas gift in Boston. And often people would come into the fair, would be treated as well to
a speech by John P. Hale, or a political abolitionist
who would be invited by women like Maria Westin Chapman
to speak at these fairs. I think that, you know, it’s
sort of implausible on its face to explain all of that activity
as motivated by a bleak hopelessness about the
North or the prospect of political change. They persisted in those
activities because they thought that this, and this only,
cultivating Northern public opinion for disunion or
abolition would work. Wendell Phillips I think
summarized best the disunionists’ posture towards the
denationalizers of the antislavery platform in his response to
Charles Sumner’s signature speech Freedom National Slavery Sectional, which laid out the theories
behind denationalization that Salmon P. Chase had elucidated. Phillips agreed with Sumner,
as he put it, that quote, “when slavery is banished from
our national jurisdiction, “it will be a momentous
gain, a vast stride. “But to stop where Sumner
did”, Phillips added, “would quote, ‘mistake
the half-way house for the ‘end of the journey.'” That metaphor simultaneously
distinguished disunionism from the Freedom National
strategy, and acknowledged that Garrisonians and
antislavery politicians were on the same half completed journey. Phillips understood that
the differences separating disunionists from Free Soilers
like Sumner had more to do with differences in
strategic political thinking, with planning, than with with
come out or religious views embraced by some Garrisonians. For Garrisonian
disunionists the politics of denationalization was a
half-way house not because it was politics, but because
they believed it would not, by itself, end slavery. Thank you. (applause) – [Attendee] Thank you. Can you talk about the
contrast between disunion and, this is for the whole panel,
disunion and the Northern secessionists who wanted
to go ahead and secede from the Union? And as far as kind of using
like a blockade of the South to do disunion, was that
foreseen that the South then may secede from the Union,
and that you’d have instead of the North seceding from
the Union, have the South seceding from the Union of
these slave holding states? – Thank you. Well, I think that, you know,
this is actually a question that I’ve pondered before
is how much disunionists foresaw what actually did
end up happening, right, with the South seceding. I mean, a lot of the disunionist
platform was built on statements by Southerners
themselves, who in bullying Northern politicians for
concessions and national protection would often say
forthrightly, you know, on the floor of Congress,
we need national protection in order to preserve our property rights. And disunionists to some
extent either rhetorically or sincerely took those
statements at face value, that Southerners believed
they needed the Union, would not leave the Union, and
the I think it was sincerely believed to some extent, if
you look at the Garrisonian statements immediately
after Lincoln’s election and South Carolina’s secession,
a lot of them at that moment were still continuing to
say we need to hold the disunionist line because
they believed that this was another bluff, you know,
comparable to the compromise of 1850 or the Missouri
compromise, that they wouldn’t actually leave, you know,
because they were just trying to make it seem real enough
that they’d leave so that they’d get another concession,
another compromise, you know, that would protect slavery. So I think they did believe that. I mean, Garrison often said,
you know he famously referred to the Constitution as an
agreement with Hell and a covenant with death. But when asked why he became
a Unionist after the war, he would often say he never
expected to live to see death and Hell secede. (audience laughs) And you know, to some extent
that was maybe a rhetorical justification, and that’s the
way that others have seen it, that this is a sort of about face. But I think it’s consistent
with this longer plan that disunionists were advocating,
that you know, if abolition was ultimately the goal of
disunion, that once they saw, and often they referred to
the beginning of the war. What was encouraging to them
about it was not necessarily what Republicans were saying,
because often they were still very critical about the
Republicans and their, you know, not advanced enough positions on slavery. What encouraged them was that
there was a united North, and that’s what their entire
program had sort of assumed needed to happen was a
united North that would brook no compromise, and you know,
would leave before they would stay in a union with slaveholders. I don’t know if that fully
answers your question, but that’s it. – [Attendee] This is a
question for the whole panel. One of the things that’s always
been very confusing to me about the Liberty Party’s
position on Freedom National is how did they imagine that
a, even a Northern dominated Congress or a Liberty
Party dominated Congress, even if they had the presidency,
would be able to sort of circumvent the Senate, and
in addition the indoctrinated clauses within the
Constitution, that required the federal government to
protect slavery in the ways that it did? The expansion of the
territories makes sense. Abolition within Washington,
D.C. makes sense, but you mentioned that federal
forts would become islands within which fugitive slaves could flee. I don’t understand who
that could function under the Constitution as it stood. I mean, Garrison’s critique
of the Constitution in a way is perfectly salient. I mean, the federal government
has to return that property, even if it is specifically
mandated within those states. It’s not as if the federal
government at that point would become England, where you
step on a federal territory. It required the passage
of military power act for that to happen. – Thank you. Let’s be clear that there’s
a lot of naivete in the denationalization program,
but as I tried to say towards the end of my paper, there
are certain strands of logic that Chase in particular
