Friday, August 31, 2012

American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt

American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt

From the Star, "Untold story of U.S. slave rebellion retold centuries later, by Mitch Potter, on 23 January 2011 -- DESTREHAN PLANTATION, LA.—A long-lost chapter in American history is being written anew today, as southerners begin to come to terms with the previously untold story of the continent’s largest slave revolt.

And while historians today debate the details, a consensus is forming around just how close New Orleans came to becoming a free black colony precisely 200 years ago when a makeshift army of some 500 slaves, some just a few years out of Africa, rose up in carefully calculated unison with epic consequences.

The oldest plantation in the lower Mississippi Valley

Here at the pastoral Destrehan Plantation, the aftermath of the January 1811, insurrection was especially brutal — newly unearthed colonial records show the estate was the epicentre for a judicial reckoning, with the white slaveholders ordering as many as 100 ringleaders shot or hanged.

They black rebel leaders then were decapitated, with their heads mounted on stakes in a horrific necklace of retribution stretching 70 kms down the Mississippi, all the way to the gates of what was then America’s most crucial frontier city.“It is one of the most striking moments of amnesia in our national history. What you had in the end were plantation owners sitting down to sumptuous five-course meals as they looked out the window at their own beheaded slaves,” said historian Daniel Rasmussen, who began his investigation as an undergraduate student at Harvard.

“The planters were outnumbered and terrified. They thought of their slaves as sub-human they saw ritual beheading as a prime way to get their message across.

“And what followed this gruesome display was a concerted attempt to write it out of the history books. The southern newspapers suppressed the story, either refusing to publish or delaying for months. Only a few papers much further north published small paragraphs condemning the savagery of the planters.”

Tulane University, the African American Museum in Treme and Destrehan Plantation all are filling in the blanks with the launch of a yearlong look at the 1811 uprising.

But it is Rasmussen’s riveting new book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, that is turning the most heads, in academia and beyond.

Collating clues from dust-encrusted plantation ledgers, colonial court records, obscure snippets of antebellum correspondence and the oral memory of slave descendents, Rasmussen’s study recreates the intense planning and careful timing that underpinned the audacious bid for freedom involving slaves from a dozen plantations along the river.

Two Asante warriors, Kook and Quamana, likely battle-hardened from wars in Africa, conspired with Charles Deslondes, a mulatto slave-driver of mixed parentage, who Rasmussen describes as “the ultimate sleeper cell.”

All had, in one way or another, been “sold down the river” — a cliché that first conceived to describe the especially horrific nature of slavery at southernmost end of the Mississippi, where extreme violence underpinned the extreme wealth of the lucrative French sugar plantations.

Spiked collars were the norm for the uncooperative — the spikes pointing inward to prevent sleep. Deslondes, working on behalf of his plantation owner, was responsible for administering punishment, including the lash for those who would dare refuse the backbreaking labours of harvesting, beating, boiling and refining the sugar cane.

Haiti was also a factor. The slave revolution of 1791 was, in its own way, a shot heard round the slave world, as French colonial refugees and their slaves washed into New Orleans. It remains unclear whether Deslondes came from Haiti.

Louisiana was vital American territory 200 years ago, but just barely — Napoleon had sold France’s claim to the vast Mississippi watershed to the United States a few years earlier for a paltry $15 million, a gift that would ultimately open the drive to the Pacific. But Louisiana’s French colonial class had nothing but contempt for its new American overseers, who were in January 1811, preoccupied in battles with the Spanish to secure a tract of west Florida. New Orleans was nearly defenceless.

“The attack came at just the right moment — the Americans were fighting the Spanish and with the harvest completed, the French planters were focused on the month-long series of lavish carnival balls and all-night parties leading up to Mardi Gras. And several days of steady rains had turned the road to mud, impeding any counterattack. Their guard was down,” Rasmussen said in an interview with the Toronto Star.

“Scarcely a resident in New Orleans had a musket. The city had a weak detachment of 68 troops.”

The rebels rose first at André Plantation after sunset on Jan. 8, 1811. And within hours, they were on the march to New Orleans. A ragtag army, perhaps, but one that marched in uniform, having seized militia clothing and weapons from plantation armories. Their numbers grew as the march advanced and as rumor of the uprising swept down the river road, the ruling class fled for the safety of the city.

“The planters couldn’t understand it — the idea that the slaves were not just savages, but that this was something planned. You had an army marching in military formation, wearing military uniforms, carrying flags and banners and chanting, “Freedom or death,” said Rasmussen.

New Orleans was on the edge of chaos — not least because its own population was 75 per cent black, awakening the fears of a second front rising up within the town itself. The city would order its taverns closed, imposed a curfew on all black males and summoned able-bodied whites to arms. Simultaneously, fleeing French planters regrouped on the West Bank of the Miscopy upstream from the city.

The two forces, American regulars and French planter militia, ultimately were able to confront the freedom fighters from both sides in a series of pitched battles beyond the city gates in the days that followed. Surviving slaves fled to the swamps and manhunts ensued, with dozens rounded up for the rough justice to come.

