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Did Northerners not care about slavery?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - Secession and Politics' started by major bill, Apr 18, 2017.

  1. major bill

    major bill Captain Forum Host

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    I have often seen threads that state Northerners did not care about slavery. But how true is this? There were no modern polling done in 1869 so we must find a way to judge this. Not every Notherner was a radical abolitionist, and not every Northerners voted Republican.

    Keeping slavery out of the territories could give us some indication, but self interest can not be completely ignored.

    Would the fact slavery was outlawed in Northern States be useful to judge? Again self interest in limiting competition with free labor could be a factor.

    I am not sure that Northerners who did not believe in forcing Southern States to give up slavery did not find the concept of slavery immoral.

    How do we judge if Northerners supported the concept of slavery?
     

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  3. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant

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    I think the answer to that question would be some did, and some didn't. Many became more enlightened during the Civil War to the need for Emancipation it seems, and according to a variety of sources there were lively debates in camp with regard to this issue. My overall impression, so far, is that most went to war in support of the Union, and some fell at the hurdle Lincoln presented with regard to Emancipation. They were a mixed bag, but ultimately the majority seem to have voted for Lincoln's re-election, and despised the Peace Democrats for their position at that point in the war. And the majority fought on for what would become one of America's greatest triumphs...freedom and the desire for equality for all people.
     
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  4. brass napoleon

    brass napoleon Colonel Retired Moderator Member of the Year

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    This is absolutely true. And you can take it backwards to say that many Northerners became enlightened during the three decades prior to the Civil War, when they saw civil liberties being trampled in the North as well as the South in order to keep slavery thriving - books and buildings being burned, abolitionists being mobbed, Senators being caned, free settlers in the territories being intimidated at the polling places, and federal government support for the horrendously repressive Fugitive Slave Law and the Lecompton Constitution.

    Add to that the fact that for three decades many Northerners had been hearing first-hand accounts of slavery from people like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, William Wells Brown, etc., and it was no longer possible to believe the lie that slavery was good for the black race.

    I think that in 1830 the answer to the question would have generally been NO - Northerners in general didn't care about slavery as long as it was somewhere else. But over the next three decades that answer gradually changed, to the point that by 1860 the majority were willing to vote for a President who made no bones about calling slavery a "moral, political, and social wrong" and who called for its "ultimate extinction." That still doesn't mean that they were willing to go to war and risk their lives to free the slaves - very few were. But by 1860 they cared enough about slavery - for various reasons - to risk the possibility of war in order to keep it from spreading.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2017
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  5. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant

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    I'm reading "The Life of Billy Yank" by Bell Irvin Wiley at the moment and here is a couple of snippets from his book:

    "Some fought to free slaves, but a polling of the rank and file through their letters and diaries indicated that those whose primary object was the liberation of (sic) slaves comprised only a small part of the fighting forces. It seems doubtful that one soldier in ten at any time during the conflict had any real interest in emancipation per se. A considerable number originally indifferent or favorable to slavery eventually accepted emancipation as a necessary war measure, but in most cases their support appeared lukewarm. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation zealous advocates of (sic) African American freedom were exceptional" (p.40)

    "In marked contrast to those whose primary interest was in freeing the slaves stood a larger group who wanted no part in a war of emancipation. A soldier newspaper published at Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1862, which carried on its masthead the motto, "The Union Forever and Freedom to all", stated in its first issue: In construing this part of our outside heading let it be distinctly under stood that 'white folks' are meant. We do not wish it even insinutated that we have any sympathy with abolitionism".

    "Some Yanks opposed making slavery an issue of the war because thy though the effect would be to prolong the conflict at an unjustifiable cost in money and lives. Others objected on the score of the slaves ignorance and irresponsibility, while stills others shrank from the thought of hordes of freedmen settling in the North to compete with white laborers and to mix with them on terms of equality. The opposition of many seemed to have no other basis than an unreasoning hatred of people with black skins". (Pg. 42)

    "But a growing belief that emancipation was essential to victory appears to have been the most cogent influence.

    A Minnesotan in March 1863 explained his change thus:

    "I have never been in favor of the abolition of slavery until since this war has detirment me in the conviction that it is a greater sin than our Government is able to stand - and now I go in for a war of emancipation and I am ready and willing do do my share of the work. I am satesfied that it ill becomes a nation of our standing to perpetuate the barbarous practice. It is opposed to the Spirit of the age - and in my opinion the Rebelion is but the death struggle of the overgrown monster".

    For every Yank whose primary goal was emancipation were to be found several whose chief goal was the Union and the system of government that it represented". (Pg.44)
     
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  6. brass napoleon

    brass napoleon Colonel Retired Moderator Member of the Year

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    While I think this is generally true when talking about WHITE Union soldiers (and completely ignoring the 200,000 black Union soldiers), I think it's important to realize the difference between the subject of this excerpt and the question posed by this thread. To say that most WHITE Union soldiers weren't willing to fight for emancipation isn't the same thing as saying that most white Northerners didn't care about slavery. Otherwise it would be like saying that because few Americans today are willing to go to war to end child sex trafficking, that we're all just "serenely indifferent" to it.
     
