White Slavery, Maternal Descent, And The Politics Of Slavery In The Antebellum United States
Written by Lawrence Tenzer and A.D. Powell
Thursday, 01 July 2004
White Slavery, Maternal Descent, And The Politics Of Slavery
In The Antebellum United States
Originally Presented At University Of Nottingham Institute For The Study Of Slavery
by Lawrence R. Tenzer , Ed.D. and
When one thinks of slavery in America, images of black and brown people come to mind. A little-known fact but true nonetheless, white people were also slaves. The white slavery spoken of in this paper is not about the indentured servants of the 1600s and 1700s, who were sometimes referred to as white slaves while in servitude during their five to seven-year terms. Rather, the white slaves addressed herein were slaves for life, chattel slaves with the same social status as their black and brown counterparts. Several generations of interracial sexual relations between black slave women and white plantation masters or other white men created a population of white slaves, so-called white mulattoes, slaves who looked white and showed no visible African ancestry whatsoever.
According to a Virginia law of 1662, if the mother of a child is a slave, her child will also be a slave. This was a very important law because it was the first to adopt the ancient legal doctrine of partus sequitur ventrem which held that the child follows the social status of the mother. Even after all visual characteristics of the African had long since disappeared, many generations of white people continued to be held in slavery because any child born of a slave mother automatically assumed slave status. Thomas Jefferson spoke of partus sequitur ventrem in his essay, “What Constitutes a Mulatto?”. Antebellum writer George M. Stroud emphasized the point that the partus rule was applicable through many generations “even in the remotest degree.” An antislavery pamphlet published in 1855 related to readers that there were “a million and a half of slave women, some of them without even the tinge of African blood.” Their white children would also be slaves. A year later Judge William D. Kelley of Philadelphia stated, “So long as the mother is a slave…the child is still a slave, his condition following that of his mother, on the principle, ‘partus sequitur ventrem.’ The doctrine of white slavery is no mere abstract theory of the South.”1
Travelers and visitors to the Southern states made note of the white slaves they saw and many of these accounts were published. Particularly noteworthy is the observation of Reverend Francis Hawley of Connecticut who resided in the Carolinas for fourteen years. He wrote, “It is so common for the female slaves to have white children, that little or nothing is ever said about it.” Frederick Law Olmsted reported the observation of a plantation overseer. “It was not uncommon, he said, to see slaves so white that they could not be easily distinguished from pure-blooded whites.” Vincent Coyler who, in describing the “colored people” of New Bern, North Carolina, said, “I have had men and women apply for work who were so white that I could not believe they had a particle of negro blood in their veins.” From the latter 1700s through the Civil War, a number of first-person eyewitness accounts were published describing slaves who were indistinguishable in appearance from free white people. White slaves as seen through the eyes of others brought the issue of white slavery to the awareness of many Northerners who would not have been conscious of it otherwise.2
In addition to travel accounts, newspaper advertisements for white runaway slaves made the issue of white slavery that much more real to Northerners. Although originally appearing in Southern newspapers, these advertisements were collected and published in abolitionist and other literature in the North. Advertisements for white runaway slaves included wording such as “white man,” “white boy,” “quite white,” and “clear white.”3
If anyone had doubt about the existence of white slaves, the picture “EMANCIPATED SLAVES, WHITE AND COLORED” in an 1864 edition of Harper’s Weekly would have been proof. The descriptions of the white slaves were as follows: “Rebecca Huger is eleven years old.... To all appearance she is perfectly white. Her complexion, hair, and features show not the slightest trace of negro blood.... Rosina Downs is not quite seven years old. She is a fair child, with blonde complexion and silky hair.... She has one sister as white as herself.... Charles Taylor is eight years old. His complexion is very fair, his hair light and silky....this white boy...has been twice sold as a slave.”4
White slavery was on the mind of the public in the antebellum North, and this was reflected in popular fictional literature. The Slave: or Memoirs of Archy Moore by Richard Hildreth was published in 1836 and holds the distinction of being the first antislavery novel. Archy is a white slave who tells his readers early on, “From my mother I inherited some imperceptible portion of African blood, and with it, the base and cursed condition of a slave.” The novel was greatly enlarged and expanded in 1852 with the new title, The White Slave; or, Memoirs of a Fugitive. The character of Archy Moore as a white mulatto set the precedent for the heroes and heroines of antislavery novels and other literature that followed. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is a good example. George Harris, a slave, is described as “a very light mulatto” who could “pass for a white man.” Up through 1861, no less than seventeen works of literature utilized a stereotype known as the “tragic mulatto,” heroes and heroines with light or white complexions who found themselves in such “tragic” situations as the surprise discovery of slave status. The Octoroon, a very popular play by Dion Boucicault scheduled to be performed at Ford’s Theatre the night after Lincoln attended Our American Cousin there, shows that the “tragic mulatto” character had broad appeal. White readers and theatergoers were readily able to identify with white or nearly white characters who were oppressed under slavery.5
Slaves of all colors, including white mulattoes hoping to pass into white society, fled to the free states of the North seeking freedom. The federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 attempted to deal with this problem and failed, giving rise to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. The new law was considered infamous and was thought by many to provide for “legal” kidnapping because a person claimed to be a fugitive slave had no protection whatsoever against false identification. Add to this the fact that the commissioner hearing the case received double the amount of fees for finding the individual in question to be the fugitive as claimed. Most significant, however, was the speed with which the Fugitive Slave Law functioned. With no formal hearing of any kind and no due process, an alleged fugitive could be legally dispatched into slavery, virtually as fast as the paperwork could be done. No wonder the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was often referred to with such names as “the kidnapping law” and “the law of kidnappers.” This was all the more heinous since the kidnapping of free blacks and free mulattoes to be sold back into slavery was not uncommon. Here is where fear entered the minds of many Northern white people. A considerable number of white and nearly white slaves escaped from the South with the hope of passing into the white society of the North. The fact that slave owners sought to recapture this property is evidenced in the many advertisements for white runaway slaves that appeared in contemporary newspapers. With slavery not based on skin color and slaves of any color worth a great deal of money¾$400 on average, more than many people would earn in a year¾all runaways were to be recaptured. White people as well as free people of color were valuable and vulnerable. The American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society published a popular pamphlet on the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 shortly after its enactment. One section was entitled “No Exceptions on Account of Color” and had to do with the wrongful enslavement of white people. Congressman Amos P. Granger of New York observed, “The Fugitive Slave Law grabs somebody, black or white, for it makes no distinction of color.” In 1852 William Goodell spoke of the lack of protection white people had under the Fugitive Slave Law. “Persons of the whitest complexion are already held as slaves—fugitives are thus described in advertisements, hunted, captured at the North, and taken back again. And it is known that, in some cases, white persons have been kidnapped who had no African blood in their veins.” William Lloyd Garrison, a leading antislavery advocate, presented a speech in 1855 which included these words:
I said I began this enterprise with the design exclusively of emancipating black people, not dreaming that white people were held in bondage…. You see, therefore, that we are all interested in this matter; that no person can say I am safe, my wife is safe, my mother or my child is safe; that complexion settles the question in America, that none but black people can be enslaved. Slavery cares not for anybody’s complexion; no person is safe.6
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was one way in which free whites in the Northern states were threatened with white slavery. A second way had to do with the belief that the Southern oligarchy desired to nationalize slavery and eventually enslave white laborers in the North. At face value, this notion seems preposterous, but in truth, that is precisely what many believed the South ultimately intended to do.
