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"The South Is the Enemy of the North" -- Theodore Parker, 1854

"The South Is the Enemy of the North" -- Theodore Parker, 1854
AI visualization of a Congressional altercation.

What was the matter with Kansas-Nebraska Act? What wasn't the matter with the Kansas-Nebraska Act?

I heartily recommend David M. Potter's The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War 1848-1861, which will continue to be a source in future posts, if you want to appreciate what a price Southerners paid for a series of largely inconsequential but hard-fought victories during that period that cost the South more than they were worth:

For ten years, the Union had witnessed a constant succession of crises; always these ended in some kind of "victory" for the South, each of which left the South with an empty prize and left the Union in a weaker condition than before. In 1850 the South had paid a dear price for the Fugitive Slave Act; in 1853 it squandered some of its influence to procure the Ostend Manifesto; in 1854 it sacrificed the bisectional ascendancy of the Democratic party; in 1857 it prepared to pay whatever the cost might be for upholding the Dred Scott decision. In 1858 it sacrificed what was left of the northern Democracy in a vain attempt to force the adoption of the Lecompton constitution. Such were the trophies of victory. Not one of them added anything to the area, the strength, the influence, or even the security of the southern system. Yet each had cost the South a high price, both in alienating the public opinion of the nation and in weakening that one great bulwark of bisectionalism, the Democratic party, which alone stood between the South and sectional dominiation by the Republicans.

Two books by William C. Cooper – The South and the Politics of Slavery, 1828–1856, which I quote in the video, and Liberty and Slavery: Southern Politics to 1960 – show how political-party dynamics in the South motivated politicians to fight for these pyrrhic victories. By the time the Kansas-Nebraska Act came along, southern Democrats and Whigs had spent decades exchanging the upper hand, which was usually gained by each respective party more or less succeeding at positioning itself as the true defender of Southern rights and institutions – the institution of slavery topping the list.

To do this, Southern politicians had to demonstrate their ability to bring the Northern members of their party into line on all issues southern. That they had done so largely successfully as of 1854 was alluded to in Theodore Parker's assertion that the South had "one power which is a very great one – she knows how to buy Northern men." But as noted in the video, northern Democrats paid a steep price for their support of popular sovreignty. Southern Whigs, meanwhile, continued their downward slide with their failure to convince not only their Northern counterparts but many in their own ranks to support Kansas-Nebraska.  

As for Parker, I went looking for a speech after reading Susan Mary-Grant's North Over South: Northern Nationalism and American Identity in the Antebellum Era, which makes Parker's views of southern inferiority abundantly clear. He argued, for example, that while "the South can grown timber, it is the North which builds the ships," and whereas the South could "rear cotton, the free intelligence of the North must weave it into a cloth."

"The South, Parker concluded, would never match the North in either industrial or intellectual development," Grant writes, adding that Parker asserted, "Steam-engines and slaves come of a different stock."

Parker was one of the best-known ministers in the United States.  It would have grated on a Southern intellectual like Edmund Ruffin, an expert on scientific agriculture who had published several journals, to read such condescencion, and the old fire-eater was all too aware that in 1854 the South did not yet hate the North enough to initiate a national divorce. Ruffin's diary only goes as far back as 1856, but on January 25, 1860, he wrote: "Re-read Theodore Parker's long letter from Rome justifying & eulogizing the conduct & objects of John Brown, & emancipation of negro slaves by the slaying of the whites."

Parker, who had met with Brown and helped provide funding for the Harpers Ferry raid, was in Italy seeking treatment for tuberculosis. He died on May 10, a few months after Ruffin's diary entry.