Slavery Ends in Maryland: November 1, 1864

Abraham Lincoln originally had planned for emancipation to begin in the loyal slave states, with slaveholders gradually freeing their slaves over the remainder of the nineteenth century and being compensated with financing provided by the federal government. (And as many ex-slaves as possible then emigrating to some ill-defined tropical destination.) Lincoln tried to sell this plan during the first half of 1862, but because of strong resistance among slaveholders in the loyal states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, formal emancipation began in the Confederate South with the Emancipation Proclamation. The disloyalty of slaveholders gave Lincoln, he believed, the power to free slaves in the rebellious states by decree as a war measure using his powers as commander-in-chief. These powers, he also believed, did not extend to the loyal slave states because they were not in rebellion. If freedom was to come to these states, short a federal constitutional amendment, it would have to come from these states themselves.

And on November 1, 1864, Maryland was the first of the loyal slave states to end slavery on its own accord. Getting to that point had not been an easy process. It was given a head start of sorts by the fact Maryland’s slave-based economy had been in decline for decades before the Civil War. Maryland’s farmers long had been making the shift from tobacco, which was suitable for a slave workforce to cereal grains, which were not. The state’s slaveholders had responded to their now surplus workforce either by freeing slaves or (more often) selling them into the internal slave trade (which meant they generally ended up in the cotton states). But a result of the crop shift was that by the eve of the Civil War, the 1860 Census revealed about half of Maryland’s African-American population already was free.

What decades of tobacco’s decline had started, the Civil War accelerated by placing pressures on the peculiar institution which Maryland’s slave system found itself unable to cope with. First, Union troops from the free states entered Maryland over the war’s course, often staying in the state for extended periods, and providing protection in their camps from recapture to numerous slaves, often in return for the fugitives acting as temporary servants. Second, when slavery ended in the District of Columbia in Spring 1862, it became a new sanctuary for Maryland slaves, especially after the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act in June 1864. Third, the advent of black recruitment into the Union army in 1863, led to thousands of slaves leaving their plantations and gaining their freedom in federal ranks. The collective result of these events and the general weakening of state enforcement of slavery brought on by Civil War caused the price of slaves in Maryland to plummet as many owners sought to sell their human property while they still could, but found few buyers.

Still, some slaveholders continued to resist emancipation and two important bulwarks of slavery hung on in Maryland, in the southern counties and the Eastern shore. Both areas tended to be away from areas where either Union or Confederate forces routinely operated, and the plantation economy there was as robust as anywhere in the state. Slaveholders also had remained politically powerful in the state, even as slavery was in gradual decline before the Civil War. They had managed to enshrine the peculiar institution into the state’s constitution in 1851, meaning that any state-based effort to end slavery in Maryland would require a new state constitution.

The impetus for just such a new constitution came as the Civil War led the political power of the state’s slaveholders to go into decline. The war represented an opportunity for long marginalized anti-slavery forces to assert themselves. Interests that saw Maryland’s future in non-slave-based agriculture and manufacturing, and in growing commercial ties with the North and overseas. With many Maryland Democrats either having gone south to join the Confederacy or their political activities curtailed by Lincoln’s administration and the Union army, which believed Maryland must be held inside the Union by all means, a pro-Union political movement arose in the state during the Civil War under the leadership of future governor, Thomas Swann. It was Swann, who in 1863, pushed the Union party to embrace immediate abolition as a political goal.

With the support of the Union party, which dominated Maryland’s politics after 1863, the new state constitution, which included a ban on slavery, was put up to a referendum on October 12-13, 1864. The vote to approve the constitution was close, in an election marked by charges of intimidation and fraud, and the proposed constitution likely would have lost, but for Maryland’s Union soldiers who were allowed to vote in the field and overwhelmingly supported ending slavery. With the referendum narrowly approved it went into effect on November 1, 1864, 15o years ago today.

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Emancipation: The Destruction of Slave Property?

