Iv

The evolution of the child-centered nurturing family during this era helped inspire abolitionists to focus on the greatest perceived sin of American slavery: the tragic irony that caused the institution simultaneously to encourage the slave family and to threaten it with destruction.

Slave marriages had no legal basis in the United States. More than half of the bondsmen in 1850 lived on farms or plantations with fewer than twenty slaves where they had difficulty finding marital partners in the same quarters. But slaves nevertheless married and raised large families. Most slaveowners encouraged this process, in part because abolition of the African slave trade after 1807 made them dependent on natural increase to meet the labor demands of an expanding cotton kingdom. In contrast to the United States, slave economies in most other parts of the western hemisphere reached their peak development while the African slave trade flourished. Thus they relied mainly on imports to keep up their labor supply. They also imported twice as many males as females and discouraged their slaves from forming families. In consequence, while the slave population of the United States doubled by natural reproduction every twenty-six years, slaves in other new world societies experienced a net natural decreased

But North American slavery undermined the same family structure that it simultaneously encouraged. Responsible masters did their best to avoid breaking up slave families by sale or removal. Not all masters felt such a responsibility, however, and in any case they could not reach beyond the grave to prevent sales to satisfy creditors in settlement of an

42. In addition to DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage, and Lebsock, Free Women of Pe tersburg, 195-236, see Keith Melder, "Ladies Bountiful: Organized Women's Benevolence in early 19th-century America," New York History, 48 (1967), 231-54; Mary Kelley, Private Woman, Public State: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth Century America (New York, 1984); and Barbara Epstein, The Politics of Domesticity: Women, Evangelism, and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America (Middletown, Conn., 1981).

43. Philip D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison, 1969); C. Vann Woodward, "Southern Slaves in the World of Thomas Malthus," in Woodward, American Counterpoint: Slavery and Racism in the North-South Dialogue (Boston, 1971), 78-106.

estate. The continual expansion of the plantation economy to new frontiers uprooted many slaves who left behind family members as they trekked westward. Recent studies of slave marriages have found that about one-fourth of them were broken by owners or heirs who sold or moved husband or wife apart from the other.44 The sale of young children apart from parents, while not the normal pattern, also occurred with alarming frequency.

This breakup of families was the largest chink in the armor of slavery's defenders. Abolitionists thrust their swords through the chink. One of the most powerful moral attacks on the institution was Theodore Weld's American Slavery as It Is, first published in 1839 and reprinted several times. Made up principally of excerpts from advertisements and articles in southern newspapers, the book condemned slavery out of the slaveowners' own mouths. Among hundreds of similar items in the book were reward notices for runaway slaves containing such statements as "it is probable he will aim for Savannah, as he said he had children in that vicinity," or advertisements like the following from a New Orleans newspaper: "negroes for sale.—A negro woman 24 years of age, and two children, one eight and the other three years. Said negroes will be sold separately or together as desired."45

Harriet Beecher Stowe used Weld's book as a source for scenes in the most influential indictment of slavery of all time, Uncle Tom's Cabin (of which more later). Written in the sentimental style made popular by best-selling women novelists, Uncle Tom's Cabin homed in on the breakup of families as the theme most likely to pluck the heartstrings of middle-class readers who cherished children and spouses of their own. Eliza fleeing across the ice-choked Ohio River to save her son from the slave-trader and Tom weeping for children left behind in Kentucky when

44. The following studies have found a marriage breakup rate by action of owners ranging from one-fifth to one-third: John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community (New York, 1972), 89-92; Herbert Gutman and Richard Sutch, "The Slave Family: Protected Agent of Capitalist Masters or Victim of Slave Trade?" in Paul A. David et al., Reckoning with Slavery (New York, 1976), 127-29; Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom (New York, 1976), 146-47; Paul D. Escott, Slavery Remembered: A Record of the Twentieth-Century Slave Narratives (Chapel Hill, 1979), 46-48; and C. Peter Ripley, "The Black Family in Transition: Louisiana, 1860-1865," fSH, 41 (1975), 377-78.

