Racial Theory & The Pre-Civil War Census

Racial Theory & The Pre-Civil War Census

Chapter Three of “The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War:
A New Look at the Slavery Issue”

by Lawrence R. Tenzer
October/November 2000

In order to gain capital for the extension of slave territory, the most important statistical document of the United States has been boldly, grossly, and perseveringly falsified, and stands falsified to this day.

–Harriet Beecher Stowe

Laws throughout the South, as previously explained, established octoroons or less to be the last degrees of black, so anyone who was free and less than one-fourth or one-eighth black was legally defined as a white person. Octoroons as well as those who were less than one-eighth black, however, continued to be enslaved under the fundamental doctrine of partus. Abolitionists in the North who were against white slavery challenged the continued enslavement of those who met the South’s legal criteria for being white. A threat to any facet of slavery, including white slavery, was totally unacceptable because it threatened regional identity and political stability. Much in the same way the contemporary South of today strives to preserve a distinct identity, such was also the case when the institution of slavery was an integral part of that identity. To comprehend what was at stake for the South, it is necessary to understand something about the proslavery politics of the time. The South had a great deal to gain politically by not only retaining the institution of slavery, but by expanding it. The three-fifths compromise incorporated into the United States Constitution apportioned representation in the House of Representatives and in the electoral college by counting five slaves as three free persons. Representing white people and slaves enabled the South to have more political representation in Congress than it would have had if only whites were represented. In addition to the pecuniary gains from slavery which in and of themselves were substantial, large numbers of slaves gave the South a strong proslavery vote in Congress and power to greatly influence national policy. The influence of the three-fifths compromise was recognized early on. John Adams would have defeated Jefferson and would have been re-elected president in 1800, and James Madison might have been defeated by DeWitt Clinton in 1812. In the words of Nathaniel Weyl and William Marina, “The compromise gave the South, in every election between 1790 and the Civil War, from a quarter to a third more Representatives in Congress than her free population entitled her to have.” It may be said that much of the time the South virtually controlled Congress. In 1857 statisticians Henry Chase and C. H. Sanborn observed, “It will be seen that in the late severe contests in the House of Representatives, had freemen only been represented, the question would invariably have been decided in favor of the North.” In speaking of the presidential election of 1856, professor John E. Cairnes stated back in 1862 that “the slave representation was nearly equal to one-third of the whole Southern representation; from which it appears that the influence of the South in the general representation of the Union was, in virtue of the three-fifths vote, nearly one-half greater than it would have been had the popular principle of the Constitution been fairly carried out.”(1)

In order to keep the institution of slavery intact and not allow any part of it to be compromised, the South had to find a way to defend the enslavement of all mulattoes, regardless of their degree of admixture. This was done with theories which attacked the idea that mulattoes were approaching conformity with whites, theories originated by the well-known physician and surgeon, Dr. Josiah Clark Nott of Mobile, Alabama. An account of Nott’s work begins with the census of 1840, a census in which free blacks and free mulattoes were counted together as the “Free Colored,”* and enslaved blacks and enslaved mulattoes were the aggregate “Slaves.” (From here on in these two terms will appear in quotation marks when referring to the census.

* Free Colored was the term used by the United States census from 1820 through 1860 to denote free blacks and free mulattoes enumerated together.

Nott read an article entitled “VITAL STATISTICS OF NEGROES AND MULATTOES” which appeared in 1842 in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. The author, writing under the pseudonym “Philanthropist,” showed that according to the mortality statistics in the 1840 census, there were twice as many deaths for the free group than for the enslaved. Inasmuch as there were a great many free mulattoes among the “Free Colored,” Nott developed a mulatto frailty theory to explain the reason this group appeared to be dying at a much faster rate than the “Slaves.” He also developed a mulatto sterility theory in order to explain his “observation” that mulattoes were less prolific than either whites or blacks. These theories were first published in 1843 in an article for the American Journal of the Medical Sciences entitled, “The Mulatto a Hybrid–probable extermination of the two races if the Whites and Blacks are allowed to intermarry.” A reprint appeared shortly after in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. Dr. Nott may have been knowledgeable in the field of medicine, but he was certainly no ethnologist. Ridiculous as it seems today, Nott conceived of the mulatto as a hybrid different than either white or black. He reasoned that just as the horse and donkey are different species and produce a sterile mule as hybrid offspring, so too white and black are different species and produce a sterile mulatto. Of course, mulattoes produced children like everyone else, so the sterility theory incorporated the idea that fertility deteriorated through subsequent generations with sterility being the inevitable end. Nott conceived of mulattoes as having weak and frail constitutions, high mortality, and infertility. The more white admixture mulattoes had, the greater their physical problems. According to Nott’s theories, light mulattoes could never approach being white because blacks and whites were two different species, and mulattoes regardless of complexion were a hybrid between the two. The point of his article was that by keeping slavery legal and interracial marriage illegal, blacks would mate among themselves (the sexual transgressions of white men notwithstanding), and white women who might otherwise marry free black men would marry white men and have white children. Whites and blacks would both continue to exist because each would remain distinct rather than meld into a race of mulattoes which would ultimately become extinct.(2)

Two weeks after the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal reprinted Dr. Nott’s article, the same publication printed a challenge to his theories by Dr. G. Dorrance from Amherst, Massachusetts. Dorrance stated, “The whites and the blacks he thinks distinct species. Whether they were different creations, or are merely varieties, he knows not…. The objections of Dr. Nott to intermarriages between whites and blacks we will all agree to. But that the offspring of such marriages is a hybrid, is a theory which will not be established in an enlightened age.” Coincidentally, the same year Nott’s article appeared, the renowned Southern statistician and political economist George Tucker made reference to mulatto longevity, a concept totally contrary to the ideas of Nott. “Of the coloured population, a much larger proportion of the free than of the slaves is probably descended from the white, as well as the African race; and it is possible that this mixed breed may possess some advantages of temperament, as they certainly do of appearance, which is favourable to longevity.”(3)

