Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history

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When America gained her independence slavery existed in all the colonies. No State was free from the taint; even the New England Puritans held slaves. At an early period they had learned to enslave their Indian neighbours. The children of the Pilgrims owned Indians, and in due time owned Africans, without remorse. But the number of slaves in the North was always small. At first it was not to the higher principle or clearer intelligence of the Northern men that this limited prevalence of slavery was due. The North was not a region where slave labour could ever be profitable. The climate was harsh, the soil rocky and bleak; and labour required to be directed by intelligence. In that comparatively unproductive land the mindless and heartless toil of the slave would scarcely defray the cost of his support. At the Revolution there were half a million of slaves in the colonies, and of these only thirty to forty thousand were in the North.

It was otherwise in the sunny and luxuriant South. The African was at home there, for the climate was like his own. The rich soil yielded its wealth to labour in the slightest and least intelligent form. The culture of rice, and tobacco, and cotton supplied the very kind of work which a slave was fitted to perform. The South found profitable employment for as many Africans as the slave-traders were able to steal.

And yet at the Revolution slavery enjoyed no great degree of favour. The free spirit enkindled by the war was in violent opposition to the existence of a system of bondage. The presence of the slaves had disabled the South from taking the part she ought in the War of Independence. The white men had to stay at home to watch the black. Virginia, Washington’s State, furnished a reasonable proportion of troops; but the other Southern States were almost worthless. Everywhere in the North slavery was regarded as an objectionable and decaying institution. The leaders of the Revolution, themselves mainly slave-owners, were eagerly desirous that slavery should be abolished. Washington was utterly opposed to the system, and provided in his will for the emancipation of his own slaves. Hamilton was a member of an association for the gradual abolition of slavery. John Adams would never own a slave. Franklin, Patrick Henry, Madison, Munroe, were united in their reprobation of slavery. Jefferson, a Virginian, who prepared the Declaration of Independence, said that in view of slavery “he trembled for his country, when he reflected that God was just.”

In the convention which met to frame a Constitution for America the feeling of antagonism to slavery was supreme. Had the majority followed their own course, provision would have been made then for the gradual extinction of slavery. But there arose here a necessity for one of those compromises by which the history of America has been so sadly marked. When it was proposed to prohibit the importation of slaves, all the Northern and most of the Southern States favoured the proposal.

But South Carolina and Georgia were insatiable in their thirst for African labour. They decisively refused to become parties to a Union in which there was to be no importation of slaves. The other States yielded. Instead of an immediate abolition of this hateful traffic, it was agreed merely that after twenty years Congress should be at liberty to abolish the slave-trade if it chose. By the same threat of disunion the Slave States of the extreme South gained other advantages. It was fixed by the Constitution that a slave who fled to a Free State was not therefore to become a free man. He must be given back to his owner. It was yet further conceded that the Slave States should have increased political power in proportion to the number of their slaves. A black man did not count for so much as a white. Every State was to send members to the House of Representatives according to its population, and in reckoning that population five negroes were to be counted as three.

And yet at that time, and for years after, the opinion of the South itself regarded slavery as an evil – thrust upon them by England – difficult to be got rid of – profitable, it might be, but lamentable and temporary. No slave-holder refused to discuss the subject or to admit the evils of the system. No violence was offered to those who denounced it. The clergy might venture to preach against it. Hopeful persons might foretell the approach of liberty to those unhappy captives. Even the lowest of the slave-holding class did not yet resent the expression of such hopes.

But a mighty change was destined to pass upon the tone of Southern opinion. The purchase of Louisiana opened a vast tract of the most fertile land in the world to the growth of cotton; Whitney’s invention made the growth of cotton profitable. Slave-holding became lucrative. It was wealth to own a little plantation and a few negroes; and there was an eager race for the possession of slaves. Importation alone could not supply the demand. Some of the more northerly of the Southern States turned their attention to the breeding of slaves for the Southern markets. Kentucky and Virginia became rich and infamous by this awful commerce.11
  During the ten years, from 1840 to 1850, the annual export of slaves from the Border States to the South averaged 23,500. These, at an average value of ?150, amounted to three million and a quarter sterling!

While iniquity was not specially profitable, the Southern States were not very reluctant to be virtuous. When the gains of wickedness became, as they now did, enormous, virtue ceased to have a footing in the South.

