What Slave States May Secede, and What "Niggers for the Niggerless" May Have to Do with It

Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, December 15, 1860

At last, many of the very rabidest of Black Republicans are ready to affirm that Old ABE is like to be the actual, acting President of merely a fractional part of the Republic. Yet, at the same time, these very Republicans flatter themselves that the Cotton States only will secede. They profess to entertain no fear of the Border States going out also. They even ridicule the vague apprehensions casually expressed by trembling fellow-citizens that the Border States may go with the Cotton States. They are very prompt to defend their hopes in this regard, by appealing first, to the undeniable fact that there is an irrepressible conflict—a directly antagonistic difference in interest—between the slave owners of the two slave sections; and then, by pointing out the logical inference therefrom, that these diverse interests must naturally prevent united, simultaneous action, for a while at any rate, on the part of both breeding and planting States.

Now, while there is plausible ground here for somewhat of hope to rest upon, yet it is only plausible, as we shall presently make manifest. There is, in fact, urgent danger on the other hand that this very conflict and antagonism of interest will precipitate the Slave States out of the Union all together—Border States with Cotton States. Yet, we make no question that, the compelling motive dictating secession, on the part of the Cotton States, is simply the desire to inaugurate anew the slave trade, and maintain it by the interested protection of a powerful Confederacy of Slave States. For cheap slave labor, from the necessity of the case, is, and ever will be, the great desideratum of the planting States.

Let then the revival of the slave trade become a fait accompli, and by the sole action of the Cotton States, it presumptively follows, that slaves, raised in the Border States, and now sold to the far South planters, at the exorbitant prices of $1000, to $1500 each, will then have to be sold at about what the imported African can be purchased for of the slave trader—say not over $100 to $200 each. Here is unquestionably an immense depreciation in the value of slave property impending upon the issue of Union or Disunion. This depreciation will be the direct result of the contemplated secession of the Cotton States. And the real loss will fall almost wholly upon the slave owners of the Border States.

It would certainly seem plain enough, from this view, that the Border States are directly interested to absolutely prevent the secession of any State—if they can. The question with the slave owners in these States doubtless touches the pocket nerve of every one of them. We fear no lack of disposition here to put down secession. The only serious question is whether the ability, the power to bring about the desired object exists there.

There are many substantial grounds, it is to be regretted, for distrusting that the action of the Border States will be on the side of the Union. Some may think secession, of part of the States, cannot now be avoided or prevented; even if, on their part, the purpose ever existed to use either threats or coercion in behalf of the Union. Then too, in all the Border States, the heresy largely obtains, that the Union is nothing else than a partnership league between absolutely sovereign States, either of which may, under the sole guidance of its individual passion, wind up and break up the concern, at any time, and at any sacrifice, even though every other State be thereby wronged without remedy. Thence it is distrust of the coercive energies of the Border States is unavoidable.

What then can they do if the Cotton States persist in going out? Have the Border States any remedy for that State of things?

We think they have one, and but one. True, that remedy will not save them from any loss consequent on secession, yet, if they are prompt to use it, it will save them from immediate and absolute ruin. This remedy is, to go out with the Cotton States, and control the policy of the Southern Confederacy, and especially direct in the formation of its new fundamental law or Constitution.

But can the Border States efficiently exercise this requisite control, if they go out with the Cotton States? That is a question soon determined. It is generally asserted or expected that (8) States are unalterably determined to secede. These are supposed to be South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and North Carolina. The States in question—we call them Border States for convenience—are 7 in number; viz: Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Delaware and Missouri.

Now, by reference to the popular vote at the last Presidential election, it appears that while the 8 States have a voting population of only 500,000, the 7 States on the other hand have some 800,000 voters. The Congressional representation shows the same comparative difference.

The Border States then unquestionably have the political power, and can rule the new Southern Confederacy, if they have the will and the disposition to do so. But suppose they foolishly hesitate. Then the Cotton States in Convention, may be reasonably expected to establish just such a Constitution as they may elect. And one irrepealable clause therein, will most assuredly read like the following:

"The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States, now in Convention assembled, shall think proper to admit shall never be prohibited, by the Congress of the Southern Confederacy; and no tax or duty shall ever be imposed on such importation, except by consent and request of each and all the said States."

It is not difficult to see that such an irrevocable, constitutional authorization and perpetuation of the foreign slave trade is what the Cotton States want to secure, first of all. Doubtless, in this very consideration, is found the motive influencing YANCEY, and the other precipitating leaders, in their evident intent that the Border States wait in the Union a while, and stand guard against any attempts by the North, by coercion, to put down secession. The Cotton States want time and opportunity to get things fixed to suit themselves. That the Border States will be in the worst fix they were ever in, if they do wait, is more than probable.