In the end, 21 slaves were interviewed by their colonial overseers in a bid to piece together the roots of the conspiracy and assign criminal blame. Elements of the story, says Rasmussen, survive in the oral histories of slave descendants, passed down and told “even to the present day at family reunions.” But the main snippets are to be found, refracted through the writings of the white ruling class, which show extent of fears never before told.

“They were sitting on a powder keg and when it exploded and was put down, everything changed. Instead of a mini-Haiti, Louisiana society became militarized. The revolt pushed this old aristocratic society into the hands of the American government,” said Rasmussen.

“What you see is that the foundations of American power in this part of the deep South were built upon the commitment to restore and uphold slavery. Essentially, the French planters decided to cling to the United States as an ark of safety.”

As for Kook, Quamana, and Charles Deslondes, only now are historians weighing how to elevate them alongside the likes of far better known revolutionaries like Nat Turner and John Brown as major figures in the American struggle for emancipation.

“None of this has ever been taught in American schools and the hope now is that these men who were executed for the strongest ideals will take their rightful place in history,” said Rasmussen.

“They were political revolutionaries, they deserve a place in the national memory and there is a sense now that they are getting it. We need to wrestle with this history if we are ever to truly understand it.”  (source: The Star)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Philadelphia Slave Stories: The London Coffee House

London Coffee House, operated by the Bradfords at Front &Market Sts., served as the early focus of Philadelphia's political and commercial life. One brother operated the coffee house; the other had a print shop in the adjoining building (at left) where the "Proceedings of the First Continental Congress" were printed. At right, along Market St., is the slave market.

From the Philly Magazine, "American Slavery Was Born 393 Years Ago Today: How and where human beings were bought, sold and owned in Center City Philadelphia," by Michael Coard, on 20 August 2012 -- As you take your lunch break today in Center City, stroll over to Front and Market where the historic London Coffee House once stood, and celebrate the institution that made America one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the institution born exactly 393 years ago on August 20, 1619: the institution of slavery. In fact, it was at that site in downtown Philly, where black men, women and children were bought and sold like cattle and like tools.

On that fateful date nearly four centuries ago, as noted by English settler John Rolfe, a wealthy tobacco planter and the so-called husband of Pocahontas, “ … there came a Dutch man of warre that sold us twenty and odd Negars” in the Virginia Colony at Old Point Comfort (now Fort Comfort in Hampton). They were the first enslaved blacks in a land that would become the United States of America.

Following Portuguese raids in southern Africa that began in 1617, Luis Mendes de Vasconcellos invaded the village of Ndongo in Luanda, Angola in 1619 and loaded 60 captives aboard the slave ship Sao Joao Bautista and ordered it sent to Vera Cruz, Mexico. The ships White Lion—with Captain John Jope (also known as “The Flying Dutchman”) at the helm along with his assistant, English pilot Marmaduke Rayner—and the Treasurer joined forces when they came across the Sao Joao Bautista in the waters of the West Indies, attacked it, and robbed it of its entire cargo, including the Africans—placing them on the White Lion, which arrived at Old Point Comfort on August 20, 1619 with 20 of the 60. When the Treasurer arrived about four days later and attempted to trade the 40 African captives aboard for supplies, they were rebuffed. So they took their condemned human cargo not to the sunny beaches of Bermuda but to its hellish plantations, never to be heard from again. The price for these humans? Corn!

Among the 20 captured Angolans left at Old Point Comfort, two, namely Antonio and Isabella (whose Spanish Christian names were forced upon them like we name our pets today), were traded to Captain William Tucker for “badly needed provisions.” By the way, four years later, Antonio and Isabella became the parents of the first black child whose birth was officially documented in Colonial America. And the name imposed upon him was William Tucker—also the name of the man who enslaved his parents. A third identified person, who was given the name Pedro, and the remaining 17 were traded for additional products to Governor George Yeardley and Abraham Piersey, who forced them to labor at plantations along the nearby James River in what would become Charles City.

But such trading and selling and forced labor were not unique to Charles City or James River plantations or Old Point Comfort or Virginia or even the South. It happened right here in Philadelphia, in downtown Philly to be exact. On the southwest corner of Front and High—now Market—streets, stood the London Coffee House, which opened in 1754 with funds provided by more than 200 Philadelphia merchants. It was where merchants, shippers, businessmen and local officials, including the governor, socialized, drank coffee and alcohol, and ate in private booths while making deals. It was where, on the High Street side, auctions were held for carriages, foodstuffs, and horses—and, by the way, human beings, specifically African humans beings who had just been unloaded from ships that docked right across the street on the Delaware River.

In 1991, a historical marker was installed on the corner of Front and Market, and it reads: “Scene of political and commercial activity in the colonial period, the London Coffee House … served as a place to inspect Black slaves recently arrived from Africa and to bid for their purchase at public auctions.” It really says that. And it really happened there. Actually here. In Center City.

