Sunday, April 17, 2016

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 16: Prewar Southern defenses of slavery

I'm continuing here with more from Sen. Charles Sumner's "Barbarism of Slavery" Senate speech of 1860. In understanding the Civil War, especially the central role of slavery in it, it's necessary to look at the actual conflict that led up to the war. A key part of the Lost Cause/neo-Confederate pseudohistory is to deny the role of slavery in creating the conflict.

Slavery "is but a form of civil government for those who are not fit to govern themselves;"

Sumner had long since been fed up with what today we would call "bipartisan" compromises that all moved in the direction of making slavery legal in all parts of the United States:

Senators sometimes announce that they resist Slavery on political grounds only, and remind us that they say nothing of the moral question. This is wrong. Slavery must be resisted not only on political grounds, but on all other grounds, whether social, economical or moral. Ours is no holiday contest, nor is it any strife of rival factions; of white and red roses; of theatric Neri and Bianchi; but it is a solemn battle between Right and Wrong - between Good and Evil. Such a battle cannot be fought with excuses or with rosewater. There is austere work to be done, and Freedom cannot consent to fling away any of her weapons.
Sumner held up to the defenders of slavery their own words on the subject:

Following Mr. CALHOUN, who pronounced "Slavery the most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world," and Mr. MCDUFFIE, who did not shrink from calling it "the corner-stone of the Republican edifice," the Senator from South Carolina [Mr. HAMMOND] insists that "its forms of society are the best in the world;" and his colleague [Mr. CHESNUT] takes up the strain. One Senator from Mississippi [Mr. DAVIS] adds that Slavery "is but a form of civil government for those who are not fit to govern themselves;" and his colleague [Mr. BROWN] openly vaunts that it "is a great moral, social, and political blessing - a blessing to the slave and a blessing to the master." One Senator from Virginia, [Mr. HUNTER,] in a studied vindication of what he is pleased to call "the social system of the slaveholding States," exalts Slavery as "the normal condition of human society," "beneficial to the non-slave owner as it is to the slave owner," best for the happiness of both races;" and, in enthusiastic advocacy, declares "that the very keystone of the mighty arch, which by its concentrated strength is able to sustain our social superstructure, consists in the black marble block of African Slavery. Knock that out," he says, "and the mighty fabric, with all that it upholds, topples and tumbles to its fall." These were his very words, uttered in debate here; and his colleague, [Mr. MASON,] who has never hesitated where Slavery was in question, has proclaimed that it is "ennobling to both master and slave" - a word which, so far as the slave was concerned, he changed, on a subsequent day, to "elevating," assuming still that it is "ennobling" to the master - which is simply a new version of an old assumption, by Mr. MCDUFFIE, of South Carolina, that "Slavery supersedes the necessity of an order of nobility."
The New York Times has the text of the speech online. I rely here on the text from the version published in 1863 as Barbarism of Slavery.

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