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Jefferson, LIncoln, Wilentz, Gates, and Slavery:

I'm with co-blogger Randy Barnett on this: Sean Wilentz' recently-published essay on Lincoln, historiography, politics (and many other things) is a magnificent piece of argumentative scholarship, well worth reading by anyone interested in Lincoln, US history, slavery, Thomas Jefferson, the Civil War, . . .

One issue -- tangential, admittedly, to the main debates, but interesting and important nonetheless -- caught my eye. Wilentz had some stinging criticisms of Henry Louis Gates' recent book (Lincoln and Race and Slavery), and Gates, in response, spends most of his time (rather oddly) arguing with Wilentz not about Lincoln, but about Jefferson. "When Thomas Jefferson wrote 'All men are created equal,'" Gates writes, "he did not have African Americans in mind -- or so I claimed in Lincoln on Race and Slavery." It's a claim, as Wilentz notes in his reply to Gates' response, "that scholars have been debating . . . for some time, [and] there is a strong case to be made for this claim, but also room for measured skepticism."

This caught my eye, of course, because, as faithful VC readers know (because I remind them ad nauseum), I've just published a book about Jefferson -- probably the only book about Jefferson in the past 20 years in which the word "slavery" (or the name "Sally Hemings") does not appear. I thought long and hard, in the decade or so during which I was working on the book, about that, and about what it meant. I sometimes wondered whether there was something wrong -- or possibly even immoral -- in that, the (very rough) equivalent of writing a book about Hitler's painting skills and passing over his murder of millions. It gave me considerable pause. In the end, I was comfortable with my judgment -- though I had a fair bit to say about Jefferson's (rather complicated) views on slavery (much of which I put into a paper I presented at a symposium back in 2001 at Middlebury College on that issue), they were simply not relevant (at least, not in any way I could see) to the subject matter of my book, which was ultimately about governance and law on the Internet and how Jefferson's ideas could illuminate those questions for us; I wasn't writing a comprehensive Jefferson biography but instead trying to use Jefferson's ideas, and any of his ideas that didn't help me think about the Net (and there were many) were jettisoned along the way.

But having said that, let me weigh in on the "measured skepticism" side of this argument. I don't believe we know, or can ever know, exactly what Jefferson "had in mind" when he wrote the phrase "all men are created equal." But on the more important question -- viz., what did the phrase "all men" mean, to the author, to contemporaneous readers, and to posterity -- the document itself has one vitally important clue. Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration included the following paragraph in its lengthy list of King George III's "abuses and usurpations" through which he had attempted to impose "absolute Despotism" upon the Colonies:

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative [i.e., he has unjustly exercised his veto powers over Colonial legislation], suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."

[The capitalization ("MEN," "CHRISTIAN") and the underlining in this passage are all Jefferson's own, taken from his own copy of the draft]

Much has been written by scholars about this paragraph (which, like the anti-slavery provisions in Jefferson's draft of the Ordinance of 1784, was deleted by Congress before final approval of the document) -- about Jefferson's motivations for including it in the draft, about the Congress' decision to excise it from the final Declaration, etc. But on the textual construction point, it is deeply significant (and possibly dispositive): "MEN" -- African-Americans, obviously -- were bought and sold as part of the "execrable commerce" of slavery. And all "men" were created equal.

Jefferson took enormous pains later in life to preserve his early draft, to make sure that history knew that it in his Declaration of Independence, slavery was deemed "cruel war against human nature itself," that the "men" declared equal in the Preamble included those who were "bought and sold," and that this "execrable commerce" in human souls violated the "most sacred rights of life and liberty."

