Monday, April 16, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 16: Avery Craven on John Brown and "Albert G. Brown of Mississippi"

I'm returning today to Avery Craven's Lost Cause/neo-Confederate historian Coming of the War Between the States: An Interpretation Journal of Southern History 2:3 (Aug 1936). He uses the figure of John Brown to give a race-based justification of the Southern secession. He argues that John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry decisively turned white opinion in the South toward secession:
But the John Brown raid was another matter. It put reality into the much discussed program of Yankee "money-changers," "peasant farmers," and the "long haired men and short haired women" of the North. The sharpest resentments and deepest fears of which a people were capable broke loose. A race war was impending. And that was a poor man's problem. Albert G. Brown of Mississippi put it this way:
The rich will flee the country. ... Then the non-slaveholder will begin to see what his real fate is. The Negro will intrude into his preserve ... insist on being treated as an equal ... that he shall go to the white man's bed, and the white man his ... that his son shall marry the white man's daughter, and the white man's daughter his son. In short that they shall live on terms of perfect social equality. The non-slaveholder will, of course, reject the terms. Then will commence a war of races such as has marked the history of San Domingo. [my emphasis]
Let's start with some basic debunking. There was no "race war" impending. Panics about slave insurrections were a common feature of the paranoid Southern environment. Such panics were far more frequent than actual attempts at anything like a slave rebellion, though of course there were some instances of those occurring, and for obvious reasons. But the panics generally featured their own kind of violence with murders of slaves and free blacks. In effect, they were episodes of sporadic white terror against blacks.

Brown's raid did send Southern slaveowners into new rounds of panic. Although his plan was not to provoke a slave insurrection. The plan was to establish guerrilla bases in the Appalachian mountains from which they would encourage slaves to flee their plantations and harass the slaveholders.

Lost Cause accounts like Craven's also typically downplay white Southern opposition to secession, which was significant even in 1861, though that shouldn't be equated with Unionism, much less opposition to slavery. Though both sentiments were also present.

But who is this "Albert G. Brown of Mississippi"? Is he just some random farmer speaking about the fears of the reg'lar white folks?

Actually, he was Albert Gallatin Brown: Fourteenth Governor of Mississippi: 1844-1848 (David Sansing, Mississippi History Now Dec 2003. He also was one of the Mississippi's two Senators in the runup to the Civil War, along with future Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Sansing writes:
After he was elected to the United States Senate, Brown became one of the most ardent defenders of states’ rights and was one of the South’s first advocates of secession. After Mississippi seceded and joined the Confederate States of America, Brown resigned his U.S. Senate seat and organized a military company known as Brown’s Rifles. Brown was stationed briefly in Virginia before his election as one of Mississippi’s two members in the Confederate Senate where he served until the end of the Civil War. [my emphasis]
The Wikipedia entry for him (04/16/2018) elaborates:
He was ... a Fire-Eater [militant secessionist] and a strong advocate for the expansion of slavery. In 1858, he said: "I want a foothold in Central America... because I want to plant slavery there.... I want Cuba,... Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason - for the planting or spreading of slavery." (Akhil Reed Amar, America's Constitution, A Biography (2005) 267, quoting M.W. Mcklusky, ed., Speeches, Messages, and Other Writings of the Hon. Albert G. Brown (1859), 594-5) Indeed, he went on to say, "I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth." (internal links omitted)
I followed up Craven's source for the Brown quote: Percy Lee Rainwater, "The Presidential Canvass of 1860 in Mississippi," Mississippi Law Journal V:4 (1933). Although, oddly, his article cites the journal only by its subtitle, Journal of the Mississippi State Bar. Brown's hair-raising rhetoric about rampaging black rapist rebels was from a long 1860 letter Brown wrote for publication, later published as a pamphlet, making the case for secession in defense of slavery.

Albert Gallatin Brown (1813-1880)

The following passage from that letter/pamphlet is interesting in two ways. One is that Sen. Brown certainly seemed to think the current crisis was about fighting for preservation of slavery. And, despite claiming to speak on behalf of the ordinary white man, he certainly seemed to think that Southern non-slaveholders needing some persuading on undertaking secession to defend the Peculiar Institution:
Does the non-slaveholder own land? What will his land be worth when slavery is abolished? Is he the owner of cattle,horses, and other property? What will all these be worth in a free negro community? Does he live by cultivating the soil? Who creates markets and builds railroads, and provides other wise, by his money and his brains, for the most profitable means for selling the products of the soil? The slaveholder. Who gets the benefits of these markets, railroads, and other profitable means, and with comparatively little cost? The non-slaveholding farmer. Then, let him not say 'I own no slaves, and therefore have no interest in the question.

Is he a mechanic? Who is his best and most profitable employer? The slaveholder. Is he a merchant? Who buys most of hiss goods? The slaveholder. Is he a lawyer or doctor? Who pays him the most fees? The slaveholder. Does he, in short, rely on his muscle or his brain for bread? Who is his best customer9 The slaveholder. Then let no man of any occupation, trade or profession, say 'I own no slaves, and therefore I have no interest in the question.

All are interested all have an immediate, positive and PECUNIARY interest in the question, and all ought, as I have no doubt all will, stand up manfully in its support.
Kind of an 1860 version of trickle-down economics, we might say.

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