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In the years immediately preceding the Civil War, the characteristic civilization of the southern states reached its culmination, making of the slave-holding area a region with most of the features of a separate national consciousness, a community little affected by the industrial, intellectual, and emotional influences which were transforming the north. 

The economic basis of southern society was now the culture of cotton, and, to a less degree, of corn, rice, and sugar, commodities that could be produced with profit by slave labor. The railway expansion of the south was mainly subsidiary to the agricultural industry, carrying cotton to the ports of export, and also bringing from the north those manufactured articles that the south was as unable to produce in 1860 as in the previous century. "Whence come your axes, hoes, scythes?" asked Orr, of South Carolina." Yes, even your plows, harrows, rakes, ax, and auger handles? Your furniture, carpets, calicos, and muslins? The cradle that rocks your infant to sweet slumbers — the top your boy spins — the doll your little girl caresses — the clothes your children wear — the books from which they are educated ... all are imported into South Carolina." With negroes as a large part of the real capital of the south and the plantation as the normal form of investment, the social and economic structure of the slave states was almost impervious to the forces which were beginning to prevail in the north. The planter aristocracy remained at the top of the scale, its numbers small in comparison with the total population. In i860 it was estimated that there were only 384,753 slave-holding individuals, and of these less than one-half had more than five slaves and less than one-tenth as many as twenty. Capital tended as always to concentrate in a few hands. Associated with these were the professional classes and the financial element, which, although far less important than the similar class at the north, played an active part in the southern economy. Below these came the body of southern whites, some of whom were engaged in the relatively few railways, steamers, mills, and factories of the south, but most of whom were small farmers with a status shading off into that of the steady accompaniment of slavery, the "poor white trash." But few of the slave states received any of the flood of German and Irish immigration since the lack of opportunity for free labor kept all such out of the cotton belt.

Nothing had taken place since the eighteenth century to alter the ideals of the southerners, except the fact that in the interior and Gulf states the aristocracy of the family was replaced by a more flexible aristocracy of wealth. 2 Although many large slave-owners were of humble origin, there yet existed within the planter class a sort of democratic fellowship, interrupted only by a few conservatives of the type of the Virginian who observed that "Whigs knew each other by the instincts of gentlemen."

Social and political leadership rarely passed from the hands of this upper class. A career like that of Andrew Johnson, who, from being an illiterate tailor, rose to be twice elected governor of Tennessee and later senator, was altogether exceptional; and such a book as Helper's Impending Crisis was an anomaly. Helper's thesis was that slavery depressed the poor whites and enabled the slave owners to profit at their expense; but whatever his hopes may have been of turning the non-slave-holding whites against the planter capitalists, he could not arouse them. Politics were an affair of leaders, who, when they differed, appealed to the voters, but did not constitute a class of office brokers or machine organizers.

The southern gentleman, in the years just before the war, stood as the product of an aristocratic society, a figure almost without a parallel at the north. No wealthy manufacturers, railway promoters, capitalists, or businessmen challenged his supremacy, and the whole of southern society took its tone from this master. The ideals of the southern gentleman were simple, and to the northerner scarcely comprehensible. His interests were few — cotton, negroes, family life, neighborhood affairs, and politics. Education, at one of the not-very flourishing southern colleges or at one of the larger northern universities, was confined to a small number. The personal ideal of the southerner was usually expressed by the word "chivalry," a term comprising the virtues of gallantry towards women, courtesy to inferiors, hospitality and generosity towards friends, personal courage, and a sensitive " honor."

The code of the duel was still a sacred part of southern social standards, not usually defended in public, but practically exacted in private, and based upon ideals of "honor" not easily understood outside the society wh ch upheld them. Jennings Wise, for instance, the son of Governor Wise, of Virginia, a man of "unaffected piety, naturalness, sincerity, and gentleness, a lover of children and so amiable that he never had a personal quarrel," felt himself obliged, when editing the Richmond Enquirer, to force a duel upon anyone who criticized his father.

