Henry J. Raymond of New York
Earlier in the autumn of 1860, William Lowndes Yancey, the spiritual godfather of secessionism, had undertaken a speaking tour of the North to argue in favor of the rights of slave holders and the South generally. The November 24, 1860 edition of the New York Times carried a letter by Henry J. Raymond in response to many of Yancey's claims. Raymond was the editor of the Times as well as one of its founders.
Raymond effectively refutes Yancey's false assertion that the Northern states did anything more than tolerate the slave trade during the negotiations that led to the framing of the U.S. Constitution. After noting that Yancey was treated courteously during his visit to the North while no one holding the opposite view would even be allowed to speak in the South, Raymond shows that Massachusetts accepted the extension of the slave trade for twenty years as the price of including South Carolina and Georgia in the new union. Raymond also pretty effectively discredits the "Cotton is King" speech in an aside near the end of his letter. Raymond closes by leveling a charge that Yancey's true goal is the expansion of slavery and the resumption of the slave trade, and he alleges that threats of disunion are the lever by which Yancey works for his ultimate goal.
THE SLAVE-TRADE AND THE CONSTITUTION; A Letter in Reply to Hon. W.L. Yancey on the Prohibition of the Slave-trade. A Vindication of the Truth of History Massachusetts and the Northern Colonies.My favorite part of this letter is when Raymond quotes Yancey to Yancey about the occasion when Yancey referred to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason as "old fogies of that day." Not only was Yancey's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution out of step with the intentions of the founders, but Yancey was going about the country actively denouncing Madison, Jefferson, and George Mason as "old fogies."
NEW-YORK, NOV. 23, 1860.
Hon. W.L. YANCEY -- Dear Sir:
I have read your reply of Nov. 9 to an editorial article in the TIMES of Oct. 27, in which you claim to have corrected what you style the "hostile and malignant criticisms of two leading editors in the Black Republican cause, viz.: Mr. THURLOW WEED and Mr. HENRY J. RAYMOND," -- upon your speeches in the North during the recent Presidential canvass. As you have thus given the matter a personal direction, you will excuse me forgiving you a personal answer.
Let me say, in the first place, that you have no right to characterize those criticisms as either "hostile or malignant." They are perfectly fair and legitimate comments upon public speeches on public topics. Of all men, you should be the last to reproach your political opponents at the North with discourtesy. You spoke in nearly all our principal cities, to large audiences, two-thirds of whom had not the slightest sympathy with your views, or the least respect for the object you sought to accomplish. But you were heard with the most respectful attention. In no instance was there the slightest indication of personal disrespect; -- in no case were you interrupted, or even questioned on any point. You were heard everywhere with just as much deference and courtesy, as if every word you uttered had accorded fully with the opinions and sentiments of those you addressed. If you will contrast this reception with that which would have greeted any one of your opponents, who should attempt to address the people of your own section on the same subject, you will find no ground for claiming superiority over us in the matter of courtesy.
The object of your visit to the North was to vindicate the claim put forth by Southern politicians, of the right to increase and extend the institution of Slavery. You attempted this, in your speeches, first by showing, as a matter of history, that the framers of the Constitution regarded the increase of Slavery as desirable for the country, and made specific provision for it in the Constitution itself; and, secondly, by showing, as a matter of statistics, that Slavery is a benefit to the States in which it exists, and to the North through its trade with those States. Under the first head you asserted that Massachusets "took the lead," in the Convention that framed the Constitution, in "insisting" that the Slave-trade should not be prohibited until 1808, and afterwards in placing this clause beyond the reach of amendment. I have characterized this assertion as a perversion of the facts of history; -- and your letter of Nov. 9 is an attempt to vindicate your assertion against this criticism. It is not enough for you to show that Massachusetts assented to these measures. No one disputes or doubts that fact, -- nor did we need a missionary from Alabama to inform us of it. Your assertion was much broader, and its object was very different. You represented that Massachusetts, as the head of the Northern Colonies, "insisted" on continuing the Slave-trade for twenty years longer, for the specific purpose of "widening the basis of Slavery," and "increasing the number of slaves," -- while Virginia, as the head of the Southern Colonies, resisted the attempt. And you made this representation for the purpose of basing upon it the appeal to the people of the North, that, as their fathers had thus clearly declared their approval of Slavery, and provided for its increase, -- and had forced this increase upon the South, -- it was unjust for them, their descendants, to denounce and restrict it now.