And then there's the "pursuit of happiness" to which all men were entitled, along with life and liberty. Jefferson's use of this phrase in the list of natural rights has long been something of a puzzle. On the one hand, the prevailing view of the Declaration of Independence is, as Pauline Maier writes in her exhaustive history of the document (American Scripture), that it merely "summarized succinctly ideas defended and explained at greater length by a long list of seventeenth-century writers," that the ideas it expressed were "absolutely conventional among Americans of [Jefferson's] time." Jefferson himself admitted as much; that, he said, was the whole point. When John Adams wrote, using language more colorful than, but in substance identical to, Prof. Maier's, that "there is not an idea in [the Declaration of Independence] but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before," and that the "substance of it" was already "contained in the Declaration of Rights [enacted by] Congress in 1774," two years before Jefferson set to work, Jefferson responded: "That may all be true."

"I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether, [or] to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before. . . . [T]he object of the Declaration of Independence [was] not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, [or] to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. [Not] aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, . . . it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day . . ."

But at the same time, at a critical juncture in this "conventional" document, Jefferson takes a turn to the decidedly, and fundamentally, unconventional. "Life, liberty, and property" was the conventional formulation; the revolutionary generation's favorite political philosopher, John Locke, had established that familiar trilogy almost a century before, and Congress, in the 1774 Declaration of Rights to which Adams refers in the quotation above, had, conventionally, followed the Lockean outline:

"The inhabitants of the English colonies in North-America, by the immutable laws of nature . . . have the following RIGHTS: That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property . . ."

That, too, is how George Mason's enormously influential Virginia Declaration of Rights of the same year (1774) -- another document with which Jefferson, and the other delegates in Philadelphia, were intimately familiar -- put it:

"All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, . . . namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property . . ."

That formulation was, for obvious reasons, of considerable comfort to the slave-owning class, for it put their "ownership" of slaves -- their "property" interest -- on equal rank, in the natural order of things, with the "life" and "liberty" of those over whom that ownership was exercised.

But with the stroke of the pen, Jefferson took that away. Whatever comfort one might have taken in the notion that owning other human beings was in the natural order of things -- a widespread view in the eighteenth century -- that notion was not to be found in the Declaration of Independence.

Nobody understood all this (or explained it) better than Lincoln himself, and he should have the last word(s). In the Fifth Debate with Stephen Douglas in 1858, Lincoln said this:

The Judge [i.e., Douglas] has alluded to the Declaration of Independence, and insisted that Negroes are not included in that Declaration; and that it is a slander upon the framers of that instrument, to suppose that Negroes were meant therein; and he asks you: Is it possible to believe that Mr. Jefferson, who penned the immortal paper, could have supposed himself applying the language of that instrument to the negro race, and yet held a portion of that race in slavery? Would he not at once have freed them? I only have to remark upon this part of the Judge's speech, (and that, too, very briefly, for I shall not detain myself, or you, upon that point for any great length of time,) that I believe the entire records of the world, from the date of the Declaration of Independence up to within three years ago, may be searched in vain for one single affirmation, from one single man, that the Negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence. I think I may defy Judge Douglas to show that he ever said so, that Washington ever said so, that any President ever said so, that any member of Congress ever said so, or that any living man upon the whole earth ever said so, until the necessities of the present policy of the Democratic party, in regard to slavery, had to invent that affirmation. And I will remind Judge Douglas and this audience, that while Mr. Jefferson was the owner of slaves, as undoubtedly he was, in speaking upon this very subject, he used the strong language that ``he trembled for his country when he remembered that God was just;'' and I will offer the highest premium in my power to Judge Douglas if he will show that he, in all his life, ever uttered a sentiment at all akin to that of Jefferson.

The Declaration, Lincoln wrote in 1859, gave "liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time, . . . promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance." The cause of American progress and American greatness was not the Constitution or the Union, but "something back of these, something entwining itself more closely about the human heart: the principle of 'Liberty to All.'"

"All honor to Jefferson -- to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression. He supposed there was a question of God's eternal justice wrapped up in the enslaving of any race of men, or any man, and that those who did so braved the arm of Jehovah -- that when a nation thus dared the Almighty every friend of that nation had cause to dread His wrath."

Taking his cue from the 25th chapter of the Book of Proverbs -- "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver" -- he wrote:

"The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word 'fitly spoken' which has proved an 'apple of gold' to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple -- not the apple for the picture. So let us act, that neither picture, or apple, shall ever be blurred, or bruised, or broken."