The result was no less than eight "hostile encounters" in two years, which the public regarded as "natural and manly, evincing chivalry of the highest order." Sensitiveness to insult obliged the southerner to seek "satisfaction" of some kind; and when he encountered men who recognized no code but answered him with equal harshness, he felt obliged to employ personal violence, as in the case of Brooks and Sumner. This affair was strictly in accord with southern standards, which approved instant vindication of injured "honor" by violence of any kind. Murderous threats and shooting affrays, which struck a northerner with horror, were of everyday occurrence in many southern communities; and nothing stood more in the way of mutual comprehension. The refusal of the northerners to fight when challenged made the whole section appear to southerners as cowardly and ignoble, while the unrestrained anger and ready violence of the southerner impressed northern men as the brutality of a partly civilized bully. Yet the home life and domestic tenderness and courtesy of the same fiery southerners who fought duels and uttered threats were of a charm unimagined by their northern opponents, but proved by the testimony of innumerable witnesses. Upon such a society the intellectual upheaval of the time made little or no impression. The business hustle and hurry of the new industrial life faded away as one entered the land of cotton, and so did the other features of northern life of the decade. Orthodoxy in religion prevailed undisturbed in the south, and "isms" and reforms remained unknown there except when brought by such energetic invaders as Dorothea Dix, whose crusade for asylums for the insane stands almost alone in the south of that time. Spiritualism, communism, and radicalism, all failed to grow in the south and were almost as abhorrent to the planters as abolitionism itself. The crazes which swept the north stirred slight echoes there. Jenny Lind and Kossuth found less ecstatic hearers, the Maine law failed to convulse politics, and the Know-Nothing movement lacked spectacular features. Upon their superior sanity the southern journals often congratulated their readers in language not to be matched outside the Tory utterances of Europe. "In the North," said the Richmond Enquirer, "every village has its press and its lecture room, and each lecturer and editor, unchecked by a healthy public opinion, opens up for discussion all the received dogmas of faith. . . . The North fifty years ago was eminently conservative. Then it was well to send Southern youth to her colleges. She is now the land of infidelities and superstitions and is not to be trusted with the education of our sons and daughters."

As a consequence, the south entered but feebly into the literary renaissance of the times, and in years when the New England school of writers was in its prime still struggled along with but the tenderest shoots of a local literature. Except for William Gilmore Simms, whose prolific genius was still pouring out poems, romances, dramas, political articles, and miscellaneous productions, there was scarcely a southern writer known beyond a narrow circle. Southern magazines found it almost impossible to live, for the southern people were never great readers, and, when they subscribed to any periodical, commonly took Putnam's, Harper's, or the North American Review. Only the Southern Literary Messenger managed, with difficulty, to survive until the Civil War.

As the growing divergence between the sections progressed, indignation was often expressed at the dependence of the south upon "abolitionist" publications, and fervent appeals were made for the support of distinctly southern writers and periodicals. "So long as we use such works as Way land's Moral Science," wrote one irritated southerner, "and the abolitionist geographies, readers, and histories, overrunning as they do with all sorts of slanders, caricatures, and blood-thirsty sentiments, let us never complain of their use of that transitory romance [Uncle Tom's Cabin]. They seek to array our children by false ideas against the established ordinances of God." But declamation and resolutions were futile to create a literature, and the south continued to neglect its own authors and publishers.

The only change brought by the years 1850-1860 to the southern states was an intensification of their sense of common interests and common ideals resulting from the incessant slavery controversy. That southern sectionalism which existed from the formation of the Union now developed into something approaching closely to a real national consciousness, evinced in innumerable ways; and the term "The South" was as familiar in congressional and other speeches as "The United States" or the name of any single state, and carried an equal political significance. One form assumed by this new self-consciousness was that of a sectional "patriotism" and exaltation at the expense of the antagonistic north. Over southern society, people, manners, intelligence, courage, religious life, scenery, natural resources, and future prospects flowed an unceasing current of praise. "We expect true refinement of mind in America," said one writer, "to be born and nurtured and to exist chiefly in the Southern portions of the Union. . . . The pride of the North is in her dollars and cents, her factories and her ships. . . . The pride of the South is in her sons, in their nobleness of soul, their true gentility, honor, and manliness. . . . Both have their gratification, the one in her dollars the other in her sons."

Beneath all this self-assertion, however, existed a growing feeling of uneasiness that became strongly felt in this decade. Although De Bow, in his periodical devoted to southern economic and social interests, argued that the south was more prosperous than the north, and a chorus of writers and speakers echoed the comfortable belief, the fact remained that the north was undeniably outstripping the south in numbers, industrial wealth, and political power. In the effort to arouse the community to a sense of its danger, and to discover remedies for southern backwardness, an interesting series of Southern Commercial Conventions was held, with annual sessions after 1852. These met in various cities and debated such projects as a southern Pacific railroad and a direct southern steamship line to Europe, besides many other subjects of interest to planters. As the Kansas struggle progressed, these meetings reflected more and more the political passions of the time, until, by i860, they became the debating ground of southern radicals and conservatives, and the time of the sessions was taken up with the consideration of resolutions on the slave-trade and the slavery situation in general. In 1859 the radicals went so far as to carry through resolutions evidently intended to pave the way for the transformation of the Commercial Convention into a permanent body, with members elected by the people, capable of taking political action. 1 In a practical way these meetings accomplished nothing: something more than resolutions and fiery speeches was needed to enable the south to keep pace with the north.