And it happened like this. The captured black men, women and children, usually about five or six at a time, were placed on a thick wooden board, approximately three feet wide and eight feet long, set atop two heavy barrels on each end. These whipped and shackled human beings were paraded onto the boards, forced on display to slowly turn around and bend over, inspected by having their mouths forced open, their genitals grabbed, and their limb muscles flexed, and then they were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Immediately afterward, they were sold off, mother taken from daughter, father from son, brother from sister, husband from wife. Following these forced separations, they were scattered across the country. And they would never touch or even see one another again.

I feel compelled to note that despite my valiant attempt to write this as a professional journalist should, I’m actually crying right now. Tears of pain and rage are literally streaming down my face and are forcing me to stop for a moment and think about the brutal heartlessness of these wicked auctions and these evil separations. Stop what you’re doing for a few seconds and imagine that happening today to you, to your children, to your parents, and to your siblings. Go ahead and try.

This heart-wrenching inhumanity was such an outrage to Founding Father Thomas Paine, who spent time as a boarder across the street from the London Coffee House, that among his first editorials were essays harshly condemning the slave trade.

Slavery was an essential component of day-to-day life in Pennsylvania generally and Philadelphia specifically. In the 1760s, nearly 4,500 enslaved blacks labored in the colony. About one of every six white households in the city held at least one black person in bondage. This cruel institution began in this colony in 1684 when the slave ship Isabella, from Bristol, England, anchored in Philadelphia with 150 captured Africans. A year later, William Penn himself had three black human beings in bondage at his Pennsbury manor, approximately 20 miles north of Philadelphia.

Even George Washington, the great patriot, the great general, and the great president enslaved blacks, 316 to be exact. And he illegally—yes, illegally—held nine of them right here in the City of Brotherly Love at America’s first “White House,” which was officially known as the President’s House at Sixth and Market (then High) streets. In fact, it was at that very location where, in 1793, he signed the notorious Fugitive Slave Act, a law that threw escaped black men, women and children back into bondage.

You might say that all of this slavery stuff happened a long time ago, that it ended 147 years ago in 1865, and that I should therefore “get over it.” But slavery and its direct effect didn’t really end then. After passage of the 13th Amendment, there was sharecropping, then convict leasing, then de jure Jim Crow laws, then de facto Jim Crow practices. In fact, it wasn’t until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—a mere 48 years ago—that equal rights started to become at least somewhat of a practical reality. And if you don’t agree, then answer this: If you, your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, and so on could have the experience in America that blacks had or that whites had, which would you choose? I know what the 20 human beings in Old Point Comfort 393 years ago from this very day would have chosen.  (source: Philly Magazine)

Mahogany Woodcutting Slaves

From the New York Times, "Beyond the Luster of Mahogany," by Eve M. Kahn, on 23 August 2012 -- Mahogany for 18th-century furniture was harvested under appalling conditions across the Caribbean. Slaves branded with owners’ monograms lived in thatched huts and scouted for trees. They had to drag and roll felled mahogany trunks to riverfronts and then float the logs, which were chained together, to ships waiting in bays full of sharks and coral reefs.

“Felling Mahogany in Honduras” depicts cutting the trees to make furniture for the wealthy, as slaves did across the Caribbean in the 18th century.

There were only a few upsides to the task. “Enslaved woodcutters had the option of wielding their machetes against a despised authority or just slipping away into the surrounding forest,” the historian Jennifer L. Anderson writes in a new book, “Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America” (Harvard University Press).

In a recent interview Ms. Anderson emphasized that she did not want readers to begin recoiling in horror from mahogany antiques, despite the material’s origins in cruelty. Her goal, she said, was to reveal the human dramas and real estate battles behind the objects.

She researched the subject at former mahogany plantations, piecing together how whites and blacks had coexisted and sometimes formed blended families. The Rhode Island-born merchant Jonathan Card ended up on an island in Belize, secretly married to Dorothy Taylor, his former housekeeper, who was black. His brother James joined him in the mahogany trade, supplying carpenters in Newport, R.I., whose work sells for millions of dollars today.

Slave rebellions and unrest sometimes delayed timber harvests. The business eventually failed, and James Card’s paltry estate after his death included two mahogany tables. “Such were the vagaries of frontier life,” Ms. Anderson writes.

George Washington decided to grow his own grove of this desirable crop, and had 48 seeds planted at Mount Vernon. When the saplings shriveled away, Ms. Anderson writes, “Washington did a lot of hand-wringing and blamed his horticultural losses on his slaves’ failure to water enough.”

Mahogany also became a popular target for looters and rioters. Caribbean slaves stole mahogany chests and chairs when they escaped from plantations. In 1830s Philadelphia, fine woodwork and furniture became status symbols for free African-Americans. Writing about white mobs attacking their homes, a newspaper reporter described a sorry pile of “bedsteads and mahogany banisters, cut up into small particles, as for kindling wood.”

