On Racism in the Antebellum North

lifeinphili
"How you find yourself?" Source: Lithograph by Edward Clay, Life in Philadelphia, plate 4 (Philadelphia: S. Hart, 1829); courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

There is much in Bruce Levine’s Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War that informed my study of Antebellum America. Most of it fit with my understanding of the era and the issues with which Americans grappled. I gained much, however, from adding Levine’s insights to my own.

Several things stood out as surprising to me in my reading of Levine’s work. One epiphany came from Levine’s treatment of racism that existed in the North prior to the Civil War. It is easy for today’s generations to naively assume that since the North fought, in part, to end slavery, the peoples engaged in that effort felt some affinity for the black man. But Levine points out that “while deploring slavery as an institution,” many northerners “despised African Americans as much as southern whites did.” (1) But, Levine posits,

“Racism had a different significance in the free and slave states. Whereas in the South racism enlisted in the cause of keeping African Americans enslaved, in the North it aimed chiefly to force blacks out of the white population’s vicinity and path. Precisely because it served such very different practical ends, in different locales, antebellum America’s ubiquitous anti-black racism could not indefinitely reconcile northerners to southern demands and could not permanently calm slaveholders’ anxieties about northern intentions.” (2)

So while Northern religious and social values of the era were increasingly “antithetical to bondage,” they should not be interpreted as an invitation to the black man to fully join in Northern Antebellum white society.

About the image: The History Teacher provides an excellent description about this image in a larger lesson titled Free Black Activism in the Antebellum North and penned by Patrick Rael of Bowdoin College. He provides a description about the image that I believe will be helpful and which I quote here. I recommend a full reading of his essay which is available here.

“How you find yourself?”
Etchings such as this mocked the social pretensions of free black urbanites who, through their habits of consumption and display, were thought to desire social status above their stations. This image was one of a series, entitled “Life in Philadelphia” by political cartoonist Edward Clay, which lampooned the behavior of a range of city dwellers, white and black. The text on this image reads:

Mr. Ceasar: “How you find yourself did hot weader Miss Chloe?”
Miss Chloe: “Pretty well I tank you Mr. Cesar[,] only I aspire too much!”

The humor here, such as it is, depends on a malapropism, or a ludicrous misuse of words that signals their speaker’s inability to master proper English. This form of parody helped to define stereotypes of free blacks in nineteenth-century America, and continued well into the twentieth century.”

Image Source: Lithograph by Edward Clay, Life in Philadelphia, plate 4 (Philadelphia: S. Hart, 1829); courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

halfslavehalffree

(1) Bruce Levine, Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War, Revised (Hill and Wang: New York, 2005), 251.

(2) Patrick Rael, “Free Black Activism in the Antebellum North,” The History Teacher February 2006 <http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ht/39.2/rael.html> (18 Jan. 2009).

New Acquisition: Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings & the Politics of the 1850's

My copy of Tyler Anbinder’s Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings & the Politics of the 1850’s finally arrived yesterday. One of my readers recommended it as one of the best resources on the Know Nothings Party which I’ve just finished a series of posts on. Can’t wait to dig in.

ISBN13: 9780195089226
ISBN10: 0195089227
Paper, 352 pages
Oxford University Press
Published: May, 1994

Winner of the Avery O. Craven Award of the Organization of American Historians
New York Times 1992 Notable Book of the Year
Chosen by The Gustavus Myers Center as a 1992 Outstanding Book on Human Rights in the United States Outstanding Book on Human Rights

nativismandslavery1

ty-anbinderDr. Anbinder is chair of the Department of History at The George Washington University. You can view his complete C.V. here.

Fugitive Slave Law Backfires

fugitiveslavelaw
Source: American Treasurers of the Library of Congress

Interesting reading from Bruce Levine’s text, Half Slave and Half Free : The Roots of Civil War, this evening. He contends that the fugitive slave law that was a part of the Compromise of 1850 actually did more damage to slavery’s cause than good.

So long as slavery seemed geographically contained and remote, free-state residents could despise it without feeling much direct personal involvement in its workings; slavery could thus remain the peculiar institution of the South, not a problem or responsibility of the North. By sending slave hunters into the free states and requiring even antislavery citizens to aid them, however, the new law made such rationalizations impossible.