During many years the leader of the slave-owners was John C. Calhoun. He was a native of South Carolina – a tall, slender, gipsy-looking man, with an eye whose wondrous depth and power impressed all who came into his presence. Calhoun taught the people of the South that slavery was good for the slave. It was a benign, civilizing agency. The African attained to a measure of intelligence in slavery greatly in advance of that which he had ever reached as a free man. To him, visibly, it was a blessing to be enslaved. From all this it was easy to infer that Providence had appointed slavery for the advantage of both races; that opposition to this Heaven-ordained institution was profane; that abolition was merely an aspect of infidelity. So Calhoun taught; so the South learned to believe. 1850 A.D. Calhoun’s last speech in Congress warned the North that opposition to slavery would destroy the Union. His latest conversation was on this absorbing theme. A few hours after, he had passed where all dimness of vision is removed, and errors of judgment become impossible!

It was very pleasant for the slave-owners to be taught that slavery enjoyed divine sanction. The doctrine had other apostles than Mr. Calhoun. Unhappily it came to form part of the regular pulpit teaching of the Southern churches. It was gravely argued out from the Old Testament that slavery was the proper condition of the negro. Ham was to be the servant of his brethren; hence all the descendants of Ham were the rightful property of white men. The slave who fled from his master was guilty of the crime of theft in one of its most heinous forms. So taught the Southern pulpit. Many books, written by grave divines for the enforcement of these doctrines, remain to awaken the amazement of posterity.

The slave-owners inclined a willing ear to these pleasing assurances. They knew slavery to be profitable; their leaders in Church and State told them it was right. It was little wonder that a fanatical love to slavery possessed their hearts. In the passionate, ill-regulated minds of the slave-owning class it became in course of years almost a madness, which was shared, unhappily, by the great mass of the white population. Discussion could no longer be permitted. It became a fearful risk to express in the South an opinion hostile to slavery. It was a familiar boast that no man who opposed slavery would be suffered to live in a Slave State; and the slave-owners made their word good. Many who were suspected of hostile opinions were tarred and feathered, and turned out of the State. Many were shot; many were hanged; some were burned. The Southern mobs were singularly brutal, and the slave-owners found willing hands to do their fiendish work. The law did not interfere to prevent or punish such atrocities. The churches looked on and held their peace.

As slave property increased in value, a strangely horrible system of laws gathered around it. The slave was regarded, not as a person, but as a thing. He had no civil rights; nay, it was declared by the highest legal authority that a slave had no rights at all which a white man was bound to respect. The most sacred laws of nature were defied. Marriage was a tie which bound the slave only during the master’s pleasure. A slave had no more legal authority over his child “than a cow has over her calf.” It was a grave offence to teach a slave to read. A white man might expiate that offence by fine or imprisonment; to a black man it involved flogging. The owner might not without challenge murder an unoffending slave; but a slave resisting his master’s will might lawfully be slain. A slave who would not stand to be flogged, might be shot as he ran off. The master was blameless if his slave died under the administration of reasonable correction – in other words, if he flogged a slave to death. A fugitive slave might be killed by any means which his owner chose to employ. On the other hand, there was a slender pretext of laws for the protection of the slave. Any master, for instance, who wantonly cut out the tongue or put out the eyes of his slave, was liable to a small fine. But as no slave could give evidence affecting a white man in a court of law, the law had no terrors for the slave-owner.

The practice of the South in regard to her slaves was not unworthy of her laws. Children were habitually torn away from their mothers. Husbands and wives were habitually separated, and forced to contract new marriages. Public whipping-houses became an institution. The hunting of escaped slaves became a regular profession, and dogs were bred and trained for that special work. Slaves who were suspected of an intention to escape were branded with red-hot irons. When the Northern armies forced their way into the South, many of the slaves who fled to them were found to be scarred or mutilated. The burning of a negro who was accused of crime was a familiar occurrence. It was a debated question whether it was more profitable to work the slaves moderately, and so make them last, or to take the greatest possible amount of work from them, even although that would quickly destroy them. Some favoured the plan of overworking, and acted upon it without scruple.

