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A House Divided
Posted at 04:51 PM ET, 03/31/2011

Dennis Frye: How pervasive was the abolitionist movement and did it influence any of the southern states to secede?

Correction: We inadvertently posted the wrong answer to this question. Dennis Frye’s correct answer is below.


Chief Historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

The foundation of the nation was perched precariously atop the seismic fault line of slavery. Slavery shook the Union. Abolitionists applied the pressure that heaved the nation into civil war.

Two shifting plates fundamental to American principles could not avoid collision.The “pursuit of happiness,” guaranteed as a right in the Declaration of Independence, crashed against the pursuit of fugitives, ensured as a provision in the Constitution. A primary reason America split and shattered was the abolitionists demand for human rights versus the Southern protection of property rights.

Secession declarations clearly implicate abolitionists as the chief cause of separation. The various “Declaration of Causes” enumerate specific charges against the abolitionists, culminating finally in the seizure of the federal government with the election of Lincoln.

Georgia does not equivocate. “For twenty years past the abolitionists and their allies in the Northern states have engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions and to excite insurrection and servile war among us.” Texas, in memory of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, extended this theme. “They have invaded Southern soil and murdered unoffending citizens, and through the press and their leading men and a fanatical pulpit have bestowed praise upon the actors and assassins in these crimes.” Mississippi also evoked the John Brown attack. “It [abolition] has invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives.” As the soul of John Brown marched across the North, his ghost haunted the South.

Failure to bring Brown’s conspirators to justice also peeved the South. Georgia griped “those of the murderers and incendiaries who escaped public justice by flight have found fraternal protection among our Northern confederates.”

The seceding states enumerated more abolitionist injustices in their individual Declaration of Causes. “They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture.” (Texas). They have “enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.” (Mississippi). They have “encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes, and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books, and pictures to servile insurrection.” (South Carolina). “It has recently obtained control of the Government, by the prosecution of its unhallowed schemes, and destroyed the last expectation of living together in friendship and brotherhood.” (Texas).

As Mississippi concluded: “There was no choice left to us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union.”

By Dennis Frye  |  04:51 PM ET, 03/31/2011

Categories:  Views, 150th anniversary

 
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