The movement for southward expansion, already referred to, was another result of the southern uneasiness over the growing preponderance of the north. The popularity of Walker, the filibuster, the demand for Cuba, and the attempts to aid Cuban insurrection, all were based on a feeling that only by an increase of territory suitable for a slave economy could the south hold its own. "Would I perform my duty to God, to my country, to humanity, and to civil freedom," asked Quitman, of Mississippi, "were I to refuse to devote a portion of my life to such a cause? . . . Our destiny is intertwined with that of Cuba. If slave institutions perish there they will perish here. . . . Our government can not or will not act. We must do it as individuals."

Another scheme for aiding the south was the reopening of the slave trade, an idea which rapidly gained favor in these years; for in no other way could the planters be relieved from the high price of slaves, the population of the south be increased, and the economic future be made certain. The agitation began after 1850, with the advocates of the reopening of the trade taking the high ground. A writer in De Bow's Review classed it "among those mysteries which, however repulsive to fastidious eyes, are yet, in the hands of God, the instruments of Man's progress." The full argument was thus stated by E. A. Pollard, in 1857: "There are many minds among us firmly convinced that the Slave Trade is almost the only possible measure, the last resource to arrest the decline of the South in the Union. They see that it would develop resources that have slept for the great want of labor, that it would increase the area of cultivation in the South six times what it is now, that it would create a demand for land and raise its price, so as to compensate the planter for the depreciation of the slaves, that it would admit the poor white man to the advantages of our social system, that it would give him clearer interests in the country he loves now only from simple patriotism; that it would strengthen the peculiar institution; that it would strengthen our representation in Congress, and that it would revive and engender public spirit in the South."

The demand was first made publicly by Governor Adams, of South Carolina, in 1856; and on various occasions committees of the South Carolina and Louisiana, legislatures reported in favor of reopening the trade. In 1856 the project was brought before the Southern Commercial Convention and was defeated, 18 to 67; but three years later the vote changed to 49 to 19 in its favor. The subject was also brought up in Congress in 1859, although the south, as a whole, was not ready to seek such radical action. But the high prices of negroes and the eagerness of southerners for added slave labor led to a great growth of slave smuggling in these years. Scores of slave ships sailed from New York to the coast of Africa, and hundreds of negroes were land-ed in the southern states. The federal government was apathetic, and the laws seemed impossible of execution. In forty cases tried in the ten years preceding 1856, only one sentence was obtained, the southern juries almost uniformly refusing to convict. In 1859 the yacht Wanderer landed over three hundred negroes in Georgia, but in spite of the widespread knowledge of the affair, no one was punished.

The desire for the reopening of the slave trade was part of a significant change that took place in southern sentiment in these years regarding the institution of slavery. For twenty years southerners had undergone the unremitting and merciless attacks of abolitionists upon the slave system, and upon themselves for not instantly abandoning it; and as time went on the chorus of censure steadily increased, until it seemed to them as though the entire north was united in holding them guilty in the sight of God and man. Yet the two beliefs most deeply rooted in the mind of every southerner were, that he was an honorable, Christian gentleman and that the slave system was absolutely necessary to his prosperity. Some positive answer was necessary to the abuse by the anti-slavery critics. It was not enough to retort with anger and contempt, for the European world stood committed to the northern side, and its opinion must be dealt with. Accordingly, in this decade there was developed a new political and social philosophy, supplanting all previous half-defenses and apologies, which boldly asserted that slavery was a positive good, the only sure basis for society, religion, and the family, while liberty was a danger to the human race.

The new defenders of slavery swept away at the start the old, traditional doctrines of the Revolution, denied the natural equality of man or the existence of any natural right to liberty and argued that only when two unequal races existed together, with the inferior in subjection to the superior, was true happiness possible to either and the highest civilization attainable by the superior race. To prove this they pointed to the miserable condition of the laboring classes in manufacturing countries, insisting with never-tiring emphasis that the slaves were infinitely better off. "Those countries," said one writer, "must retain their form of society and try to make the best of it. But we contend that ours is better. We assert that in all countries and at all times there must be a class of hewers of wood and drawers of water who must always of necessity be the substratum of society. We affirm that it is best for all that this class should be formed of a race upon whom God himself has placed a mark of physical and mental inferiority." This doctrine had been elaborated before 1850, by Calhoun and others, but it now became the accepted creed of the defenders of slavery, proclaimed by clergymen, congressmen, and newspapers in the teeth of the Republicans.

