History has an unerring way of repeating itself. In parts of the US between the 1830s and 1850s, anti-slave and abolition movements were subjected to violence, discord and the perversion of civil liberties by those who opposed emancipation and wanted slavery legitimised throughout the US. The year 2020 is witnessing violence and anarchy in several American cities perpetrated by the radical BLM and Antifa movements whose aim is to abolish capitalism, heritage and history and to subject all to the servitude of socialism.
From the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, which entitled slave-masters to the return of escaped slaves, the issue of slavery and its right to exist in the US-dominated and inflamed domestic politics. While opposed by humanitarians in the Northern states, slavery was regarded as essential to the South’s economy and way of life. Agitation to abolish slavery commenced in 1829 with the publication of William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator which blackguarded slaveholders in lurid detail. Following a slave insurrection in 1831, Southerners claimed that Garrison’s incendiary articles had provoked the uprising and demanded measures to suppress his paper.
What followed in many Northern states showed that emotions about the abolition of slavery were not rooted in emancipation but rather in racism. Philanthropists and advocates of emancipation were bitterly attacked – verbally and physically. Elijah Lovejoy, who persisted in printing his abolitionist paper, was murdered by a mob in Illinois after his printing press was thrown into a river. In May 1838, a crowd of 3,000 surrounded a hall built by Philadelphia abolitionists who were having a meeting. After breaking windows and chasing out the abolitionists, the hall was burnt down. In 1842 several houses belonging to coloured folk in Philadelphia were burned but not before mobs of whites had vandalised the area.
Undeterred by violence, by 1836 there were more than 500 anti-slavery societies in the Northern states. Reflective of the moral impact abolitionists were having was the establishment in 1835 at Oberlin in Ohio of the first college in the US to enrol black students. The presidential election of 1840 saw the fielding of the first anti-slavery candidate.
Seething with anger at the success of the abolitionist movement and what was called the ‘underground railroad’ which assisted runaway slaves to freedom, in 1836 Southerners prevailed on Congress to pass a ‘gag resolution’ preventing debate on the domestic slave trade that was carried out in Washington DC. Subsequent resolutions passed prohibited any reference to slavery. Thanks to the persistence of John Quincy Adams, Northern congressmen were able to repeal the ‘gag resolutions’ in 1844.
By 1850 the lines of division, distrust and alienation between North and South were distinct and an irrepressible conflict was smouldering. With hundreds of thousands of European immigrants settling in the Northern states, the South’s political representation and power in Congress could be sustained only by expanding slavery westwards into new territories that would become states in due course.
In 1855 conflict erupted in the new territory of Kansas when Southerners clashed with Northerners in a desperate attempt to promote slavery and thereby gain a slave state when Kansas qualified to join the Union. Settlers from New England were attacked by gangs of Southerners. Both sides were armed and the situation was described as “bleeding Kansas.”
Senator Charles Sumner’s summing up of the situation at that time has great relevance for the present crisis of unrest in the US. “It puts freedom and slavery face to face and bids them grapple. Who can doubt the result?” The outcome, as we know, was the civil war which saw slavery abolished at the cost of 625,000 American lives. The civil war nearly destroyed the United States and left bitter legacies which persist to this day.
The agenda of the Marxist BLM and Antifa is to exploit race by promoting hate and division and to ‘cancel culture,’ as they term their Orwellian aim of obliterating history and heritage. The danger they and their politically- correct allies in Hollywood, Congress and the media pose to the future of the US is as great as President Lincoln faced in 1861.
Sent into The Washington Times and published, 2 August 2020.