Today, 150 years ago, William Seward the United States‘ Secretary of State, proclaimed the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment which formally abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (excluding as a form of punishment). A good opportunity to discuss slavery abolishment as it is one of the greatest inspirations of the animal rights movement.
We find this inspiration utterly false for several reasons and in the following posts we’ll focus on the main ones.
In the first one we argue that neither the Thirteenth Amendment nor the civil war were a product of a moral struggle.
In the second we argue that both didn’t end slavery in the United States.
In the third, fourth and fifth that slavery wasn’t ended at all and is still extremely prevalent.
And in the last that even if slavery did end, animal activists can’t draw conclusions from human slavery since the two oppressive systems are fundamentally different.
The following post is largely an historical review of the political, economic and moral climate before and during the American civil war, in an attempt to present the real reasons behind it. We find this analysis crucial for this discussion specifically, since many cling on to these kinds of myths, building around them their activistic philosophy, and since generally, it sheds a light on human society and how things work in this world, and why.
The Civil War broke for many reasons, none of which had to do with any sort of moral cause as the abolition of slavery.
Wars don’t break for moral reasons. And they definitely don’t break between two sides over the rights of a third one. Wars generally break for money or power, and usually both. And so did the American civil war.
As opposite to the myth that the war was over slavery, the war’s real reason and actually the official casus belli was the decision of 11 southern states to secede from the Union due to the results of the election of 1860, and the North’s decision to militarily force them to stay. That is the power cause, however to understand the political climate preceding the secession, we must start with the money.
Slavery was abounded all over the country including the north until the 18th century. Positions regarding slavery started to change in the north only when the northern economy changed.
The northern land and climate wasn’t suitable for huge plantations with high yield such as the south. The northern type of agriculture gained low profits which made the costly purchase of a slave nonremunerative. Buying a slave was an investment for life and the harsh climate in the north enabled only seasonal farming. That’s why short term servants were much more common. Buying a slave was too expensive and the constant flow of new immigrants into the north provided a cheaper option for labor. The rich however did enslave other humans mainly as a status symbol.
Another crucial factor, in addition to the land and climate ones, is the fact that most of the major ports were in the north and that the social fabric of some of the northern states was more suitable for industry and trade. The acceleration of the North’s urbanization and industrialization made slavery even more needless.
What dictated the relation to slavery more than anything were practical reasons. There was slavery in the north until it wasn’t worthwhile, not until they realized that humans are not property.
And once the economic incentive wasn’t there anymore it became much easier to oppose slavery. But still, not for moral reasons as we’ll further explain.
While the north economy changed for the better of the slaves, the South’s economy was rapidly changing for the worse.
In the former post we argued that “advances” in the technological sphere often affect the lives of sentient beings much more profoundly than decisions in the ethical sphere. Slavery in the south is another grim example for that.
In 1793 the first modern mechanical cotton gin was invented by an American engineer called Eli Whitney which revolutionized the cotton industry in the United States, leading to a cotton boom and as consequence to a slavery boom. The south was called then King Cotton, a slavery kingdom.
As the south became not only more agrarian than the north but more and more depended on cotton, the number of slaves between 1820 and 1845 was doubled. In 1850 slaves became the strongest economic asset in the U.S.
It is very hard to oppose something that you gain so much from – the south maintained mass scale slavery because farming was labor intensive and the cheapest way to farm on a massive scale was with slaves. And it is much easier to oppose something that you no longer gain from – the north abandoned slavery for economic reasons not ideological ones.
One of the main arguments we want to make here is that ideology is not such an important element in humans lives, on the other hand humans lives’ are a very important element in ideology. In many cases ideology is merely a byproduct of humans’ materialistic and social conditions.
A major element of dispute was the economic burden of the Federal government on Southern States through the imposition of various tariffs on manufactured goods. The purpose of these tariffs was to protect Northern Industry from less expensive foreign imports of goods.
The slave owning states wanted a low tariff on imported goods as they largely purchased them from Europe and they favored free trade so they can sell cotton and other agricultural goods cheaply to Europe (the tariffs made it more difficult for the south to sell its good abroad because of other countries retaliation to the US tariffs).
Because tariffs allowed the north to sell its goods of lower quality at higher prices, they were seen by the southerners as a tax on the south that went into the hands of the northern elite.
By some estimates, prior to the war the south provided upwards of 75% of the tax revenue for the country, and felt under represented in congress. It made more sense for them to go their own way, and to seek their own fortunes.
The final blow came with the election of Lincoln who promised more economic policies of the federal government which would further reduce the profit of “King Cotton”.
After the election came the secession of 11 southern states which was, as mentioned, the official cause of the war. However it is much easier to justify a civil war by citing slavery as the primary cause rather than intricacies of state tariffs in conflict with federal trade regulations.