For Dr. Nott whites and blacks did not have a common origin. This theory of inequality refuted the Biblical interpretation of a unified humanity.When Nott read the theory of evolution developed by Charles Darwin in his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), he said of Darwin “the man is Clearly crazy.” The idea of whites and blacks being separate species was immediately picked up by other proslavery theorists in support of Dr. Nott. Just to illustrate the absurdity of this whole notion, Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright of New Orleans wrote an article in which he reasoned that because blacks were a different species than whites, they contracted particular mental diseases, and he identified one as Drapetomania, “the disease causing negroes to run away.” Another called Dysaesthesia Athiopica was also “a disease peculiar to negroes….he performs the task assigned to him in a headlong, careless manner, treading down with his feet or cutting with his hoe the plants he is put to cultivate–breaking the tools he works with, and spoiling everything he touches that can be injured by careless handling. Hence the overseers call it ‘rascality,’ supposing that the mischief is intentionally done. But there is no premeditated mischief in the case.” We laugh today, but such scientific pronouncements were taken quite seriously. No less a personage than Frederick Law Olmsted, a prominent Northern journalist who worked for the New York Times, believed Cartwright’s assertions were credible. While in Virginia, Olmsted wrote that Cartwright “believes that slaves are subject to a peculiar form of mental disease, termed by him Drapetomania, which, like a malady that cats are liable to, manifests itself by an irrestrainable propensity to run away.” Olmsted also noted, “From my own observations, I should judge dysaesthesia, in a comparatively mild type, at least, to be quite common here.” If Olmsted believed that Negroes were susceptible to particular mental diseases, imagine the impact Cartwright’s work had on Southerners who were just looking for scientific justifications for slavery. Cartwright’s article was originally published in May of 1851 and was reprinted in July, August, and September of that year. James Denny Guillory has written on Cartwright’s proslavery arguments and says regarding his reputation, “A scholar, fluent in several languages, including Greek, Hebrew, German, and Latin, a practitioner in the South and Southwest for nearly half a century, Cartwright was widely known and respected by physicians throughout the South. He was extremely popular with the people, and his ideas carried much weight with them.” The research of John S. Haller, Jr. shows that in addition to Dr. Cartwright, many other practicing physicians were influenced by Dr. Nott.(4)

It was thought that the “mulatto inferiority” theories of Dr. Nott could be tested in the upcoming 1850 census. North Carolina Congressman Thomas L. Clingman wrote a letter to the census board urging that the parentage of mulattoes be traced back, over generations if necessary, to their original white and black parents. These official statistical data could then be used to analyze the mulatto frailty and sterility issues. The concept was that the more white admixture mulattoes had, the more intelligent they were, but the more vulnerable to physical inferiority they were as well, until they had so much white blood that they became infertile, ceased to reproduce, and died out. As Clingman maintained, “Whether the mulatto deteriorates physically in proportion as he ascends in the intellectual scale, is the question of the highest importance, considering the ratio in which this portion of our population is increasing.” Clingman’s suggestion of including mulatto parentage in the census was not adopted. Senator Andrew P. Butler from South Carolina also wanted the issues of mulatto longevity and intelligence addressed in the census. He explained, “A very philosophical discussion is being carried on by a very distinguished physician at Mobile, and others, involving the very information, or connected with the information that may be obtained in this way…. The opinion does obtain, I must say candidly, in the southern part of the United States, that the mulatto or mixed man is shorter lived than the black; but the decided impression is, that he has more intelligence–that he rises in the scale of intelligence.” With so many influencing variables, measuring mulatto longevity and intelligence were problematic and the idea of incorporating them into the census was dropped.(5)

The amount of white blood a mulatto had was the critical factor, and Dr. Nott made an interesting, albeit egocentric, observation in this regard.

It has been asserted by writers, that when the grade of Quinteroon [one-sixteenth black–a cross between a white and an octoroon] is arrived at, all trace of black blood is lost, and that they cannot be distinguished from the whites. Now if this be true, most of the Mulattoes must cease to breed before they arrive at this point of mixture; for though I have passed most of my life in places where the two races have been mingling for many generations, I have rarely if ever met an individual tainted with black blood, in whom I could not detect it without difficulty. These higher grades should be extremely common if the chain was not broken by death and sterility. How else can the fact be accounted for?

What Dr. Nott failed to consider was that there were many quinteroons, and just because he could not detect their black blood, that did not mean that they did not exist. Many in fact were held as slaves under the partus sequitur ventrem rule. When the North brought pressure on the South to free these white people, the South countered with Nott’s theory that they were not white people at all. They were hybrids, and “one drop” made them a hybrid. The reason the South seized hold of this view and embraced it is clear. By conceiving of mulattoes as being of a physically different type, even intelligent white mulattoes were still considered hybrids and not white people as the antislavery North had claimed. Continuing the enslavement of all mulattoes was vindicated. In Nott’s original 1843 article, his last words were, “If I can start the ball my object is accomplished.” Little could he have known at the time that his theories would have such a profound impact on the racial reasoning of the South. By the 1850s Dr. Nott’s theories had become ingrained in the popular imagination.(6)

That Nott’s ideas were so generally widespread is all the more understandable in light of the high degree of illiteracy among whites in the antebellum South and, as a consequence, their being very impressionable. When one realizes the extent to which education was lacking in the South prior to the Civil War, the magnitude of Dr. Nott’s impact becomes clear. Only one out of every four hundred New Englanders over twenty years of age was unable to read and write. The number was one in forty for the nonslaveholding states and one in twelve for the slave states. Contemporary statisticians Henry Chase and C. H. Sanborn pointed out that in some slave states illiteracy was particularly high, citing one in seven for South Carolina, one in five for Virginia, and one in three for North Carolina. They stated, “Indeed, if we compare the entire number attending all Schools (Colleges, Academies, private and public Schools), we find…more than four-fifths of the children attending School in the Union are in the free States.” Olmsted, who traveled extensively throughout the South, wrote in 1854 of the Southern oligarchy and its influence over the illiterate masses. “It is true that but a small proportion of the people of the South have this personal interest in wresting power from the North, but this small proportion have the money power, and the ignorance and stupidity of the poorer class at the South is so great that it possesses the means of almost absolute control of public opinion.”(7)