Now it is undoubtedly true (as Wilentz reminds us in the essay referred to at the top of this posting) that one always has to read Lincoln's words carefully, and in their proper (political) context, in order to understand their meaning. Lincoln wrote and said many things that were crafted primarily for the purposes of political expediency; he wanted to claim Jefferson for his side, and whether he "actually believed" what he wrote is impossible to fathom -- but I'll take him at his word.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Jefferson, LIncoln, Wilentz, Gates, and Slavery:
  2. "Now he belongs to the English department":
ChrisIowa (mail):

Now it is undoubtedly true (as Wilentz reminds us in the essay referred to at the top of this posting) that one always has to read Lincoln's words carefully, and in their proper (political) context, in order to understand their meaning.


Lincoln was sufficiently anti-slavery that his election to the Presidency was sufficient to cause the secession of the southern states, most of those that seceded (or attempted to secede) did so before Lincoln was inaugurated.

When it became clear that civil war would break out over the issue, Lincoln had to position himself to maximize support for war. He had the Republican anti-slavery support, but had to find a political position to maximize support for the effort from the any-compromise-to-preserve-the-Union northern Democrats. All his comments after his election and inauguration should be read with that objective in mind.

(I only read the first two pages of Wilentz's essay, very quickly may have missed something, but that transition and political reality did not seem to be mentioned.)
8.3.2009 3:03pm
Jam:
And the increase on tariffs played no role whatsoever?

And what does Sean Wilentz have to saw about Lincoln's support for the Corwin Amendment?
8.3.2009 3:17pm
Jam:
saw say
8.3.2009 3:22pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
So my homeboy Pierce was a bad president because he tried to position himself to appeal to divers factions rather than standing on principle? I tend to agree, but that accusation has a familiar sound to it somehow.
8.3.2009 4:12pm
SuperSkeptic (mail):
Standing on principle gets people killed, and politics is all about using force subliminally, without causing death
8.3.2009 4:21pm
dearieme:
Jefferson was writing advertising copy to try to disguise the embarrassment that his mob wanted to claim British liberties while committing treason against the British Crown.

Rather than waste time on the pompous flummery of The Declaration of Independence, why not devote effort to that most impressive of business plans, The Constitution?
8.3.2009 4:23pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

And the increase on tariffs played no role whatsoever?

In my readings of the newspapers of 1861 I recall no mention of tariffs as a factor in the secession. These papers are admittedly Iowa papers, a small sampling, and a Northern perspective at that. They are, however, primarily Democrat newspapers, and editorially advocate any compromise needed to preserve the Union. This would be the additional support that Lincoln would be positioning himself to add, whether tariffs were important to the south or not.

I would think that if tariffs were an important factor in secession, some mention of tariffs would have been made in the attempts at compromise to preserve the Union. IIRC, the Crittenden Compromise made no mention of tariffs.
8.3.2009 4:26pm
PersonFromPorlock:
dearieme:

Jefferson was writing advertising copy to try to disguise the embarrassment that his mob wanted to claim British liberties while committing treason against the British Crown.

No, they were claiming natural liberties which the British Crown was committing treason against.
8.3.2009 4:45pm
subpatre (mail):
Oh dear, 'dearieme' confuses Jefferson with Madison, and thinks a '76 document is interfering with one started a decade later. Dearieme indeed.
8.3.2009 5:15pm
subpatre (mail):
ChrisIowa says, "When it became clear that civil war would break out over the issue, Lincoln had to position himself to maximize support for war."

The Virginia secession convention met in February 1861, and the vote for secession failed.

On April 15th newspapers reported Lincoln's order for 75,000 troops to attack the seceded states. As a member of the Union, Virginia would be obligated to send 8,000 soldiers.

