What stake did nonslaveholding whites have in this crusade for the freedom of planters to own slaves? Some secessionists worried a great deal about this question…
…What if nonslaveowners were potential Black Republicans?
So they [secessionists] undertook a campaign to convince nonslaveholders that they too had a stake in disunion. The stake was white supremacy. In this view, the Black Republican program of abolition was the first step toward racial equality and amalgamation. Georgia’s Governor Brown carried this message to his native uplands of north Georgia whose voters idolized him. Slavery “is the poor man’s best Government,” said Brown. “Among us the poor white laborer…does not belong to the menial class. The negro is in no sense his equal…He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men.” Thus yeoman farmers “will never consent to submit to abolition rule,” for they “know that in the event of the abolition of slavery, they would be greater sufferers than the rich, who would be able to protect themselves…When it becomes necessary to defend our rights against so foul a domination, I would call upon the mountain boys as well as the people of the lowlands, and they would come down like an avalanche and swarm around the flag of Georgia.”
Much secessionist rhetoric played variations on this theme. The election of Lincoln, declared an Alabama newspaper, “shows that the North [intends] to free the negroes and force amalgamation between them and the children of the poor men of the South.” “Do you love your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter?” a Georgia secessionist asked non-slaveholders. If Georgia remained in a Union “ruled by Lincoln and his crew…in TEN years or less our CHILDREN will be the slaves of negroes.” “If you are tame enough to submit,” declaimed South Carolina’s Baptist clergymen James Furman, “Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.” No! No! came an answering shout from Alabama. “Submit to have our wives and daughters choose between death and gratifying the hellish lust of the negro!!…Better ten thousand deaths than submission to Black Republicanism.”
To defend their wives and daughters, presumably, yeoman whites therefore joined planters in “rallying to the standard of Liberty and Equality for white men” against “our Abolition enemies who are pledged to prostrate the white freemen of the South down to equality with negroes.” Most southern whites could agree that “democratic liberty exists solely because we have black slaves” whose presence “promotes equality among the free.” Hence “freedom is not possible without slavery.”
– pages 242-244 of Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson
Dear Mr. McPherson,
I had wanted to finish your wonderful one-volume Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War history (part of the Oxford History of the United States series — next up for me will be the well-reviewed What Hath God Wrought covering the period right before the Civil War) book last year during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, but I’m still not done as I keep getting side-tracked with other books and reading material. But I always return to your excellent history as it is a story well told and you have a lot of wonderful quotes from the original source material — which should leave anyone who is serious about the War, even those who admire Lee and Southern military valor, without a doubt that the South went to war for one reason and one reason only — to preserve (and hopefully expand) the institution of slavery. Slavery had become such a crazed part of southern life that, as the quotes above show, an elaborate mythology was erected to justify and defend the institution from the righteous attacks of the abolitionists (which, sadly, did not include many Catholic clergy — in fact, the Catholic position on slavery and the South would make for a fascinating study all by itself). As I wrap up your history, I’m sure I’ll share some more thoughts, if only to counter the silly narrative advanced by the brilliant but misguided Mencius Moldbug.