Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery, The Anglo-American Context 1830-1860
Like much of the nation, that is to say, Lincoln himself was divided. As the values and intent of the Revolution became less and less vivid as doctrine, yet more and more compelling as symbols that could be seized with equal insistence by either side, a further division in the "house"—between the Revolutionary past and the nationalistic present—complicated the issues of democratic freedom and sectional power.
As George Forgie has argued, the anxiety of the "post-heroic generations" in the face of the inimitable achievements of the Revolutionary fathers left them at once unable to act with originality and unwilling obediently to follow the example set by the fathers. They were rebellious and conservative at the same time, on no issue more so than slavery. The failure to abolish slavery in the late eighteenth century left succeeding generations stymied, imprisoned by the Constitution's apparent protection of slavery, yet conscious of the implicit attack on it in the Declaration of Independence.
The post-Revolutionary sons, it could be said, harbored the sins of the past until the accumulated pressure—of territorial acquisition, of political dissension, of guilt—became too great. In the violence of internal reblleion [sic] and civil war the post-Revolutionary generations became, as Jefferson had feared in the wake of San Domingo, "the murderers of our own children. The "rebirth" our classic literature is said to constitute occurred precisely in an era—from the s through the Civil War—in which the authority of the fathers had become the subject of anxious meditation and in which the national crisis over slavery's limits compelled a return to the fraternally divisive energies of revolution.
Though duplicitous attitudes toward America's own recent birth and her course of empire increased in cultural and political thought over that period, they had been nonetheless present from the beginning. The Civil War restored union and may therefore be seen as essentially conservative or redemptive, much as the Revolution itself was seen by many of its participants to be a return—a revolution, rather than a rebellion—to lost principles on the model of the Glorious Revolution of In this respect, the Civil War itself might be seen as restoring those freedoms suppressed in , or intended but never actualized: that is, it became a revolution rather than the "war of the rebellion" it seemed at the outset.
The irony of the model lies in the great wave of slave imports into the North American colonies that occurred at nearly the same moment; at a more contemporary level, the irony appears in the notion of continuing, progressive revolution that Sacvan Bercovitch has demonstrated to constitute the tradition of the jeremiad in America and to provide the basis for a "national consensus" in which the providential design of the country was constantly reaffirmed and revolutionary radicalism "socialized into an affirmation of order. It was a question to which Hawthorne, a man otherwise attentive to the ambiguities of freedom and the fraternal complexities of the Revolution, was strangely blind, except, characteristically, as he recognized the elementary doubleness of America's political origins.
Although he understood that "the children of the Puritans" were connected to the Africans of Virginia in a singular way, since the "fated womb" of the Mayflower "sent forth a brood of Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock" in her first voyage, and in a subsequent one "spawned slaves upon the Southern soil," Hawthorne's apprehension of this "monstrous birth," recorded in , did not prevent him from satirizing Lincoln and envisioning a group of escaped slaves "akin to the fawns and rustic deities of olden times. The rise of liberty and the rise of slavery in America took place simultaneously from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.
In Virginia especially, as Edmund Morgan has demonstrated, slavery made free white society more homogeneous, allowed the flourishing of commonwealth ideas about taxation, property, and representation, and thus brought Virginians into the political tradition of New England.
Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery: The Anglo-American Context, 1830-1860
The links between liberty and slavery were all the more complicated in view of the rhetoric of enslavement that American colonists employed during the Revolution. A famous suppressed clause of the Declaration of independence charged George III with "violating the most sacred rights of life and liberty" in the practice of the slave trade and, moreover, with instigating rebellion among American slaves, "thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
As attempts to abolish slavery during and after the Revolution foundered on the questions of human property rights, vital economy, fear of insurrection and amalgamation, and the legacy of the fathers, the tentative identification between colonists and slaves collapsed. The very fact that some of the most influential founding fathers—among them Jefferson and Washington—were slaveholders enhanced the doubleness at the heart of the American experiment and in the long run invited the two-edged sarcasm of Theodore Parker: "The most valuable export of Virginia, is her Slaves, enriched by 'the best blood of the old dominion;' the 'Mother of Presidents' is also the great Slave Breeder of America.
