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HISTORICAL CONTEXT The American Civil War was fought, in Abraham Lincoln’s


The American Civil War was fought, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, because the Union could no longer exist “half slave and half free.” Four million Americans in the southern states were held in bondage. Many northerners believed that slave owners wanted to extend this system, while southerners felt that northerners were out to destroy the source of their wealth, their “peculiar institution” of black chattel slavery. The issues involved were not only about race; they were also about work.

As Americans, we long have taken it for granted that men and women should be free to learn the trade, craft, or profession they choose or to start a business making, buying, or selling goods. Whether or not individuals really do have an equal opportunity to succeed, most people in this country assume that equal opportunity is a good thing, that individuals should be free to do the best they can for themselves and their families, and that they should be enabled to seek economic success. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, many Americans believed that southern slavery threatened these assumptions.

The ideal of equality is often referred to as liberalism. For our purposes, we use the term liberalism to mean maximum civil liberty and economic opportunity for each individual. A liberal society is one where individuals seek their own betterment, unobstructed by inherited traits like race, gender, religion, or caste. Liberalism assumes that humans are born equal and that no one deserves more or less than another because of ascribed status (e.g., being born a prince or a peasant, a duke or a slave). Ideally, a liberal society enhances the freedom of each individual to maximize his or her economic opportunity and to compete against others on equal terms.

Liberalism in this sense is so much a part of American ideology and seems so common to us that it is hard to imagine alternatives. Yet the liberal ideal is rather new. When Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations just two centuries ago, his argument that unobstructed individual freedom to compete in open markets rendered the greatest good to both individuals and soci­ eties was quite new. Open markets meant that neither prices of goods nor wages for labor should be fixed by custom; one could sell one’s muscle power, skills, ideas, inventions, and goods for the maximum amount someone else was willing to pay. Before Smith’s time, various forms of servi­tude were the predominant forms of labor: Serfs and peasants were obligated to work particular lands for particular individuals; African and Indian slaves in the Americas were bought and sold; and even apprentices and indentured servants in the American colonies were not able to render their labor freely to the highest bidder but instead owed it to others for years at a time. The ideal of a liberal society grew increasingly compelling throughout Europe and its colonial dependencies during the nineteenth century, though the reality of true equal opportunity remained elusive.

In his classic study entitled Democracy in America, published in the 1830s, the French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at how completely Americans accepted the ideology of equality; unlike in his country, no tradition of respect for kings and aristocrats called into question maximum equality as a social ideal. Perhaps better than anyone else, Abraham Lincoln articulated the liberal creed. Indeed, his ability to give poetic expression to it precisely when these cherished beliefs were being threatened by the breakup of the Union made him a compelling political figure. Lincoln declared on the eve of his race for the presidency against Steven A. Douglas:

The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor—the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all, gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.

Such a system, it was argued, gave wealth, happiness, and autonomy to the greatest number of people; each individual seeking his own good maximized society’s benefits.

Lincoln added that a person who continued through life as a hired laborer did so not because of any fault in the system, but “because of either a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly, or singular misfortune.” Even on the eve of the Civil War, this was an overly optimistic assessment of opportunity in America. The trend was toward consolidation, and while the numbers of small businesses did grow, an ever- increasing proportion of Americans were working as employees, and the great majority of these would be employees for life. The division of labor grew always finer, factories and shops grew ever larger, and, even in the country, farms became places where hired hands worked for others. Yet the ideals that Lincoln espoused were so attractive to Americans that they would continue to be taken as descriptions of reality long after a minority of citizens owned productive property (farms, businesses, factories, and so on) and the vast majority worked for them.

The very belief that employees had every expectation of someday becoming employers muted potential conflict between the two classes. After all, both shared the values of hard work, productivity, self-improvement, and autonomy, and both believed they were part of a system that could fulfill those values. The problem, of course, was that individuals who were free to acquire productive property were also free to take charge of more and more resources, monopolize markets, keep others out of the system, and control prices and wages. A truly open and egalitarian society is one that is easily threatened because when wealth and power do accumulate, there are few institutions or individuals strong enough to check their influence.

Karl Marx viewed this problem as inherent in capitalist economies. Marx wrote his critique of liberal society during the middle of the nineteenth century’. He argued that capitalism whether in his native Germany, in England, where he was writing, or in America, which he studied inevitably concentrated power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands and that, before long, a small number of individuals monopolized goods and serv­ ices and exploited the masses for their own private benefit. For Marx, the fact that individuals were equal in the eyes of the law and free to enter economic markets was a cruel sham; power rested with the ownership of productive property, liberal ideology notwithstanding.

But one did not have to be a follower of Marx to be a critic of capitalism. In the following documents, we see how the central liberal ideal of autonomy—of individual independence from oppressive concentrations of power—seemed threatened on the eve of the Civil War.


      Introduction to Documents 1 and 2

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case was a bombshell. It is not an exaggeration to say that many northerners found the decision so threatening and immoral that antislavery ideas, previously seen as too radical, now were appealing. A clear path led from Dred Scott to the popularity of the new Republican Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the secession of the southern states.

The case seemed like a simple one. Dred Scott, a slave, sued for freedom for himself and his family in his home state of Missouri in 1846. He had been taken into territory declared free under the Missouri Compromise, and many slaves previously had been manumitted by judicial decision under similar circumstances. In 1850, a St. Louis court, not unexpectedly, decided in Scott’s favor. Two years later, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned that decision. As we have seen, the conflict over slavery was beginning to boil in the 1850s; everyone knew that the Dred Scott decision would be important, but no one expected what the U.S. Supreme Court was about to do.

Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opinion, though the decision was so momentous that all nine justices, including the two who voted in the minority, offered written remarks. Taney took an extreme view, and his opinion, legal scholars and histori­ ans seem to agree, was one of the most poorly conceived in the Court’s history. The federal government, he declared, had no right to limit slavery in the territories, which it had done with some success in the compromises of 1820, 1850, and 1854. The Missouri Compromise and all succeeding efforts to keep a lid on the volatile issue of slavery in the territories were now null and void. He went further, writing that the right to hold slaves was as absolute as the right to hold any property, which all states were bound to enforce. More, he ruled that blacks were granted neither rights nor protections under the Constitution, that from the founding, African Americans were viewed as “beings of an inferior order”; that they were “unfit to associate with the white race”; that they “possessed no rights which the white man was bound to respect”; and that they had been “justly and lawfully reduced to slavery.”