White abolitionists gradually lost their taste for mahogany. Dickens wrote that the varnished wood reflected “in the depth of its grain, through all its polish, the hue of the wretched slaves.”

Ms. Anderson says she still finds herself aesthetically drawn to mahogany. She can remember longing to touch a museum piece that “looked like the pelt of a wild lion, golden and shimmering,” she said. She owns a mahogany tea table, probably made from trees felled in Belize.
“It’s nothing special,” she said. “It’s just a little repro.”?

She visits a favorite tree at the New York Botanical Garden. “A very skinny little mahogany grows in a greenhouse there,” she said.(New York Times)

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Contraband of America and the Road to Freedom

"The Forgotten: The Contraband of America and the Road to Freedom," by Eric Wills, from Preservation in the May/June 2011 issue -- Their names were Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend. Little evidence documents their existence as enslaved field hands on a farm near Hampton, Va., aside from a few scribbled notes in an overseer's journal, listing them as property. But their lives were forever changed after the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The three men were taken by their master to Sewell's Point, near present-­day Norfolk, and put to work building an artillery battery for the Confederacy. Within days, they learned that their owner wanted to take them to North Carolina, where, separated from their families, they would be put to work constructing another rebel outpost.

They had a decision to make: Go with their master and aid the Confederate war effort? Or embark on a risky run for freedom by escaping to the Union stronghold at Fort Monroe? Mallory, Baker, and Townsend knew that if they were turned back at the fort, they would likely face whipping—or worse.

They also knew that if they somehow persuaded the Union soldiers to offer them refuge, their families in Hampton might be harmed in retribution. They didn't know that the consequences of their decision would mark a turning point in the war, long before the battles of Vicksburg or Gettysburg.

On the evening of May 23, as confederate sympathizers celebrated Virginia's decision to secede, the three men made their move, rowing a small boat across Hampton Roads to Fort Monroe, one of the only Union ­controlled outposts in the South. The fort's commander, Gen. Benjamin Butler, was no abolitionist—he had voted for Jefferson Davis at the 1860 Democratic National Convention. And Union policy on slavery was clear: President Abraham Lincoln maintained from the outset of hostilities that he had no intention of interfering with the "peculiar institution"; rather, the Union's aim was to crush the Southern rebellion.

Nevertheless, Butler realized the absurdity of honoring the Fugitive Slave Law, which dictated that he return the three runaways to their owner. They had been helping to construct a Confederate battery that threatened his fort. Why send them back and bolster that effort?

So the general struck upon a politically expedient solution: Because Virginia had seceded from the
Union, he argued, he no longer had a constitutional obligation to return the runaways. Rather, in keeping with military law governing war between nations, he would seize the three runaways as contraband—property to be used by the enemy against the Union.

Lincoln let the decision stand; Butler, after all, hadn't challenged the status of enslaved people as
property. Yet Mallory, Baker, and Townsend's escape and the general's clever gambit proved
momentous, the repercussions heralding the beginning of slavery's end. For when other enslaved
Africans Americans heard that three men had been granted refuge, they began flocking to Freedom's Fortress, as they called Fort Monroe. They came despite rebel rumors that the Yankees would eat them, sell them into slavery in Cuba, process them into fertilizer, or make them pull carts like oxen.

By war's end, approximately half a million formerly enslaved people and other African American
freedmen had sought protection behind Union lines. These "contraband," as they became known,
usually lived in camps hastily erected almost anywhere the army was stationed. The large number of runaways who flocked to Union lines belies the outdated and racist notion that enslaved African Americans simply waited for emancipation by singing hymns and strumming banjos; rather, they seized almost every chance to pursue their freedom, often risking death, and in so doing, helped make slavery a central issue of the Civil War.

"The most marginal people in American life, with no standing in civil or political society, end up being these consequential political activists who understand the war's events in much different ways than the educated policymakers," says Steven Hahn, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, and Pulitzer Prize-­winning author of A Nation Under Our Feet. (source: Preservation Magazine)

The Emancipation Proclamation: Bill of Lading or Ticket to Freedom?

From the Gilder Leherman Institute of American History, "The Emancipation Proclamation: Bill of Lading or Ticket to Freedom?" by Allen C. Guelzo

Of all the speeches, letters, and state papers he had written, Abraham Lincoln believed that the greatest of them was his Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. With one document of only 713 words, Lincoln declared over three million slaves in the rebel states of the Confederacy to be “thenceforward and forever free” and took the country a long step to the final abolition of slavery. Lincoln was confident “that the name which is connected with this act will never be forgotten,” and that the Proclamation would prove to be “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century.”

Despite that confidence, the Emancipation Proclamation remains a document shrouded in misunderstanding, and it is not too much to say that today it is probably Lincoln’s least-admired presidential paper. That misunderstanding clusters around three nagging questions:

Why did Lincoln take so long? If Lincoln was as anti-slavery as he claimed to be (“I am naturally anti-slavery,” he told Albert Hodges and Thomas Bramlette in 1864. “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.”), why didn’t Lincoln decree emancipation in 1861, when the Civil War began, rather than waiting until 1863? “How come it took him two whole years to free the slaves?” asked the suspicious black militant Julius Lester. “His pen was sitting on his desk the whole time.”