draws on to make his case about the consequences
of denationalization. Well, Corey’s paper
shows that you’re right, that structurally it would
be very difficult to enact this entire program, all right? But we should keep in mind
that the Liberty Party always saw itself as a kind of balance
of power political party, that it could copy or mimic
the example of the slave power. Here’s another example of
how the conflict between the two sides draws out lessons. They would, in other words,
do exactly what the slave power did, but as you put
it in your book’s title, act as a liberty power, right? And win concessions one
by one in Congress to abolish slavery first and
foremost in Washington, D.C. There was a priority. The federal forts and arsenals thing, that was never dominant in
the denationalization program. Washington, D.C. was. U.S. coastal waters also. The other thing that’s also
naive but significant in Chase’s reasoning is his
belief that there are potential allies in the South. Not slave owners, per se,
but the many, many, many Southerners who don’t own
slaves, and who would … be interested in a platform
of states rights strict construction, free labor,
free trade, things like that. So he always sort of counted
on free White Southerners, a majority to carry out these programs. It’s yes, in hindsight
naive, as Caleb’s paper tremendously shows, but … that’s how generally he
thought of these things. – I think I would say, and
Corey has brought this out too, that the Liberty Party also
was a tool for agitation. You know I think that has
to be kept in our accounts of the Liberty Party, that
it’s not just a program of policies, but it was an
attempt to get the North united, generate public
opinion against slavery. So there’s more commonalities, I guess. – And I’d just add one
thing to what Joe said. Whereas the idea of a
Northern dominated party like the Republican Party seizing
control of the federal government would lead to
a policy program oriented towards cordoning off the South, also alongside that there was
the idea that it would lead to political action that
would make slavery weaker, especially in those upper
South states where the vast majority of voters were non-slaveholders. So if there was Republican
federal patronage being exercised in some of
these upper South states, it might provide the basis
for the development of an indigenous Republican
Party in these states. And it was that sort of logic
that terrified Southerners so much when Republicans
began endorsing the Southern version of antislavery
propagated by Indian helpers, or actually by the abridged
version of (mumbling) helpers compendium with the
impending crisis in 1859. – [Attendee] Mr. Brooks
discussed the growth of a third party that expanded after
the Mexican-American War. I was wondering what was the
role of Northern big business in the expansion of those parties? I know you need a cadre of
activists, but you also need somebody footing the bill. And I know that there were
many famous cases where there were Northern cities that
were economically attached to the South, like New York
where there was a big pro-Democrat movement. I was wondering if that
was a reverse for the, or also Northern big business
that needed some type of sort of organized political
opposition to things like Southern opposition to the
Homestead Act and things like that. So when we talk about the
expansion of these third parties, is there a balance between
how much it was basically the creation of on the ground
activists or sympathetic members of the business community
that play a role at all in the growth of the Republican Party? – So to vastly overgeneralize,
in 1848 I think the Free Soil Party tends to do poorly
in the areas that we would associate with big business,
Manhattan, Philadelphia, manufacturing, Whig-controlled
manufacturing towns and in parts of New England. But where economic interests
does ultimately play into the Republican Party is in
an alliance between workers and manufacturers who are
interested in tariff protection and sort of forward looking
agriculturalists in the North who were interested in
government programs like the Homestead Act or the Land Grant
College proposal that would facilitate the improvement
of Northern agriculture, especially in the states that
were interested in modern scientific agriculture that
would allow them to compete with more fertile Western lands. And the work, well the
dissertation I guess right now of Ario Rhone, who is currently
at Yale, is really excellent on this, on the role of
agricultural improvement as sort of an economic basis
for the Republican Party. I’m much more focused clearly
on these political antislavery arguments, but the fact
that this plays a role, this economic component plays
a role ultimately in the success of the Republicans
helps sort of maybe explain what the Liberty Party and
the Free Soilers were missing in that Whigs like Joshua
Giddings and William Slade had a point when they imagined
that a victorious Northern party needed to be both
antislavery and suggest why attacking slavery would be
beneficial the economic interests of many Northern voters. But the Liberty Party guys
were right, that that was impossible as long as you
had a party that was reliant on Southern votes to
win national elections. – [Attendee] So I love the
way these three papers come together, and maybe I’m just
sort of misinterpreting it, but I’m envisioning this
moment in 1860-1861 in which the nationalists and the
disunionists can both point to a moment of victory,
can basically both look and say the process that we
are hoping to initiate is beginning to play out. And if Stanley Herald is
correct we have the defection of the border states from
the Confederacy sort of as the beginning of that sort
of state emancipation. And looking at it from the
perspective that you guys are setting up, I could foresee
this conversation between the two factions which looks
something like let’s just wait and see how this plays out. But of course, that’s not what happens. What happens is the
nationalists launch a war, and as far as we can tell
