Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

Austin, Andrew austina at
Fri Oct 20 13:34:00 MDT 2000

The South did want those Western territories to expand slavery. This was in
part because plantations in the South, especially the southeast, due to
shifting regional patterns of production and increased efficiency, needed to
sell off an oversupply of slaves. Selling slaves was itself big business,
especially after the curtailment of the North Atlantic slave trade (although
there was considerable violating of international sanctions). However
succession was not a counterrevolution at all but a nationalist war of
independence. The South desired, and it was the understanding that it had a
right, to break away from the union and establish its own nation--a nation
that put slavery central to its way of life. Believing it was his mission to
preserve the union, Lincoln made the decision to invade the South. Lincoln
did not believe he had the authority to end slavery in the United States
where states decided to keep it. He did not believe that slavery was
unconstitutional. He only freed slaves in those states he considered to be
in rebellion, which was a political judgment. In fact, Lincoln was a racist
and did not believe blacks and whites could ever live in an equal
relationship. Lincoln advanced a program of ethnic cleansing, where blacks
would be rounded up en masse and shipped to Africa. The notion of "Lincoln
the revolutionary" is a preposterous one. It was the Republicans who
reconstructed the post-slavery racial order thereby preserving white

Andrew Austin
Green Bay, WI

-----Original Message-----
From: Charles Brown [mailto:CharlesB at]
Sent: Friday, October 20, 2000 12:49 PM
To: marxism at
Subject: Re: Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

In this discussion of the economic nature of the slave system, Marx argues
that slavery had to have constantly expanding territory. Therefore , the
Republican's platform position that slavery could remain where it was
already, but could not expand, and Lincoln's election was a death knell for
slavery, as much as a position to abolish it where it was already. Thus, the
South started the war as a counterrevolution ( in Aptheker's analysis).



Karl Marx
The North American Civil War


Written: October 1861
Source: Marx/Engels Collected Works, Volume 19
Publisher: Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964
First Published: Die Presse No. 293, October 25, 1861


The vitally important point in this platform was that not a foot of fresh
terrain was conceded to slavery; rather it was to remain once and for all
confined with the boundaries of the states where it already legally existed.
Slavery was thus to be formally interned; but continual expansion of
territory and continual spread of slavery beyond its old limits is a law of
life for the slave states of the Union.

The cultivation of the southern export articles, cotton, tobacco, sugar ,
etc., carried on by slaves, is only remunerative as long as it is conducted
with large gangs of slaves, on a mass scale and on wide expanses of a
naturally fertile soil, which requires only simple labour. Intensive
cultivation, which depends less on fertility of the soil than on investment
of capital, intelligence and energy of labour, is contrary to the nature of
slavery. Hence the rapid transformation of states like Maryland and
Virginia, which formerly employed slaves on the production of export
articles, into states which raise slaves to export them into the deep South.
Even in South Carolina, where the slaves form four-sevenths of the
population, the cultivation of cotton has been almost completely stationary
for years due to the exhaustion of the soil. Indeed, by force of
circumstances South Carolina has already been transformed in part into a
slave-raising state, since it already sells slaves to t!
he sum of four million dollars yearly to the states of the extreme South and
South-west. As soon as this point is reached, the acquisition of new
Territories becomes necessary, so that one section of the slaveholders with
their slaves may occupy new fertile lands and that a new market for
slave-raising, therefore for the sale of slaves, may be created for the
remaining section. It is, for example, indubitable that without the
acquisition of Louisiana, Missouri and Arkansas by the United States,
slavery in Virginia and Maryland would have been wiped out long ago. In the
Secessionist Congress at Montgomery, Senator Toombs, one of the spokesmen of
the South, strikingly formulated the economic law that commands the constant
expansion of the territory of slavery. "In fifteen years," said he, "without
a great increase in slave territory, either the slaves must be permitted to
flee from the whites, or the whites must flee from the slaves."

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