Section #9 - Growing opposition to slavery triggers domestic violence and a schism in America’s churches

Chapter 89: The Growing Sectional Divide As The Election Of 1840 Looms

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The South Shapes A Narrative To Support Its Slavery And Culture

As tensions grow between the North and South by 1840, both regions resort to their own “narratives” to explain why their culture and lifestyles are superior.  

The Southern narrative begins with its rationales related to slavery:  

  • The practice of slavery does not originate in America but is imported here by the British.
  • Most of the nation’s slaves enter the country through ports in the North, not the South.
  • Over time, the North manages to cleanse itself of its slave population. 
  • The Africans are an inherently inferior and potentially violent species, incapable of being assimilated. 
  • The “burden” of caring for — and controlling – the slaves then falls entirely on the South.
  • In return for managing this burden, the South uses the slaves to support their agrarian economy. 
  • The slaves are also given the chance to embrace Christianity along the way and achieve salvation. 
  • The best interests of the nation are served by supporting the South’s practices and needs related to slavery. 
  • That kind of regional cooperation was exactly what the founding fathers sanctioned in the 1787 Constitution.  
  • The Union is being threatened by stealing power from the states and handing it to the federal government. 
  • The South will leave the Union if the federal power is turned against its interests in slavery. 

The institution has endured in the South out of “obligation and duty” to the nation. Blacks are  “so poor, so wretched, and so vile…as to be totally disqualified from exercising freedom.” Instead of criticizing and meddling in slavery, the North should be thankful to the South for  “fulfilling the high trust which has devolved on us as owners of slaves.” 


Southerners Condemn The North’s Economy And Way Of Life

Accompanying the South’s defense of its “planter society” comes a scathing indictment of the many woes it sees in the North’s shift away from Jefferson’s agricultural vision and to Hamilton’s capitalism and industrialization.

  • The basic freedoms and values Americans hold dear are now threatened across the North.
  • No longer is it a place where independent farmers are working their own land, enjoying comparable wealth and influence, avoiding debt, solving their own domestic issues at the local level, and electing a small, fiscally frugal national government whose main role lies in managing foreign affairs.  
  • Instead wealth and power have been concentrated in the hands of a few at the expense of the many. 
  • The villains here are capitalism and corporations which place private profits above public good. 
  • Together they encourage personal greed and “get rich quick” speculation.
  • Together they end all too often with personal debt and corruption.  
  • A corrupt corporate banking system provides the fuel for these schemes by printing and distributing soft money “unbacked” by gold and silver, thus eroding the “real value” of the dollar for all Americans. 
  • Corrupt politicians, co-opted by the wealthy few into supporting their profit-making programs, threaten the very notion of a “government for the people.”  
  • Corrupt businessmen convert Northern workers into “wage slaves,” whose daily lives in factories or offices often leave them worse off than a Southern field hand picking cotton.
  • The credo of industrial capitalism across the North lies in maximizing profits for its stockholders over doing what is in the best interests of the country and the common man.  

Most critically, the South argues that personal freedom has been eroded across the North. Jefferson’s yeoman farmer is, above all else a free (white) man, indebted to no one but himself. He is not a wage earner, dependent on a capitalistic owner/boss for his economic well-being. Nor is he a borrower, in hock to a capitalistic banker.  

Being free economically, he can be free politically. Government is there to serve him; not vice versa. 


The Northern Narrative Is Upbeat And Energized

As Hamilton’s diversified, modern economy takes hold, the vast majority of Northerners are delighted by the personal benefits that accrue from it.  

The emergence of urban centers greatly facilitates commerce and makes the necessities and luxuries of life more easily available than ever before. 

Many are attracted to trading in their backbreaking labor on the family farm to earn a living based on their wits and acquired skills. And these new jobs often result in increased income and wealth. 

While still small, a growing and on-the-make “middle class” begins to assert itself in the North.  

Rather than a blight on the landscape, the advent of large cities tend to become a source of pride that America finally belongs as a global power.  

Would the average Northerner trade places with their Southern counterparts in 1840? The answer is no way. 

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Animosity Toward The Southern “Slavocracy” Deepens

By 1840 many Northerners are also forming up a negative impression of the South. The basis for this is definitely not moral qualms related to the institution of slavery. 

Indeed. the vast majority of whites across the North and West have already signaled in state  Constitutions and “black codes” that they want nothing to do with blacks – be they slaves or freed men – in their midst.  

Instead, the antipathy seems to center on the privileged Southern planter class, with their vast farms, aristocratic lifestyles, and leisurely indulgences, all built off the backs of unpaid slave laborers.  

That whole system seems like a put-down to the hard work recorded daily by the white men of the North – be it on farms or in cities. Northern politicians will later leverage these feelings by labeling the South as a “slavocracy” and an affront “to the dignity of free white labor.”  

The sense of Southern privilege also seems to be operating within the Federal government. 

The fact that four of the first five US presidents are Virginians is not lost on the Northern politicians in Washington.  

Nor is the sense that the make-up of the Senate is rigged to insure that the Southern states retain equal control over the passage of legislation – despite the fact that Census counts show a widening majority of citizens living up North. 

Animosity of this sort also grows around actions like the 1836 “Gag Rule,” the South’s attempt to shut down debate on the abolitionist petitions. It is not that the North supports these petitions – rather that a certain amount of heavy-handed Southern arrogance seems at work in their demands. 

As the Northern economy takes off along with city life, the South also begins to appear backwards, as if it has been left behind. In its attempts to block congressional programs to build needed roads, canals and other infrastructure needs of the country, it appears out of touch and self-serving.

The sum total of these impulses across the North and West is to push back on the South, to “put it in its place,” especially when its planter class seems intent on exercising its privilege.  