The institution of slavery had existed in every one of the Northern states throughout the colonial period and such slavery was not limited to black slavery. White political prisoners and petty criminals from Britain were sold and brought to the colonies as slaves. Between the early 1770s and 1804, Rhode Island, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, all of which had slavery, passed outright abolition or gradual emancipation laws. During the 1850s, the South’s plan to nationalize slavery was merely to reintroduce it in the North where it had previously existed just 50 to 75 years earlier. With so many white partus slaves in the South to begin with, the idea of expanding slavery to include white laborers in the North moved slavery from a matter of color to a matter of class. Southern politicians frequently pointed out that the slavery in Greece and Rome was based on social status, not on color. They also called attention to the fact that the slavery in the Bible was not Negro slavery.7
The idea of enslaving whites in the North was not a new one. In 1836 the Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Convention referred to white slavery and the white laborer. A few years later, William Goodell declared, “We do not recollect a single southern statesman or eminent southern writer, who has pretended to believe that slavery, if it continues to exist, will be confined to the blacks.... Slavery must cease, or else large masses of white people will become slaves.” In one of the more unusual early references to white people being made slaves by the South, James Russell Lowell, the famed New England poet, wrote a political satire in a Yankee dialect which contained these lines:
Wy, it’s jest ez clear ez figgers,
Clear ez one an’ one make two,
Chaps thet make black slaves o’ niggers
Want to make wite slaves o’ you.8
The year 1854 was a very significant one for the South and proslavery interests. In addition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed for slavery in the territories, 1854 saw the publication of a profoundly influential book entitled, Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society by George Fitzhugh. In the Union there were two political ideologies—free and slave—totally at odds with one another. Fitzhugh talked about free society in the North being a failure and universal slavery, not based on color, being the only successful alternative. He declared, “Ten years ago we became satisfied that slavery, black or white, was right and necessary. We advocated this doctrine in very many essays.” Fitzhugh explained, “More than half of the white citizens of the North are common laborers, either in the field, or as body or house servants. They perform the same services that our slaves do.” White laborers received no money when they were ill or when no work was available. They worked long hours for very low wages and were living in poverty, which in turn led to crime and an undermining of free society. Slaves, on the other hand, did not have to fend for themselves, and they were taken care of with food, clothing, and shelter. Free society was a failure. Slave society was a success. Fitzhugh later wrote, “White slavery, not black, has been the normal element of civilized society.... He who justifies mere negro slavery, and condemns other forms of slavery, does not think at all…. Domestic slavery must be vindicated in the abstract... without regard to race or color.” Fitzhugh’s thinking evolved, and as shown in observations he made in 1858, he came to believe that white slaves were better than black slaves. “European slaves have ever been almost all of the white race. Negro slavery is of very recent origin.... To say the white race is not the true and best slave race is to contradict all history.” If the Union could not exist half slave and half free, the nationalization of slavery, with white laborers in the North being enslaved as well, was the better alternative. This was a major theme in Southern politics from the mid-1850s to 1860.9
In 1855 Fitzhugh wrote a very famous and often quoted, albeit anonymous, editorial for the Richmond Enquirer. Fitzhugh said, “The Bible...ordained, authorised and enforced white slavery,” and that “slavery in the abstract” was right. “The laws of all the Southern States justified the holding [of] white men in slavery, provided, through the mother, they were descended, however remotely, from a negro slave. The bright [white] mulattoes,” said Fitzhugh, were not “wrongfully held in slavery.” The universality of the right to enslave was affirmed with, “The South now maintains that slavery is right, natural, and necessary,” and “the principle of slavery is itself right, and does not depend on difference of complexion.”10
Political materials for the presidential campaign of 1856 include references to the literal enslavement of white people and illustrate the extent to which the idea had developed. There were many quotes from Fitzhugh’s book and the famous Richmond Enquirer editorial. An October, 1856 issue of the National Anti-Slavery Standard featured a particularly noteworthy article entitled, “THE NEW ‘DEMOCRATIC’ DOCTRINE. Slavery not to be Confined to the Negro Race, but to be made the Universal Condition of the Labouring Classes of Society.” The article stated, “The last, the crowning, the diabolical assumption is, that slavery is not to be confined to the NEGRO RACE, but must be made to include labouring WHITE MEN also.” The famous Richmond Enquirer reference about slavery not depending on “difference of complexion” and the laws of the slave states justifying the holding of white men in bondage was cited along with this quote from a leading South Carolina newspaper: “Slavery is the natural and normal condition of the labouring man, whether WHITE or black.” Responding to statements by Senator Solomon W. Downs of Louisiana, an editorial commented, “According to Mr. Downs…all that the Northern white labourer requires is somebody to sell him when he falls into poverty.” Many other references from Southern newspapers and speeches were included. The highlights just presented were from the version of “The New ‘Democratic’ Doctrine” which appeared in the newspaper, the National Anti-Slavery Standard. At least four other manifestations in pamphlets and broadsides were also published under the same title. A Republican handbill distributed during the 1856 presidential election contains excerpts from “The New ‘Democratic’ Doctrine” and is a striking piece of evidence which attests to white slavery being a hot political issue. During 1856, the statements from the Southern press were carried over into Congress as well in speeches by Congressmen Philemon Bliss of Ohio, Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts, Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, Timothy C. Day of Ohio, Amos P. Granger of New York, Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania, Mason W. Tappan of New Hampshire, Israel Washburn, Jr. of Maine, and Senators William H. Seward of New York (speaking in Auburn), and Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. Many spoke of slavery irrespective of color and often included the Fitzhugh and Richmond Enquirer quotes in that regard. Others addressed partus sequitur ventrem, enslaving white laborers in the North or the threat to free whites posed by the Fugitive Slave Law. All were chosen from among many political publications for inclusion in the anthology, Republican Campaign Documents of 1856.11
All of the talk during the campaign of 1856 about the South enslaving Northern whites took on profound meaning after the Dred Scott decision allowed slavery into the territories. Another Dred Scott decision would allow slavery into the free states of the North. In either case, free white labor would have to compete with slave labor and could not survive because the average daily wage of little more than a dollar would become 10¢ or 25¢. White laborers who fell into poverty could be sold into slavery for debt. As “The New ‘Democratic’ Doctrine” said, “All that the Northern white laborer requires is somebody to sell him when he falls into poverty.” In his book, A Journey in the Back Country, Frederick Law Olmsted asserted, “Nothing in fact but the enslavement of labor at the North, could in the nature of things, give that security…to the capitalists of labor at the South.” In a footnote, Olmsted quoted the Richmond Enquirer: “While it is far more obvious that negroes should be slaves than whites, ...the principle of slavery is itself right, and does not depend upon difference of complexion.”12
