The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue by Lawrence R. Tenzer

Introduction to Lawrence R. Tenzer’s
The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue

Preface by A.D. PowellDefinition of “White Slavery” – in the antebellum South, the enslavement of people who were physically “white.” “White slaves” were presumed to be descended from a “black” female slave according to the maternal descent rule of inherited slave status. There was no way to really determine who was descended from a female African slave and who was “pure” white. If the slave descent was broken by manumission, “white” slaves could often become legally “white.” Northerners, who were told by the Southern slaveholding elite that slavery was justified by the “inferiority” of the “black race,” were horrified to discover that people as white as themselves were being held as slaves. Southern political power and the federal Fugitive Slave Law allowed slave catchers to seize alleged fugitives from bondage with no due process. “White slavery” meant that one’s physical appearance was no protection from legal kidnapping. The political ramifications of this fact, unacknowledged by most American historians, are that anti-slavery politics increasingly emphasized the threat of slavery to Northern whites. The fear and hatred of slavery was usually not, as commonly believed, an altruistic response to the sufferings of “blacks” by liberal “whites.” Racial intermixture and mixed-race “whites” were, therefore, important factors in increasing the tensions that ultimately led to the American Civil War, and not just marginal characters in bad melodramas.To Interracial Voice Readers from A.D. Powell:

This is a crusade for justice.

The issue of “white slavery” in the antebellum South has FINALLY received some recognition in academic circles.

“White Slavery: An American Paradox” by Carol Wilson and Calvin D Wilson in Slavery and Abolition, 19:1.

“The Slave Trader, the White Slave, and the Politics of Racial Determination in the 1850s” by Walter Johnson in Journal of American History, (June 2000)

However…

The definitive work on “white” chattel slavery and its political ramifications – Lawrence R. Tenzer’s The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue (Manahawkin, NJ: Scholars’ Publishing House, 1997) – has not been reviewed in any academic journal or even cited in a scholarly bibliography. Any idiot who wants to write fairy tales about mythological “black” Confederate soldiers bravely defending their Southern homeland from the marauding Yankees can find a publisher, but Dr. Tenzer’s 21 years of research in PRIMARY documents has been rejected by publishers. Why? Consider these possible reasons:

** The Forgotten Cause answers a question that American historians are always asking but don’t really want answered: Why was slavery the great moral and political issue of the antebellum period if it affected only “blacks,” a people who were deemed an “inferior race”? If slavery was a threat to “whites” in general, and “white slaves” were recognized as fellow “whites” by Northerners, historians must admit that there was no clear dividing line between the “races.” They must acknowledge that Southern slavery was a threat to Americans in general. Neither “liberal” nor “conservative” historians want to admit that.

** Neo-Confederate historians constantly argue in the popular press that the Confederacy fought, not for slavery, but for “states’ rights” and against some kind of federal tyranny. Tenzer shows that it was Northern states who exercised their “states’ rights” by passing personal liberty laws to nullify the effects of the federal Fugitive Slave Law. This law gave the accused slave, who could be “white,” no right to bring witnesses, have a jury, or any other forms of due process. The judge was authorized by the law to receive a larger fee if he ruled against the accused slave than if he ruled in his or her favor. Why do “liberal” historians refuse to publicize these facts when they totally devastate the Neo-Confederate nonsense about an abstract devotion to “states’ rights”?

** Other academics, such as Werner Sollors, have noted that abolitionist literature constantly emphasized white slavery. It’s hard to find an abolitionist novel that doesn’t feature quadroons, octoroons, etc. If slavery was justified by “race,” shouldn’t a “white” slave be free? Tenzer unearths the pro-slavery apologists who seriously argued that SLAVERY WHITE OR BLACK was justified and the institution didn’t need an “inferior race” to justify its existence. If historians acknowledge that the South’s intellectual defenders were willing to promote slavery as superior to free society and openly suggest that poor Northern laborers would be better off as property, what happens to the South’s glorious “Lost Cause”? What happens to the useless arguments about how much Northern “whites” liked or disliked “blacks,” or the Neo-Confederate nonsense that the presence of “black” (actually, wealthy mulatto) slaveholders “proves” that slavery was not the cause of the war?

