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Slavery? Here?

As the Civil War reaches its 150th anniversary, it's time to reflect on the impact of that era on the Pacific Northwest, and how political battles over slavery, secession, and states' rights were fought not just back East, but in the Rain Belt too.

Isaac Stevens, seated, with his Army staff

Isaac Stevens, seated, with his Army staff

Deep political division, violence, a nasty, partisan media. This year we remember the so-called "Secession Winter" of 1861 as the United States fragmented and fell apart in what was the most tumultuous time in our nation's history.

While nothing since has matched it for intensity and the resultant bloodshed, it resonates today where issues like states' and civil rights are fought over in legislatures and the courts, where race is still a great unhealed wound, where Blue and Red states (as opposed to Blue and Gray) squeeze citizens in the ideological middle, where the Constitution and guns are frequently waved.

This year is the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. While most of the politics and fighting happened from the Mississippi River on east, Pacific Northwesterners would do well to use the occasion to review what happened here in the 1850s and '60s, a critical period in the settlement of the region and the formation of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Indeed, Oregon's statehood was hotly debated: Should it be a slave state, or free? The region's newspapers were as nasty as the blogosphere, so virulently vituperative and partisan that such journalism became known nationally as "Oregon style." When a person got to the end of the Oregon trail, they could still be in the thick of things.

War politics helped carve Idaho out of the Washington Territory, which in 1861 consisted of the current states of Washington, Idaho, and large chunks of Montana and Wyoming. It played a role in the birth of Oregon in 1859. As a whole, Oregon Country was remote but still involved in conflicts over slavery, popular sovereignty, territorial rights, and federal control. Many major players in the political conflict and Civil War itself had starring, or at least cameo roles here, especially military men doing frontier service.

Ulysses S. Grant was stationed for a while at Fort Vancouver, where it is said his drinking problems began, in part due to the damp and loneliness. George Pickett, later the Confederate officer famous for Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, a moment called the "high-water mark of the Confederacy," helped hold the San Juan Islands for America against Great Britain during the Pig War. Phil Sheridan, Winfield Scott, and George B. McClellan were also here fighting Indians, surveying road and rail routes, or negotiating agreements.

On the political side, the campaign of 1860 featured the Northwest's first-ever candidate on a national ticket. The southern-born Joseph Lane, first territorial governor then senator from Oregon, was the vice presidential candidate along with presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge, one of the two competing Democratic tickets that year (the other Democratic ticket was headed by Lincoln's rival, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois).

The Democratic party had split, mostly north and south, on the subject of the expansion of slavery into the territories. Breckinridge/Lane was the preferred ticket of the South: They won 11 southern states and came in second in the electoral college.

Running that pro-Southern, slavery-friendly campaign was Isaac I. Stevens, Washington's territorial delegate in Congress and the man, more than any other, who is the state's founding father. He served as territorial governor, scouted railway routes, negotiated — sometimes with brutal force — the region's Indian treaties. In 1860, many of the Northwest's leading political actors, our stars on the national stage, were sympathetic with Dixie, not abolitionists or "Black Republicans" like Abraham Lincoln.

Thanks to a divided vote that split Democrats between Breckinridge and Douglas, the young Pacific Coast states of California and Oregon went for Lincoln. Yet the Republican vote did not mean racial enlightenment. Historian Robert Johannsen described the debates over race and slavery in his book Frontier Politics and Sectional Conflict: the Pacific Northwest on the Eve of the Civil War. Oregon's citizens voted to reject slavery by a wide margin, but by an even wider margin they voted to ban all blacks and mulattos, free or slave, from the new state, which joined the union in 1859. Many urged that the Pacific Northwest become an all-white enclave.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jan 17, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Too true regarding centrism. I think what people are looking for is an alternative to the current duopoly, not some middle ground between the two.