Net-net: pushing compliance to slavery controls “compelled Northerners to confront slavery as a national, not just a sectional, issue.” (Levine, 189-190)

About the image:

S. M Africanus
The Fugitive Slave Law
Hartford, Connecticut: 1850
Printed broadside
Rare Book & Special Collections Division (33A)

In 1850, Congress passed this controversial law, which allowed slave-hunters to seize alleged fugitive slaves without due process of law and prohibited anyone from aiding escaped fugitives or obstructing their recovery. The law threatened the safety of all blacks, slave and free, and forced many Northerners to become more defiant in their support of fugitives. Both broadside and print, shown here, present objections in prose and verse to justify noncompliance with this law.


On Know Nothings and Secret Societies – 8

nativism
The three days of May 1844. Columbia mourns her citizens slain. Source: Library of Congress

Few would argue that a resurgence of nativism in the mid-19th century had a rational footing. It was, rather, “a nonrational response to contemporary problems” in “an age of social upheaval, an age of deprivation, stress, and imminent disaster.”

The nation was not facing civil war because of immigration from Ireland and Germany. The dislocations of urban-industrial growth were not produced by the newcomers, more victims than villains in this story. Attacking the Irish would not resolve the dilemma of sectional strife. Striking out at the aliens would not bring an end to socioeconomic changes or even the illusion of stability.

But embracing an antialien movement would allow frustrated nativists a sense of “escape from the central problems of their time. Unwilling to accept the dark side of their American experience—the wages of slavery, the stresses of a competitive culture, the crisis of community—they struck out at the most vulnerable group within their midst.”  Thus Bennett posits, “the Know Nothing movement and the great appeal of nativism are found in concerns about immigration and historic fears of Catholicism.”

Many nativists thought the solution to the growing turmoil was to return to that which was familiar in the nation’s past, waging battle against an invading alien threat.

Americanists constructed a polarized world in which the enemy (now Catholic Irish and Germans) was an alien intruder and they were the “chosen people.”

In the end, Bennett asserts, the membership of the American Party would discover that “the issues over which they differed were as important as the religious, ethnic, and political bonds that united them.” Even though they achieved considerable early success as a party, they had not found a way to handle the great divisive issue of the day, slavery.

partyoffear

David H. Bennett, The Party Of Fear: The American Far Right from Nativism to the Militia Movement , (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 94, 103, 119.

About the image.
A memorial to nativist casualties of the violent clashes occurring between anti-foreigner “Native Americans” and Irish-American Catholics in Kensington, Philadelphia, May 6 through 8, 1844. The female figure of Columbia holds a large, billowing American flag near a broken column on which she places a wreath. On the column are the names of those Native Americans killed during the attacks on Catholic homes and institutions. At the top of the list, circled by Columbia’s wreath, is the name of George Schiffler, the first and most famous of the nativist martyrs. Other names inscribed on the column are: Wright, Rhinedollar, Greble, Stillwell, Hammitt, Ramsey, and Cox. To the right of Columbia is an American eagle supporting a shield with the names of the wounded, including: Peale (the artist?), Whitecar, Lescher, Young, Wiseman, Willman, Schufelbaugh, Yocum, Ardis, Boggs, Ford, Bartleson, and Ort. Above the figure floats a streamer with the print’s title. Below a similar banner reads “Deceased—-We Revere Their Memory—Wounded—We Cherish And Reward Them—.”

Medium: lithograph on wove paper
Published by Colon & Adriance, 28 & 29 Arcade, 1844.
Library of Congress Call Number: LOT 10615-34 [item] [P&P]

On Know Nothings and Secret Societies – 5

Flag of the Know Nothing Party
Flag of the Know Nothing Party

Historian James McPherson points out that the membership in the Know Nothings was “drawn primarily from young men in white-collar and skilled blue-collar occupations. A good many of them were new voters. One analysis showed that men in their twenties were twice as likely to vote Know Nothing as men over thirty.”  (1)

Their leaders were also “new men” in politics who reflected the social backgrounds of their constituency. In Pittsburg, more than half of the Know-Nothing leaders were under thirty-five and nearly half were artisans and clerks. Know Nothings elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1854 consisted mainly of skilled workers, rural clergymen, and clerks in various enterprises. Maryland’s leaders were younger and less affluent than their Democratic counterparts.” (1)

For more information on the Know Nothing Party in Massachusetts, see the Massachusetts Historical Society here.

