Disunion: What Lincoln Meant to the Slaves

Yesterday’s Disunion blog in the New York Times has a piece by Steve Hahn, “What Lincoln Meant to the Slaves,” which provides a fine perspective on what the slaves were thinking and doing in the period leading up the Civil War.  Hahn states, “Slaves’ response to the election of 1860 and their ideas about Lincoln’s intentions suggest that they, too, were important actors in the country’s drama of secession and war, and that they may have had an unappreciated influence on its outcome.”  Steve Hahn is one the best scholars of slavery and emancipation in the United States and his Disunion blog is not to be missed.

It should also be mentioned that on February 13, 1861, two noteworthy events occurred in the story of Civil War Emancipation.  On that date, the Speaker of the Maine’s House of Representatives, James G. Blaine, wrote a letter to state Supreme Court asking for their opinion about whether Maine’s personal liberty law was constitutional.  Like Rhode Island and other northern states during the secession winter, Maine’s leaders contemplated repeal of its personal liberty law in a desperate effort to forestall secession in the South.  In Republican Maine, Blaine obviously wanted the Supreme Court to provide political cover for repeal.  To learn more about Blaine’s efforts and what became of them, <click here>.

Also on February 13, 1861, Leonidas W. Spratt, editor of the Charleston Mercury, and a leading advocate of re-legalizing the African slave trade, published an essay critical of the Montgomery convention.  He called for the South to embrace its identity as a “Slave Republic.”  He stated, “There are many contented to believe that the South as a geographical section is in mere assertion of its independence.”  Spratt strong disagreed with sentiment, stating “this Union has been disrupted in the effort of slave society to emancipate itself.” He also was troubled by the inroads free immigrant labor had made in Charleston, as South Carolina sold its slaves west as part of the internal slave trade, making the city uncomfortably like northern cities with their “hireling labor.”  Spratt saw resumption of the African slave trade as integral to the South embracing its identity as a slave republic and wanted to put pressure on the Montgomery Convention to include re-legalization in the permanent Confederate constitution which was then being debated.  While a zealot in the Southern context, his essay is further evidence of the slavery’s centrality in secession.  For the full text of Leonidas W. Spratt’s essay, please <click here>.

About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at donald_shaffer@yahoo.com
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