Propaganda Campaign Hate Precedes War
Blinded with rage and hate, New England’s abolition fanatics set their sights on the destruction of the American South. Fabricated stories and outright fiction about life in the South dominated their propaganda and literature, and all planters and slaveholders were degenerate miscreants—never mind that the slaves and their ancestors had arrived on New England ships.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Propaganda Campaign of Hate Precedes War:
“Every agency possible in that day was brought into use; even now the predominating opinions of most of the American people regarding the ante-bellum South and its ways are a product of that campaign of education…” No approach was neglected. Hymn books offered abolition songs set to familiar tunes.
Where argument and appeal to reason failed, the abolitionists tried entertainment and appeal to emotion. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written because its author, “as a woman, as a mother,” was “oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice” seen, and “because as a Christian,” she “felt the dishonor to Christianity—because as a lover of [her] country, she trembled at the coming day of wrath.”
It became a best seller…Only the Bible exceeded it in numbers sold…in England and America. The fictitious Uncle Tom became the stereotype of all American Negro slaves; Simon Legree became the typical slaveholder. A generation and more formed its ideas of Southern life and labor from the pages of this novel. A romantic South, of planter-gentlemen and poor whites, of chivalry and dissipation, of “sweet but worthless” women, was given an imaginative reality so wide and gripping that no amount of patient research and sane history could alter it. [In other period novels] The object was always the same: to reveal the licentious character of Southern men, the unhappy status of Southern homes, and the horrible violation of Negro chastity [by white planters] everywhere existing under slavery.
Reformed slaveholders and escaped slaves were especially valuable in the crusade. Under the warming influence of sympathetic audiences their stories of cruelty and depravity grew apace…a well-defined picture of the South and slavery became fixed in Northern minds. Planters, who lived by the theft of Negro labor, completely dominated the section. They alone were educated; they alone held office. Non-slaveholders were too poor to “buy an education for themselves and their children”…They were “absolutely in the slaveholder’s power.” The master, ruined by power, self-indulgence, and laziness, was incapable of sound management. “The Slave States,” wrote an abolitionist, “are Sodoms, and almost every village family is a brothel.”
Anti-slavery men early set themselves to the task of collecting stories of cruelty. These were passed about from one to another, often gaining in ferocity as they travelled. The annual reports of the anti-slavery societies…also reveled in atrocities, asking no more proof of their absolute proof than the word of the fellow fanatic. The attempt to picture slavery “as it was,” therefore, came to consist of a recital of brutalities. Slavery was one continual round of abuse.
Two principal assumptions stood out in this anti-slavery indictment of the slaveholder. He was, in the first place, the arch-aristocrat. He was the great enemy of democracy. He was un-American, the oppressor of his fellow man, the exploiter of a weaker brother. Against him could be directed all the complaints and fears engendered by industrial captains and land speculators. He, more than any other aristocrat, threatened to destroy the American democratic dream.
Thus it was that the slaveholder began to do scapegoat service for all aristocrats and sinners. To him were transferred resentments and fears born out of local conditions. The South became the great object of all efforts to remake American society. To the normal strength of sectional ignorance and distrust they added all the force of Calvinist morality and American democracy and thereby surrounded every Northern interest and contention with holy sanction, and reduced all opposition to abject depravity.
When the politician playing this risky game, linked expansion and slavery, Christian common folk by the thousands, with no great personal urge for reforming, accepted Abolitionist attitudes toward both the South and slavery. The Civil War was then in the making.”
(The Northern Attack on Slavery, Avery O. Craven, Ante-Bellum Reform, D.B. Davis, editor, Harper & Row, 1967, excerpts, pp. 32-38)