The spring before last I traveled to the hallowed halls of Harvard to be a presenter at a symposium on emancipation in the Civil War and advent of the recruiting of black soldiers into the Union Army. Highlighting the speakers were the stars of this field, including Eric Foner. Among Foner’s comments during his talk at the symposium was to note that emancipation resulted in the destruction of hundreds of millions if not billions of slave property. That is, with the exception of the District of Columbia, slaveholders were never compensated for the loss of their slavery property.

Eric Foner’s comment stuck with me for a rather personal reason. In another lifetime it seems, I was a business and economics double major. That is, I was not a History major as an undergraduate and didn’t make the switch to History until graduate school. A bachelor’s in Business Administration requires several accounting courses. And one of the key concepts taught in accounting is assets never really disappear. They always get transformed into something else. This is true as well for capital assets (long existing and expensive productive property), which is why accountants invented the concept of depreciation to account for the diminishing value of capital assets over time as they get “used up.” In double-entry bookkeeping, the diminishing value of a capital asset gets amortized, meaning it gets treated incrementally as an expense over time. The business pays for a capital asset when it buys it, of course, but only recognizes the expense in an accounting sense incrementally over time. Which leads to all sorts of interesting bean-counting games as accountants try to come up with the most advantageous amortization schedule for a business–but that’s a story for some accountant’s blog.

In any case, accounting is relevant here because putting the immorality of slavery aside, a slave was a form of capital asset to the slaveholder. And what occurred in emancipation was that hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars of capital assets were suddenly confiscated from their owners. But my point here is that these capital assets were not destroyed as Foner asserted. Certainly, to the slaveholder they were, since the slaveholder no longer enjoyed the value of their slaves. But the asset remained. So who got the value of the slaves in emancipation?–the slaves themselves. The hundreds of millions or billions in slave assets did not disappear but in freedom went to the slaves. So the American South did not see the destruction slave property during the Civil War, but that human property being acquired by the now former human property.

This was a just outcome because the whole system of human slavery in the Americas was based on an act of theft to begin with, when the ancestors of these slaves had their lives and bodies in essence taken away from them. An act of theft that was perpetuated across generations as the descendants of the original slaves were themselves enslaved. So emancipation represented the restoration of human capital to its proper owners. “Property” was not destroyed but given back to those persons it should have belonged to from the start.

I said something like this rather gratuitously at the start of my talk at Harvard on an entirely different subject. I think Eric Foner was in the room when I said it, but he never said anything about the comment to me. I made the point though and hopefully this small bon mot will make its way into the literature of emancipation in the American Civil War. Slavery was destroyed, but there was no “destruction” of slave property, merely its return to its rightful owners, the slaves themselves.

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9/11 Memorial and Museum

Donald R. Shaffer:

Back in July on a professional trip to New York City, I took the opportunity to visit the new 9/11 Museum and Memorial. In honor of the 13th anniversary of 9/11, here is a re-post of my impressions.

Originally posted on Civil War Emancipation:


Your humble blogger at the 9/11 Memorial (North Tower pool) on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. The 9/11 Museum is in the far background behind the trees.

Every now and then I devote this blog to an off-topic post. This post will be one of them.

This past Sunday, I caught a plane to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. I was invited to speak on black Union soldiers at the New York Historical Society’s NEH Teachers’ Institute, “Race and Politics in the Civil War,” which will be soon wrapping up. This institute has brought together about thirty K-12 teachers from across the United States. Monday morning, I lectured them on the history of black soldiers. In the afternoon, we watched the movie, Glory, and then Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University and I led a discussion of the film. My thanks to New York Historical Society, especially Mia Nagawiecki…

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“the longor you keep my Child from me the longor you will have to burn in hell and the qwicer youll get their” – The Spotswood Rice Letters

150 years ago this week, on September 3, 1864, a Missouri slave in the Union Army, wrote two of the most interesting surviving letters related to emancipation in the Civil War. The author of the letters was Spotswood Rice, a literate tobacco roller from Glasgow, Missouri, who had joined the Union Army in his forties. He had plenty of time to write letters in early September 1864, as he was hospitalized at Benton Barracks in St. Louis fighting a serious leg infection.

