Panic in the Volatile North;
Horace Greeley the Hypocrite
by Gene Kizer, Jr.
In one single blow our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade would pass into other hands. One-half of our shipping would lie idle at our wharves. . . . Our manufactories would be in utter ruins. . . . millions of our people would be compelled to go out of employment.
December 10, 1860
One week before South Carolina's
Secession Convention was to convene
(This post is Chapter Four of my book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., available on this website)
When Northerners began realizing how truly dependent they were on the South, they flew into a panic. Horace Greeley is the embodiment of the North and he proved himself a hypocrite of the first order.
On December 17, 1860, the day South Carolina's Secession Convention began, Greeley published a long emotional editorial in the New York Daily Tribune affirming and supporting the right of secession as not only legal but moral. He is known for saying that our "erring sisters should be allowed to depart in peace."
In "The Right of Secession," Greeley writes:
-- We have repeatedly asked those who dissent from our view of this matter to tell us frankly whether they do or do not assent to Mr. Jefferson's statement in the Declaration of Independence that governments "derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government," &c., &c. We do heartily accept this doctrine, believing it intrinsically sound, beneficent, and one that, universally accepted, is calculated to prevent the shedding of seas of human blood. And, if it justified the secession from the British Empire of Three Millions of colonists in 1776, we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861. If we are mistaken on this point, why does not some one attempt to show wherein and why? . . . -- we could not stand up for coercion, for subjugation, for we do not think it would be just. We hold the right of Self-Government sacred, even when invoked in behalf of those who deny it to others . . . if ever 'seven or eight States' send agents to Washington to say 'We want to get out of the Union,' we shall feel constrained by our devotion to Human Liberty to say, Let Them Go! And we do not see how we could take the other side without coming in direct conflict with those Rights of Man which we hold paramount to all political arrangements, however convenient and advantageous.1
But three months later, as the Northern economy collapsed around him and genuine panic ensued with plummeting property values, business failures, factory closures, an imminent stock market crash, people in the streets, goods rotting on New York docks, and utter disaster on the horizon, he wanted war. The entire North wanted war. They all agreed with the New York Times: "At once shut down every Southern Port, destroy its commerce and bring utter ruin on the Confederate states."2
The hypocrisy of Greeley, as the embodiment of the North, is breathtaking.
He writes in his newspaper that "We hold the right of Self-government sacred," and we believe in the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, and we believe in the "just powers" of the government coming from the "consent of the governed," and we believe in the "Right of the People to alter or to abolish" a tyrannical government -- and we believe in a "devotion to Human Liberty" and the "Rights of Man" no matter how "convenient and advantageous" our current situation -- and his most hypocritical of hypocritical statements, that "we could not stand up for coercion, for subjugation, for we do not think it would be just."
He then casts all his sacred principles to the ground and spits all over them. He spits on the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers too, and he grinds the Declaration of Independence into the dirt with his heel because they all were secondary to his money -- and the North was with him in lockstep.3
Backtrack to December, 1860, as South Carolina's Secession Convention gets underway. South Carolina Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens reflected the utter thrill and ecstasy of the South over its forthcoming independence. He said in his inaugural message that South Carolina would "open her ports free to the tonnage and trade of all nations, . . . . She has fine harbors, accessible to foreign commerce, and she is in the centre of those extensive agricultural productions, that enter so largely into the foreign trade and commerce of the world."4 He said South Carolina would immediately seek free trade relationships with all countries, especially England, and
it is for the benefit of all who may be interested in commerce, in manufactories, and in the comforts of artizans and mechanic labor everywhere, to make such speedy and peaceful arrangements with us as may advance the interests and happiness of all concerned.5
Contrast that with Northern panic in the same week from The Chicago Times:
In one single blow our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade would pass into other hands. One-half of our shipping would lie idle at our wharves. We should lose our trade with the South, with all its immense profits. Our manufactories would be in utter ruins. Let the South adopt the free-trade system, or that of a tariff for revenue,6 and these results would likely follow. If protection be wholly withdrawn from our labor, it could not compete, with all the prejudices against it, with the labor of Europe. We should be driven from the market, and millions of our people would be compelled to go out of employment.7 (Bold emphasis added.)