Since she ceased to import bondsmen from Africa, her Slaves [have] become continually paler in the face; it is the 'effect of the climate'—and Democratic Institutions. The increasing distance from the Revolution allowed later generations to focus the contradiction between liberty and slavery in the question of "perpetual union," a question that, despite the great power of Washington's Farewell Address in , did not—perhaps, could not—become a vital issue until the generation of the fathers was dead. At that point Americans opposed to slavery had to balance the harmony of union against the principle of freedom; they not only could entertain a contradiction in sentiments, but virtually had to, unless they were willing to follow radicals like Garrison in calling for the dissolution of the Union.
Lincoln himself, even though he sought a new "field of glory" equivalent to that enjoyed by the "once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed, race of ancestors,["] demanded in the Lyceum address of that "every lover of liberty. Lincoln's magically ambivalent speech, juggling the concept of union as precariously as Jefferson had juggled the concept of liberty in framing the Declaration of Independence, is one of the initiating documents of the impending national trauma and the explosive literature that accompanied it.
It forecasts Lincoln's reluctance to contravene the fathers' protection of slavery, and it finely illuminates what David Brion Davis has described as the "widening chasm of time between the transcendent moment of rebirth-when the 'Word of Liberty' created a nation-and the recurring rediscoveries of America's unredeemed sin.
Though it was prolonged for close to a century, one may date the first serious fractures, the recurring rediscoveries of sin, most vividly from the early s. A time of new revolutions in Europe, it was in America a time during which the national memory of the Revolution took on a particularly fragile cast and during which the forces of social and sexual reform, an accelerating market economy, and the crisis over territorial acquisition and the extension of slavery that were to produce the major issues for the writers of the American Renaissance first became tangible.
The year of Garrison's anniversary editorial, , also saw the publication of his Thoughts on African Colonization , which argued vigorously that the colonization of American blacks was a futile project and became instrumental in turning antislavery attention to the real question of black freedom in America. The year was also the widely celebrated centennial of Washington's birth, a fact that brings into special relief the significant events that surround it.
Hawthorne that year published his two great tales of revolutionary anxiety, "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" and "Roger Malvin's Burial" both responding to the glimmering memory of Washington himself and the generations of fathers that had passed away with the mystical deaths of Adam and Jefferson on the Fourth of July, , and John Pendleton Kennedy brought forth Swallow Barn , the first significant fictional defense of slavery.
At the same time, the Virginia House of Delegates undertook the most serious debate in its history on the question of slave emancipation. In the wake of Nat Turner's bloody Virginia rebellion and another threatening uprising of slaves in British Jamaica in , the delegates were almost exactly split on the possibility of abolishing slavery in its American place of birth.
After this date the southern stance in defense of slavery prevailed and rigidified, and was characterized with fierce precision by Thomas R. Dew, whose classic essay, "Abolition of Negro Slavery" later expanded as Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of , argued against both colonization and emancipation.
Pointing to the example of continued turmoil in Haiti and comparing potentially freed slaves to a Frankenstein monster incapable of coping with liberty, Dew belittled analogies between the cause of American slaves and contemporary revolutions in Poland and France; the "right of revolution" does not exist, he said, for persons "totally unfit for freedom and self-government" and certain to bring "ruin and degradation," "relentless carnage and massacre" upon all.
The early s, still transported by the enthusiastic nationalism of the previous decade, also witnessed the initial signs of dissent over a problem that would bring to a crisis the issue of slavery—the problem of territorial acquisition and America's sense of democratic mission. Celebrating the centennial of Washington's birth, Webster reminded his audience that Washington regarded nothing of greater importance than the "integrity of the Union" and warned that "disunion and dismemberment" would "sweep away, not only what we possess, but all our powers of regaining lost, or acquiring new possessions.
By the s, appeals to the fathers on this score seemed more than ever to summon up an illusion. In his inauguration speech, alluding to the "manifest and beneficent [ sic ] Providence" that guided "our fathers," Franklin Pierce praised the Compromise of and predicted the acquisition of Cuba "certain possessions not within our jurisdiction eminently important for our protection" , proslavery positions voiced, as Pierce said, "within reach of the tomb of Washington, with all the cherished memories of the past gathered around me like so many eloquent voices from heaven.
