The Niggerism of the Secession Movement

Cincinnati Daily Commercial, March 16, 1861

The influence of the negroes of the South upon their masters is much greater than is generally understood, and appears in many traits of character, and in customs, social and civil, where we are not accustomed to give it recognition. The intimacy of the association between the whites and blacks in the slave States, the sensibility that exists among them as to mutual interests, and the interchange of sympathies between them, are not appreciated fully in the Northern States. The analyst of the phenomena of Southern Society, will find a remarkable vindication of the humanity and force of the negro race in the impress which the slaves make upon their masters. While the distinctions that we find marked between the white men of the South, and of the North, are not altogether to be attributed to the permeating presence of the negro in one section, and his comparative absence from, and isolation in the other, much being due climatic influences, and much more, aside from the relation of races, to the relation of slavery—we will find, after the most cautious discrimination, the African elements of character appearing largely among the whites, who are brought into the closest contact with Africans. Men cannot be associated on any terms, without reciprocating influences. The slave imitates his master, and wears his manners as well as his clothes, at second hand; and the master, notwithstanding the superiority of his will and mental force, receives from the slaves, who in their humble capacity, are his play fellows in childhood, and his companions in manhood, impressions that give coloring to his character, and shape his life, as certainly as the Southern sun embrowns his complexion.

It has not escaped any intelligent person's observation that even the best educated Southerners have something of the African accent and dialect. We have heard Southern members of Congress, when it would be difficult to decide by the sound, whether the speaker was a white man or a negro. There is something too of Tropical taste displayed in dress by the Southern people. There are more bright colors in apparel, and richness of ornament, seen in the South than in the North. A New York merchant sending dry goods to be sold on commission to Southern and Northern points, would select a larger proportion of glittering patterns for the South than for the North. In Southern newspapers we find even greater intensity of style than in the sensation sheets of the North; and there are more fantastic and grandiloquent figurative efforts and a greater exhuberance of adjectives, in Southern speeches and editorials than in the Northern staples of that sort. This is especially true of the speeches of rural politicians and the writings of the editors of newspapers published in villages. In accounting for these things, while we should not forget the temperament induced by the Southern sun, we must not overlook the part of the sons of Africa in popular education.

It was, however, left for the secession movement to show the negroism of the politics of the extreme States and the extreme politicians of the South. The strained dignity and vainglorious sensitiveness of South Carolina, have an unmistakable flavor of the ragged pomp of Hayti; and the boasted revolution in the seven cotton States, bears far more resemblance to a negro insurrection than to the revolt of the thirteen American colonies, with which it is so complacently compared. It is unlike a servile revolt because there are no disabilities that would be removed by a success. But there is a want of foresight, an improvidence, an incapacity to understand the plainest relations of things—a dim, giddy notion that a pyramid should stand upon its apex—illustrated in the history of secession, that is glaringly African. The idea of rushing out of the Union to secure slave property—of making mighty war and conquering the cities of the North—of seizing the forts of New England and thence commanding the seas—of conquering Mexico, Central America and the West India Islands;—the policy of taking empty forts by storm —of incurring enormous expenses now borne by the Federal Government in protecting the frontiers, and furnishing postal facilities—of expelling from their communities all whose opinions do not square with their own;—the fussy war excitement when there is no danger—the financial policy of getting rich by becoming bankrupts—the cultivation of fierce, clannish local prejudices—the presumption that each particular spot of cotton soil is the center of gravity of the commercial world—the oracular and pretended original statement of crude and silly theories of government and political economy, exploded by the experience of mankind centuries ago;—the taste displayed in banners bearing crescent moons, snakes, trees, and other strange devices—these things point to Congo as the Father land. There are no terms in which the spirit and form, history and philosophy of the secession movement are so well condensed, as to say that it is an outbreak of niggerism.