|Part of a series on|
The Slave Power or Slavocracy was the perceived political power in the U.S. federal government held by slave owners during the 1840s and 1850s, prior to the Civil War. Antislavery campaigners, led by Frederick Douglass,during this period bitterly complained about what they saw as disproportionate and corrupt influence wielded by wealthy Southerners. The argument was that this small group of rich slave owners had seized political control of their own states and were trying to take over the federal government in an illegitimate fashion in order to expand and protect slavery. The argument was later widely used by the Republican Party that formed in 1854–55 to oppose the expansion of slavery.
The main issue expressed by the term slave power was distrust of the political power of the slave-owning class. Such distrust was shared by many who were not abolitionists; those who were motivated more by a possible threat to the political balance or the impossibility of competing with unwaged slave labor, than by concern over the treatment of slaves. Those who differed on many other issues (such as hating Black people or liking them, denouncing slavery as a sin or promising to guarantee its protection in the Deep South) could unite to attack the slavocracy .The "Free Soil" element emphasized that rich slave owners would move into new territory, use their cash to buy up all the good lands, then use their slaves to work the lands, leaving little opportunity room for free farmers. By 1854 the Free Soil Party had largely merged into the new Republican Party.
The term was popularized by antislavery writers such as Frederick Douglass, John Gorham Palfrey, Josiah Quincy III, Horace Bushnell, James Shepherd Pike, and Horace Greeley. Politicians who emphasized the theme included John Quincy Adams, Henry Wilson and William Pitt Fessenden. Abraham Lincoln used the concept after 1854 but not the term. They showed, through a combination of emotive argument and hard statistical data, that the South had long held a disproportionate level of power in the United States. Historian Allan Nevins contends that "nearly all groups ... steadily substituted emotion for reason. ... Fear fed hatred, and hatred fed fear."
The existence of a Slave Power was dismissed by Southerners at the time, and rejected as false by many historians of the 1920s and 1930s, who stressed the internal divisions in the South before 1850.The idea that the Slave Power existed has partly come back at the hands of neoabolitionist historians since 1970, and there is no doubt that it was a powerful factor in the Northern anti-slavery belief system. It was standard rhetoric for all factions of the Republican Party.
This power extended to American ambassadors and consuls:
That was the time when slavery ruled all. There was scarce an American consul or political agent in any quarter of the globe, or on any island of the seas, who was not a supporter of the slave power. I saw a large portion of these national representatives in my circumnavigation of the globe, and it was impossible to ﬁnd at any oﬂice over which the American ﬂag waved a newspaper that was not in the interests of slavery. No copy of the New York Tribune or Evening Post was tolerated under an American official roof. Each embassy and consulate, the world over, was a centre of inﬂuences for slavery and against freedom. We ought to take this into account when we blame foreign nations for not accepting at once the United States as an antislavery power, bent on the destruction of slavery, as soon as our civil war broke out. For twenty years foreign merchants, shipmasters, or travellers had seen in American officials only trained and devoted supporters of the slave power, and the only evidences of public opinion at home to be found at those official seats, so much resorted to and credited, were all of the same character.
The problem posed by slavery, according to many Northern politicians, was not so much the mistreatment of slaves (a theme that abolitionists emphasized), but rather the political threat to American republicanism, especially as embraced in Northern free states. The Free Soil Party first raised this warning in 1848, arguing that the annexation of Texas as a slave state was a terrible mistake. The Free Soilers' rhetoric was taken up by the Republican party as it emerged in 1854.
The Republicans also argued that slavery was economically inefficient, compared to free labor, and was a deterrent to the long-term modernization of America. Worse, said the Republicans, the Slave Power, deeply entrenched in the South, was systematically seizing control of the White House, the Congress, and the Supreme Court. Senator and governor Salmon P. Chase of Ohio was an articulate enemy of the Slave Power, as was Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.
Southern power derived from a combination of factors. The "three-fifths clause" (counting 100 slaves as 60 people for seats in the House and thus for electoral votes) gave the South disproportionate representation at the national level.
With less than a third of the free population, and less than a third of the wealth, they had eleven Presidents out of sixteen; seventeen Judges of the Supreme Court out of twenty-eight; fourteen Attorney Generals out of nineteen; sixty-one Presidents of the Senate out of seventy-seven; twenty-one Speakers of the House of Representitves out of thirty-three; eighty-four foreign ministers out of a hundred thirty-four; with a like disparity running through all the [illegible] of the General Government.