Although in St. Louis, Rice’s mind at that moment was without a doubt back home in Glasgow, a Missouri River town roughly half-way between St. Louis and Kansas City. In the Upper South, plantation units were smaller than in the Cotton South, and many slaves, like Rice himself, more often had family members scattered across different owners. Just as other slave parents in such circumstances, his parental role with his children was subject to interference from their owners, and his first letter to his daughters was clearly an attempt to assert fatherly care and authority despite the owner’s power over them. Rice wrote:

My Children   I take my pen in hand to rite you A few lines to let you know that I have not forgot you and that I want to see you as bad as ever   now my Dear Children I want you to be contented with whatever may be your lots   be assured that I will have you if it cost me my life   on the 28th of the mounth. 8 hundred White and 8 hundred blacke solders expects to start up the rivore to Glasgow and above there thats to be jeneraled by a jeneral that will give me both of you   when they Come I expect to be with, them and expect to get you both in return. Dont be uneasy my children   I expect to have you. If Diggs dont give you up this Government will and I feel confident that I will get you   Your Miss Kaitty said that I tried to steal you   But I’ll let her know that god never intended for man to steal his own flesh and blood. If I had no cofidence in God I could have confidence in her   But as it is If I ever had any Confidence in her I have none now and never expect to have   And I want her to remember if she meets me with ten thousand soldiers she [will?] meet her enemy   I once [thought] that I had some respect for them but now my respects is worn out and have no sympathy for Slaveholders. And as for her cristianantty I expect the Devil has Such in hell   You tell her from me that She is the frist Christian that I ever hard say that aman could Steal his own child especially out of human bondage

You can tell her that She can hold to you as long as she can   I never would expect to ask her again to let you come to me because I know that the devil has got her hot set againsts that that is write   now my Dear children I am a going to close my letter to you   Give my love to all enquiring friends   tell them all that we are well and want to see them very much and Corra and Mary receive the greater part of it you sefves and dont think hard of us not sending you any thing   I you father have a plenty for you when I see you   Spott & Noah sends their love to both of you   Oh! My Dear children how I do want to see you

Clearly from the letter, Spotswood Rice had been made previous efforts to reunite his daughters with the rest of the family, which had been thwarted by their owner, Kitty Diggs, who refused to sell them. His letter was meant to reassure of his fatherly love and his efforts to reunite them with their family were continuing.

The reason we have Rice’s tart words speaking down to us across 150 years was that the letter above and the one that follows were intercepted by Diggs, an unmarried woman, who passed them on to her male protector, her brother, who obviously outraged by what he saw as Rice’s insolence, complained to the Union Army since Rice was a soldier, where the letters got caught up and preserved by the military bureaucracy until they were rediscovered by researchers of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland.

While the first letter was from the Diggs’ perspective bad enough, the second letter, written from Rice to Kitty Diggs personally, was even more incendiary. He wrote:

I received a leteter from Cariline telling me that you say I tried to steal to plunder my child away from you   now I want you to understand that mary is my Child and she is a God given rite of my own and you may hold on to hear as long as you can but I want you to remembor this one thing that the longor you keep my Child from me the longor you will have to burn in hell and the qwicer youll get their   for we are now makeing up a bout one thoughsand blacke troops to Come up tharough and wont to come through Glasgow and when we come wo be to Copperhood rabbels and to the Slaveholding rebbels for we dont expect to leave them there root neor branch   but we thinke how ever that we that have Children in the hands of you devels we will trie your [vertues?] the day that we enter Glasgow   I want you to understand kittey diggs that where ever you and I meets we are enmays to each orthere   I offered once to pay you forty dollers for my own Child but I am glad now that you did not accept it   Just hold on now as long as you can and the worse it will be for you   you never in you life befor I came down hear did you give Children any thing not eny thing whatever not even a dollers worth of expencs   now you call my children your pro[per]ty   not so with me   my Children is my own and I expect to get them and when I get ready to come after mary I will have bout a powrer and autherity to bring hear away and to exacute vengencens on them that holds my Child   you will then know how to talke to me   I will assure that and you will know how to talk rite too   I want you now to just hold on to hear if you want to   iff your conchosence tells thats the road go that road and what it will brig you to kittey diggs   I have no fears about geting mary out of your hands   this whole Government gives chear to me and you cannot help your self