There was, of course, abundant racism in the “free states,” and most northerners were willing to let slavery be. But they were not willing to accept what looked like an assault on their land and their ideals. Taney’s decision opened the door to endless problems, not the least of which was the spectacle of southern slave hunters unrestrained in their invasion of northern cities as they’ searched for lost property. It was not a long stretch from Justice McClean’s dissent to the feeling that an’ aggressive southern “Slave Power” now ran roughshod over northern law and custom.

… The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution. The right to traffic in it, like an ordinary article of merchandise and property, was guarantied to the cit­ izens of the United States, every State that might desire it, for twenty years. And the Government in express terms is pledged to protect it in all future time, if the slave escapes from his owner. This is done in plain words—too plain to be misunderstood. And no word can be found in the Constitution which gives Congress a greater power over slave property, or which entitles property of that kind to less protection than property of any other description. The only power conferred is the power coupled with the duty of guarding and protecting the owner in his rights.

Upon these considerations, it is the opinion of the court that the act of Congress which pro­ hibited a citizen from holding and owning property of this kind in the territory of the United States north of the line therein mentioned, is not warranted by the Constitution, and is therefore void; and that neither Dred Scott himself, nor any of his family, were made free by being carried into this territory; even if they had been carried there by the owner, with the intention of becom­ ing a permanent resident.

We have so far examined the case as it stands under the Constitution of the United States and the powers thereby delegated to the Federal Government.

But there is another point in the case which depends on State power and State law. And it is contended, on the part of the plaintiff, that he is made free by being taken to Rock Island, in the State of Illinois, independently of his residence in the territory of the United States; and being so made free, he was not again reduced to a state of slavery by being brought back to Missouri.

Our notice of this part of the case will be very brief; for the principle on which it depends was decided in this court upon much consideration in the case of Strader et al. v. Graham. … In that case, the slaves had been taken from Kentucky to Ohio, with the consent of the owner, and afterwards brought back to Kentucky. And this court held that their status or condition, as free or slave, depended on the laws Kentucky, when they were brought back into that State, and not of Ohio; and that this court had no jurisdiction to revise the judgment of a state court upon its own laws. This was the point directly before the court, and the decision that this court had no jurisdic­ tion turned upon it, as will be seen by the report of the case.

So in this case. As Scott was a slave when taken into the state of Illinois by his owner, and was there held as such, and brought back in that character, his status as free or slave depended on the laws of Missouri, and not of Illinois. . . .

Upon the whole, therefore, it is the judgment of this court, that it appears by the record before us that the plaintiff in error is not a citizen of Missouri, in the sense in which the word is used in the Constitution; and that the Circuit Court of the United States, for that reason, had no jurisdiction in the case, and could give no judgment in it. Its judgment for the defendant must, consequently, be reversed, and a mandate issued, directing the suit to be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

       DOCUMENT 2: Dissenting Opinion, Justice    John McClean, March 6,1857

. . . The sovereignty of the Federal Government extends to the entire limits of our territory. Should any foreign power invade our jurisdiction, it would be repelled. There is a law of Congress to punish our citizens for crimes committed in districts of country where there is no organized Government. … If there be a right to acquire territory, there necessarily must be an implied power to govern it. …

The States of Missouri and Illinois are bounded by a common line. The one prohibits slavery, the other admits it. This has been done by the exercise of that sovereign power which appertains to each. We are bound to respect the institutions of each, as emanating from the voluntary action of people. Have the people of either any right to disturb the relations of the other? Each State rests upon the basis of its own sovereignty, protected by the Constitution. Our Union has been the foundation of our prosperity and national glory. Shall we not cherish and maintain it? This can only be done by respecting the legal rights of each State.

If a citizen of a State shall entice or enable a slave to escape from the service of his master, the law holds him responsible, not only for the loss of the slave, but he is liable to be indicted and fined for the misdemeanor. . ..

Let these facts be contrasted with the case now before the Court. Illinois has declared in the most solemn and impressive form that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in that State, and that any slave brought into it, with a view of becoming a resident shall be emanci­ pated. And effect has been given to this provision of the Constitution by the decision of the Supreme Court of that State. With a full knowledge of these facts, a slave is brought from Missouri to Rock Island, in the State of Illinois, and is retained there as a slave for two years, and then taken to Fort Snelling, where slavery is prohibited by the Missouri Compromise Act, and there he is detained two years longer in a state of slavery. Harriet, his wife, was also kept at the same place four years as a slave, having been purchased in Missouri. They were then removed to the State of Missouri, and sold as slaves, and in the action before us they are not only claimed as slaves, but a majority of my brethren have held that on their being returned to Missouri the status of slavery attached to them.

I am not able to reconcile this result with respect due to the State of Illinois. Having the same rights of sovereignty as the State of Missouri in adopting a Constitution, I can perceive no reason why the institutions of Illinois should not receive the same consideration as those of Missouri. Allowing to my brethren the same right of judgment that I exercise myself, I must be permitted to say that it seems to me the principle laid down will enable the people of a slave State to introduce slavery into a free State, for a longer or shorter time, as may suit their convenience; and by returning the slave to the State whence he was brought, by force or otherwise, the status of slavery attaches, and protects the rights of the master, and defies the sovereignty of the free State. . . .

      Introduction to Documents 3 and 4

Hinton Rowan Helper’s Impending Crisis of the South and George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters were extreme books in their day. Both were published in 1857, just as the fragile compromises that had kept the union together were coming apart. Helper went much further than most northerners in his vituperation against the slaveholders. Similarly, Fitzhugh’s argument that slavery should not be confined to blacks but was the appropriate condition for most people was an extremist stance that was rejected by his fellow slave­ holders. But by taking radical positions, each man sharpened the debate. Southerners suspected that most northerners secretly agreed with Helper but were unwilling to admit it; northerners feared that Fitzhugh actually spoke for a power-hungry “slavepower” conspiracy that wanted to enslave most free white men in the North as well as in the South.

