Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Effect of Abolition Legislation in Kentucky

Here is an article from the May 17, 1862 Covington Journal, expressing some thoughts about how the progress of abolition in various legislatures was affecting Kentucky. It is a bit long, but I think is a worthwhile read. I have a couple more comments I have added at the end of the article, about the conclusions it reached and my view of them.

The Effect of Abolition Legislation in Kentucky
An Ohio contemporary says:

"We know the mischief that has already been done to the Union cause in Kentucky by the posiferous schemes of the Abolitionists, and we tell the country that a little more of the same sort from those agitators and irreparable injury will have been done to Unionism in that State." 

We are satisfied that all such statements as the above convey an incorrect impression of the effect in Kentucky of Abolition Legislation. When, months ago, the question whether Kentucky should remain as she was or cast her lot with the Southern Confederacy was regarded an open one a very respectable number of her people took the ground that her geographical position as well as her social and commercial interests called upon her to make common cause with her sisters of the South. The will of the majority of the people, as expressed through conventions and by their representatives in the State Legislature, was for a position of neutrality. The record bears us out in the assertion that the acquiescence in this determination was almost unanimous. When, at a later day, the Legislature gave up neutrality and took sides with the Federal government, many of the friends of the South, including nearly all who were  recognized as leaders, left Kentucky to join the Southern Confederacy. We have n o hesitation in saying that of those who remained a vast majority acquiesced in the action of the constituted authorities of the State, thus acknowledging their allegiance to the State Government at Frankfort and the Federal Government at Washington, and from that day to this have regarded the question of separation as closed.

We as freely admit that in thus acquiescing they did not believe they were under obligations to support the Administration in all its measures; nor did they feel bound to give up the opinion that it was the purpose of the leaders of the Republican party to make use of the war of Abolition purposes. Hence, they have not only not united with the so-called Union Party but have opposed, so far as opposition could be made without organization, such of its measures as they deemed objectionable. We need not remind the paper from which we have quoted the sentence at the head of this article that opposition to the measures of the dominant party in the North has been stigmatized as secessionism. So it has been in Kentucky. The charge is not a whit more just in one case than the other.

The men of Kentucky opposed to the policy of the Republican party and distrustful of the Union party - its vascillating course and uncertain principles, at first for a third confederacy, then against separation; for neutrality, then branding as traitors all who favored it; in New York strongly anti-slavery, in some parts of Kentucky strongly pros-slavery; yesterday vouching for the conservatism of Mr. Lincoln, to-day denouncing h is party friends an advisers as Abolitionists; here unconditional Union men, there for the rights of all the people of all the States under the Constitution  - have been looking for the reorganization of the Democratic party as affording the only ground of h ope for displacing the sectionalists and madmen who now control the government and restoring public affairs to their old channels. They believe the time for re-organization is rapidly approaching, and under the banner of the rising party, in the Union, and acknowledging their allegiance to the State and Federal Governments, they propose to make the fight for the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was; for the honorable adjustment of the difficulties which have well-nigh overwhelmed us, and for the restoration of the old fraternal feeling.

Unquestionably the Abolition measures passed and pending in Congress have alarmed the people of Kentucky. Unquestionable changes of opinion are going on; but the changes are the results of doubts as to the will or the ability of the so-called Union Party to resist the aggressive movements, and are from that organization to the Democratic party - not to secessionism. Abolition legislation may be weakening the Union Party, but it is aiding in building up a party for the Constitution and the Union - a party which has set its face like flint against the schemes of the Abolitionists, and which proclaims the same principles East and West, North and South.

Our contemporary will see in this view of the case that his article conveys a wrong impression to the public mind. 

I find it interesting that the author insists that the changing mindset in many Kentuckians is simply that of a change of political party, not of a change to support for secession. In the months ahead of this article, emancipation and abolition would become ever more powerful and present, and many have argued that it was the onset of abolition and the use of African-Americans in the army that eventually convinced Kentuckians to "secede after the Civil War." Perhaps the changes this author noticed were the start of that process, waiting for the spark of abolition to truly light it in the future years. Was this author that observant of changes in Kentuckians mindsets, or was it kind of a lucky guess?

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