Now, I did say that this line of argument showed that you were either very imperfectly informed in the history of the country, or very reckless and unscrupulous in the statement of facts. The first horn of the dilemma I abandon. Your quotations from the Madison Papers, -- and the sagacious manner in which you have weeded out from the passages relating to this subject everything which makes against your position, shows that you are not "imperfectly informed" on this subject. Nor is it quite lair to say that you are "reckless and unscrupulous" in your statements. Those moods imply a certain degree of indifference as to the truth or falsehood of statements made; while you are exceedingly careful, first to make a statement which is exactly the opposite of the truth, and then to make it plausible by scrupulously falsifying the public records by which it is to be tested. That I have full warrant for this serious charge, I shall prove by appending to this letter the full debate on that clause of the Constitution which relates to the prohibition of the Slave-trade, on which you base your statement, and from which you have pretended in your letter to quote evidence of its truth. You accuse me of having given "garbled extracts" from that debate. In order to show at whose door that charge justly lies, I copy your letter, including the debate as you have professed to quote it.
Now, you will see from this record, what you very well knew before, that neither Massachusetts, nor any other Northern State, "insisted" that the Slave-trade should not be prohibited by Congress until 1808; that on the contrary, they demanded that the general Government should have power to prohibit it at once; and that they yielded their consent to its continuance for twenty years, only to threats of secession on the part of South Carolina and Georgia, and for the purpose of securing the adhesion of those States to the Union. Mr. PINCKNEY in that debate declared, "South Carolina can never receive the plan if it prohibits the Slave-trade." Gen. PIKCKNEY said he "should consider the rejection of the clause as an exclusion of South Carolina from the Union." Mr. BALDWIN, of Georgia, said, "Georgia was decided on this point," and that "it might be understood in what light she would view an attempt to abridge one of her favorite prerogatives." Mr. WILLIAMSON, of North Carolina, "thought the Southern States could not be members of the Union if the clause should be rejected." Mr. RUTLEDGE said, "if the Convention thinks that North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia will ever agree to the plan, unless their right to import slaves be untouched, the expectation is vain." These quotations are all from the debate on this proposition. These declarations were made by leading Southern men, and were the turning points of the action of the Convention upon that clause. Yet, you have not quoted a single one of them in your citations from that debate. Why not? Because they would have rendered it impossible for you to attribute this action of the Convention, and of the Northern States, to the motive you had assigned -- namely, a desire to continue the Slave-trade, in order to "increase the number of slaves," and widen "the basis of slavery." If you had quoted them, they would have furnished the explanation of the sentences you quote from New England men. They would have shown that not a single man from Massachusetts or any other Northern colony, said one solitary syllable in favor of Slavery or of continuing the Slave-trade; -- and that their only motive for assenting to it at all was the fear that without such assent the formation of the Union would be impossible. And to induce them still further to yield their hostility to it, the Southern delegates held out hopes that, if the matter were left open, the Southern States themselves might prohibit the traffic. Mr. PINCKNEY said, "If the Southern States are left alone, they will probably of themselves stop importations:" -- and again, "If the States be left at liberty on this subject, South Carolina may perhaps, by degrees do, of herself, what is wished, as Virginia and Maryland have already done." Mr. BALDWIN said of Georgia, -- " If left to herself she may probably put a stop to the evil." It was by such alternate threats and promises that the Northern delegates were induced to assent to the compromise proposed by the Committee to which the subject was recommitted, -- namely that the trade should not be prohibited before 1800, -- and also to the amendment offered by Mr. PINCKNEY, of South Carolina, making it 1808.
It is impossible to suppose that you were ignorant of these facts, -- or that you could possibly have mistaken the motive of this action of the Northern delegates.
You quote from RUFUS KING the remark that "the subject should be considered in a political light only," and draw the inference that he and his State, as well as Connecticut, were indifferent to its moral aspects, which Virginia urged so warmly. You say:
"The prohibition was warmly supported on moral grounds by Virginia, -- and Connecticut immediately pronounced. 'Let every State import what it pleases,' -- while Massachusetts ably seconded Connecticut that it was 'to be considered in a political light only.'"