Note that Helper’s hatred of slavery did not arise from sympathy for African Americans. On the contrary, he believed they were, whether slave or free, an “undesirable population” and that, once emancipated, they should be colonized in Africa, though nearly all had been born and raised in America. Rather, it was the alleged contrast of what free labor did for the North and slave labor for the South that he dwelled on: “In the former, wealth, intelligence, power, progress, and prosperity are the prominent characteristics; In the latter, poverty, ignorance, imbecility, inertia, and extravagance, are the distinguishing features.” Slavery’s impact on poor whites most concerned Helper, for by concentrating wealth (land and slaves) in the hands of the few, he argued, the system degraded the majority.

George Fitzhugh, on the other hand, argued that so-called free society made cannibals of all and rendered humans selfish and heartless. The solution was not, as many northern reformers would have it, to tinker with society to make it more humane. “To secure true progress,” Fitzhugh declared, “we must unfetter genius and chain down mediocrity. Liberty for the fewr—Slavery, in every form, for the mass.” Or, even more pithily: “ ‘Some were born with saddles on their backs, and others booted and spurred to ride them’—and the riding does them good.”

Fitzhugh explicitly rejected race as the basis for enslavement; racism, he felt, hardened masters’ hearts toward their slaves. He was a true conservative in the classical sense of the word. He argued that humans, white or black, were not born with equal inheritances of money or talent, so that, for most, liberty’ meant merely the chance to be exploited by those more rich, powerful, or intelligent. Freedom, progress, equality of opportunity, and autonomous individualism were all pipe dreams. Human beings, Fitzhugh believed, were predators, and only systems of bondage recognized this fact, but they mollified it by imposing mutual rights and obligations on masters and slaves. The ideology of equal opportunity, of capitalism, he argued, was merely a ruse by which the strong exploited the weak. The world, he concluded, was too little governed; most people needed masters to tell them what to do.

If the following passages are extreme, they give a good sense of the clash of northern and southern economic systems and the underlying values that would soon explode in civil war.

            DOCUMENT 3: From Cannibals All!

George Fitzhugh

The universal Trade

We are all, North and South, engaged in the White Slave Trade, and he who succeeds best is esteemed most respectable. It is far more cruel than the Black Slave Trade, because it exacts more of its slaves, and neither protects nor governs them. We boast that it exacts more when we say, “that the profits made from employing free labor are greater than those from slave labor.” The profits, made from free labor are the amount of the products of such labor, which the employer, by means of the command which capital or skill gives him, takes away, exacts, or “exploitâtes” from the free laborer. The profits of slave labor are that portion of the products of such labor which the power of the master enables him to appropriate. These profits are less, because the master allows the slave to retain a larger share of the results of his own labor than do the employers of free labor. But we not only boast that the White Slave Trade is more exacting and fraudulent (in fact, though not in intention) than Black Slavery; but we also boast that it is more cruel, in leaving the laborer to take care of himself and family out of the pittance which skill or capital have allowed him to retain. When the day’s labor is ended, he is free, but is overburdened with the cares of family and household, which make his freedom an empty and delusive mockery. But his employer is really free, and may enjoy the profits made by others’ labor, without a care, or a trouble, as to their well­ being. The negro slave is free, too, when the labors of the day are over, and free in mind as well as body; for the master provides food, raiment, house, fuel, and everything else necessary to the physical well-being of himself and family. The master’s labors commence just when the slave’s end. No wonder men should prefer white slavery to capital, to negro slavery, since it is more prof­ itable, and is free from all the cares and labors of black slave-holding… .

The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care nor labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, not more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. Besides, they have their Sabbaths and holidays. White men, with so much of license and liberty, would die of ennui; but negroes luxuriate in corporeal and mental repose. With their faces upturned to the sun, they can sleep at any hour; and quiet sleep is the greatest of human enjoyments. “Blessed be the man who invented sleep.” ’Tis happiness in itself—and results from contentment with the present, and confident assurance of the future. We do not know whether free laborers ever sleep. They are fools to do so; for, whilst they sleep, the wily and watchful capitalist is devising means to ensnare and exploitate them. The free laborer must work or starve. He is more of a slave than the negro, because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares of life with him begin when its labors end. He has no liberty, and not a single right.. ..

We agree with Mr. Jefferson that all men have natural and inalienable rights. To violate or disregard such rights, is to oppose the designs and plans of Providence, and cannot “come to good.” The order and subordination observable in the physical, animal, and human world show that some are formed for higher, others for lower stations—the few to command, the many to obey. We conclude that about nineteen out of every twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands, or masters; in other words, they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are as clearly bom or educated or some way fitted for command and liberty. Not to make them rulers or masters is as great a violation of natural right as not to make slaves of the mass. A very little individuality is use­ ful and necessary to society—much of it begets discord, chaos and anarchy….

      Liberty and Slavery

… What is falsely called Free Society is a very recent invention. It proposes to make the weak, ignorant, and poor, free, by turning them loose in a world owned exclusively by the few (whom nature and education have made strong, and whom property has made stronger) to get a living. In the fanciful state of nature, where property is unappropriated, the strong have no weapons but superior physical and mental power with which to oppress the weak. Their power of oppression is increased a thousand fold when they become the exclusive owners of the earth and all the things thereon. They are masters without the obligations of masters, and the poor are slaves without the rights of slaves.

It is generally conceded, even by abolitionists, that the serfs of Europe were liberated because the multitude of laborers and their competition as freemen to get employment, had rendered free labor cheaper than slave labor. But, strange to say, few seem to have seen that this is in fact asserting that they were less free after emancipation than before. Their obligation to labor was increased; for they were compelled to labor more than before to obtain a livelihood, else their free labor would not have been cheaper than their labor as slaves. They lost something in liberty, and everything in rights—for emancipation liberated or released the masters from all their burdens, cares, and liabilities, whilst it increased both the labors and the cares of the liberated serf… .

     The Family

All modern philosophy converges to a single point—the overthrow of all government, the substitution of the untrammelled “Sovereignty of the Individual” for the Sovereignty of Society, and the inauguration of anarchy. First domestic slavery, next religious institutions,

then separate property, then political government, and, finally, family government and family relations, are to be swept away. This is the distinctly avowed programme of all able abolition­ ists and socialists; and towards this end the doctrines and the practices of the weakest and most timid among them tend. . . .

