[Marxism] Slavery was thus to be formally interned

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Mon Apr 10 11:37:49 MDT 2006

Before the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War, the Republicans were
not for abolishing slavery, but opposed its expansion to any new
territories. As Marx demonstrated in his economic analysis of slavery,
preventing it from expanding territorially was equivalent to strangling it.
The slavocracy knew this, and attacked Fort Sumter upon the election of
Lincoln because of the inevitable objective impact of the Republican
platform position, regardless of what the Big Man Lincoln said.  History is
a history of class struggles, not big men.


"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"

Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1861

The North American Civil War


Source: Marx/Engels Collected Works, Volume 19;
Publisher: Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964;

London, October 20, 1861


For hardly had the Kansas-Nebraska Bill gone through, which wiped out the
geographical boundary-line of slavery and made its introduction into new
Territories subject to the will of the majority of the settlers, when armed
emissaries of the slaveholders, border rabble from Missouri and Arkansas,
with bowie-knife in one hand and revolver in the other, fell upon Kansas and
sought by the most unheard-of atrocities to dislodge its settlers from the
Territory colonised by them. These raids were supported by the central
government in Washington. Hence a tremendous reaction. Throughout the North,
but particularly in the North-west, a relief organisation was formed to
support Kansas with men, arms and money. Out of this relief organisation
arose the Republican Party, which therefore owes its origin to the struggle
for Kansas. After the attempt to transform Kansas into a slave Territory by
force of arms had failed, the South sought to achieve the same result by
political intrigues. Buchanan's government, in particular, exerted its
utmost efforts to have Kansas included in the States of the Union as a slave
state with a slave constitution imposed on it. Hence renewed struggle, this
time mainly conducted in Congress at Washington. Even St[ephen] A. Douglas,
the chief of the Northern Democrats, now (1857 - 58) entered the lists
against the government and his allies of the South, because imposition of a
slave constitution would have been contrary to the principle of sovereignty
of the settlers passed in the Nebraska Bill of 1854. Douglas, Senator for
Illinois, a North-western state, would naturally have lost all his influence
if he had wanted to concede to the South the right to steal by force of arms
or through acts of Congress Territories colonised by the North. As the
struggle for Kansas, therefore, called the Republican Party into being, it
at the same time occasioned the first split within the Democratic Party

The Republican Party put forward its first platform for the presidential
election in 1856. Although its candidate, John Fremont, was not victorious,
the huge number of votes cast for him at any rate proved the rapid growth of
the Party, particularly in the North-west. At their second National
Convention for the presidential election (May 17, 1860), the Republicans
again put forward their platform of 1856, only enriched by some additions.
Its principal contents were the following: Not a foot of fresh territory is
further conceded to slavery. The filibustering policy abroad must cease. The
reopening of the slave trade is stigmatised. Finally, free-soil laws are to
be enacted for the furtherance of free colonisation. 

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 the 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." 

As is known, the representation of the individual states in the Congress
House of Representatives depends on the size of their respective
populations. As the populations of the free states grow far more quickly
than those of the slave states, the number of Northern Representatives was
bound to outstrip that of the Southern very rapidly. The real seat of the
political power of the South is accordingly transferred more and more to the
American Senate, where every state, whether its population is great or
small, is represented by two Senators. In order to assert its influence in
the Senate and, through the Senate, its hegemony over the United States, the
South therefore required a continual formation of new slave states. This,
however, was only possible through conquest of foreign lands, as in the case
of Texas, or through the transformation of the Territories belonging to the
United States first into slave Territories and later into slave states, as
in the case of Missouri, Arkansas, etc. John Calhoun, whom the slaveholders
admire as their statesman par excellence, stated as early as February 19,
1847, in the Senate, that the Senate alone placed a balance of power in the
hands of the South, that extension of the slave territory was necessary to
preserve this equilibrium between South and North in the Senate, and that
the attempts of the South at the creation of new slave states by force were
accordingly justified. 

Finally, the number of actual slaveholders in the South of the Union does
not amount to more than three hundred thousand, a narrow oligarchy that is
confronted with many millions of so-called poor whites, whose numbers have
been constantly growing through concentration of landed property and whose
condition is only to be compared with that of the Roman plebeians in the
period of Rome's extreme decline. Only by acquisition and the prospect of
acquisition of new Territories, as well as by filibustering expeditions, is
it possible to square the interests of these poor whites with those of the
slaveholders, to give their restless thirst for action a harmless direction
and to tame them with the prospect of one day becoming slaveholders

A strict confinement of slavery within its old terrain, therefore, was bound
according to economic law to lead to its gradual effacement, in the
political sphere to annihilate the hegemony that the slave states exercised
through the Senate, and finally to expose the slaveholding oligarchy within
its own states to threatening perils from the poor whites. In accordance
with the principle that any further extension of slave Territories was to be
prohibited by law, the Republicans therefore attacked the rule of the
slaveholders at its root. The Republican election victory was accordingly
bound to lead to open struggle between North and South. And this election
victory, as already mentioned, was itself conditioned by the split in the
Democratic camp. 

The Kansas struggle had already caused a split between the slaveholders'
party and the Democrats of the North allied to it. With the presidential
election of 1860, the same strife now broke out again in a more general
form. The Democrats of the North, with Douglas as their candidate, made the
introduction of slavery into Territories dependent on the will of the
majority of the settlers. The slaveholders' party, with Breckinridge as
their candidate, maintained that the Constitution of the United States, as
the Supreme Court had also declared, brought slavery legally in its train;
in and of itself slavery was already legal in all Territories and required
no special naturalisation. Whilst, therefore, the Republicans prohibited any
extension of slave Territories, the Southern party laid claim to all
Territories of the republic as legally warranted domains. What they had
attempted by way of example with regard to Kansas, to force slavery on a
Territory through the central government against the will of the settlers
themselves, they now set up as law for all the Territories of the Union.
Such a concession lay beyond the power of the Democratic leaders and would
only have occasioned the desertion of their army to the Republican camp. On
the other hand, Douglas's settlers' sovereignty could not satisfy the
slaveholders' party. What it wanted to effect had to be effected within the
next four years under the new President, could only be effected by the
resources of the central government and brooked no further delay. It did not
escape the slaveholders that a new power had arisen, the North-west, whose
population, having almost doubled between 1850 and 1860, was already pretty
well equal to the white population of the slave states -- a power that was
not inclined either by tradition, temperament or mode of life to let itself
be dragged from compromise to compromise in the manner of the old
North-eastern states. The Union was still of value to the South only so far
as it handed over Federal power to it as a means of carrying out the slave
policy. If not, then it was better to make the break now than to look on at
the development of the Republican Party and the upsurge of the North-west
for another four years and begin the struggle under more unfavourable
conditions. The slaveholders' party therefore played va banque. When the
Democrats of the North declined to go on playing the part of the poor whites
of the South, the South secured Lincoln's victory by splitting the vote, and
then took this victory as a pretext for drawing the sword from the scabbard.

The whole movement was and is based, as one sees, on the slave question. Not
in the sense of whether the slaves within the existing slave states should
be emancipated outright or not, but whether the twenty million free men of
the North should submit any longer to an oligarchy of three hundred thousand
slaveholders; whether the vast Territories of the republic should be
nurseries for free states or for slavery; finally, whether the national
policy of the Union should take armed spreading of slavery in Mexico,
Central and South America as its device. 

In another article we will probe the assertion of the London press that the
North must sanction secession as the most favourable and only possible
solution of the conflict. 

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