Civil War Delayed is a series written by Rosemary Jenkins that presents an alternate future had the U.S. Civil War not been fought in 1861. This is the fourth of six essays. Click here to read the first essay. Click here to read the second essay. Click here to read the third essay. Click here to read the fifth essay. Click here to read the sixth essay.
In Virginia and Maryland, fewer slaves came to be used on the plantations in deference to the rising use of new farm machinery but free Negroes were relied upon when additional part-time labor was a necessity. Many Southerners firmly believed that Negro slaves could be trained for any trade and thereby prove "a cheaper and more manageable form of labor than free whites." According to one former slave, even working the plantation fields took a special skill on the part of laborers (something that few whites wanted to do).
The fact is that the South had a caste system among the white population. At the top were the powerful and wealthy (people with large plantations with many slaves). Then came those who owned smaller lands with fewer slaves. Beneath that group came people who owned very small lots but who could rent slaves. After that group came the very poor white folks who really owned little to nothing but wanted a place on that hierarchical caste ladder and feel superior to someone; hence the people who could look down on the Black man, the slave, and feel superior. These latter people would support the idea of secession and would later, post-Civil War, be attracted to such groups as the Klan and White Citizens Councils during the periods of Jim Crow and legal segregation.
From its earliest beginnings, the Southern iron industry depended upon skilled and unskilled slaves. In 1842, Joseph R. Anderson proposed to employ slaves as a means of cutting costs. "In 1847 the increasing use of slaves caused the remaining free laborers to go out on strike, until they were threatened with prosecution for forming an illegal combination."
Many Southern industrialists were eager to use slave employees to increase their profits. In the textile mills, most employees were white but there was ever a drive to hire Negro slaves to provided at least a portion of the labor. The Southern press gave laudatory accounts of the success of Negro labor in the mills.
There was abundant evidence that slaves could be trained to be competent factory workers. The evidence was sufficient to raise serious doubts that slavery was tied to agriculture, as somedefenders and some critics of the institution believed.
Frequently, deals were concluded for the owner whereby slave labor would be exchanged for financial compensation, such as a discount for railroad freight.
There were special days set aside to hire out surplus slaves. Often a slave served as an apprentice in order to learn a trade. This is reminiscent of the plight of George Harris in Uncle Tom's Cabin; he too proved to be a superior worker in the factory where he was employed. "Some landowners employed free Negroes, American Indians, or poor whites, but they generally preferred to hire slaves when they were available." Frequently, deals were concluded for the owner whereby slave labor would be exchanged for financial compensation, such as a discount for railroad freight.
[Just a quick note of clarification. . . Indigenous American People prefer the following nomenclature for self-reference: American Indian (50%), Native American (37%), First Americans, First Peoples, Indians, and/or by tribal affiliation.]
This labor displacement might have reached such a crescendo that hostilities harbored by the free white workers would have been expressed in several egregious ways. There are, of course, numerous cases of the prevalence of lynch-law and the execution of brutal atrocities on free Negroes and slaves.
Think about what transpired in Haiti between 1790 and 1802 during the time of Toussaint Louverture (inspired by the French Revolution of 1789 and later referred to as the Father of Haiti) who led an insurrection which resulted in the Haitian Revolution and interestingly enough, set up a government not based on race. He had initially sided with the French who ruled Saint-Dominique (now Haiti) after the French abolished slavery. The relevance here is the concern by white Southerners over what slaves and free Blacks could and would accomplish in abolishing the horrors of the slave system.
With free labor sinking to an abysmal point (a situation comparable to the Great Depression of 1929), riots and lawlessness could have and often did ensue. Powerful whites who were at the top of the hierarchy certainly did encourage the destitute and anguished white laborers to launch attacks on the Negro. And why? To divert their attention from their own seemingly hopeless and dismal condition so they could place their anger and resentment instead on the Negro (free or slave).
Thus, it cannot be overlooked that Americans, particularly white Southerners, must be held responsible for their willful and purposeful actions and words to engender an emotional and irrational attitude among America's less fortunate whites. A variety of nefarious plans could be inferred from the speeches they heard and from the newspaper articles they read (even to the point of considering extermination of the Negro altogether, not dissimilar to what we witnessed in Germany during the early part of the twentieth century).