By the way, I don't think I saw it in this piece, but Washington Territory's second Congressional delegate, James Patton Anderson (served from 1855 to 1857), later served as a major general in the Confederate Army. See http://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/socialmedia/Congressional%20delegations%20since%20territorial%20days.pdf (or http://goo.gl/ArOtJ for short). Anderson only lived here for a short time... he was born, and died, in Tennessee. It was none other than Jefferson Davis who brought him to Washington. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Patton_Anderson)

Posted Mon, Jan 17, 12:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Mr. Berger; this is as informative and thought-provoking a piece of historical analysis as I've seen anywhere.

It explains a great deal about how the region's uniquely perplexing sociological and political paradoxes came into being, for example the phenomenon of locally born self-proclaimed "progressives" whose xenophobic hatred of people and ideas from elsewhere far exceeds any comparable bigotry one might encounter in today's South.

Though you didn't mention it, I presume you're aware of the George Pickett House in Bellingham, a bay-view structure built on Garrison-commander Pickett's orders.Then-captain Pickett lived there from 1857 until he deserted the U.S. Army to join the Confederacy 1861.

The dwelling's celebration as "the George Pickett House" rather than simply the oldest such structure in Bellingham is a revealing anomaly in a town legendary for its seemingly "progressive" political ideology.

Posted Mon, Jan 17, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Fascinating article. One more element of this story could be the contributions of John C Fremont (Fremont neighborhood) who unlike many who ended up in the Confederate camp, became the first anti-slavery and Republican presidential candidate eventually. He had been famous as an early explorer, and surveyor- cartographer following up the work of Lewis and Clark.

Back then the Republicans were a different ideological lot than they seem to be now. Lincoln followed Fremont as a "moderate" on slavery, but it was Fremont who blazed the trail.

Thanks!

Posted Mon, Jan 17, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Very interesting, we don't hear much about the "rain belt" in CW.

But as to the Civil War being about states rights -- that is one of the myths. In reality, the Confederacy detested states rights as much as they hated free speech, and they stopped free speech by laws giving torture to anyone who got out of line. See http://violentsuppression.blogspot.com

IN fact, the Southern leaders went to war to STOP state's rights. Kansas had just voted 98% to 2% AGAINST slavery, and fought a bloody war against slave owners thugs, sent to force slavery down their throat.

See the South's own words at the time -- see the Confederate's Five Ultimatums. I bet you never heard of them. The Southern newspapers shouted them with glee-- Richmond newspapers in March of 1861 calling these Ultimatums "THE TRUE ISSUE"

All five Southern Ultimatums -- all five -- were about the SPREAD of slavery against the will of the people. All five were violently against states rights. States could not decide the issue of slavery themselves. States could not even decide what happened within their OWN borders! These Five Ultimatums are astonishing not just because they were for the spread of slavery by violence, but because they repudiated any pretense of state's rights. They specifically demand states have NO rights.

Google Southern Ultimatums, or see this, http://fivedemands.blogspot.com/

Posted Mon, Jan 17, 2:47 p.m. Inappropriate

I have always had a hard time understanding the state's rights argument.

We have a state's rights argument over marijuana. Despite the sometimes heated arguments, I can't see the states organizing an army to fight for the right to smoke pot.

Fine to sqay it was a state's rights fight, but the fight wasn't over state's rights in theory, it was state's rights with respect to slavery.

Absent slavery, the state's rights fights would have been settled in court, or settled in the Legislature. To get a Civil War, you needed slavery.

Posted Mon, Jan 17, 6:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Apropos FilmCriticOne's statements about Civil War misconceptions, perhaps the biggest misconception of all is that the war was intended to end slavery.

In truth the slavery issue was never more than propaganda, a fact proven by the date of the Emancipation Proclamation, 1 January 1863, and underscored by the North's abandonment of former slaves to the Ku Klux Kindness of the South after the war – the latter a tacit nod to death-squad oppression that was formally ended only by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Such deceptive propaganda was nothing new even in the 1860s. Just as the Crusades were allegedly fought to take back the so-called Holy Land from the Muslims but were actually about forcibly re-opening trade routes to the Far East, so was the Civil War in truth fought mostly to gain the Northern timber barons free access to Southern forests.

