Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Origins of the Civil War



??? “[The sweat box] was made the height of the person and no longer. Just large enough so the person didn’t have to be squeezed in. The box is nailed, and in summer is put in the hot sun; in winter it is put in the coldest, dampest place.” Prince Smith, former slave on a South Carolina plantation, describing the sweat box used for punishing slaves.

??? “[The whip was used] very frequently and freely, and a small offense on the part of the slave furnished an occasion for its use.” William Wells Brown, former slave and writer of the first novel by an African-American.

1831 “We do not go forth for the sake of blood and carnage;... Remember that ours is not a war for robbery,... it is a struggle for freedom.” Slave rebel Nat Turner to his followers.

1841 “The afflicted mother... kept on begging and beseeching them, most piteously, not to separate the three. Over and over again she told them how she loved her boy.... But it was of no avail.... Then [the mother] ran to [her son and]... told him to remember her — all the while her tears falling in the boy’s face like rain.... It was a mournful scene indeed. I would have cried myself if I had dared.” Former slave Solomon Northup, recalling a slave sale that split a mother from her children.

???? “We are well convinced that there is nothing but the mere relations of husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister which produces a closer tie than the relation of master and servant.... The slaves of a good master are his warmest, most constant, and most devoted friends; they have been accustomed to look up to him as their supporter, director, and defender.” Professor Thomas R. Dew of William and Mary University, Williamsburg, Virginia.

c. 1850

       Farewell, old master

Don’t come after me.

I’m on my way to Canada

Where colored men are free.”

Song of slaves on the Underground Railroad, to the tune of “Oh, Susanna”

1851 “The great gentlemen and the rich folks went freely up the steps and through the door and shook hands with him. Now, did Christ come in this way? Dis he come only to the rich? Did He shake hands only with them? No! Blessed be the Lord! He came to the poor! He came to us, and for our sakes, my brothers and sisters!” Rev. Bentley, a black minister in Savannah, Georgia, describing a visit to his church by President Millard Fillmore.

1860 “Master had over a hundred head of cows and most of the time me and Violet, another house girl, did all the milking. We was up before five. By five we better be in that cow pen. We better milk all of them cows too or they’s bull-whip us.” Katie Darling, interview in 1937 about her life as an 11-year old-slave.



“Sir, suffer me to recall to your mind that time in which the arms and tyranny of the British Crown were exerted with every powerful effort in order to reduce you to a State of Servitude, look back I entreat you on the variety of dangers to which you were exposed....

“This, sir, was a time in which you clearly saw into the injustice of a state of slavery and in which you had just apprehensions of the horrors of its condition, it was now, sir, that your abhorrence thereof was so excited, that you publickly held forth this true and valuable doctrine, which is worthy to be recorded and remembered in all succeeding ages, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”....

“”But, sir, how pitiable is it to reflect that although you were os convinced of the benevolence of the Father of mankind and of his equal and impartial distribution of those rights and privileges which he had conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act which you professedly detested in others with respect to yourselves.”

Benjamin Banneker, letter to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (August 19, 1791).


The Abolitionists

1831 “I will be harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice.... I am in earnest.... I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — and I WILL BE HEARD.” William Lloyd Garrison, in the first issue of his antislavery newspaper, The Liberator.

1834 “More than fifty-seven years have passed since a band of patriots convened in this place to devise measures for the deliverance of this country from a foreign yoke.... We have met together for the achievement of an enterprise, without which that of our fathers is incomplete.... “Their measures were physical resistance — the marshaling in arms, the hostile array, the mortal encounter. Ours shall be such as only the opposition of moral purity to moral corruption — the destruction of error by the potency of truth, the overthrow of prejudice by the power of love, and the abolition of slavery by the spirit of repentance....” Declaration of the American Antislavery Society

1841 “I ask nothing more in behalf of these unfortunate men than this Declaration.” Former President John Quincy Adams, arguing before the United States Supreme Court. He called on the Court to apply the principles of the Declaration of Independence and set free Joseph Cinque and about 50 others who took over the Spanish slave ship Amistad in 1839 and sailed it to New London, Connecticut. The Court agreed to set them free.


“The object of the American Anti-Slavery Society is the ‘entire abolition of slavery in the United States.’ Of course its duty is to find out all the sources of pro-slavery influence in the land. It is its right, it is its duty to try every institution every institution in the land, no matter how venerable or sacred, by the touchstone of anti-slavery principle....

