Albert Gallatin Brown, U.S. Senator from Mississippi, speaking with regard to the several filibuster expeditions to Central America: I want Cuba . . . I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason — for the planting and spreading of slavery. Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 106.
Richmond Enquirer, 1856: Democratic liberty exists solely because we have slaves . . . freedom is not possible without slavery.
Lawrence Keitt, Congressman from South Carolina, in a speech to the House on January 25, 1860: African slavery is the corner-stone of the industrial, social, and political fabric of the South; and whatever wars against it, wars against her very existence. Strike down the institution of African slavery and you reduce the South to depopulation and barbarism. Later in the same speech he said, The anti-slavery party contend that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States. Taken from a photocopy of the Congressional Globe supplied by Steve Miller.
Methodist Rev. John T. Wightman, preaching at Yorkville, South Carolina: The triumphs of Christianity rest this very hour upon slavery; and slavery depends on the triumphs of the South . . . This war is the servant of slavery. The Glory of God, the Defence of the South (1861), cited in Eugene Genovese’s Consuming Fire (1998).
Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, referring to the Confederate government: Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery . . . is his natural and normal condition. Augusta, Georgia, Daily Constitutionalist, March 30, 1861.
Alfred P. Aldrich, South Carolina legislator from Barnwell: If the Republican party with its platform of principles, the main feature of which is the abolition of slavery and, therefore, the destruction of the South, carries the country at the next Presidential election, shall we remain in the Union, or form a separate Confederacy? This is the great, grave issue. It is not who shall be President, it is not which party shall rule — it is a question of political and social existence. Steven Channing, Crisis of Fear, pp. 141-142.
America was thus divided by economic structure, and was led into fratricidal warfare by a series of political clashes. The most common cause was the future of the West. The crises over California’s admission in 1850 and over Kansas–Nebraska in 1854 were typical of the divergent economic interests of North and South in relation to the West.
The North wanted free land for independent labour in the same new territories where the South sought to perpetuate its traditional way of life by extending slavery. The issue was not the slavery already practised, but the prospect of its extension into the West.
Only in the Southern states of the USA did slavery persist as a major, if not essential, component of the economy – providing the labour force for the cotton and other plantations. While the Northern states abolished slavery in the 1787–1804 period, the Southern states insisted on protecting the institution. Slavery became an issue in the economic struggles between Southern plantation owners and Northern industrialists in the first half of the 19th century, a struggle that culminated in the American Civil War.
Despite the common perception to the contrary, the war was not fought primarily on the slavery issue. Abraham Lincoln, however, saw the political advantages of promising freedom for Southern slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted in 1863. This was reinforced after the war by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the US constitution (1865, 1868, and 1870), which abolished slavery altogether and guaranteed citizenship and civil rights to former slaves. Apart from the moral issues, there has also been a good deal of debate on the economic efficiency of slavery as a system of production in the USA. It has been argued that plantation owners might have been better off employing labour, although the effect of emancipating vast numbers of slaves could, and did, have enormous political and social repercussions in the Reconstruction period following