The legacy of the fathers provided for manifest destiny, which increased fears of the extension of slavery and slave power, which in turn destroyed the integrity of the Union and the legacy of the fathers. A belief in the divine mission of America could sanction antislavery but it could just as easily compel devotion to union in the service of slavery and its expansion.
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The spirit of American mission that legitimized war with Mexico and prompted self-congratulation that was the source of current "democratic" revolutions in Europe in also prompted patriotic defenses of moderation, even fire-eating, on the question of slavery. Thus Hawthorne, in his campaign biography of Pierce, celebrated Pierce's bodily descent from a renowned Revolutionary father; he repeatedly emphasized the necessary link between Revolutionary glory and the concept of union; he dwelled on Pierce's "heroic" role in the war with Mexico, which "struck an hereditary root in his breast" and linked him to the vision of the fathers; and he argued, with respect to Pierce's support of the Compromise of , that as an "unshaken advocate of Union," Pierce saw that "merely human wisdom and human efforts cannot subvert [slavery], except by tearing to pieces the Constitution.
Hawthorne's Life of Pierce may be his most neglected romance. It is a primary document in the nationalistic Young America movement, and it exemplifies Hawthorne's need one he shared with Sirnms and Cooper to ground the value of contemporary accomplishments in the bedrock of a highly conservative Revolutionary tradition.
Yoking together union and slavery, sentimerital politics and American expansion, the Life allows Hawthorne the widely shared fantasy that slavery is "one of those evils which divine Providence does not leave to be remedied by human contrivances" but one day, "by some means impossible to be anticipated," will cause "to vanish like a dream. As the American Revolution is for Hawthorne a return to the strength of betrayed Puritan principles in which the rebellious patriot shadows forth the grim features of his forefathers, so manifest destiny is here part of the "continued miracle" of America, and union the state of grace ordained by the sacred document, the Constitution.
This aspect of American civil religion was endorsed by Pierce in his acceptance of the nomination when he called upon "a Power superior to human might" that "from the first gun of the Revolution, in every crisis through which we have passed," has brought "out of darkness the rainbow of promise.
Casting back to the common ground of colonial revolt, abolitionists saw a Slave Power conspiracy that resembled and reanimated old fears of a conspiracy of king and parliament against their subjects. By "reenacting the primal resistance to subversion" that had prevailed in "popular conceptualizations of the American Revolution" as a combat of conspiratorial British plots against existing liberties, antislavery forces could affirm their kinship with the founding fathers and finish the incomplete Revolution.
Who, though, were the subversives in this case? Antislavery appeared as a conspiracy of Jacobins, British sympathizers, and religious fanatics to renounce the Constitution and to create slave rebellion and revenge; the Slave Power appeared a means of imperial expansion that in its very nature would destroy the liberties first generated by The distilled symbolic representation of this doubleness in the legacy of the American Revolution from the s forward was the slave revolution in San Domingo.
Replete with ironies, as W. Du Bois sensed, San Domingo caught the fire of the French Revolution in ; it bolstered the antislavery movement in England and accelerated the suppression of the slave trade; it became a primary point of reference for both proslavery and antislavery forces in America; and it ended Napoleon's vision of American empire, leading thus to the Louisiana Purchase and, eventually, the crisis question of slavery in the territories.
Following the first flight of terrified planter refugees to the United States in the early s, and again in the wake of Turner's balked rebellion in Southampton, Virginia, San Domingo was summoned up in arguments over the possibility of slave or free black insurrection. Like a prism, it reflected all sides and shades of the question, paradoxical or not, and appears throughout the literature of the antebellum period. For example, a southern abolitionist, Angelina Grimke, argued that the worst bloodshed in San Domingo took place not because of black revolution and emancipation but because of France's attempt to reimpose slavery in ; while a northern moderate, Catherine Beecher, replied to Grimke in that radical abolitionism, by evoking such examples and making slavery more severe in reaction, was raising "the paean song of liberty and human rights" among slaves and preparing the way for the "terrors of insurrection" and catastrophic civil war.