A series of speeches and dialogues which included references to white slavery took place in the Senate and in the House of Representatives in 1860 and give a sense for what Northern members of Congress wanted to express on the eve of the Civil War. Congressmen Henry Waldron of Michigan, Israel Washburn, Jr. of Maine, William Windom of Minnesota, and Senator James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin and Senators Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson of Massachusetts all mention George Fitzhugh by name. His quote from Sociology for the South pertaining to “slavery, black or white” and the Richmond Enquirer quote about slavery not depending on “difference of complexion” were repeated time and again, showing the concern Northern politicians had regarding the enslavement of white laborers. Bear in mind that these congressional accounts as well as the earlier ones referring to white slavery were all printed verbatim in the official publication of Congress, the Congressional Globe.13
Abraham Lincoln had a very negative reaction to Fitzhugh’s Sociology for the South. William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, made sure he was kept abreast of preeminent slavery and antislavery literature. He wrote, “Lincoln was well posted on both sides. I had a Southern work called Sociology by Fitzhugh, I think. It defended slavery in every way. This aroused the ire of Lincoln more than most pro-slavery books.” In light of the many references to white slavery in Republican speeches and literature from 1856 to 1860, Lincoln was evidently well informed about the subject. Lincoln’s speeches and writings do contain specific references to literal white slavery¾slavery not based on color. In December of 1856 he spoke of President Buchanan’s recent election and the “idea that slavery is right, in the abstract…and its extension to all countries and colors.” He then specifically referred to “the Richmond Enquirer, an avowed advocate of slavery, regardless of color.” In a fragment which has survived from 1858(?), Lincoln referred to Douglas and his implication that “the superior ought to enslave the inferior…[as well as the] right of one class to enslave another.” In 1859 Lincoln referred to Southern political power “trying to show that slavery existed in the Bible times by Divine ordinance....whenever you establish that Slavery was right by the Bible, it will occur that that Slavery was the Slavery of the white man—of men without reference to color.” Lincoln’s own campaign newspaper, the Rail Splitter, spoke of white slavery. An article entitled “Capital Should Own Labor” asked, “Whatever may be your opinion of Negro Slavery, do you think White Men should be made Slaves?” The same edition included this excerpt from a speech by Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio: “Capital should own labor—referring not merely to the labor of the colored man, but to that of the white man as well!” A front-page article reminded readers, “It is not long since the Richmond Examiner, a leading Southern organ of the Democracy, said that the natural condition of the laboring classes of whatever color was slavery.” Many articles in Lincoln’s paper discussed the in-surmountable problem free labor would have in competing with slave labor, and the specter of white slavery was always present.14
It is no wonder that over half of the men employed in Northern industries, and many others who were self-employed, all fought against the South in the Civil War. Historian Philip S. Foner explains why free labor would fight to end slavery.
The Iron Platform, a New York workingman’s paper, gave in November, 1862, the reason that had compelled it to call for the freedom of the slaves: “There is one truth which should be clearly understood by every workingman in the Union. The slavery of the black man leads to the slavery of the white man.... If the doctrine of treason is true, that ‘Capital should own labor,’ then their logical conclusion is correct, and all laborers, white or black, are and ought to be slaves.”15
An issue of the Iron Platform published in 1864 shows that the fear white laborers had of being enslaved by the South existed well into the Civil War. “The interests of workingmen, as a class, are at stake in this conflict.” After the writings of George Fitzhugh were addressed, the article stated, “The writer here not only justifies the slavery of the black man, but enters into a labored argument to prove that the white race is the true and best slave race.” The Iron Platform and many other writings show that white slavery had a profound political effect on the antebellum United States.
When one truly understands that the politics of slavery had no regard for color, it becomes clear that free laborers in the North and others fought to abolish slavery, not out of altruism, but in order to insure freedom for themselves and their loved ones. Slavery black or white answers a major question that has puzzled historians of the American Civil War as to why Northern whites would fight to free blacks they believed to be an inferior race. Slavery black or white also begs the question as to whether or not the Civil War would have occurred if the existence of white slaves had not brought home to Northern citizens the great danger that slavery posed to their free society. The authors do not claim that white slavery was the only cause of the Civil War, but it was certainly an important cause which has been overlooked in academic literature.16
Footnotes 1 William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia (N.Y., 1810–1823), 2:170 . The Complete Jefferson, ed. Saul K. Padover (N.Y., 1943), 1022–23. The essay “What Constitutes a Mulatto?” is missing from later editions of Jefferson’s writings. George M. Stroud, A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery, 2d ed. (Philadelphia, 1856), 16–17. In a footnote on the latter page, Stroud stated the following: “Under this law it may frequently happen that a person whose complexion is European may be legally retained as a slave.” He then went on to cite several cases where white people were held as slaves under the partus sequitur ventrem rule because each had a very distant maternal ancestor who was a slave. Note continued on 18–20. American Antislavery Society, Revolution the Only Remedy for Slavery (N.Y., ), 3. An Address Delivered by Hon. William D. Kelley, at Spring Garden Hall, Philadelphia, on September 9th, 1856 (Philadelphia, 1856), 12–13. See also Thomas R. R. Cobb, An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America (Philadelphia, 1858), 68–69; Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 29 May 1860, appendix, 375; Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 12 June 1860, appendix, 417. There were a few interesting exceptions to the partus sequitur ventrem policy worth noting. The Maryland law of 1664 provided that “all children born of any Negro or other slave shall be slaves as their fathers were for the term of their lives.” In Connecticut in 1704, a mulatto sued for his freedom and won because “his father was a white man” even though his mother was a black slave. An example is also to be found in the records of the Superior Council of Louisiana for November 14, 1745: “Report on legal freedom. Vincent Le Porche files a statement to the intent that one Marie Louise is not a slave but should enjoy complete liberty, being the daughter of a Frenchman.” William Hand Browne et al., eds., Archives of Maryland (Baltimore, 1883–), 1:533. William C. Fowler, “The Historical Status of the Negro in Connecticut,” Historical Magazine, 3d ser., 3 (January 1874): 16. Heloise H. Cruzat, trans., “Records of the Superior Council of Louisiana, LII,” Louisiana Historical Quarterly 14 (October 1931): 598. An excellent discussion of the partus principle may be had in Thomas D. Morris, Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619–1860 (Chapel Hill, 1996), 43–49, 411–12.
