In the Shadow of Slavery is a collection of essays written by leading historians in the fields of antislavery and early American politics. Based on papers presented at the U. Just as important, other essays examine how slavery affected the daily lives of congressmen, free blacks, and slaves who lived and worked in the capital. The collection shows how the social reality of slavery had an impact on congressional debates over such issues as Texas annexation, the spread of slavery into western territories, and the demands of slaveholders for stronger fugitive slave laws.
Antislavery congressmen and abolitionists had to face daily the horrors of human bondage, and they had to learn to fight the system while negotiating the political and social boundaries of a society dominated by slaveholding interests. Attempted slave escapes illustrated for both slaveholders and non-slaveholders how unstable the system was.
While southern leaders saw tighter fugitive slave legislation as the answer, some northern leaders became increasingly certain that ending slavery was the solution. Essentially, he argues that it allowed southerners to dominate Washington society and gave them a sense that their system was secure in the nation. He also argues that the Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution, provisions for national intervention in the case of slave rebellion, fugitive slave laws, and a perpetual veto power did indeed protect the system. Conversely, slavery in the capital exposed northern politicians and diplomats firsthand to the horrors of bound labor, especially because of the visible slave trade in the city.
Finally, he shows that despite being a slaveholding city, DC had a degree of free speech unknown in the South. He supports this assertion by pointing to the existence of the National Era antislavery newspaper.
They also looked to the British abolitionist tradition and slave revolts in the British and French Caribbean as evidence of the dangers of any discussion of abolition. Ultimately, they decided that American abolitionists were part of a British conspiracy not only to end slavery but also to weaken the United States.
Basically, slaveholders convinced themselves that the British, who were trying to lead in the production of tropical staples while relying on nominally free apprentice labor, knew they had to take away slaves from Americans because they would never be able to compete with slave produced goods. In the end, their obsession and overreaction, not British interference, proved the greater danger to their system.
As southerners insisted loudly that slavery be spread into the western territories, they awakened more northerners to the importance of stopping southern aggression. At that point, a political strand of abolition emerged that eclipsed the social movement. Ironically enough, this more powerful abolition was not connected to Great Britain.
Perhaps the best irony of all, however, according to Davis, is that the Confederacy needed British support during the Civil War and almost got it, partly because by the s Britain had started to abandon its moral high ground on abolition in the face of pseudoscientific racism. James B.
Through the story of Joshua Giddings, Stewart shows that the caning of Charles Sumner in was not an isolated incident. In the end, then, both sides had constitutional backing but only one side was morally right. Giddings had long opposed slavery, and the climate of Washington DC, strengthened his resolve, according to Stewart. By arguing that slaves could rightfully revolt and that the national government should not intervene, Giddings touched a nerve with southerners who lived in constant fear of slave insurrection.
As a result, he faced constant bullying from southern congressmen who worked hard to silence him. They even managed to lead the House to censure him in , but his constituents reelected him and sent him back to Congress with a mandate to continue his efforts.
Gamaliel Bailey was another abolitionist who influenced and was influenced by DC culture. Stanley Harrold and Jonathan Earle each contribute essays on his career, with Harrold describing the way in which Bailey was able to walk the political tightrope required to edit an antislavery newspaper in the slaveholding capital and Earle describing the antislavery culture he helped to nurture in the city.
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