It is pleasing, however, to turn from the world of political economy, in which “might makes right,” and strength of mind and of body are employed to oppress and exact from the weak, to that other and better, and far more numerous world, in which weakness rules, clad in the armor of affection and benevolence. . . . The infant, in its capricious dominion over mother, father, brothers and sisters, exhibits, in strongest colors, the “strength of weakness,” the power of affection. The wife and daughters are more carefully attended by the father, than the sons, because they are weaker and elicit more of his affection. .. .

But, besides wife and children, brothers and sister, dogs, horses, birds and flowers—slaves, also, belong to the family circle. Does their common humanity, their abject weakness and dependence, their great value, their ministering to our wants in childhood, manhood, sickness and old age, cut them off from that affection which everything else in the family elicits? No; the interests of master and slave are bound up together, and each in his appropriate sphere naturally endeavors to promote the happiness of the other.

The humble and obedient slave exercises more or less control over the most brutal and hard-hearted master. It is an invariable law of nature, that weakness and dependence are elements of strength, and generally sufficiently limit that universal despotism, observable throughout human and animal nature. The moral and physical world is but a series of subordinations, and the more perfect the subordination, the greater the harmony and the happiness. . ..

   Government a Thing of Force, Not of Consent

We do not agree with the authors of the Declaration of Independence, that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The women, the children, the negroes, and but few of the non-property holders were consulted, or consented to the Revolution, or the govern­ ments that ensued from its success. As to these, the new governments were self-elected despo­ tisms, and the governing class self-elected despots. Those governments originated in force, and have been continued by force. All governments must originate in force, and be continued by force. The very term, government, implies that it is carried on against the consent of the governed. Fathers do not derive their authority, as heads of families, from the consent of wife and children, nor do they govern their families by their consent. They never take the vote of the family as to the labors to be performed, the moneys to be expended, or as to anything else. Masters dare not take the vote of slaves as to their government. If they did, constant holiday, dissipation, and extrava­ gance would be the result. Captains of ships are not appointed by the consent of the crew, and never take their vote, even in “doubling Cape Hom.” If they did, the crew would generally vote to get drunk, and the ship would never weather the cape. Not even in the most democratic countries are soldiers governed by their consent, nor is their vote taken on the eve of battle. They have some how lost (or never had) the “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and, whether Americans or Russians, are forced into battle without and often against their consent. Riots, mobs, strikes, and revolutions are daily occurring. The mass of mankind cannot be gov­ erned by Law. More of despotic discretion, and less of Law, is what the world wants. We take our leave by saying “There is too much of Law and too little of Government in this world.”

. . . The negro sees the driver’s lash, becomes accustomed to obedient cheerful industry, and is not aware that the lash is the force that impels him. The free citizen fulfills con amore, his round of social, political, and domestic duties, and never dreams that the Law, with its fines and jails, penitentiaries and halters, or Public Opinion, with its ostracism, its mobs, and its tar and feathers, help to keep him revolving in his orbit. Yet, remove these physical forces, and how many good citizens would shoot, like firey comets, from their spheres, and disturb society with their eccentricities and their crimes.

  DOCUMENT 4: From The Impending crisis of the South 

             Hinton Rowan Helper

It is a fact well known to every intelligent Southerner that we are compelled to go to the North for almost every article of utility and adornment, from matches, shoepegs and paintings up to cotton­ mills, steamships and statuary; that we have no foreign trade, no princely merchants, nor respectable artists; that, in comparison with the free states, we contribute nothing to the literature, polite arts and inventions of the age . .. that almost everything produced at the North meets with ready sale, while, at the same time, there is no demand, even among our own citizens, for the pro­ ductions of Southern industry; that, owing to the absence of a proper system of business amongst us, the North becomes, in one way or another, the proprietor and dispenser of all our floating wealth, and that we are dependent on Northern capitalists for the means necessary to build our railroads, canals and other public improvements … and that nearly all the profits arising from the exchange of commodities, from insurance and shipping offices, and from the thousand and one industrial pursuits of the country, accrue to the North, and are there invested in the erection of those magnificent cities and stupendous works of art which dazzle the eyes of the South, and attest the superiority of free institutions! . . .

In our opinion . . . , the causes which have impeded the progress and prosperity of the South, which have dwindled our commerce, and other similar pursuits, into the most con­ temptible insignificance; sunk a large majority of our people in galling poverty and ignorance, rendered a small minority conceited and tyrannical, and driven the rest away from their homes; entailed upon us a humiliating dependence on the Free States; disgraced us in the recesses of our own souls, and brought us under reproach in the eyes of all civilized and enlightened nations— may all be traced to one common source, and there find solution in the most hateful and horrible word, that was ever incorporated into the vocabulary of human economy—Slavery!

Reared amidst the institution of slavery, believing it to be wrong both in principle and in practice, and having seen and felt its evil influences upon individuals, communities and states, we deem it a duty, no less than a privilege, to enter our protest against it, and to use our most strenu­ ous efforts to overturn and abolish it! Then we are an abolitionist? Yes! not merely a freesoiler, but an abolitionist, in the fullest sense of the term. We are not only in favor of keeping slavery out of the territories, but, carrying our opposition to the institution a step further, we here unhesitatingly declare ourself in favor of its immediate and unconditional abolition, in every state in this confederacy, where it now exists! Patriotism makes us a freesoiler; state pride makes us an emancipationist; a profound sense of duty to the South makes us an abolitionist; a reason­ able degree of fellow feeling for the negro, makes us a colonizationist. . . .

In the South, unfortunately, no kind of labor is either free or respectable. Every white man who is under the necessity of earning his bread, by the sweat of his brow, or by manual labor, in any capacity, no matter how unassuming in deportment, or exemplary in morals, is treated as if he was a loathsome beast, and shunned with the utmost disdain. His soul may be the very seat of honor and integrity, yet without slaves—himself a slave—he is accounted as nobody, and would be deemed intolerably presumptuous, if he dared to open his mouth, even so wide as to give faint utterance to a three-lettered monosyllable, like yea or nay, in the presence of an august knight of the whip and the lash….

Notwithstanding the fact that the white non-slaveholders of the South, are in the majority, as five to one, they have never yet had any part or lot in framing the laws under which they live. There is no legislation except for the benefit of slavery, and slaveholders. As a general rule, poor white persons are regarded with less esteem and attention than negroes, and though the condition of the latter is wretched beyond description, vast numbers of the former are infinitely worse off.. ..