The consequences were in many ways comparable. With the Negro as a rallying point, a revolutionary spirit might have been aroused among the disaffected to overturn the American constitutional system which they held responsible for the economic breakdown. A Chicago printer in 1883 said that the workingmen were enduring such oppressed conditions that they were prepared to resort to any remedy to their problems "even if it reached a revolution." These sentiments were conceived even after the actual Civil War. Today we still witness the anger and frustration exhibited by many white people as evidenced by white supremacists, QAnon supporters, Boogaloo Boys, the neo-Nazis, and Klan klaverns whose members have demonstrated, rioted, and even killed in our streets (think of Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman was murdered and 28 were injured as they protested peacefully against the ultra-right Unite the Right Rally).
This latter idea can be given credence by the fact that socialistic tendencies very early in American history had already manifested themselves. Robert Owen set up experimental utopian communities in the early nineteenth century; Brook Farm in which Nathaniel Hawthorne took a part, was one such venture, and don't forget the successful Amish communities which still exist (remember the Amana refrigerators?).
When the movement for unionizing labor began to emerge, people entered into various cooperative business ventures. Between 1884 and 1886, 125-130 producers' cooperatives were created, whose aim (based on a Utopian approach) was to achieve a cooperative commonwealth by which each member would be both worker and employer, receiving both profits and wages. Out of this, however, might come questionable results with unintended consequences--a national bank, nationalization of railroads, and an end to alien land ownership.
On the other hand, the growing pressure of industrialization and the emerging isolation and abstractification of the individual in society, unsettled labor. "The industrial depression, which was first felt in 1882, made available a large labor surplus in certain occupations by 1883, [and this] led to keen competition for employment, and tended to depress wages." Think of how white labor looked upon their "new" competition in now-free Negro labor.
The first active infiltration of Marxian Socialism among some Americans came at the termination of the Civil War. Traced to European influences, the most active socialist units were the German labor organizations (think of the effects of Marx and Engels' economic and socio-political philosophies before, during, and after the American Civil War).
As early as the summer of 1875, a handful of German socialists formed an armed club in Chicago to which the name Lehr und Wehr Verein (Educational and Defense Society) was given. In 1876 the United States' socialists united into the single Workingmen's Party of the United States, later called the Socialist Labor Party of North America (SLP). By 1878 a split occurred within the SLP. Factions differed about the means to arrange societal change: use of the ballot or use of force. By 1880, the group backing force came to be known as the social-revolutionaries, with clubs appearing in Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The London Congress in 1881 provided the revolutionary movement a quasi-anarchistic direction and was "largely responsible for the appearance of the International Working Peoples' Association of America."
The acceptance of force both as a medium of propaganda and an instrument of reform was largely the result of the extreme conception that the individual was the proper judge of his grievances against society or its members and of the means of obtaining redress. . . . Many of the adherents of. . . revolutionary movements came to regard propaganda by deed as the only instrument that insured results.
It takes little effort to corroborate the evidence of the willingness of the people to resort to arms to alter what they considered an unsatisfactory system. Dispatches from Chicago, dated February 8, 1885, assert that the presence of armed groups in the city resulted in the formation of military bodies on the part of businessmen, the organization of armed bands by employees in wholesale houses, and the enlargement of the national guard. On Thanksgiving Day of 1885, the militia held a street-riot drill in Chicago. Albert R. Parsons, a leader of the socialist labor movement, stated: Our war is not against men, but against systems; yet we must prepare to kill men who try to defeat our cause, or we will strive in vain."
Henry David attributes the following tenets to Parsons:
Arguing from the basic assumption of the class-struggle and the diminishing return to labor, it was concluded that the continuation of capitalism would inevitably result in an uprising of the people "as the last and only recourse to relief from oppression."
[These statements must remind us of what is transpiring in our streets today--extremes to the right; to the left, protests against inequality, economic disparities, police brutality (and even calling the "secret" police forces in to such places as Portland, Oregon, to disperse what were otherwise peaceful protests against injustice. It is also interesting how the right-wing Republicans and Trump and his coterie in particular have cast aspersions on righteous demonstrators and politicians by calling them socialists or even communists who want to take all rights, as promised in our Constitution, away from the people. Pure scare tactics, of course, but used so often, especially when the people's protests seem to be gaining steam.]