Selected Quotations from 1830-1865




Most of these quotes are things I have found in my reading, or that I was sent by a friend.  Many of the quotes were sent to me by Prof. Dwight Pitcaithley of New Mexico State University in 2008; another large collection was posted to Facebook by Mr. Bryan Cheeseboro, who got them from Al Mackey.  The organization here is very chaotic and eclectic.

  • Henry L. Benning, Georgia politician and future Confederate general, writing in the summer of 1849 to his fellow Georgian, Howell Cobb: "First then, it is apparent, horribly apparent, that the slavery question rides insolently over every other everywhere -- in fact that is the only question which in the least affects the results of the elections." [Allan Nevins, The Fruits of Manifest Destiny pages 240-241.] Later in the same letter Benning says, "I think then, 1st, that the only safety of the South from abolition universal is to be found in an early dissolution of the Union."
  • Stephan Dodson Ramseur, future Confederate general, writing from West Point (where he was a cadet) to a friend in the wake of the 1856 election: "...Slavery, the very source of our existence, the greatest blessing both for Master & Slave that could have been bestowed upon us."
  • Albert Gallatin Brown, U.S. Senator from Mississippi, speaking with regard to the several filibuster expeditions to Central America: "I want Cuba . . . I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason -- for the planting and spreading of slavery." [Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 106.]
  • Brown, again, December 27, 1860: "Mr. President, it seems to me that northern Senators most pertinaciously overlook the main point at issue between the two sections of our Confederacy. We claim that there is property in slaves, and they deny it. Until we shall settle, upon some basis, that point of controversy, it is idle to talk of going any further." [Quote taken from The Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 2nd Sess., p. 201.]
  • Richard Thompson Archer (Mississippi planter):  "The South is invaded.  It is time for all patriots to be united, to be under military organization, to be advancing to the conflict determined to live or die in defence of the God given right to own the African"---letter to the Vicksburg Sun, Dec. 8, 1859.
  • Representative Benjamin Stanton, Republican of Ohio, January 15, 1861: "Mr. Chairman, I desire to state, in a few words, what I regard as the real question in controversy between the political parties of the country. The Republican party holds that African slavery is a local institution, created and sustained by State laws and usages that cannot exist beyond the limits of the State, by virtue of whose laws it is established and sustained. The Democratic party holds that African slavery is a national institution, recognized and sustained by the Constitution of the United States throughout the entire territorial limits, where not prohibited by State constitutions and State laws...All other questions about which we differ grow out of this, and are dependent upon it..." [Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 2nd Sess., (Appendix), p 58]
  • Senator Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia: "There is not a respectable system of civilization known to history whose foundations were not laid in the institution of domestic slavery." [Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 56.]
  • Richmond Enquirer, 1856: "Democratic liberty exists solely because we have slaves . . . freedom is not possible without slavery."
  • Atlanta Confederacy, 1860: "We regard every man in our midst an enemy to the institutions of the South, who does not boldly declare that he believes African slavery to be a social, moral, and political blessing."
  • Lawrence Keitt, Congressman from South Carolina, in a speech to the House on January 25, 1860: "African slavery is the corner-stone of the industrial, social, and political fabric of the South; and whatever wars against it, wars against her very existence. Strike down the institution of African slavery and you reduce the South to depopulation and barbarism." Later in the same speech he said, "The anti-slavery party contend that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States." Taken from a photocopy of the Congressional Globe supplied by Steve Miller.
  • Keitt again, this time as delegate to the South Carolina secession convention, during the debates on the state's declaration of causes: "Our people have come to this on the question of slavery. I am willing, in that address to rest it upon that question. I think it is the great central point from which we are now proceeding, and I am not willing to divert the public attention from it." Taken from the Charleston, South Carolina, Courier, dated Dec. 22, 1860. See the Furman documents site for more transcription from these debates. Keitt became a colonel in the Confederate army and was killed at Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864.
  • Senator Louis Trezevant Wigfall; December 11, 1860, on the floor of the Senate; "I said that one of the causes, and the one that has created more excitement and dissatisfaction than any other, is, that the Government will not hereafter, and when it is necessary, interpose to protect slaves as property in the Territories; and I asked the Senator if he would abandon his squatter-sovereignty notions and agree to protect slaves as all other property?" [Quote taken from The Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 2nd Sess., p. 58.]
  • Isham Harris, Governor of Tennessee, January 7, 1861, (Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, p. 255); "The systematic, wanton, and long continued agitation of the slavery question, with the actual and threatened aggressions of the Northern States and a portion of their people, upon the well-defined constitutional rights of the Southern citizens; the rapid growth and increase, in all the elements of power, of a purely sectional party,..."
  • Senator John J. Crittenden, Kentucky (Democrat), March 2, 1861, (Congressional Globe, page 1376); "Mr. President, the cause of this great discontent in the country, the cause of the evils which we now suffer and which we now fear, originates chiefly from questions growing out of the respective rights of the different States and the unfortunate subject of slavery..."
