Posted by: David Carlson | April 19, 2009

History Class – “Slavery, Lincoln, and the Civil War”

The St. Scholastica Emeritus College is one of the benefits of living on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  My schedule doesn’t often allow participation in a six week course.  This time a friend is teaching.  William Miller is a history professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and he also travels to teach for the Emeritus College.  St. Scholastic is a short distance from UMD.  The Emeritus classes here are at the United Protestant Church in Silver Bay.  There are only seven students, so it’s like a small seminar.  It’s amazing how much material Bill can cover in a 1 1/2 hour session.

Here are a few of my notes so far.

Central issues

1.  Lincoln’s Central Theme.  A state that can leave the union for any reason, destroys the experiment that is government by the people.

  • The current  Governor of Texas has what in mind? The Republic of Texas? War with Mexico? Manifest Destiny?  Remember the Alamo supported  slavery. Mexico opposed slavery.
  • An issue of grammar.  “The United States is…” (unified).  “The United States are…” (common usage).
  • Race was the central issue of slavery and the civil war.
  • States Rights vs Slavery as the cause of Civil War; Slavery was central.

Origins of the institution of slavery in America

2.  Under King James I, Jamestown Colony was founded in 1619, and the first Dutch merchant ship arrives with 20 Africans to sell.  Women are recruited to settle Jamestown.  The House of Burgesses is an elected assembly to establish laws.

  • Slaves in New York (Dutch New Amsterdam) 1624
  • All colonies have slavery.  It’s not regional.
  • Slavery vs indentured servitude (both black and white), by contract.
  • Blacks owned slaves.
  • It was possible for a black slave to buy liberty.
  • Slavery by kidnap was an issue from the start.

3.  English Civil War

  • 1633-1664 No colonies founded. Trade disrupted.
  • 1649-58 Oliver Cromwell wins direct rule by Parliament, the Commonwealth; establishes military dictatorship; severe Calvanism;   ethnic cleansing; extermination of Irish Catholics.
  • 1660 Restoration. Charles II invited to be king. He’s Catholic.  Trade resumes to the colonies. White indentured servitude drops off; plenty of jobs in England
  • 1660-1700 Slavery expands to 20% of American colonies’ population; 80% in the Carolina’s; Legalized institution of slavery; racially based restrictions on blacks; children take the status of the mother, slave or free.

American Revolution

4.  Greatest opportunity for emancipation of slaves

  • Crispus Attucks, a free black man killed at Boston Massacre 1770, becomes martyr.
  • Boston Tea Party – East India Company bankruptcy bailout, dumps surplus tea in the colonies.
  • George Washington takes command of Revolutionary Army; notices free black militiamen are excellent, committed fighters.  The most integrated Army until the 1950’s.  South Carolina was the exception, prohibited black militia.

5.   American Government  forms

  • Slavery is an issue.
  • State governments prohibit slavery
  • Quakers oppose slavery; religious support for slavery in the South
  • Compromise; Federal Constitution does not mention slavery.
  • Constitution Article I establishes representation in Congress based on population.  Southern states include black slaves, but Northern compromise discounts the value –  a slave represents 3/5 of a person.
  • Congress is prohibited by law to do anything about slave trade until 1808.
  • Constitution Article IV provides for Fugitive Slave clause; locally enforced.

6.  Attitude of Founders

  • Slave owners were ambiguous about freedom, equality, property.
  • George Washington was unique among Founders in emancipating his slaves at his death; Martha Washington owned slaves in her own name, and did not free hers.
  • Thomas Jefferson was inconsistent. Promoted good relations between master and slaves. Published on the inferiority of the Black race.
  • Eli Whitney invents Cotton Gin 1793.  One machine produces 50 times more cotton fibre than hand-picked.  Millions of slaves “sold down the river” to support cotton in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana.  Mechanized textile industry develops in England.
  • Missouri Compromise 1820 allows slavery in Missouri,  provides for the balance of slave and free states.  John Quincy Adams said it was “the preamble to a great tragic volume”.  Conflict with Mexico over slavery in Texas begins.
  • James K. Polk: Manifest Destiny – the self-evident right to expand the nation westward.  Declares war on Mexico.  Congressman Lincoln challenges the illegal war.
  • Lincoln’s life mirrors growth and expansion of the nation westward, and the creation of a modern middle class of professionals and educators.  Divide between men going to work, and the world of women at home providing affluence and comfort.
  • The Whig Party (Henry Clay) promotes economic development with strong support of the Federal Government.



  1. How nice to have Dr. Miller in your backyard! I’d love to see him teaching, as I’m sure he brings plenty of passion and depth to his classes.

  2. Thanks, Dave …

    Very interesting information about slavery in America

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