2 “Narrative and Testimony of Rev. Francis Hawley,” in [Theodore D. Weld], American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (1839; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 97. On page 25 of the same publication, Rev. John Graham who was in South Carolina in the early 1830s rhetorically asked, “How many white sons and daughters, have bled and groaned under the lash in this sultry climate?” Frederick Law Olmsted, 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), 458–59. Vincent Colyer, Brief Report of the Services Rendered by the Freed People to the United States Army in North Carolina (N.Y., 1864), 32. Other eyewitness accounts of white slaves include Fredrika Bremer, The Homes of the New World (1853; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 1:373, 2:534–35; Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave (1847; reprint, N.Y., 1970), 34; G. W. Featherstonhaugh, Excursion Through the Slave States (London, 1844), 2:267–68; Isaac Holmes, An Account of the United States of America (London, ), 327–28, 333; Charles Mackay, Life and Liberty in America (London, 1859), 1:317–18; Frederick Marryat, A Diary in America, (Paris, 1839), 250–51; C. G. Parsons, Inside View of Slavery (1855; reprint, N.Y., 1969), 180–82; J. F. D. Smyth, A Tour in the United States of America (1784; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 2:181; Edward Sullivan, Rambles and Scrambles in North and South America (London, 1852), 200–201; Jesse Torrey, American Slave Trade ( 1822; reprint, Westport, 1971), 24–25; Rev. Philo Tower, Slavery Unmasked: Being a Truthful Narrative of a Three Years’ Residence and Journeying in Eleven Southern States (1856; reprint, N.Y., 1969), 307, 325; George Vandenhoff, Leaves from an Actor’s Note-Book (N.Y., 1860), 208; J[acques] P[ierre] Brissot de Warville, New Travels in the United States of America, 1788, ed. and trans. Durand Echeverria and Mara Soceanu Vamos (Cambridge, 1964), 217; Charles Richard Weld, A Vacation Tour in the United States and Canada (London, 1855), 302–4;
3 American Anti-Slavery Society, White Slavery in the United States. Anti-Slavery Tracts. No. 2. (; reprint, Westport, 1970). [George Washington Carleton], The Suppressed Book about Slavery! Prepared for Publication in 1857,— Never Published Until the Present Time (1864; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 42, 295–97, 300–301, 314, 330–33, 335, 340–41, 348–49. L. Maria Child, The Patriarchal Institution, as Described by Members of Its Own Family (N.Y., 1860), 25–28. Rev. Charles Elliott, Sinfulness of American Slavery (1851; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 2:65. William Jay, Miscellaneous Writings on Slavery (1853; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 261–63. Some advertisements refer to “bright” mulattoes. In Southern parlance, this designation was used to indicate a white-looking complexion, not intelligence. For other examples, see Mary Chesnut’s Civil War, ed. C. Vann Woodward (New Haven, 1981), 15; Richmond Enquirer, 15 December 1855, p. 2; Geo. W[M]. Weston, Who Are and Who May Be Slaves in the U. States, in Republican Campaign Documents of 1856. A Collection of the Most Important Speeches and Documents Issued by the Republican Association of Washington, During the Presidential Campaign of 1856 (Washington, 1857), 1.
4 C. C. Leigh, “White and Colored Slaves,” Harper’s Weekly 8 (January 30, 1864): 71. The woodcut was made from a photograph (albumen silver print from glass negative) now in the possession of the Gilman Paper Company in New York City. Harper’s Weekly was very popular, having a circulation of around 200,000 before the Civil War. Edgar W. Martin, The Standard of Living in 1860 (Chicago, 1942), 320.
5 Richard Hildreth, The Slave: or Memoirs of Archy Moore (1836; reprint, Upper Saddle River, 1968), 1:7, 41; The White Slave; or, Memoirs of a Fugitive (1852; reprint, N.Y., 1969), 9–10, 33. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, in Three Novels (1852; reprint, ed. Kathryn Kish Sklar, N.Y., 1982), 129. George Fitzhugh referred to Stowe in “Southern Thought—Its New And Important Manifestations,” DeBow’s Review 23 (October 1857): 347. For a list of the seventeen works of literature, see Jules Zanger, “The ‘Tragic Octoroon’ in Pre-Civil War Fiction,” American Quarterly 18 (Spring 1966): 63n and 68–70 regarding The Octoroon. Kenneth A. Bernard, Lincoln and the Music of the Civil War (Caldwell, 1966), PLATE 47 for the Ford’s Theatre reference. William Bedford Clark, “The Serpent of Lust in the Southern Garden,” Southern Review 10 (October 1974): 816. A more philosophical interpretation has been done by Nancy Bentley, “White Slaves: The Mulatto Hero in Antebellum Fiction,” American Literature 65 (September 1993): 501–22. Even though modern works are included, also of value is Glenn Cannon Arbery, “Victims of Likeness: Quadroons and Octoroons in Southern Fiction,” Southern Review 25 (January 1989): 52–71. The definitive research of Werner Sollors is particularly noteworthy. Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature (N.Y., 1997), chap. 8 and passim for theoretical constructs. See also Judith R. Berzon, Neither White Nor Black: The Mulatto in American Fiction (N.Y., 1978), especially chap. 4 in the present context. Even after the Civil War, the idea of a white slave still made for interesting literary subject matter. The White Slave by playwright Bartley Campbell was written in the early 1880s. The play is set in 1857 and has in its cast of characters Lisa, the white slave, Daphne, an octoroon, and Nance, a quadroon. Napier Wilt noted, “From 1879 to 1885 Bartley Campbell was not only the most popular American dramatist, but he was regarded by most critics as one of the best.” Audiences could relate to seeing a white slave on the stage. The White Slave & Other Plays, ed. Napier Wilt (Princeton, 1941), xiii.