The timber barons of the mid-1800s are rightfully compared to the oil barons of today both in power (the number of politicians they owned) and in extra-legal relentlessness. But their influence was limited to the industrial North, where wood was a core resource, used not just for construction but as the primary fuel for railroads and steam-powered industries.

By the Civil War era, the timber monopoly had clearcut all the North's readily accessible forests. Thus its barons redirected their political financing to candidates who would give them access to new realms to similarly despoil – whether via the construction of intercontinental railroads or seizure of the South's vast plantation-managed woodlands.

Enter Honest Abe Lincoln, whose close connection to the timber barons is ironically preserved today only in his image as an implicitly populist log-cabin-dwelling "rail (splitter) candidate" and in the children's toy Lincoln Logs.

The real-world consequences however were dramatically destructive, perhaps unprecedentedly so.

For example, the Tennessee River – in 1861 navigable from its mouth (where it enters the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky) to its source (the confluence of the French Broad and Holston rivers at Knoxville) and from there upstream to the first rapids in each of these rivers – was by 1900 so silted from clear-cutting it was no longer navigable at all.

Indeed the primary purpose of the Tennessee Valley Authority was restoration of the Tennessee River system to navigability: a New Deal project that from its inception was (predictably) despised by the Republican Party.

Though TVA is today popularly associated with generation of the least-expensive and most abundant electricity available in the United States, its core purpose was equal measures of flood control and reforestation – work made necessary by the depredations of the timber barons who, thanks to "Honest Abe," were able to clearcut the postwar South bald as the proverbial baby's bottom.

Another legacy of the timber barons' environmental rapine is the Kudzu plague that now threatens the entire United States.

Kudzu was imported to the South from Japan in the late 1870s, first planted in Georgia as a fast-growing ground cover to reduce the incidence of ruinous landslides that were another consequence of unrestricted clear-cutting.

Though Kudzu is used for the same purpose in Japan – has been so used there since time immemorial – a number of enemies native to the Japanese ecosystem effectively control its growth.

But the purple-flowered plant has no such enemies here in North America, where a single vine grows 120 feet per year. Its invasion can thus strangle a tree or take an empty house in only one summer.

Now – as if to perpetuate the ruinous legacy of Lincoln's logging – it is spreading uncontrollably across the whole continent.

Posted Mon, Jan 17, 6:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Loren, sorry to burst your bubble, but the Southern leaders were quite emphatic and clear what their demands were - -SPREAD SLAVERY against the will of the people. SPREAD slavery against state's rights to keep it out.

SPREAD slavery -- was the subject of ALL FIVE of the Southern Ultimatums. Not just one, not just two, not just three, not just four-- but ALL FIVE of the SOuthern ultimatums were about the SPREAD of slavery. And the spread of slavery AGAINST state's rights.

Go read the South's ultimatums. Go read them. The South wrote them, they issued them, all you have to do is go read them.

Southern leaders issue the Southern Ultimatums. Southern newspapers announce the Southern Ultimatums as "THE TRUE ISSUE" Not good enough for you?

Southern leaders -- Southern newspapers -- Southern words - written AT the time. Not later, at the time.

The most fascinating things you can read are the lunatic Southern demands for the North to spread slavery FOR the South.

This would be like Hitler issuing Five Ultimatums to England, to spread Nazism for the amuesement of Germany. Yes -- it's that insane. SPREAD slavery for us - -spread it AGAINST the will of the people, or we promise war.

Great plan! How'd that work for you? Lincoln dismissed the lunatic Southern Ultimatums, as well he should.

But these weren't some goofy last minute Ultimatums made up by some drunks in Montgomery. These were the same demands the SOuth had made for 50 years -- and they said to. Got that? The SOuthern leaders SAID this is what we have demanded all along!

You gotta hand it to the Southern leaders of the time -- they spoke straight, at least at times. And they spoke straight in their Ultimatums. SPREAD slavery by violence against the will of the people --- FORCE the people to accept and respect slavery, even though those people just voted 98% - 2% to keep slavery out forever.