This is a very adroit arrangement of words, true in themselves, but so arranged as to convey a very gross and palpable falsehood. You represent Connecticut as following the moral protest of Virginia by the exclamation, "let every State import what it pleases," as if protesting against that moral view of the case, -- whereas Mr. ELLSWORTH used those words after Mr. RUTLEDGE, of South Carolina, had declared that "religion and humanity had nothing to do with this question," and that "the true question is whether the Southern States shall or shall not be parties to the Union;" -- and he added, as a salvo to his own mind, "the morality or wisdom of Slavery are considerations belonging to the States themselves." Mr. KING's remark was not made until the next day, and then related to what had been said of the refusal of South Carolina and Georgia to join the Union, instead of anything that had been said on behalf of Connecticut. If you had any desire to submit Mr. KING's sentiments on this whole subject, why did you not quote what he said upon it on the 8th of August, when the question of representation was under debate:
"Mr. KING had hoped that some accommodation would have taken place on this subject; that at least a time would have been limited for the importation of slaves. He never could agree to let them be imported without limitation, and then be represented in the National Legislature. Indeed, he could so little persuade himself of the rectitude of such a practice, that he was not sure he could assent to it under any circumstances. [Madison Papers, III., 1,262.]
You quote Gov. MORRIS, of Pennsylvania, as proposing to recommit the clause for the purpose of making a bargain between the North and South, -- and sneeringly say it was made a "subject of trade, and not of moral speculation." Let me commend to any to whom you may have given such an impression of his views, the following speech made by him on the same subject and on the same occasion:
From the Madison Papers, Vol. III., page 1263.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to insert "free" before the word "inhabitants." Much, he said, would depend on this point. He never would concur in upholding domestic Slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of Heaven on the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich and noble cultivation marks the prosperity and happiness of the people, with the misery and poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Virginia, Maryland, and the other States having slaves. Travel through the whole continent, and you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance and disappearance of Slavery. The moment you leave the Eastern States, and enter New-York, the effects of the institution become visible. Passing through the Jerseys and entering Pennsylvania, every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed southwardly, and every step you take, through the great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings. Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? The houses in this city (Philadelphia) are worth more than all the wretched slaves who cover the rice swamps of South Carolina. The admission of slaves into the representation, when fairly explained, comes to this; that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections, and damns them to a most cruel bondage, shall have more votes in a government instituted for protection of the rights of mankind than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New-Jersey, who views with a laudable horror so nefarious a practice. He would add that domestic Slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of aristocracy. And what is the proposed compensation to the Northern States for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity? They are to bind themselves to march their militia for the defence of the Southern States, for their defence against these very Slaves of whom they complain. They must supply vessels and seamen in case of foreign attack. The Legislature will have indefinite power to tax them by excises and duties on imports, both of which will fall heavier on them than on the Southern inhabitants; for the Bohea tea used by a Northern freeman will pay more tax than the whole consumption of the miserable slave, which consists of nothing more than his physical subsistence and the rag that covers his nakedness. On the other side, the Southern States are not to be restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched Africans, at once to increase the danger of attack and the difficulty of defence; nay, they are to be encouraged to it, by an assurance of having their votes in the National Government increased in proportion, and are at the same time to have their exports and their slaves exempt from all contributions for the public service. Let it not be said that direct taxation is to be proportioned to representation. It is idle to suppose that the General Government can stretch its hand directly into the pockets of the people, scattered over so vast a county. They can only do it through the medium of exports, imports and excises. For what, then, are all the sacrifices to be made? He would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all the negroes in the United States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution.
Does that look like making this a "subject of trade" merely? Does that look like "insisting" on a continuance of the Slave-trade for twenty years?
But I have said quite enough to show the utter falsity of your assertion that Massachusetts, as the head of the Northern Colonies, "insisted that the Slave-trade should not be prohibited by Congress until 1808," in order to "increase the number of slaves, and to widen the basis of Slavery." A few words now upon the other branch of this assertion, namely, that it was done against the wish of Virginia, as the representative of the Southern Colonies, and thus forced upon them.