** Finally, Tenzer researched antebellum Republican political literature to show that the threat of “white slavery” was used by Abraham Lincoln’s party to galvanize voters. The Republican Party activists, Lincoln included, knew that Northerners had good reason to fear the South and its insatiable need for more and more slaves. Southern pro-slavery apologists constantly stated that their slaves were better off than free white laborers in the North. More than that, the pro-slavery intellectuals defended slavery as a good in and of itself, regardless of “race” or “color.” While the current fashion is to argue that Southern states were merely resisting the tyranny of a federal government, we forget that The South effectively controlled Congress and the Presidency for most of the antebellum period. Northern whites had seen the Fugitive Slave Act shoved down their throats, the mails censored, and the expansion of slavery into new territories. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the only one who knew that the nation couldn’t exist half slave and half free – it would become ALL SLAVE or all free. If slave society had triumphed over free society, who is naive enough to think that greedy slave owners wouldn’t have used their power to add many poor whites and Indians to their human property? Once we acknowledge these facts, what happens to the cherished myths of both liberal and Neo-Confederate historians?

IV readers, if you have ANY contacts in publishing, the history profession, the media, etc., please promote The Forgotten Cause. University students, introduce the book to your professors and fellow students. People who are NOT “gatekeepers” of information seem to have no trouble understanding Dr. Tenzer’s thesis. Only those with POWER suddenly lose their reading comprehension. If only ONE of them breaks ranks, it could make all the difference in the world.

The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue (Introduction)

Open-mindedness. That is what is required for reading all of the pages which follow. When one thinks of slavery in America, images of black and brown people come to mind. As this text will document through a considerable number of unmistakable primary sources, white people were also slaves. When talking to students, teachers, and others about white slaves, inevitably, the first question asked is, “If there really were white slaves in the South prior to the Civil War, where did they come from?” The common understanding of slavery in America pictures black slaves from Africa being brought over on slave ships. That, of course, is true, but rather than ending there, the story just begins. Several generations of interracial sexual relations with white plantation masters and other white men produced a population of white slaves, so-called white mulattoes. Darkness was taken to be prima facie evidence of slave status, and black and brown slaves greatly outnumbered white slaves. Although white slavery was merely the by-product of a black slavery system, there were, nevertheless, white slaves as well. Even after all visual characteristics of the African had long since disappeared, many generations of white people continued to be held in slavery because any child born of a slave mother automatically assumed slave status. It is to be understood that slavery was transmitted from generation to generation through the maternal line. Having a remote black female ancestor permitted people to be classified as black even though they were physiologically white, so slavery in the South in this ultimate sense was not based on color. Indeed, many travelers throughout the Southern states noted that they saw slaves who were as white as any white person. Since the subject of white slavery has gone and continues to go virtually unaddressed, slaves being black and brown endure in our common thinking. The image of a black person picking cotton standing next to a white person also picking cotton seems unbelievable and almost surreal, but that actually occurred in reality. It was that reality–the reality of white slaves–which played an important role in the pre-Civil War politics of the nation.

