Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, May 20, 1861
The wavering and undecided course of the Governor and Legislature of Maryland, dictated as it has been by prudence rather than by loyalty, is easily understood when we reflect upon the condition of its people, for that supplies the elements of opinion. There are 85,000 slaves in Maryland. They represent about forty millions of property and a certain portion of the population, directly and indirectly interested in that property. They represent, also, opinions, passions and sympathies, influences not of the present time only, but connected with the past. Maryland is an old slave State. Though the number of slaves has been gradually diminishing of late years, and of the white laborers and of the non-slaveholding class rapidly increasing, the ideas of the former period retain much of their power, which is added to that which slavery still exercises. The slave owners were once exclusively the rich and educated. They are so now to a very considerable extent. They were once exclusively the owners of the soil. They are still the large landholders, and the ownership of land always confers power. The owners of land and negroes throughout the south form a class united by similarity of position, habits and interests. They are a gentry or social aristocracy, bound together by sympathies, all the stronger because at this time they are proscribed by the opinion of foreign nations, and to some extent, though less than they suppose, of the northern people. This tie of class or caste has been found in all ages more forcible than the ties of government or country. It banded together all Europe against the French revolution, and led the French noblesse to join the armies of the allies to invade France. It unites at this moment all the upper classes of Europe, represented by its monarchies, to check the progress of democracy. In democratic Athens there was always a party, openly or secretly, in league with aristocratic Sparta. Like seeks like. Similarity of tastes, manners and opinions, and unity of interest,—these are the invisible cords that bind men together, and for the good reason that these are the very dearest possessions, to protect which governments exist.
In all calculations, therefore, about Maryland, it may be regarded as a settled fact that, with few exceptions, the masters of these 85,000 negroes, with their families and those immediately connected with them, do and must sympathize with the south. They are proud of being southern men, and value themselves on forming a portion of the southern aristocracy. They cannot rid themselves of the idea that this war is against the south and against slavery, therefore against their class and their interest; and any support they give to the government will be lukewarm or constrained. They do not desire to join the southern confederacy, but they do not like to see the southern people coerced.
In the city of Baltimore the rich and refined portion of society is connected with slavery, either by ownership or by intimate relations of kindred and friendship. The family ties of this class extend throughout Maryland, Virginia, and other southern States, and therefore its good wishes and sympathies also. To their influence must be added that of the mercantile class, which is governed by less worthy motives. The merchants of Baltimore have imbibed the absurd idea that, should Maryland join a southern confederacy, their city would become its commercial metropolis and the rival of New York. We will not now attempt to refute a notion contradicted by statistics and the plain maxims of political economy. It is enough for our present purpose that the business men of Baltimore do indulge in this dream of contingent and possible greatness, in spite of the fact that their city has reached its present growth and prosperity solely because it has extended its roots into northern soil, and thence drawn riches. Because of this erroneous notion, the merchants of Baltimore have been led to sympathize with secession. Late events, perhaps, have proved the delusive character of the vision by which they have been led astray, and those to come may also rebuke their selfish and narrow views. They are likely to find not only that the north is the source of prosperity, but that it has power. When they discover this their obedience may be counted on.
Such are the influences in Maryland arrayed, openly or secretly, against the Union. On the other hand, there are counteracting causes which, aided by the authority of the government, must ultimately prevail. As the true interests of the merchants of Baltimore are inconsistent with their dreams of southern trade, so the true interests of the slave owners of Maryland are opposed to their southern passions and sympathies. They own, it is true, eighty-five thousand negroes, but they own also the land which these negroes till, and the land is worth far more than the negroes. Nay, it would be worth a great deal more without the negroes than with them. Wherever agriculture improves in Maryland, slavery and the negroes recede. Wherever agriculture improves, there, moreover, that improvement is due to intercourse with the north, to communication with northern markets, to northern capital and industry flowing into the State, to the increase of manufactures and the mechanic arts, and the consequent growth of centres of population which are home markets for the farmer. The landowners understand this perfectly well. They know that New York and Philadelphia are their best markets. They know that the Delaware railroad, the Chesapeake and Delaware canal, the Wilmington and Baltimore railroad, and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, are so many avenues pouring wealth into their State, and connecting them with the great cities of the north and the broad and bountiful streams of northern prosperity. They know that before these inevitable causes slavery is disappearing, and must finally become extinct, and that as it vanishes they become richer and their land rises in value. Their future, therefore, is not bound up in slavery, and in this they differ from the cotton States. In these the negroes are more valuable than the land—without them, indeed, the land would be of no value. It is impossible for the cotton States to look forward to a period when slavery shall not be essential to their welfare, and even to their existence.