Parity in the Senate was critical, whereby a new slave state was admitted in tandem with a new free state. Regional unity across party lines was essential on key votes. In the Democratic party, a presidential candidate had to carry the national convention by a two-thirds vote to get nominated. It was also essential for some Northerners—"Doughfaces"—to collaborate with the South, as in the debates surrounding the three-fifths clause itself in 1787, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the gag rule in the House (1836–1844), and the wider subject of the Wilmot Proviso and slavery expansion in the Southwest after the Mexican war of 1846–1848. However, the North was adding population—and House seats—much faster than the South, so the handwriting was on the wall. With the implacable Republicans gaining every year, the secession option became more and more attractive to the South. Secession was suicidal, as some leaders realized, and as John Quincy Adams had long prophesied. Secession, argued James Henry Hammond of South Carolina, reminded him of "the Japanese who when insulted rip open their own bowels." And yet when secession came in 1860 Hammond followed. Historian Leonard Richards concludes, "It was men like Hammond who finally destroyed the Slave Power. Thanks to their leading the South out of the Union, seventy-two years of slaveholder domination came to an end."
From the point of view of many Northerners, the supposedly definitive Compromise of 1850 was followed by a series of maneuvers (such as the Kansas–Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, etc.) in which the North gave up previously-agreed gains without receiving anything in return, accompanied by ever-escalating and more extreme Southern demands. Many northerners who had no particular concern for blacks concluded that slavery was not worth preserving if its protection required destroying or seriously compromising democracy among whites. Such perceptions led to the Anti-Nebraska movement of 1854–1855, followed by the organized Republican Party.
Historian Frederick J. Blue (2006) explores the motives and actions of those who played supportive but not central roles in antislavery politics—those who undertook the humdrum work of organizing local parties, holding conventions, editing newspapers, and generally animating and agitating the discussion of issues related to slavery. They were a small but critical number of voices who, beginning in the late 1830s, battled the institution of slavery through political activism. In the face of great odds and powerful opposition, activists insisted that emancipation and racial equality could only be achieved through the political process. Representative activists include: Alvan Stewart, a Liberty party organizer from New York; John Greenleaf Whittier, a Massachusetts poet, journalist, and Liberty activist; Charles Henry Langston, an Ohio African-American educator; Owen Lovejoy, a congressman from Illinois, whose brother Elijah was killed by a pro-slavery mob; Sherman Booth, a journalist and Liberty organizer in Wisconsin; Jane Grey Swisshelm, a journalist in Pennsylvania and Minnesota; George W. Julian, a congressman from Indiana; David Wilmot, a congressman from Pennsylvania, whose Wilmot proviso tried to stop the expansion of slavery in the Southwest; Benjamin Wade and Edward Wade, a senator and a congressman, respectively, from Ohio; and Jessie Benton Frémont of Missouri and California, wife of the Republican 1856 presidential nominee John C. Frémont.
The Democrats who rallied to Martin Van Buren's Free Soil Party in 1848 have been studied by Earle (2003). Their views on race occupied a wide spectrum, but they were able to fashion new and vital arguments against slavery and its expansion based on the Jacksonian Democracy's long-standing commitment to egalitarianism and hostility to centralized power. Linking their antislavery stance to a land-reform agenda that pressed for free land for poor settlers—realized by the Homestead Law of 1862—in addition to land free of slavery, Free Soil Democrats forced major political realignments in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Ohio. Democratic politicians such as Wilmot, Marcus Morton, John Parker Hale, and even former president Van Buren were transformed into antislavery leaders. Many entered the new Republican party after 1854, bringing along Jacksonian ideas about property and political equality, helping transform antislavery from a struggling crusade into a mass political movement that came to power in 1860.
In his celebrated "House Divided" speech of June 1858, Abraham Lincoln charged that Senator Stephen A. Douglas, President James Buchanan, his predecessor, Franklin Pierce, and Chief Justice Roger B. Taney were all part of a plot to nationalize slavery, as allegedly proven by the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision of 1857.
Other Republicans pointed to the violence in Kansas, the brutal assault on Senator Sumner, attacks upon the abolitionist press, and efforts to take over Cuba (Ostend Manifesto) as evidence that the Slave Power was violent, aggressive, and expansive.