(1)battlecryoffreedom Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), (New York: Oxford Press, 1988), 135-136.

On Know Nothings and Secret Societies – 2

order-of-united-americans-cropped

In the 1830s and 1840s, Americans had rediscovered a fascination with fraternalism discarded earlier in the century “when anti-Masonry led to public suspicion of secret societies.” (1)  This was the era of the Odd Fellows, the Foresters, the Good Fellows and the Druids, the Red Men and the Heptasops. (2)

James McPherson marks the beginning of the movement that would lead to the “Know Nothing” American Party in the 1840s, when nativist parties flared and then cooled after the elections of 1844. (3)  Relief from depression calmed tensions between native and foreign-born workers just in time for the massive influx of Europeans that resulted from that continent’s potato blight. (4)  But American nativist sentiments continue to simmer and “on a late December evening in 1844, thirteen men gathered in the home of printer Russell C. Root in New York City” to form a group calling itself the American Brotherhood.  The name was eventually changed to “Order of United Americans (OUA).” Its goals, outlined in a “code of principles,” were “to release our country from the thralldom of foreign domination.” This marked the birth of a nativist fraternity…and formed the nucleus of a far larger nativist effort than ever before. (5)

Membership in the Order of United Americans was limited to white men, twenty-one years of age or older, native born and Protestant. Its leaders were reasonably affluent and good organizers albeit from the “margins of the establishment.” This was a secret society replete with mysterious rituals and procedures that gave it an “illusion of antiquity.” (6)

Central to its structure was the magical triad. There were three levels of authority (local chapter, state chancery, and national archchancery), three chancellors sent from chapter to chancery, three archchancellors sent on to national. But there was only one leader of the OUA (limited to a single year term) and in the language of the lodge vogue he was called the arch grand sachem. By 1850, he ruled over a truly national domain with groups in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Missouri, and Ohio. (6)

Gradually the organization began to become politicized and attracted “many conservative Whigs whose nativist ideology conveniently intersected with political needs in a time of party disarray.” (7)

1.  David H. Bennett, The Party Of Fear: The American Far Right from Nativism to the Militia Movement (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 106.
2.  Ibid.
3. James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, (New York: Oxford Press, 1988), 130.
4. Ibid.
5.  David H. Bennett, The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History, 105.
6. Ibid, 107.
7. Ibid., 110.

On Know Nothings and Secret Societies – 1

united-americanBits of white paper strewn across a prearranged site announced the meeting of the brotherhood. Held at night, in keeping with the secrecy that shrouded its early years, the sessions of the local chapters of the Order of the Star Spangled Banner were open only to initiates and those about to join them in the ranks. The ritual for admission to the lodge seemed endless. But instead of irritating men tired after a long day’s work, the elaborate raps and special handclasps, the passwords between brothers, and the sentinels sent to escort candidates long known to the membership seemed to heighten the feeling of camaraderie, the sense of special excitement at the dangerous but essential mission they were privileged to share. For they were there to save and cleanse the nation, to preserve for themselves that abstraction which some would later call the American dream.

partyoffear

David H. Bennett, The Party Of Fear: The American Far Right from Nativism to the Militia Movement [book on-line] (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1988, accessed 20 December 2008), i; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=105437182; Internet.

About the image available from the Library of Congress:
TITLE: United American. Patriotism, chari
REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-91519 (b&w film copy neg.)
SUMMARY: An idealized portrayal of a member of the nativist Order of United Americans [which merged with The Order of the Star Spangled Banner], a society founded in New York in 1844 as the American Brotherhood. (The organization acquired its present name the following year.) The United Americans were established to oppose foreign influence in American institutions and government. (See also notes on two certificates for the order, nos. 1848-1 and 1850-2). Currier’s portrait shows a young gentleman, of obvious good breeding, wearing the sash of the order. He stands before a desk and a chair, from which he seems to have just risen and above which hangs a copy of John Trumbull’s “Battle of Bunker Hill.” He has removed one glove, which he holds in his right hand, and tucks his left hand in his vest.
MEDIUM: 1 print on wove paper : lithograph with watercolor ; image 30.7 x 22.7 cm.
CREATED/PUBLISHED: [New York] : Lith. & pub. by N[athaniel] Currier, 152 Nassau St., cor. of Spruce, N.Y., c1849.
N. Currier (Firm)

Political History Word of the Day – Jingoistic

partyoffearI ran across the word “jingoistic” tonight in my reading of a fascinating book, The Party Of Fear: The American Far Right from Nativism to the Militia Movement by David H. Bennett.

jingoistic
adjective
fanatically patriotic [syn: chauvinistic]

jin·go·ism
Extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism.

jin’go·ist n., jin’go·is’tic adj.jin’go·is’ti·cal·ly adv.