The delegates met Apr 16th, and passed the Secession Ordinance next day. On May 23rd Virginia citizens —a statewide vote— ratified the motion. Virginia was followed by Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Cause . . . effect. In a era with no telephone or radio, and almost no telegraph; it took 8 days from Lincoln's call for troops for the state government to create and pass a referendum to its citizens, who voted.

Civil war was not inevitable, and didn't 'break out'.

Corwin (March 1861) was too little and too late for the slave-dependent states —they'd already left— and was not an enticement for the rest. Even Kentucky wasn't moved by it, though ultimately siding with the Union.
8.3.2009 5:25pm
Lou Gots (mail):
Why might it be that this Professor Gates takes such pains to slander genuine American heroes? Might it not be that the chair of the DuBois Institute of African-American Studies might share somewhat of the spirit of his institute's namesake?

DuBois died a hater of his country, a committed Communist who renounced his citizenship and fled into self-exile.
8.3.2009 5:26pm
Jam:
"Corwin (March 1861) was too little and too late"

Not late enough for Lincoln to use it in his 1st inaugural.

subpatre, is this your opinion or Wilentz's?

3 seceded States becauae the PTOUS usuped Congress's authority and limited puposes for calling forth the militia.
8.3.2009 6:17pm
dearieme:
There are no natural liberties - liberties stem from the society of which you are a part. Hence "flummery". Nor am I confusing Jefferson with Madison; Madison is worth some respect.
8.3.2009 6:41pm
D.R.M.:
To claim the American Revolution to be treason against the British Crown, one must first decide if removal of the monarch in defense of what one understands to be the English constitution is an acceptable act, or not.

If it is acceptable, then the Revolution was a non-treasonous assertion of the established English right of the people to only be taxed by acts of their elected representatives, deposing George III in part of his lands where he violated said constitution.

If it is not acceptable, then the Glorious Revolution was treason, the lawful king at the time of the American Revolution was Charles III of the House of Stuart, and no act in defiance of the line of usurpers claiming the throne and the Parliament which arranged such usurpation could properly be called treason against the Crown.
8.3.2009 7:56pm
AnthonyJ (mail):
There is a simple measure for whether a rebellion/revolution is treason: it is treason until such time as it succeeds. The Treaty of Paris would have ended any British treason charges.
8.3.2009 8:22pm
Perseus (mail):
Rather than waste time on the pompous flummery of The Declaration of Independence, why not devote effort to that most impressive of business plans, The Constitution?

Because the "pompous flummery" of the Declaration provides the philosophical and political foundations for the Constitution. And the Constitution is not a merely a crass business plan, but a plan for self-governance.
8.3.2009 9:05pm
subpatre (mail):
Jam says, "3 seceded States becauae the PTOUS usuped Congress's authority and limited puposes for calling forth the militia."

That was (to my knowledge) never an argument. The Virginia decision was they would rather secede than be forced to attack others [the seceded states] exercising their natural rights.

"But the First Inaugural Address, even with its moving appeals to "the mystic chords of memory" and "the better angels of our nature," could not forestall the crisis at Fort Sumter--or prevent Virginia and three other southern states from seceding in April and May 1861--thereby, as Kaplan admits, failing "in its primary purpose." --Wilentz
Too little, too late. The Corwin Amendment didn't give anything to the southern states still in the union; their economies weren't tied to slavery like the other states. They saw slavery ending . . . sometime. These states saw a federalism being threatened with nationalism. Lincoln —quoting Corwin or not— didn't offer them a thing.

To the seceded states, Lincoln (or Corwin) offered nothing. If Corwin had been enacted earlier, then those states might have responded. It was too late.

Jam's statement should have been, "they seceded because they would be illegally forced to attack others"; the 'illegally' part being settled by force later. The sentiment is usually rudely shoveled into states' rights. Limited purposes probably also figured, as did slavery, etcetera. The clear and unavoidable fact is that the progress toward war —including secession of the largest southern state— was avoidable.
8.3.2009 9:20pm
elektratig:
I just want to thank you for a very nice post.
8.3.2009 9:53pm
PersonFromPorlock:
dearieme:

There are no natural liberties - liberties stem from the society of which you are a part.