45. Weld, American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses (New York,

he was sold South are among the most unforgettable scenes in American letters.

Although many northern readers shed tears at Tom's fate, the political and economic manifestations of slavery generated more contention than moral and humanitarian indictments. Bondage seemed an increasingly peculiar institution in a democratic republic experiencing a rapid transition to free-labor industrial capitalism. In the eyes of a growing number of Yankees, slavery degraded labor, inhibited economic development, discouraged education, and engendered a domineering master class determined to rule the country in the interests of its backward institution. Slavery undermined "intelligence, vigor, and energy," asserted New York's antislavery Whig leader William Henry Seward in the 1840s. It had produced in the South "an exhausted soil, old and decaying towns, wretchedly-neglected roads ... an absence of enterprise and improvement." The institution was "incompatible with all . . . the elements of the security, welfare, and greatness of nations." Slavery and free labor, said Seward in his most famous speech, were "antagonistic systems" between which raged an "irrepressible conflict" that must result in the destruction of slavery.46

But whether or not slavery was backward and inefficient, as Seward maintained, it was extraordinarily productive. The yield of raw cotton doubled each decade after 1800, the greatest increase for any agricultural commodity. Cotton from the American South grown mostly by slave labor furnished three-fourths of the world's supply. Southern staples provided three-fifths of all American exports, earning foreign exchange that played an important part in American economic growth. And while slavery certainly made the Old South "different" from the North, the question whether differences outweighed similarities and generated an irrepressible conflict remains a matter of interpretation. North and South, after all, shared the same language, the same Constitution, the same legal system, the same commitment to republican institutions, the same predominantly Protestant religion and British ethnic heritage, the same history, the same memories of a common struggle for nationhood.

Yet by the 1850s Americans on both sides of the line separating freedom from slavery came to emphasize more their differences than simi

46. Foner, Free Soil, 41, 51; George E. Baker, ed., The Works of William H. Seward, 5 vols. (New York, 1853-84), IV, 289-92.

larities. Yankees and Southrons spoke the same language, to be sure, but they increasingly used these words to revile each other. The legal system also became an instrument of division, not unity: northern states passed personal liberty laws to defy a national fugitive slave law supported by the South; a southern-dominated Supreme Court denied the right of Congress to exclude slavery from the territories, a ruling that most northerners considered infamous. As for a shared commitment to Protestantism, this too had become divisive rather than unifying. The two largest denominations—Methodist and Baptist—had split into hostile northern and southern churches over the question of slavery, and the third largest—Presbyterian—split partly along sectional lines and partly on the issue of slavery. The ideology of republicanism had also become more divisive than unifying, for most northerners interpreted it in a free-labor mode while most southerners insisted that one of the most cherished tenets of republican liberty was the right to property—including property in slaves.

People on both sides began pointing with pride or alarm to certain quantitative differences between North and South. From 1800 to i860 the proportion of the northern labor force in agriculture had dropped from 70 to 40 percent while the southern proportion had remained constant at 80 percent. Only one-tenth of southerners lived in what the census classified as urban areas, compared with one-fourth of northerners. Seven-eighths of the immigrants settled in free states. Among antebellum men prominent enough to be later chronicled in the Dictionary of American Biography, the military profession claimed twice the percentage of southerners as northerners, while the ratio was reversed for men distinguished in literature, art, medicine, and education. In business the proportion of Yankees was three times as great, and among engineers and inventors it was six times as large.47 Nearly twice the percentage of northern youth attended school. Almost half of the southern people (including slaves) were illiterate, compared to 6 percent of residents of free states.