Here is a snippet from Bennett’s book to show the context of his use of the word.

The greatest upheaval was the clash between the North and South. The issue of slavery, and the sectional conflict it helped to generate and exacerbate, was inextricably connected to territorial expansion. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 temporarily resolved that issue, setting the famous line (36° 30″) to the Pacific, north of which the South’s “peculiar institution” could not be extended. But the question flared anew with the Mexican War and the prospect of a rich California territory and a new estate in the desert and mountain West available for American settlement and development. This war of expansion did not unify the country as have international conflicts in some tranquil times. Nor did that other jingoistic outburst against the British in the debate over division of the Oregon territory in the far Northwest. (2)

(1) jingoistic. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/jingoistic (accessed: December 20, 2008)

(2) David H. Bennett, The Party Of Fear: The American Far Right from Nativism to the Militia Movement [book on-line] (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1988, accessed 20 December 2008), 95; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=105437276; Internet.

On Free Soilers – 2

wilmotproviso
For more information on this illustration, click it.

A key reason that “Free Soilers” feared the South, and particularly slaveholders, was because of the political power they wielded in the national parties and government. This resentment found as “epithet the term ‘Slave Power,’ which Northern politicians of both parties used to denounce the political pretensions of slaveholders. Prohibiting slavery from the territories was the easiest way to prevent the admission of more slave states and thus to stop the growth of the political power of slaveholders.”(1)

dwilmot
David Wilmot

Fear of the South’s power manifest itself in the resentment and writings of politicians such as David Wilmot (Wilmot Proviso).

“I am jealous of the power of the South….The South holds no prerogative under the Constitution, which entitles her to wield forever the Scepter of Power in this Republic, to fix by her own arbitrary edit, the principles of policy of this government, and to build up and tear down at pleasure… Yet so dangerous do I believe the spirit and demands of the Slave Power, so insufferable its arrogance, if I saw the way open to strike an effectual and decisive blow against its domination at this time, I would do so, even at the temporary loss of other principles.” (1)

Even within parties there was resentment between North and South. Michael Holt provides a quote from a young Massachusetts Whig that shows the visceral nature of the resentment of Northerners toward their party colleagues from the South.

“They have trampled on the rights and just claims of the North sufficiently long and have fairly shit upon all our Northern statesmen and are now trying to rub it in and I think now is the time and just the time for the North to take a stand and maintain it till they have brought the South to their proper level.” (1)

While the reasons for this resentment were complex, one clear fear was that the South would dictate the expansion of slavery into Western territories and this would degrade the value of free white labor and thus the potential for movement of the Northern-based labor ethic into those territories.

(1) Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850’s, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1978), 51.

On Free Soilers – 1

willis-forcing

David M. Potter describes “Free Soilers” as “antislavery dissenters within both old parties.”(1)

Michael F. Holt provides an excellent profile of the Northerners who made up the “Free Soil” Party in his description of the delegates, both elected and self-appointed, who attended the first convention of the party in Buffalo.

jpolk
James K. Polk

“Uniformly zealous, they were a heterogeneous lot: Midwestern Democratic proponents of rivers and harbors improvements, which neither party had officially endorsed and Polk had vetoed; labor reformers interested in free homesteads in the West; and even vengeful Clay loyalists from New York City. But most were primarily determined to stop slavery’s spread, and they included three main groups: antislavery Whigs from New England and the Midwest; antislavery Democrats, including New York’s Barnburners; and Liberty men.”(2)

clay
Henry Clay

Holt goes on to reinforce that “by itself, antislavery sentiment does not explain who became Free Soilers and who did not.” (3)  It varied by state and had much to do with how eager statesmen were to stay with trusted leaders from older existing parties.

—–

(1) David M. Potter, “The Impending Crisis 1848 – 1861,” (New York: Harper Perennial, 1976), 227.

