[Marxism] Waging the War on Slavery
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Mon Jul 19 08:25:43 MDT 2010
Waging the War on Slavery
— Derrick Morrison
Race and Radicalism in the Union Army
By Mark A. Lause
Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009,
139 pages plus notes & index, $45, cloth.
THE SETTLEMENT OF Lawrence in the territory of Kansas, summer of
1856: Pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers are trying to colonize
the territory. The former want a slave-soil, the latter a
free-soil state. Armed pro-slavery gangs from Missouri are
harassing and attacking the free-soil settlers. The U.S.
government and U.S. Army are pro-slavery.
“A few weeks later [Richard] Hinton, who had met John Brown on his
way to Kansas, encountered him on the streets of Lawrence. At the
time an imminent raid by the pro-slavery bands had forced an
emergency town meeting that had bogged down over what to do in
response. The terrified residents had sent word to the U.S.
cavalry, which was too far away to help even if it tried, and were
debating whether to petition Washington. Hinton rushed Brown into
the meeting, where he exercised some forbearance before he
‘mounted a dry-goods box’ and quietly explained what his auditors
needed to do: keep silent until the riders came in range and then
aim low, almost immediately those at the meeting emptied into the
street to see to the town’s defenses.
“John Bowles, a Kentucky slaveholder turned abolitionist, placed
himself under Brown’s command that day…. At dusk the would-be
raiders rode into what they expected to be a defenseless community
only to get a lively firefight…. Bowles joined Hinton as a
lifelong defender of John Brown and his legacy.” (Race and
Radicalism in the Union Army, 21-22.)
Thus writes Professor Mark A. Lause, in Race and Radicalism in the
Union Army. This book can be read on several levels. The depth and
breadth of Lause’s scholarship cannot be denied; the footnotes
reveal an astounding amount of material consumed and digested into
less than 200 pages.
Lause documents the events leading up to the biggest Civil War
battle in the far West, the Battle of Honey Springs, July 17,
1863. The battle was fought in what is now Oklahoma, but back then
was known as “Indian Territory”. “…a little army of Indian, black,
and white soldiers advanced against a much larger force.” (1) This
multi-racial Union army contingent, numbering 3,000, faced a
Confederate force of 5,700.
Thus the book can be approached as a study of this little-known
episode of the Second American Revolution, i.e., the Civil War. In
so doing one gets deep into the various Indian nations — the
Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole — and how they
were incorporated into both the Union and Confederate armies, an
interesting story in itself.
But Lause brings into view the point most salient to the times we
live in: the historical impact registered by the group of radical
abolitionists who followed the example of John Brown. The group
included Richard Hinton, James Gilpatrick Blunt, William Addison
Phillips, Augustus Wattles, James Montgomery and John Ritchie as
well as John Bowles.
They all fought alongside Brown in Kansas. They discussed strategy
with Brown — using Kansas as a base to wage a small war on the
slaveholders in Missouri, freeing slaves and slipping them North
to Canada. They conducted these raids on occasion, as well as
issued anti-slavery appeals to U.S. soldiers. That’s why they were
surprised when Brown set forth the project of a direct raid on a
U.S. Army arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
Those inspired by Brown could not see the point, and declined
participation. Many were supporters of a newly organized free-soil
party, the Republican Party, whereas Brown disdained electoral
politics. Lause provides a rich description of this debate. He
also details the political shock wave of the Harpers Ferry raid
and the organized effort of hundreds of Brown’s followers to
rescue him from jail.
Radicals in the War
The struggle in Lawrence was writ large with the outbreak of the
Civil War. Lawrence showed the power of a message when it
resonates with and provides an understandable solution to
difficulties facing a group of people.
When the slaveholders sought to use armed force to break up the
United States, and president Abraham Lincoln responded with armed
force to maintain the union, this provided an unprecedented
opportunity to anti-slavery radicals and free-soil supporters, who
all joined the Union Army.
Despite statements by Lincoln and Union Army general staff that
the war was only about preserving the Union, the anti-slavery
radicals and huge sections of the Republican party knew that any
war against slaveholder power would ultimately lead to the
destruction of the “peculiar institution.”
The U.S. Army numbered fewer than 20,000 before 1861. During the
next four years the Union Army grew to over two million soldiers
and sailors. Over 800,000 joined the Confederate forces. (Battle
Cry of Freedom, The Civil War Era, James M. McPherson, 1988: 250, 386)
John Brown’s radical supporters flocked to the army in Kansas.