Many conservative southerners scoffed at the Yankee faith in education. The Southern Review asked: "Is this the way to produce producers? To make every child in the state a literary character would not be a good qualification for those who must live by manual labor." The South, replied Massachusetts clergyman Theodore Parker in 1854, was "the foe

47. Rupert B. Vance, "The Geography of Distinction: The Nation and Its Regions, 1790-1927," Social Forces, 18 (1939), 175-76.

to Northern Industry—to our mines, our manufactures, and our commerce ... to our democratic politics in the State, our democratic culture in the school, our democratic work in the community." Yankees and Southrons could no more mix than oil and water, agreed Savannah lawyer and planter Charles C. Jones, Jr. They "have been so entirely separated by climate, by morals, by religion, and by estimates so totally opposite of all that constitutes honor, truth, and manliness, that they cannot longer exist under the same government."48

Underlying all of these differences was the peculiar institution. "On the subject of slavery," declared the Charleston Mercury in 1858, "the North and South ... are not only two Peoples, but they are rival, hostile Peoples."49 This rivalry concerned the future of the republic. To nineteenth-century Americans the West represented the future. Expansion had been the country's lifeblood. So long as the slavery controversy focused on the morality of the institution where it already existed, the two-party system managed to contain the passions it aroused. But when in the 1840s the controversy began to focus on the expansion of slavery into new territories it became irrepressible.

"Westward the course of empire takes its way," Bishop George Berkeley had written of the New World in the 1720s. Westward looked Thomas Jefferson to secure an empire of liberty for future generations of American farmers. Even President Timothy Dwight of Yale University, who as a New England Federalist belonged to the region and group least enthusiastic about westward expansion, waxed eloquent in a poem of 1794:

All hail, thou western world! by heaven design'd Th' example bright, to renovate mankind. Soon shall thy sons across the mainland roam; And claim, on far Pacific shores, their home; Their rule, religion, manners, arts, convey, And spread their freedom to the Asian sea.

A half-century later another Yankee who had never been to the West also found its attractions irresistible. "Eastward I go only by force," wrote

48. Southern Review quoted in Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic, 207; Parker quoted in

John L. Thomas, ed., Slavery Attacked: The Abolitionist Crusade (Englewood Cliffs, 1965), 149; Jones in Robert Manson Myers, ed., The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War (New York, 1972), 648.

49. John McCardell, The idea of a Southern Nation: Southern Nationalists and South-

em Nationalism, 1830-1860 (New York, 1979), 270-71.

Henry David Thoreau, "but westward I go free. Mankind progresses from East to West."50

"Go West, young man," advised Horace Greeley during the depression of the 1840s. And westward did they go, by millions in the first half of the nineteenth century, in obedience to an impulse that has never ceased. "The West is our object, there is no other hope left for us," wrote a departing migrant. "There is nothing like a new country for poor folks." "Old America seems to be breaking up, and moving westward," wrote one pioneer on his way to Illinois in 1817. "We are seldom out of sight, as we travel on this grand track towards the Ohio, of family groups behind, and before us."51 From 1815 to 1850 the population of the region west of the Appalachians grew nearly three times as fast as the original thirteen states. During that era a new state entered the Union on the average of every three years. By the 1840s the states between the Appalachians and the Mississippi had passed the frontier stage. It had been a frontier of rivers, mainly the Ohio-MississippiMissouri network with their tributaries, which had carried settlers to their new homes and provided their initial links with the rest of the world.

After pushing into the first tier of states beyond the Mississippi, the frontier in the 1840s leapfrogged more than a thousand miles over the semi-arid Great Plains and awesome mountain ranges to the Pacific Coast. This was first a frontier of overland trails and of sailing routes around the horn; of trade in beaver skins from the mountains, silver from Santa Fe, and cattle hides from California. By the 1840s it had also become a farming frontier as thousands of Americans sold their property at depression prices, hitched their oxen to Conestoga wagons, and headed west over the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails to a new future—on land that belonged to Mexico or was claimed by Britain. That was a small matter, however, because most Americans considered it their "manifest destiny" to absorb these regions into the United States. Boundless prospects awaited settlers who would turn "those wild

50. Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (Vin tage Books ed., New York, 1957), 11; Loren Baritz, "The Idea of the West," AHR, 66 (1961), 639.

