Guided Readings: Sectional Conflict
by Steven Mintz
I do not . . . hesitate to avow before this House and the country, and in the presence of the living God, that if by your legislation you seek to drive us from the territories of California and New Mexico, purchased by the common blood and treasure of the whole people, and to abolish slavery in this District, thereby attempting to fix a national degradation upon half the States of this Confederacy, I am for disunion.
—Representative Robert Toombs of Georgia, December 13, 1849, Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st Sess. 28 (1849)
With the ever watchful eye that we know the slave power has had over its own interests . . . with slaveholding Presidents and Cabinets of their selection, forty-nine years out of sixty-one. . . . The Slave Power, like the power of the pit, never lacks for a stratagem. . . . The embargo [of 1807] . . . was levelled at the commercial prosperity of the free North. . . . From the beginning of the first embargo, therefore, in Dec., 1807, until the peace of Dec., 1814 . . . the commerce of the free States was either totally prohibited, or rendered of little pecuniary value. . . .
In 1811, the charter of the old National Bank expired, and was not permitted by the dominant slave power to be renewed, on the alleged ground that a national bank was unconstitutional. . . . The real reason was that the South had become bankrupt . . . throwing off the greater part of its indebtedness upon its creditors in some other community. . . . The slave power now demanded a war. . . . “Free trade and sailors’ rights” was now the southern watchword. . . . The war party was led on by John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina. . . . New England . . . would be the sufferer by the war, and the North would be burdened with the chief expense of the infliction. . . . despoiling it of half its remaining wealth. . . .
Thus Slavery controls all the leading measures of the nation and moulds its political economy.
—William Goodell, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A History of the Great Struggle in Both Hemispheres with a View of the Slavery Question in the United States, New York, 1852, pp. 320–339
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order; and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. . . . This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race.
—Chief Justice Roger Taney, Majority Opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) in Benjamin C. Howard, Report of the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Opinions of the Judges Thereof, in the Case of Dred Scott versus John F. A. Sandford. December Term, 1856 (Washington DC, 1857), p. 13
We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. . . . Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it . . . or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new—North as well as South. Have we no tendency to the latter condition?
. . . The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half the States by State Constitutions, and from most of the national territory by Congressional prohibition. Four days later, commenced the struggle, which ended in repealing that Congressional prohibition. This opened all the national territory to slavery. . . .
While the Nebraska bill was passing through congress, a law case, involving the question of a negroe’s freedom . . . was passing through the U. S. Circuit Court. . . . The negroe’s name was “Dred Scott” . . .
The several points of the Dred Scott decision . . . constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. . . . The working points of that machinery are:
First, that no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States. . . .
Secondly, that, “subject to the Constitution of the United States,” neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery from any United States territory. . . .
We can not absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen—Stephen, Franklin, Roger and James, for instance—and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortises exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few . . . in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck.
—Abraham Lincoln, “A House Divided”: a Speech at Springfield, Illinois, June 16, 1858, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 2, edited by Roy P. Basler et al. (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), pp. 461–466
I firmly believe that the slaveholding South is now the controlling power of the world—that no other power would face us in hostility. . . . Cotton, rice, tobacco, and naval stores command the world; and we have sense enough to know it, and are sufficiently Teutonic to carry it out successfully. The North, without us, would be a motherless calf, bleating about, and die of mange and starvation.
—Senator James H. Hammond of South Carolina to Francis Leiber, April 19, 1860, in The Life and Letters of Francis Lieber, edited by Thomas Sergeant Perry (Boston, 1882), p. 310
If the Cotton States shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace. The right to secede may be a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless. . . . Whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep it in. We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets.
—Horace Greeley, “Going to Go,” New York Tribune, November 9, 1860