6 The basic provisions of the Fugitive Slave law of 1850 provided for the following: A mere affidavit from the claimant or his agent even if given in absentia was sufficient to establish title to an alleged runaway slave. The weakest ex parte evidence was considered enough to convict. Once captured, those claimed to be the fugitive being sought were not allowed to speak at all in their behalf and were denied legal representation. Neither a jury trial nor a formal hearing of any kind was permitted. Specially appointed federal commissioners were directed to attend to cases “in a summary manner.” Moreover, these officials had authority to issue certificates which would instantly place the black or mulatto into slavery without any due process whatsoever. Commissioners received ten dollars for issuing the certificate authorizing immediate enslavement. Many in the North considered this an exceptionally large amount since the daily wage paid to a day laborer averaged about $1.00 in 1850. Only five dollars was received for the paperwork to set the captive free. Federal marshals were empowered to enlist the aid of common citizens in the capture, and there would be a $1,000 fine if such a person did not comply. Reluctant acquiescence in the North to the new law had to do with the fact that there were strong and protective personal liberty state laws already on the books which could be used to challenge the new federal law in terms of states’ rights and constitutionality. Additional personal liberty laws were passed during the 1850s. These laws enforced the constitutional provisions of habeas corpus, due process, and trial by jury, thereby establishing legal obstructions which made it difficult for those seeking to recover fugitive slaves to press their claims. For the complete verbatim text of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 in convenient sources, see McDougall, Fugitive Slaves, 112–15, and Siebert, Underground Railroad, 361–66. Thomas D. Morris, Free Men All: The Personal Liberty Laws of the North, 1780–1861 (Baltimore, 1974), passim. Anti-Slavery Bugle, 19 October 1850, p. 18. Samuel May, Jr., The Fugitive Slave Law and Its Victims (1861; reprint, Freeport, 1970), 3. See also Stanley W. Campbell, The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850–1860 (Chapel Hill, 1970), 175. Regarding the kidnapping of free blacks and free mulattoes, see James E. Alexander, Transatlantic Sketches 2:25; E. A. Andrews, Slavery and the Domestic Slave-Trade in the United States (1836; reprint, Detroit, ), 147; Rev. John H. Aughey, Tupelo (1888; reprint, Freeport, 1971), 345; Letters of James Gillespie Birney, 1831–1857, ed. Dwight L. Dumond (1938; reprint, Gloucester, 1966), 2:651–52; J. S. Buckingham, The Eastern and Western States of America (London, ), 1:11–12; Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., 19 August 1850, appendix, 1587–88; William Jay, Miscellaneous Writings on Slavery (1853; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 236-47, 389–93; Morris, Free Men All, chap. 2; 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), 340–45; Jesse Torrey, American Slave Trade ( 1822; reprint, Westport, 1971), 89-90; [Weld], American Slavery as It Is, 140, 142; Carol Wilson, Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in America, 1780–1865 (Lexington, 1994), 1, 116, passim. For instances of gangs kidnapping free blacks and free mulattoes, see Collins, Domestic Slave Trade, 95; Liberator, 14 August 1857, p. 1; National Era, 7 December 1854, p. 196; Niles’ National Register, 24 October 1846, p. 122 (described a gang of thirteen “negro stealers” but does not say whether victims were free or slave); Niles’ Weekly Register, 10 April 1824, p. 96, and 18 October 1828, p. 119. Notices concerned with kidnappings and kidnapped victims endlessly filled the antislavery press, especially newspapers. See Niles’ Weekly Register, 10 October 1818, p. 110 for an early example. Regarding the $400 average slave price, see 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), 46, 49, 69, 82. As for wages, see Statistics of the United States, 512; J. D. B. DeBow, Statistical View of the United States (Washington, 1854), 164; Stanley Lebergott, “Wage Trends, 1800–1900,” in Trends in the American Economy in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, 1960), 462. American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, Fugitive Slave Bill, 32–33. See also “North American” Documents. Letters from Geo. Law, Ephraim Marsh, & Chauncey Schaffer (n.p., [1856?]), 7, and see also 12 for comments in general. Slavery Unconstitutional. Speech of Hon. Amos P. Granger, of New York, in the House of Representatives, April 4, 1856, in Republican Campaign Documents of 1856. A Collection of the Most Important Speeches and Documents Issued by the Republican Association of Washington, During the Presidential Campaign of 1856 (Washington, 1857), 6–7. William Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery; A History of the Great Struggle in Both Hemispheres (1852; reprint, N.Y., 1968), 141-42. Anti-Slavery Bugle, 2 June 1855, p. 1.
7 Michael A. Hoffman II, They Were White and They Were Slaves (N.Y., 1992), passim. Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South, 94 and chap. 6. George M. Weston, Who Are and Who May Be Slaves in the U. States. Facts for the People, in Republican Campaign Documents of 1856. A Collection of the Most Important Speeches and Documents Issued by the Republican Association of Washington, During the Presidential Campaign of 1856 (Washington, 1857), 1-2. J. Drew Harrington, “Classical Antiquity and the Proslavery Argument,” Slavery & Abolition 10 (May 1989): 60–72. Mitchell Snay, “American Thought and Southern Distinctiveness: The Southern Clergy and the Sanctification of Slavery,” Civil War History 35 (December 1989): 311–28. Richmond Enquirer, 20 September 1856, p. 2. Even though proslavery forces pointed to Biblical instances of slavery, they conveniently neglected Deut. 23.15–16. See also Ron Bartour, “American Views on ‘Biblical Slavery’: 1835–1865, A Comparative Study,” Slavery & Abolition 4 (May 1983): 41–55; Helper, Impending Crisis of the South, chap. 7; [Theodore Dwight Weld], The Bible Against Slavery (1864; reprint, Detroit, 1970) and earlier editions from the 1830s.
8 Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Convention, Proceedings (Providence, 1836), 25. Anti-Slavery Lecturer 1 (August 1839): 1–2. “The Biglow Papers - No. 1,” The Complete Poetical Works of James Russell Lowell, ed. Horace E. Scudder (Boston, 1925), 182. See also Letters of James Gillespie Birney, ed. Dwight L. Dumond (N.Y., 1938), 1:243, 363, and Bayard Tuckerman, William Jay and the Constitutional Movement for the Abolition of Slavery (1893; reprint, N.Y., 1969), 80. An article in the December, 1835 issue of the Emancipator specifically addressed the notion of Northern slaveowners. “The southern capitalist commits no sin when he holds the laborer, without his consent, as a slave. The inference irresistibly follows, that it could be NO SIN for the NORTHERN capitalist to hold the NORTHERN WHITE LABORER, without his consent, as A SLAVE!” Philip S. Foner and Herbert Shapiro, eds., Northern Labor and Antislavery (Westport, 1994), 93.