(2) Michael F. Holt, “The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War,” (New York: The Oxford University Press, 1999), 339-340.

(3) Ibid.

The Cycles of History: The Panic of 1857

Interesting insights this morning from Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War by Eric Foner. I’ll let you draw your own parallels to our current challenges.

“As they were to do many times subsequently, Republicans blamed the Panic not on impersonal economic forces, but on the individual shortcomings of Americans, particularly their speculation in land and stocks which had reached ‘mania’ proportions in the years preceding the crash, and on generally extravagant living. The Cincinnati Gazette defined the basic economic problems as an overexpansion of the credit system, rooted in too many ‘great speculations.’ But speculation was only one aspect of the problem of general extravagance. ‘We have been living too fast,’ complained the Gazette. ‘Individuals, families, have been eagerly trying to outdo each other in dress, furniture, style and luxury.’ The Chicago Press and Tribune likewise blamed ‘ruinous extravagance’ and luxurious living’ for the economic troubles, and both papers urged a return to ‘republican simplicity,’ and the frugal, industrious ways of the Protestant ethic.”

Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). 24.freesoil

On Slavery 9 – Partus Sequitur Ventrem

When considering slaves, Colonial Virginians abandoned the English tradition of partus sequitur patrem (one’s status was determined by the disposition of their father) in favor of the Roman principle of partus sequitur ventrem, a “child inherits the condition of the mother.” (1) Thus offspring of slave women were the property of their mother’s owner whether fathered by freeman or not. Annette Gordon–Reed, in her book “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” speculates on why Virginian colonists made up this particular form of slavery that endured until the Civil War.

reed_annette“White men, particularly the ones who made up the House of Burgesses, the legislature in colonial Virginia, were the masters of a growing numbers of African women, owning not only their labor but their very bodies. That these women sometimes would be used for sex as well as work must have occurred to the burgesses. Inevitably offspring would arise from some of these unions. Even white males who owned no slaves could contribute to the problem by producing, with enslaved black women, children who would be born free, thus destroying a critical component of the master’s property right: the ability to capture the value of the “increase” when female slaves gave birth.” (2)

Gordon-Reed goes on to describe an actual court case that occurred in 1655 in which Elizabeth Key, a woman of mixed blood, “successfully sued for her freedom on the basis of the fact that her father was English.” (3) This ruling, if left to stand as precedent, would have created a gap by which a growing number of children could escape slavery, those fathered by free white men and black women in bondage.

The impacts were staggering. First, the law “assured that white men – particularly the privileged ones who passed the law, who would not likely have been hauled into court for fornication even with white women – could have sex with enslaved women, produce children who were items of capital, and never have to worry about losing their property rights in them.” (4)

Gordon-Reed suggests that the law was likely intended to reduce racial-mixing in that along with it was passed a measure that increased the fines for mixed-race couples that engaged in sex out of wedlock. But in effect, it meant “the private conduct of men would have no serious impact on the emerging slave society as a whole. White men could engage in sex with black women without creating a class of freeborn mixed-race people to complicate matters.” (5)

Second, the law implied that every person suspected of having African blood, was assumed to be a slave unless they could prove otherwise. “…The English common-law presumption in favor of freedom did not apply to Negroes; in all slave states (except Delaware) the presumption was that people with black skins were slaves unless they could prove that they were free.” (6)  Kenneth Stampp explains that this hyper race sensitive system required that “the offspring of a free white father and a Negro, mulatto (half), quadroon (one Negro grandparent), or octoroon (one Negro great-grandparent) slave mother was a slave.” (7) This ruling once again encouraged exploitation of women in that mixed-blood, often very white appearing women, were kept as slave prostitutes to service white men.

isaac-and-rosaParadoxically, the child of a black enslaved father and a free white mother was considered by law in most states, free. Likewise, children found to have descended from a female Indian were considered free because, with the exception of a short time in the 17th century, it was unlawful to enslave an Indian.