Olmsted was familiar with Dr. Nott’s work and acknowledged the popularity his theories had throughout the South. He predictably disagreed with them, as shown in his writing about New Orleans. “The French quadroons are very hand some and healthy in appearance; and I should not be surprised if really thorough and sufficient scientific observation should show them to be–contrary to the common assertion–more vigorous than either of the parent races.” Olmsted, a Northerner, did not agree with Dr. Nott, but neither did every Southerner. Educator and statistician George Tucker examined the 1850 census and concluded, “Some physiologists are disposed to regard mulattoes as hybrids, and as exhibiting in their greater shortness of life, the degeneracy of that class; but a comparative table of the blacks and mulattoes in two States–Connecticut and Louisiana, and two cities–New York and New Orleans, disproves this hypothesis.” Moncure Daniel Conway, a fellow Virginian, wrote of being “firmly persuaded that the mixture of the blacks and whites is good; that the person so produced is, under ordinarily favourable circumstances, healthy, handsome, and intelligent.”(8)

Aside from a few dissenting voices, the “mulatto inferiority” theories which Dr. Nott and his followers circulated throughout the 1840s and 1850s became widely accepted public opinion. John S. Wilson, an M. D. from Georgia, offers a good example. In an article he wrote in 1858 for the American Cotton Planter and Soil of the South, a widely read agricultural journal, he restated the common understanding of the day: “While negroes are generally long-lived, the contrary is true of mulattoes, enjoying the same advantages. This may arise from want of congeniality in the mixture of white and black blood, but, whatever the explanation, there can be but little doubt of the fact, for it seems to be established by the concurrent testimony of numerous observers.” The influence of Dr. Nott spread into contemporary popular literature as well. In the Southern Quarterly Review (1853), the noted writer Louisa S. McCord used the concept of “mulatto inferiority” in her attack on the light-complexioned, intelligent, and attractive mulatto characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Speaking to the issue of sterility, she stated that mulattoes are “incapable of ranking with the white[s]” because they are “not capable of continuous transmission.” McCord also believed that Stowe was not opposed to interracial marriage and assailed her by proclaiming, “All spirit of joking leaves us as we look shudderingly forward to her results. Amalgamation is evidently no bugbear to this lady.”

Francis (Frank) P. Blair, Jr., a congressman from Missouri, had this to say: “Indeed, they [hybrid races] cannot perpetuate themselves…. Curious observers have assured me that the same fact is true of the mulatto caste; where the line is confined to this color for a few generations, it fails.” Even Northern newspapers made pejorative references to the mulatto. An editorial in the Boston Daily Courier (September 24, 1860) stated, “We believe the mulatto to be inferior in capacity, character, and organization.” The sterility issue was addressed in a New York Journal of Commerce editorial (October 26, 1860) in which it was said that “Negroes and whites cannot perpetuate a new race.” Even an antislavery newspaper, the Anti-Slavery Bugle, did not entirely reject the possibility that the theory about mulattoes not living as long as whites was a credible one. An article entitled “Human Longevity” stated that “Mulattoes, quadroons, &c. are generally supposed to be short lived, but better attested details are wanted to establish this point.” Nine months later, the same newspaper quoted from a New Orleans paper that two mulatto women “whose ages were respectively, one hundred and one hundred and one years” had died in that city. In light of Dr. Nott’s theories, how ironic that a newspaper there would say, “It is a somewhat remarkable fact that all of our longest livers are mulatto women.(9)

Politics were not exempt from Dr. Nott’s theories either. In order to discredit Lincoln in the 1864 election, late in 1863 an anonymous political propaganda pamphlet appeared entitled, Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro. The pamphlet was made to look like a piece of Lincoln campaign literature, when in reality it was produced and distributed by his political enemies.. In direct opposition to Dr. Nott’s theories, Miscegenation concluded that “the mingling of diverse races is a positive benefit to the progeny…[and] in the millenial future, the most perfect and highest type of manhood will not be white or black, but brown, or colored.” Since Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves in the Confederacy, the pamphlet was designed to incite emotions and turn the public against him by implying that his next step would be the encouragement of interracial marriage. Another piece of anti-Lincoln propaganda entitled “The Lincoln Catechism” appeared in 1864 and stated that racial amalgamation would result in a superior race. In negating this, the “Catechism” went on to say,

Is this according to science? No, science teaches that the progeny of amalgamation would run out, and become extinct after the fourth or fifth generation.(10)

The belief in the North about “mulatto inferiority” was the consequence of exposure to the idea. The propaganda was highly sophisticated. Dr. Samuel Kneeland, Jr., for instance, read a paper before the Boston Society of Natural History in which he stated, “Every physician who has seen much practice among mulattoes, knows that, in the first place, they are far less prolific than the blacks or whites…and, in the second place, when they are prolific, the progeny is frail, diseased, short lived, rarely arriving at robust manhood or maternity; physicians need not be told of the comparatively enormous amount of scrofulous and deteriorated constitutions found among these hybrids.” Edward Dicey, an English journalist who traveled throughout the Northern states in 1862, made the profound observation “that this belief as to the deterioration of the mixed race is universally entertained in the North.” Joel Williamson has noted that there was a steep increase in the hostility expressed toward the free mulatto throughout the Southern states during the 1850s. The “ethnology” of Dr. Nott had its desired effect in both the North and the South. This ubiquitous animosity is quite understandable in light of the fact that the free mulatto represented the greatest interracial sexual threat. After all, many mulattoes were intelligent and attractive, but what about their frailty and sterility? How could anyone in good conscience even begin to accept the idea of interracial marriage knowing that children could be of an inferior physical condition?(11)