9 George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South, 225 (unnumbered), 250–51. George Fitzhugh, “Southern Thought—Its New And Important Manifestations,” DeBow’s Review 23 (October 1857): 338–39, 347. George Fitzhugh, “Origin of Civilization—What Is Property?—Which Is the Best Slave Race?” DeBow’s Review 25 (December 1858): 662–63. Fitzhugh, in the words of Robert A. Garson, “recognized that if Negro slaves fared better than free white workers, then it was only logical to enslave all workers, regardless of color.” Stanford M. Lyman agrees and states, “Precisely because he regarded slavery to be a universal as well as universally beneficent form of societal organization, Fitzhugh did not confine its domain to that of blacks.” Eugene D. Genovese concurs with this point of view. For Fitzhugh, “All labor, white and black, ought to be enslaved for its own good.” Garson, “Proslavery as Political Theory: The Examples of John C. Calhoun and George Fitzhugh,” South Atlantic Quarterly 84 (Spring 1985): 205. Lyman, “System and Function in Ante-bellum Southern Sociology,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 2 (Fall 1988): 101–2. In the thinking of Genovese, Fitzhugh’s “notion that slavery was a proper social system for all labor, not merely for black labor, did not arise as a last-minute rationalization; it grew steadily as part of the growing self-awareness of the planter class. It is curious that this point is overlooked by so much of recent scholarship.” The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation (N.Y., 1969), 236, 130. A notable example is C. Vann Woodward who says nothing about Fitzhugh’s notion of universal slavery—slavery based on class, not on color. George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters, ed. C. Vann Woodward (1857; reprint, Cambridge, 1960), especially p. 254 where Fitzhugh said, “There is no middle ground—not an inch of ground of any sort, between the doctrines which we hold and those which Mr. Garrison holds. If slavery, either white or black, be wrong in principle or practice, then is Mr. Garrison right—then is all human government wrong.” National Era, 15 September 1859, p. 146. Wilfred Carsel, “The Slaveholders’ Indictment of Northern Wage Slavery,” Journal of Southern History 6 (November 1940): 517. Richmond Enquirer, 2 February 1855, p. 2, and 24 April 1856, p. 2. Edmund Ruffin read Sociology for the South and criticized Fitzhugh as “a profound thinker, though a careless writer—sometimes altogether wrong.” As for Fitzhugh’s ideas concerning slavery, however, Ruffin was in agreement. “Many of the positions which he has assumed, I have also entertained & presented, in regard to slavery.” Regarding Holmes’s criticism of Fitzhugh, Drew Gilpin Faust quotes Holmes speaking of Fitzhugh’s theories as “too broadly and incautiously asserted.” However the actual passage written by Holmes was with specific reference to Sociology for the South and reads, “the new truths which it advances, though too broadly and incautiously asserted, are in the main as correct as they are sagacious.” His critique of Fitzhugh’s style notwithstanding, he interpreted the book and favorably reviewed it. Neal C. Gillespie, Holmes’s eminent biographer, has pointed out that he disagreed with Fitzhugh regarding the reasoning behind the ubiquity of slavery, but both agreed on the principle. Diary of Edmund Ruffin 1:215–16, 240. Drew Gilpin Faust, A Sacred Circle: The Dilemma of the Intellectual in the Old South, 1840–1860 (Baltimore, 1977), 127. [George Frederick Holmes], “Failure of Free Societies,” Southern Literary Messenger 21 (March 1855): 129–30, 141. Neal C. Gillespie, The Collapse of Orthodoxy: The Intellectual Ordeal of George Frederick Holmes (Charlottesville, 1972), 173, 197. With regard to the contemporaries upon whom Fitzhugh had impact, see Genovese, World the Slaveholders Made, 135, and Harvey Wish, George Fitzhugh: Propagandist of the Old South (1943; reprint, Gloucester, 1962), 126.
10 Richmond Enquirer, 15 December 1855, p. 2. Note that in speaking of Moses and Aristotle, Fitzhugh has used the word “race” to mean “national descent.” The second part of this editorial had to do with the failure of free society in rural England, and although extracted from the North British Review, the writing could easily have been a page from his Sociology for the South.
11 National Anti-Slavery Standard, 11 October 1856, p. 1. Other versions of “The New ‘Democratic’ Doctrine” were published including two in New York, one in Rhode Island, and one in New Hampshire. Their respective OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) accession numbers are 32495897, 4475554, 31086184, 889904. This collection of quotations refers to both figurative and literal white slavery, establishing a continuum between the two. A good example of this mix may be seen in OCLC 4475554. In addition to the literal references, the back cover contains a map of the United States on which is printed a blurb concerning slaveholders and a figurative reference to “the white slaves of the North who are owned by this small but iron-willed oligarchy.” For OCLC 32495897 and the 1856 Republican party handbill, see PLATES 8 and 9 in Lawrence R. Tenzer, The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue (Manahawkin, 1997). General 1856 political material that addressed the enslavement of white people may be had in Anti-Slavery Bugle, 20 September 1856, pp. 1–2; Edwin T. Freedley, The Issue, and Its Consequences (Philadelphia, 1856), 6; Fremonter, 22 August 1856, p. 2; Marshall Statesman, 22 October 1856, p. 1; Michigan Republican State Committee, Important Facts Drawn From Authentic Sources, Providing Beyond A Doubt That The Approaching Presidential Election Is Forever To Decide The Question Between Freedom And Slavery [Detroit, 1856], 28–30; Joseph Stringham, Buffalo Daily Republic Extra. Address to the Republican Club of Buffalo (N.Y., ), 13. Congressional speeches include Complaints of the Extensionists—Their Falsity. Speech of Hon. Philemon Bliss, of Ohio, in the House of Representatives, May 21, 1856, 4; Defense of Massachusetts. Speech of Hon. Anson Burlingame, of Massachusetts, in the House of Representatives, June 21, 1856, 2, 4; The “Laws” of Kansas. Speech of Schuyler Colfax, of Indiana, in the House of Representatives, June 21, 1856, 10, 12–13; The Democratic Party as It Was and as It Is! Speech of Hon. Timothy C. Day, of Ohio, in the House of Representatives, April 23, 1856, 8; Slavery Unconstitutional. Speech of Hon. Amos P. Granger, of New York, in the House of Representatives, April 4, 1856, 6-7; Admission of Kansas. Speech of Hon. G. A. Grow, of Pennsylvania, in the House of Representatives, June 30, 1856, 5; Modern “Democracy,” the Ally of Slavery. Speech of Hon. M. W. Tappan, of New Hampshire, in the House of Representatives, July 29, 1856, 14; Politics of the Country. Speech of Hon. I. Washburn, Jr., of Maine, in the House of Representatives, June 21, 1856, 2; The Parties of the Day. Speech of William H. Seward, at Auburn, October 21, 1856, 4-5; The State of Affairs in Kansas. Speech of Hon. Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, in the Senate, February 18, 1856, 10. All of these speeches were contained in Republican Campaign Documents of 1856. A Collection of the Most Important Speeches and Documents Issued by the Republican Association of Washington, During the Presidential Campaign of 1856 (Washington, 1857). See also the included document by George M. Weston, Who Are and Who May Be Slaves in the U. States. Facts for the People, 1-2.