3.Free Soil (From Non-Whites)
The north did oppose slavery but it didn’t go to war over slavery and more importantly its opposition to slavery wasn’t moral. In fact as counter intuitive as it may sound one of the strongest arguments against slavery was pure racist. The most arrant example for that is the dispute over the status of the western territories becoming states. Northerners who were just as racist as the southerners, feared that if a new state is declared as a slave state it means that when southern slaveholders move there they would take their black slaves with them to the new territories. So one of the ways to make sure America would be a white nation is by making the new states “free soil”.
The Free soil party was about free soil for free white men, not against slavery. And the Republican Party wasn’t founded to stop slavery but to stop slavery expansion. They were both simultaneously anti-slavery and anti-black. When California applied for becoming a state it formally asked to be a “free state” so it could be pure white.
Many northerners had reasons to oppose slavery which had nothing to do with race. For example they were worried that if slavery would go west whites are not going to want to go there, and the northern elite were anxious for more immigrants in order to push down salaries and increase their own profits. The cities were growing faster than the employment options so expansion to the west was important.
They didn’t care much about slavery in the Deep South but they didn’t want it in the west. They wanted the west to be for poor white immigrants, not rich farmers with African slaves. They didn’t want new immigrants to have to compete with slave owners. So they didn’t want slavery nor black people around, which they saw as different and inferior.
It wasn’t ethics that the north and south argued bitterly over, but land and power.
Along with the pure raciest argument behind anti-slavery, was also a pure capitalistic argument.
The slave owners could only increase profits by acquiring more land and slaves, so it was crucial to be able to expand slavery into the west. However the industrial north wanted consumers who could buy their products. Workers who are paid wages and small commercial farmers could do this, slaves, who were paid no wages, didn’t provide market for manufactured products of the north. Thus the growing industrial capitalist economy of the north was in an inevitable conflict with the slave-based capitalism of the south.
5.All Whites Were Created Equal
Not only African Americans were an absent referent during the dispute between the north and south over western territories, but also Native Americans and Mexicans who lived there before the American invasion.
If morality, ideas about liberty and human rights were so progressed in the north, millions of Indians and Mexicans wouldn’t be so massively crushed during the great American occupation wars in which the north and south were immorally united.
6.Live and Let Enslave
Along the decades of dispute between the north and south over western territories, many compromises were made and many others were suggested. The most famous ones are the Missouri Compromise of 1820, The Great Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
The common ground of all is that the northerners have never suggested during the negotiations the abolishment of slavery in places it already existed, but only in new territories, for the reasons mentioned before, and also so that an equilibration in congress would remain. All the discussions that ended up with these compromises were about the expansion of slavery not the very existence of slavery.
Less familiar than the mentioned compromises is a conciliation convention held after the secession in which the republicans even offered the seceding states a constitutional amendment to protect slavery that even the congress could never abolish, just so they wouldn’t secede from the union. The proposal was rejected by the southerners since they had more reasons to secede. Still, the point is that had morality been the reason for opposition to slavery, no such proposal would have ever been made. And definitely not fought over.
Atrocities such as slavery were civilly discussed in congress, it is political and economic threats that engage wars.
An incident that did effect the north on a more conceptual level was the Dred Scott Decision.
Dred Scott was an enslaved African American who moved with his master to a free state and hence argued that he is a free man now. He filed a suit which ended up in a Supreme Court decision which basically ruled that since slaves are property and since according to the 5th amendment every citizen has a right to maintain property, a master doesn’t lose his proprietorship as long he is in the US jurisdiction. That actually meant that nowhere in the US was it legal to ban slavery. Slavery was practically legal all over the country as result of the trail.
What bothered the northerners wasn’t Dred Scott personally nor as a representative of enslaved humans, but the political implications of the decision which voided all the prior compromises (Missouri, the 1850’s compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act). Also, it voided the power of Congress since the Supreme Court decided that it doesn’t have the authority to make these compromises, and actually the Congress illegally exceeded its power.
Again it was about power and not ethics. As long as the compromises worked, the northerners didn’t mind that slavery existed and was intensified in the south only. Once the western territories and even their own states were threatened, along with the power of congress and largely much of the whole political sphere, they were more inflamed.
There was a moral opposition to slavery in the north which was the abolitionism movement, but they were a very small group with little political influence. The northern politicians who opposed slavery also opposed the abolitionists since their opposition ground wasn’t moral but racist, as opposed to the abolitionists who saw Africans in America as African Americans meaning worthy of being considered as equal citizens. The average northern was shuddered just at the thought of voting rights to Africans. Equal rights were considered a ludicrous idea outside of abolitionist circles.
