A follow-up on Faulkner and his thoughts on slavery

Posted on June 22, 2014 by




I happened to be passing through Hagerstown yesterday, and had the chance to slip in to the public library for about 2 hours, to browse through older editions of the newspapers. One of my objectives… to look-up articles about Faulkner. What I found didn’t disappoint, including one particular piece that gave a hint as to how he was thinking years after his speech in 1832.

Some readers may recall that I asked the question…

“Did this opinion remain in the Valley, thirty years later when the secession crisis became real in Virginia?”

On January 25, 1860, an article in the Hagerstown Fire and Torch Light directed readers again to Faulkner’s speech of 1832, prompted first to do so because of his recent appointment, by President Buchanan, as Minister to France, and secondly because of particular feelings still lingering by the entry about him in Hinton Rowan Helper’s The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It (1857).

On p. 98, Helper states

One of the best abolition speeches we have ever read was delivered in the Virginia House of Delegates, January 20th, 1832, by Charles James Faulkner, who still lives, and who has, we understand, generously emancipated several of his slaves, and sent them to Liberia. Here follows an extract from his speech; let Southern politicians read it attentively, and imbibe a moiety of the spirit of patriotism which it breathes.

In turn, the HF&TL article states:

Our Democratic friends may say, that Mr. Faulkner has long since repented of these sentiments, and is now a true friend of the South, and that therefore the statute of limitation, or the minority act, should apply to his former offences against the “peculiar” institution, but would they have suffered such a plea to avail  in the case of an American or a Whig? Certainly not. They would have held him to a fearful responsibility for his record until the day of his death.

I think the paper’s argument misses a key point… that Faulkner actually left the Whig Party in 1852, and became a member of the Democratic Party.

Furthermore, the HF&TL makes a comparison to another person then in the news… Maryland’s ex-governor Francis Thomas, who, like Faulkner, was also a Democrat and advocated for emancipation in the 1840s.

Gov. Francis Thomas

Gov. Francis Thomas

Again, it is stated in the Baltimore Sun of last week, that the president tendered to Ex-Governor THOMAS, of Maryland, the U.S. Treasuryship. There is but one Ex-Governor THOMAS at present a citizen of this State, and if he is the gentleman to whom the office of Treasurer was offered, it is another act of gracious pardon extended to a late Free Soiler!

What’s particularly ironic about this piece is that the HF&TL was actually the Unionist voice for the Hagerstown area (as opposed to the Hagerstown Herald, which was the pro-secessionist newspaper). Furthermore, it would appear, as a result of additional findings by me, that the HF&TL was entirely wrong about Faulkner. As I’ve examined Francis Thomas’ situation… briefly… in an earlier post… there was certainly no comparison there. In fact, it was Faulkner himself who made clear where he stood in 1832… and where he stood sometime around 1852… and that both positions were not the same. I’ll let Faulkner explain for himself (thanks to my source… a very excellent one at that… The United States Democratic Review, Vol. 41, 1858)…

In all my remarks upon the occasion referred to, I spoke as a slave-holder might properly speak, addressing a community of slave-holders – as a Virginian might speak, addressing an assembly of Virginians – as a friend of the white race might speak, appealing to the interests of that race. I examined the influence of that institution upon the agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the Commonwealth – upon the interests of the white laborer – the artizans and mechanics of the State; and not an idea can be extracted from my remarks, that is founded upon an exclusive reference to the prosperity and happiness of that race with which I am identified by God and nature. – Not a sentiment was uttered by me that cannot be sustained by similar or stronger sentiments from the writings and opinions of Washington, Jefferson, Wythe, Mason, Lee, the elder Tucker, and a host of other names, great and illustrious, in the annals of our Commonwealth… It has now been near twenty years since that speech was delivered, and few, I apprehend, sufficiently remember my remarks, or the circumstances under which they were made, to place a fair estimate upon my position at the time. It has, consequently, been the subject of frequent misrepresentation by superficial scribblers and unscrupulous partisans. There is but one spirit which prefaced my entire argument, and that is a love and devotion to the best interests of Virginia. I may, in some of my views, have displayed an immaturity of judgement, but the patriotism of the sentiments will be questioned by none. And when I reflect upon my youth at the period of that discussion – upon the circumstances existing at the time, and which awakened a spirit of ultraism even in Eastern delegates of advanced years – and , further, when I reflect upon the extent to which we were urged to prompt and decided action, by persons of such commanding positions as the editor of the Richmond Enquirer, I only feel gratified at the tone of sentiment which thus fell from me on that occasion.

The views which I expressed in 1832, upon this delicate and interesting subject of State policy, are before the country. They cannot be recalled. Litera Scripta manet. There they stand for good or for evil. When delivered they were in accordance with the feelings and sentiments of Virginia. All the motives which promoted my action were sound and patriotic. If I erred, it was an error of the times – an error shared by me in common with many of the noblest and brightest spirits in this Commonwealth, and who have since been honored with every mark of trust and confidence within the gift of their native State.

Furthermore, as the Democratic Review states:

The contiguity of Mr. Faulkner’s residence to Pennsylvania subjected his slave property to vast depredations committed by the underground railroad. This fact, as ell as the loud complaints of his neighbors, who were also losing their slaves, attracted his attending to the necessity of additional legislation by Congress to carry out the Fugitive Slave clause in the constitution. A relation of a part of his personal history by himself, in his speech in the House of Representatives in 1852, which we extract, describes more briefly and better than we can his movements to effect the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law by Congress.

From Faulkner…

As early as the year 1846, my attention was in an especial manner drawn to that extraordinary condition of things existing in this Confederacy, exhibiting the virtual and practical nullification of one of the most important provisions secured by the Constitution to the South. The guarantee existed, it is true (as a dead letter), in the Federal compact; but public sentiment and State legislation combined, had rendered it as absolutely of our National Covenant. The act of Congress of 1793, depending for its vitality upon state agents and state officers, its efficacy was wholly destroyed by the legislation of the States forbidding the cooperation of state officers in its enforcement. I cannot better illustrate the spirit of Northern legislation upon this subject than to refer to the case of Vermont, which by an act of November, 1843, inflicted a heavy pecuniary penalty, and declared it to be a penitentiary offence, not only for a state officer, but even for any citizen of that State, to aid in the recapture of a fugitive slave. I found that hostility to the institutions of the South was an increasing and growing sentiment in the North, stimulated and fomented by politicians for the worst and most nefarious purposes.

Keep in mind that this has been a “fluid study” in which I engaged. In the first blog post, I found something which I thought might serve as an opportunity to explain that, perhaps, in fact, a politicians position in the upper South… even in the Shenandoah Valley… was such as to form a more formidable foundation for the “not for slavery, but clearly for hearth and home” Confederate argument. Indeed, in Faulkner’s example, that is most certainly no longer the case. I think it’s sufficient to say, especially considering that Faulkner introduced a series of resolutions that were the basis for the fugitive slave laws passed by Congress in 1850, he did not sustain the position that he held in 1832. I also find it odd that Hinton Rowan Helper actually used Faulkner’s speech of 1832, despite Faulkner’s shift… of which Helper mentions not a word.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, might Faulkner’s position of 1832 also stand as an example of how regarding arguments made by other fellow Virginians at that time may have been just as much “for that time”? Also, perhaps it may have seemed feasible as of 1832, but that the possibility of a gradual emancipation of slaves became less and less a possibility for consideration as the South moved into the latter 1840s and early 1850s.