51. Lewis O. Saum, The Popular Mood of Pre-Civil War America (Westport, Conn.,

1980), 205; Malcolm J. Rohrbough, The Trans-Appalachian Frontier: People, Societies, and Institutions 1775-1850 (New York, 1978), 163.

forests, trackless plains, untrodden valleys" into "one grand scene of continuous improvements, universal enterprise, and unparalleled commerce," proclaimed the author of an emigrants' guide to Oregon and California. "Those fertile valleys shall groan under the immense weight of their abundant products; those numerous rivers shall teem with countless steamboats ... the entire country will be everywhere intersected with turnpike roads, railroads, and canals."52

By all odds the most remarkable westward migration before the California gold rush of 1849 was the Mormon hegira to the Great Salt Lake basin. The first indigenous American religion, Mormonism sprang from the spiritual enthusiasm aroused by the Second Great Awakening among second-generation New England Yankees in the "burned-over district" of upstate New York. Founder and Prophet Joseph Smith built not only a church but also a Utopian community, which like dozens of others in that era experimented with collective ownership of property and unorthodox marital arrangements. Unlike most other Utopias, Mormonism survived and flourished.

But the road to survival was filled with obstacles. The Mormons' theocratic structure was both a strength and a weakness. Claiming direct communication with God, Smith ruled his band with iron discipline. Marshaled into phalanxes of tireless workers, true believers created prosperous communities wherever they settled. But Smith's messiah complex, his claim that Mormonism was the only true religion and would inherit the earth, his insistence on absolute obedience, spawned schisms within the movement and resentment without. Harried from New York and Ohio, the Mormons migrated west to create their Zion in Missouri. But Missourians had no use for these Yankee Saints who received revelations from God and were suspected of abolitionist purposes. Mobs massacred several Mormons in 1838-39 and drove the remainder across the Mississippi to Illinois. There the faithful prospered for several years despite the economic depression. Peripatetic missionaries converted thousands to the faith. They built the river town of Nauvoo into a thriving New England city of 15,000 souls. But Gentile neighbors envied the Saints' prosperity and feared their private army, the Nauvoo Legion. When yet another schismatic offshoot disclosed Smith's latest revelation sanctioning polygamy, the Prophet ordered the dissenters'

52. Lansford Hastings, Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California (1845), quoted in Kevin Starr, Americans and the California Dream (New York, 1973), 15.

printing press destroyed. Illinois officials arrested Smith and his brother; in June 1844 a mob broke into the jail and murdered them.53

Smith's successor Brigham Young recognized that the Saints could not build their Zion among hostile unbelievers. Thus he led an exodus in 1846-47 to the basin of the Great Salt Lake in Mexican territory, a region apparently so inhospitable that no other white men wanted it. There the only neighbors would be Indians, who according to Mormon theology were descendants of one of Israel's lost tribes whom it was their duty to convert.

Brigham Young proved to be one of the nineteenth century's most efficient organizers. Like Joseph Smith, he had been bom in Vermont. What Young lacked in the way of Smith's charisma he more than compensated for with an iron will and extraordinary administrative ability. He organized the Mormon migration down to the last detail. Under his theocratic rule, centralized planning and collective irrigation from mountain streams enabled Mormons to survive their starving time during the first two winters at Salt Lake and to make the desert literally bloom—not as a rose, but with grain and vegetables. As thousands of new converts arrived each year from Europe as well as the United States, the Great Basin Zion attained a population of 40,000 by i860. Young even managed to prevent the faithful from joining the various gold rushes to California in 1849 and to the Virginia City and Denver regions in 1859. The Mormons earned more from trade with prospectors on their way to the gold fields than most of the miners did after they got there.

