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1 Introduction Virginian Edmund Ruffin had grown weary of waiting for disunion and an independent Confederate nation by the end of the 1850s. A well-­ known “fire-­ eater,” Ruffin spent much of the decade advocating for secession and states’ rights as a bulwark to protect the institution of slavery. As a way of pressing for Southern independence as a reality, Ruffin’s writings imagined a new Southern nation fighting against Northern vandals. His book Anticipations of the Future, to Serve as Lessons for the Present Time was published in 1860, just shy of the presidential election that placed the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln in the White House. Ruffin, like others who entertained visions of an imagined Confederacy, hoped to form and strengthen bonds of nationalism that, in the event of actual secession and war, would bring disparate groups closer together and carry the nascent nation through a lengthy and costly civil war.1 In Ruffin’s fictional rendering of the coming war, the conflict between North and South begins not in 1861 but on Christmas Eve 1868, following the election of William Seward to the presidency. According to the narrative , Abraham Lincoln’s first and only term proves to be uneventful, but abolitionists in Congress gradually erode Southern rights through the passage of tariffs and the appointment of Supreme Court nominees who are friendly to Northern interests. Seward’s administration exacerbates the problem by abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia and by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. In response, six slave states in the Deep South, including South Carolina, finally secede and subsequently seize Fort Sumter. Noneother than John Brown’s son General Owen Brown leads the Northern invasion of abolitionists and black recruits that ensues. Once in Kentucky, however, their plans run afoul. According to Ruffin’s vision, the enslaved peopleof Kentucky have no interest in being freed; thosewho join Brown do so only for the opportunity to rejoin their old masters. Eventually Brown is captured, and “from thedifferent spreading branches ofone giganticoak” he is hung along “with twenty-­seven of his subordinatewhiteofficers.”2 Thewar 2Introduction comes to an end with a truce that all but guarantees Southern independence. The victorious South emerges economically dominant and stands poised to absorb the Northwestern states as well as thoseon the upper Mississippi and the Middle Atlantic states. These states join, agreeing to the condition that they accept the institution of slavery, in large part because they have grown weary of the fanaticism of New England abolitionists. Beyond the seizure of Fort Sumter, very little of Ruffin’s narrative proved accurate, but his observations concerning how the Southern states utilized their enslaved population deserves a closer look. According to Ruffin , “the numerous slaves has not produced the anticipated dangers and evils to the South, it has been found in other respects a most valuable aid to military strength.” In Ruffin’s imagined civil war, the South’s use of its enslaved population to construct fortifications and “other labors . . . served to leave all the soldiers for military services only.” Maximizing the use of slave labor on a wide range of military-­ related projects allowed “the dominant class of whites”to “go abroad to repel invasion, and thereby scarcelycause anyof the labor of the country to be abstracted, or the superintendence and direction of the negro laborers to be greatly lessened or impaired.” Whites could leave their homes and families without worrying about their safety or the loyalty of their slaves.3 At no point in Ruffin’s fiction did slaves present a threat to thewareffort or race relations in the South. In so writing, he clearly hoped to assuage the concerns of those who believed that the slave states would be unable to engage in a protracted war against the North and at the same time maintain vigilant oversight of the region’s enslaved population. Rather than a weakness , Ruffin believed that the South’s enslaved population constituted one of its greatest strengths. That said, importantly, there is no hint at any point in his narrative that Ruffin ever imagined the possibility that slaves could or should be utilized as soldiers. Instead, the roles assigned to the South’s enslaved population in Ruffin’s fictional world followed deeply embedded assumptions about race and white supremacy that could never beoverturned, even in the heat ofwar and with independence on the line. Ruffin accurately predicted how the Confederacychose to utilize its enslaved population from the timewar brokeout in the spring of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469653280
Related ISBN
9781469653266
MARC Record
OCLC
1112064862
Pages
240
Launched on MUSE
2019-09-16
Language
English
Open Access
No
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