It takes a special kind of gaul to demand the North spread slavery for the South. And it takes even more gaul to demand the North force slavery down the throats of people who just voted against slavery 98% to 2%.

But these Southern men had gaul, and lots of it. They regularly sold children, had men and women whipped -- and said God told them to! What's a little insane demands to the North, via the SOuthern Ultimatums.

Google the Southern Ultimatums. GO read what the South said AT THE TIME. Not this nonsense they dreamed up later, like cowards. I am talking about what the Southern leaders and newspapers bragged about AT THE TIME.

WHy is it the South today is afraid to death to admit what their own leaders said and cheered about at the time?

Google Southern Ultimatums, learn what the SOuthern leaders demanded at the time. http://fivedemands.blogspot.com/

Posted Tue, Jan 18, 2:15 a.m. Inappropriate

With all due respect, FilmCriticOne, I never challenged the reality of the Southern Ultimatums.

Having been a Civil Rights activist whose political resume includes the Knox County Jail and malicious slander on Page One of The Knoxville Journal -- the very daily which until the moment of my arrest I had served for nearly three years as a sports writer -- I need no lessons in Southern malevolence and treachery nor in the Nazi-rabid racial and religious hatreds that fuel it.

Returning to matters of older history, it was after all the Confederacy that started the Civil War by attacking Fort Sumter. The Rebels would have next invaded the North but for Lee's insistence on the propagandistic superiority of defensive warfare.

None of which changes the fact Lincoln was as much a tool of the capitalist Ruling Class as Bush or Obama is today -- just as Jefferson Davis et al were tools of the South's feudal aristocracy.

Nowhere in the Civil War were We the People represented: it was a clash between two all-powerful elites: Northern/Industrial versus Southern/Agrarian, with the common people on either side either suckered in by propaganda or tortured, imprisoned and often murdered (as in the NYC anti-draft riots) if they dared resist.

Particularly in U.S. history, there are miserably few Good Guys. With the rare and therefore notable exceptions of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Karen Silkwood and Joe Hill, there are in fact only bad guys – perpetrators whose badness appears as lesser evil only because its magnitude has yet to be exposed.

An excellent intro to these oft-hidden truths is Howard Zinn: "A People's History of the United States."

Meanwhile I'm sorry I can't point you to a single source for the Lincoln connection to the Lords of Logging – it is only implied by Zinn but was laid out in detail by some other historian whose name I no longer recall, a writer I encountered during my undergraduate work, which ended with an interdisciplinary liberal arts BA alas nearly 40 years ago.

My readings in history since then – save for brief detours to fulfill momentary curiosity – has focused almost entirely on British and European archaeology, ancient Rome, and the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

In any case I hope this clears up the misunderstanding.

Posted Tue, Jan 18, 7:40 a.m. Inappropriate

No where were we the people represented?

Thanks for mentioning Zinn.

Let me get this straight. The South was ruled by an illegal, unconstitutional and violent group of radical lunatics, (slavers) who said God told them to enslave millions of people, and spread this violent sexually motivated and putrid oppression. If you want the unvarnished truth about the South's rulers, there it is. Nothing legal about it. Nothing noble.

Our US Constitution would have prevented these putrid oppressions, if the South had allowed freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, and obeyed the Constitution ban on cruel punishment. What we never hear about is that the South violently and illegally suppressed the US Constitution from 1820 on.

Southern leaders stopped real elections and free speech, even controlled what religions could preach, from the 1820's . See the book "The Other South" by Degler.

Southern leaders were raised from birth in what George Mason called "a school from hell" where they were taught to see large groups of people as deserving of pain and cruelty, while the leaders themselves learned to be seen as "gentleman." They were no more gentleman than any one-eyed gap toothed despot, but they learned to have the appearance and mannerisms of "gentleman". This was a devilish combination that would result in catastrophe, Mason wrote. He was dead on.