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  7. wausaubob

    wausaubob Corporal

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    People cared about slavery enough to decide they did not want to be required to do anything to support it.
    But in a democracy with railroads, steamships, telegraphs and a free press, the South needed the North to actively support slavery in order for it to survive.
    The South needed to take a large amount of freedom from the North and essentially have the Congress decide that slavery could go anywhere in the nation.
    It was impossible to have Wisconsin and Louisiana in the same country with settling this question.
    That was the starting point.
    But many Northern soldiers, when they saw slavery, wanted to destroy it.
    White supremacy was OK, but slave auctions and breaking up families was barbaric.
     
  8. FahanParish

    FahanParish Private

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  9. major bill

    major bill Captain Forum Host

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    Let's use say many did not want the war to be fought to end slavery. This does not mean they supported slavery, it does not mean they did not hope slavery would end one day.
     
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  10. wausaubob

    wausaubob Corporal

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    The other part about it, the war weakened slavery so fast that it was much easier to be for emancipation in 1863 than it was in 1861.
    By 1863 people could be much more direct in wishing the whole institution good riddance.
     
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  11. Youngblood

    Youngblood Sergeant

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    I think ending slavery was more about punishing the south for the war by taking away their free labor and disappearing all the monetary value tied up in the slaves.
     
  12. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l Member of the Year

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    There was also the reasoning to end slavery would mean another war would not be fought over it in the future.
     
  13. wausaubob

    wausaubob Corporal

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    1. No more slave auctions.
     
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  14. major bill

    major bill Captain Forum Host

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    If the Northerners supported the concept of slavery why not return all the escaped slaves after the end of the war? Well, perhaps pay the slave owners for slaves who had served in the Union Army rather than return them to slavery. However, if Northerners did believe in slavery, why not return escaped slave who had served in the Union Army?
     
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  15. wausaubob

    wausaubob Corporal

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    1. No more slave auctions.
    2. No more slave families being sold apart.
    3. No more slave catchers demanding northern sheriffs help catch slaves.
    4. No more debates in Congress about whether territories would be free or slave.
    5. No one ever stating that abolition could not even be mentioned on the floor of the house.
    6. No black person having to move to Canada just to escape being pressed back into slavery.
    7. No more having a snobby Englishman justifiably mocking the high ideals of the US and the hypocritical avoidance of emancipation.
    8. No more having to suppress one's disgust with slavery in order to protect the sensibilities of one's Southern friends.
    Once the emancipation cat was out of the bag, there was very little effort to put it back in.
    The weakness of slavery was demonstrated by how fast the blacks fled from it under desperate circumstances.
     
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  16. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    Slavery, was obviously the key issue around which the election of 1860 revolved and, to me, it is a fallacy, that the great majority of the voters were not completely aware of that fact.

    To me, a reading of the Platforms of the major parties is quite instructive.
     
  17. TerryB

    TerryB Major

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    From my reading, Uncle Tom's Cabin as well as the Fugitive Slave Acts molded Northern opinion against slavery.
     
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  18. BillO

    BillO Captain

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    Most probably didn't unless it directly influenced their economic status one way or the other.
     
  19. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant

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    Lincoln declared Emancipation for the slaves during the war, in my opinion as a method of helping to prosecute the war as well. This meant that all slaves were declared free, but many couldn't take hold of that freedom unless they escaped to the North or until the South surrendered. After the surrender, slavery was dead. There was no point returning anybody because they had nothing to return them to...the institution had vanished. What hadn't vanished were the complexities around people's perceptions, which included a possible support for, or indifference to, the matter of slavery. The South was more wedded to slavery's economic value, while the North in many ways could 'take it or leave it', affected more by the intellectual and moral issues surrounding it after having left slavery behind for a more industrialized society. Glad you asked the question, @major bill ... it's always good to reflect on these things and try to make sense of them, too.
     
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  20. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    Actually, I believe it was more likely to have been the reverse. It was the agitation over slavery(social, economic, political) for the previous 3 decades(at least) informed and molded those writings.
     
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  21. TerryB

    TerryB Major

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    American History courses in our nation's schools give Harriet Beecher Stowe a great deal of credit for galvanizing public opinion against slavery with Uncle Tom's Cabin. They tend to quote James L McPherson, as well as quoting Stowe herself in the lessons, quotes in which she vows to resist with all her might the Fugitive Slave Laws because they would involve the average Northern citizen, making them complicit in a wicked system. The metaphor generally used is that Stowe shone a harsh light on a subject most Northerners had been unwilling to confront. Pro-slavery Southerners were suddenly put on the defensive, leading to the publication of numerous works of lesser quality, all defending the peculiar institution, many using the Uncle Tom format.
     

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