Saturday, July 6, 2013

Abolitionists Unpopular in Boston

Not included in the abolitionists goal of eradicating sin and slavery was finding a peaceful and practical solution to the moral dilemma inherited from the British, and perpetuated by New England slave trading and numerous mills hungry for slave-produced cotton.  The abolitionists themselves caused secession as the South departed due to incessant anti-slavery agitation and New England's role in fomenting slave insurrection and race war in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Abolitionists Unpopular in Boston:

"The truth is, that the Anti-slavery party had, as it were, two creeds, the exoteric and the esoteric.  According to the former, the popular faith, slavery is the great evil, a calamity to any country addicted to it; and, like every other national evil, should, as far as possible, be checked by legislation, and still more by force of public opinion, but above all, should be in no way promoted by any act of the government. This is substantially the Republican creed; and owing chiefly to the exertions of the Abolitionists, this Republican creed became practically the creed of the North.

But amongst themselves the Abolitionists, pure and simple, have an esoteric creed, more logical perhaps, but less accommodating.  With them slavery is an absolute sin – not an evil, but a crime. Slavery being thus in itself a crime, the nation is bound to suppress it at all costs and all dangers; and if that should be found impossible, the nation has no choice but to put away the accursed thing, and to renounce all partnership in the profits of iniquity.

This esoteric faith was held by a very small and, I suspect, at the moment, a decreasing party. New England was the headquarters of the Abolitionists, and yet the outward evidences of their power – I might almost say of their existence – were few indeed. In all Boston, with its shoal of papers, there was not one Abolition daily newspaper. The Courier, the most largely circulated of any Boston paper, reprinted every morning at the head of its articles the resolution passed by the House of Representatives in February, 1861, with a view of averting the danger of Secession: "That neither the Federal Government, not the people or Governments of the non-slaveholding States, have a purpose or a constitutional right to legislate upon, or interfere with slavery, in any of the States of the Union."

From this text the Courier preached regularly against the Abolitionists, and especially against Wendell Phillips, whom it pursued with a bitter personal animosity. The Boston Herald, a halfpenny paper, which has a large popular circulation, was still more fiercely anti-Abolitionist.

Writing of the gradual emancipation project of President Lincoln, it stated that the scheme "meets with no favour, and is not acceptable to even the Border Slave States. Emancipation, as advocated by Mr. [Charles] Sumner and others, is condemned by all the States South, and by one-half of the public in the Free States."

The Post, which was a moderate Republican paper, and is perhaps the best-written and most respectable of American newspapers, used to declaim against bringing forward the question of emancipation at all, till Secession was suppressed.

On the whole, I should say that the tome of Boston society is very like that of the press. To advocate pro-slavery doctrines would be decidedly unfashionable; to advocate immediate Abolition would be hardly less so.  Moderate anti-slaveryism is obviously the correct thing. Till within the last few years, to avow the Abolition creed of Boston was to exclude yourself from society.  With the "John Brown year," as the report of the Anti-Slavery Society termed 1860, a change came.  For the first time almost, American Abolitionism emerged from the sentimentalism of the Uncle Tom phase, and became a living fact and stern reality; and its professors won that respect which society always accords to power.

The rural districts are, I suspect, the stronghold of New England Abolitionism. In the country, much more of the old Puritan feeling is to be found than in the towns. During the access of the temperance mania, which had the power to pass the Maine liquor law, but not power enough to carry it into effect, the Massachusetts farmers in many places cut down their apple trees with their own hands, in order to hinder the possibility of cider being manufactured again.

The same uncompromising spirit undoubtedly prevails still; and wherever Abolition sentiments have made their way in the country villages, the descendants of the Puritans are for cutting down slavery, root and branch, without stint and without mercy."

(Spectator of America, A Classic Document About Lincoln and Civil War America by a Foreign Correspondent (1863), Edward Dicey, Herbert Mitgang, editor, UGA Press, 1989, pp. 245-247)