Emancipation Proclamation Map

Why is it so incomplete? The Proclamation limited emancipation to the “states or parts of states” still in rebellion, and did not include the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, where slavery was legal but where the state governments had stayed loyal to the Union. Nor did it include large portions of the Confederacy in Virginia and Louisiana, then securely occupied by federal troops. On the surface, this looks ridiculous. In the border states, where Lincoln actually had Union soldiers on the ground who could compel the emancipation of slaves, he did nothing, but in the Confederate states, where he no longer had such power, he proclaimed an emancipation that no one could enforce. As the London Times smirked, “Where he has no power Mr. Lincoln will set the negroes free; where he retains power he will consider them as slaves.”

Why is it so bland? Surely, the author of the Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg Address could make an Emancipation Proclamation the occasion for the most stirring and sublime prose in American political history. Instead, the Emancipation Proclamation is written in the flat legal language of whereas and therefore and military necessity. As historian Richard Hofstadter said, “The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.”

Taken together, what these questions hint at is that Lincoln issued the Proclamation at best reluctantly and at worst insincerely. In reality, the questioners add, Lincoln’s only real concern in waging the Civil War was the restoration of the Union and making the American economy safe for whites, not freedom and equality for blacks. Beyond its propaganda value for the Union war effort, the Proclamation did nothing, and was intended to do nothing.

The three questions that cast doubt on Lincoln’s good intentions are not cheap shots. By the time Hofstadter wrote off the Proclamation in 1948, American blacks had gained little from the Emancipation Proclamation beyond the bare fact of emancipation itself. Jim Crow ruled the South, and Brown v. Board of Education was still six years in the future. So if it was legitimate to wonder what good emancipation had achieved at that point, it was legitimate to wonder whether the Proclamation that decreed it was somehow flawed.

But it is always risky to assume from historical results what the actual historical intentions were, and even riskier to jump to conclusions that certain intentions were calculating, rather than straightforward. And in the case of the Emancipation Proclamation, what the questioners lack is a grip on the actual circumstances—legal, political, and military—that surrounded Lincoln and the Proclamation.

Why the Emancipation Proclamation Is Worth Only 2% of 'The Scream'

Take, for starters, the complaint about the long delay between the start of the Civil War in 1861 and the issue date of the Proclamation in 1863. The fact is that Lincoln was already drafting emancipation plans as early as November 1861, but because these are not emancipation proclamations, we routinely fail to see them as part of the long ramp that Lincoln was traveling toward the Proclamation. In the fall of 1861, Lincoln composed an experimental emancipation plan for the state of Delaware (one of those four border states). Under Lincoln’s proposal, the Delaware legislature would pass a bill, immediately freeing all Delaware slaves over the age of thirty-five and gradually freeing all others when they reached that age; in return, Congress would pay the state of Delaware just over $700,000 in United States bonds, which would then be used by the Delaware legislature to finance compensation for Delaware slave owners who would lose their slave “property” to emancipation. Under an optional accelerated timetable, slavery in Delaware could have been extinguished as early as 1872.

A buy-out is not as dramatic as a proclamation, but the end result would have been the same, and Lincoln had good reason for thinking that this plan was, in fact, the best way to make the extinction of slavery legally permanent. After all, American slavery was the creation of state, not federal, enactments, and in this era before the Fourteenth Amendment and the “incorporation” doctrine, a constitutional firewall separated the state and federal governments. Good lawyer that he was, Lincoln had no reason to believe that proclamations, presidential or otherwise, would penetrate that wall. If anything, a presidential emancipation decree would be followed by a procession of slave owners into the federal courts the next morning, complaining of unconstitutional interference by the president in state matters. Considering that the federal court system had been stocked for sixty years with pro-Southern judicial appointees, and that the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, was the man who had written the decision in Dred Scott, barring the federal government from interfering in slaveholding in the federal territories, there was no reason to suppose that the courts wouldn’t use such cases as the means for hammering a stake through the heart of emancipation for good and for all.

But if Lincoln could use the financial leverage of the federal government to entice slave-state legislatures into doing the work of emancipation voluntarily, then the same firewall that tied his hands on the federal side would also tie the hands of the federal courts. Successful emancipation must, as Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley in 1862, have “three main features, gradual, compensation, and [the] vote of the people,” or at least the voluntary action of their legislatures. It would cost money, to be sure, but a lot less money than a civil war was costing.