  • Henry M. Rector, Governor of Arkansas, March 2, 1861, Arkansas Secession Convention, p. 44 "The area of slavery must be extended correlative with its antagonism, or it will be put speedily in the 'course of ultimate extinction.'....The extension of slavery is the vital point of the whole controversy between the North and the South...Amendments to the federal constitution are urged by some as a panacea for all the ills that beset us. That instrument is amply sufficient as it now stands, for the protection of Southern rights, if it was only enforced. The South wants practical evidence of good faith from the North, not mere paper agreements and compromises. They believe slavery a sin, we do not, and there lies the trouble."
  • Thomas F. Goode, Mecklenburg County, Virginia, March 28, 1861, Virginia Secession Convention, vol. II, p. 518, "Sir, the great question which is now uprooting this Government to its foundation---the great question which underlies all our deliberations here, is the question of African slavery..."
  • William Grimball to Elizabeth Grimball, Nov. 20, 1860:  "A stand must be made for African slavery or it is forever lost." [James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 20]
  • William Nugent to Eleanor Nugent, Sept 7, 1863:  "This country without slave labor would be completely worthless. We can only live & exist by that species of labor; and hence I am willing to fight for the last." [James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 107]
  • William M. Thomson to Warner A. Thomson, Feb. 2, 1861:  "Better, far better! endure all the horrors of civil war than to see the dusky sons of Ham leading the fair daughters of the South to the altar." [James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 19]
  •  George Hamill, March, 1862: "I never want to see the day when a negro is put on an equality with a white person. There is too many free niggers. . . now to suit me, let alone having four millions." [Diary quoted in James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 109]
  • Methodist Rev. John T. Wightman, preaching at Yorkville, South Carolina: "The triumphs of Christianity rest this very hour upon slavery; and slavery depends on the triumphs of the South . . . This war is the servant of slavery." [The Glory of God, the Defence of the South (1861), cited in Eugene Genovese's Consuming Fire (1998).]
  • G. T. Yelverton, of Coffee County, Alabama, speaking to the Alabama Secession Convention on January 25, 1861: "The question of Slavery is the rock upon which the Old Government split: it is the cause of secession."
  • S. C. Posey, Lauderdale County, Alabama, speaking to the Alabama Secession Convention on Jan. 25, 1861:  "Mr. President, the fierce strife we have had with the Northern States, which has led to the disruption of the Government, is a trumpet-tongued answer to this question.  They have declared, by the election of Lincoln, “There shall be no more slave territory–no more slave States.”  To this the Cotton States have responded by acts of secession and a Southern Confederacy; which is but a solemn declaration of these States, that they will not submit to the Northern idea of restricting slavery to its present limits, and confining it to the slave States."
  • John Tyler Morgan, Dallas County, Alabama; also speaking to the Alabama Secession Convention on January 25, 1861:  "The Ordinance of Secession rests, in a great measure, upon our assertion of a right to enslave the African race, or, what amounts to the same thing, to hold them in slavery." 
  • Jefferson Buford, Barbour County, Alabama, speaking to the Alabama Secession Convention, on March 4, 1861:  "Now, Mr. President, I submit that while our commission is of much higher import and dignity, it is, in one respect, by no means so broad. We are sent to protect, not so much property, as white supremacy, and the great political right of internal self-control---but only against one specified and single danger alone, i.e. the danger of Abolition rule." 
  • Pvt. Thomas Taylor, 6th Ala., to his parents, March 4, 1862:  "we are ruined if we do not put forth all our energies & drive back the invaders of our slavery South." (Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over, p. 66).
  • Pvt. Jonathan Doyle, 4th La., to Maggie, May 27, 1863:  "We must never despair, for death is preferable to a life spent under the gaulling [sic] yoke of abolition rule." (Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over, p. 108).
  • From the Confederate Constitution:
    • Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 4: "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed."
    • Article IV, Section 3, Paragraph 3: "The Confederate States may acquire new territory . . . In all such territory, the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and the territorial government."
  • From the Georgia Constitution of 1861:"The General Assembly shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves." (This is the entire text of Article 2, Sec. VII, Paragraph 3.)
  • From the Alabama Constitution of 1861: "No slave in this State shall be emancipated by any act done to take effect in this State, or any other country." (This is the entire text of Article IV, Section 1 (on slavery).)
  • Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, referring to the Confederate government: "Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery . . . is his natural and normal condition." [Augusta, Georgia, Daily Constitutionalist, March 30, 1861.]
  • On the formation of black regiments in the Confederate army, by promising the troops their freedom:
    • Howell Cobb, former general in Lee's army, and prominent pre-war Georgia politician: "If slaves will make good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong." [Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 835.]
    • A North Carolina newspaper editorial: "it is abolition doctrine . . . the very doctrine which the war was commenced to put down." [North Carolina Standard, Jan. 17, 1865; cited in Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 835.]
    • Robert M.T. Hunter, Senator from Virginia, "What did we go to war for, if not to protect our property?"
  • Senator William Bigler, Pennsylvania, January 21, 1861:  "The fundamental cause of the imperiled condition of the country is the institution of African servitude, or rather, the unnecessary hostility to that institution on the part of those who have no connection with it, no duties to perform about it, and no responsibilities to bear as to the right or wrong of it.  Each event, touching the extension, contraction, or control of this institution, as it has presented itself, has added to the mutual exasperation and strife between the North and the South, until men have become convinced that to have peace, as to all things else, the North and the South must be completely separated as to this institution of slavery."  [36th Cong., 2nd Sess., Congressional Globe, p. 489]

