Civil War Essay, Research Paper
In the Gettysburg address, Lincoln quotes the declaration of independence in saying that the United States government was a creation by and for the people who inhabited these shores. In the context of the civil war, this is important because the collapse of the union signified the end of popular sovereignty, even though that particular expression had just been coined. In Russel B. Nye?s essay, ?the Great Slave Power Conspiracy,? the argument he provides is both persuasive in his scope and understanding of the times. As slavery was arguably the biggest issue at stake, I find his argument persuasive because the war could not be cause by the institution itself, that argument is too narrow of scope. He recognizes that while the institution was reprehensible, more was needed to coerce war; the war was caused by the collapse of democracy due to a geographically polarized political system related directly to the economy of the times, or ?slave power.?
The first president of the nation, George Washington warned ominously about a nation split politically along geographical lines. It would be hard to imagine that even he could even believe just how poignant this statement would become. The ?slave power conspiracy? was introduced by northern abolitionists as a propaganda scheme to unite the populations opinion in a similar manner to that in which the southern press had used the fear of ?black republicanism? to unite the south in their opinions. By 1845, although the north had made considerable strides in public opinion in being repulsed both morally and socially by the institution, the abolitionists saw they need more chutzpah in their actions to prevent the spread of this reprehensible institution. So began their quest to educate the north about slave power. The first paragraph of his essay reads
??it was not until after 1845 that? [the abolitionists] discovered and
Developed an effective device to unite under one common heading all
their arguments. Putting together all the evidence, the abolitionists came to
the conclusion that there existed a secret agreement, a conspiracy among
Southern slaveholders, to foist slavery upon the nation, destroy civil liberty,
extend slavery into the territories (possibly to whites); reopen the slave trade,
control the policies of the Federal government, and complete the formation of
an aristocracy founded upon and fostered upon the slave economy??
Regardless of the validity of the accusations against the so called ?slave power,? the historian notes that the abolitionists succeeded in stepping up to speak for the majority of the northern American population, becoming indeed defenders of liberty. If the entirety of the accusations they allayed against the South is moot, it does but matter little. There had been enough compromises made historically that the argument gained weight. More importantly, the people came to understand that their democracy was indeed being threatened; Ideals they cherished and legislature they sought to pass had no hope of becoming law with politicians that misrepresented, and the slaveholders beyond that could block any motion due to their own separate motives.
The people of the north were able to recognize that in 1807 a great stride was made with the banning of the international slave trade, and since then they had only allowed slavery to grow in power and in value, both in economy and politically. It was easy for them to lose sight of. While they bickered about internal improvements and the existence of a tariff, the legislature in the South had but one concern, slaver, and it was fearlessly guarded.
Compromises were made a variety of times during the first half of the nineteenth century that would cause a northerner to raise an eyebrow if looked at in its entirety. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 made a stride in containing slavery north of 36?30?. The law did nothing though as ?slave power? would only endorse the admission of two states at a time to keep the power in the senate even, despite the growing population of similar opinion on one side. In the future the free north also witnessed ?slave power? annex Texas, and enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, which had sat on the books unrecognized for six and one half decades. It was clear, slave power ruled.
The South made the beliefs popular that slavery was a non-harmful even symbiotic relationship between the two races. It wasn?t difficult, because they had indeed formed an aristocracy. They censored books like Harriet Beecher Stowes? Uncle Toms Cabin, lynched those with harmful opinions and made the institution benevolent be convincing public opinion that at the very least the white man was saving souls with the spread of Christianity. The slave owners controlled the media and public thought because they had all the money. They also had the most incentive as they had the most to lose. Even during the war one was able to buy their way out of service if 20 slaves were owned for the public had a collective thought of slave uprising. Politicians were slave owners almost in their entirety.
There were 357,00 slave owners in the South, 7000 of which owned fifty or more, in comparison to the total white population of over six million. If the majority of the population wanted slavery at the very least contained, why had it continued to grow? It seemed democracy had failed. The secession of every member of the Deep South proved it. When the opinion of the voting population was of no concern, and the aristocrats convened to secede, democracy had lost the war to ?slave power,? and the civil war had to begin.
McPherson, James. “The Battlecry of Freedom”. c.1988, NY