As might be imagined, interpretation of the rules governing race and thus one’s status as property varied by locale. “In Alabama a ‘mulatto’ was ‘a person of mixed blood, descended, on the part of the mother or father, from negro ancestors, to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person.” (8) South Carolina didn’t specifically define terms such as Negro and mulatto but left interpretation to visible evidence of mixture and took into account “a person’s reputation among his neighbors.” (9) One was considered free in Kentucky if it could be proven that one had “less than a fourth of African blood.” (10)

The legacy of the men who created a country built upon laws that supported racial slavery was in part the creation of a culture that expended a great deal of energy establishing the racial status and thus property rights to a growing population of mix-blood “chattel personal.” It was a legacy that encouraged widespread abuses and the flagrant misuse of female slaves who had no legal rights at all. As contended by Gordon-Reed, “under the rules of the game the burgesses constructed,” there was no need to interfere with other men’s conduct. Whatever the social tensions and confusion created by the presence of people who were neither black nor white, Virginia’s law on inheriting status through the mother effectively ended threats to slave masters’ property rights when interracial sex produced children who confounded the supposedly fixed categories of race.” (11) Hyper-race sensitivity and all its implications would continue for centuries to come.

For more information on Elizabeth Key’s freedom case, see a paper by Taunya Lovell Banks from the University of Maryland School of Law, “Dangerous Woman: Elizabeth Key’s Freedom Suit – Subjecthood and Racialized Identity in Seventeenth Century Colonial Virginia” here.

(1) Kenneth M. Stamp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), 193.
(2) Annette Gordon – Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008), 46.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid., 46-47.
(6) Kenneth M. Stamp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, 193-194.
(7) Ibid., 194.
(8) Ibid., 195.
(9) Ibid.
(10) Ibid., 196.
(11) Annette Gordon – Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, 47.

On Slavery – 8: The "Peculiar Institution"

I believe the use of the phrase “peculiar institution” was intended to convey the highly contradictory nature of the practice of human ownership in a country based on equality and freedom. Regardless of what perspective one might have of slavery in America, it is difficult to argue against the fact that these contradictions existed. Historian Kenneth Stampp’s chapter titled “Between Two Cultures,” in his book, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, provides several compelling examples.

slavefamily

1. American culture was heavily influenced by religion and yet the South used that religion to justify slavery.

2. Morality of the day frowned on fornication and yet the laws of the day prohibited slaves from legally marrying, thus not only condoning but also encouraging slaves to live out-of-wedlock. Slave owners preached “virtue and decency…” but then wondered why there was widespread sexual promiscuity. Add to this the “hypocrisy in white criticism of their moral laxity” when masters used their slaves “to satisfy an immediate sexual urge.”

3. Rape of a white woman by a slave was punishable by death but “no such offense against a slave woman was recognized in law.”

4. The family was critically important to white culture but the “peculiar institution” condoned the intentional undermining of normal family structures among bondsmen because it best suited their owner’s economic goals as well as furthering command and control of laborers. “The family had no great importance as an economic unit.” And the Protestant South was highly tolerant of slave owners who separated spouses and families.

5. Stampp points out that “the enterprising, individualistic, freedom-loving, self-made man” attained the greatest respectability in white society of the 19th century. And yet slaves were given no opportunity to even hope to aspire to this level of respectability.

6. Rather than a society based on equality, the South developed a highly stratified caste system.

And so I contend that embracing slavery left the South at odds with itself, the North, and much of the rest of the world. And yet embrace it, it did. Use of the phrase “peculiar institution” instead of “slavery” was yet another way in which the South struggled to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South.

On Slavery – 7 Slavemongering

slaveblock
Green Hill Plantation, Slave Auction Block, State Route 728, Long Island vicinity, Campbell County, VA Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Many words lose their relevance and thus usage over time. Fortunately, slavemongering, is among them.

A monger is defined as a dealer or trader. To monger is to promote or deal in something specified. It is generally used in a composition. Thus a costermonger is an itinerant fruit-seller, a fellmonger is a dealer in skins, a fishmonger peddles fish, and an ironmonger is a dealer in iron goods.

the-sale
The Sale, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Walter William Skeat’s An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, suggests as possible source of the word.

monger, mangere a dealer merchant formed with suffix ere from mang ian – to traffic barter gain by trading.
The relationship to the Lat[in] mango, a dealer in slaves, is not clear but the [English] word does not appear to have been borrowed from it. [1]

Slaves were “inseparable from any species of private property” and since “titles to slaves were transferable,” their owners had the power of conveyance. [2] Thus the legality of slavemongering, or the trafficking of slaves, was firmly established in the Antebellum South.

