Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Confirmed Prejudices and Opinions Up North

The emancipation issue promoted by Lincoln’s Republican Party caused a predictable rupture within its ranks, and revealed the true extent of party concern for the African race. The Massachusetts governor mentioned below wanted no black men in his “strange land and climate,” but accepted them as military substitutes for the white men of his State.  The great fear persisted in the North that freed black men would migrate there in search of work and compete with white workers.
Bernhard Thuersam,    The Great American Political Divide

Confirmed Prejudices and Opinions Up North

“The threat of a black “invasion” (or “Africanization”) of the North was a dominant theme in anti-emancipationist rhetoric. Politicians and editors predicted that three hundred thousand freedmen would “invade” Ohio alone, competing with white labor, filling up the poor houses and jails, and generally degrading society. In a June 1862 referendum, by a majority of more than two to one, Illinois voters endorsed a clause in a proposed State constitution that would exclude blacks from moving into the State.

This issue cut across party lines. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, a former Democrat, now a Unionist, explained “there is a very great aversion in the West – I know it is so in my State – against having free Negroes come among us. Our people want nothing to do with the Negroes.”

One Unionist editor told [Secretary of the Treasury] Salmon P. Chase that the best strategy was to declare that blacks “don’t want to come north and we don’t want them unless their coming will promote the conclusion of the war . . .” Chase himself, while a fervent advocate of emancipation, shared the common assumption that blacks were inherently unsuited to the colder northern climate.

“Let, therefore, the South be open to Negro emigration by emancipation along the Gulf,” he suggested, “and it is easy to see that the blacks of the North will slide southward, and leave no question to quarrel about as far as they are concerned.”

Chase was not the only radical in the Republican party who worried about the political consequences of the “Africanization” issue in the run-up to the fall 1862 elections. Even Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts, whose antislavery credentials had been amply demonstrated three years earlier when he had given tacit support of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, became embroiled in the issue.

In September 1862, Major General John A. Dix wrote to the governors of three New England States asking them to accept into their States a group of two thousand ex-slaves who had sought refuge with the Union army. Governor Andrew responded with a strongly argued letter, soon leaked to the public, in which he explained that Massachusetts was, for blacks, “a strange land and climate” in which the newcomers would “be incapable of self-help – a course certain to demoralize them and endanger others.’ Such an event would be a handle to all traitors and to all persons evilly disposed.”

With timing that was appalling for the [Lincoln] administration, the black migration issue became a crisis in Illinois at about the same time the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The army had been sending refugee slaves to the military headquarters at Cairo – the southernmost town in Illinois. Secretary of War Stanton issued an order allowing these freedmen to be dispersed throughout the State.

This appeared to violate the State’s “Negro Exclusion” law and which was certainly anathema to mainstream public opinion. One Republican wrote to Governor Richard Yates that “the scattering of those black throngs should not be allowed if it can be avoided. The view . . . here is that if the country should become full of them they may never be removed and with the confirmed prejudices and opinions of our people against the mingling of blacks among us we shall always have trouble.”

(No Party Now, Politics in the Civil War North, Adam I.P. Smith, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 54-56)

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