The Border Slave States and Their Slaves

New Orleans Daily Delta, January 30, 1861

The world of ideas and sentiments is never able to separate itself, in the final solution of political and social problems, from the world of facts. In the present juncture the Cotton States of the South, which have vital material interests obviously at stake in the issue—which have everything, as regards those interests, to lose by failing to meet menace and aggression with a prompt and effectual assertion of their rights, and everything to gain by a policy of timely preparation and utter repudiation of a Government whose forms were converted into instruments of assault—these States do not hesitate, but decide at once upon immediate and unqualified secession. They do not stand upon the order of their going, but go at once. They present a memorable, an unexampled, a sublime spectacle of a number of free and enlightened communities, drawing a common conclusion from the same state of facts, and acting independently, but consentaneously and sympathetically, for the achievement of a common end. Separate, they are yet co-operative; each acting for itself, they all concur to strengthen the common cause and secure a common triumph. The occasion amply justifies the policy they are pursuing; history will record it in terms of admiration.

But the state of facts has not been the same with the border slave States. Or, rather the appearance of facts has been different to them, and consequently their action has been different. The cotton States could see nothing to hope for in lingering as provincial appendages of a Union which had degenerated into a despotism. They saw plainly enough that they were doomed to death by an unrelenting sectional hate, whose destiny was to take no step backward. They knew that if they remained they would remain as condemned prisoners. And they knew that, whatever respite might be granted, mercy itself would be a cruel mockery, and that execution would follow at the convenience of a crucifying bigotry which wished to humiliate and torture, with insults, stripes, and a crown of thorns, the victim it had resolved to sacrifice. The border slave States also had rights assailed, and interests imperiled, and scoffs and indignities to look for. But they did not perceive the same remedies for present and coming evils. Transition from the old Union into independence presented to them, or appeared to present, peculiar difficulties, hardships, and hazards. Existing facts, in a word, argued for hesitation, and they hesitated. Existing facts urged the policy of inactivity, and they remained inactive. And they still, for the most part, hesitate, and still linger without decided action. In sentiment, and in conviction of right, they profess to be with us of the cotton States, but on the question of immediate interest they have seen proper, thus far, to refuse to cast their lot with ours. We believe they have taken a wrong view of the facts of the situation, which, if they do not reconsider the question and arrive at other deductions, will bring upon them the most dangerous, perhaps fatal, consequences.

The slaveholding communities of the border slave States desire domestic tranquillity. They are sensitive to every political movement that may threaten to harass their borders with Abolition disturbance, or to involve them in a war having as an object on one side to disorganize their social system and destroy the value of one large element of their wealth. But we would submit to the border slave States that, in case they choose to linger as the nethermost portion of the North, if their borders would not be still more harassed, if their society would not be still more convulsed, if their slave property would not be still more exposed, and still more certainly doomed to destruction than all these would be in case they chose to join the seceding States of the South, and help build up a Southern Confederacy, which, separate in all things essential to individual State policy, would be a firm, inseparable, impregnable solidarity in a conviction of common rights and defense of common interests.

Are the border slave States willing to make themselves a powerless appendage to Northern territory? Do they think that so incongruous and ludicrous a fringe on Abolition skirts would not inevitably be draggled in the mire, and torn into shreds? More than this, in courting the friendship or forbearance of their Northern enemies, are they willing to alienate the cotton States which are now their friends? United to the South, the Northern arm that threatens them would be paralyzed. But severed from the South, they would not make a friend of the North, while they would provoke the just hostility of the South. Between this nether and this upper millstone, what would become of their slaveholding interest? It would be ground into atoms; and they would do well to contemplate the fate of St. Domingo and Jamaica as prophetic of their own.