Therefore, we argue, that, if interest is to any extent determining the present issue of disunion, and if any States actually do go out, that then all the slave States may be expected to follow after without delay, and that in fact, the secession of one State will be that of all 15. In fact, doubt and hesitation on the part of the border States, in this matter, will be irreparable ruin to the present slave owners of those States. It will not answer for the border States to simply stand guard by the cotton States, while they form a new general government, and adopt a constitution adapted alone to benefit the exclusive planting interests, and enact laws legalizing and protecting upon the ocean, once again, a free commerce in slaves. It will not do, least of all now, for the border States to stand aside, and see that foreign slave trade effectually guarded forever against all tariff or other restrictions and the door to slavery importations from other lands opened wide, at once and forever. Standing aloof, fearful to meet the issue, at a crisis like this, will not answer, especially for the border slave States. They might perhaps attempt a defiant, independent position, but it would avail nothing. The glory, safety and profit of the upper slave section, in that event, would most certainly suffer, soon, a compulsory reduction to the lower slave section, if the latter thought it worth while to adopt that policy; or else its distinct Southern characteristic—its institution of slave property—would hopelessly disappear by the route of the U. G. R. R. of the Northern abolitionist. And at any rate, the border States would be really powerless after disunion was once consummated, to direct or influence, effectively, either section to which they might afterwards seek, or be compelled to unite their destinies.

There are then three several alternatives presented now, for the action of the border States. Either to stand up for the Union, and coerce, if necessary, the cotton States to submit to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and in that way preserve the Union at any risk; or to precipitate themselves—become actual and immediate co-actors with the cotton States in the revolutionary programme now unrolling; or else become self-doomed, States and people, as bankrupt in pocket, reputation and everything.

Now, laying aside, for argument['s] sake, the question whether civil war is a necessary and attendant incident upon national dissolution, as now threatened, it is clear that unquestionably the true first interest of the Border States, at least that interest dependent upon and existent in slave property, lies in preserving the Union as it is. What we fear, however, is that the Border States are unable to maintain this interest, as they otherwise would, consistently with the salvation of the Union as it is, owing to the demoralization of the public sentiment of those States: which sentiment, it is sorrowful to confess, seems to have suddenly unlearned, and with a reckless haste, the lesson taught by the more than eighty years' ever-increasing and substantial prosperity of the States thus far in the Union. There is good reason, also, to fear that the people of the Border States will no longer tolerate Union sentiments amongst them, once the bands of Union [are] fairly torn asunder. This apprehension gathers weight from the reflection that the mass of their citizens, as distinguished from the slave owners, whose interest is of course conservative, are in all probability impatient now for the measurable adoption among themselves of the "cheap nigger" policy of the Cotton States.

For, though the most of them are, now, too poor to own high-priced slaves, the real, voting public of every slave State are not only willing, but are anxious to own slaves, and the sooner the better. The poor whites of the South, those conversant with its people well know, are animated by no such class of motives as HELPER's Book was intended to act upon. Only let them once own a nigger, and feel they can afford to keep him, and few, if any, of them will care, one iota, whether the coveted property first saw the light across the sea, in the dominions of King DAHOMEY, or was born of a slave mother, within a slave but of the F. F. Vs. of the Old Dominion.

We are fully persuaded, that after the "die is cast," and the separation of one or more of the Slave States becomes an admitted and irremediable fact, that then, in all the Southern States, without exception, in the northernmost as well as the southernmost, the shibboleth of "Cheap Niggers" will be as popular as that of "Cheap Land" is known to be in the North. And, we hazard little by the imputation, impertinent though it may be deemed, when we merely suggest, that our gallant Senator BEN. WADE, (who is ever valiant especially in profane braggadocio,) has already begun seriously, if not nervously, to fear that perhaps the cry of "Niggers for the Niggerless" is to be more potent as a powerful political lever in the South, during the yet brief remnant of his political career, than his other cry of "Land for the Landless" was intended to be both North and South.

Finally, the dismal shadowing of accidents, incidents and disastrous consequences waiting, with a fateful, malignant certainty upon the event of Disunion, forces the unavoidable conviction, that the only reasonable doctrine, promising absolute safety to the existence and prosperity of all States and Sections, is, that the Constitution and the laws of the Union, at every sacrifice, be strictly enforced throughout the length and breadth of the whole land, by the general government, acting with positive efficiency, in its accustomed sphere, and in all the States alike, compelling a faithful and scrupulous obedience to their requirements by every citizen. May States and statesmen, sections and people, see this, in time. Watch and pray!