“You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.” (Lincoln address delivered at Washington, D.C.; The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V, pages 371-375.)
As revealed by these words of Lincoln in 1863, Northern “anti-slavery” was for the most part an “anti-black” sentiment. Having ended Northern slavery because it could not be made profitable, the North had ostracized its few remaining blacks into segregated shanty towns; even digging up the bodies of black people in town cemeteries to complete the ethnic cleansing. New England’s desire for racial purification spread across a segregated North. It segregated the few blacks that remained in the North from Northern society. This led to a lack of social interaction and a distrust and distaste for those blacks that were alienated and different. The result was colonization societies springing up across the North that sought to rid the North of the few remaining blacks.
Lincoln’s desire to rid the country of all blacks, slave or free, reflected this deeply held racist attitude. Most of the anti-slavery movement was primarily a movement of this sort, which masked its racist motivations with abstract bloviating about Enlightenment ideals of human equality. But leading Republicans had already unmasked their true motivations. Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot, of Wilmot Proviso fame, had this to say to Congress about the Northern motive to keep slavery out of the territories: “I make no war upon the South nor upon slavery in the South. I have no squeamish sensitiveness upon the subject of slavery, nor morbid sympathy for the slave. I plead the cause of the rights of white freemen.” Lincoln’s future Secretary of Treasury Salmon Chase included an anti-South political motive that paired well with the racist motive, “I do not want to have the slave emancipated because I love him, but because I hate his master” (letter to W.D. Chadwick 11/8/1858). Lincoln fit right in regarding both the motive to rid the Union of blacks and the motive to defeat the political power of Southern leaders.
In addition to the desire for colonization, cutting blacks off from the cradle to grave welfare of the master to “die out” was a second popular anti-slavery goal. Ralph Waldo Emerson led an abolitionist sentiment that hoped blacks would eventually be found “only in museums, like the Dodo.” Slavery was objectionable because it kept blacks on Union soil.
An overlooked aspect of the many motives for secession of the Southern States was the North’s determination to rid the country of all blacks. White Southerners grew up in a society where integration was unavoidable. Blacks almost equaled whites in population, and in some States exceeded the white population. By sheer necessity close bonds across racial lines occurred. Black and white Southerners played, worked, worshipped and socialized together. Northerners looked upon such intimate relations with disgust. Northern travel writer, architect, and anti-slavery activist Frederick Olmsted stated the following regarding the races in the South:
“I am struck with the close cohabitation and association of black and white. Negro women are carrying black and white babies together in their arms; black and white children are playing together. They all talked and laughed together; and the girls munched confectionary out of the same paper, with a familiarity and closeness of intimacy that would have been noticed with astonishment, if not manifest displeasure, in almost any chance company of the North.”
Because of such close bonds across racial lines, many Southerners were by the 1830’s opposed to the idea of colonizing the black folk they had grown up with. In the magazine “Southern Literary Messenger” (November1834, p. 83), the bonds that opposed colonization are expressed in very familial terms:
What! Colonize old coachman Dick!
My foster brother Nat!
My more than mother when I’m sick,
Come, Hal, no more of that!
Even more reprehensible to Southerners was the Northern goal of cutting the slave off from the welfare of the master to “die out.” New York Senator, John Dix, who served as a Union general in the Civil War (Fort Dix, New Jersey is named in his honor), stated in an 1848 Senate speech that “free blacks would continue to be an inferior caste and simply die out.” Hearing these remarks, then Senator Jefferson Davis rose to respond in a manner that reflected the close racial bonds in the South:
“With surprise and horror, I heard this announcement of a policy which seeks, through poverty and degradation, the extinction of a race of human beings domesticated among us. We, sir, stand in such a relation to that people as creates a feeling of kindness and protection. We have attachments which have grown with us from childhood – to the old servant who nursed us in infancy, to the man who was the companion of our childhood, and the not less tender regard for those who have been reared under our protection. To hear their extinction treated as a matter of public policy or of speculative philosophy arouses our sympathy and our indignation.”
There is a very real sense in which Southern secession was motivated by a desire to protect the black people white Southerners had grown up with from the inhumane designs of Northern “anti-slavery.” This is why the Mississippi Declaration of Secession laments, “the North wants to end the slaves present condition without providing a better.” It is also why Southern masters exclaimed, “If our friends at the north would devise ways in which we could dispose of these poor people for their good, I should then no longer be a ‘servant of servants.’” (A Southside View of Slavery, Jeremiah Adams, pg. 90). Therein is the crux of the matter. How to end slavery in a manner that was for the good of the slave as well as Southern society? All the North proposed was ways to be rid of them for good! This is why Boston abolitionist Dr. Nehemiah Adams observed of Southerners:
“There are, probably, few who would not abstractly prefer free labor; but what shall be done with the blacks? There has never been a time in the history of our discussions on this subject, when, the South had expressed her willingness to part with the slaves, we at the north could have agreed in what way they should have been disposed of. Who has ever proposed a plan of relief which could in a good measure unite us? What shall be done with the blacks? On the evils of slavery all are well informed. But as to this essential question we get no light.” (A Southside View of Slavery, 1854, pp 90 – 91)
Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Robert Penn Warren wrote: “The greatest danger to slavery was the Southern heart.” General Robert E. Lee summed up the issue as a matter of humane concern: “The best men in the South have long desired to do away with the institution of slavery and were quite willing to see it abolished. But, unless some humane course, based on wisdom and Christian principles, is adopted, you do them great injustice in setting them free.”