What we have done is treat the Southern leaders as gentleman, instead of despots. Lee is called to THIS DAY, a "Devout Christian Gentleman"

For those who care what the truth is, the despots left plenty of evidence behind. Such as their ultimatums in March of 1861, to spread slavery to the rest of the country. These "gentleman" demanded control even of the behavior and laws in Northern states, and specifically said states or congress or the people do not decide. We do. Slavers do.

And to you and Zinny, Lincoln was as bad as these guys?

Tell you what, Howard Zinn is an interesting kook, but I will accept Frederick Douglass' insights into what Lincoln did, and why he did it. Zinn was babbling attention seeker, Douglass was a genius who was beaten as a slave, bought his own freedom, knew Lincoln, knew the insanity Lincoln had to beat back, knew what Lincoln and the era was all about.

Do you even know what Douglass said? This isn't a rhetorical question, do you know what Douglass said about it? You know what Zinn's rant is; do you know what Douglass report was?

No, you don't.

If you could dream up, out of thin air, a man uniquely positioned in all of history, to tell you what Lincoln was all about, and what scum sucking pigs, North and South, that Lincoln had to deal with, it would be Frederick Douglass. Not only was he there, of course, but he knew both sides, knew the treachery, the deceit, the religious fakery, and the violence. And he was a genius.

Enrich yourself by reading Douglass speech from 1876, on Lincoln. IMHO, it should be required reading in our schools, along with the Southern Ultimatums, Lincoln's Gettysburg address, and maybe Sherman's letter to Hood. Those four documents are essential in understanding the period.

Want me to tell you how many of those four you have read? One. Be honest, you had no idea, until I told you, that the Southern ULtimatums even existed. You had no idea that Douglass gave a detailed speech about Lincoln, and this is the first time in your life you have heard of Sherman's letter to Hood.

In many ways, history is understood by the garbage we read. But since there is no big video in the sky for us to watch, we have to depend on reading.

There are things that are not garbage, but which inform and enlighten, even if they are monstrous, like the Five Southern Ultimatums. We learn what kind of man Lee was by his account books, far more than we learn by the insane adoration of him by men like Douglas Southall Freeman.

Frederick Douglass speech about Lincoln, given in 1876 is a history lesson in itself. He shows what Lincoln was up against, and how Lincoln dealt with it.

Garbage in, garbage out. If you feed yourself Zinn, you become a Zinn nut. Feed yourself Douglass, not to become a Douglass nut, but to learn what that genius said and thought.

Essentially the slavers were the violent bullies, they have been glorified stupidly as Christian men "just wanting to be left alone." Actually they were screaming from the rooftops that they will have the spread of slavery, the control of all state laws, or there will be war. Nothing could be more opposite that "wanting to be left alone." If we taught true history, we would teach that Southern leaders had one essential goal -- to spread slavery, not out of evil intent perhaps, but because slaves had become so numerous, their hyper abundance was a daily threat to the lives and peace in the South. The Southern people were scared shitless of slave rebellions and uprisings. This is yet another basic truth we fail to teach, but which everyone knew about at the time.

Compare how many times Southern apologist speak of their own ancestor's Ultimatums (zero) to how often they repeat the canard "We just wanted to be left alone" (endlessly)

Even men they adore today, like Lee, were sometimes a monster. Lee's own account books, in his handwriting, show he gave six times his normal bounty for the capture of young mulatto girl, who he screamed at while he had her tortured, then apparently sold her white looking infant. (See Reading the Man by Pryor) This child torturing lunatic, who regularly sold infants, and paid special attention to white looking infants from his mulatto slaves, was their HERO. Was then, and is now.

Can you imagine if Lincoln's account books showed he tortured children, after he offered six times his normal bounty for a specific girl. If Lincoln had screamed at slave girls while they were whipped, and then sold their white looking infants. Do you think Southern historians would barely mention this? Yet we find out Lee did this, and its barely mentioned. That should tell you the kind of "history" we are taught. We are not taught history at all, we are taught myths.

And Zinn teaches his own myth.

Yet what do we hear about Lee? Some nonsense about him praying with a black woman! Not even a true event.

While Zinn is kind of refreshing to read, he is more of a jester than a historian, he is more George Carlin than a real teacher.