The only solution, Republicans insisted, was a new commitment to free labor, and a deliberate effort to stop any more territorial expansion of slavery. Northern Democrats answered that it was all an exaggeration and that the Republicans were paranoid. Their Southern colleagues spoke of secession, arguing that the John Brown raid of 1859 proved that the Republicans were ready to attack their region and destroy their way of life.
In congratulating President-elect Lincoln in 1860, Salmon P. Chase exclaimed, "The object of my wishes and labors for nineteen years is accomplished in the overthrow of the Slave Power", adding that the way was now clear "for the establishment of the policy of Freedom"—something that would come only after four destructive years of Civil War.
Jessie Fremont, the wife of the first Republican presidential candidate, wrote campaign poetry for the 1856 election. Grant says her poems bind the period's cult of domesticity to the new party's emerging ideology. Her poems suggested that Northerners who conciliated the Slave Power were spreading their own sterility, while virile men voting Republican were reproducing, through their own redemption, a future free West. The code of domesticity, according to Grant, thus helped these poems to define collective political action as building upon the strengths of free labor.
Historian Henry Brooks Adams (grandson of "Slave-Power" theorist John Quincy Adams) explained that the Slave Power was a force for centralization:
Between the slave power and states' rights there was no necessary connection. The slave power, when in control, was a centralizing influence, and all the most considerable encroachments on states' rights were its acts. The acquisition and admission of Louisiana; the Embargo; the War of 1812; the annexation of Texas "by joint resolution" [rather than treaty]; the war with Mexico, declared by the mere announcement of President Polk; the Fugitive Slave Law; the Dred Scott decision—all triumphs of the slave power—did far more than either tariffs or internal improvements, which in their origin were also Southern measures, to destroy the very memory of states' rights as they existed in 1789. Whenever a question arose of extending or protecting slavery, the slaveholders became friends of centralized power, and used that dangerous weapon with a kind of frenzy. Slavery in fact required centralization in order to maintain and protect itself, but it required to control the centralized machine; it needed despotic principles of government, but it needed them exclusively for its own use. Thus, in truth, states' rights were the protection of the free states, and as a matter of fact, during the domination of the slave power, Massachusetts appealed to this protecting principle as often and almost as loudly as South Carolina.
The American Civil War was a civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865, fought between northern states loyal to the Union and southern states that had seceded to form the Confederate States of America. The principal cause of the war was the status of slavery in the United States, especially in the territories.
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 was a territorial organic act that created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It was drafted by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, passed by the 33rd United States Congress, and signed into law by President Franklin Pierce. Douglas introduced the bill intending to open up new lands to development and facilitate the construction of a transcontinental railroad, but the Kansas–Nebraska Act is most notable for effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise, stoking national tensions over slavery, and contributing to a series of armed conflicts known as "Bleeding Kansas".
The Whig Party was a political party active in the middle of the 19th century in the United States. Alongside the slightly larger Democratic Party, it was one of the two major parties in the United States between the late 1830s and the early 1850s as part of the Second Party System. Four presidents were affiliated with the Whig Party for at least part of their respective terms. Other influential party leaders include Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William Seward, John J. Crittenden, John Quincy Adams, and Truman Smith.
The 1860 United States presidential election was the 19th quadrennial presidential election, held on November 6, 1860. In a four-way contest, the Republican Party ticket of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin, absent from the ballot in ten slave states, won a national popular plurality, a popular majority in the North where states already had abolished slavery, and a national electoral majority comprising only Northern electoral votes. Lincoln's election thus served as the main catalyst of the American Civil War.
The Wilmot Proviso was an unsuccessful 1846 proposal in the United States Congress to ban slavery in territory acquired from Mexico in the Mexican–American War. The conflict over the Wilmot Proviso was one of the major events leading to the American Civil War.
The Free Soil Party was a short-lived coalition political party in the United States active from 1848 to 1854, when it merged into the Republican Party. The party was largely focused on the single issue of opposing the expansion of slavery into the western territories of the United States.
Historians who debate the origins of the American Civil War focus on the reasons that seven southern states declared their secession from the United States and united to form the Confederate States, and the reasons that the North refused to let them go. Most of the debate is about the first question, the reason that some Southern states decided to secede. Virtually all historians in the 21st century agree that conflict over slavery caused the war, but they disagree sharply on the aspects of this conflict that were most important.
David Wilmot was an American politician and judge. He served as Representative and a Senator for Pennsylvania and as a Judge of the Court of Claims. He is best known for being the prime sponsor and namesake of the eponymous Wilmot Proviso, a failed proposal to ban the expansion of slavery to western lands gained in the Mexican Cession. A notable member of the anti-slavery Free Soil Party, Wilmot later was instrumental in establishing the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.
