Section 10.1 The Threat of Secession
in the States where it already exists.” On the sur-
face, this statement sounds mild, even concilia-
tory. But if taken in the context of the times, Lin-
coln’s words seemed to signal that he intended
to correct the course of his nation’s history. The
first generation of Americans had pushed the
elimination of slavery into the future, hoping it
would die out, whereas the second generation
had compromised on the issue, believing this was
the only way to hold the United States together.
But now in this third generation, Americans must
take a stand against slavery, first and foremost by
banning its future growth into the territories. No
one could be certain what would become of slav-
ery once this ban took effect. But many hoped it
would foster a new birth of freedom (McPherson,
1988, pp. vii–xi).
The Threat of Secession
iehard supporters of slavery, known as
, openly talked of
seceding from the Union if the federal government placed any constraints on the
institution. They were cheered on by apologists, who argued that God had created
slavery, as evidenced by the many instances of slavery in the Old Testament, and therefore
it was a “positive good” and not a “necessary evil” (Fitzhugh, 1857, p. xiii).
Contemporary Arguments for Slavery
Popular Southern magazines such as
portrayed slave masters as paternal
figures who watched over a hierarchical society in which every man, woman, and child—
white and black—accepted his or her station in life. Fathers ruled the family, wives served
their husbands, and slaves did the bidding of their masters. Perceived as less advanced
than whites, the assumption was that blacks appreciated slavery as a way to civilize them-
selves under the care of superior whites.
In his book
Cannibals All! or, Slaves without Masters
, published in 1857, writer George
Fitzhugh compared the idyllic Southern society with the chaos of contemporary capi-
talism. He argued that the workers of factories in the North, who usually endured long
hours under harsh conditions for low wages, were exploited far more than slaves on
Southern plantations, where blacks worked under kindly masters who also provided for
their basic needs of food, shelter, and spiritual guidance.
Convinced that slavery must be protected at all costs, Southern legislatures outlawed
the teaching of reading or writing to blacks, banned all discussion of abolition, and even
prohibited the manumission of slaves. There was even talk of reopening the Atlantic slave
trade in order to increase slave ownership among whites (McPherson, 1988, pp. 93–103).