New York City was petrified and ready to secede from New York State over the certain loss of its commercial trade with the South. The situation was too "gloomy and painful to contemplate" according to Mayor Fernando Wood. He issued his "Recommendation for the Secession of New York City" on January 6, 1861 to make it clear that New York supported the South and valued its trade with the South and wanted to keep it:
When Disunion has become a fixed and certain fact, why may not New York disrupt the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master -- to a people and a party [Lincoln's Republicans] that have plundered her revenues, attempted to ruin her commerce, taken away the power of self-government, and destroyed the Confederacy [meaning the pre-secession Union with the Southern States intact] of which she was the proud Empire City? Amid the gloom which the present and prospective condition of things must cast over the country, New York, as a Free City, may shed the only light and hope of a future reconstruction of our once blessed Confederacy. . . .8
Northern society was volatile, anyway, wild and unstable, subject to economic panics (severe recessions/depression, bank failures, etc.). The entire decade before the war, the North was chaotic, dangerous, often a wretched place to live. The scenes in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York are true to life but don't even begin to tell the real story.
Widespread poverty kept the working classes hungry and in turmoil. Constant immigration from Europe increased the pressure steadily and made the North a boiler on the verge of exploding. Most immigrants arrived with little or no money yet had to survive. They headed straight to factories and "industrial misery" where a man could work for only a few brutal years before his body was ruined by black lung and other diseases due to unhealthy conditions in crude factories.
Industrial turmoil in the North mirrored Europe. European agitation was transferred to the North with "strikes and demonstrations, far-reaching, prolonged and repeated, never more volcanic in character than in the decade that preceded the Civil War."9
There was genuine concern that if the enfranchised but miserable poor ever got organized, they would vote themselves into power then confiscate the property of wealthy people and redistribute it. It had happened in other places.
Some historians believe it did happen in the North but the property taken was not that of a ruling class. It was the western lands. That is why the West was such a huge campaign issue in 1860. When Horace Greeley said, "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country," it was not just a good idea. It was the pressure valve of the Northern boiler that was about to explode -- and it released the North's surplus population to the West like steam into the wind.
William Gilmore Simms had toured the North on a lecture tour in 1856 and noted that Republican promises are "Addressed to a class, counting millions of desperate men, whom a grinding daily necessity makes reckless of every consideration of law, justice and the constitution."10 He also said the North "is all wild, disordered, anarchical, ready for chaos and disruption. And, the Northern mind, where not fanatical, is marked by a frivolity, a levity, which makes it reluctant to grapple seriously with serious things."11 In the Panic of 1857, tens of thousands of hungry workers had roamed the streets of Northern cities in mobs shouting "bread or blood!"
Republicans had rallied those voters with slogans like "Vote yourself a tariff" and "Vote yourself a farm." Historian Mary Beard wrote that "when the Republicans in their platform of 1860 offered free land to the workingmen of the world in exchange for a protective tariff" they got a "tumultuous response."12
Northern anti-slavery was in no sense a pro-black movement but was anti-black. It was a way to rally votes. Might as well substitute the term "anti-South" for "anti-slavery" because it was anti-South -- against the South -- not pro-black.
Historian James L. Huston states well the Northern attitude toward slavery:
If opposition to slavery had involved only antagonism toward racial oppression, then the northern attack would have barely existed. The North was not a racially egalitarian section seeking to establish equitable race relations in the slaveholding South.13
Many of the genuine abolitionists in the North -- the 2 to 5% mentioned by Lee Benson and Gavin Wright -- were racists. This is a great irony but many hated slavery because they hated blacks and did not want to associate with them, especially in the West.
David M. Potter states that Northern anti-slavery was "not in any clear-cut sense a pro-Negro movement but actually had an anti-Negro aspect and was designed to get rid of the Negro."14
Abraham Lincoln also wanted to "get rid of the Negro." He had always supported recolonization. As stated earlier, Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is clear that "the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent, or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the Governments existing there, will be continued."
Some abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison had real concern for black people. Robert Toombs said Garrison was a man of conviction who would not take an oath to the U.S. Constitution because it protected slavery. Toombs said the good abolitionists like Garrison did not trust the "political abolitionists" and wanted nothing to do with them.
These political abolitionists -- the other 95 to 98% of the Northern electorate -- wanted something from the government such as free land in the West, a protective tariff, bounty, subsidy or monopoly for their businesses. Some were working men afraid of competition with slave labor, especially in the West. All had been led to believe that if they voted Republican, the Republican Party would bring them riches beyond their wildest imaginations, farms, tariffs, land, whatever they wanted. This was not a pro-black movement in any way. It was a carnival of greed and special interests.
Charles P. Roland in An American Iliad, The Story of the Civil War acknowledges the economic and racist character of Northern anti-slavery:
There was a significant economic dimension in the Northern antislavery sentiment, the fear of competition from slave labor and the awareness that work itself was degraded by slavery. Finally and paradoxically, a racial factor contributed to the Northern attitude. Antipathy against slavery often went hand in hand with racism that was similar in essence, if not in pervasiveness of intensity, to the Southern racial feeling. Many Northerners objected to the presence of slavery in their midst, in part, because they objected to the presence of blacks there.15
Alexis de Tocqueville observed the Northern racist attitude as well and said "Race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known."16
Many Northern and Western states had laws prohibiting free blacks from settling there including Lincoln's own Illinois. In Illinois, it was called "An act to prevent the immigration of free Negroes into this State" and it said that any free black person staying longer than 10 days "was subject to arrest and imprisonment."17
Wars are not fought over issues like slavery.