We do not mean that in pursuing a course that would alienate the other Southern States—in seceding from the South, and adhering to the North—they would excite an animosity in the Southern States which they deserted, that would lead of itself to war. We mean that, even should no war arise between the North and the South, or between any two or more States, the desertion of the border slave States would hardly fail to provoke a hostile peace policy on the part of the remaining Southern States, acting individually or collectively, which would be sure to wound the border slave States in their most sensitive point. For about half a century those States, in respect to slave labor, have been producers, and the other slave States have been consumers. For the same period, those States have had the benefit of a prohibitory tariff on slave labor—have enjoyed the protection of Federal legislation against the importation of foreign slave labor—have carried on a flourishing monopoly of the production and sale of slave labor. Now, is it likely that a Southern Confederacy would desire to perpetuate this tariff, this protection, this monopoly, for the special advantage of States which sought the alliance of its enemies? By no means. Whether the Southern Confederacy should or should not adopt the old Federal Constitution, it is pretty certain that it would not make haste to adopt the old Federal legislation on the subject of slavery in any one of its phases. This would leave the foreign slave trade as it was before 1808. Perhaps regulative laws would be applied to the foreign slave trade, including the Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri slave trade, which would then be foreign. If there were discriminations, they would scarcely be in favor of States which had joined themselves to an unfriendly power, and against Cuba and Africa, with which we have no cause of quarrel and from which we have nothing to fear. Indeed, it would be the plain policy of the States composing the Southern Confederacy, if they could procure the slave labor they wanted from other sources, to take measures to prevent the border slave States from effecting the exodus of their slave population into the South and converting it into gold that would swell the general assets of the Northern enemy. Grant that the South would be disposed to approximate as much as possible to free trade; yet they might think it well in this case to make a singular exception. They might deem it a just, as well as prudent, policy to readopt the old Federal legislation prohibiting the foreign slave trade, as far as it would apply to Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland, but no further. But suppose the South should readopt, without modification, the old Federal legislation in question—that would effectually close the door to the Southward exodus of slaves from the border slave States.

It is not pleasant to contemplate the effects which any of these lines of policy would bring upon the border slave States. But what else could they expect after seceding from the South and adhering to her enemies? Could they expect the protection of Southern legislation from the evils arising from their desertion of the South? Could they expect the South to help them Abolitionize their territories, and do the work of John Brown without inflicting the loss of a dollar, or leaving a single troublesome free negro within their borders? Were they to unite with the South in a policy of common protection of Southern interests and institutions, they might reasonably expect a liberal and forbearing policy on the part of their sister Southern States. But, forsaking the South in her hour of greatest trial and peril, they could only expect the South to pursue a policy best calculated to promote her various interests, and least calculated to benefit or favor her ancient enemies, or new allies of her ancient enemies. Some dangers, to be sure, the border slave States would incur by uniting with the South; but those dangers are almost nothing compared with the terrible evils they would invite by separating from the South.

But even if the South should exercise no legislative hostility towards the border slave States—even if the South should entertain friendly, and not inimical, feelings for slave States that had refused to join her standard and had taken position under that of the Northern aggressor, it is by no means certain that the situation of those States would be improved in the least. Perhaps it would be worse. An unfriendly disposition displayed by the South towards those States in consequence of their Northern connection might induce the Northern power to treat them with forbearance, possibly with fostering solicitude. For their benefit it might abstain from prohibiting the inter-State slave trade; it might abstain from legislation making it a capital offense to send or convey slaves into a foreign territory for sale. Lincoln is at this moment bidding for them with a policy similar to this. But if friendly feelings existed, or were suspected to exist, between the border slave States and the South, it would be sure to bring upon those States the most vindictive spirit and oppressive legislation. The owners of 500,000 slaves in Virginia alone could thus be imprisoned and gradually starved into abolishing property valued at $300,000,000; to say nothing of the unspeakable evils, social, industrial, financial, of 500,000 free negroes being turned loose on the State.

Thus, whether the South should deal kindly, or deal unfriendly, with the border slave States, their situation would be thick-set with unavoidable hardships; their present would be a dreadful suspense, and their future would present only terrific visions of danger and still more terrific certainties of disaster. The moment they cast their lot under the shadow of Northern power, they would enter the penumbra of their doom. Eclipse and darkness would come in due process of destiny.