  • Alfred P. Aldrich, South Carolina legislator from Barnwell: "If the Republican party with its platform of principles, the main feature of which is the abolition of slavery and, therefore, the destruction of the South, carries the country at the next Presidential election, shall we remain in the Union, or form a separate Confederacy? This is the great, grave issue. It is not who shall be President, it is not which party shall rule --- it is a question of political and social existence." [Steven Channing, Crisis of Fear, pp. 141-142.]
  • John C. Pelot, delegate from Alachua County to the Florida secession convention, January 3, 1861: "Gentlemen of the Convention: We meet together under no ordinary circumstances.The rapid spread of Northern fanaticism has endangered our liberties and institutions, and the election of Abraham Lincoln, a wily abolitionist, to the Presidency of the United States, destroys all hope for the future." [Journal of the convention, p. 3]
  • John B. Baldwin, Augusta County delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention, March 21, 1861: "I say, then, that viewed from that standpoint, there is but one single subject of complaint which Virginia has to make against the government under which we live; a complaint made by the whole South, and that is on the subject of African slavery...." [Journal of the Virginia Secession Convention, Vol. II, p. 139]

    Baldwin again: "But, sir, the great cause of complaint now is the slavery question, and the questions growing out of it. If there is any other cause of complaint which has been influential in any quarter, to bring about the crisis which is now upon us; if any State or any people have made the troubles growing out of this question, a pretext for agitation instead of a cause of honest complaint, Virginia can have no sympathy whatever, in any such feeling, in any such policy, in any such attempt. It is the slavery question. Is it not so?..." [ibid, p. 140]

  • Catherine Ann Devereux Edmonston, December 30, 1864:  "We have hitherto contended that Slavery was Cuffee's normal condition, the very best position he could occupy, the one of all others in which he was happiest... No! Freedom for whites, slavery for negroes. God has so ordained it." From: The Journal of a Secesh Lady: The Diary of Catherine Ann Devereux Edmonston, 1860-1866.
  • During the 1830's there was the Gag Rule controversy in Congress, during which Southern politicians tried to block even the presentation of petitions on the subject of slavery. The following quotes come from speeches made in the House and Senate during this time, taken from William Miller's book, Arguing About Slavery:
    • John C. Calhoun, Senator from South Carolina: "The defence of human liberty against the aggressions of despotic power have been always the most efficient in States where domestic slavery was to prevail."
    • James H. Hammond, Congressman from South Carolina: "Sir, I do firmly believe that domestic slavery, regulated as ours is, produces the highest toned, the purest, best organization of society that has ever existed on the face of the earth."
    • Hammond again, from later in the same speech: "the moment this House undertakes to legislate upon this subject [slavery], it dissolves the Union. Should it be my fortune to have a seat upon this floor, I will abandon it the instant the first decisive step is taken looking towards legislation of this subject. I will go home to preach, and if I can, practice, disunion, and civil war, if needs be. A revolution must ensue, and this republic sink in blood."
    • Henry Wise, Congressman (and future governor) from Virginia: "The principle of slavery is a leveling principle; it is friendly to equality. Break down slavery and you would with the same blow break down the great democratic principle of equality among men."
  • From the diary of James B. Lockney, 28th Wisconsin Infantry, writing near Arkadelphia, Arkansas (10/29/63): "Last night I talked awhile to those men who came in day before yesterday from the S.W. part of the state about 120 miles distant. Many of them wish Slavery abolished & slaves out of the country as they said it was the cause of the War, and the Curse of our Country & the foe of the body of the people--the poor whites. They knew the Slave masters got up the war expressly in the interests of the institution, & with no real cause from the Government or the North." [This diary is partly on-line here.]