the disunionists tuck in with a gusto. So there’s somebody discordant
there, and I wondered if you could talk about it. – Well, I think one thing
that I guess these papers didn’t bring out as much,
but I think is an important part of all of these groups
platforms, is the idea of military emancipation. And so, you know, at the
moment at which it’s possible to seize on those powers
of military emancipation, they point to that and
articulate that as a reason for joining the Union cause. You know, in a roundabout
way I think the disunionists’ support for the war, even though
it’s been seen as the most surprising because of their
historical pacifism and nonresistance, is less
surprising given their, you know, their oft stated beliefs
about how hard it would be to get the South to relinquish slavery. But you’re right that this
is, I mean, it is perplexing for some of the people on both sides. You know I’ve talked
abolitionist the Garrisonians as, you know, a united group, but
of course there were people within the American Antislavery
Society who actually were advocating we should
just stand back and let things play out. I believe that even though
they were a very vocal minority and therefore have gotten
a lot of attention, that they were a minority
within the Antislavery Society. But certainly within these
networks of correspondence between American abolitionists,
and particularly their British allies who I’ve
talked a lot about, their British allies were
especially kind of perplexed by why the Garrisonians
were suddenly unionists. I don’t know if you guys wanna– – Yeah, to echo on Caleb’s point, I think that in 1861
Republicans, Chase in particular, saw this as maybe just
another bluff, another one of these moments, and that … It’s important to keep in
mind that from the beginning of Chase’s denationalization
program and of antislavery politics there had always
been an assumption that they would never leave. That is the Southern states
would never leave because the other option would be so terrible. That is what in James
Oakes’ work describes as the European way, right? Meaning French style or
Haitian military emancipation, as he was saying. So that was always the
background assumption. And so people like Chase
I think assumed that they don’t wanna go there, and
that denationalization is a far more safe and … as you can see, rational
system for ending slavery. So I don’t think that, I
think that that assumption, that background assumption
about military emancipation was always on the table. They just didn’t expect it to
happen, so wait and see was their policy. – I mean it’s also worth
noting, and this is sort of a commonplace but it’s true
that Republicans from Lincoln to Chase believed that
secession was unconstitutional. And there was sort of no
question if you read the correspondence of the most
radical Republicans that if the South didn’t come back
into the Union voluntarily, it would have to be forced
back into the Union. And there’s at no point where
Chase or Sumner or the notable radical Republicans are
squeamish in the winter of 1861 about the possibility of war. It’s just not crossing their
mind to just let the South secede and see how things
go for a few years. – [Attendee] I have a
question for the panel kind of inspired by something Joe
said that if anyone has the answer I’d be very interested. I just wanted to bring the
other recent big slavery debate about slavery and
capitalism that Baptist’s new book, particularly with
the loans, the mortgages, the financial products
created and backed by slavery. I was just wondering were
these abolitionists, political Garrisonians, whatever, were
they complete aware of this? And did it play into the
ideology or political program in any way? – By this, again, could you elaborate? – [Attendee] Just the centrality
of slavery, especially financial products, mortgages,
loans, the kind of way that capitalists go into the
South, loans by slaves. – Yeah, okay. – [Attendee] And also
however (mumbling) in the national economy. – Yes, well denationalization
is based on a political concept of
property as a state thing, not a national thing, and that’s crucial. But as you can, as you may
have been able to tell from the paper there is this
kind of rationale based on the political economy as it
was understood at the time of slavery, that the value
of slave property was based not so much in the labor of
the slave, but the ability of the master to pick up
slaves and go out west as fast as possible, something that
a Northern factory owner cannot do. So it’s like Gavin Wright’s
work on the economics of slavery. So that kind of thinking
about slavery as an economic institution, as a modern
component of American capitalism played into their thinking
about how to contain it, right? Like all markets, if you
contain it, you really do damage to it. If it can’t expand to
new markets, or if it’s, pieces of it are destroyed
such as in Washington, D.C. or something like that, you
do a lot of damage to the slave economy itself, right? Once that motor starts
buckling and shutting down. – I would say sort of going
back to the response to the previous question about
why Garrisonians believed slavery would be so hard
to uproot in the South, I think they were aware,
especially by the late antebellum period, of how much
economic power slavery had. I mean, Phillips would
often say to expect that an aristocracy with $200
millions of dollars, you know, and the kind of James Huston
point about the just value of slaves as economic assets,
that they wouldn’t give that up without a fight. I think there was a kind of
maturing recognition of that by the outbreak of the war,
you know, on the part of Garrisonians. – And let’s not forget that
there were a whole host of Northern antislavery arguments
about how slavery was detrimental to the national
economy, and also that it, there are arguments about
how it drained capital from the Northern economy. These are probably wrong as
economic analyses in many cases, but it was an issue they were
grappling with, and it was something they attended to politically. But the economic issue was