Not only was the legislative option unquestionably legal, but it had a certain momentum of its own that might hasten the end of the war. Since every slave state that took the bait of compensated emancipation diminished the territory in which slavery was legal, the existing number of slaves would be forced into a smaller and smaller area, driving the supply up as the demand decreased, since there would be fewer markets to sell slaves to. As demand dropped, so would price, and the process of emancipation, which looked so slow on paper, would accelerate as slave owners rushed to accept compensation before their slaves lost all value whatsoever. As one of Lincoln’s political friends wrote, “It seemed to him that gradual emancipation and governmental compensation” would bring slavery “to an end.”

The problem was that the border states stopped their ears and refused all cooperation. The Delaware legislature stalled over the emancipation proposal, and the congressional delegations of the other border states rejected federally financed emancipation with contempt. By the spring of 1862, the only place in which compensated emancipation had actually worked was the District of Columbia, and that was only because the federal government had (as it still does) direct legislative jurisdiction over the District.

To Lincoln’s annoyance, the border states’ truculence nudged Congress into trying its own hand at emancipation in the form of the First Confiscation Act (passed on August 6, 1861), which permitted the seizure of slaves, as “property,” by the federal military if it found them working for the Confederate forces. This was followed, in July 1862, by a Second Confiscation Act, which upped the ante by granting freedom to the slaves of any slave owner in active rebellion against the United States (whether or not those slaves were actually employed in war-related service). The law also tempted two of Lincoln’s generals to dabble in even more direct schemes for emancipation. Lincoln’s headstrong commander in Missouri, John Charles Fremont, issued an emancipation edict for Missouri on August 31, 1861, and Major General David Hunter did the same in the occupied coastal district of South Carolina in May 1862.

However, neither the Confiscation Acts nor the military proclamations had much to recommend them, and this was because of the weak legal materials from which these rival emancipation plans had been created. The Confiscation Acts were modeled on the law of prize, treating slaves as similar to the cargo that a warship was entitled to capture from an enemy ship on the high seas—cargo that the ship could have a prize court sell. And Fremont’s proclamation justified itself as an act of martial law. But would any of these emancipations survive a court challenge?

The law of prize might work very well when the captured cargoes of ships belonged to the citizens of enemy nations, but confiscating enemy property on land was another matter entirely, and confiscating the property of one’s own citizens, even in cases of treason, ran afoul of the Constitution’s ban on bills of attainder. Similarly, martial law proclamations might look strong and forceful, but martial law was a tricky and mostly unexplored part of American jurisprudence in 1862. At most, martial law was understood to be only temporary, and to cover only the immediate field of a military commander’s needs—not (as Fremont’s and Hunter’s edicts implied) whole states. Similarly, it was not assumed that martial law could make permanent alterations in the legal status of property taken for military use. (A farm seized for use as a military camp did not permanently become federal property; once an army moved on; the farm remained the farmer’s property and would not be, so to speak, “emancipated.”) So Lincoln revoked the Fremont and Hunter proclamations, relieved Fremont from command, and did little to enforce the Confiscation Acts.

Lincoln’s notion of gradual, voluntary, and compensated emancipation avoided these problems because it bribed slaveholding states, through the promise of compensation, to begin emancipating slaves through their own statutes, and that got the whole process beyond the reach of the federal courts. It mattered little that a legislature might balk the first time that an emancipation plan was proposed. Drawing on his own personal experience as a state legislator back in Illinois, Lincoln knew that he only had to await the next round of state legislative elections in the fall of 1862 and 1863, at which point the financial bait might well overcome border-state resistance. But that would have required time. In the summer of 1862, time was what Lincoln ran short of, and that was largely the result of his armies and of his other generals, chief among which was Major General George B. McClellan.

Between March and July of 1862, the Union military effort, which had begun the war with such flourishes and promises, floundered into near-catastrophe. This was partly due to a string of unexpected Confederate military successes in mid-1862, and partly from the increasingly obvious fact that the upper echelons of the federal army’s officer corps, led by McClellan, were politically hostile to both Lincoln and emancipation, and were dragging their heels in prosecuting the war. McClellan, like the leaders in the border states, made it clear that any movements toward emancipation would get no support from the Army, and might even generate outright resistance. In July 1862, when Lincoln came down to visit McClellan at his headquarters at Harrison’s Landing on the James River, McClellan served him a political ultimatum: Do nothing about slavery or the Army will no longer fight for you.

No one has been certain whether McClellan was threatening a military intervention of some sort or simply announcing that, like the border states, the federal military would do nothing to assist any emancipation plan that Lincoln had in mind. Either way, coming from an American soldier to his commander in chief, it was an ominous declaration, and Lincoln was “grieved with what he had witnessed” at Harrison’s Landing. If emancipation was to become a federal policy, it would have to be implemented without delay, either as a forthright rebuke to McClellan (on the order of Harry Truman’s riposte to Douglas MacArthur) or as a preemptive political strike before McClellan and the Army could extort some sort of cease-fire or negotiated settlement with the Confederacy. It was time, Lincoln remarked, to stop waging war “with elder stalk squirts, charged with rose water.” From that point on, he would not leave “any available means unapplied.” Two days after returning from Harrison’s Landing, Lincoln told two members of his Cabinet to look for a decisive change in emancipation policy. Ten days later, he introduced the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation at a cabinet meeting.