12 An exposition of Dred Scott may be had slightly abridged but in context in Paul Finkelman, Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents (N.Y., 1997), 76. A thorough single-volume study is Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Dred Scott Case: Its Significance in American Law and Politics (N.Y., 1978), condensed in his Slavery, Law, and Politics: The Dred Scott Case in Historical Perspective (N.Y., 1981). An insightful racial perspective on Dred Scott is in “Who Are Negroes?” in Chicago Daily Tribune, 12 March 1857, p. 2. For Lincoln’s belief in another Dred Scott decision, see Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 3:24, and 2:466–67, 518, 3:27, 30, 233–34, 316, 369, with other references in Paul Finkelman, An Imperfect Union: Slavery, Federalism, and Comity (Chapel Hill, 1981), 318nn, and 318–19. Harry V. Jaffa has scrutinized the Dred Scott decision with its legal ramifications for a nationalized slavery and concluded that “there was no principle…which justified enslaving Negroes which did not at the same time justify enslaving whites.” Crisis of the House Divided (N.Y., 1959), 281. Jaffa’s understanding in chaps. 11 and 12 is extraordinary and deserves careful examination. The same may be said for Finkelman, Imperfect Union, chap. 10. The Anti-Slavery Bugle applied to the territories the Richmond Enquirer quote about the laws of the slave states justifying white men in bondage. “And it is these laws which the South seeks to carry under the Constitution into all the territories of the Union.” 20 September 1856, p. 2. References to 10¢ and 25¢ are in “The New ‘Democratic’ Doctrine,” Rail Splitter (Chicago), 18 August 1860, p. 3, and Address Delivered by Hon. William D. Kelley, 12. Also of interest is Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States (N.Y., 1947), 1:286–87; Joseph G. Rayback, “The American Workingman and the Antislavery Crusade,” Journal of Economic History 3 (November 1943): 162–63 and A History of American Labor (N.Y., 1966), 101–2; Southern Slavery Reduces Northern Wages. An Address by George M. Weston, of Maine. Delivered in Washington, D C., March 25, 1856, in Republican Campaign Documents of 1856. Debtors were viewed with utter disdain. As Frank Tracy Carlton says, “A criminal was given even greater consideration in regard to food and fuel than was accorded the imprisoned debtor. The practice of imprisoning debtors fell, of course, with peculiar severity upon those who were close to the poverty line, that is, upon the wage-earning classes.” Organized Labor in American History (N.Y., 1920), 164–68. C[urtis] W[M]. Jacobs, Free Negro Question in Maryland (Baltimore, 1859), 25–27; Russel B. Nye, Fettered Freedom: Civil Liberties and the Slavery Controversy, 1830-1860 (East Lansing, 1963), 309n92; Frederick Merk, Slavery and the Annexation of Texas (N.Y., 1972), 246. For a source which contains early examples of white people being sold into slavery, see Hoffman, They Were White and They Were Slaves, passim. The Richmond Enquirer reported the case of a white man who was sold at public auction in Decatur, Illinois. “On Saturday last, an Irishman by the name of Jimmy McFerny, well known in this and the adjoining rail road towns, was sold at public vendue for vagrancy.” 23 August 1855, p. 2. Michigan Republican State Committee, Important Facts Drawn From Authentic Sources, 30. Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Back Country (N.Y., 1860), 456. See also Wish, George Fitzhugh, 212.
13 Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 26 April 1860, 1873 (unnumbered). Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 19 May 1860, appendix, 354. Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 14 March 1860, appendix, 172. Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 3 January 1860, appendix, 98, 104. Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 4 June 1860, 2601–2. Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 25 January 1860, 571. Other congressmen and senators who spoke of white slavery in the late 1850s through 1860 included Philemon Bliss, Sidney Edgerton, and Benjamin Stanton of Ohio, John Hickman of Pennsylvania, Owen Lovejoy of Illinois, John J. Perry of Maine, and William H. Seward of New York. Congressional Globe, 35th Cong., 1st sess., 24 May 1858, appendix, 399. Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 29 February 1860, 931. Negro Equality—The Right of One Man to Hold Property in Another—The Democratic Party a Disunion Party—The Success of the Republican Party the Only Salvation for the Country. Speech of Hon. Benjamin Stanton (Washington, 1860), 2. Political Issues and Presidential Candidates. Speech of the Hon. John Hickman, Delivered in Concert Hall, Philadelphia, July 24th , 1860 (San Francisco, 1860), 4, 10. The Fanaticism of the Democratic Party. Speech of Hon. Owen Lovejoy, of Illinois. Delivered in the U. S. House of Representatives, February 21, 1859 (Washington, 1860), 3. Posting the Books Between the North and the South. Speech of Hon. John J. Perry, of Maine. Delivered in the U. S. House of Representatives, March 7, 1860 (Washington, 1860), 10. The Works of William H. Seward, ed. George E. Baker (Boston, 1884), 4:289. C. Vann Woodward states, “Many of Fitzhugh’s more startling phrases and paradoxes, taken out of context, lent themselves admirably to quotation by Republicans or antislavery people for the purpose of discrediting the South or the Democrats. The more extreme pronouncements of the Virginian were thereby represented erroneously not only as typical of his views, but also those of his party and his region.” Fitzhugh, Cannibals All!, ed. C. Vann Woodward, xxix. Given the general proslavery nature of Fitzhugh’s corpus together with the exceedingly proslavery political climate of the South during the 1850s, how “taken out of context” could Fitzhugh have been? The Northern press merely reprinted what had originally been published in the Southern press. Is it any wonder that when hundreds of thousands of Northerners repeatedly read “the laws of all the Southern States justify the holding of white men in bondage,” “the principle of slavery is in itself right, and does not depend on difference of complexion,” and “slavery, black or white, is right and necessary,” such phrases were taken to mean precisely what they said? The inferences drawn were clear. In light of the reaction of the antislavery North, Robert J. Loewenberg’s view that “Fitzhugh’s proposal to enslave whites along with blacks was an embarrassment to the southern position” appears to be inaccurate. “John Locke and the Antebellum Defense of Slavery,” Political Theory 13 (May 1985): 281, also 268, and his Freedom’s Despots: The Critique of Abolition (Durham, 1986), 54–55. An indication as to just how widespread Fitzhugh’s doctrines had become may be seen in the work of Charles Mackay, a noted British journalist who toured the United States and Canada in 1857 and 1858. A chapter in his subsequent book was entitled, “Pro-Slavery Philosophy.” Most interesting is the fact that of all the possible proponents of slavery to write about, Mackay exclusively chose George Fitzhugh, the implication clearly being that Fitzhugh represented the proslavery philosophy of the South at large. “Within the last two or three years a change has come over the philosophy and the tactics of the slave-holders.... [They have established] a system that is not dependent upon the colour or race of those who are enslaved, but which may conduce to the advantage of a white slave quite as much as to that of the black. In one sentence they allege Slavery to be the normal and only proper condition of society.... There are many other writers, both in prose and verse, who have taken up this principle as the social religion of the South, but Mr. Fitzhugh is the one who has gone most systematically and philosophically into the discussion, and laid down authoritatively a system of Slavery, pure and simple. He would not only enslave the negroes, but the poor Irish and German immigrants, as fast as they arrive in New York, and either send them off to till the ground in the cotton and sugar regions, or sell them at Charleston, or New Orleans, by public auction, to the highest bidder.... It may be thought that Mr. Fitzhugh and the other doctrinaires of Slavery write in jest. On the contrary, they write in grim earnest.” Mackay then defines what Fitzhugh calls the “white slave trade” as “the employment of white men, at low wages, regulated rather by the keenness of their own competition with one another.” Fitzhugh used the figurative term “white slave trade” in Chapter 1 of Cannibals All! or, Slaves Without Masters. Mackay correctly understood the metaphorical meaning of “cannibals all” in this context of labor competition. He went on to quote from the book describing how white laborers were not cared for by those for whom they worked, whereas black slaves were, so white laborers would be much better off being slaves as well. Mackay disagrees with Fitzhugh and says, in a play on words, that he is “a slave to his theory.” Life and Liberty in America 2:56–57, 59–60, 62, 72.