It is true, and is greatly to her honor, that Virginia did resist the continuance of the Slave-trade. She had prohibited that traffic for herself, and urged its prohibition for all the States. But she did not do this as "the head of the Southern Colonies;" she was not acting on their behalf, nor had she their support. On the contrary, she was denounced, and her motives for it assailed then, as they have been since. "As to Virginia," says Gen. PINCKNEY, "she will gain by stopping the importations. Her slaves will rise in value, and she has more than she wants." This is very much in the vein of South Carolina comments upon Virginia now. It is quite in the spirit of your remarks at Montgomery, in 1858, when you advocated the reopening of the Slave-trade, and denounced the "old fogies" of Virginia -- JEFFERSON, MADISON and others -- who held opinions on this subject which are not now considered sound."
How the other Southern Colonies, regarded the proposition to prohibit the Slave-trade has been made apparent already. Maryland and Virginia had abolished the traffic. Delaware had none to abolish. The only other Southern Colonies were North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and they distinctly refused to join the Union, if Congress were clothed with power to prohibit the Slave-trade. And it was that threat which induced Massachusetts and the other Northern Colonies to assent to the compromise proposed by the Committee.
So much for the manner in which this clause came into the Constitution. If historical records prove anything, they prove that it was inserted on the demand of the principal Southern Colonies, backed by a threat of secession if it were not granted; -- and that Massachusetts and the other Northern Colonies conceded it solely and exclusively for the sake of securing the adherence of those Colonies to the Union. Gen. PINCKNEY, in Convention, acknowledged "the liberal conduct" of the Eastern States on this occasion, and was willing to return it by concessions on the subject of commerce. You, on the contrary, attempt to distort it into an indorsement of Slavery and an approval of the Slave-trade. I submit to the public judgment whether you do not thus convict yourself of being utterly "unscrupulous" in the use of historical facts.
Now I might very well stop here, for what I have already said covers the ground of your letter. It settles the question as to the part taken by the Northern and Southern Colonies respectively in regard to the Slave-trade, and the motives by which each section was actuated. But as that was only an incidental point in your speech, permit me to refer to the other branch of your main argument, and the practical policy which it was intended to support.
You have been engaged now for several years in the endeavor to secure the repeal of the laws of Congress prohibiting the Slave-trade, and to restore the full freedom of that traffic to the Southern States. At the South you are seeking to accomplish that result -- precisely as South Carolina and Georgia sought the continuance of the trade in the Federal Convention, by menaces of disunion. At the North you held a different language. You asserted that the Fathers of the Republic -- the framers of the Constitution -- deeming an increase of Slavery desirable, provided for it by keeping the Slave-trade open until 1808. I have shown how utterly baseless -- how wanton a perversion of historical fact, -- that statement is, so far as Massachusetts and the other Northern colonies were concerned. I could prove, by a similar array of equally conclusive testimony, that the statement is just as false, so far as it assigns a motive to the action of the other colonies and to the leading statesmen of the whole country. You, probably, are not ignorant of the fact that on the 20th of October, 1774, the Continental Congress passed a preamble and resolutions solemnly pledging themselves, "under the sacred ties of virtue, honor and love of our country,"
"That we will neither import nor purchase any Slave imported after the first day of December next: -- after which time we will wholly discontinue the Slave-trade, and will neither be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we hire our vessels nor sell our commodities or manufactures to those who are concerned in it."