As the political power of the antebellum South increased, the fact that Southerners owned white slaves became a threat to many white Northerners. The enslavement of white mulattoes, actually white people, was quite a different matter than the enslavement of brown and black people, and white slavery became a controversial political issue. As the epigraph to this book indicates and Chapter 5 explains, these whites being enslaved gave rise to the fear that under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, free whites in the North could be mistaken for white runaway slaves and be literally enslaved as well. Moreover, as Chapter 6 will show, this fear expanded into a widely held belief that freeborn white laborers in the North were also susceptible to literal enslavement if the South ever succeeded in nationalizing slavery. The bibliography to this work and several of the plates reproduced herein attest to the fact that many publications between 1850 and 1860 addressed the threat of white slavery in both of these literal manifestations. The existence of this body of literature is proof that white slavery was a threat to many white Northerners, and that threat was the fundamental aspect of this forgotten cause of the Civil War. It is important to note, however, that not everyone in the North wanted to end slavery or felt threatened by white slavery. Merchants had investments in Southern mines and railroads, sold manufactured goods to the South, and were purchasers of Southern cotton. The South owed $200,000,000 to Northern business interests, and this business community called for concessions to avoid a conflict between North and South. In addition to those in the business community, there were certainly others in the North who did not fear slavery. Many in the Democratic party and those who participated in the New York City draft riots in July of 1863 are good examples. As the abolitionists were establishing themselves and their movement in the 1830s, many Northerners looked on them as troublemakers. In his memoirs, the abolitionist Samuel J. May recalled what a New York merchant had told him in 1835.

Mr. May, we are not such fools as not to know that slavery is a great evil, a great wrong. But it was consented to by the founders of our Republic. It was provided for in the Constitution of our Union. A great portion of the property of the Southerners is invested under its sanction; and the business of the North, as well as the South, has become adjusted to it. There are millions upon millions of dollars due from Southerners to the merchants and mechanics of this city alone, the payment of which would be jeopardized by any rupture between the North and the South. We cannot afford, sir, to let you and your associates succeed in your endeavor to overthrow slavery. It is not a matter of principle with us. It is a matter of business necessity. We cannot afford to let you succeed….We mean, sir, to put you Abolitionists down,–by fair means if we can, by foul means if we must.From 1835 to 1860 is a very short span of time, a mere twenty-five years. What could possibly have accounted for the drastic change in attitude toward the abolitionists, their extreme increase in number, and a widespread change in the sentiment against slavery in general? Worth noting is that at the peak of the antislavery movement, there were people numbering in the hundreds of thousands who were, to varying degrees, empathetic to the cause, but many cared little if anything for the plight of people of color. In fact, it is known that a good number of whites who participated in the formal antislavery movement were prejudiced against blacks, even to the extent of using the word “nigger.” With the reality of slavery in all of its manifestations ever-present, what was cared about was the looming threat of slavery being imposed on white people. By working to abolish the institution of slavery, slavery in general, the threat of white slavery was directly being addressed. The last two chapters of this book clearly demonstrate that white enslavement was a real issue on the minds of many in the North.

The potential for being mistaken for a white runaway slave certainly explains one aspect of the fear engendered by white slavery. Where did the threat regarding the literal enslavement of Northern white laborers come from? The answer to this question is to be found in the vast unsettled territories of the nation and, with their slave or free status, the potential for a nationalization of slavery. With westward expansion into the free territories, the issue arose as to whether slavery should be allowed there. The politics of the matter heated up during the mid and latter 1850s. In 1858 Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech in which he stated,

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free…. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in course of ultimate extinction; 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.In 1860, exactly one year to the day before Fort Sumter was fired upon and the Civil War commenced, an editorial published four years earlier in the renowned Richmond Enquirer was read into the congressional record as being typical of the South’s point of view, casting aspersions on free society and extolling the virtues of slave society.If slavery be not the right, the healthful form of society, it will not endure long. But it has endured already for countless ages, and now covers nine tenths of the world…. Two opposing and conflicting forms of society cannot, among civilized men, coexist and endure. The onemust give way, and cease to exist; the other become universal. If free society be unnatural, immoral, unchristian, it must fall, and give way to a social system old as the world, universal as man.In both quotations, the nation is spoken of as being either all free or all slave, but not both. In the decade leading up to the Civil War, both sections of the country had to acknowledge that in reality, freedom and slavery could not coexist. Lincoln and the Republicans, of course, wanted the nation all free. By keeping slavery from expanding into the territories, all new states to come from those territories would be free states. The slave states would lose political power, and in time, the institution of slavery would become nonexistent. The South, on the other hand, wanted the nation all slave. Slavery would first be established in the territories and then expanded into the free states. Lincoln believed that the nation could become “all slave,” otherwise he never would have said so.

