Chapter 14 — Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Anti-Slavery Movement in the Northern States and the Necessity of Understanding the Divergent Passions for Exclusionism, Deportationism and Abolitionism.
By Howard Ray White of N. C., S.I.S.H.
In this and the next two chapters you will witness passionate sectional political agitation aimed at defeating the dominant Democratic Party in the Northern states. And you will learn that agitation of that sort won elections and forced Democrats in the Northern states to abandon old ties to brethren in the Southern states, as they struggled to combat the political pressures within their localities and their states. The passions and prejudices political organizers were exploiting and the propaganda they were dispensing was varied in nature, but historians today rather lump their message under a single banner, called “Anti-Slavery.” That over-simplification is a disservice to we who wish to learn, for in the study of political movements it is of primary importance that we ascertain what a movement was “for,” not what it said it was “against.” We need to find out what those Anti-Slavery agitators were “for?” Not only do we need to know what they said they were “for,” more importantly, we must be able to conclude, by their actions and by evidence, what, in truth, they were “for.” Toward that understanding, we will determine who among the Anti-Slavery agitators were “for” keeping African Americans out of the Northern states and the National Territories, and those will be called, for our purposes, “Exclusionists.” Secondly, we will determine who among those agitators were “for” sending African Americans to South America, Africa or somewhere far away, and those we will call “Deportationists.” Thirdly, we will determine who among them were “for” forcing owners to emancipate their slaves, allowing them to live in any state they chose, perhaps even offering help with the relocation. Those we will call “Abolitionists.” We will look for benevolent “true” Abolitionists in the Northern states with money and means and not find a significant number. That is the sad story coming out of the Anti-Slavery Movement. It was “holier-than-thou,” readily denouncing slavery, but doing nothing to help the people of African ancestry they pretended to care about.
History Relevant To Understanding the WBTS
One’s understanding of American political history is incomplete until he or she has factually studied the fictional novel that unquestionably exerted the greatest literary influence on the emotional political controversy that eventually erupted into the horrific War Between the States. I am speaking of the 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life among the Lowly, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, of Connecticut and Ohio, daughter of the famous Congregational minister, Lyman Beecher, and sister to an equally famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. I am speaking of a novel that embraces all three passions: Exclusionism and Deportationism, these two shrouded in a religion-inspired Abolitionism. Of the thousands of books and magazine articles, and of the tens of thousands of newspaper stories, that accused the people of the Southern culture of inhumane treatment of bonded African Americans (slaves), Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was by far the most influential. Although pure fiction, it was a propaganda masterpiece that became bigger than life and painted for many northern States people their mistaken perception of the people of the southern States. After serial publication in The National Era during 1851, the novel was published in 1852 as a book. By the end of the excitement, 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 copies would be sold in America, over 1,500,000 in Great Britain, and, after translation into 40 languages, 4,000,000 more worldwide. Within months playwrights created copyright-free dramatic plays, which were popular. This fictional novel was by far the most influential Exclusionist-Abolitionist- Deportationist propaganda publication to ever influence the American mind. At the time of publication, Abraham Lincoln was just another lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. But ten years later he was President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Military. It was then that Lincoln and Stowe first met, the President greeting the novelist with these telling words: “So this is the little lady who made this big war?”
So what was the story in this fictional novel that so excited the mind of so many people of the Northern culture – that caused President Lincoln to view her as “the little lady who made this big war?” Well, strange as it may seem, since Harriet had not traveled to a significant extent in the Southern states, her understanding of relationships between slave families and master families was only framed by second-hand stories heard from others and her own imagination. That observation underscores how tragic was the fictional novel’s impact.
There is insufficient space in this chapter of two pages to discuss the characters and relate the story in the novel, but we must view Stowe’s closing, where she asks: “Do you say: ‘we don’t want them here; let them go to Africa?’” Her answer speaks volumes: “Let the Church of the [northern States] receive these poor sufferers in the spirit of Christ; receive them to the educating advantages of Christian republican society and schools, until they have attained to somewhat of a moral and intellectual maturity, and then assist them in their passage to those shores, where they may put in practice the lessons they have learned in America.” So we realize that Stowe is not an Abolitionist, not even an Exclusionist – she is just a Deportationist, conjuring impossibility!
Then, as if forecasting a future War between the States, Stowe warns that the people of the United States cannot be saved from disaster “by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin,” but only “by repentance, justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!” But, we need to ask ourselves this: “Since laws governing slavery were State laws, not Federal laws, how can Stowe worry that the Wrath of God would be hurled down upon, say, the people of Massachusetts for the sinful behavior of, say, the people of South Carolina?