Slave owners seemed somewhat ambivalent to the idea of slavemongering. Some despised the idea but took advantage of it non-the-less. Thus one who found the sale of a bondsman distasteful or even bordering on amoral, could unburden themselves of their human property using a professional.

franklin_armfield-office
The Offices of Franklin Armfield, Alexandria, Virginia

Franklin & Armfield had the distinction of being the the largest slave-trading enterprise in the South at least during the period prior to the Panic of 1837. Formed in 1828, its principles were John Armfield and Isaac Franklin. They each “accumulated fortunes in excess of a half million dollars” before retiring. [2]

nbf-cropped
Nathan B. Forrest

Hundreds of small entrepreneurs engaged in slave trade but only a few made large sums of money. Among these few was Nathan Bedford Forrest who “was the largest slave trader in Memphis during the late 1850’s; he was reputed to have made a profit of $96,000 in a single year.” [2]

[1] Walter William Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, accessed on the internet via Google Books, November 22, 2008 here.

[2] Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South.

On Slavery – 6 Chattels Personal

Kenneth Stampp’s chapter “Chattels Personal” is excellent. I suspect that “chattel” is not a word most of us learn unless we study law or Antebellum American history in depth. Its meaning in the context of slavery is, of course, that person’s slaves were consider legally as “chattel personal.”

slave-clapboard
Source: Library of Congress Reproduction # LC-DIG-cwpb-01005

Being a person quite taken with words, I did a little research on the origins of this one and found it informative. Interestingly, a search for the etymology of the word found some disagreement. The following perspective comes from French: A Linguistic Introduction.

“Chattel comes from the French noun cheptel used to designate all movable property, but now is restricted to ‘livestock’. English has gone a step further: cattle used to designate any movable property, then all livestock, and now is generally restricted to bovines. English also has the word chattel, legally any type of movable property, but more specifically in modern usage, it refers to slaves. All of these terms are ultimately derived from the Latin word capitalis, which has been reintroduced in modern financial vocabulary, e.g. capital campaign in fundraising. This term, in turn, is derived from the Latin word caput, ‘head’ (French chef), with the result that ‘head of cattle’, our original example, ultimately is a ‘head of things with heads’!” [1]

This from A New Law Dictionary and Glossary

“…the singular chattel seems to be immediately formed from the Fr. chatelle, or chatel, (q.v.); the plural chattels, (or, as it was formerly written, catals,) is supposed to be derived from the L. Lat., catalla, the ch being pronounced hard, as in the word charta, which is evident from the form of the old Norman plural, cateux, (q.v.). As to any further derivation, catalla or catalia is clearly shown by Spelman to be merely a contracted form of writing capitalia, which with the singular capitale, or captale, occurs frequently in the Saxon and early English laws. The primary meaning of capitalia was animals, beasts of husbandry, (otherwise call averia, q.v.) or cattle; in which last word it is still identically retained.

Capitalia is derived by Spelman from capita, heads; a term still popularly applied to beasts, as “so many “heads of cattle.” When the word took the form catalla, it continued to retain this primary meaning, but gradually acquired the secondary sense of movables of any kind, inanimate as well as animate, and finally became used to signify interests in lands.”

CHATTELS PERSONAL, otherwise called THINGS PERSONAL, comprise all sorts of things movable, as good, plate, money, jewels, implements of war, garments, animals and vegetable productions; as the frit or other part of a plant, when severed from the body of it, or the whole plant itself, when severed from th ground. Besides things moveable, they include also certain incorporeal rights or interestes, growing out of, or incident to them, such as patent rights and copyrights…” [2]

——

[1] French: A Linguistic Introduction
By Zsuzsanna Fagyal, Douglas Kibbee, Fred Jenkins
Published by Cambridge University Press, 2006
ISBN 0521821444, 9780521821445
337 pages (pp. 154-155), Accessed online, November 16, 2008, http://books.google.com/books?id=4yTA6SvGuekC&pg=PP1&dq=French:+A+Linguistic+Introduction#PPA154,M1

[2] A New Law Dictionary and Glossary
By Alexander M. Burrill
Published by The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 1998
ISBN 1886363323, 9781886363328
1099 pages (pp. 207-208), Accessed online, November 16, 2008, http://books.google.com/books?id=DeQYXYMBtwgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=etemology+of+the+word+chattel#PPA208,M1

Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South.