While Spotswood Rice was misguided in his belief that the Union Army would launch a military expedition to free his daughters from slavery, as Missouri was a loyal slave state (slavery would end in the state on January 11, 1865, by executive proclamation), it says something about the progress of emancipation by Fall 1864 that Rice would write such a letter. Clearly, he would not have written it before the Civil War or early in the conflict when the Lincoln administration sought to reassure loyal slaveholders that their human property was secure even as the President sought to encourage gradual compensated emancipation in states like Missouri. Yet it also says something about Rice’s personality. He was clearly a leader as his postwar career as an AME minister in the West testifies (he died in Colorado in 1907). And Rice was courageous, for even in 1864, it must have taken a great deal of moxie to for a black man to write his daughter’s owner, “that the longor you keep my Child from me the longor you will have to burn in hell and the qwicer youll get their.” Among other emotional comments. As a parent myself I understand his feelings much better than I once did. There are people I encounter in my study of history that I would dearly like to meet. Spotswood Rice is one of them.


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“It is my desire to be free”



Recently, Brooks Simpson over at Crossroads has made a series of highly worthwhile posts on the historical controversy about whether Abraham Lincoln, in August 1864, with the war going poorly and facing the distinct possibility of not being re-elected in November, considered abandoning emancipation as a means of stemming his growing unpopularity. The idea has a certain plausibility because things were looking quite bad for the Union in August 1864. Sherman’s army was stuck outside of Atlanta and Grant was similarly stuck outside Petersburg, Virginia. The war appeared in stalemate, which politically hurt Lincoln. However, Simpson on Crossroads discredits the notion that Lincoln seriously considered backing down on his commitment to freedom for the slaves. The posts can be found here, here, and here. In any case, the military and political crisis facing Lincoln lifted in the early days of September, when Atlanta finally fell to Sherman. Abraham Lincoln’s popularity and electoral prospects subsequently rose, and any incentive he had to abandon emancipation vanished.

Yet it seems to be the case that until the fall of Atlanta, there was definite uncertainty about whether the war would end slavery once and for all. Despite all the slaves that had escaped to Union lines or effectively freed by the federal occupation of where they lived, most slaves in the South in August 1864 were still in a state of bondage. If Lincoln had lost the election in November 1864, even if the Democratic candidate, George McClellan, managed to restore the South to the Union, he no doubt would have rescinded the Emancipation Proclamation or let it be eviscerated in the courts. Likely, many escaped slaves would have kept their freedom, as had occurred in similar circumstances in the Revolutionary War, and the ultimate survival of the peculiar institution still called into question, but in a surviving and independent Confederacy with slavery’s existence as its reason for being, no doubt slavery would have continued for many decades more if not forever.

Another interesting “what if” question in this regard was the future of slavery in the remaining loyal slaves: Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and Delaware. They were exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation, but especially for Maryland, the presence of federal troops and enlistment of African Americans into the Union Army had dealt slavery there a grievous blow. Yet even in Maryland in August 1864, uncertainty still existed over slavery’s survival, especially among the slaves, who had the biggest stake in the matter.

This uncertainty can be seen in the letter of a Maryland slave to President Lincoln. Annie Davis, from Bel Air, Maryland, northeast of Baltimore, on August 25, 1864, wrote simply:

Mr president    It is my Desire to be free. to go to see my people on the eastern shore.  my mistress wont let me    you will please let me know if we are free. and what i can do.  I write to you for advice.  please send me word this week. or as soon as possible and oblidge.