They became the officer corps of the Kansas regiments and adopted
a policy of emancipating the slaves — contrary to the official
program. When federal policy in the winter of 1861-62 opened the
door to Indian recruitment to the Union Army, the John Brown
radicals used their positions to organize regiments of Indians,
Blacks and Southern white unionists fleeing to Union lines.
One vision held that the Texas Confederacy was so shaky that an
armed force well supplied could use the Indian Territory to launch
a drive through Texas, recruiting Blacks, Indians and small white
farmers, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, top
officials in Washington and the Union Army brass rejected this idea.
Nonetheless, when federal policy shifted in 1863 to emancipation
of the slaves, the John Brown radicals, who had already been
recruiting Blacks, now had the license to form whole regiments of
The radicals not only experienced success, they also suffered
reverses, due to the inconsistent at best and sometimes openly
treacherous actions of the top Army brass. But this was typical of
the process known as the “democratic revolution.”
Lincoln and the Republican Party leadership were essentially
beholden to the railroad barons and big property owners of the
North. As the war with the slaveholding power turned into months
and then years, the federal government moved from trying to strike
a compromise with that power to the adoption of more radical
measures to win the conflict outright — and the most radical of
course was the overthrow of slavery.
These measures sealed the alliance of big property with the small
farmers, urban artisans and shopkeepers, and — most of all — the
slaves. In addition to the John Brown radicals, there were German
radicals, many of them refugees from the failed democratic
uprisings of 1848 in the German lands in Europe and who formed a
key component of the Republican party and the Union Army.
Many of these radicals had worked with Karl Marx and Frederick
Engels in the 1848 uprisings. In St. Louis it was the German
radicals who led the seizure of the U.S. Army arsenal in 1861,
thus keeping the state of Missouri in the Union column. At the
time, over half of the St. Louis population was German-born and
German American. (The Germans In America, Theodore Huebener, 1962:
Marx’s Insights and German Radicals
In an important earlier work, August Nimtz recounts the political
arc traveled by these radicals in his book, Marx, Tocqueville, and
Race in America (Lexington Books, 2003; new paperback edition
2007). Nimtz contrasts the development of the ideas of Marx and
Engels with that of the French political thinker, Alexis de
Tocqueville, on the North American republic.
Nimtz’s book is anchored in events before, during and after the
U.S. Civil War. German radicals who supported Marx’s ideas
included Joseph Weydemeyer, August Willich, and Adolph Douai, all
veterans of 1848. When the German-speaking population of New York
City was, after Vienna and Berlin, the third largest in the world,
Weydemeyer and Douai organized among German tailors and other
workers in support of the 1860 Republican party’s presidential
campaign. Willich was active in Cincinnati.
Nimtz notes, “Without the support of German American workers in
key places like Illinois it is unlikely that Lincoln would have
been nominated and elected president.” (Nimtz, 76) When Lincoln
was on his way to his inauguration in February, 1861, he stopped
in Cincinnati, where he was greeted by a delegation of over 2,000
German American workers. (The German-Americans, La Vern J.
Rippley, 1976: 65)
At the outbreak of the war, Weydemeyer served in the Union Army in
Missouri and rose to the rank of colonel. Willich, having trained
at the Royal Prussian Military Academy before 1848, rose to the
rank of major general. (Nimtz, 124-125)
Of the over two million soldiers in the Union Army, close to
200,000 were African-American; some scholars estimate that over
750,000 soldiers were of German heritage.
Both the books by Lause and Nimtz are excellent studies of the
U.S. Civil War. The point that comes through in Lause’s work in
particular is how one radical, Richard Hinton, could make such a
difference in Lawrence in the summer of 1856, and how a group of
radicals led an army that turned the tide at Honey Springs in July
Ultimately it was the adoption of a radical program, albeit
reluctantly, that led to the victory of the biggest democratic
revolution in history in the month of April, 1865.
The owners of big urban and agricultural property in the United
States came out of the Civil War having completed the revolution,
establishing a system of political democracy — limited, with no
franchise for women — and allowing unfettered activity in the
Today we stand on the threshold of a new revolution, one that will
make the leap from political democracy — which has now become
mangled as it represents the economic interests of a super-rich
few — to social democracy, where the working masses, the producers
of goods and services, will become the masters of the urban and
To better understand this transition, Mark Lause’s book, by
disclosing the mechanics and dynamics of a previous transition,
becomes a necessary read.
ATC 147, July-August 2010
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