Non-slaveholders of the South! farmers, mechanics and workingmen, we take this occasion to assure you that the slaveholders, the arrogant demagogues whom you have elected to offices of honor and profit, have hoodwinked you, trifled with you, and used you as mere tools for the con­ summation of their wicked designs. They have purposely kept you in ignorance, and have, by moulding your passions and prejudices to suit themselves, induced you to act in direct opposition to your dearest rights and interests…. Not at the persecution of a few thousand slaveholders, but at the restitution of natural rights and prerogatives to several millions of non-slaveholders, do we aim.

Henceforth, let it be distinctly understood that ownership of slaves constitutes ineligibility— that it is a crime, as we verily believe it is, to vote for a slavocrat for any office whatever. Indeed, it is our honest conviction that all the proslavery slaveholders, who are alone responsible for the continuance of the baneful institution among us, deserve to be at once reduced to a parallel with the basest criminals that lie fettered within the cells of our public prisons. Beyond the power of compu­ tation is the extent of the moral, social, civil, and political evils which they have brought, and are still bringing, on the country….

And, then, there is the Presidency of the United States, which office has been held forty-eight years by slaveholders from the South, and only twenty years by non-slaveholders from the North. Nor is this the full record of oligarchal obtrusion. On an average, the offices of Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of War, Postmaster-General and Attorney-General, have been under the control of slavedrivers nearly two-thirds of the time. The Chief Justices and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, the Presidents pro tern, of the Senate, and the Speakers of the House of Representatives, have, in a large majority of instances, been slave-breeders from the Southern side of the Potomac….

With all our heart, we hope and believe it is the full and fixed determination of a majority of the more intelligent and patriotic citizens of this Republic, that the Presidential chair shall never again be filled by a slavocrat. Safely may we conclude that the doom of the oligarchy is already sealed with respect to that important and dignified station. . . .

Some few years ago, when certain ethnographical oligarchs proved to their own satisfaction that the negro was an inferior “type of mankind,” they chuckled wonderfully, and avowed, in sub­ stance, that it was right for the stronger race to kidnap and enslave the weaker—that because Nature had been pleased to do a trifle more for the Caucasian race than for the African, the former, by virtue of its superiority, was perfectly justifiable in holding the latter in absolute and perpetual bondage! No system of logic could be more antagonistic to the spirit of true democracy. It is probable that the world does not contain two persons who are exactly alike in all respects; yet “aZZ men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All mankind may or may not be the descendants of Adam and Eve.

In our own humble way of thinking, we are frank to confess, we do not believe in the unity of the races. This is a matter, however, which has little or nothing to do with the great question at issue.

Aside from any theory concerning the original parentage of the different races of men, facts, material and immaterial, palpable and impalpable—facts of the eyes and facts of the conscience crowd around us on every hand, heaping proof upon proof, that slavery is a shame, a crime, and a curse—a great moral, social, civil, and political evil—an oppressive burden to the blacks, and an incalculable injury to the whites—a stumbling-block to the nation, an impediment to progress, a damper on all the nobler instincts, principles, aspirations and enterprises of man, and a dire enemy to every true interest.

    Introduction to Document 5

If Fitzhugh and Helper were extremists, Abraham Lincoln and Steven A. Douglas spoke for the great majority of moderate Americans. Yet their famous debates—stretching across Illinois through the summer and fall of 1858 and resulting in Douglas’s reelection to the U.S. Senate—signaled just how intractable the issue of slavery had become.

For years, the territories, those lands that eventually would become states, had been a source of trouble. Not only did new states have the potential to tip the balance of power, North versus South, in the federal government, but the vast western lands also had great emotional significance. The West was a lightning rod for the ideals of rural self- sufficiency, republican virtue, democratic government, and equality of opportunity. Compromises had been reached, notably in 1820 and 1850, but the issue of slavery in the territories kept threatening to explode, and in the late 1850s, Stephen Douglas’s support for popular sovereignty relit the fuse.

Douglas insisted that the West must be kept open for new white men to succeed and prosper, to create the local institutions that best served their interests. Lincoln coun­ tered that the western territories should become free states in order to confine slavery and put it on the road to eventual extinction.

Fitzhugh and Helper argued about slavery as a labor system; for both men, the key issues were how work was organized, how goods were distributed, and how power was exercised. Douglas, on the other hand, was much more explicit in arguing on grounds of race. He invoked white fears of black economic and even sexual predations. Lincoln defended himself against Douglas’s attacks by making clear his belief in blacks’ inferiority— intellectual, physical, and social—yet insisted that this in no way should stand in the way of their natural rights. Above all, he insisted that all men possessed a God-given claim to the fruit of their labor. What set America apart from other nations was the right of all to better themselves to the extent that their initiative and hard work allowed. So long as men might secure economic autonomy, Lincoln believed, freedom could survive.

DOCUMENT 5 : The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

First Debate, August 21,1858, Ottawa, Illinois


… I ask you, are you in favor of conferring upon the negro the rights and privileges of cit­ izenship? Do you desire to strike out of our State constitution that clause which keeps slaves and free negroes out of the State, and allow the free negroes to flow in, and cover your prairies with black settlements? Do you desire to turn this beautiful State into a free negro colony, in order that when Missouri abolishes slavery she can send one hundred thousand emancipated slaves into Illinois, to become citizens and voters, on an equality with yourselves? If you desire negro citi­ zenship, if you desire to allow them to come into the State and settle with the white man, if you desire them to vote on an equality with yourselves, and to make them eligible to office, to serve on juries, and to adjudge your rights, then support Mr. Lincoln and the Black Republican party, who are in favor of the citizenship of the negro. For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form. I believe this government was made on the white basis. I believe it was made by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and I am in favor of confin­ ing citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon

negroes, Indians, and other inferior races. . . .


… I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality; and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects—certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.. ..

Second Debate, August 27,1858, Freeport, Illinois


. . . The last time I came here to make a speech, while talking from the stand to you, peo­ ple of Freeport, as I am doing today, I saw a carriage, and a magnificent one it was, drive up and take a position on the outside of the crowd; a beautiful young lady was sitting on the box-seat, whilst Fred Douglass and her mother reclined inside, and the owner of the carriage acted as driver. I saw this in your own town…. All I have to say of it is this, that if you Black Republicans think that the negro ought to be on a social equality with your wives and daughters, and ride in a carriage with your wife, whilst you drive the team, you have perfect right to do so. I am told that one of Fred Douglass’s kinsmen, another rich black negro, is now traveling in this part of the State making speeches for his friend Lincoln as the champion of black men…. All I have to say on that subject is, that those of you who believe that the negro is your equal and ought to be on an equality with you socially, politically, and legally, have a right to entertain those opinions, and of course will vote for Mr. Lincoln.