No doubt, Davis had heard of the Emancipation Proclamation and seen slaves gaining their freedom around her in the tumult of wartime Maryland. But her owner stubbornly hung on to her. While in retrospect, it is clear that legally in August 1864 that Annie Davis was still a slave. She was exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation and Maryland would not free its slaves until it enacted a new state constitution three months later in November. Hopefully, soon after Davis was united with her family across Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore. But given the uncertainty about the war’s outcome at the time she wrote Lincoln and the uncertainty about slavery’s viability in Maryland in August 1864, her confusion is understandable.


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9/11 Memorial and Museum


Your humble blogger at the 9/11 Memorial (North Tower pool) on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. The 9/11 Museum is in the far background behind the trees.

Every now and then I devote this blog to an off-topic post. This post will be one of them.

This past Sunday, I caught a plane to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. I was invited to speak on black Union soldiers at the New York Historical Society’s NEH Teachers’ Institute, “Race and Politics in the Civil War,” which will be soon wrapping up. This institute has brought together about thirty K-12 teachers from across the United States. Monday morning, I lectured them on the history of black soldiers. In the afternoon, we watched the movie, Glory, and then Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University and I led a discussion of the film. My thanks to New York Historical Society, especially Mia Nagawiecki, for the invitation to participate. It was a great day.

Before I flew home late Tuesday afternoon, I squeezed in a morning visit to Lower Manhattan to see the 9/11 Memorial and new 9/11 Museum. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, long have been a matter of personal interest to me. What the Kennedy assassination was to my parent’s generation, 9/11 is to mine. I will leave it to future historians to judge better the historical significance of this event, but I will remember for the rest of my life that day, where I was, what I was doing, and the events that followed. Since then, I’ve become something of student of the event, reading many of the better books, watching most of the television documentaries, and even studying the raw video of the event gathered by NIST and posted on the web. I am definitely not a 9/11 “Truther.” I believe the attacks were perpetrated by Al Qaeda and caught the U.S. flat-footed. If one is looking for U.S. government conspiracies it is more profitable to examine how certain government officials exploited the attacks to pursue agendas formulated well before the attacks than to make fantastical claims about the attacks themselves.

I also have followed the fate of the World Trade Center site, its redevelopment, and the political battles over that issue and the memorialization of the attacks with personal and professional interest. So I made an effort to get down to Lower Manhattan and make a personal visit before I left town.

The memorial itself is nicely done, although perhaps lacking the simple raw impact of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., which has proved the dominant influence in memorialization for a generation or more. Like the Vietnam memorial the names of the dead are featured. They are etched into panels around the perimeter of where the North and South towers of the World Trade Center once stood. Behind them, in the footprint of each tower is water cascading downward along the perimeter into a pool at the bottom.


Names are grouped with attention given to where people were during the attack and any significant affiliations, such fire, police, etc. For example, the names immediately behind me in the photograph below are victims of American 11, the plane that struck the North tower at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. I noticed later that the name immediately to my right was Berry Berenson Perkins, the widow of Tony Perkins (best known as Norman Bates in the Psycho films). She was one of the few victims of the attack I had heard of before 9/11 because she and Tony Perkins’ children understandably were mentioned when he died, and she had had a career in Hollywood films, although not quite as prominent as her husband. It was kind of neat I ended up by her name even though I made no effort whatsoever and did not notice it had happened until later.