Fortunately, the society most of us are a part of believes there are natural liberties... which of course means that even by your standards, they exist. ;^)
8.3.2009 10:09pm
Pensans:
An important argument of this post rests on presupposition that the pursuit of happiness was not a traditional natural right. But there were two traditions: one that spoke of property and one happiness.
8.3.2009 11:36pm
jellis58 (mail):
Dearieme: "There are no natural liberties - liberties stem from the society of which you are a part."

That is really sad that there are people who think this. Im pretty sure sure slavery in the south was wrong and denied people their liberty regardless of what the society thought about it at the time.
8.4.2009 3:49am
AnthonyJ (mail):

That is really sad that there are people who think this. Im pretty sure sure slavery in the south was wrong and denied people their liberty regardless of what the society thought about it at the time.

Sure, but it's a mistake to think 'right/wrong' and 'legal/illegal' are equivalent. Moral standards can say what rights a government should provide, but it's what's written in the laws that says what your rights are.
8.4.2009 4:14am
Chris Newman (mail):
Can anyone point me to a good historical resource explaining what exactly Jefferson was referring to? I.e., on what occasions did colonies pass legislation abolishing slavery only to have them vetoed by the king? It has always struck as a bit disingenuous and self serving for Jefferson to blame the slave trade on King George--I doubt that there was ever a royal decree requiring Virginians to import and use slaves whether they wanted to or not, and surely no-one forced Jefferson to continue owning people he purportedly recognized to be Men. But maybe there is more to his historical charge than my limited knowledge of the history allows.
8.4.2009 9:18am
Jam:
"could not forestall the crisis at Fort Sumter"

Of course. The whole purpose of the Star of the West was to start the war.

========================================================

link

(snip)

I ought to have been informed that this expedition was to come. Colonel Lamon's remark convinced me that the idea, merely hinted at to me by Captain Fox, would not be carried out. We shall strive to do our duty, though I frankly say that my heart is not in the was (sic) which I see is to be thus commenced. That God will still avert it, and cause us to resort to pacific measures to maintain our rights, is my ardent prayer.... Read More

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ROBERT ANDERSON,

Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

========================================================

link

(snip)... Read More

You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it failed ; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result. Very truly your friend,

A. Lincoln
8.4.2009 10:06am
Jam:
link

To Gustavus V. Fox [1]
Capt. G. V. Fox Washington, D. C.
My dear Sir May 1, 1861
I sincerely regret that the failure of the late attempt to provision Fort-Sumpter, should be the source of any annoyance to you. The practicability of your plan was not, in fact, brought to a test. By reason of a gale, well known in advance to be possible, and not improbable, the tugs, an essential part of the plan, never reached the ground; while, by an accident, for which you were in no wise responsible, and possibly I, to some extent was, you were deprived of a war vessel with her men, which you deemed of great importance to the enterprize. [2]

I most cheerfully and truly declare that the failure of the undertaking has not lowered you a particle, while the qualities you developed in the effort, have greatly heightened you, in my estimation.

For a daring and dangerous enterprize, of a similar character, you would, to-day, be the man, of all my acquaintances, whom I would select.

You and I both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced by making the attempt to provision Fort-Sumpter, even if it should fail; and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation is justified by the result. Very truly your friend A. LINCOLN
8.4.2009 11:42am
jellis58 (mail):
"Sure, but it's a mistake to think 'right/wrong' and 'legal/illegal' are equivalent. Moral standards can say what rights a government should provide, but it's what's written in the laws that says what your rights are."


I dont think thats right. My rights are what they are regarless of whether the government and its legal system chooses to protect or violate them. Jefferson put it best:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it."

Rights precede government, they dont depend on it.
8.4.2009 2:50pm
BZ:
One of the best books on Lincoln was, in essence, written by the man himself:
Lincoln on Lincoln

One of the best books on Jefferson, similarly portrayed:


But then, I'm biased.
8.4.2009 3:40pm
BZ:
One of the best books on Lincoln was, in essence, written by the man himself:
Lincoln on Lincoln

One of the best books on Jefferson, similarly portrayed:
Jefferson on Jefferson

But then, I'm biased.
8.4.2009 3:42pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Jam: And the increase on tariffs played no role whatsoever?