* Fourth Debate, September 18,1858, Charleston, Illinois


… I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. … I have never had the least apprehen­ sion that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it; but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there was no law to keep them from it, I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. …

* Fifth Debate, October 7,1858, Galesburg, Illinois


. .. The signers of the Declaration of Independence never dreamed of the negro when they were writing that document. They referred to white men, to men of European birth and European descent, when they declared the equality of all men. I see a gentleman there in the crowd shaking his head. Let me remind him that when Thomas Jefferson wrote that document he was the owner, and so continued until his death, of a large number of slaves. Did he intend to say in that Declaration that his negro slaves, which he held and treated as property, were created his equals by divine law, and that he was violating the law of God every day of his life by holding them as slaves? It must be borne in mind that when that Declaration was put forth, every one of the thirteen colonies were slave-holding colonies, and every man who signed that instrument repre­ sented a slaveholding constituency. Recollect, also, that no one of them emancipated his slaves, much less put them on an equality with himself, after he signed the Declaration. On the contrary, they all continued to hold their negroes as slaves during the Revolutionary War. Now, do you

believe—are you willing to have it said—that every man who signed the Declaration of Independence declared the negro his equal, and then was hypocrite enough to hold him as a slave, in violation of what he believed to be the divine law? And yet when you say that the Declaration of Independence includes the negro, you charge the signers of it with hypocrisy.

I say to you frankly, that in my opinion this government was made by our fathers on the white basis. It was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and was intended to be administered by white men in all time to come. But while I hold that under our Constitution and political system the negro is not a citizen, cannot be a citizen, and ought not to be a citizen, it does not follow by any means that he should be a slave. On the con­ trary, it does follow that the negro as an inferior race ought to possess every right, every privilege, every immunity which he can safely exercise consistent with the safety of the society in which he lives. Humanity requires, and Christianity commands, that you shall extend to every inferior being, and every dependent being, all the privileges, immunities, and advantages which can be granted to them consistent with the safety of society. If you ask me the nature and extent of these privileges, I answer that that is a question which the people of each State must decide for them­ selves. Illinois has decided that question for herself. We have said that in this State the negro shall not be a slave, nor shall he be a citizen. Kentucky holds a different doctrine.. .. Illinois had as much right to adopt the policy which we have oh that subject as Kentucky had to adopt a different policy. The great principle of this government is that each State has the right to do as it pleases on all these questions, and no other State or power on earth has the right to interfere with us, or complain of us merely because our system differs from theirs. In the compromise measures of 1850, Mr. Clay declared that this great principle ought to exist in the Territories as well as in the States, and I reasserted his doctrine in the Kansas and Nebraska bill in 1854. .. .

* Seventh Debate, October 15,1858, Alton, Illinois


… The real issue in this controversy—the one pressing upon every mind—is the sentiment on the part of one class that looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong, and of another class that does not look upon it as a wrong. The sentiment that contemplates the institution of slavery in this country as a wrong is the sentiment of the Republican party. It is the sentiment around which all their actions, all their arguments, circle; from which all their propositions radiate. They look upon it as being a moral, social, and political wrong; and while they contemplate it as such, they nevertheless have due regard for its actual existence among us, and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and to all the constitutional obligations thrown about it. Yet having a due regard for these, they desire a policy in regard to it that looks to its not creating any more danger. . . .

. . . [Douglas] contends that whatever community wants slaves has a right to have them. So they have if it is not a wrong. But if it is a wrong, he cannot say people have a right to do wrong. . ..

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You toil and work and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.. ..

   Introduction to Document 6

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was probably the best-known book in America during the nineteenth century. the Bible excepted. The work set off a firestorm of controversy when first published in 1851-1852. Stowe’s story drew on the conventions of melodrama: exciting scenes of escape and rescue, of cruelty and forbearance, of suffering and redemption, and of pure good and evil. Stowe used this dramatic form to write an impassioned condemnation of slavery. This passage is taken from the end of the book. Here, Stowe finished her narrative and now told the reader in the didactic style of the day how the curse of slavery might be ended. Note how she brought together the themes of economic opportunity, virtuous hard work, sacred motherhood, and evangelical religion in her indictment of slavery.

Abraham Lincoln allegedly called Stowe “the little woman who started the big war.” He exaggerated, of course, but the debate over slave labor versus free labor eventually consumed the nation.

 DOCUMENT 6: From Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life Among the Lowly

Harriet Beecher Stowe

The writer has given only a faint shadow, a dim picture, of the anguish and despair that are, at this very moment, riving thousands of hearts, shattering thousands of families, and driving a helpless and sensitive race to frenzy and despair. There are those living who know the mothers whom this accursed traffic has driven to the murder of their children; and themselves seeking in death a shel­ ter from woes more dreaded than death. Nothing of tragedy can be written, can be spoken, can be conceived, that equals the frightful reality of scenes daily and hourly acting on our shores, beneath the shadow of American law, and the shadow of the cross of Christ. …

But, what can any individual do? Of that, every individual can judge. There is one thing that every individual can do,—They can see to it that they feel right. An atmosphere of sympathetic influence encircles every human being; and the man or woman who feels strongly, healthily, and

justly on the great interests of humanity, is a constant benefactor to the human race. See, then, to your sympathies in this matter! Are they in harmony with the sympathies of Christ? or are they swayed and perverted by the sophistries of worldly policy?

Christian men and women of the north! still further,—you have another power; you can pray! Do you believe in prayer? or has it become an indistinct apostolic tradition? You pray for the heathen abroad; pray also for the heathen at home. And pray for those distressed Christians whose whole chance of religious improvement is an accident of trade and sale: from whom any

adherence to the morals of Christianity is, in many cases, an impossibility, unless they have given them, from above the courage and grace of martyrdom.