What is so utterly amazing is the extent to which people readily accepted Nott’s theories in the complete absence of proof. Reginald Horsman, Dr. Josiah Clark Nott’s biographer, has documented how despite many attempts, Nott was never able to prove any of his “mulatto inferiority” theories. Even as late as 1864, Dr. Thomas L. Nichols, an American who lived and published in England, wrote of mulattoes being weak and short-lived after referring to Dr. Nott as “one of the most distinguished of American ethnologists.” Although Nott was an ethnologist in name only, he was a brilliant physician in his own right. His credentials include being professor of anatomy at the University of Louisiana, professor of surgery at the Medical College of Alabama, and a charter member of the New York Obstetrical Society. He also wrote extensively on yellow fever. Given his professional prestige, it is no wonder that his ethnological views were believed.(12)

The “mulatto inferiority” theories made their way into official government documents as well. In 1863 the secretary of war appointed a commission “to examine and report upon the condition of the recently-emancipated freedmen of the United States.” In writing to the commission, a British army officer stated, “The mulatto race are seldom employed in our army, chiefly owing to the want of that physical stamina which renders the pure negro better fitted for the duties of a soldier or laborer.” A doctor testified, “The mixed race are the most unhealthy, and the pure blacks the least so.” The commission found that “the mortality among the mixed race is greater than among pure blacks” and that “the mulatto…lacks the innervation and spring of the pure blacks and whites….the organic inferiority is shown…in less fecundity and less longevity.” Another government document, perhaps the one example most indicative of the scope and extent to which Nott’s theories were accepted, was the official United States population census for 1860. In those days, the census was a great deal more than just columns of statistics. The superintendent of the census was at liberty to (impartially) comment and interpret. In this supposedly unbiased document, Superintendent Joseph C. G. Kennedy wrote,

As but two censuses have been taken which discriminate between the blacks and mulattoes, it is not yet so easy to determine how far the admixture of the races affects their vital power; but the developments already made would indicate that the mingling of the races is more unfavorable to vitality, than a condition of slavery, which practically ignores marriage to the exclusion of the admixture of races, has proved.

He went on to say that the population increase for the slaves as a whole was proportionately greater than for its mulatto component, the implication being that the slave mulattoes were not reproducing to the same extent as the slave blacks. In other words, slave mulattoes did not have the same vitality as either whites or slave blacks, and inasmuch as slavery ignored marriage and kept the races mixing illegitimately, the mulattoes with their frailty and sterility problems were confined to the slave population, well away from legitimate intermarriage with whites. What is particularly interesting about this proslavery viewpoint is that it was published in 1864, after Lincoln had already freed the slaves in the Confederate states. In another reference, Kennedy again addressed “mulatto inferiority” by stating,

The extinction of slavery, in widening the field for white labor and enterprise, will tend to reduce the rate of increase of the colored race, while its diffusion will lead to a more rapid admixture, the tendency of which, judging from the past, will be to impair it physically without improving it morally.
He also spoke of “whatever deterioration may be the consequence of this alloyage.”(13)

There is an intriguing discrepancy in the 1860 census publications of 1862 and 1864. In the Preliminary Report on the Eighth Census, 1860 published in 1862, Kennedy concluded, “In a simple statement, when viewed apart from the liberations or manumission in the southern States, the aggregate free colored in this country must represent nearly what is termed ‘a stationary population,’ characterized by an equality of the current of births and deaths.” (According to Dr. Nott, the mulatto population could never have equality of births and deaths and would eventually die out because of frailty and sterility.) In the Population of the United States in 1860 published in 1864, Kennedy altered his previous viewpoint by stating, “These developments of the census, to a good degree, explain the slow progress of the free colored population in the northern States, and indicate, with unerring certainty, the gradual extinction of that people the more rapidly as, whether free or slave, they become diffused among the dominant race.” Kennedy made his 1862 statement before all of the data were tabulated; however, this is all the more significant in light of the fact that the 1862 figure for the “Free Colored” increase was 10.97% compared to a higher 12.32% in 1864. In order for Kennedy’s statements to be in accord with his statistics, these two figures should have been reversed.(14)

It appears that the statements which Kennedy made in the census validating Dr. Nott’s “mulatto inferiority” theories cost him his job. Population and Agriculture, the first two volumes of the 1860 census, had been published in 1864. Kennedy was right in the midst of Manufactures, the third volume, when his appointment as superintendent of the census was terminated on June 7, 1865. Congress, at the time without Southern congressmen because of Secession, did not appropriate the funds necessary to continue Kennedy’s position. His duties were transferred to the General Land Office which was charged with completing the third and fourth volumes (PLATE 5). Congressman Addison Henry Laflin stated, “The reason for the transfer was that there was an unappropriated fund under the charge of the Commissioner of the General Land Office which could be as well applied to this purpose as to any other, and it was impossible to continue the publication of the Census Reports without making this transfer.” The October 21, 1865 edition of the Daily Constitutional Union, a Washington, D. C. newspaper, reported that the first two volumes of the 1860 census were a great success throughout the United States and in Europe and remarked that Kennedy was “suddenly and without cause disconnected with labors to which he is so well adapted.” When the widespread achievements of both Population and Agriculture are weighed against the arbitrary quality of Laflin’s comments, it seems entirely reasonable to suggest that Kennedy could have been retained. Even the Daily Constitutional Union commented, “It seems singular that, for the want of funds sufficient to pay the salary of the Superintendent of the Census, a work which thus far has been so successfully prosecuted should be assigned to the charge of a Bureau with sufficient duties to occupy its attention; and this at a moment when it appears so easy to find the means, with or without law, to organize Bureaus and incur expenditures never contemplated by Congress.” The salary issue is all the more curious considering the fact that on March 4, 1864, only a year and three months prior to Kennedy’s termination, a committee of the House of Representatives remarked that his salary “is a reasonable one.” In light of Kennedy’s promulgation of Dr. Nott’s “mulatto inferiority” theories in the first volume of the 1860 census, one might speculate that he was removed from his position as census superintendent prior to working on the fourth volume which included statistics about mortality. Dr. Edward Jarvis, a physician and renowned statistician, compiled the mortality statistics for the 1860 census and spoke of mulattoes inheriting from both parents “their powers and their weaknesses, their susceptibilities and their energies.” Clearly, these remarks were in sharp contrast with the pejorative ones made by Kennedy.(15)

