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Chapter LXII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2

Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5 6

Since the beginning of the year, events in North America had assumed a more and more unhappy and alarming character, and the British Government had felt itself compelled to issue, on the 14th of May, its celebrated proclamation of neutrality. It is now time, therefore, to revert to the circumstances under which the great American Union was for a time broken up, and a war of colossal magnitude waged during nearly four years between the Northern and Southern States.

For many years a feeling of estrangement had been gradually growing up, grounded partly on differences of economic policy, partly on original want of sympathy between the inhabitants of either region, but most of all on the continual collisions to which the question of slavery gave rise. The national tariff had long been so adjusted as to protect the interests of New England manufacturers by excluding, with more or less rigidity, the manufactured products of Great Britain and other European countries; and the Morrill tariff, passed in March, 1861, carried this principle of exclusion to a still greater height. That this commercial policy wag injurious to the interests of the South cannot be doubted, since, as they had no manufactures, they reaped no benefit from protection; while the tariff impeded that free interchange of their own teeming supplies of raw material with the products of the industry of other nations, which was necessary to the full development of their material civilisation. Again, the original contrast between Virginia and New England - the one settled by men of aristocratic connections, ruled by territorial instincts, and disposed to Toryism in Church and State; the other by persons of the middle rank, predisposed to trade and industry, and clinging fast to the "dissidence of Dissent " as their great religious principle - this contrast was ever present to embitter any misunderstanding that might arise. But lastly, and chiefly, the relations between North and South were disturbed by quarrels arising out of slavery. At the time when the colonies achieved their independence, all the thirteen provinces held slaves, and legalised slavery. But in course of time natural causes - the labour of a slave not being comparable to that of a free labourer in a temperate climate - produced the diminution, and, finally, the extinction of slavery in the Northern States. Northern slaveholders sold their slaves to Southern planters, and trusted to the continuous and ever- increasing emigration from Europe, supplemented by a considerable number of free blacks, to supply the wants of the labour market. The time came when the citizens of States which but a short time before had harboured slavery themselves denounced slavery as a sin. The Abolitionists, among whom Garrison was the most prominent person, became a strong party at the North, especially in the New England States; associations were formed for obstructing the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law, and facilitating the escape of slaves to Canada; and during the ten years that this law was in force, collisions of more or less magnitude between the Federal and State judicatures were continually taking place. But, on the other hand, the proceedings of the slaveholders and their partisans were, and had been for years, of a character so outrageous, that conscientious men might well begin to ask themselves whether, in yielding obedience to the Federal legislation, which, in order to preserve the Union, sanctioned such things, they were not breaking a law of higher and more sacred obligation. To make this matter more clear, we will, under various heads, briefly notice, (1) the peculiar features which the system of domestic slavery, as practised in the Southern States, exhibited; (2) the object and working of the Fugitive Slave Law; (3) the struggle in Kansas; and (4) the singular history of John Brown, put to death for a Quixotic attempt to free the slave by force, in the very year before the disruption of the Union.

1. In no age and in no quarter of the world has the enslavement of man to man exhibited a type more virulent, and been theoretically more indefensible, than was the case in the Southern States. Under the laws of Spain and Portugal the slave was, and is, treated in many respects as a man and a Christian; he could purchase his freedom at a rate determined by law; he was allowed a certain number of hours in the week to work for himself; and the slave-mother could purchase the freedom of her infant child at the baptismal font. In the slavery of the South none of these humane alleviations were permitted; the institution appeared in its naked deformity. No slave could claim to purchase freedom as a right; and, as a rule, manumission was steadily discouraged by the public opinion of the white population. In some States free negroes were considered " offensive," and were not permitted to settle, or even to reside, within their borders; in others to teach a negro to read or write was a finable offence. In Virginia and North Carolina, as the land became deteriorated through the wasteful method of cultivation caused by slavery, and would no longer produce paying crops of cotton, a horrible system of breeding slaves for the Southern market grew up, under which the separation of husband from wife, parent from child, became a common occurrence; the more healthy and robust of the family being selected by speculative dealers, in order that, transported to Texas or Alabama, they might there be resold at a profit. It was gravely avowed by an American judge, that " the end of slavery is the profit of the master, his security, and the public safety;" and that - " the slave, to remain a slave, must be made sensible that there is no appeal from his master; that the master's power is in no instance usurped, but is conferred by the law of man at least, if not by the law of God." Nor were there wanting those, professing to try such things by the Christian standard, who boldly assured the slaveholder that his power was given him by the law of God also. The ministers of many flourishing denominations, especially, it is believed, the different branches of Methodism, were not ashamed to hold this language, and to justify the domestic despotism and cruelty of Christians, by reference to obscure precepts about Hebrew masters and servants in Leviticus.

