The seeds of the Civil War were planted by our founding fathers when they wrote “all men are are created equal,” while pretending blacks weren’t human, which is like shaking hands with fingers crossed behind your back.
I wonder when, if ever, Josiah Henson is going to get credit for fomenting the Civil War? Henson was born a slave on a farm in Maryland in 1785. His parents were property of different owners, and his most vivid early memory involved his father preventing a white man from assaulting his mother. For this “crime” his father lost an ear and received 100 lashes, after which he was never the same and had to be sold, which was the last Henson saw of his dad.
By the time Henson reached 22, he was the overseer of a large plantation, and obviously had intellectual abilities higher than the people who owned him. He dressed better, talked better, and comported himself better than most whites. A local minister gave him the idea of buying his own freedom, something that had never occurred to him. Henson soon learned to make money on the side, and began negotiating his own purchase. But after raising the needed $450, his owner swindled him by adding a zero to the contract after it was signed, and then re-sold him. Consequently, Henson escaped to Canada, where he eventually dictated his autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada.
Henson’s book inspired Harriett Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe had no experience living on plantations and her book was packed with stereotypes, while Henson’s book was the real deal. So, of course, Stowe’s book became the second biggest-selling book of its time, right behind the Bible, while Henson’s book never mentioned. America was undergoing a huge wave of Christian consciousness during the Victorian age. Henson was a devout Christian, as was Stowe, and the abolitionist movement was spread largely through the pulpit. The ministers were the radicals of their time, and greatly despised by the population at large for brewing trouble. Even John Brown, who would later be celebrated as a martyr, was considered a maniac, which he was. Brown had limited popular support, but war has a way of changing perspectives and once a few hundred thousand American boys were dead, he began looking prophetic to a country battered by PTSD.
I know most abolitionists were motivated by good Christian ideals, but I also wonder if the movement wasn’t hijacked in some corridors by bankers who saw an opportunity to make money. There’s no profit stream that can compete with war, and huge sums were borrowed by both sides to fund their war machines. The bankers win every war. Keep in mind the international slave trade had been very profitable, and many of the profiteers were located on the Northeast coast. In fact, if you check the social register, you’ll find some of the biggest Brahmins were making huge profits off the African slave trade up until it was abolished in 1808.
Although most of the population and manufacturing resided in the North, the South had cotton, which didn’t explode economically until the invention of the cotton gin in 1784. The South was growing very rich very quickly, and planned to keep growing its slave population to keep the economic engine humming. It’s likely some accountants did some calculations and saw the South was going to outpace the North due to the economic advantages of free labor.
This woodcut from the period reveals a common practice of the slavers prior to 1808, and the major reason the African slave trade was abolished. Any slaves found to be ill would simply be tossed into the ocean at mid-voyage. The reasoning was threefold: 1) This prevented infections from spreading; 2) An insurance loss could be filed for the value of property lost at sea; and 3) The slaver saved on import duties once arriving at port. Once this practice became widely known, the outrage was so great even most Southerns agreed to finally end the barbaric trade, although by then they figured they had enough slaves to breed as many as they wanted. This was a huge loss to the slave trade speculators, who must have been thrashing their brains for a substitute profit stream.
It’s funny how Abraham Lincoln was transformed into the Great Emancipator when he didn’t believe blacks and whites were equal and supported the idea of sending blacks back to Africa. However, the cost of buying the slaves and shipping them home would have cost billions of dollars, more than the Civil War cost.
The Radical Republicans wanted a bloody and long-lasting war because they knew that was the only way the South would accept the end of slavery. Lincoln was a moderate, and only put out an Emancipation Proclamation toward the war’s end. Thaddeus Stevens and Ben Wade had been pressing for the proclamation for years, and were furious that it was taking so long.
It’s hard to know what to make of Stevens and Wade. Are they to be celebrated for their crucial role in ending slavery, or condemned for their involvement in the plot to assassinate Lincoln so the South could be looted six-ways-to-Sunday?
Meanwhile, I’m wondering when the entertainment industry is going to stumble across Henson, a man who should be as celebrated as Lincoln for the crucial role he played in this epic drama, but somehow he seems to have slipped through the cracks of history, at least thus far.