Mothers and fathers do not send their precious sons off to die because they don't like the domestic institutions in other countries.
No country in history had a war to end slavery, and neither did we. Most nations ended slavery with gradual, compensated emancipation, or some variation thereof. That's what Lincoln always favored.
The domestic institutions in other countries affect no one, but a threat to one's economy affects everyone and is extremely dangerous. It must be dealt with immediately before it gets out of hand.
An economic collapse progresses with lightning speed into panic, runs on banks, mob violence, anarchy, and the collapse of the government itself. People are desperate, have no food, no money. Men have no way to protect their wives and daughters from rape, murder, violence. Civil law breaks down and is replaced by the law of the jungle.
No government is going to let that happen. That's why we fought two Gulf Wars. Any threat to the free-flow of oil from the Middle East is a threat to our economy.
1 "The Right of Secession," The New-York Daily Tribune, December 17, 1860, in Howard Cecil Perkins, ed., Northern Editorials on Secession (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1964), 199-201.
2 The New-York Times, 22-23 March, 1861, as quoted in Adams, When in the Course of Human Events, 65.
3 If the North had granted the right of secession as Greeley had so strongly supported at first, there would have been no War Between the States. Greeley and the North could have formed a new relationship with the South and traded, done business, and been friends. However, Northerners saw their economic collapse and loss of wealth and power with no hope of regaining it. They knew 60% of U.S. exports had been cotton, alone, which they got wealthy shipping. They knew those cargoes would be irreplaceable. They knew Great Britain would supply manufactured goods to the South cheaper than the North, and that Southerners would soon manufacture for themselves. So, Northerners weighed their enormous advantages at that point in history and decided a bloody war of invasion and conquest to maintain their economic supremacy over a peace-seeking, independent South was better for them than fair economic competition in the world market. It would solve all Lincoln's political problems by causing Northerners to rally to the flag. It would also put people to work. (Bold emphasis added.)
4 Francis Wilkinson Pickens, "Inaugural Message of South Carolina Governor Francis Wilkinson Pickens," published 18 December 1860 in The (Charleston, S.C.) Courier.
6 See also Footnote #47 in Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument. for the difference between tariff for revenue and protective tariff. What is meant by "a tariff for revenue" is a small tariff to raise a small amount of revenue to pay for the operation of a small federal government such as the government of the Confederate States of America. Southerners had always wanted free trade with the world. They believed in as small a tariff as possible. Contrast a small tariff for revenue with the huge protective tariffs the North loved that were punitive and meant to deter free trade so that one would be forced to buy from the North at jacked-up rates that were not determined by market competition but were jacked-up to the level of the tariff. The tariff is the perfect thing to contrast the differences in North and South. The moment the South was out of the Union, they made protective tariffs unconstitutional while the North passed the astronomical Morrill Tariff. The Morrill Tariff prevented the recovery of the Northern economy and made war Abraham Lincoln's only choice to save the North from economic annihilation. Of course, Lincoln's choice resulted in 800,000 deaths and over a million wounded out of a population of approximately 31 million.
7 Daily Chicago Times, "The Value of the Union," December 10, 1860, in Perkins, ed., Northern Editorials on Secession, Vol. II, 573-574.
8 Mayor Fernando Wood, "Mayor Fernando Wood's Recommendation for the Secession of New York City," January 6, 1861, in Henry Steele Commager, ed., Documents of American History, Sixth Edition (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.), 374-376.
9 Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard, The Rise of American Civilization (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936), Vol. 1, 633-634.
10 Simms, "Antagonisms," 72-74.
11 Simms, "Antagonisms," 36-39.
12 Beard and Beard, The Rise of American Civilization, 649.
13 James L. Huston, "Property Rights in Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War," Journal of Southern History, Volume LXV, Number 2, May, 1999, 263-264.
14 Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, 35-36.
15 Charles P. Roland, An American Iliad, The Story of the Civil War (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1991), 3.
16 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by George Lawrence (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), v. 1, 342, in Jeffrey Rogers Hummel Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, A History of the American Civil War (Chicago: Open Court, 1996), 26.
17 H. Newcomb Morse, "The Foundations and Meaning of Secession," Stetson Law Review of Stetson University College of Law, Vol. XV, No. 2, 1986, footnote #28, 423.