Hidden History: When Nicaragua was an Official US Colony

President Franklin Pierce's Politics and Economics - Video ...

Episode 13: Sovereignty and Slavery in the American West

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

This lecture mainly concerns the heated battles occurring in Kansas and Missouri over slavery and the political forces behind them.

According to Ayers, the South had two main political factions, the Democratic “Fire-Easters” and former southern Whigs, and both supporter the continuation of slavery. The “Fire-Easters” believed the North intended to destroy the South and the only to stop them was to agitate continuously over the slavery issue. The former Whigs saw the “Fire Eaters” as a threat to the future of the South and slavery and tried to form a new party in opposition to the Democrats.

Among southern Democrats, there was strong support for expanding US borders to include Cuba and Central America. After organizing several military expeditions to Mexico, in 1855 Tennessean Dr William Walker led a military expedition to Nicaragua (in the grips civil war) and made himself president. President Franklin Pierce initially recognized Walker’s Nicaraguan government. However after cholera wiped out  Walker’s army, and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt* pressured Washington to end its support for his Nicaraguan government.

Although the southern economy boomed under slavery in the 1850s, some southern analysts warned the institution discouraged technological investment and long term development. In 1857, North Carolinan Hinton Helper’s book The Impending Crisis of the South argued that slavery was unsustainable because it required the continuing destruction of forests for new fields, as well as causing poor whites to be “ignorant, degraded and illiterate.” He called for both a tax on slaves and for the establishment of new colonies for free Blacks in Africa or Latin America.

The gradual expansion of the Republican Party in the North saw a rapid increase in anti-southern sentiment. The Kansas-Nebraska Act (which allowed new territories to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery) led to growing competition between pro- and anti-slavery factions for dominance in the new western territories. Northern philanthropists offered anti-slavery grants to encourage poor northern pioneers to settle in Missouri and Kansas.

In 1856, Kansas, which was 60% pro-slavery, elected a pro-slavery legislature which passed “Free Soil” laws prohibiting abolitionists from serving on juries or holding office and ordained the death penalty for any Kansas resident who assisted a fugitive slave. In response, the state’s Free Soil advocates elected their own government and wrote their own constitution. After abolitionists in New England and New York sent them rifles, pro-slavery forces in the southern states sent out an expedition of 3,000 militias to march into the Free Soil stronghold of Lawrence Kansas to execute warrants on anti-slavery leaders and two abolitionist newspapers. In what became known as the Sack of Lawrence, the militias burned down a hotel and threw printing presses into the river.

The following year the Supreme Court heard the case of Dred Scott, who sued his master for his freedom after he moved Scott and his family to the free state of Missouri. The court’s Democratic majority found that Blacks were not entitled to be citizens because their innate inferiority made them unfit to associate with white people.

In response to the Dred Scott decision, Republicans called for a sweep of all national offices in the 1860 elections, claiming the entire Democratic Party was captive to the southern viewpoint on slavery.

*Vanderbilt was infuriated when Walker ended Nicaragua’s contract with his shipping company.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.


Just to let people know I’m moving to Substack and Telegram after several readers informed me I’ve been censored from WordPress Reader feed. The link to my Substack account is https://stuartbramhall.substack.com/. The link to my Telegram channel is https://t.me/themostrevolutionaryact I’ll continue to publish on WordPress as long as I’m able, but if my blog suddenly disappears you’ll know where to find me.

Did Slavery Really Cause the Civil War?

These Are the Worst Military Leaders of the Civil War ...

Did Slavery Really Cause the Civil War?

Mark Stoler PhD

A Skeptic’s Look at American History (2012)

Film Review

This lecture is the eighth in the Kanopy American History course The Skeptic’s Guide to American History. My initial reaction is that Stoler probably isn’t nearly skeptical enough. The South, which still refers to the Civil War as the War Between the States, sees states rights as the primary cause of the war.

Unfortunately Stoler doesn’t really resolve this controversy. However he rightly points out that the immediate cause for Lincoln’s declaration of war was not to end slavery, but to “preserve the union.”

However he never addresses why the union needed to be preserved, ie how did preserving the union protect the democratic interests of the American people? I personally suspect that “preserving the union,” mainly protected the interests of the merchants, bankers and early industrialists, just as preserving the European Union protects the interests of merchants, bankers and industrialists. Similar ultra-national unions will always reduce the input ordinary people have into major decisions that  affect their lives.

Stoler begins by talking about the collapse of the Whig Party in the 1850s following the passage of the deeply unpopular Kansas-Nebraska Act. This law, which created the states of Kansas and Nebraska. deferred the decision to the states whether to allow slavery or not. From the 1850s on, the newly created Republican Party, which committed to end slavery everywhere, would be America’s second major party.

Although Lincoln, a Republican, only received 39.8% of the popular vote in 1860, his strong support in northern states mean he won a majority of the electoral college. Lincoln campaigned on a platform of allowing slavery to continue in states where it was legal but preventing its spread to western states as they joined the Union.

Stoler also reminds us that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (freeing slaves in the states that had seceded) didn’t take effect until January 1883 and didn’t free slaves in any of the Union states.*

By early February 1861 (a month before Lincoln’s inauguration), seven states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina) had seceded.

After Union forces fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina (April 1861), four border states (North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee) also seceded. Four slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky) remained in the Union.

Stoler denies that conflict over states rights caused the war, arguing that various Northern states also lobbied for for states rights at different times (eg when they opposed the war the US launched against Mexico in 1846). I fail to see the logic of this argument. Just because the North agitates strongly for states rights over specific issues doesn’t mean the South can’t do so as well.

He also denies that a profound difference in their respective economies (with the South being primarily agrarian and the North being mainly industrial) was the root cause of the war. He argues this difference had been present since colonial times without leading to war.

He also poo-poos the distinct difference their respective cultures (with the South possessing an aristocratic planter class not present in the North) as the main cause of war. Here he points out that the North was just as racist as the South and hardly more democratic for the average worker.

*In Stoler’s view, Lincoln’s main goal with the Emancipation Proclamation was to buoy up Northern support for the war, despite massive numbers of casualties, and to open the Union army to extremely motivated ex-slaves. In his next lecture he also identifies dissuading the UK (where the population strongly opposed slavery) from entering the Civil War on the Southern side as a primary motivation.

The series can be viewed free on Kanopy.