We now examine the passion for Exclusionism in greater detail. It is sufficient to go back to May 13, 1846, the day that Congress and President James K. Polk of Tennessee declared war against Mexico. The invasion of Mexican land began quickly afterward, especially just south of Texas and westward out to Mexican California. Everyone realized that, with men of both the Southern and Northern cultures joining together in this military invasion, resistance would be impossible, and the United States would quickly take vast Mexican lands out to the Pacific Ocean. Question: would the invaders of the Southern culture share in settling the vast lands acquired? Politicians of the Northern culture answered: not with African American slaves! The North wanted the South at its side fighting for the land, but wanted all of the land for itself. This became apparent when Democrat Representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania presented an amendment to a war appropriations bill stipulating that all African American slaves were to be excluded from living in any land taken from Mexico. This would become known as the “Wilmot Proviso.” In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, approved on March 10, 1848, the Mexican Government relinquished all of its land west of Texas in exchange for peace and $15,000,000. With this vast land in American legal possession, the fight began to restrict settlement to the Northern culture, characterized by the exclusion from this vast land of all African American slaves. In its campaign the North was successful and Exclusionism ruled American politics. But Exclusionism was not confined to land taken from Mexico. In the same year of 1848, in Illinois, the land of Lincoln, the newly revised State Constitution, in Article 14, directed the General Assembly to pass a law prohibiting “free persons of color from immigrating to and settling this state and to effectively prevent owners of slaves from bringing them into Illinois for the purpose of setting them free.” In the next chapter, you will learn about terrorist attacks by Exclusionists in Kansas Territory from 1854 to 1860. So, while recalling that importation of African slaves had been outlawed since 1810, ask yourself the question: “Did the Northern insistence on Exclusionism benefit the African American slave?” Keep that question in mind during class discussion.
Having examined Exclusionism, we look at Abolitionism. We must assume that a true Northern Abolitionist, worthy of the name, was passionate about helping African American slaves become free and become successful at independent living in a Northern state. A “true” Abolitionist, if wealthy, would simply purchase a slave family and help them become resituated. Sadly, the Northern culture did not produce any like that. A “true” Abolitionist, if devout, would help a slave, often a runaway, adapt to independent living and shelter him from authorities, not hasten him north to Canada. A significant number of Quakers were of this stripe. But, overall, “true” Abolitionists, by the definition provided in this chapter, were a rarity in the Northern culture. But for now, we move forward to an examination of Deportationism.
When historians report on American Deportationism, they first mention “The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America,” called the “American Colonization Society” for short. Begun in New Jersey in 1816 and supported by both slave owners of the Southern culture, including Henry Clay of Kentucky and John Randolph of Virginia, and Quakers and Evangelicals of the Northern culture, the Society facilitated the deportation or transfer of African Americans to lands elsewhere, mainly to the colony it helped organize on the West African coast they named “Liberia.” In some cases the Society purchased slaves, made them independent and put them on ships bound for Africa. But more often they were already free or freed by their owner for the purpose of deportation. The first arrived at Liberia in 1820. By 1830, 2,600 had been transferred to the colony. By 1867, two years after the conquest of the Confederacy, the number transferred had exceeded 13,000, representing one sent to Liberia to every 400 remaining in the States. In subsequent years very, very few African Americans even gave serious thought to leaving for Africa. Deportation was considered by many to be the ultimate solution to the “Negro problem” in America, but it took a lot of wishful dreaming to explain how and why millions would volunteer to relocate to an Africa they had never known, full of perils to be sure. Only forced deportation seemed a possibility.
Let’s examine the “Underground Railroad.” Which “ism” best classifies it? The name helps us figure that out. A railroad runs from “A to B,” right? Well, “A” was somewhere near the boundary separating the “free” and “slave” states. “B” was in Canada. Because Exclusionism was the primary passion in the Northern culture, secret conveyance northward of run-away slaves was supported by the Northern culture, as long as the “passengers” on that train kept moving north to Canada. Perhaps as many as 30,000 made the journey, there left to fend for themselves. The Fugitive Slave Law empowered persistent political agitation helpful to Republicans seeking to exploit incidents to demonize Southerners and Democrats.
Actually, President Lincoln, fundamentally a Deportationist, promoted deportation in the first two years of his presidency. In December 1861, knowing that the North faced a protracted and brutal war, Lincoln proposed to Congress that his Government sponsor and finance a major African American deportation program. The following year his Administration actively sought resettlement sites in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America, including Chiriqui. Various emancipation schemes in Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, followed by deportation, were hotly debated in 1862, then allowed to die away. But in April 1863, 430 African American men, women and children from occupied Virginia were deported to Ile A’Vache, Haiti, the beginning of a planned 5,000 deportations. The Haiti project failed (the survivors were eventually rescued). If the Confederates had been overwhelmed by late 1862, history suggests substantial deportation might well have occurred. But, by 1863 the war became so horrific and African American men were consequently viewed as too important to the military as soldiers and to politicians as voters in the future conquered states.
Anti-Slavery was not simply Abolitionism. It was also Exclusionism and Deportationism. Empowered by political gain-seeking, these three Anti-Slavery passions were diverse and not very caring for the welfare of the African American. An inquiring mind is needed to fully understand it.
Suggestions for Class Discussion
With no government welfare programs, life was hard in the 1850’s for people of every race who were in need of help. With that in mind, discuss the good and the bad of Exclusionism, Deportationism and “true” Abolitionism.