On August 2, 1861, the New York Times published a lively letter from an unnamed reader who described himself as a “AN ALEXANDER STEPHENS DEMOCRAT, AND A PRO-SLAVERY MAN.” It was titled, “How to Solve the Slavery Question.”
The letter clearly was written tongue-in-cheek, and its sarcastic plan suggests the author was an opponent instead of a proponent of slavery, adopting the guise of the adversary to mock them. It read:
Which fact being patent to all political Doctors — what are the indications to be fulfilled in the treatment of the case? First, remove the cause, and the disease is cured. But how, asks the sick man, is this to be done? I will tell you. Let the Commanding General who advances on Manassas Junction lay out his plan of attack, by regular approaches, lines of circumvallation, trenches, zig-zags, earth-works, &c., and at the head of one hundred thousand men, at a proper stand-point, erect a liberty-pole, beat the drum, and declare, as a military necessity, freedom to all the “Niggers” in Eastern Virginia, and let them shovel dirt for liberty and protection.
They will require no electric telegraph to circulate your proclamation — but will at once flock to your standard, excavate your trenches, dig your long lines of circumvallation, erect your earth-works and mount your batteries with a will.
White men, and especially soldiers, should not be required to perform this labor. They should be distributed along the lines of your works, as sharp-shooters, artillerists, &c., to protect your laborers as they advance towards the masked batteries of the rebels at the Junction.
In this method of treating our present National disease, you strike a double blow at all traitors and rebels who would overthrow the Constitution and the laws. The great battle of our nation’s life and liberty is to be fought on the “sacred soil” of Virginia. In this manner we are sure to win, and other portions of our infatuated nation will shrink from the contest, having no desire to see this course of treatment applied to them.
A skillful surgeon amputates a hand or an arm to save the life of his patient, and so would I in like manner, to save all the institutions of our great nation, proclaim freedom to negroes in Eastern Virginia, thereby destroying all her material power and energy for evil.
Despite the author’s command of military siege terminology, the plan presented was not a serious one. But the letter made two powerful points however sarcastically. First, slavery was the cause of the war and ultimately the Union only could win by destroying it. Second, the slaves had an active role to play in their own liberation. These were radical ideas for most white Northerners in August 1861. It is little wonder then the letter’s author chose anonymity and supercilious humor to make them.