And this is not said in any way to disparage the tremendous efforts and life dedication made by some of the prominent abolitionists which we have nothing but admiration for. The persistence of William Lloyd Garrison and the bravery of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman and the rest of the activists’ dedicated struggle in the face of fierce opposition and indifference from the public, are truly a source of inspiration but unfortunately only on a personal level. Although they did affect some of the northern public’s theoretical perceptions regarding slavery, their effect on the actual course of events was marginal.
Much of the radicalism among some of the abolitionists was Christian Evangelicalism that made them think they ought to save souls.
One prominent example of an abolitionist who did manage to make an effect is also an example of this interlocking of morality and religion, exemplified in a person called John Brown who as opposed to the abolitionists’ guideline didn’t believe in non-violence but that he was chosen by god to punish slaveholders (claiming that god had approached him personally and commanded him to end slavery).
The most famous and influential action by john brown was the raid over a US arsenal in Virginia, hoping to initiate an armed slave revolt. After 36 hours the attempt was halted by the US army. John brown was arrested and later hanged so his actions haven’t initiated an armed slave revolt but have initiated the debate over slavery since many southerners who feared of slave rebels became much more vocal about their enslavement system.
So if abolitionists had any significant part in the struggle against slavery it wasn’t their use of moral, rational and non-violent tactics rather one pro-violent activist who tried to conduct an armed slave revolt.
Don’t get this wrong, this is not a pro-violence argument, since John Brown’s actions made slavery even worse for many slaves. The “Slave Patrols” set up to catch fugitive slaves and to prevent rebel attempts, became much more common and much more violent. The patrol unites conducted random vandalization night scouts to implant fear among the slaves, and the common southern let alone the southern politicians became much stronger advocators of slavery.
And don’t get this wrong again, this is also not a non-violent argument. Please read our post A Violent Approach for an elaborate explanation of our views regarding the non-violence approach.
The north as a collective fought to preserve the Union. On a more personal level, the volunteers fought because they felt a patriotic duty to do so, others fought because it was a much better option than farming in Midwestern, or working in a factory in the North East, and later during the war, many fought because they had to since Lincoln issued a general draft.
In the north the slogans were that they were fighting for the flag, the union, the constitution, to save the republic, to save the government. There are lots of evidences from the diaries and letters of soldiers and officers stating that they are fighting to save the union, and none stating that they are fighting to end slavery.
The average soldier in the northern army cared no more for black people than did the average soldier in the southern army. A lot of soldiers were soldiers for hire that would’ve fought for whoever was paying.
No one fights wars for “altruistic” reasons. Patriotism, nationalism, a steady salary, regular meals and alcohol were the primary motivators for most soldiers.
The north fought to save the union, the south fought to save slavery, so if there were ideological reasons for the war they were from the wrong side of morality. People were ready to fight for the right to enslave, but not to end it.
After the Emancipation Proclamation was signed (deep into the war and for non-emancipatory reasons which we’ll explain in the last point), an anti-war movement was ignited in the north, by northerners who opposed the new supposedly emancipation cause.
Groups like the “Copperheads”, “The Nights of the Golden Circle” and the “Sons of Liberty” met in secret and discussed forcing an end to the war.
There were even some field deserters after the Emancipation, of soldiers who refused to fight to end slavery.
Meanwhile back in the home front, another war was ignited, a small scale sectional race war.
After Lincoln proclaimed a general drafting, mass riots broke in the north since many refused to fight for the Africans, many participated out of fear that the Africans would take their jobs and most since they simply didn’t want to live with the “inferior race”. The direct and common victims of these riots were Africans who lived in the north and were random victims of the whites’ racist rage.
In New York, the largest civil and racial riots ever in the history of the U.S were held after the draft.
About 120 blacks were lynched during these riots. Many black homes were burned and destroyed as well as some of white abolitionists.
The rioters even attacked the Colored Orphan Asylum, an orphanage who housed over 200 children. An infuriated mob, consisting of several thousand men, women and children, armed with clubs, bricks and bats attacked the children, plundered the orphanage and finally set it on fire.
One of the strongest indications of the North’s racist and immoral approach towards the “African Problem” was the popular “solution” of colonization.
In 1817 the American Colonization Society was founded, supported by the federal government with the mission of resettling free black people outside of the U.S. (among them were James Monroe and Andrew Jackson).
The colonization idea was even implemented in 1840 when some Africans were sent to Liberia.
So, one can easily be anti-slavery and a racist. In fact a very prominent one was both. Slaves’ supposedly greatest liberator, president Abraham Lincoln constantly pushed for colonization.
In his first presidency years he even checked the option to send all the black people to Haiti and Honduras to settle there and out of America. Even deep into the civil war, in august 1862 he called a delegation of free black leaders to discuss colonization. He told them that whites and blacks should be separated and asked them to leave to another country since colonization is the solution to the Africans problem in America. He even stated that in the state of the union in December 1862. He didn’t want 4.5 million black people in USA.