So, far from having done nothing for twenty months about emancipation, Lincoln had been trying to get to emancipation from the start; resorting to a proclamation was only a change in tactics, not a tardy beginning.

But why, once Lincoln did decide to reach for the “proclamation option,” did he take the border states and the occupied districts of the Confederacy off the table? It’s easy to conclude that he excluded the border and the occupation zones because he didn’t want to face the responsibility for actually implementing emancipation there. But there is a much simpler answer, and once again, it grew out of the legal and constitutional situation Lincoln was facing. No matter how much Lincoln might have wanted to emancipate the slaves in the border states, the fact was that the border states were not in rebellion. They had broken no laws and committed no act of resistance to the authority of the United States, and so long as that was the case, Lincoln had no more authority as president to emancipate slaves in those states than he did to fix prices on tomatoes. If he had any authority to proclaim emancipation anywhere, it would be only by virtue of his constitutional designation as commander in chief, and only in situations of military exigency in which he could demonstrate that such freeing served a military purpose. And that could only be in places where the rebels were still in power—not the border.

On the upside, the title of “commander in chief” gave Lincoln much broader scope for action than a mere declaration of martial law, on the model of Fremont or Hunter; on the downside, one legal slip could have brought a cascade of litigation down on his head. And if the federal courts had ever been allowed to get involved with emancipation, and decided as they had in Dred Scott, the cause of emancipation might have been set back to the dimmest possible future.

Understanding the legal technicalities surrounding emancipation also helps in answering the third question, about the flaccid language of the Proclamation. To give Richard Hofstadter his due, the Proclamation really does have all the luster of a legal brief. Try this excerpt, and see if your eyes don’t glaze over:

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander in Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned . . . order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

But what Hofstadter and the many historians who have quoted him about the Proclamation having all the grandeur of a bill of lading have missed is that the Proclamation is a legal brief. Yes, it has none of the rolling rhetorical power of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, but they were not legal documents, and they changed the legal status of no one. (All that the Gettysburg Address did, in literal terms, was dedicate a cemetery). The Proclamation, even with all its qualifications and reservations, seized the single most important, numerous, and profitable capital assets in the American economy in the nineteenth century, directed the recruitment of those “assets” into federal service, and shielded the whole process from court interference by invoking the language of military necessity.

It has been easy, long after the press of the legal and judicial restraints that surrounded Lincoln as president has evaporated, to start with the fact of emancipation and wonder why Lincoln did not do better or act more swiftly than he did. The real challenge is to understand with what ease Lincoln might have done nothing at all. And once we have that understanding, we can marvel at the real risks he actually took. And even if the Proclamation sounded as unheroic as a bill of lading, it was still a bill that itemized the destinies of four million human beings, bound through blood and fire for the port of American freedom. (source: Gilder Leherman Institute of American History)

Allen Guelzo: Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation from The Gilder Lehrman Institute on Vimeo.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Google's AdSense Says "Keep Your Mouth Shut!"

On Friday, July 27, 2012 I received an email from Google that stated: Google AdSense: You have 3 working days to make changes to your site


During a recent review of your account we found that you are currently
displaying Google ads in a manner that is not compliant with our program


Please note that this URL is an example and that the same violations may
exist on other pages of this website or other sites in your network.


HATE/ANTI: Publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on sites with
content advocating against any individual, group, or organization. More
information about this policy can be found in our help center (

REQUESTED ACTION: Please make all necessary changes in the next 72 hours.

If the violations are corrected within the aforementioned time period, ad
serving will not be affected. If changes are not made and/or other policy
violations are encountered during the review process, ad serving will be
disabled to your site.


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you take the time to review the rest of your network to ensure that all of
your other pages are in compliance with our policies.
What was so offensive about the Agatha Christie post, you ask?  Heck, I don't know.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Slavery in the Nation's Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Enslavement to Emancipation

The Underground Railroad (Full Documentary)

The Underground Railroad (Full Documentary)

Ghosts of Andersonville's Prisoner of War Camp

In 1864 the Civil War was raging through parts of the South, but actual fighting hadn't reached remote Andersonville, Georgia, where the prison camp, Fort Sumter, had been built. On one particularly hot July evening that year, a Confederate guard from the 26th Alabama regiment stood watch on the parapet of the stockade prison, which was more commonly referred to as Andersonville Prison by the locals, and as "hell" by the Union soldiers and sailors incarcerated there.

The prison was nothing more than acres of open ground surrounded by a stockade fence and earthworks barricades. The destitute prisoners sheltered themselves as best they could, some with makeshift tents, others in shallow holes dug in the dirt, lined with pine needles, and covered with whatever scrap of fabric the men had-a tarp, a blanket, maybe a tattered coat. The prison was so crowded that each man had just enough room to lie down.


