“Will Secession Preserve Slavery?”

Posted on March 27, 2011 by


I’m in a western Maryland frame of mind. So…

…the following comes from the Herald and Torch (Hagerstown, Md.), March 13, 1861:

Will Secession Preserve Slavery?

The Baltimore Sun, which is the exponent of the extreme sentiments of the Southern rights men of Maryland, as they call themselves, says that “secession and union with the South is the only thing that can preserve” the institution of Slavery in Maryland. Thus, the cloven-foot is very plainly shown by the Metropolitan organ of the BRECKINRIDGE politicians. It virtually assumes as a fact that the North has become permanently Republicanized in the partizan acceptation of that term, and from this very questionable hypothesis, proceeds to argue that slavery will be insecure in the Border States if they remain in the Union with that North as an insignificant minority, but it utterly fails to show how that institution in Maryland would be more secure in a Southern Confederacy. We do not believe that a majority of the Northern people have willfully and deliberately determined to crush out Slavery, or that they are not prepared at this very moment, could they be heard through their ballot-boxes, to do us ample justice. But suppose the Sun is right in its uncharitable opinion of those people, what protection can JEFF. DAVIS’ Confederacy extend to the institution of Slavery in Maryland that it does not now enjoy under the Constitution and in the Union which our forefathers framed and cemented and bequeathed to us as the most priceless of legacies? Release those Northern people from their constitutional obligations to us, and what is to prevent them from striking down Slavery wherever it can be reached? and what is to prevent them from reaching it in Maryland but an imaginary division line of nearly two hundred miles in length? We think the people of this State will require some further information upon this subject from the Sun – some additional rays of light from this great Southern luminary – because they are prepared to accept its proposition that “secession and union with the South is the only thing that can preserve the institution of slavery in Maryland,” or before they are willing to believe that such a suicidal step would not put that institution in the course of very rapid extinction in all the border States.

*Follow-up: This post really isn’t looking for an answer to the question presented in the title of the post. Note first, that the title is a quote.

The quote, as used here, is to be considered from the angle it was presented at that particular time in March 1861 (as well as from whom it was presented, and why they presented it to their readers). As I mentioned, the Torch and Herald took the quote from the Baltimore Sun, clearly stating that the Sun was “the exponent of the extreme sentiments of the Southern rights men of Maryland, as they call themselves”. The Torch and Herald, on the other hand, was the Unionist media arm of the Hagerstown/Washington County, Maryland area. Therefore, we have Unionist media, in western Maryland, looking at pro-secesh media, in eastern Maryland. Why? What did they hope to accomplish by presenting this to their readers? By all means, give a shot at an answer to these questions, but not at the question presented in the title. Be sure, however, to understand just where the Hagerstown paper was coming from. Yes, slavery still existed in western Maryland, but the Unionist presence there was much stronger than the pro-secesh. Given careful consideration, this may be an exercise in learning how not to broad-brush. For some great insight into where slavery stood in the mind of these folks in western Maryland, I strongly recommend portions of Kathleen Ernst’s Too Afraid To Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign. Also, take a little time to look through older posts here, that I have focused on the Hagerstown paper, as well as the perspectives of western Marylanders, at the heart of this situation, at that time. Thanks.

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