But, still more. On the shores of our free states are emerging the poor, shattered, broken remnants of families,—men and women, escaped, by miraculous providences, from the surges of slavery,—feeble in knowledge, and, in many cases, infirm in moral constitution, from a system which confounds and confuses every principle of Christianity and morality. They come to seek a refuge among you; they come to seek education, knowledge, Christianity.. ..

Do you say, “We don’t want them here; let them go to Africa?”

That the providence of God has provided a refuge in Africa, is, indeed, a great and notice­ able fact; but that is no reason why the Church of Christ should throw off that responsibility to this outcast race which her profession demands of her.

To fill up Liberia with an ignorant, inexperienced, half-barbarized race, just escaped from the chains of slavery, would be only to prolong, for ages, the period of struggle and conflict which attends the inception of new enterprises. Let the Church of the north receive these poor sufferers in the spirit of Christ; receive them to the educating advantages of Christian republican society and schools, until they have attained to somewhat of a moral and intellectual maturity, and then assist them in their passage to those shores, where they may put in practice the lessons they have learned in America….

The first desire of the emancipated slave, generally, is for education. There is nothing that they are not willing to give or do to have their children instructed; and, so far as the writer has observed herself, or taken the testimony of teachers among them, they are remarkably intelligent and quick to learn. The results of schools, founded for them by benevolent individuals in Cincinnati, fully establish this.

The author gives the following statement of facts, on the authority of Professor C. E. Stowe, then of Lane Seminary, Ohio, with regard to emancipated slaves, now resident in Cincinnati;

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin enjoyed astonishing success from the first year it was published. For millions of Americans, the book summed up the evils of slavery. (The Granger Collection, New York) given to show the capability of the race, even without an)/ very particular assistance or encouragement.

The initial letters alone are given. They are all residents of Cincinnati.

“B—. Furniture-maker; twenty years in the city; worth ten thousand dollars, all his own earnings; a Baptist.

“C—. Full black; stolen from Africa; sold in New Orleans; been free fifteen years; paid for himself six hundred dollars; a farmer; owns several farms in Indiana; Presbyterian; probably worth fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, all earned by himself.

“K—. Full black; dealer in real estate; worth thirty thousand dollars; about forty years old; free six years; paid eighteen hundred dollars for his family; member of the Baptist Church; received a legacy from his master, which he has taken good care of, and increased.

“G—. Full black; coal-dealer; about thirty years old; worth eighteen thousand dollars; paid for himself twice, being once defrauded to the amount of sixteen hundred dollars; made all his money by his own efforts,—much of it while a slave, hiring his time of his master, and doing busi­ ness for himself; a fine, gentlemanly fellow.

“W—. Three fourths black; barber and waiter; from Kentucky; nineteen years free; paid for self and family over three thousand dollars; worth twenty thousand dollars, all his own earn­ ings; deacon in the Baptist Church.

“G. D—. Three fourths black; whitewasher; from Kentucky; nine years free; paid fifteen hundred dollars for self and family; recently died, aged sixty; worth six thousand dollars.” . . .

If this persecuted race, with every discouragement and disadvantage, have done thus much, how much more they might do if the Christian Church would act towards them in the spirit of her Lord! …

A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian Church has a heavy account to answer. Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin is this Union to be saved,—but by repentance justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!

Introduction to Document 7

While whites debated the merits of slavery as a labor system, as a method of racial control, and as a means of producing and distributing wealth, blacks felt the lash on their backs.

For all of the agony of that era, the ideal of freedom remained intoxicating stuff. Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Maryland, but as he reached his twenty-first year, he resolved to risk all and flee north. From then on, he dedicated himself to the aboli­ tionist cause, and after the war, to the goal of freedmen’s rights. Douglass was in no sense naive about the racism that pervaded America nor about the difficult time that blacks had in the capitalist economy.

In the following open letter to his former master, written on the tenth anniversary of his flight from bondage, Douglass described the breakup of his family and thereby invoked the sanctity of that institution to reveal slavery in terms deeply offensive to all that northerners held dear. Douglass’s strategy was to paint slavery as antithetical to the most sacred American values.

 DOCUMENT 7: Open Letter to Thomas Auld

Frederick Douglass


   I have selected this day on which to address you, because it is the anniversary of my emancipation; and knowing of no better way, I am led to this as the best mode of celebrating that truly important event. . ..

I have often thought I should like to explain to you the grounds upon which I have justified myself in running away from you.. .. When yet but a child about six years old, I imbibed the determination to run away. The very first mental effort that I now remember on my part, was an attempt to solve the mystery, Why am I a slave? and with this question my youthful mind was troubled for many days, pressing upon me more heavily at times than others. When I saw the slave-driver whip a slave woman, cut the blood out of her neck, and heard her piteous cries, I went away into the comer of the fence, wept and pondered over the mystery. I had, through some medium, I know not what, got some idea of God, the Creator of all mankind, the black and the white, and that he had made the blacks to serve the whites as slaves. How he could do this and be good, I could not tell. I was not satisfied with this theory, which made God responsible for slavery, for it pained me greatly, and I have wept over it long and often. At one time, your first wife, Mrs. Lucretia, heard me singing and saw me shedding tears, and asked of me the matter, but I was afraid to tell her. I was puzzled with this question, till one night, while sitting in the kitchen, I heard some of the old slaves talking of their parents having been stolen from Africa by white men, and were sold here as slaves. The whole mystery was solved at once. Very soon after this my aunt Jinny and uncle Noah ran away, and the great noise made about it by your father-in-law, made me for the first time acquainted with the fact, that there were free States as well as slave

States. From that time, I resolved that I would some day run away. The morality of the act, I dispose as follows: I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons. What you are, I am. You are a man, and so am I. God created both, and made us separate beings. I am not by nature bound to you, or you to me. …

Since I left you, I have had a rich experience. I have occupied stations which I never dreamed of when a slave. Three out of the ten years since I left you, I spent as a common laborer on the wharves of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was there I earned my first free dollar. It was mine. I could spend it as I pleased. I could buy hams or herring with it, without asking any odds of any body. That was a precious dollar to me. You remember when I used to make seven or eight, or even nine dollars a week in Baltimore, you would take every cent of it from me every Saturday night, saying that I belonged to you, and my earnings also. I never liked this conduct on your part—to say the best, I thought it a little mean. .. .