These things were done, and the Christian churches of the South were not ashamed to say that the system out of which they flowed enjoyed the sanction of God! It appeared that men who had spent their lives in the South were themselves so brutalized by their familiarity with the atrocities of slavery, that the standard by which they judged it was no higher than that of the lowest savages.


When the State of Louisiana was received into the Union in 1812, there was left out a large proportion of the original purchase from Napoleon. As yet this region was unpeopled. It lay silent and unprofitable – a vast reserve prepared for the wants of unborn generations. It was traversed by the Missouri river. The great Mississippi was its boundary on the east. It possessed, in all, a navigable river-line of two thousand miles. Enormous mineral wealth was treasured up to enrich the world for centuries to come. There were coal-fields greater than those of all Europe. There was iron piled up in mountains, one of which contained two hundred million tons of ore. There was profusion of copper, of zinc, of lead. There were boundless forests. There was a soil unsurpassed in fertility. The climate was kindly and genial, marred by neither the stern winters of the North nor the fierce heats of the South. The scenery was often of rare beauty and grandeur.

This was the Territory of Missouri. Gradually settlers from the neighbouring States dropped in. Slave-holders came, bringing their chattels with them. They were first in the field, and they took secure possession. The free emigrant turned aside, and the slave-power reigned supreme in Missouri. The wealth and beauty of this glorious land were wedded to the most gigantic system of evil which ever established itself upon the earth.

By the year 1818 there were sixty thousand persons residing in Missouri. The time had come for the admission of this Territory into the Union as a State. It was the first great contest between the Free and the Slave States. The cotton-gin, the acquisition of Louisiana, the teaching of Calhoun, had done their work. The slave-owners were now a great political power – resolute, unscrupulous, intolerant of opposition. The next half century of American history takes its tone very much from their fierce and restless energy. Their policy never wavered. To gain predominance for slavery, with room for its indefinite expansion, these were their aims. American history is filled with their violence on to a certain April morning in 1865, when the slave-power and all its lawless pretensions lay crushed among the ruins of Richmond.

When the application of Missouri for admission into the Union came to be considered in Congress, an attempt was made to shut slavery wholly out of the new State. A struggle ensued which lasted for nearly three years. The question was one of vital importance. At that time the number of Free States and the number of Slave States were exactly equal. Whosoever gained Missouri gained a majority in the Senate. The North was deeply in earnest in desiring to prevent the extension of slavery. The South was equally resolute that no limitation should be imposed. The result was a compromise, proposed by the South. Missouri was to be given over to slavery. But it was agreed that, excepting within the limits of Missouri herself, slavery should not be permitted in any part of the territory purchased from France, north of a line drawn eastward and westward from the southern boundary of that State. Thus far might the waves of this foul tide flow, but no further. So ended the great controversy, in the decisive victory of the South.


The North participated in the gains of slavery. The cotton-planter borrowed money at high interest from the Northern capitalist. He bought his goods in Northern markets; he sent his cotton to the North for sale. The Northern merchants made money at his hands, and were in no haste to overthrow the peculiar institution out of which results so pleasant flowed. They had no occasion, as the planter had, to persuade themselves that slavery enjoyed special divine sanction. But it did become a very general belief in the North that without slave-labour the cultivation of Southern lands was impossible. It was also very generally alleged that the condition of the slave was preferable to that of the free European labourer.

All looked very hopeless for the poor negro. The South claimed to hold him by divine right. She looked to a future of indefinite expansion. The boundless regions which stretched away from her border, untrodden by man, were marked out for slave territory. A powerful sentiment in the North supported her claims. She was able to exercise a controlling influence over the Federal Government. It seemed as if all authority in the Union was pledged to uphold slavery, and assert for ever the right of the white man to hold the black man as an article of merchandise.

But even then the awakening of the Northern conscience had begun. On the 1st of January 1831, a journeyman printer, William Lloyd Garrison, published in Boston the first number of a paper devoted to the abolition of slavery. This is perhaps the earliest prominent incident in the history of Emancipation. It was indeed a humble opening of a noble career. Garrison was young and penniless. He wrote the articles, and he also, with the help of a friend, set the types. He lived mainly on bread and water. Only when a number of the paper sold particularly well, he and his companion indulged in a bowl of milk. The Mayor of Boston was asked by a Southern magistrate to suppress the paper. He replied that it was not worth the trouble. The office of the editor was “an obscure hole; his only visible auxiliary a negro boy; his supporters a few insignificant persons of all colours.” The lordly Southerners need not be uneasy about this obscure editor and his paltry newspaper.