The causes, therefore, operating on the slave owners of Maryland are too strong to be resisted for a long period by the spirit of caste or by sympathy for others. Maryland is bound to the north by claims that cannot be broken, railroads and rivers, through which circulate the life-blood of its material prosperity. It belongs to the north because of its soil and climate, which invite the labor of the white race. Northern enterprise and capital have given value to its lands, converted barren tracts into regions of fertility, and stimulated industry throughout its territory. The pretended government of the "Confederate States" can offer the people of Maryland no such advantages. It can offer them nothing but a return to their former condition of poverty and decay. Cut them off from northern markets, and their land would go back from fifty dollars and a hundred dollars per acre to five and ten dollars, the prices of twenty years ago; villages now flourishing would become dilapidated, as the villages used to be on the same sites, and "old fields," broken fences and buildings falling to pieces, would reappear instead of the neat farm houses, ample barns, heavy crops and productive orchards, which now make so many parts of the State scenes of fertility and beauty, in striking contrast to their former barren desolation. Now, the chief objects of government are the security and promotion of material interests. The southern confederacy cannot offer these to Maryland even if it should be able to establish its usurped power. But it cannot establish its power. It is too weak to resist the north; ere long it will be too weak to resist the loyal part of the southern people. Maryland has therefore no choice but to remain in the Union, or, if that should be permanently broken, to join the north. Slavery itself is rapidly losing its influence in Maryland. The number of slaves is decreasing, whilst white laborers are becoming more numerous. Slaves henceforth will become a very insecure sort of property, because they will be able to escape more easily than heretofore. It is not likely that late events will add to the desire of the northern people to execute the fugitive slave law. The relation of master and slave will become almost voluntary in all the border States; nevertheless, the institution will disappear slowly, for the yoke of slavery is light in Maryland. The negroes are generally contented, their local attachments are strong their enterprise and energy weak, and they are therefore more likely to be gradually displaced by the competition of the superior race than to seek new scenes of their own accord. This cause has well nigh banished them from the north, and, aided by sales to southern planters, will operate in Maryland, until at length the influence of slavery on the interests and opinions of the people will be scarcely felt.
Other causes, however, are acting to determine the position of Maryland. Many large landholders there now are not owners of slaves. The number of small farmers, also, who do not own slaves is very great, and has been up to this period rapidly increasing of late years, much to the advantage of the State. Most of both these classes are northern men, who were attracted by the fertility of the soil, the advantages of its geographical position and by its cheapness, to seek fortune and a home in Maryland. These men have not southern, but northern opinions and sympathies. They have prospered. The land they bought for a nominal price has become valuable, because of its enriching connections with the north. They have by their capital, skill and industry created productive farms and comfortable homes. They know that the markets of Philadelphia and New York, and the wealthy States of Pennsylvania and Ohio, are the real sources of their prosperity; that to them is due also the growth of Baltimore, one of their markets. When asked to exchange these for New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah, they will look at the statistics of those places and compare them with the northern cities; they will look at the present condition of Maryland, of their own farms and neighborhood compared with the past, and then decide. They are not likely to decide in favor of Jeff. Davis and the "Confederate States."
In addition to these land owners, large and small, the natural advantages of Maryland, developed by its connection with the north, have created a numerous class which scarcely exists in the cotton States. Manufactures have appeared, and the increasing wealth and wants of agriculture have summoned, partly from the north, a supply of mechanics, country merchants and respectable white laborers, who have built up in almost every county flourishing villages, and given an impulse to industrial improvement unknown twenty years ago. These classes are not slave owners, and have no sympathies with the south. They will not consent to be cut off from the fountain sources of their prosperity. Free labor, they see plainly enough, is better for them and their State than slave labor, and the Saxon superior to the negro. They prefer progress in civilization and the arts, in wealth and knowledge and comfort, to stagnation and decay. They prefer also the glorious old stars and stripes to the polluted rag of secession. They are strong enough to resist dictation, and, whatever their hesitating and half-rebellious Governor or Legislature may do, will, when they have an opportunity to act, link their destiny with the Union or with the north.
Notwithstanding these influences, however, the course of Maryland at the present crisis depends upon events. The official power of the State is not in loyal hands, and a powerful class is unsteady or untrue in its allegiance. They offer, at best, conditional obedience, not hearty support to the government. Should any reverse happen to the Federal arms in Virginia the secessionists in Maryland would give trouble. The Union men of Maryland need support and encouragement from the government, and the State authorities should be trusted with caution.