As dusk gave way to night, the guard looked out on thousands of prone, wretched bodies-some of them nearly skeletons from dysentery and malnourishment-and he thought of Andersonville as a massive graveyard where the corpses were still breathing and graves were yet to be covered.

It was a damn pity, the guard thought, but this was war, and from what he'd heard, the Yankees had their own prison camps. (source:

From, "American Civil War: Andersonville Prison," by Kennedy Hickman:

"Andersonville" Prison Camp History  --  In late 1863, the Confederacy found that it needed to construct additional prisoner of war camps to house captured Union soldiers waiting to be exchanged. As leaders discussed where to place these new camps, former Georgia governor, Major General Howell Cobb stepped forward to suggest the interior of his home state. Citing southern Georgia's distance from the front lines, relative immunity to Union cavalry raids, and easy access to railroads, Cobb was able to convince his superiors to build a camp in Sumter County. In November 1863, Captain W. Sidney Winder was dispatched to find a suitable location.

Map: Andersonville, Georgia USA

Arriving at the tiny village of Andersonville, Winder found what he believed to be an ideal site. Located near the Southwestern Railroad, Andersonville possessed transit access and a good water source. With the location secured, Captain Richard B. Winder was sent to Andersonville to design and oversee the construction of the prison. Planning a facility for 10,000 prisoners, Winder designed a 16.5 acre rectangular compound that had a stream flowing through the center. Naming the prison Camp Sumter in January 1864, Winder used local slaves to construct the compound's walls.

Built of tight-fitting pine logs, the stockade wall presented a solid facade that did not allow the slightest view of the outside world. Access to the stockade was through two large gates set in the west wall. Inside, a light fence was built approximately 19-25 feet from the stockade. This "dead line" was meant to keep prisoners away from the walls and any caught crossing it was shot immediately. Due to its simple construction, the camp rose quickly and the first prisoners arrived on February 27, 1864. While the population steadily grew, it began to balloon after the Fort Pillow incident in April.

On April 12, 1864, Confederate forced under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, TN. In response, President Abraham Lincoln demanded that black prisoners of war be treated the same as their white comrades. This was refused by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As a result, Lincoln and Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant suspended all prisoner exchanges. With the halt of exchanges, POW populations on both sides began to grow rapidly. At Andersonville, the population reached 20,000 by early June, twice the camp's intended capacity.

With prison badly overcrowded, its superintendent, Major Henry Wirz, authorized an expansion of the stockade. Using prisoner labor, a 610 ft. addition was built on the prison's north side. Built in two weeks, it was opened to the prisoners on July 1. Despite this 10-acre expansion, Andersonville remained badly overcrowded with the population peaking at 33,000 in August. Throughout the summer, conditions in the camp continued to deteriorate as the men, exposed to the elements, suffered from malnutrition and diseases such as dysentery.

With its water source polluted from the overcrowding, epidemics swept through the prison raising its monthly mortality rate to around 3,000. These prisoners were buried in mass graves outside the stockade. Life within Andersonville was made worse by a group of prisoners known as the "Raiders" who stole food and valuables from other prisoners. These were eventually rounded up by a second group known as the "Regulators." Following their capture, the Raiders were put on trial by the prisoners and found guilty. Punishments varied from ball and chain to, in six cases, hanging.

As Major General William T. Sherman's troops marched on Atlanta, General John Winder, the head of Confederate POW camps, ordered Wirz to construct earthwork defenses around the camp. These were not needed as following Sherman's capture of the city, the majority of the camp's prisoners were transferred to a new facility at Millen, GA. In late 1864, with Sherman moving toward Savannah, some were transferred back to Andersonville raising the prison's population to around 5,000. It remained at this level until the war's end in April 1865.


Andersonville has become synonymous with the trials and atrocities faced by POWs during the Civil War. Of the approximately 45,000 Union soldiers who passed through Andersonville, 12,913 died within the prison's walls. This represented 28% of Andersonville's population and 40% of all Union POW deaths during the war. In May 1865, Wirz was arrested and taken to Washington. Tried for conspiring to impair the lives of Union prisoners of war, he was found guilty that November. In a controversial decision, Wirz was sentenced to death and hung on November 10, 1865. He was the only individual tried, convicted, and executed for war crimes during the Civil War. The site of Andersonville was purchased by the Federal government in 1910, and is now the home of Andersonville National Historic Site. (source:

John W. January of the 14th Illinois Cavalry, former prisoner of Andersonville

Eliza Andrews of Washington, Georgia wrote: "It is dreadful. My heart aches for the poor wretches, Yankees though they are, and I am afraid God will suffer some terrible retribution to fall upon us for letting such things happen. If the Yankees ever should come to southwest Georgia and go to Ander-sonville and see the graves there, God have mercy on the land!"

 Bodies at Andersonville
Nazis? No, these are victims of the Confederate Concentration Camp in Andersonville, Georgia, U.S.A., 1864. United States soldiers who were white, Christian, English speaking men fighting for the freedom.


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