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From either point of view, however, the presiding threat of San Domingo to the United States was a form of historical revenge. It threatened to spread what Winthrop Jordan has called "the cancer of revolution" throughout the slaveholding empires and held forth the promise, as the black novelist and political activist William Wells Brown wrote in , that "the revolution that was commenced in would.
Having "shed their [own] blood in the American revolutionary war," Brown argued, slaves were now "only waiting the opportunity of wiping out their wrongs in the blood of their oppressors. Here Brown turned on its head the frequent warnings against slave insurrection and echoed a pamphleteer who had written in the wake of Denmark Vesey's conspiracy that "our NEGROES are truly the Jacobins of the country.
It seemed not. The closest American slaves had and would come to San Domingo was Turner's rebellion. Turner originally planned the rebellion to occur, appropriately, on the Fourth of July. To the extent that Fourth of July orations served in the decades preceding the Civil War to give ritual form to America's progressive revolution, Turner's plot—like Garrison's burning of the Constitution on the Fourth of July, , following Pierce's enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law in Boston with federal troops—made the theatrical aspects of American politics more apparent.
Like the idea of union, the spirit of the Fourth of July wore a special mask of political vengeance; its annual celebrations and oratory defined freedom restrictively, of course, but did so with increasing tension and ambiguity. Turner may have embodied the spirit of the age of revolution, but the most intriguing thing about the record of Turner's own intentions we have, Thomas Gray's Confessions , is that the ideas of rebellion and freedom are hardly in evidence; instead, the emphasis lies, in Turner's purported confessions, on his messianic visions and, in Gray's editorial commentary, on the derangement of Turner and his "dreadful conspiracy" of "diabolical actors.
As it embodied the central paradox of southern representations of slaveholding—that the institution was one of affectionate paternalism but that bloody insurrection could break forth at the least relaxation of vigilance—the Confessions served thus to sound an alarm but also to suppress the violent justness of Turner's plot and to disguise its motives. Contrary to this picture of an isolated madman, Toussaint, by all accounts one of the great leaders of the age of revolution, considered himself the "father" of his new country's "children. V Not surprisingly, the messianic, suffering Turner was precisely the one embraced by such vocal abolitionists as Higginson, Garrison, and Stowe.
The ambivalence about Turner is nowhere clearer than in Stowe's novel Dred , which modeled its title character on Turner she appended a copy of the Confessions to the novel and portrayed him as the son of Denmark Vesey; made him appear even more insane than Gray had; and killed him off before anything decisive could come of his plots. For Stowe, of course, violent revolution was no answer, and her sentimental racialism prevented her from imagining fully the need for, and the effects of, such insurrection.
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Rebellion, as it appears in Uncle Tom's Cabin , is an apocalyptic issue: obviously in the Christ-like martyrdom of Tom; or, more revealingly, in the gothic intrigues of Cassy, the demented tragic mulatto who follows Tom's advice to escape "without blood-guiltiness" but does so in a way that acts out the psychic trauma of racial liberation with which the novel, Stowe herself, and the nation were struggling. When Cassy effects her final escape by terrorizing Legree in the "ghostly garments" of his mother's shroud, she enacts the revenge of feminine power on which Stowe's entire novel draws.
Legree's decaying mansion, reminiscent of the house of Usher, is the House Divided in extremity, the home of both domestic sexual and political racial perversions of the family. Whatever "lurid shadows of a coming retribution" the destruction of Legree might anticipate, however, one may be cautious about the novel's commitment to liberation.
Stowe's colonizationist impulses were less racist than those of many abolitionists; yet they remain one sign of the disturbing problem of political union that pervades her novel in the form of gothic sentimentalism. An additional sign appears in St. Clare's assertion that only the "sons of white fathers" among the slaves, only those with Anglo-Saxon blood "burning in their veins," can bring forth "the San Domingo hour" and "raise with them their mother's race.
Whatever its intention, the book's stated assumption that pure blacks are naturally docile comes close to implying that slaves were incapable of revolution and unsuited even for the European "millennium of.