What would it mean for the nation to be all slave? Could it be possible for Southern political power to expand into a national proslavery political power and literally enslave free white Northerners? Free labor earned upwards of a dollar a day; slave labor was valued at 10¢ to 25¢. If slavery were made national, the very real threat existed that many white laborers already living in the territories would be unable to compete with the price of slave labor and would fall into poverty and be sold for debt. Since white laborers unable to make a living would not migrate there, every state to come from the territories would be a new slave state. This being so, proslavery congressional power would greatly increase along with the votes necessary to ultimately allow slavery into the free states, where free labor would again have to compete with slave labor. With the mentality of the country being all free or all slave, it is no wonder that people in the North, particularly the laboring class, felt vulnerable to the idea of slavery being nationalized into an “all slave” nation.

Many in the North held the belief that if slavery were nationalized, at first there would be figurative slavery in the free states, where omnipotent proslavery political power would usurp civil rights and the Northern political establishment. Once done, this in turn would likely evolve into literal slavery, where white people could be enslaved for life. Many contemporary references express the belief, either implicitly or explicitly, that the enslavement of white laborers in the North would ultimately be literal enslavement. The North would negate slavery in the South, by stopping its expansion, or the South would impose slavery on the North. Everything hinged on preventing slavery from expanding into the territories. Plank number 8 in the Republican Party Platform of 1860 stated, “That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom…. We deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.” In Lincoln’s letter to Horace Greeley dated August 22, 1862, he stated, “My paramount object in this struggleis to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” Lincoln was content to leave slavery alone where it already was, but that “the sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was.’ ” That, of course, was a Union with free territories, where free labor would not have to compete with slave labor. The Civil War was fought to preserve the Union, “the Union as it was.”

“Fighting For What?” was one of the subheadings in the first volume of Philip S. Foner’s 5-volume set entitled History of the Labor Movement in the United States. Foner believes and this author agrees that hundreds of thousands of free laborers in the North went to war to abolish slavery; not out of altruism, but in order to ensure freedom for themselves and their loved ones. As Foner’s research on this subject indicates,

The Iron Platform, a New York workingman’s paper, gave in November, 1862, the reason that had compelled it to call for the freedom of the slaves: “There is one truth which should be clearly understood by every workingman in the Union. The slavery of the black man leads to the slavery of the white man…. If the doctrine of treason is true, that ‘Capital should own labor,’ then their logical conclusion is correct, and all laborers, white or black, are and ought to be slaves.”Upon examination of this passage, it becomes apparent that what is being spoken of is not figurative slavery. “Capital should own labor” was a phrase utilized during the presidential campaign of 1860 to denote the distinction between free labor which was hired, and slave labor which was owned. Ownership is literal slavery, chattel slavery. There were many white men in the North who risked their lives during the Civil War because they feared that if the South won and slavery were to be nationalized, slavery could be imposed on them. The foundations for this belief will be explained in detail. Suffice to say here, winning the war would abolish black slavery and the threat of white slavery as well.

David Thelen has said that “the challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present.” To this end, thousands of pieces of literature were perused in the preparation of this volume. Primary sources have been cited wherever possible, and note that many are obscure, having never appeared in any other history book. Such being the case, this bibliography will prove to be a valuable research tool for others who desire to explore the little-known aspects of pre-Civil War history which have been addressed herein. Other explanations for the Civil War have been acknowledged, but the issue of white slavery was also a cause. In an effort “to recover the past and introduce it to the present,” it may be said that the volume now in your hands is a contribution toward filling the void which currently exists regarding this forgotten cause of the Civil War.

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