At times in almost perverse fashion, the North will discover that nothing rattles the South like goading it over the institution of slavery.


Two Roads Diverging In 1840

Lady Liberty
Lady Liberty With Slaves

As a disappointed Van Buren exits the White House, sectional differences that almost prevented the formation of the Union in 1787 are intensifying.

The South, frozen in its agrarian tradition, betting its entire future on crops of cotton and slaves, growing suspicious that the North will stand in the way of its future success.

The North, impatient to move on to the promises of capitalism and industrialization, sensing a backwards South asserting unwarranted privilege and blocking progress.

The threat of dis-union in the air.

All with echoes of George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address ringing in the background: All with echoes of George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address ringing in the background:

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is …now dear to you.
Discountenance… even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned…frown  upon…every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits and political principles. You Have in a Common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels…common sufferings and successes.
The most commanding motives (exist) for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole… Protected by the equal laws of a common government…the North…the  South..the East… the West… secure enjoyment of …outlets for their own production…across agriculture and manufacturing.
(Beware) of the danger of Parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations…The alternate domination of one faction over another, shaped by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension… 
The name of American, which belongs to you… must always exalt the just pride of patriotism.


Sidebar: Those Exiting And Entering The Public Stage In 1840

Exiting DeathAge At Death
Charles Pinckney October 29, 1824 67 years
CC Pinckney August 16, 1825 79
William Eustis February 6, 1825 71
John Adams July 4, 1826 90
Thomas Jefferson July 4, 1826 83
Luther Martin July 10, 1826 78
Rufus King April 29, 1827 72
John Jay May 17, 1829 83
David Walker August 10, 1830 33
James Monroe July 4, 1831 73
Reverend Thomas  Paul1831 58
John Marshall July 6, 1835 79
James Madison June 28, 1836 85
Aaron Burr September 14,  183680
Elijah Lovejoy November 7, 1837 34
Tecumseh October 3, 1838 71
Benjamin Lundy August 22, 1839 50
Robert Hayne September 24,  183947
Aging Born Age In 1840
Albert Gallatin Jan 29, 1761 79
James Forten September 2, 1766 74
JQ Adams July 11, 1767 73
Andrew Jackson March 15, 1767 73
William H Harrison Feb 8, 1773 67
Roger Taney March 17, 1777 63
Henry Clay April 12, 1777 63
James Tallmadge, Jr. January 28, 1778 62
Richard M. Johnson October 17, 1780 60
Daniel Webster January 18, 178258
Thomas Hart Benton March 14, 178258
John C Calhoun March 18, 178258
Lewis Cass October 9, 178258
Martin Van Buren Dec 5, 178258
Zachary Taylor Nov 24, 178456
Arthur Tappan May 22, 178654
Winfield Scott June 13, 178654
Theo Frelinghuysen March 28, 178753
John J. Crittenden September 10, 178753
Lewis Tappan May 23, 178852
John Tyler Mar 29, 179050
George McDuffie August 10, 179050
Francis P. Blair April 12, 179149
James Buchanan April 23, 179149
James Birney February 4, 179248
Thaddeus Stevens April 4, 179248
Willie P. Mangum May 10, 179248
George Dallas July 10, 179248
Rev. Charles Finney August 29, 179248
Lucretia Mott January 3, 179347
Sam Houston March 2, 179347
Austin Steward 179347
Thomas Dalton October 17, 179446
Emerging BornAge in 1840
Silas Wright May 24, 179545
Joshua Giddings October 6, 179545
James Polk Nov 2, 179545
Rev. Samuel Cornish 179545
John Bell February 18, 179644
Andrew Butler November 18, 179644
Gerrit Smith March 6, 179743
Thurlow Weed November 15, 179743
Sojourner Truth 179743
Rev. Theodore Wright 179743
Millard Fillmore Jan 7, 180040
Caleb Cushing January 17, 180040
Daniel DickinsonSeptember 11, 180040
Robert B. Rhett December 21, 180040
Henry Seward May 16, 180139
Brigham Young June 1, 180139
Ralph Waldo Emerson May 25, 180337
Theodore Weld November 23, 180337
Henry Foote February 28, 180436
Nathaniel Hawthorne July 4, 180436
Franklin Pierce Nov 23, 180436
Angelina Grimke February 20, 180535
William Lloyd GarrisonDecember 12, 180535
John Hale March 31, 180634
Henry WiseDecember 3, 180634
Preston King October 14, 180634
Robert E. Lee January 19, 180733
David Atchison August 11, 180733
Salmon Chase January 13, 180832
Jefferson Davis June 3, 180832
Edgar Allan Poe January 9, 180931
Abraham Lincoln February 12, 180931
Robert MT Hunter April 21, 180931
Hannibal Hamlin August 27, 180931
Charles Lenox RaymondFebruary 1, 181030
David Ruggles March 15, 181030
Robert Toombs July 2, 181030
Robert Purvis August 4, 181030
Charles SumnerJanuary 6, 181129
Owen Lovejoy January 6, 181129
Horace Greeley February 3, 181129
Harriet Beecher Stowe June 14, 181129
Lewis Hayden December 2, 181129
John McClernand May 12, 181228
Alexander Stephens February 11, 181228
John Fremont January 21, 181327
Stephen A Douglas April 23, 181327
William Yancey August 10, 181426
Howell Cobb September 7, 181525
Nathaniel Banks January 30, 181624
Henry David Thoreau July 12, 181723
Frederick Douglass February 181822
Herman Melville August 1, 181921
David Wilmot January 14, 182020
John C. Breckinridge January 16, 182119
Ulysses S. Grant April 27, 182218