“The history of our Union is lesson enough, for every candid mind, of the fatal effects of every, the least, compromise with evil. The experience of the fifty years passed under it shows us the slaves trebling in numbers, slaveholders monopolizing the offices and dictating the policy of the government, prostituting the strength and influence of the nation to the support of slavery here and elsewhere, trampling on the rights of the free states and making the courts of the country their tools. To continue this disastrous alliance longer is madness. The trial of fifty years only proves that it is impossible for free and slave states to unite on any terms without all becoming partners in the guilt and responsible for the sin of slavery. Why prolong the experiment? Let every honest man join in the outcry of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

“No Union with slaveholders!”

Abolitionist leader Wendell Phillips, “Can Abolitionists Vote?”


“I said I had never in my life suffered from the slave institution. Slavery in Virginia or Carolina was like slavery in Africa or the Fijis for me. There was an old Fugitive Law, but it had become, or was fast becoming, a dead letter, and, by the genius and laws of Massachusetts, inoperative. The new bill made it operative, made me to hunt slaves, and it found citizens in Massachusetts willing to act as judges and captors. Moreover, it discloses the secret of the new times, that slavery was no longer mendicant but was become aggressive and dangerous.

“The way in which the country was dragged to consent to this... was the darkest passage in the history [of the US]. It showed that our prosperity had hurt us and that we could not be shocked by crime. It showed that the old religion and the sense of right had faded and gone out; that while we reckoned ourselves a highly cultivated nation, our bellies had run away with our brains, and the principles of culture and progress did not exist [here].”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, speech in New York on the Fugitive Slave Law

1855 “Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” Abraham Lincoln, letter to his friend Speed

1856 “In this enlightened age there are few, I believe, but what will acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country.” U.S. Army Lt.Col. Robert E. Lee of Virginia, letter to his wife

The Voice of African-Americans

1827 “Freedom’s Journal” Title of the first African-American newspaper, published in New York by Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm, who called on whites to free “their brother in chains.”

1829 “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” Title of a pamphlet by David Walker, a Boston businessman and free black, who called for immediate abolition of slavery.

??? “America is my home, my country, and I have no other.... I mourn because the accursed shade of slavery rests upon it. I love my country’s flag, and I hope that soon it will be cleansed of its stains, and be hailed by all nations as the emblem of freedom and independence.” Henry Highland Garnet, a black abolitionist, opposing the plans of the American Colonization Society to send freed blacks to Africa, such as Liberia, which received only 1,400 migrants by 1831.

1847 “He who has endured the cruel pangs of Slavery is the man to advocate Liberty.” Frederick Douglass, editorial in the first issue of the North Star, his antislavery newspaper in Rochester, New York.

1857 “This infamous decision maintains that slaves... are property in the same sense that horses, sheep, and swine are property.... [and] that [people] of African descent are not and cannot be citizens of the United States..... All I ask of the American people is that they live up to the Constitution, adopt its principles,... and enforce its provisions. When this is done... liberty... will become the inheritance of all the inhabitants of this highly favored country.” Frederick Douglass, speech opposing the decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. Pro-Slavery Southern Opposition


“We must meet the enemy on the frontier, with a fixed determination of maintaining our position at every hazard. Consent to receive these insulting petitions, and the next demand will be that they be referred to a committee in order that they be deliberated and acted upon....

“Abolition and the Union cannot exist. As the friend of the Union, I openly proclaim it, and the sooner it is known the better. The former may now be controlled, but in a short time it will be beyond the power of man to arrest the course of events.”

John C. Calhoun, (D-SC), Speech in the U.S. Senate opposing acceptance of petitions opposing slavery.


The Compromise of 1850

1848 “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men” Slogan of the anti-slavery Free Soil party, formed by Whigs and Democrats opposed to the expansion of slavery in August 1848.


“I think that the constitution of the thirteen states was made not merely for the generation which then existed but for posterity, undefined, unlimited, permanent, and perpetual; for their posterity; and for every subsequent state which might come into the Union, binding themselves by that indissoluble bond....

“The dissolution of the Union and war are identical and inseparable; they are convertible terms....

