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The American Revolution. The Border Slave States

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1090, p. 496.

May 25, 1861


If we contemplate a map of the United States we cannot fail to perceive that one of the most marked physical features of the country is a range of mountains running in a south-westerly direction from Maine to the northern parts of Alabama and Georgia. The chain, called indifferently the Appalachian or Alleghanies [sic], consists of a number of detached groups, each with a local designation of its own, though all included under the above general title. It is over 1200 miles in length. The ridges run all in the same direction, either in the same line or parallel to each other, and have a mean breadth of about 100 miles, and a mean elevation of from 2500 to 3000 feet above the sea level. The abrupt ridges face the Atlantic; on the west the descent is almost lost in the broad, elevated plateau which slopes down towards the Mississippi. In Virginia and Tennessee the valley at the foot of the western face of the mountains is 1700 feet above the sea level, and the plateau which continues it for 100 miles to the west through Eastern and Mid Kentucky and Eastern and Mid Tennessee is 100 miles broad, of an elevation of from 1500 to 2000 feet, and traversed by longitudinal ridges of high hills.

North of Mason and Dixon's line—the line of separation between the Free-labour and Slave States of the Union—this system of mountains has no political significance whatever; but, as we approach latitudes which are decidedly southern in the estimation of men of European descent, these uplands of the Alleghanies [sic] have a very direct and beautifully-distinct bearing upon the vegetable and animal productions of the region, upon the distribution of the white and black races of men, and, therefore, on the political character of the communities which are located there. In the lowlands of Eastern Maryland, Eastern Virginia and North Carolina, and of Western Kentucky and Tennessee, we observe, accordingly, a powerful plantation and slave-breeding interest. Tobacco, slaves, and a little cotton are the chief productions; in a word, slave labour reigns. But on ascending to the intervening highlands we find a different climate, different productions, different pursuits, and a different ratio of the two races. The highland region and elevated plateaus are favourable to the growth of grain and the raising of live stock, while the mountains contain inexhaustible supplies of coal and iron.

The agriculturists and miners of this region are white men; and, although slavery is recognised there as a lawful and proper institution, yet, in point of fact, the slaves form a very inconsiderable element of the population. Thus in this part of the world's surface, as in so many others, the physical line of demarcation drawn by Nature herself between the highlanders and the lowlanders is accompanied by an industrial, moral, and political dissimilarity. In the course of this revolution this political dissimilarity has already made itself felt. The Union sympathies of the highlanders prevented North Carolina and Tennessee from seceding in the first instance; and it still remains to be seen whether the Secessionists, who have it all their own way on the plantations, will not meet with resistance from the farms. But it is in the border Slave States where the action of the physical features of the Alleghanies [sic] on the political sympathies of the inhabitants is most distinctly traceable.

Of the four border Slave States—viz., Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri—all except Virginia have resolved on remaining in the Union; and in Virginia herself we hear that the people of the western counties are preparing to secede from the State, rather than secede with the State from the national Union. Not that the people of the three adhering Slave States are well affected towards Mr. Lincoln's administration; far from it. A great majority of them are violently opposed to the war Mr. Lincoln is levying on the seceded States. They desire to see the independence of the seceded States acknowledged by the Government and people of the United States. Nevertheless, so long as the war does not become a war of emancipation to the slaves, they consent to forgo all active resistance to the Government of Washington.

It is a proof of the divided state of public opinion in these States that, although their Governors have refused to furnish their quota of troops asked for by the Federal Government, individual Kentuckians and Missourians have offered to raise the required number in their respective States. We present a schedule of the population of these States, whereby the true proportions of the slaveowning interest therein will reveal itself:—

Freemen. Slaves. Total. Proportion of Slaves
Maryland .. .. 599,846 .. 87,188 .. 687,034 .. 1-8th.
Kentucky .. .. 930,223 .. 225,490 .. 1,155,713 .. 1-5th.
Missouri .. .. 1,058,352 .. 114,965 .. 1,173,317 .. 1-10th.

This exhibits a very different social condition from that of South Carolina and Mississippi, where the slaves outnumber the freemen. It cannot surprise us, therefore, to find that these States have given birth to a very different class of politicians from those which have obtained eminence in the Cotton States. Of the moderate and conservative attitude of Maryland in the sectional struggle of the last twenty years we wrote last week. It remains to add that one of the members of Mr. Lincoln's Cabinet, Mr. Blair, Postmaster-General, is a Marylander; and that Henry Winter Davis, another prominent politician of this State, holds doctrines much more akin to those of Mr. Seward than to those professed by Mr. Jefferson Davis. Kentucky, too, was the mother of Henry Clay, the statesman who aspired to hold the balance even between Massachusetts and South Carolina; of John Jay Crittenden, who wears the mantle of Henry Clay, of Prentiss, the witty editor of the almost free-soil Louisville Journal; and of Cassius Clay, the heroic champion of free-labour principles on Kentucky soil, who has lately been appointed by Mr. Lincoln to represent the United States at the Russian Court, and who is now in London on his way to St. Petersburg. Missouri, lying as it does so high above the sea level, and having a climate similar to that of Illinois and Kansas, has long won the distinction of being the only Slave State where the Emancipationists exist as a distinct political party. Mr. Edward Bates, of this State and party, is the present Attorney-General of the United States, and, consequently, a member of Mr. Lincoln's Cabinet. At the election of last summer Mr. Frank Blair, an Emancipationist, was sent to Congress from the district of which the city of St. Louis is the centre, and that city is now governed by an Emancipationist Mayor and an Emancipationist Town Council. This state of things has been brought about chiefly by the large immigration of Germans. The native American of the Free States is so prone to "bow to the majority" that, on migrating to Southern soil, he easily acquiesces in the prevailing opinions of his adopted State. The unadulterated German is of a different cast of mind. He believes logic and abstract ideas stronger and more worthy of obedience than popular majorities. Hence it has fallen to the lot of the German immigrants to furnish the "backbone" of the Free-labour party in Missouri, and to rally around themselves such native Americans and other adopted citizens as entertain similar principles.