Lee realized that an irresponsible and unplanned emancipation such as that being demanded by Northern abolitionists would be devastating to the welfare of the slaves. In a typical lack of concern, Lincoln uttered his own “plan” for freed slaves at the Hampton Roads Peace Conference – “let them root hog (or die).” And the freed people did die by the hundreds of thousands as a result of the displacement of Lincoln’s war, which held no humane plan for them. In typical Northern design there simply was no concern for the welfare of freed slaves. They had to be herded into the fetid conditions of what were hastily constructed “contraband camps” where disease and death were the rule.
Had Southerners been allowed to end slavery on their own terms by providing land for them in the territories, instead of as an unintended consequence of a war for economic conquest, it would have been far better for the slaves. Regarding Southerners, Pulitzer Prize winning historian J. Allan Nevins observed: “They wished, however, to choose the hour and method by which they should decree its gradual extinction. Knowing the complexity of the problem, they did not desire to be whirled into a catastrophic social revolution.”
Alabama Secession Commissioner expressed his concern for the black race, rather than economic concerns, as driving his vote for secession:
“I feel impelled, Mr. President, to vote for this Ordinance by an overruling necessity.… if pecuniary loss alone were involved in the abolition of slavery, I should hesitate long before I would give the vote I now intend to give. If the destruction of slavery entailed on us poverty alone, I could bear it, for I have seen poverty and felt its sting. But poverty, Mr. President, would be one of the least of the evils that would befall us from the abolition of African slavery. There are now in the slaveholding States over four million slaves; dissolve the relation of master and slave, and what, I ask, would become of that race? To remove them from amongst us is impossible. History gives us no account of the exodus of such a number of persons. We neither have a place to which to remove them, nor the means of such removal.” (E.S. Dargan, in the Secession Convention of Alabama, Jan. 11, 1861)
The Northern policy of Union wide segregation, keeping freed slaves bottled up in the South, made Southern emancipation all but impossible. There was simply no way the South alone could accommodate all those freed people. Even British newspapers like “The Friend of India” realized the problem and the concern of the Southern heart:
“The South has hitherto clung to slavery – because it saw no way to abolish it, without cruelty to the unprepared negro… it does not fight for the maintenance of slavery, as the North pretends, and as some in Europe still believes, but for independence… the sentiment of the Southern people towards the negroes was so kindly that there was nothing in the world that could be done to ameliorate their condition that the South would not gladly undertake.” (Dec 29, 1864)
Nineteenth century historian Charles Francis Adams, Jr., realized this and said: “Had the South been allowed to manage this question unfettered, the slaves would have been, ere this, fully emancipated and that without bloodshed or race problems.” Historian James Rutledge Roesch observes: “Slavery was abolished in the worst way possible: as an unintended consequence of a deadly, devastating conquest by outsiders with no interest in the welfare of black or white Southerners. Virginian slaveholder Thomas Jefferson’s fear, that emancipation would be a ‘bloody process…excited and conducted’ by an enemy in wartime, rather than a change ‘brought on by the generous energy of our own minds,’ had come true.”
During the aftermath of the war, Reverend R.L. Dabney, on October 21, 1865, continued the expression of Southern concerns for the former slaves, pleading with the Northern occupiers:
“If there are any who endeavor to lull your energies in this work, by saying that the negro, being now a free man, must take of himself like other people; that he be thrown on his own resources, and that, if he does not provide for his own well-being, he should be left to suffer, I beseech you, in the behalf of humanity, of justice and of your own good name, not to hearken to them
I ask you solemnly whether the freedmen have an ‘even start’ in the race for subsistence with the other laboring men of the nation, marked as they are by differences of race and color, obstructed by stubborn prejudices, and disqualified (as you hold) for the responsibilities of self-support, to some extent, by the evil effects of their recent bondage upon their character? Is it fair, or right, or merciful to compel him to enter the stadium, and leave him to this fierce competition under these grave disadvantages? Again, no peasantry under the sun was ever required or was able to sustain themselves when connected with the soil by no tenure of any form. Under our system the slaves had the most permanent form of tenancy; for their master’s lands were bound to them by law for furnishing them homes, occupations and subsistence during the whole continuance of the master’s tenure. But you have ended all this and consigned four millions of people to a condition of homelessness. Will the North thus make gypsies of them, and then hold them responsible for the ruin which is inevitable from such a condition?”
Obviously, the South held a great moral concern for freed slaves and had believed the inherited institution of slavery was a means of managing so large a population of destitute people until a humane emancipation could be accomplished that would accommodate them and integrate them into American society. As Jefferson Davis had exclaimed on the floor of the Senate, “Slavery is for its end the preparation of that race for civil liberty and social enjoyment… When the time shall arrive at which emancipation is proper, those most interested will be most anxious to effect it.”
What stood in the way of a “proper time” for emancipation was: the absolute refusal of Northern States to accommodate freed slaves in any just manner either North or West; the irresponsible demands of the North for an immediate, uncompensated emancipation backed by terrorists’ threats; an end toward deportation, or at least the “dying out” of all blacks in the Union. In a seceded Confederacy outside the Union, the black people of the South could be protected from these immoral intentions of Northern “anti-slavery,” until perhaps a time when the North would work with the South on a proper emancipation, assimilation, and integration of the freed people into American society.