On the actual condition of the slaves in the years 1850-1860, an opinion may safely be formed, for at no time was the institution subjected to more careful study. Travelers observed it continually, sometimes laudatory in their remarks, oftener the reverse; abolitionists amassed evidence of its atrocities, and defenders painted pictures of its idyllic sides. All other investigations were cast into the shade by the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, who published in this decade the results of extensive journeys undertaken by him in the slave states for the sake of seeing slavery as it was in the daily life of the people. Olmsted was no friendly critic of the "peculiar institution," and he acknowledged himself that his books were "too fault-finding"; but if allowance be made for this personal element, the observations create such a picture of the slave-holding civilization as can be found nowhere else. The real economic failure under the apparent prosperity of slavery and the depressing effects of the system upon the whites were the lessons of the book. Gleaned from every sort of source, from planter, poor white, tavern loafer, slave, or free negro, the old south painted its own portrait in his pages.

The feeling of the southern people towards the north grew in these years into its final form. Before the Kansas-Nebraska excitement, it was customary for all but the extreme followers of Calhoun to believe that the abolitionists — by which was meant all who in any way attacked or criticized slavery — were in a small minority and that the national feelings of the northern majority would maintain harmony. After the rise of the Republican party, it became the conviction of a majority of southerners that the north, as a whole, was fundamentally wrong in its view of southern institutions, and could not be relied upon to do justice. The self-defensive sentiment behind northern anti-slavery feelings was not grasped, and the course of politics since 1850 was regarded as an unprovoked series of aggressions upon southern rights and southern feelings. "We are arraigned day after day," said Davis in the Lecompton debate, "as the aggressive power. What southern senator, during this whole session, has attacked any portion or any interest of the north? In what have we now, or ever, back to the earliest period of our history, sought to deprive the north of any advantage it possessed?... The whole charge is that we seek to extend our institutions into the common territory of the United States. . . . You have made it a political war. We are on the defensive. How far are you to push us?"

Since, to the southern mind, slavery was right, common fairness required that it should have at least an equal share in the federal territories and that its supporters should not be proscribed; hence the Free Soil and Republican program was wholly unjust and unfair. Further, the duty of returning fugitive slaves was part of the common Constitution, and the refusal to do so, whether expressed by mobs, by "personal liberty laws," or by mere inertness, was equally unpardonable. Still further — and here lay the chief ground of offense in the people of the north — the inhabitants of the free states were no more qualified to judge of the rightfulness of slavery than were the slave-holders themselves, and their persistent hostility to the "peculiar institution" was an affront to the "honor" of the entire south.

If northern injustice were to continue, there could be but one possible result — secession. Calhoun's spirit dominated southern thought after his death as it never had done during his lifetime; his Disquisition on Government was studied in southern colleges and became the political Bible of the younger men of the time until the doctrine of the indivisible sovereignty of the separate states was an ingrained part of the southern creed. If the states were sovereign, disunion would not be revolution, but a mere dissolution of partnership, and ought to involve no more trouble than making an equitable division of common property and common liabilities. No state, moreover, was bound to adhere to the partnership any longer than was profitable or honorable; and the other partners had no right whatever to object to its withdrawal, still less to prevent it.

By 1859 the time was close at hand, in the opinion of hundreds of thousands of southern men, when the partnership of north and south would cease to be of further mutual profit. The north could not be driven into a course of justice by reason, and compulsion through commercial boycott, although often discussed, was felt to be. inadequate. Moreover, as the years went on the sense of social repulsion between southern aristocrats and northern "mechanics," existing since the foundation of the country, increased in bitterness until the planters of i860 talked as if the "Yankee" were the incarnation of vulgarity and depravity. De Bow curtly defined "Yankees" as "that species of the human race who foster in their hearts, lying, hypocrisy, deceit, and treason"; elsewhere he discovered the source of the social degeneracy of the north: "The basis, framework and controlling influence of Northern sentiment is Puritanism — the old Roundhead, rebel refuse of England which . . . has ever been an unruly sect of Pharisees, . . . the worst bigots on earth and the meanest of tyrants when they have the power to exercise it. They have never had the slightest conception of what constitutes true liberty and are incapable by nature of giving or receiving such."

The undeniable ferment of the north in thought and in reform, taking, as it did, many extravagant, although harmless shapes, made the section appear in southern eyes reeking with irreligion, blasphemy, and radicalism. Southern defenders were forever drawing comparisons between the "poverty, crime, infidelity, anarchy and licentiousness of Free Society and the plenty, morality, conservatism, good order and universal Christian faith of Slave Society." To the strictly orthodox southern planters, New England seemed a land of abomination, and abolitionists appeared bloody-minded fanatics, longing to cause negro insurrection, with massacre and unmentionable horrors.

So matters stood in 1859: mutual misunderstanding, mutual dislike, and contempt; on one side a fixed purpose to exclude the other from the control of the federal government; on the other an equally fixed purpose to secede if ousted. For years the control had been kept in the hands of the south by a combination in the ranks of the Democratic party of northern conservatives with southern moderates, but now this coalition seemed to be shaken. Upon the outcome of the election of i860 hung the decision; in the minds of most southern leaders, the result was already determined. The Union must come to an end.