Monday, November 4, 2019

“Their Triumph:” One Reaction to Abraham Lincoln’s Election

The Cincinnati Enquirer of November 8, 1860 included this brief commentary on one of the immediate effects of Abraham Lincoln’s election as President of the United States. It seems like a story worth sharing during election season.

The Negroes and the Election

The negroes in this city yesterday were greatly exhilarated by the triumph of Lincoln, and gave vent to their feelings in the most enthusiastic manner. They seemed to understand that it was emphatically their triumph; and all believe that it is the harbinger of Abolition in the South and negro equality in the North! In the Slave states the same belief extensively prevails. In this connection we will relate an anecdote or two to illustrate their feeling.

The other day, in Lexington, as we were assured by a Kentucky gentleman, while a lady was fitting a dress upon one of her slaves, a girl about nine years of age, the latter remarked that, if her mistress would give her another real nice dress, she would stay with her after the election! 

A few days since a Kentucky farmer, in Scott County, overheard one of his negroes inform his colleagues that, no matter what they did, he should stay with his master after the election! 

It will be remembered that, in 1856, a report was current in Tennessee among the negroes, that FREMONT had been elected, and was at the mouth of the Cumberland River, with a large force to set them free. They became insubordinate, and an extensive conspiracy and insurrection was the result. There can hardly be a doubt that the election of LINCOLN will have a bad effect upon the negroes, rendering those at the North saucy and insolent, and in the South insubordinate. 


The author - consciously or not - reinforced the “loyal slave narrative” that some slavery defenders used in claiming that slaves accepted or even liked being slaves, their situation and that they loved their masters while being naturally subordinate. Though these anecdotes at least implied it was possible that those slaves might leave, their conclusions supported the idea of the servants’ loyalty, before the final paragraph contradicted that view. The only word that seems to be missing from that final stanza is “uppity,” though I do not know if that was a word in those days. At least those closing lines acknowledge that slaves were able to desire change in their status and that not all slaves would be content to remain faithful and passive chattel.

This story also demonstrates the reality that even a newspaper editor in Ohio, a free state, did not maintain a positive attitude towards slaves and showed no sympathy towards them.

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