“I conjure gentlemen, whether from the South or the North, by all they old dear in this world, by all their live of liberty, by all their veneration for their ancestors, by all their regard for posterity, by all their gratitude to Him who has bestowed upon them such unnumbered blessings, by all the duties which they owe mankind and all the duties they owe to themselves, by all these considerations I implore them to pause — solemnly to pause — at the edge of the precipice before the fearful and disastrous leap is taken in the yawning abyss below which will inevitably lead to certain and irretrievable destruction.”

Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky, speech in the Senate urging acceptance of the Compromise of 1850 (February 6, 1850).


“We are now arrived at that stage of our national progress when crisis can be foreseen — when we must foresee it. It is directly before us. Its shadow is upon us. It darkens the legislative halls, the temples of worship, and the home and the hearth. Every question, political, civil, or ecclesiastical — however foreign to the subject of slavery — brings up slavery.... We hear of nothing but slavery, and we talk of nothing but slavery....

“It is insisted that the admission of California shall be attended by a compromise of questions which have arisen out of slavery. I am opposed to any such compromise.... I think all legislative compromises radically wrong and essentially vicious....

“There is a higher law than the Constitution which relegates our authority over the domain and devotes it to... noble purposes.

Sen. William H. Seward, Senate speech

1850 “If something decisive is not now done... the South will be forced to choose between abolition and secession.... The responsibility of saving the Union rests with the North, and not the South.” Speech of the mortally-ill Sen. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who had to be carried into the Senate during the debate on March 4. His words had to be read by another senator. 1850 “I speak today not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American.... I speak today for the preservation of the Union.... There can be no such thing as peaceable secession.” Sen. Daniel Webster, speaking on March 7, supporting the Compromise of 1850.

1850 “The South! The poor South! God knows what will become of her now!” Sen. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, deathbed comment on the Compromise of 1850.

The Fugitive Slave Law

185? “We saw... a man on horseback riding at a quick pace, & by his side a tall negro coming steadily along. We wondered at the perfect uniformity of his steps — until, as they came nearer us, we saw one chain going from his wrists to his ankles — giving him just room enough to walk — following them were two large thick-headed fierce-looking dogs.” Caroline Seabury, a Massachusetts teacher, after observing a slave being returned according the Fugitive Slave Law.

185? “We have submitted to slavery long enough, and must not stand it any longer.... I am done catching negroes for the South.” Amos A. Lawrence, a northern Democrat.

Bleeding Kansas

1854 “[Kansas will] be received into the Union with or without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.” Passage in the Kansas-Nebraska Act, introduced by Senator Stephen A. Douglas (Democrat-Illinois), and passed in May 1854. This passage summarizes Douglas’ idea of “popular sovereignty”.

1854 “[The Kansas-Nebraska Act is] part of the great scheme for extending and perpetuating the supremacy of the Slave Power.” The New York Times

c. 1855 “I am opposed to slavery not because it is a misery to the downtrodden and oppressed, but that it blights and mildews the white man whose lot is toil, and whose capital is labor.” Western newspaper editorial opposing the activities of the Slavers in Kansas.

c. 1855 “We are playing for a mighty stake. If we win, we carry slavery to the Pacific Ocean.” Sen. David Atchinson (Democrat-Missouri)


“On the undersigned, managers of the “Lafayette Emigration Society,” has devolved the important duty of calling the attention of the people of the slaveholding states to the absolute necessity of immediate action on their part in relation to the settlement of Kansas Territory. The crisis is at hand. Prompt and defensive measures must be adopted, or farewell to Southern rights and independence.

“The Western counties of Missouri have, for the last two years, been heavily taxed, both in money and time, in fighting the battles of the South. Lafayette County alone has expended more than $100,000.... But the Abolitionists, staking all upon the Kansas issue, and hesitating at no means, fair or foul, are moving heaven and earth to render that beautiful territory not only a free state, so-called, but a den of Negro thieves and ‘higher law’ incendiaries....

“How, then can these impending evils be avoided? The answer is obvious. Settle the territory with emigrants from the South....

“Is it in the nature of Southern men to submit without resistance, to look to the North for their laws and institutions? We do not believe it!”