The greatest threat to the Saints was conflict with the United States government, which acquired the Great Basin from Mexico just as the Mormons were founding their Zion at Salt Lake. In 1850, Young persuaded Washington to name him governor of the new territory of Utah. This united church and state at the top and preserved peace for a time. But Gentile territorial judges and other officials complained that their authority existed in name only; the people obeyed laws handed down and interpreted by the church hierarchy. Tensions between Mormons and Gentiles sometimes escalated to violent confrontations. American

53. These and subsequent paragraphs are based on Wallace Stegner, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (New York, 1964); Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom (Cambridge, Mass., 1958); Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York, 1985); Newell G. Bringhurst, Brigham Young and the Expanding Frontier (Boston, 1985); and Norman F. Furniss, The Mormon Conflict, 1850-1859 (New Haven, i960).

opinion turned sharply against the Saints in 1852 when the church openly embraced plural marriage as divinely ordained (Brigham Young himself took a total of 55 wives). In 1856 the first national platform of the Republican party branded polygamy a "barbarism" equal to slavery. In 1857 President James Buchanan declared the Mormons to be in rebellion and sent troops to force their submission to a new governor. During the Saints' guerrilla warfare against these soldiers in the fall of 1857, a group of Mormon fanatics massacred 120 California-bound emigrants at Mountain Meadows. This prompted the government to send more troops. A realist, Young accepted the inevitable, surrendered his civil authority, restrained his followers, and made an uneasy peace with the United States. When the next president, Abraham Lincoln, was asked what he intended to do about the Mormons, he replied that since they were the least of his problems "I propose to let them alone."

Like so much of American history, the westward movement seems to be a story of growth and success. But for the original Americans—the Indians—it was a bitter tale of contraction and defeat. By 1850 the white man's diseases and wars had reduced the Indian population north of the Rio Grande to half of the estimated one million who had lived there two centuries earlier. In the United States all but a few thousand Indians had been pushed west of the Mississippi. Democratic administrations in the 1830s had carried out a forced removal of 85,000 Indians of the five "civilized nations"—Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole—from the southeastern states to an Indian territory set aside for them just west of Arkansas. Also in the 1830s a ruthless repression of Black Hawk's attempt to reclaim ancestral homelands in Illinois and the final suppression of Seminole resistance in Florida brought more than two centuries of Indian warfare east of the Mississippi to an end.

By then the government had decided to establish a "permanent Indian frontier" along roughly the 95th meridian (the western borders of Arkansas and Missouri). Beyond this line, Indians could roam freely in what explorer Zebulon Pike had labeled The Great American Desert. But the idea of a permanent Indian frontier lasted scarcely a decade. The overland westward migrations, the conquest of Mexican territory, and the discovery of gold in California opened this vast region to the manifest destiny of white Americans. So the government revived the burlesque of negotiations with Indian chiefs for cessions of huge chunks of territory in return for annuity payments that were soon soaked up by purchases of firewater and other white man's goods from wily traders. Since there was no more western frontier beyond which to push the

Indians of the Pacific coast, a policy evolved to place them on "reservations" where they could learn the white man's ways or perish. Most reservations were located on poor land, and a good many Indians had little inclination to learn the white man's ways. So they perished—in California alone disease, malnutrition, firewater, and homicide reduced the Indian population from an estimated 150,000 in 1845 to 35,000 by i860. Although the Great Plains and the desert Southwest remained as yet uncoveted by white settlers, the reservation policy foretokened the fate of the proud warriors of these regions a decade or two later.54

The manifest destiny that represented hope for white Americans thus spelled doom for red Americans. And it also lit a slow fuse to a powder keg that blew the United States apart in 1861.

54. Robert M. Utley, The Indian Frontier of the American West 1846-1890 (Albuquerque, 1984), 31-64.

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