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CHAPTER TWO The Relationship of Slavery to Southern Oligarchy 73 The Cause of Southern Oligarchy Attributed to Domestic Slavery The Republicans commonly ascribed the oligarchic form of Southern government to the institution of domestic slavery. Wherever it extended, slavery tended to erode republican government and the republican way of life, while steadily raising up a ruling class of slaveholders. Slavery was one of several institutions that supported the rule of the slaveholding class in the oligarchic South, but the power of this domestic institution to cause a revolutionary change in political life, from republican to oligarchic, set that institution apart from others. As Representative Delos Ashley of Nevada put it, “All the institutions of the South were based upon slavery. It was the substratum of the aristocratic system.” Acknowledging that slavery was profitable for slaveholders , Representative William Higby of California maintained that “what was sweetest of all,” sweeter than its profitability, was that it “enabled a few States and a comparatively few white people to control the Government. . . . I have declared that the institution [of slavery] is anti-­ republican, and that no Government which tolerated it could be in form, body, or spirit a republican Government.” Representative Thomas Davis of New York said that slavery “has grown up a caste, an aristocracy, based upon the ownership of labor, of sinews, bones, and blood entirely inconsistent with republican government and republican institutions.” Charles Drake claimed that “intelligent Southerners ” did not deny—­ “but, on the contrary, they rather seem to boast—­ that the legitimate and certain effect of Slavery is to create an essential aristocracy .”1 The far-­ reaching effect of slavery on the fundamental character of political society explains why the Republicans regarded slavery as a political evil in addition to a moral evil. PART I THE REPUBLICAN ARGUMENT 74 Recounting the history of American slavery in 1864, Isaac Arnold further expounded the cause-­ and-­ effect relationship between domestic slavery and Southern oligarchy: Slavery had revolutionized the Government. The great principles of Magna Charta and the Declaration of Independence had ceased to have practical existence in a large part of the Union. Liberty of speech, freedom of the press, and trial by jury had disappeared in the slave States. Indeed, that portion of the so-­ called Republic had ceased to be a government of law, and had become a government of a tyrannic, cruel oligarchy, more odious, despicable, and cruel than any on earth. There was no redress for any outrage, however cruel, if perpetrated in behalf and at the behest of slavery. The vengeance of the slaveholder against the man who spoke or published in behalf of liberty was sharp, speedy, and unrelenting. The bowie-­ knife and the bludgeon, the halter, and even the stake, were the instruments of violence and torture resorted to by every petty lynch judge who found any bold enough to question the divinity of the “peculiar institution.” In the slave States of this Union a freeman had no rights which a slaveholder felt bound to respect. In those States the Constitution had disappeared . I say, then, that slavery had established a revolution, overturned a republican form of government, and established a despotism in its place.2 Arnold modified Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s dictum in Dred Scott that black Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” inserting “freeman” for black Americans and “slaveholders” for the white man.3 In applying Taney’s phrase, Arnold meant to say that the effect of domestic slavery fell not upon domestic slaves alone. By precipitating a revolutionary change in the form of government from republican to oligarchical , slavery indirectly caused the political oppression of all Americans in the South, outside the minority ruling class of slaveholders. In a Boston speech in 1861, Representative George Boutwell of Massachusetts recalled a visit to the slave state of Kentucky in 1857, where he attended church services and was treated to a sermon containing three propositions, “which, as far as I could judge, were accepted by that congregation. They were, first, that the Saviour never said any thing in favor of human equality; secondly, that he never said any thing in favor of universal education; and thirdly, said the preacher, what we need is authority in the Church.”4 These propositions, Boutwell said, bore witness to the “radical changes” caused by slavery. The changes were “antagonistic to free institutions,” and, CHAPTER TWO THE RELATIONSHIP OF SLAVERY TO SOUTHERN OLIGARCHY 75 consequently, “free institutions cannot long be maintained...


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