This was the tone and temper of the people at the outset of our national career. It was the policy which the framers of the Constitution desired to adopt. It was the same sentiment which prompted MASON and MORRIS and RUFUS KING and LUTHER MARTIN to denounce Slavery as a curse to the country, and to insist that the General Government should have power to check its growth by prohibiting its increase and stopping the Slave-trade at once and forever. But it is unnecessary to quote their declarations or enter upon any further historical inquiry on this subject. You have yourself conceded that the main obstacle which you encounter in your efforts to secure the reopening of the Slave-trade, lies in the fact that the fathers of the Republic were opposed to it. I have before me a copy of the speech made by you in the Southern Commercial Convention, held in Montgomery, May, 1858, on the subject of reopening the African Slave-trade; and in that speech I find you saying;"If it were not for the names of MADISON, RANDOLPH, MASON and others, whose names have been quoted in order to frown down the presumption of a young man at this day for pretending to understand this subject, I would even now throw the lance of debate to any gentleman to stand up here and maintain that these laws were constitutional per se. I would to God every countryman of mine was disposed to judge of the issues between the North and South for himself, that the opinions of old fogydom could be utterly wiped out. * * * Will my friend (Mr. PRYOR) now say that Mr. JEFFERSON in his political ethics on Slavery was right? He cannot say so. Mr. JEFFERSON thought it would weaken the South, and, therefore, he was for the entire prohibition of the Slave-trade. The distinguished, venerable, practical and philosophical gentleman from Virginia (Mr. RUFFIN) knows that Mr. Jefferson was wrong in his ideas about Slavery. I need not expatiate on that subject, because it is a matter of history known to everybody. It that was the fact, there was among the framers of the Constitution, who were true to us in all the interests of the white man, a sentiment in relation to Slavery that is not entertained now.So much for the historical part of the argument by which you endeavored to convince the people of the North that Slavery ought to be increased.
Mr. PRYOR -- That is true.
Mr. YANCEY -- That is all I ask. Then I say that the old fogies of that day entertained opinions in relation to Slavery, which we of this day are unanimously agreed were not sound. * * * If I could get this body to divest themselves of the shackles that MADISON, JEFFERSON and MASON have thrown about them concerning Slavery, and could get them to understand that South Carolina is against any, even the most limited, prohibition of the Slave-trade, I should not fear their unbiased judgment."
Your next point was to prove by statistics that Slavery is a great blessing to the country, because it had made the South much richer than Free Labor had made the North. And your argument was this: -- The wealth of any country is measured by its exports, -- that is, by the surplus of its products after its own wants have been supplied out of them. Now the South exports annually of her products to the amount of $200,000,000, while the North exports of hers only a little over $100,000,000. Therefore the South, which depends upon Slave Labor, is nearly twice as rich as the North which relies upon Free Labor. Without entering upon any detailed examination of this point, (although the more closely it is examined the more clearly will its sophistry appear.) it is enough to say that the fallacy lies in your skillful manipulation of the word exports. The exports of the North do really and truly measure the surplus products of the North; but the South exports her whole crop. She does not consume any of her cotton at home, -- or at least not enough to affect the argument; she exports the whole of it. Yet all the supplies which she draws from the North -- her cotton goods, her manufactured woolens, her plantation tools, her teas, silks and imported luxuries, a very large proportion of her bacon, her beef and other provisions -- all these are paid for out of the proceeds of her cotton crop, -- and generally in advance. She sends that crop to market burdened with the debt incurred for these supplies. Before she can claim that crop as exports, -- that is as the surplus of her products over her own consumption, -- she must deduct that debt. Now you go on to state in these very speeches, that these domestic purchases made at the North, to supply the wants of the Southern States, amount to nearly two hundred millions of dollars every year. Deduct that amount from the exports of the South, -- and then see how much you will have left, as the measure of the wealth of the Southern States.
But I shall not extend this letter, likely at best to be much too long, by any further comments upon this point. I send you with it the report of a speech made by me during the canvass, at Rochester, in which I have treated it somewhat more fully.
Leaving this branch of the subject, therefore, I propose to say something of the DISUNION MOVEMENT now in progress, of which I consider you, to a greater degree than any other man now living, the author and the head. As I desire to treat it somewhat fully, -- more so than the limits left me in this communication will permit, -- I shall make it the subject of a second letter; -- and in that letter I propose to show that the REOPENING OF THE AFRICAN SLAVE -- TRADE is the practical object which that movement is intended to accomplish; -- that it will be accomplished within the Union if the nation can be brought to consent to that measure, -- or to concede the principle of the Equality of the States in the sense in which you and those whom you represent understand that principle; -- and that if you fail in securing this concession, you propose the establishment of a new Confederacy resting on the African Slave-trade as the bond of its union, and the basis of its prosperity.
Your obedient servant,
HENRY J. RAYMOND.