In order to defend slavery against its opponents, propaganda strategies were brought into play. The mulatto/hybrid issue which Dr. Nott raised in 1843 was not the first. A few years earlier, the United States census of 1840 published figures for insanity which showed a low incidence among enslaved blacks and mulattoes in the South and a high incidence among free blacks and mulattoes in the North. The idea was to show the North proof that if freed, the slaves could not survive on their own, because in a state of freedom they would not be able to think for themselves and would degenerate mentally. The census showed that in the free states of the North, there was one case of insanity for every 144.5 free blacks and free mulattoes, compared to only one case for every 1,558 slaves in the South. These 1840 census figures were falsified and scandalous. Even proslavery Southerner James D. B. DeBow, destined to become census superintendent himself in 1853, had to concede, “The number of insane negroes was marked, we believe, higher in one State than the whole amount of negroes registered in it.” Moreover, according to the census, 116 towns in eleven states had free blacks and free mulattoes who were insane, but the same census showed that there were no free black or free mulatto residents in any of these towns!(16)

In spite of numerous blatant errors, John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina who became secretary of state in 1844, spoke in detail of the census statistics and declared that it would be disastrous for the country and for the enslaved blacks and mulattoes themselves if they were freed. John Quincy Adams attempted several times to conduct an inquiry into the census of 1840 but Southern congressional power resisted. In his Memoirs Adams lamented this power and expressed his sentiments. “The deepest of my afflictions is the degeneracy of my country from the principles which gave her existence, and the ruin irreparable of them all, under the transcendent power of slavery and the slave-representation.” In a meeting he had with Calhoun regarding 1840 census errors, Adams recalled,

He writhed like a trodden rattlesnake on the exposure of his false report to the House that no material errors have been discovered in the printed census of 1840, and finally said that where there were so many errors they balanced one another, and led to the same conclusion as if they were all correct.

The deceptive statistics were even challenged by the eminent statistician Edward Jarvis, who would later work on the 1860 census, but to no avail.(17)

The official United States census of 1840 with its fraudulent statistics on “Free Colored” insanity sanctioned by the federal government became outstanding proslavery propaganda. Even Harriet Beecher Stowe declared,

The false returns stand to this day in the statistical tables of the census, to convince all cavillers of the unfitness of the Negro for freedom…. In order to gain capital for the extension of slave territory, the most important statistical document of the United States has been boldly, grossly, and perseveringly falsified, and stands falsified to this day. Query: If State documents are falsified in support of slavery, what confidence can be placed in any representations that are made upon the subject?

Medical historian Albert Deutsch has looked at the census of 1840 as proslavery propaganda and really put the damage done into its fullest perspective when he wrote, “The flagrant, socially harmful errors of the 1840 census continued to be spread abroad under the sanction of Congress. The errors repeatedly found their way into lay and professional journals.” The belief in black and mulatto insanity was surely prevalent. This may well account for the origin of the common expression, “Are you out of your cotton pickin’ mind?” The 1840 census, an official government document, was successfully used to support the slavery argument and set the precedent for what amounted to proslavery propaganda in the 1850 and 1860 censuses as well.(18)

Dr. Nott’s “mulatto inferiority” theories which first appeared in 1843 were given support by the 1840 census figures for insanity among free people of color. The propaganda picture was now complete. Nott’s theories regarding the physical degeneration of frailty and sterility did not exist in isolation. Both coexisted with the notions that enslaved blacks and particularly enslaved mulattoes were mentally competent, but their free counterparts in the North were prone to mental degeneration and unfit for their freedom. The physical and mental degeneration of free mulattoes enabled the South to establish, maintain, and perpetuate a legal and physiological double standard. According to Southern laws, those who were free and less than one-fourth or one-eighth black were legally defined as white people; those who were slaves and had any admixture of white and black blood whatsoever were physiologically considered frail and sterile hybrids, neither white nor black (although socially classified as the latter), who were subject to insanity if freed from slavery. Understandably, nothing was ever said about the sanity or the physiology of the less than one-fourth or one-eighth-black Southerners who as free people, not slaves, were legally white. For Dr. Nott the physical degeneration of mulattoes was all-important and served to answer antislavery forces in the North who considered white mulattoes as qualifying for freedom. Nott’s racial theories were based on the statistics in the 1840 census which showed that the “Free Colored” population did not increase in number to the same extent as did the “Slaves.” As the next chapter will explain, the statistics in the census had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with “mulatto inferiority.”