But the fulness of time had come, and every word spoken against slavery found now some willing listener. In the year after Garrison began his paper the American Anti-slavery Society was formed. It was composed of twelve members. Busy hands were scattering the seed abroad, and it sprang quickly. Within three years there were two hundred anti-slavery societies in America; in seven years more these had increased to two thousand. The war against slavery was now begun in earnest.

The slave-owners and their allies in the North regarded with rage unutterable this formidable invasion. Everywhere they opposed violence to the arguments of their opponents. Large rewards were offered for the capture of prominent abolitionists. Many Northern men, who unwarily strayed into Southern States, were murdered on the mere suspicion that they were opposed to slavery. 1835 A.D. President Jackson recommended Congress to forbid the conveyance to the South, by the mails, of anti-slavery publications. In Boston a mob of well-dressed and respectable citizens suppressed a meeting of female abolitionists. While busied about that enterprise, they were fortunate enough to lay hold of Garrison, whose murder they designed, and would have accomplished, had not a timely sally of the constables rescued him from their grasp. 1833 A.D. In Connecticut a young woman was imprisoned for teaching negro children to read. Philadelphia was disgraced by riots in which negroes were killed and their houses burned down. Throughout the Northern States anti-slavery meetings were habitually invaded and broken up by the allies of the slave-owners. The abolitionists were devoured by a zeal which knew no bounds and permitted no rest. The slave-owners met them with a deep, remorseless, murderous hatred, which gradually possessed and corroded their whole nature. In this war, as it soon became evident, there could be no compromise. Peace was impossible otherwise than by the destruction of one or other of the contending parties.

The spirit in which the South defended her cherished institution was fairly exemplified in her treatment of a young clergyman, Mr. Lovejoy, who offended her by his antipathy to slavery. Mr. Lovejoy established himself in Alton, a little town of Illinois, where he conducted a newspaper. Illinois was itself a Free State; but Missouri was near, and the slave-power was supreme in all that region. Mr. Lovejoy declared himself in his newspaper against slavery. He was requested to withdraw from that neighbourhood; but he maintained his right of free speech, and chose to remain. The mob sacked his printing-office, and flung his press into the river. 1837 A.D. Mr. Lovejoy bought another press. The arrival of this new machine highly displeased the ruffianism of the little town of Alton. It was stored for safety in a well-secured building, and two or three well-disposed citizens kept armed watch over it. The mob attacked the warehouse. Shots were exchanged, and some of the rioters were slain. At length the mob succeeded in setting fire to the building. When Mr. Lovejoy showed himself to the crowd he was fired at, and fell pierced by five bullets. The printing-press was broken; the newspaper was silenced; the hostile editor was slaughtered. The offended majesty of the slave-power was becomingly vindicated.


The decaying energies of Spain were sorely wasted by the wars which Napoleon forced upon her. Invaded, conquered, occupied, fought for during years by great armies, Spain issued from the struggle in a state of utter exhaustion. It was impossible that a country so enfeebled could maintain a great colonial dominion. Not long after the Battle of Waterloo all her American dependencies chose to be independent, and Spain could do nothing to prevent it. Among the rest, Mexico won for herself the privilege of self-government, of which she has thus far proved herself so incapable.

Lying between the Mississippi and the Rio Grande was a vast wilderness of undefined extent and uncertain ownership, which America, with some hesitation, recognized as belonging to Mexico. It was called Texas. The climate was genial; the soil was of wondrous fertility. 1829 A.D. America coveted this fair region, and offered to buy it from Mexico. Her offer was declined.

The great natural wealth of Texas, combined with the almost total absence of government, were powerful attractions to the lawless adventurers who abounded in the South-Western States. A tide of vagrant blackguardism streamed into Texas. Safe from the grasp of justice, the murderer, the thief, the fraudulent debtor, opened in Texas a new and more hopeful career. Founded by these conscript fathers, Texan society grew apace. 1836 A.D. In a few years Texas felt herself strong enough to be independent. Her connection with Mexico was declared to be at an end.

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