Secession Era Editorials Project

Was it a Libel?

Albany, New York, Evening Journal [Republican]

(24 May 1856)

"Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine."

Charles Sumner did not libel South Carolina. Representing Massachusetts which furnished to the Revolutionary War 83,092 Continental troops and Militia, against 5,508(!) from South Carolina, it was suitable that in repelling the stale assumptions in behalf of the latter State and her sister Slave-labor communities, that Republican liberty was won by the arms and treasure, by the patriotism and good faith of the South, he should tell the truth as it is in the keeping of History. The record of the Revolutionary Struggle shows that South Carolina's Slavery, weakened South Carolina, so that she was a drag upon the fight not only, but a perpetual point of danger to the common cause, -- a constantly open gate-way for invasion and general disaster. Then as now she held a foe in her bosom, which crippled her capacity for offensive war, and weakened her powers of defensive action -- a foe dangerous to the Union, in its exceeding dangerousness to an assailable member of the Union.

Mr. Sumner two years ago gave the Senate proof of the imbecility of the Slave States, in that in 1778 the six South Carolina regiments, composing with the Georgia regiment, the regular forces of the Southern Department did not muster above eight hundred men. It was wholly impossible to fill their ranks. In 1779, the Governor of the State which now grows Butlers and produces Brookses and Keitts, offered to stipulate to the British Commander the neutrality of Carolina! -- and leave it to the issue of the contest to settle whether she should belong to the King of Great Britain, or to the Americans. After the fatal day at Camden, there was not a single battalion in the field in the three Southern States. The exaggeration of the resources of the Slave States -- their destitution -- the savage animosities existing among their people -- their social disorder and confusion -- the want of patriotic feeling among them, constituted the themes of General Greene's bitter and almost despairing letters to members of Congress, to Northern Governors, and to Lafayette. Abundant testimony upon the incapacity and the backwardness of the Southerners in the Revolutionary conflict could be adduced from the North. Partial it will be called. But no question will be made of the veracity of Slave State witnesses called to the stand on this point.

Here they are:--

"There is not a gentleman on the floor who is a stranger to the feeble situation of our State when we entered into the war to oppose the British power. We were not only without money, without an army or military stores, but we were few in number, and likely to be entangled with our domestics in case the enemy invaded us." --[Speech of Burke of S.C.--Annals of Cong: 1789, Vol. 2, p. 1484.]

"The committee appointed to take into consideration the circumstances of the Southern States and the ways and means for their safety and defence, report that the State of South Carolina (as represented by the Delegates of the said State, and Mr. Huger, who has come here at the request of the Governor of the said State, on purpose to explain the circumstances thereof) is UNABLE to make any effectual effort with Militia, by reason of the great proportion of citizens NECESSARY TO REMAIN AT HOME, to prevent insurrection among the Negroes, and to prevent the desertion of them to the enemy:--That the state of the country and the great number of these people among them, expose the inhabitants to great danger, from the endeavors of the enemy to excite them to revolt or desert." -- [Secret Journal Continental Congress, March 29, 1779, Vol. 1, p. 105.]

"Every addition they (Georgia and South Carolina) receive to their number of Slaves, tends to weaken them, and render them less capable of self-defence" -- [Mr. Madison in Debate -- Annals of Congress, Vol. 1, p. 348]

"But the number of negro slaves dispersed throughout these States was very great: so great, as to render it impossible for the citizens to muster freemen enough to withstand the pressure of the British arms." -- [Judge Johnson's (of S.C.) Life of General Greene.]

South Carolina is not peculiar in the circumstances of her slave-labor society which made her so weak during the Revolution, and her whole territory an open avenue of danger to the Americans struggling with Great Britain for their freedom. It is the inseparable and inevitable incident of Slavery. The Hon. Philip A. Bolling of Buckingham, spoke in the Virginia House of Delegates on the 11th of January 1832, the consciousness of every Southern man in respect to the social insecurity resulting from the unnatural relation of Master and Slave: "Nor does this want of confidence and feeling of insecurity, result from any craven fear. No Sir! It results from the noblest feelings of the human heart, and is no partial feeling, but is felt by all. Who, that has a mother, wife, sister or child, that has not felt when seriously reflecting upon this subject, pangs little short of death!"

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