14 William H. Herndon, The Hidden Lincoln, ed. Emanuel Hertz (N.Y., 1938), 96–97. Lincoln included the issue of white slavery in a famous speech given at Bloomington, Illinois, on May 29, 1856, but a clear meaning of the reference is unknown because a copy of the speech has not survived. A contemporary newspaper, however, furnished an account which included the following lines: “It must be ‘Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.’ The sentiment in favor of white slavery now prevailed in all the slave state papers, except those of Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri and Maryland. Such was the progress of the National Democracy.” Collected Works 2:341. In referring to this famous address of Lincoln’s, David Herbert Donald has stated, “Mistaking the idiosyncratic George Fitzhugh as a representative thinker, he [Lincoln] claimed that Southerners were more and more arguing not merely that slavery was a positive good for blacks but that it should be extended to white laborers as well. Quite erroneously he claimed that because of Southern pressure, Northern Democrats like Douglas, who had once advocated ‘the individual rights of man,’ were beginning to accept this argument.” As Elwell Crissey has pointed out, many people of political importance were in attendance. If Lincoln was mistaken and in error, they would never have responded to his speech with such approval and enthusiasm. To claim that they also misunderstood is to belittle their intelligence. Their response was indicative of the fact that the proslavery extremes—the failure of free society and labor regardless of color being slaves—were popularly held by Southern political power. In light of the common belief in both the North and the South that the country could not exist half slave and half free, these Southern views and the resultant response from the antislavery North are quite understandable. Donald, Lincoln (N.Y., 1995), 191–92. For a list and brief biography of the political notables who heard Lincoln’s speech, see Crissey, Lincoln’s Lost Speech: The Pivot of His Career (N.Y., 1967), 293–336. Interesting and worth noting is that the white slavery Lincoln referred to has incorrectly been interpreted to mean the enslavement of poor Southern whites. Elwell Crissey erroneously cites as evidence the following observation by Lincoln biographer Albert J. Beveridge: “Lincoln was here speaking of the idea advanced in Fitzhugh’s book and adopted by a few Southern papers, that, economically and morally, slavery was the best condition for labor regardless of color, a position which Lincoln never failed to attack in every speech he made during the campaign now opening.” Crissey, Lincoln’s Lost Speech, 357n50. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln 2:374. Collected Works 2:385 for the Richmond Enquirer quote. Lincoln’s reference to “the Richmond Enquirer, an avowed advocate of slavery, regardless of color” was affirmed in his campaign newspaper as follows: “We must stand on this principle, says the Richmond Enquirer—‘it is necessary to have menial offices; they must be filled with black or white slaves.’ ” Rail Splitter (Cincinnati), 15 August 1860, p. 2. In 1856 Lincoln said, “I have noticed in Southern newspapers, particularly the Richmond Enquirer, the Southern view of the Free States.” Collected Works 2:364. William H. Herndon wrote that Lincoln read the Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, but it is the Enquirer which Lincoln mentions by name in his speeches. The Hidden Lincoln, 96. Henry C. Whitney, a noted biographer and legal colleague of Lincoln’s, states, “Mr. Lincoln was a constant patron of the Richmond Enquirer, and obtained his idea of the drift of popular sentiment in the South largely, if not, indeed, chiefly, from that organ.” Lincoln the Citizen. February 12, 1809, to March 4, 1861 (N.Y., 1907), 267. Given that the Richmond Enquirer was unsurpassed throughout Virginia and the South for political reporting, when Lincoln spoke of the newspaper by name and said “the Richmond Enquirer, an avowed advocate of slavery, regardless of color,” he believed that the idea represented Southern mainstream political thought. Since George Fitzhugh is not mentioned in any of Lincoln’s writings, there is no evidence that Lincoln knew Fitzhugh was the author of the famous and often quoted anonymous editorial of December 15, 1855, or of other editorials based on the subject matter of Fitzhugh’s books and journal articles. To the contrary, Lincoln thought the politically powerful Roger A. Pryor was the author. William F. Ritchie and Roger A. Pryor were the daily editors in 1855 and 1856, the time in which Fitzhugh’s unsigned editorials were published. A line above each main editorial reads, “Wm. F. Ritchie and Roger A. Pryor, Editors,” and since Pryor was the politically astute one of the two, being an outspoken politician and previous editor of the Southside Democrat, it is entirely understandable why Lincoln believed the anonymous editorials on the failure of free society and the universality of slavery were written by him. In a discussion of the Democratic party, Lincoln’s campaign newspaper referred to “one of their own leaders, Roger A. Pryor.” Rail Splitter (Chicago), 14 July 1860, p. 2. Pryor’s political reputation gave the editorials a credibility which would not have been present otherwise. Collected Works 2:364, 369, 385, 3:431, 451, 4:6–7, 23 for Lincoln’s references to the Richmond Enquirer by name and Roger A. Pryor also. It is important to point out the fact that Lincoln was not alone in mistakenly attributing Fitzhugh’s anonymous editorials to Pryor. Congressman Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, and Henry C. Whitney, a colleague of Lincoln’s, did so as well. Dawes in Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 1st sess., 12 April 1860, appendix, 224–25. Wilson, How Ought Workingmen to Vote, 5. According to Wilson, O. Jennings Wise was an editor of the Richmond Enquirer in 1856, but Lester J. Cappon states that he was not affiliated with the paper until 1858. Virginia Newspapers 1821–1935: A Bibliography with Historical Introduction and Notes (N.Y., 1936), 171. Whitney, Lincoln the Citizen, 268n. Collected Works 3:205 for the Douglas reference, and 3:445 for the Bible reference. Rail Splitter (Cincinnati), 3 October 1860, p. 3. Rail Splitter (Chicago), 29 September 1860, p. 1. There were other references to “capital should own labor” in Lincoln’s campaign paper, including 15 August 1860 (Cincinnati), p. 1, 19 September, p. 2; 11 August 1860 (Chicago), p. 3, 18 August, p. 1, 25 August, p. 1, 1 September, p. 1, 22 September, p. 2, 6 October, p. 3. “We believe that capital should own labor” was part of an article entitled “Insults to Labor” which included the Richmond Enquirer quotes from the December 15, 1855 editorial proclaiming that slavery “does not depend upon difference of complexion,” and that “the laws of the Slave States justify the holding of white men in bondage.” This article also had other quotations from “The New ‘Democratic’ Doctrine” of 1856. Rail Splitter (Chicago), 29 September 1860, p. 2. To understand the true political context of Lincoln, it must be understood that unlike the Republican party of today which, generally speaking, has the reputation of being geared toward the rich and big business, the Republican party of Lincoln was a party with a social conscience geared toward the common man. Lincoln’s campaign newspaper especially illustrates the appeal he had as a laborer. In addition to being entitled the “Rail Splitter,” the nameplate of each Chicago edition pictures Lincoln with maul in hand splitting a rail. Also in the scene is a log cabin, exemplifying his humble beginning. The Cincinnati and Chicago editions contain many instances of Lincoln being referred to as the candidate of the working man.
15 Foner, History of the Labor Movement 1:307, 312
16 Foner and Shapiro, eds., Northern Labor and Antislavery, 258–59. As exemplified by the draft riots, all laborers did not speak with a unified voice during the Civil War. Iver Bernstein, The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (N.Y., 1990).
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