Virginia has chosen to separate herself from the other border States. Although her people have not yet ratified by a popular vote the secession ordinance of her Convention, the current of popular feeling renders it clear that her proclivities are towards Montgomery, not Washington. She is the great Slave-breeding State, mother not only of United States' Presidents, but of Cotton State slaves. Her population is more heavily charged with the slave element than are Kentucky and Maryland.

Freemen. Slaves. Total. Proportion of Slaves.
Virginia .. 1,105,196 .. 490,887 .. 1,596,083 .. One-third, nearly.

The course of revolution is not destined to run smoothly in this ancient Commonwealth, named by Raleigh in honour of Queen Bess. Northern armies threaten to "crush it out" in the East; the Alleghanies [sic] interpose a barrier to its progress in the West. Turn again to the map and you will observe a "spur" of Virginia running up between the States of Ohio and Pennsylvania. The chief city of this district is Wheeling, a thriving little manufacturing town of 15,000 inhabitants, on the east bank of the Ohio River. The whole region is called "the Panhandle," from some fancied similarity in the configuration of Virginia to a pan and its handle. On learning that the Eastern Virginians were bent on precipitating the State into revolution the people of North-Western Virginia, who are entirely homogeneous with their neighbours of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and among whom slavery has but a nominal existence, determined to do a little stroke of secession on their own account. They refuse to pay any more taxes to the State Government: they have made an appeal to Mr. Lincoln for arms to defend themselves against the Secessionists (an appeal which certainly will not be made in vain), and they have called a Convention of Western Virginians, which was to have assembled at Wheeling on the 13th inst., to take all necessary measures to ensure the permanence of their relations with the Federal Government.

The Secessionists hope to confine this counter-revolutionary movement to the Panhandle, or, at the worst, to the trans-Alleghany [sic] tract of Virginia; the Unionists, on the other hand, give out that all Virginia west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the easternmost ridge of the Alleghany [sic] chain, will follow the Convention of Wheeling rather than the Convention of Richmond. What will be the exact extent of this Vendean defection of the North-West must be determined by the ballot-box or the fortunes of war. These modern Vendeans, rallying under the beloved flag of the Union, and working in the interest of free labour, will not ask for Northern help in vain. The North may or may not be able to hold Eastern Virginia by force of arms; Western Virginia, at least, is bound to her by stronger and more abiding ties-those arising from identity of interests, occupations, and ideas.

We easily familiarise ourselves with the idea of a State or a group of States seceding from a Federal Union. All Federal Governments are subject to such catastrophes; and in America the conflict between the State and the Union has never entirely ceased; but the insurrection of a county or a group of counties against a State is carrying the principle of revolution a step further than it has ever been carried before, even in America, and is a decided novelty of the season. Yet, although the two movements of the State and the counties proceed on two antagonistic principles-the one being effected in behalf of slavery and State rights, the other in the name of free labour and Federal rights-they have one characteristic in common which underlies the whole political crisis. This characteristic is the desire for homogeneousness. The Slave States in general, and the Eastern Virginians in particular, secede in order to enjoy the advantages, real or supposed, of a more congenial national fellowship than that afforded them by the late Union; and the Western Virginians secede from the State because they have that consciousness of homogeneousness with the people of the residuary United States which they have no hope of finding among the people who have chosen Mr. Jefferson Davis for their leader.

It results, then, from this examination that the United States have a stronger hold on three of the border Slave States, and a portion of the fourth, than that transitory and precarious authority which depends on an army of occupation. That moral bond, active in the border States, is lacking under existing institutions in the cotton States, and the Northern people are preparing to supply its place by a blockade and an invasion. Whether they can achieve a permanent triumph in this war without subverting the "domestic institution" at the South, which Mr. Lincoln declares to be farthest from his design and desires; and whether, as necessary to this triumph, they can keep on foot large military and naval forces, maintain a long civil war, and hold in subjection large and hostile communities, without subverting the system of co-equal Federal Republics, founded by Washington and his contemporaries, and converting the Federal Union into a more centralised and consolidated Republic of the French type, or even (absit omen!) into a military dictatorship, are questions which the events now taking place in the western world are forcing on the attention of mankind.

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