2. The Fugitive Slave Law was one, and the most important, among several measures which grew out of a general compromise agreed to by Southern and Northern politicians in the year 1850. Even at that time threats of secession were not unfrequently heard at the South. " If you expect us," they said in effect, "to remain in the Union, you must consent to the passing of measures through Congress which will ensure to us the secure possession or recovery of our property throughout the territory of the Republic, in Free no less than in Slave States, at Boston as much as at Charleston. No State, however opposed to slavery, shall protect the slave who has escaped from bondage from the pursuit and claim of his master." The North, sooner than see the Union broken up, agreed to these terms, and the Fugitive Slave Law was the result. During ten years the miserable and heartrending incidents of slavery were brought home in a thousand ways to the men of the North; it was no longer rumour, they saw it all with their own eyes; yet they had tied their own hands, and were powerless to resist. In a Free State the escaped negro was no more safe from his pursuers than in a Slave State; in Canada only, where the power and the laws of England prevailed, could he draw breath and feel that he was free. Of the many dreadful effects of the operation of this law, one illustration shall here be given. Two negro families had escaped out of Kentucky into the neighbouring Free State of Ohio. They were pursued, and tracked to a house in Cincinnati. the door was broken in; and the officers (so-called) of justice entering, found the body of a beautiful girl of thirteen, nearly white, lying dead on the floor, with her throat cut from ear to ear. Screams issued from an adjoining room; here was found the negro mother with two younger children, whom she was assailing with a knife and had already wounded, shrieking with frantic vehemence that she would kill them and herself, as she had killed her eldest child, sooner than that they should return into bondage. This unhappy mother, with her wounded children, was taken back into slavery; of their subsequent fate nothing was ever known.

3. The struggle for Kansas arose also out of one of those compromises of 1850, by which it was hoped that a long peace between North and South would be secured. The Nebraska territory was an immense region, scarcely as yet at all occupied by white men, which lay to the west and north-west of the State of Missouri. It was agreed in 1850, and a law passed Congress to that effect, that as soon as there was a sufficient number of inhabitants in this region to constitute a territorial government, they should meet and elect a legislature in the usual manner, to which legislature should belong the right of determining the future institutions of the territory, in other words, whether it was to be ultimately a Free or a Slave State. About the year 1854 the district in question was divided; the portion immediately to the west of Missouri receiving the name of Kansas, while the country farther north retained the name of Nebraska. Gradually settlers from the Free States began to enter Kansas and erect homesteads; and it was foreseen by the slaveholders that, when the matter came to a vote, if it was left to the bona fide inhabitants of the territory, they would elect a legislature which would declare for free institutions. To prevent this, large numbers of persons from the Slave State of Missouri crossed the border into Kansas when the day of polling arrived, and with arms in their hands insisted, against all law and equity, upon their right to vote for the members of the new Kansas legislature. An assembly was thus elected, through the preponderance of these " border-ruffians," which, in the expressive party slang of America, was termed a " bogus legislature." Meantime the real citizens of Kansas had protested against these outrageous acts, had met, and had elected a legislature really representing the territory. But the bogus legislature would not allow itself to be easily put down; it decreed that slavery should be introduced into the territory, and fulminated resolutions and proclamations against the free-soil party. Arms were soon appealed to; and a kind of civil war, in which some lives and a vast amount of property were sacrificed, raged for several months in 1855 and 1856. But the people of the Northern States, now thoroughly aroused, poured in free settlers into Kansas in such numbers in the course of the years 1857 and 1858, that the border-ruffians were foiled, and the State saved for freedom. It was these proceedings in Kansas which chiefly led to the formation, or at least the re-organisation, of the Republican party at the North, which took for its main political watchword the prohibition of the further extension of slavery in the territories of the Republic.

