Northerners Reminded of Southern Views
Author Ella Lonn asks below what is being asked today, might have African slavery in the United States died of natural causes by 1900 and thus war avoided? The calm voices of reason were found south of Mason and Dixon’s line, simply asking that the North respect and follow the provisions of the Founders constitution. That the fanatic abolitionists advanced not one reasonable and practical proposal for a peaceful compensated emancipation of the slaves reveals their barren philosophy; and the smokescreen of “freeing the slaves” covered the true goal of subjugating the South to Whiggish schemes of centralized government.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Wilmington, North Carolina
Northerners Reminded of Southern Views:
“Northerners have been reminded time without end both New England and Old England participated in the slave trade. What needs to be grasped is that the situation in 1861 was complex; that it called for infinite patience on both sides…[as the] New Englander [raged] at the Southern fire-eater. Given time, the uneconomic aspects of slavery, already glimpsed by some economists of the South, must have been discerned by many, especially those most concerned, the planters. What if this education had taken until the close of the century? Forty years might not have been too big a price to pay for the avoidance of war.
Slavery is today comprehended as a mutual bondage, fettering both master and slave. New England might well remember that among the first abolitionists were two Southerners, named George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The average psychology associated in the mind of the Northern layman with the word slavery is that of endless beating of slaves, as the result of too realistic portrayals of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Northern provincial theaters. [B]ut I wonder if all Northerners realize the beautiful relation between the races to be found in the antebellum South.
Despite all the endless volumes that have been written on secession, the Northern lay mind sometimes fails to realize that to the Southerner the right of a State to withdraw from the Union was the very soul of freedom. The parallel which the Southerner readily drew between 1861 and 1776 either escapes the Northerner or leaves him cold. And yet that was the crux of an entire movement that nerved men and women alike to make the supreme sacrifices to the bitter end—the feeling that they were fighting for their freedom from an oppressive relationship.
Another lack of understanding on the part of Northerners may perhaps be mentioned. It is the Northern reaction to the feeling which Southerners call “feeling apart.” The South is a unity within a unity. It still differs collectively from the other parts of the nation in certain particulars. The nation would be artistically and culturally the poorer if the South were to be entirely merged into the whole. Anyone who has visited the South would not willingly lose the French quarter of New Orleans, the sleepy charm of Savannah, nor the atmosphere all their own of a host of other places. The intelligent Northerner is glad to understand and preserve the sectional South which is still everlastingly part of the larger whole.
But slowly the North came to respect [Jefferson Davis’s] intellectual honesty. It was not until my mature years, when I met a woman who as the intimate friend of Winnie Davis had had free entrée to the Davis home, that I glimpsed the lonely man, slaving to fulfill the task to which he had dedicated himself, the justification of secession. Comparatively few Northerners seem to grasp that the conclusion to which he comes in his Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government is that secession was as a right impracticable. More than that it would have been impossible for a Davis to concede. The North might recall that in 1875 he accepted the olive-branch, an invitation to deliver two addresses, one in Indiana and one in Illinois, defined by the terms of the contract as seeking “the promotion of sectional peace.” But the North could not yet reconcile itself to the “arch-traitor.”
(Ella Lonn, Reconciliation Between the North and South, address delivered at Birmingham, Alabama, November 1, 1946, The Pursuit of Southern History, 1964, pp. 205-209)