Chapter 3: Racial Theory & the Pre-Civil War Census

1. The three-fifths compromise is in the third clause of ARTICLE I, Section 2 of the U. S. Constitution. For historical development, see The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, ed. Max Farrand (New Haven, 1966), 4:108, and Albert F. Simpson, ~The Political Significance of Slave Representation, 1787-1821,” Journal of Southern History 7 (August 1941): 31542 for early history. Donald Robinson, Slavery in the Structure ofAmerican Politics, 1765-1820 (N.Y., 1971), 405-6,427. Nathaniel Weyl and William Marina, American Statesmen on Slavery and the Negro (N.Y., 1971), 50-51. Henry Chase and C. H. Sanborn, The North and the South: Being a Statistical View of the Condition of the Free and Slave States (1857; reprint, Westport, 1970), 24-28, 26n for quote. Using 1850 census data, they figured that despite political gains, the South lost in agricultural prominence. ~The North, with half as much land under cultivation, and two-thirds as many persons engaged in farming, produces two hundred and twenty-seven millions of dollars worth of agricultural products in a year more than the South; twice as much on an acre, and more than double the value per head for every person engaged in farming.” North and the South, 41. For a Southerner who reached the same conclusions as Chase and Sanborn, see Hinton Rowan Helper, The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It (1857; reprint, ed. George M. Fredrickson, Cambridge, 1968), 33, 39, 66, 69, 72, 81, 283-86. His work was challenged by Samuel M Wolfe, Helper’s Impending Crisis Dissected (Philadelphia, 1860), and Elias Peissner, The American Question in Its National AspecL Being Also an Incidental Reply to Mr. H. R. Helper’s “Compendium of the Impending Crisis of the South” (N.Y., 1861). J. E. Cairnes, The Slave Power: Its Character, Career, and Probable Designs (1862; reprint, N.Y., 1969), 101.

2. Philanthropist (pseud.), ~Vital Statistics of Negroes and Mulattoes,” Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 27 (October 12, 1842): 168-70. Just one week after its publication, a supportive editorial called upon“mulatto inferiority” as the rationale for not repealing a Massachusetts law prohibiting interracial marriage. “Longevity of the Mulatto,” Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 27 (October 19, 1842): 192-93. J. C. Nott, “The Mulatto a Hybrid-probable extermination of the two races if the Whites and Blacks are allowed to intermarry,” American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 6 (July 1843): 252-56. Reprinted in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 29 (August 16, 1843): 29-32. See also William Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes Toward Race in America, 1815-59 (Chicago, 1960), 66-67, and Robert Brent Toplin, “Between Black and White: Attitudes Toward Southern Mulattoes, 1830-1861,”Joui’-nal of Southern History 45 (May 1979): 197-98.

3. 0. Dorrance, “The Mulatto a Hybrid,” Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 29 (August 30, 1843): 81. George Tucker, Progress of the United States in Population and Wealth in Fifty Years (1855; reprint, N.Y., 1964), 69-70, also 73. (Tucker published the first part ofthis book as a separate edition in 1843.)

4. With regard to the Bible and unified humanity, see in particular, Acts 17.26 and Rom. 12.5. Reginald Horsman, Josiah Nott of Mobile:

Southerner, Physician, and Racial Theorist (Baton Rouge, 1987), 249. fSamuel A.] Cartwright, “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race,~ DeBow ‘5 Southern and Western Review 11 (September 1851): 331-36, quotes on 331, 333, 334. Frederick Law Olmsted, Slavery and the South, 1852-1857, ed. Charles E. Beveridge and Charles Capen McLauglilin (Baltimore, 1981), 1 l0-11n2, and his The Cotton Kingdom: A Traveller’s Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American Slave States (1861; reprint, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, N.Y., 1953), 94-97, quote on 95. James Denny Guillory, “The Pro-Slavery Arguments of Dr. Samuel A. Cart-wright,” Louisiana History 9 (Summer 1968): 210, and 225-27 for an evaluation of his influence. John S. Haller, Jr., “The Negro and the Southern Physician: A Study of Medical and Racial Attitudes 1800-1860,” Medical History 16 (July 1972): 252-53. As for the impact Dr. Nott’s thinking had on Henry Gliddon, Louis Agassiz (a Harvard professor), Samuel 0. Morton, and others, see George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (N.Y., 1971), chap. 3 and 161, 321; Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (Dallas, 1963), 58~7; Horsman, Josiah Nott of Mobile, passim; John 0. Mencke, Mulattoes and Race Mixture: American Attitudes and Images, 1865-1918 (Ann Arbor, 1979), 4344, 50-52, 101-2; Stanton, Leopard’s Spots, passim. Nott’s influence was not confined to America. See the important work of Joy Harvey which shows how contemporary French anthropologists were influenced by Nott and his followers. “Nineteenth-Century French Responses to Southern U.S. Physicians’ Views on Race and Hybridity” (Paper presented at the Fifty-Fourth Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association, Norfolk, Virginia, 10 November 1988). For a convenient overview regarding antebellum racial theory in general see, William Sumner Jenkins, Pro-Slavery Thought in the Old South (1935; reprint, Gloucester, 1960), chap. 6.

5.. J. D. B. DeBow, “Black and Mulatto Population of the South,” Commercial Review of the South and West 8 (June 1850): 587-88 (italics added). Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., 9 April 1850, 674-77, quote on 677.

6. Nott, “The Mulatto a Hybrid,” 255-56.

7. J. D. B. DeBow, Statistical View of the United States (Washington, 1854), 153. Chase and Sanborn, North and the South, 96, 1034. For more on pre-Civil War Southern illiteracy, see J. D. B. DeBow, “The Census of 1850,” Commercial Review of the South and West 8 (February 1850): 205; [Carleton], Suppressed Book, 24-25, 238, 248; Clement Eaton, The Freedom~of-Thought Struggle in the Old South (N.Y., 1964), chap. 3; Hinton Rowan Helper, a Southern author, attributed the prevalent illiteracy of the South to slavery in his Impending Crisis, 376-82, 404-8; Olmsted, Slavery and the South, 285; Tucker, Progress of the United States, 146.

S. Olmsted, Cotton Kingdom, 229 (italics added), and see also 460. Tucker, Progress of the United States, 28 in appendix. M. D. Conway, Testimonies Concerning Slavery (London, 1864), 76.