… I married soon after leaving you: in fact, I was engaged to be married before I left you; and

instead of finding my companion a burden, she was truly a helpmeet. She went to live at service, and I to work on the wharf, and though we toiled hard the first winter, we never Jived more happily. After remaining in New Bedford for three years, I met with Wm. Lloyd Garrison, a person of whom you have possibly heard, as he is pretty generally known among slaveholders. He put it into my head that I might make myself serviceable to the cause of the slave by devoting a portion of my time to telling my own sorrows, and those of other slaves which had come under my observation. This was the commencement of a higher state of existence than any to which I had ever aspired. I was thrown into society the most pure, enlightened and benevolent that the country affords. Among these I have never forgotten you. but have invariably made you the topic of conversation—thus giving you all the notoriety I could do. I need not tell you that the opinion formed of you in these circles, is far from

being favorable. They have little respect for your honesty, and less for your religion.

… So far as my domestic affairs are concerned, I can boast of as comfortable a dwelling as your own. I have an industrious and neat companion and four dear children—the oldest a girl of nine years, and three fine boys, the oldest eight, the next six, and the youngest four years old. The three oldest are now going regularly to school—two can read and write, and the other can spell with tolerable correctness words of two syllables: Dear fellows! they are all in comfortable beds, and are sound asleep, perfectly secure under my own roof. There are no slaveholders here to rend my heart by snatching them from my arms, or blast a mother’s dearest hopes by tearing them from her bosom. … Oh! sir, a slaveholder never appears to me so completely an agent of hell, as when I think of and look upon my dear children. It is then that my feelings rise above my control. I meant to have said more with respect to my own prosperity and happiness, but thoughts and feelings which this recital has quickened unfits me to proceed further in that direction. The grim horrors of slavery rise in all their ghastly terror before me, the wails of millions pierce my heart, and chill my blood. I remember the chain, the gag, the bloody whip, the death-like gloom overshadowing the broken spirit of the fettered bondman, the appalling liability of his being torn away from wife and children, and sold like a beast in the market. Say not that this is a picture of fancy. You well know that I wear stripes on my back inflicted by your direction; and that you, while we were brothers in the same church, caused this right hand, with which I am now penning this letter, to be closely tied to my left, and my person dragged at the pistol’s mouth, fifteen miles, from the Bay side to Easton to be sold like a beast in the market, for the alleged crime of intending to escape from your possession. All this and more you remember, and know to be perfectly true, not only of yourself, but of nearly all of the slaveholders around you.

At this moment, you are probably the guilty holder of at least three of my own dear sisters, and my only brother in bondage. These you regard as your property. They are recorded on your ledger, or perhaps have been sold to human flesh mongers, with a view to filling your own ever-hungry purse. Sir, I desire to know how and where these dear sisters are. Have you sold them? or are they still in your possession? What has become of them? are they living or dead? And my dear old grand-mother, whom you turned out like an old horse, to die in the woods—is she still alive? Write and let me know all about them. If my grandmother be still alive, she is of no service to you, for by this time she must be nearly eighty years old—too old to be cared for by one to whom she has ceased to be of service, send her to me at Rochester, or bring her to Philadelphia, and it shall be the crowning happiness of my life to take care of her in her old age. Oh! she was to me a mother, and a father, so far as hard toil for my comfort could make her such. Send me my grandmother! that I may watch over and take care of her in her old age. And my sisters, let me know all about them. I would write to them, and learn all I want to know of them, without disturbing you in any way, but that, through your unrighteous conduct, they have been entirely deprived of the power to read and write. You have kept them in utter ignorance, and have therefore robbed them of the sweet enjoyments of writing or receiving letters from absent friends and relatives. Your wickedness and cruelty committed in this respect on your fellow-creatures, are greater than all the stripes you have laid upon my back, or theirs. It is an outrage upon the soul—a war upon the immortal spirit, and one for which you must give account at the bar of our common Father and Creator.

. . . How, let me ask, would you look upon me, were I some dark night in company with a band of hardened villains, to enter the precincts of your elegant dwelling and seize the person of your own lovely daughter Amanda, and carry her off from your family, friends and all the loved ones of her youth—make her my slave—compel her to work, and I take her wages—place her name on my ledger as property—disregard her personal rights—fetter the powers of her immortal soul by denying her the right and privilege of learning to read and write—feed her coarsely—clothe her scantily, and whip her on the naked back occasionally; more and still more horrible, leave her unprotected—a degraded victim to the brutal lust of fiendish overseers, who would pollute, blight, and blast her fair soul—rob her of all dignity— destroy her virtue, and annihilate all in her person the graces that adorn the character of virtuous womanhood? I ask how would you regard me, if such were my conduct? Oh! the vocabulary of the damned would not afford a word sufficiently infernal, to express your idea of my God-provoking wickedness. Yet sir, your treatment of my beloved sisters is in all essential points, precisely like the case I have now supposed. Damning as would be such a deed on my part, it would be no more so than that which you have committed against me and my sisters.

I will now bring this letter to a close, you shall hear from me again unless you let me hear from you. I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery—as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and deepening their horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of men. I shall make use of you as a means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy—and as a means of bringing this guilty nation with yourself to repentance. In doing this I entertain no malice towards you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant. Indeed, I should esteem it a privilege, to set you an example as to how mankind ought to treat each other. I am your fellow man, but not your slave.


Write an essay . The papers should not be no more than 4 pages (650 to 700 words  ).  Read the document and respond to the questions at the end. Number your responses to correspond to the questions and answer each question in a new paragraph.  Each paragraph must include support drawn directly from the source.
I look for more than a simple factual answer to the question.  Tell me why you think your answer is correct.  In other words justify your answer from the document itself . Show me that you have thought seriously about what you have read. 

The American Civil war was fought, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, because the Union could no longer exist “half slave and half free.” Four Million  Americans in  the  southern states were held in bondage.  Many northerners believed that slave owners wanted to extend this system, while southerners felt that northerners were out to destroy their wealth, their “peculiar institution” of black chattel slavery.  


1) Why did the  Dred Scott decision galvanize opposition to slavery among northerners?

2) What were Helper’s, Fitzhugh’s, Lincoln’s and Douglas’s views on black people? (Were they racists?)

3) What persuasive strategies did the   different participants in the slavery debate use to make their points?

4) What were the fundamental conflicts between the various individuals in the sources?

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