The waterfalls along the perimeter of the towers’ footprints are a nice way of emphasizing their absence in a touching but non-maudlin fashion. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded some element of the temporary  so-called “Tribute in Light” memorials that were mounted in the months and years following the attacks, in the permanent memorial, but since that memorialization technique only works at night and with the completion of One World Trade center there is now again an ultra tall building to anchor Lower Manhattan, so not including search lights pointing up in the sky in the permanent memorial was probably a good decision. The waterfall and the trees surrounding the footprint also give the memorial a nice peaceful, almost garden-like quality. I had a friend on Facebook describe the 9/11 Memorial as “tasteful” and I’m inclined to agree. It won’t become quite the seminal memorial like the Vietnam Memorial, but given the bitter political battles over the memorialization of what is sometimes still called “Ground Zero” the outcome is nicely satisfactory, if not stunningly successful.


I also had an opportunity to visit the new 9/11 Museum. My curiosity to see what was inside overcame my revulsion at the $24 general admission fee. To be fair, the museum offers free admission on Tuesday evenings, but I still wonder if the admission fee needed to be quite that expensive? I realize building the museum and memorial, and operating them are expensive, but there are world-class museums like the Smithsonian facilities in Washington, D.C., that charge no admission whatsoever.

It is obvious that the visitors’ experience a the 9/11 Museum has been, for the most part, crafted with great care. Although it is possible to wander the museum at random, if you are so inclined, the exhibits lead patrons steadily downward from the entrance at ground level to the bottom of the concrete “bathtub” that was built for the Twin Towers in the 1960s to keep out water from the Hudson River. The exhibition is split into two basic parts. Most of the descent and an open area at the bottom of the museum generally contain large objects, such damaged fire trucks, and surviving elements of the Twin Towers, like twisted steel beams, that can be photographed. But at the bottom level there is in essence a closed in and regulated area, which contains much more compact and concentrated exhibits where photography is prohibited. The justification for this prohibition isn’t explained, but the controlled area uses lighting and sound much more intensively than the open area, which is generally fully lit, and my guess is that photographs in the controlled area would require flash, which would be a distraction and block the flow of people. Indeed, in this controlled area, the visitor is much more saturated with light and sound aimed at shaping the visitors’ perception of the exhibits. Indeed, the entire museum has been obviously carefully organized at every turn to influence the perception of visitors’ in an effort to communicate something of the atmosphere of September 11, 2001, in not only New York City, but also other important places in the attacks, such as the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the crash site of United 93 in rural Pennsylvania. As a student of 9/11, I am familiar with most of the images, sound, and media used, but to people with little or no previous knowledge, especially in the controlled area, the experience must be intense. Indeed, despite my previous knowledge of the event, the images and artifacts, and my attempt at a detached and professional perception of the museum, I still came away from the 9/11 Museum emotionally effected, leaving the building with a profound sense of sadness.

So, in general, the 9/11 Museum is well done. A notable exception is the film being shown to visitors in the upstairs auditorium. The film basically is 15 minutes of George Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Rudolph Giuliani, and George Pataki sharing an abbreviated version of their by now well-known and self-serving 9/11 memories. I’m sure some people are learning for the first time what these politicians associated with the event have to say for themselves, but the film misses a golden opportunity to provide needed historical context to the event and to share the experiences of ordinary people on that day. No doubt it was politically sensitive what would be shown in the auditorium, but this film is a missed opportunity and the biggest disappointment of an otherwise well-executed museum experience.

So the 9/11 Memorial and 9/11 Museum are both worth the visit, if perhaps not worth the $24 admission to enter the museum. I will be curious to see how the memorial and the museum evolve over time, especially as 9/11 becomes an ever more distant memory and perceptions of its significance are influenced by future events. But for now, it will join the pantheon of must see historical museums in the United States.

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Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (Repost)

My all-time favorite Frederick Douglass speech is “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Douglass delivered this address in Rochester, N.Y., on July 5, 1852. In it, Douglass attacked the hypocrisy of a holiday celebrating freedom when millions of Americans were slaves. The speech captures well Frederick Douglass’ oratorical genius. Over this holiday weekend, please take the time to listen to an excerpt of the speech read by the great James Earl Jones.

To read the full text of Douglass’ speech, please <click here>. Have a happy and joyous 4th of July weekend! Don Shaffer

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