Industrialization went forward in the Northwest. A rail network and a telegraph network linked the nation economically, opening up new markets. Immigration brought millions of European workers and farmers to the North. In the South, planters shifted operations from the poor soils of the Southeast to the rich cotton lands of the Southwest.
In American history, the Fire-Eaters were a group of pro-slavery Democrats in the Antebellum South who urged the separation of Southern states into a new nation, which became the Confederate States of America. The dean of the group was Robert Rhett of South Carolina. Some sought to revive America's participation in the Atlantic slave trade, which had been illegal since 1808.
The term doughface originally referred to an actual mask made of dough, but came to be used in a disparaging context for someone, especially a politician, who is perceived to be pliable and moldable. In the 1847 Webster's dictionary doughfacism was defined as "the willingness to be led about by one of stronger mind and will". In the years leading up to the American Civil War, "doughface" was used to describe Northerners who favored the Southern position in political disputes. Typically it was applied to a Northern Democrat who was more often allied with the Southern Democrats than with the majority of Northern Democrats.
The Missouri Compromise was United States federal legislation that stopped northern attempts to forever prohibit slavery's expansion by admitting Missouri as a slave state in exchange for legislation which prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri. The 16th United States Congress passed the legislation on March 3, 1820, and President James Monroe signed it on March 6, 1820.
Historiography examines how the past has been viewed or interpreted. Historiographic issues about the American Civil War include the name of the war, the origins or causes of the war, and President Abraham Lincoln's views and goals regarding slavery.
The presidency of James Buchanan began on March 4, 1857, when James Buchanan was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1861. Buchanan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, took office as the 15th United States president after defeating former President Millard Fillmore of the American Party, and John C. Frémont of the Republican Party in the 1856 presidential election.
The Liberty Party was a minor political party in the United States in the 1840s. The party was an early advocate of the abolitionist cause and it broke away from the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) to advocate the view that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document. William Lloyd Garrison, leader of the AASS, held the contrary view, that the Constitution should be condemned as an evil pro-slavery document. The party included abolitionists who were willing to work within electoral politics to try to influence people to support their goals. By contrast, the radical Garrison opposed voting and working within the system. Many Liberty Party members joined the anti-slavery Free Soil Party in 1848 and eventually helped establish the Republican Party in the 1850s.
James Buchanan Jr. was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 15th president of the United States (1857–1861). He previously served as secretary of state (1845–1849) and represented Pennsylvania in both houses of the U.S. Congress. He was a states' rights advocate, and minimized the role of the federal government in the nation's final years of slavery.
Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician and lawyer from Illinois. He was one of two Democratic Party nominees for president in the 1860 presidential election, which was won by Republican Abraham Lincoln. Douglas had previously defeated Lincoln in the 1858 United States Senate election in Illinois, known for the Lincoln–Douglas debates. During the 1850s, Douglas was one of the foremost advocates of popular sovereignty, which held that each territory should be allowed to determine whether to permit slavery within its borders. Douglas was nicknamed the "Little Giant" because he was short in physical stature but a forceful and dominant figure in politics.
Abolitionism in the United States was a movement which sought to end slavery in the United States, being active from the colonial era until the American Civil War, which saw the abolition of American slavery. The abolitionist movement originated in Western Europe during the Age of Enlightenment, seeking to end the transatlantic slave trade and outlaw the institution of slavery in European colonies in the Americas. In Colonial America, German settlers issued the 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, which would initiate the American abolitionist movement. Before the Revolutionary War, evangelical colonists were the primary advocates for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, doing so on humanitarian grounds. Georgia, the last of the Thirteen Colonies to be established, originally prohibited slavery upon its founding, a decision which was eventually reversed.
The Opposition Party was a party identification under which Northern, anti-slavery politicians, formerly members of the Democratic and Whig parties, briefly ran in the 1850s. This was in response to the expansion of slavery into the new territories. It was one of the movements which arose from the political chaos in the decade before the American Civil War in the wake of the Compromise of 1850. The movement arose before and was quickly subsumed by the coalescence of the Republican Party in 1856.
This article documents the political career of Abraham Lincoln from the end of his term in the United States House of Representatives in March 1849 to the beginning of his first term as President of the United States in March 1861.