4. The strange and touching story of John Brown may be briefly told. Of Puritan ancestry, and a native of Connecticut, Brown had lived the greater part of his life in the West, and in the near proximity of the slave power. He and four of his sons, one of whom fell in the contest, migrated to Kansas during the heat of the struggle with the border-ruffians, and fought valiantly for freedom. His intense, deeply conscientious, nature was filled every year that he lived with a deeper and more burning conviction of the sinfulness of slavery, and he at last arrived at the belief that it was his duty to devote himself to the task of setting slaves free, whatever might be the danger, and whoever might oppose. He had succeeded in delivering many slaves, chiefly in Missouri, and in forwarding them safely through to Canada, before the final enterprise in which he lost his life. This was nothing less than the seizure of the Federal arsenal and public buildings at Harper's Ferry, in Virginia, in order that by the possession of this stronghold he might the more readily accomplish the liberation of the slaves in the surrounding country. With less than thirty followers, Brown, in October, 1859, did actually enter and occupy Harper's Ferry, place a guard on the bridge over the Potomac, and during nearly twenty-four hours hold military possession of the place. But the Virginian militia poured in from various quarters in the course of the day, and after a stubborn resistance killed or captured the whole party. Brown, after receiving several wounds, was made prisoner, and within the briefest possible interval tried and hanged. The old man's ideas were noble, but they were not reasonable. In his defence he said that his sole aim had been to free the slaves; he never intended " to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection." But a man known to be going about in a country full of slaves, and helping them to gain their freedom - doing this too in the teeth of the laws, and by violence if he could not do it otherwise - was unquestionably, by the plain meaning and tendency of his acts, " exciting them to make insurrection." Nevertheless, the name of John Brown will be garnered up in the perpetual memory of mankind as one of those hero souls - rare in any age, and never rarer than in this - who in the light of the lofty idea that possesses them, and for the love of their brother man, have jeopardised their lives unto the death.

The time came for the election of a President to succeed Mr. Buchanan. The great Republican party at the North represented the feelings that were lacerated and the convictions that were outraged by the recent course of events, of which we have given an outline; and in November, 1860, this party carried its candidate, Abraham Lincoln, against the two Democratic candidates, Douglas and Breckinridge.

The meaning of this nomination was plain. It announced, " We will have no more compromises. We, the free North, have conceded enough, perhaps too much, to you slaveholders of the South, in order that we might preserve the Union. Now we mean to make a stand. Though we have no thought of interfering with slavery in the States where it exists, we will not consent to its extension to the territories; these, and the States into which they will grow, must be kept as free soil." But as, under the constitution of the United States, every State sends two members to the Senate, the members of which were at this time pretty evenly balanced, half from Free, and half from Slave States, the effect of the triumph of the Republican party, and of the foreseen application of the above policy in dealing with the territories, could only be that in a few years the balance of parties m the Senate would be destroyed, as more and more new, and, necessarily Free, States were admitted into the Union. Then, argued the slaveholders, the Abolitionists will become more intolerable than ever; if they give to our domestic institutions for a time an insulting toleration, it will only be while they gather their forces for an open assault; the Fugitive Slave Law will be repealed as soon as they obtain the requisite majority in Congress, and our negro property will be everywhere depreciated in value, while on the borders of Free States it will be utterly valueless.

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