Petition of the Lafayette Emigration Society in the Southern magazine, DeBow’s Review

1856 “Slavery now stands erect, clanking its chains on the territory of Kansas, surrounded by a code of death, and trampling upon all cherished liberties.... It has been done for the sake of political power, in order to bring two new slaveholding senators to this floor.” Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, “Crime Against Kansas” speech in the U. S. Senate (May 19-20, 1856). In the speech, Sumner attacked Sen. Andrew Butler (Democrat-South Carolina); two days later, Butler’s cousin, Rep. Preston Brooks (Democrat-South Carolina), attacked with his cane and severely beat Sumner on the floor of the Senate. 1856 “[The beating of Sen. Sumner by Rep. Brooks] made Abolitionists of those who never dreamed they were drifting into it.” Whig Congressional leader David Davis.

1856 “[The Kansas-Nebraska Act is] the only sound and safe solution of the slavery question.” From the 1856 presidential election platform of the Democratic Party.

1856 “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Men, Frémont, and Victory” 1856 presidential election campaign slogan of the new Republican Party, running Gen. John C. Frémont as its presidential candidate.

1856 “Slavery and Freesoilism can never be reconciled. Our enemies have been defeated — not vanquished. A majority of the free States have declared war against the South, upon a purely sectional issue, and in the remainder of them, formidable minorities fiercely contend for victory under the same banner. The triumph of this geographical party must dissolve this confederacy, unless we are prepared to sink down into a state of acknowledged inferiority. We will act wisely to employ the interval of repose afforded by the late [presidential] election [in which Democrat James Buchanan of Pennsylvania was elected], in earnest preparation for the inevitable conflict. The Southern States have never demanded more than equality and security. They cannot submit to less, and remain in the Union, without dishonor and ultimate ruin.” Governor James H. Adams, Governor’s Message to the State legislature (November 24, 1856)

The Dred Scott Decision

1857 “This atrocious decision furnishes final confirmation of the already-known fact that, under the Constitution and government of the United States, the colored people are nothing but an alien, disfranchised, and degraded class.” African American leader Robert Purvis, at a rally protesting the Dred Scott decision.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (August-October 1858)

1858 “I do not believe it is a constitutional right to hold slaves in a territory of the United States.” Abraham Lincoln, speaking against the Dred Scott decision.


“It matters not what way the Supreme Court may... decide.... The people have the lawful means to introduce [slavery] or exclude it as they may please, for the reason that slavery cannot exist... unless it is supported by local police regulations....

“Mr. Lincoln tries to avoid the main issue by attacking the truth of my proposition, that our fathers made this government divided into slave and free states, recognizing the right of each to decide all its local questions for itself. Did they not thus make it? It is true that they did not establish slavery in any of them; but, finding thirteen state, twelve of which were slave and one free, they agreed to form a government uniting them together as they stood, divided into free and slave states, and to guarantee forever to each state the right to do as it pleased on the slavery question. Having thus made the government and conferred this right upon each state forever, I assert that this government can exist as they made it, divided into free and slave states, if any one state chooses to retain slavery.” Sen. Stephen A. Douglas (D-Illinois), in his debates with Lincoln, downplaying the Dred Scott decision and stating his doctrine of “Popular Sovereignty.”

1858 “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.” Abraham Lincoln, speech at the Illinois State Republican Convention

John Brown’s Raid (October 16-18, 1859)


“This court acknowledges,... as I suppose, the validity of the law of God..... I believe that to have interfered (acted) as I have done... in behalf of His despised poor is no wrong, but right.

“Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and withe blood of millions in the slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments — I say, let it be done!”

John Brown, speech at his trial for attacking Harpers Ferry, Virginia

1859 “Remember that if I must die I die in trying to liberate a few of my poor and oppressed people from my condition of servitude.... I imagine that I hear you, and all of you, mother, father, sisters, and brothers, say — ‘No, there is not a cause for which we, with less sorrow, could see you die.’” John Copeland, an African American, one of six men convicted of treason against Virginia alongside John Brown, in a letter to his family before his execution.

The Presidential Election of 1860

1860 “The North is accumulating power, and it means to use that power [for emancipation].... When that is done, no pen can describe, no tongue can depict, no pencil can point the horrors that will overspread this country.... Disunion is a fearful thing, but emancipation is worse.” Mississippi Senator Albert Gallatin Brown.

1860 “In my judgment, the election of no man, constitutionally chosen to that high office, is sufficient cause for any state to separate from the Union.... Whatever fate is to befall this country, let it never to be laid to the charge of the people of the South... that we were untrue to our national engagements.” Sen. Alexander Stephens (Democrat-Georgia), speaking against secession to the Georgia legislature. Stephens later became the Vice President of the Confederate States.