For my nickel, I prefer to read antebellum newspapers, Lee's account books, Davis's books and speeches, and Frederick Douglass speeches. Google books and the internet have allowed us to bypass the goofy historians, and see for ourselves. No longer do "historians" get to peek at original documents, then rush out to give us their spin.

When have you ever heard of, much less read, Southern Ultimatums? I never did, till I read Southern newspapers bragging about them.

When have you heard of Lee torturing children? It took 150 years for that even to be mentioned, and even then, it's minimized to an absurd degress in Elizabeth Pryor's book.

When have you heard that Northern Congressman were calling for the arrest and execution of anyone who said that slavery had to end? You won't find it from a historian. I found it in trascripts of Congressional records in a Google book.

By the time Lincoln got in office, many in the North are willing, once again, like 1820, like 1850, to surrender to the religious bullies in the South. New York newspapers reaction to the Southern Ultimatums were to say, in effect, well, why NOT let them spread slavery? It's of no concern to us. Lincoln said, yes, the spread of slavery IS a concern for us, because we will be ALL slave or ALL free.

And this is exactly what would have happened, if Lincoln had not been in office. Slavery would have spread, US and world history would have been drastically different. Lincoln outsmarted, out thought, and then kicked the living bejesus out of slavery.

We all owe a fantastic debt to men like Lincoln, and those who stood up to the lunatic religious extremist that controlled the South.

http://violentsuppression.blogspot.com/

http://deathofsoutherngod.blogspot.com/

Posted Mon, Jul 16, 6:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Filmcriticone--You stated:

"Lee's own account books, in his handwriting, show he gave six times his normal bounty for the capture of young mulatto girl, who he screamed at while he had her tortured, then apparently sold her white looking infant. (See Reading the Man by Pryor.)"

Lee did pay much more for the return of Wesley Norris and two other slaves; however, yet, this is not proof that he ever had anyone whipped or tortured as you affirm. Of course the book you referred to repeated the story of one of three runaways, Wesley Norris, who claimed that Lee had him and his sister (and another runaway) whipped.

Have you ever thought for a moment that "just maybe" Norris (and his "anonymous" abolitionist friends)exaggerated the part of the runaway-slave story which mentions a whipping?
After all, Norris and other Arlington slaves were very upset at Lee for not freeing them soon after their owner died. Is it not possible that they held a grudge and invented the whipping part of the story?

So, please remember this: the only person, I have ever found, that used his name, as an eye-witness, to allege that Lee had someone whipped was Mr. Norris. And it very possible that he exaggerated part of the story.

So, what is the verification that Norris was telling to truth about a whipping? I have only seen speculation (about the expensive cost of recovering Norris and the other two; however, this is NOT AT ALL proof that any whipping took place). Also, I've only seen the testimony of a disguntled runaway (who wanted freedom and who could have easily held a grudge against Lee which lasted until well after the war ended).

So please be more careful about using the word torture when refering to this allegation. Of course, if you have proof, that is not based on anonymous testimony or speculation, please present it so that the readers can make up their own minds about whether any torture took place at the direction of Lee.
Thanks,
Tom Forehand, Jr.

REL

Posted Tue, Jan 18, 12:46 p.m. Inappropriate

George Washington Bush, his family and the rest of their party settled north of the Columbia as a result of Oregon's laws against non-whites owning land. I have read that his child, Lewis Nisqually Bush, was the first child of settlers born in the current state of Washington, but am not sure if that is true. If so, the first "white" person born here was black.
In any event, he was caught up multiple times in the local politics of the era...
http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file;_id=5645 http://www.narhist.ewu.edu/pnf/articles/s1/vii-3-4/bush/bush.html

Posted Tue, Jan 18, 9:56 p.m. Inappropriate

In a light thought - it sounds like Fox TV etc was alive and well in the 1850s'. I enjoyed the article and all the letters to keep my mind in line about how far we haven't come yet. I still wait for the Starship Enterprise world. Or at least how I saw it when younger.

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