Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Northerner's View of Emancipation

It is not surprising to read that a Northerner expressed racist sentiments in the antebellum era. Just because those states decided to do away with slavery does not mean that their citizens had liberated themselves from racial prejudices; quite the contrary

Reading Massachusetts clergyman Nehemiah Adams's A South-Side View of Slavery, which was printed in 1854, quickly brought this point out. Throughout the book Adams takes a very conservative and paternalistic view of slavery; a perspective the majority of Americans at this time likely maintained. On page 119, Adams began a discussion of what was likely to be expected from the sudden emancipation of the Southern slaves. In his view slaves benefited from the institution, particularly in relation to religion and acculturation.

Adams wrote:
"The conviction forced itself upon my mind at the south, that the most disastrous event to the colored people would be their emancipation to live on the same soil with the whites.

The two distinct races could not live together except by the entire subordination of one to the other. Protection is now extended to the blacks; their interests are the interests of the owners. But ceasing to be a protected class, they would fall prey to avarice, suffer oppression and grievous wrongs, encounter the rivalry of white immigrants, which is an element in the question of emancipation here, and nowhere else. Antipathy to their color would not diminish, and being the feebler race, they would be subjected to great miseries.

All history shows that two races of men approaching in any considerable degree to equality in numbers can not live together unless intermarriages take place. The Sabine women prepared the way for the admission of the Sabines to Rome, and gave them a place among the conscript fathers. Alexander, having conquered Persia, married the Persian Roxana, and thus lessened the social distance between the new provinces and the original empire. Alaric, Clovis, Henry I of England, in Italy, Gaul, and among the Saxons, respectively, resorted to the same policy of intermarriage for the same purpose. The long dissensions between the Normans and Saxons under William Duke of Normandy and William Rufus disappeared when the two races followed the example of Henry. We know the happy results."

Adams went on to provide a contemporary example of the difficulties between the races and the labor strife among blacks and the Irish in an article from a Buffalo, New York, newspaper.

"It would not be strange if, as the least evil, and to prevent their being exterminated, or driven out, as John Randolph's emancipated slaves and other companies of emancipated negroes have been, by one free State after another, or leading a wretched life like that of our New England Indians, it should be considered best for all concerned that they should enter again, after being emancipated, into some form of subordination to the whites. Their present bondage, with all its evils, real or supposed, it would then be seen, is by no means the worst condition into which they could fall. . . .

As an ardent friend of the colored race, I am compelled to believe that while they remain with us, subordination in some form to a stronger race is absolutely necessary for their protection and best welfare - a subordination, however, which shall be for the interests of the black man, as well as for his superiors, and from which every degree of oppression shall be purged away, the idea of their being doomed as a race or caste being abolished, and individual tendencies and aptitudes being regarded. If our southern brethren will protect and provide for them or this world and the next, we, as friends of man, should feel that we owe them a debt of gratitude and should be willing to assist, if necessary, in promoting their welfare."

Adams then suggests, as he does in other points in the book, that if the North would only let the South alone slaveholders would eventually rid themselves of the institution and the accompanying sectional discord would subside.

"Suppose, then, that we begin to take some new view of our duty with regard to slavery, having long enough, and uselessly, and injurously enough beleaguered and battered it, only to find, in 1854, that, in spite of all our efforts and prayers, it is taking a stride more vast and astonishing than ever. A physician who had failed in his course of treatment, as we have with slavery, would ordinarily change it. Perhaps we are wrong. If our aim is good, perhaps we can effect it in a better way - a way in which the south itself will cooperate with us. Perhaps this whole continent can be pacified on this subject consistently with truth and righteousness, and to the increased happiness of all concerned."

Naturally, we have the benefit of hindsight that Adams did not have. However, it would seem that events leading up to the time at which he was writing would have provided more discouragement than encouragement. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850 and its resulting congressional discord, along with events leading up to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of Adams's year of publication all pointed to a strengthening of slavery not a lessening.

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