American Slavery through the Voices of Politicians, Pamphleteers, and Novelists

The April release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes an 1848 speech by U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis, an illustrated French translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a response to a Southern pamphleteer’s claims of injustice, material from Ulysses S. Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign, and more.

Speech of Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, on the Oregon Bill (1848)

Prior to becoming the President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis served as the United States Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce and earlier as both a Representative and Senator from Mississippi. In 1848 Davis delivered a speech in the U.S. Senate against prohibiting slavery in the Territory of Oregon. He argued that citizens moving from different states to the territory would not be treated equally; specifically, he had in mind citizens of slave states who moved to Oregon with their human property. Davis lamented:

Now, for the first time in our history, has Congress, without the color of compact or compromise, claimed to discriminate in the settlement of Territories against the citizens of one portion of the Union and in favor of another.

Reality Versus Fiction. A Review of a Pamphlet Published at Charleston, S.C. Entitled, “The Union, Past and Future, How It Works and How to Save It.”(1850)

By Elias Hasket Derby

Elias Hasket Derby, writing as “a Citizen of Boston,” presents a cutting critique of Southern claims of perceived oppression and injustice:

But on what basis rests the charges of gross injustice and oppression? a charge oft repeated, and interwoven into the whole essay. On nothing but wild and fallacious theories, which dissolve like the mist when exposed to sunshine.

While critical of Southern claims, Derby maintained optimism that the Union would remain whole, writing, “Of the Union let both [North and South] ever say Esto perpetua.”

La Case du Pere Tom (1852)

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” translated into French by Emile de La Be’dolle’re.

The Progress and Intelligence of Americans; Collateral Proof of Slavery, from the First to the Eleventh Chapter of Genesis, as Founded on Organic Law; and from the Fact of Christ Being a Caucasian, Owing to His Peculiar Parentage (1862)

By M.T. Wheat

Marvin T. Wheat justifies slavery as a divine institution. He bases his disbelief in the “Races of Color…and the white man…having derived their origins from one common parentage” on chapters of Genesis. Wheat writes:

Beyond refutation, and as based on the organic law, deducible to us from the natural sciences, and reasoning by analogy, the author of this humble work feels that he has founded his deductions and conclusions, placing and proving the creation of the Colored Races as absolutely being under the head “living creature,” of verse 24 of the first chapter of Genesis…

Speeches of General U.S. Grant, Republican Candidate for Eighteenth President of the United States, Being Extracts from Speeches, Letters, Orders, Military and State Papers (1868)

Grant’s campaign literature includes not only extracts of speeches but also accounts of his successes as Commanding General of the United States Army. In his April 1865 letters to General Lee, Grant described the terms under which he would accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia:

I would say, that, peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon; namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged.

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