The Morrill Tariff only passed after the Deep South Senators and Representatives withdrew. And in any case, there were lots of pro-tariff Southerners.

And what does Sean Wilentz have to saw about Lincoln's support for the Corwin Amendment?

Quite a bit. Go read his essay.

subpatre: The Virginia secession convention met in February 1861, and the vote for secession failed.

One-third of the convention voted for immediate secession. The vote was 90-45 against. However, the convention remained in session, ready to change its position.

The Virginia legislature had earlier passed a resolution that if the slavery controversy was not resolved on terms acceptable to the South, that is, pro-slavery terms, then Virginia "would join her sister Southern states".

Lincoln, of course, flatly refused to capitulate to the demands of the pro-slavery faction. He insisted on following the Constitution and maintaining the Federal government's lawful authority.

Then the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter, initiating the war. When the news reached Richmond, delirious crowds packed the streets, cursing Lincoln, cheering for Jeff Davis and the Confederacy, and howling for secession. Then the convention voted 88-55 for secession.

There was no evidence then, nor has any ever been found, that Virginia unionism was dependent on Federal consent to secession. Western Virginia fought for the Union; the Tidewater was a hotbed of secessionism.
8.4.2009 6:21pm
subpatre (mail):
Chris Newman asks, "Can anyone point me to a good historical resource ... colonies pass legislation abolishing slavery only to have them vetoed by the king? It has always struck as a bit disingenuous and self serving for Jefferson to blame the slave trade on King George"

Disingenuous? You are being deliberately obtuse. You run a farm paying wages, when your neighbors run roughly equal farms paying no wages. Who is in business —who even owns the land— after 5 years?
8.5.2009 1:26pm
subpatre (mail):
Rich Rostrom wrote a rich narrative in black-n-white propaganda about "delirious crowds ... cursing ... howling" He said, "Then the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter, initiating the war."
Whether a prior federation retains rights in seceded territory was —certainly at that time— an unresolved legal question. Virginia, along with Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, and Tennessee thought not. Dominating the political questions was Lincoln's failure [or refusal] to try diplomacy or non-violent resolution. In that, those states proved correct.

Rich Rostrom claims, "One-third of the convention voted for immediate secession... 90-45 against." and then later "When the news reached Richmond, delirious crowds packed the streets, cursing Lincoln, cheering for Jeff Davis and the Confederacy, and howling for secession. Then the convention voted 88-55 for secession."

The Rich narrative ignores that Virginia's convention nor legislature could force secession. "We the people ..." established the union, and Virginians believed that only "we the people" could dissolve it. In their eyes —and their legal and political establishments— only a popular referendum 'of the people' could decide the matter.

The Rich narrative says "Western Virginia fought for the Union; the Tidewater was a hotbed of secessionism." which is untrue*. The secession vote was not linked to slavery, but appears to be based on proximity to (navigation?) the Potomac, Monongahela, and especially Ohio Rivers.

Of lesser importance (but validating the above) is the convention's one-third swing, far more conservative than the 6:1 statewide vote. So also is the western Shenandoah Valley's 50:1 vote —24% of the state total— from an area of small, independent, non-plantation, farms.

Inconvenient truths to Rich Rostrom's narrative. Lincoln's calculations were simple: he won election without a single southern vote; he wasn't on the ballot in most. Although he didn't need any southern states, neither could Lincoln spare any support in the north.


*Many 'narratives' like Rostrom's mistake their desired results (everything being about slavery) with fact. Slaves made up about one-quarter of Virginia's total population, and slave proportions were generally highest in the eastern, flatland, commodity-plantation areas; and decreased toward the west. The secession vote was not based —statistically or politically— on the presence of or dependence on slaves.
8.5.2009 5:30pm

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