always sort of secondary in my mind to some of the
political and moral issues for the more radical
political abolitionists that we’re discussing, that Joe
and I are discussing here. – [Moderator] I think it
would be a good idea to do the same and ask all three
questions, and then see where they are in terms of overlap. So if you would like to ask yours? – [Attendee] Excuse me, my
question actually has some overlap with the two previous
questions, and you addressed it fairly well, so I’ll just
about economic connections and the economic dimension,
so I’ll just address this specifically to Joe. To what extent did Chase’s
program denationalization rely on the idea, since
you mentioned Gavin Wright, that slavery was economically inefficient? And I guess another way of
asking it would be to what extent did they elaborate a
free labor argument as well as a Free Soil argument? – Brilliant, thank you. – We’re gonna let the (mumbling). (audience laughs) – [Attendee] So I just noticed
that a common theme between all these papers seems to
be this perceived weakness of slavery, and that that was
a big folly among a lot of these Northern organizations. And so I was wondering to get
that big of a misperception were there any other factors
besides this constant Southern propaganda, or
maybe they didn’t realize it was propaganda that they
wouldn’t be able to survive without the federal
government, that fed into this perceived weakness of slavery
that made so many of this organizations a bit arrogant about it? – [Attendee] I’d like to know
why they would continue to assume the South would never
leave the Union when some Southern leadership had been
threatening secession since the Missouri crisis? And they seemed to hold the
simultaneous that slavery was extremely economically powerful,
and the slave power had political control in the South. So why would they think
the South would never leave the Union when they’d
been doing those things? – I think maybe in response
to those last two questions, I think this is where it’s
important to underline the, one of the differences
I was suggesting between Garrisonians and political
abolitionists about stressing slave insurrection and the
possibility of the violence of the enslaved if the
Union was withdrawn. I mean, so slavery was weak,
but it wasn’t so much that it was weak because it was
threatened by this kind of ongoing internal war
between masters and slaves, that it wasn’t just gonna
die off or wither away on its own. It was gonna take force to
uproot it, and so that’s why they believed that whatever
they said, whatever Southerners said about leaving the Union,
that they depended on the protection of the federal military, and so that all of that was
kind of smoke and mirrors, but they wouldn’t when push
came to shove be able to exist as an independent. And in some ways they were right, right? I mean, in some ways this,
now that we’re kind of understanding the Confederacy
as Stephanie McCurrie does as kind of a doomed project,
you know, from the beginning there is some justice to
that analysis, I think. – I wanted to address first
Sean Griffin’s question about the free labor component. Well, what’s, you know, we’re
up here talking a lot about property and personhood,
but we haven’t been talking about free labor that much. So just very briefly I wanna
say that Sean Blanton was talking about it in the
very first paper today, self ownership is a property
concept, and it’s also crucial to the free labor concept. The fact that you own
yourself, your own your labor, you allocate your time, your
body, everything is self-owned, right? And I just wanna emphasize that
when we talk about property it’s important to talk
about the economic side and American property law,
but that property also is political in the sense
of self-ownership, right? That’s the crucial flip side
of the coin, if you will, to the free labor and component
of the Free Soil thing. The other thing about the
weakness, the assumption in denationalization about
the weakness of slavery has to do with the
nature of slave property, that unlike a chair or a horse,
you know, we all know that slaves can run away, they
can cajole, they can trick, you know. Human property is just
fundamentally different than other forms of property. And so creating these kinds
of Free Soil or somerset lines in the American Federal
system creates an instability in which human property can
run away, can make decisions that they couldn’t have made before. It changes the terms of
the debate, so I just wanna emphasize that about
the weakness of slavery. – And it is worth noting that
the two sources of greatest political controversy in
the decade of decades even leading up, of national
political controversy in the decades leading up to the
Civil War were of course access, Southern slaveholders’
access to federal territories, and Southern
slaveholders’ ability to count on the rendition of
fugitive slaves who escaped the slave states. And both of those things
would have been effectively impossible if the South left the Union. So the things that the South
were, at least on the face of it immediately asking for,
they would lose access to should they leave the Union,
which perhaps affected the miscalculation, if we
might see it that way, of some of the antislavery Northerners. And on the perceived weakness
of slavery, I would just add that political abolitionists
were pretty consistent in arguing that part of what
gave slavery, an institution from which only a very,
very small fraction of White Americans directly
benefited at any one time, directly as slave owners,
part of what gave it so much strength was that slave
owners controlled the federal government for almost the
entirety of its existence, in large part political
abolitionists argued, through their ability to
control the major parties that were in power. And so if that were to be
reversed, slavery could potentially genuinely be threatened. – [Audrey] Thank you, and
we’ll reconvene at 1:30 again, and thank you to. (applause)

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