9. John S. Wilson’s quote may be had in James 0. Breeden, ed., Advice Among Masters: The Ideal in Slave Management in the Old South (Westport, 1980), 220. L[ouisaj S. M[cCord], “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Southern Quarterly Review 23 (January 1853): 90, 117-18, and see also Thomas F. Gossett, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and American Culture (Dallas, 1985), 190, 205-6. Frank P. Blair, Jr., The Destiny of the Races of This Continent (Washington, 1859), 17. Howard Cecil Perkins, ed., Northern Editorials on Secession (1942; reprint, Gloucester, 1964), 1:472, 476. AntiSlavery Bugle, 16 May 1857, p.4; 27 February 1858, p.3.

10. Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American white Man and Negro (1864; reprint, Upper Saddle River, 1970), 65. The background and consequences of the pamphlet are described in J. M. Bloch, Miscegenation, Melaleukation, and Mr. Lincoln ‘5 Dog (N.Y., 1958); Sidney Kaplan, “The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864,” Journal ofNegro History 34 (July 1949): 274-343; David E. Long, The Jewel ofLiberty: Abraham Lincoln ‘5 Re-Election and the End of Slavery (Mechanicsburg, 1994), chap. 9; “Miscegenation,” Anthropological Review 2 (May 1864): 116-21; Forrest G. Wood, Black Scare: The Racist Response to Emancipation and Reconstruction (Berkeley, 1970), chap. 4. P. T. Barnum included the Miscegenation hoax in his book, The Humbugs of the World (1865; reprint, Detroit, 1970), chap. 33. Harold M. Hyman, “Election of 1864,” in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. et al. (N.Y., 1971), 2:1230 for the “Catechism” reference.

11. Samuel Kneeland, Jr., “The Hybrid Races of Animals and Men,” DeBow ‘5 Review 19 (November 1855): 537. Articles concerning “mulatto

inferiority” first appeared in Boston. See notes 2 and 3 above. Edwarl Dicey, Spectator ofAmerica, ed. Herbert Mitgang (Chicago, 1971), l2~ 25, also 51. (Originally published in 1863 as Six Months in the Fedemi States.) Joel Williamson, New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States (N.Y., 1984), 65-67. For a celebrated case ofinterracial marriage, see William G. Allen, The American Prejudice Against Color. An Authentic Narrative, Showing How Easily the Nation Got into an Uproar (1853; reprint, N.Y., 1969), and also Chambers, American Slavery, 188-90.

12. Regarding Dr. Nott’ s inability to prove his theories, see Horsman, Josiah Nott ofMobile, 87, 96, 99, 196, 205-6, 217, 300, and passim for his professional prestige. Thomas L. Nichols, Forty Years of American Lzfr (1864; reprint, N.Y., 1969), 2:236-38.

13. Robert Dale Owen, The Wrong of Slavery the Right of Emancua tion (1864; reprint, N.Y., 1969), 8, 213-15, 218, 242. Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington, 1864), xi (italics added). The two censuses of which Kennedy speaks are 1850 and 1860. With regard to the inclusion of mulattoes in the former, see DeBow, “Black and Mulatto Population,” 587-88. See also Bureau of the Census, Negro P~~fr ulation in the United States, 1 79~19J5 (Washington, 1918), 207 and, although our conclusions are not the same, Parker G. Marden, Jeifry R. Gibson, and Margaret C. O’Brien, “The Census as a Social Docurnent:

Changes in the Concept of ‘Race’: 1790-1870″ (Paper presented at the “Sociology and History” Section of the Annual Meeting of the Atnerican Sociological Association, San Francisco, California, 28-31 August 1967).

14. los. C. G. Kennedy, Preliminary Report on the Eighth Census.1860. (Washington, 1862), 6, and Population, xi (italics added).

15. Congressional Globe, 39th Cong., 1st sess., 2 April 1866, 1721-23, quote on 1722. House Committee on Printing, Joseph C. G. Kennedy, 39th Cong., 1st sess., 23 April 1866, H. Rept. 50. Daily Constitutional Union, 21 October 1865, p.1. House Committee of Claims, Joseph C. G. Kennedy, 38th Cong., 1st sess., 4 March 1864, H. Rept. 28, 2. An earlier report also found no problem with Kennedy’s salary. Senate Conmittee on Claims, Joseph C. G. Kennedy, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 10 April 1860, S. Rept. 182. Further evidence that Kennedy was stopped right in the midst of his work may be found on the errata page of Manufactures of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington, 1865). Statistics of the United States, (Including Mortality, Property, &c.,) in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns and Being the Final Exhibit of the Eighth Census (Washington, 1866), 287 for the Jarvis quote. For the case concerning Kennedy being accused of disloyalty, and his correspondence with Jacob Thompson, see House Committee on the Judiciary, J. C. G. Kennedy, 37th Cong., 3d sess., 29 January 1863, H. Rept. 19. The political climate in which Kennedy functioned was one of corruption. A general exposition of that time period is in Mark W. Summers, The Plundering Generation: Corruption and the Crisis of the Union, 1849-1861 (N.Y., 1987).

