People's History: Slavery and the Civil War, 1830-65 (Chap 9)

Ashokan Farewell, by Jay Ungar (1990 PBS "Civil War" theme)

Imagine someone purchasing your daughter. You embrace
a final time, a tortured understanding on her face,
and as you watch and weep, you hear the whip and a command
for her to leave, and part of life is over where you stand.

Entrenched was slavery. Four-million slaves, a million tons
of cotton, laws in place for keeping order, dogs and guns
if needed, for the slave rebellions were a constant fear -
Virginia needed one of every ten as volunteer
or regular militia, just in case. Nat Turner's raid
had terrified the owners. But Ms. Tubman, unafraid
of punishment ("Be free or die," she said) went "Underground"
to help the slaves escape the South, and others would resound
with calls for freedom: Fredrick Douglass and Sojourner Truth,
and abolitionists: John Brown, unorthodox, uncouth,
heroic, but at Harper's Ferry trapped by General Lee.
And Brown was hanged for fighting crimes against humanity.
The North, and Lincoln too, considered blacks inferior.
Though anti-slavery, their motives were ulterior:
free markets, open land, the gains from Southern industry,
a million votes arriving with the end of slavery.
As always, then, the compromise of politics preempts
morality. The Fugitive decree would foil attempts
by slaves to run away, and then the highest court's Dred Scott
Decision thwarted legal pleas for freedom. Still, the plot
against the Southern Democrats advanced, with liberty
for markets, not the slaves, the highest goal; the guarantee
of freedom (the Emancipation Proclamation) freed
the slaves of enemies, a move designed to supersede
the Southern laws. But now the torch was lit, and suddenly
the black had power, for the cotton-based economy
was run by slaves; to some extent the Northern victory
was due to Negro soldiers. Blacks were gaining dignity!

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