The “great liberator” was a raciest who believed that America was a white nation built for white people.
11.The “Great Liberator”
Lincoln always separated between the race issue and slavery. He said during the famous debates with his political rival Stephan Douglas that black people shouldn’t have the right to vote, to sit on juries, to hold public office and etc. He believed there’s an inherent difference between the races that will forever make it impossible to live together equally.
The official policy of the Lincoln administration and union forces across the land was Denial of Asylum -meaning that any slave who escaped slavery to union lines, the officer in charge in the area had a duty to return that slave back to his owner if the owner was loyal to the union. Can that be an official policy during a war over slavery?
In August 1862, Lincoln wrote to the Editor of the New York Tribune the following, which unequivocally clarifies his position: “I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.”
Lincoln was a supporter of the Great Compromise which included the notorious Fugitive Slave Law which legally bound northerners to send fugitive slaves who managed to reach the north back to their “owners” in the south.
According to the law, which Lincoln refused to denounce publicly, blacks who were accused of being fugitive slaves had no right of self-defense, no right to speak on their own behalf, no right to a lawyer and no right to a jury trial. It practically meant that any white from the south can kidnap any black from the north and say he was his slave and take him back to the south. That law extremely intensified the kidnap of free blacks from the north into bondage in the south.
The law even invented a new occupation – professional slave catchers. Many northerners, some former policemen, made a lot of money by offering their service of catching fugitive slaves and sending them back to their “owners”. About 50,000 slaves escaped to the north but approximately only about 1,000 to 2,000 found their freedom there.
12. Swinging Morality
Fearing he would lose the swinging states of the Union which were Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland and Delaware who still had slaves, Lincoln let them continue to enslave. The Emancipation Proclamation was relevant only for slaves in rebel states and was actually carefully written to allow slavery to continue in states loyal to the Union.
About a million slaves within the “anti-slavery” union weren’t freed during the war “to end slavery”.
And that brings us to the reason why the emancipation was really proclaimed and why it was relevant only in the rebel states.
13. Strategic Morality
The 3.5 million slaves of the south were a tremendous labor base who sustained the confederacy. Slaves were the nurses in the hospital and workers in the military industry, the ones who grow the soldiers’ food and maintained the South’s economy.
Once the north realized that the only way they can win the war was to destroy slavery, it became the war’s goal and then and only then Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Liberating the slaves meant to severely hurt the South which was economically dependent on slave work and even more so by recruiting hundreds of thousands of former slaves into the Northern army. The Emancipation Proclamation was less about the rights of slaves, and more a tactical decision to split the enemy and further degrade its economic power. It was an act of war, a military measure not of ethics. A desperate maneuver motivated in large by the failure of Lincoln to defeat the South. Even the proclamation text itself describes it as an act of military necessity next to the high rhetoric about justice.
Lincoln chose the moral stand only after it synchronized with the practical one. In an open letter to James Conklin who opposed the proclamation, Lincoln wrote: “you say the emancipation is unconstitutional but the constitution invests its commander in chief with the law of war in time of war. The slaves are property, is there or was there ever been any question that by law of war property of friends and enemy should be taken when needed?
Negros like other humans act on motives and if we will not do something for them why should they do something for us?”
And indeed almost immediately after the proclamation went into effect, tens of thousands of free blacks from the North and fugitive slaves from across the South rushed to join the Union Army.
Black soldiers were paid less than their white counterparts, routinely assigned the most menial and least desirable tasks including the horrific burial missions, and when finally allowed to fight, they were often given the most dangerous assignments.
Of the 180,000 black Americans who eventually served in the Union Army, one in five died. Later they were buried in what was called cemeteries for colored people. Separated in death as in life.
They were also calls not to join the black into war for raciest reasons.
One of the most important watersheds was that blacks died during the war. The thought was that if they are ready to die for the union they earned their freedom. The idea that humans shouldn’t be held as propriety wasn’t enough.
Only the fact that many Africans joined the military and fought next to whites helped to reduce racism. Lincoln himself changed his position thinking that if blacks died for the union they deserve to be part of it (the fact that they were brutally abducted and brought to this land and then forced to build the country and feed it with their own hands wasn’t enough).
If morality was the North’s guideline why then did Lincoln wait so long, years after the war began, to free the slaves?
Why was his proclamation an executive order and not a law passed by the Union Congress?
Why was his proclamation relevant only to the rebel states?
Why did Lincoln order to return fugitive slaves back to their “owners”?
Why did discrimination persist in the slave-rescuing North? (and of course still does to this day 150 years later)
And why were African Americans who stayed in the south after the war left to the arbitrary hands of the whites who elaborated forced labor from the formal slavery to slavery by another name which is the theme of the next post.