16. Albert Deutsch has done in-depth research on the insanity issue in the census of 1840. ‘The First U. S. Census of the Insane (1840) and Its Use as Pro-Slavery Propaganda,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 15 (May 1944): 469-82. A convenient overview by Leon F. Litwack may be had in his North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (Chicago, 1961), 4046. James H. Cassedy, American Medicine and Statistical Thinking, 1800-1860 (London, 1984), 174. J. D. B. DeBow, “The Census of 1850,” Commercial Review of the South and West 8 (February 1850): 203 for quote, and (March 1850): 293n for an interesting comment about census takers. This was quite an admission for DeBow who was a proslavery “fire-eater” himself Eric H. Walther, The Fire-Eaters (Baton Rouge, 1992), chap. 6. A comment by Frederick Law Olmsted is telling. “The reputation of Mr. DeBow, the present Commissioner of the Census, as an extremist of the Slavery school of politics… and his private sentiment of enmity towards the North and devotion to the peculiar interests of the South, are so strong that I have heard him spoken of by one of his friends as in a condition approaching insanity on the subject.” Olmsted, Slavery and the South, 283. James McCune Smith, “Facts Concerning Free Negroes,” in A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, ed. Herbert Aptheker (1844; reprint, N.Y., 1962), 23843. For more on slavery and errors in the 1840 census, see J. D. B. DeBow, Statistical View of the United States (Washington, 1854), 76 and 113 (Table 115); Edward Jarvis, 3. Wingate Thornton, Wm. Brigham, “The Sixth Census of the United States,” Hunt’s Merchants ‘Magazine 12 February 1845): 133-37; House Select Committee on Statistics, Last Census-Errors, 28th Cong., 1st sess., 17 June 1844, H. Rept. 579 and Errors in Sixth Census, H. Rept. 580; Frederick Merk, Slavery and the Annexation of Texas (N.Y., 1972), 61-68, 85-92, 112-13, 117-20; Stanton, Leopard’s Spots, 58~5; Tucker, Progress of the United States, 25 in appendix.

17. The Works of John C. Calhoun, ed. Richard K. Cralle’ ~.Y., 1855), 5:337-39, 458-61. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, ed. Charles Francis Adams (1874-77; reprint, N.Y., 1970), 12:29 for first quote and 37 for second, see also 22-23,36. Jarvis’s attempts at rectifying the errors in the 1840 census have conveniently been summarized in Gerald N. Grob, Edward Jarvis and the Medical World of Nineteenth-Century America (Knoxville, 1978), 70-75 and nn.

18. Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ Presenting the Original Facts and Documents Upon Which the Story Is Founded (1854; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 507-8, and also 505-6. Deutsch, “First U. S. Census of the Insane,” 478. The idea of free blacks and free mulattoes going insane in freedom continued on long after slavery was abolished. John S. Hughes, “Labeling and Treating Black Mental Illness in Alabama, 1861-1910,” Journal of Southern History 58 (August 1992): 435-38. For a careful analysis of the pro-slavery propaganda in the 1850 and 1860 censuses which had to do with fugitive slaves and manumitted slaves, see Lawrence R. Tenzer, A Completely New Look at InterracialSexuality: Public Opinion and Select Commentaries (Manahawkin, 1990), appendix.

What Is The Forgotten Cause Of The Civil War?

The Forgotten Cause of the Civil WarThere are Civil War books . . . and then there are Civil War books. Among the many books about the Civil War on the market today, only one addresses a little-known reason why that great conflict was fought. International book reviewer Danny Yee has stated, “One of the things that has always puzzled me about the history of the United States is how a civil war could be fought and won to end slavery, but full civil rights not be granted to blacks until a century later.” An explanation is to be found in The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War by Dr. Lawrence R. Tenzer whose 21 years of research show that many in the North perceived slavery as a personal threat to their free Northern way of life.

Tenzer explains that in the antebellum South, the children of slave mothers were slaves from the moment of birth. Even though miscegenation lightened skin color, virtually white slave children were still considered mulattoes and remained slaves nonetheless, even after an endless number of generations went by and all discernible Negroid traits were long gone. A good example is a case he reports in which a slave woman who was one sixty-fourth black was on the auction block. One of her great-great-great-great grandparents was black. Not all slaves in the South were black, and this phenomenon of white slaves, whites with a distant black ancestor, was to have unexpected political consequences.

A large number of white slaves escaped to the Northern states hoping to pass into free white society, and slave catchers went North looking for them. This posed a direct threat to white people living in the North because under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, runaway slaves could be reclaimed without due process, which in effect allowed for free whites to be mistakenly seized. Furthermore, as Chapter 6 goes on to prove, such Southern political power opened up the potential for slavery being nationalized, and as such the very real possibility existed that enslavement could be extended to the lower class of white laborers as well. Lincoln himself made reference to slavery “regardless of color” during a speech he gave in Chicago on December 10, 1856. Lincoln also spoke of white slavery in other speeches, all of which Tenzer has fully documented. PLATE 9 is his book shows an 1856 Republican party handbill which clearly states in capital letters, “SLAVERY IS RIGHT, NATURAL, AND NECESSARY, AND DOES NOT DEPEND UPON DIFFERENCE OF COMPLEXION. THE LAWS OF THE SLAVE STATES JUSTIFY THE HOLDING OF WHITE MEN IN BONDAGE.” Illustrations which depict actual white slaves and other historical documents having to do with white slavery provide enough proof to convince even the most skeptical reader that white people were slaves in the American South and that white slavery was indeed a cause of the Civil War. It is very important to point out that white slavery was merely a by-product of black slavery since there were certainly a great many more black slaves than white. It was the idea — not the reality — of white slavery and the threat to freedom it posed which concerned the North.

Tenzer’s book is entitled, The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War. If a “cause” can be defined as any political or social dynamic which exacerbated the tension between the North and the South, then white slavery with the fear it engendered certainly qualifies having contributed to the deep-rooted friction which existed between the free and slave sections of the country. Tenzer offers an original thought-provoking perspective to our understanding of Abraham Lincoln and pre-Civil War politics along with a unique bibliography with many items which have never appeared in modern scholarship. Of particular importance is the fact that this fully-documented book is the first to explain why Northerners went to war to end slavery without granting blacks full civil rights after that war was won. By bringing new light to bear on slavery and other race-related issues, Tenzer believes his work will help to heal the many racial wounds which are still festering in this country.

  • Order “The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War” from Amazon.com.
  • Order “The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War” from Scholars’ Publishing House.


  • Danny Yee’s Internet Book Review
  • Civil War Reader
  • A. D. Powell’s Editorial Book Review
  • Earl J. Hess’s Lincoln Herald Book Review

  • Scholars Publishing, Inc.

    Copyright © 2000 Lawrence R. Tenzer All rights reserved. {jos_sb_discuss:9}

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