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Opinions on Slavery: Abraham Lincoln vs. James Hammond

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Lincoln and Hammond: Perspective

When placed side by side, Abraham Lincoln and James Hammond both seem to give off contrary vibes to their political affiliations. Hammond, a southern slave owner and democrat utilizes a shocking amount of religion to support his support for American slavery, while Lincoln, the republican leader of the North and president of the United States, seems to avoid the subject of personal injection and religion altogether- at least within this specific argument. Hammond’s letter to the abolitionist in 1845 was a means of representing the views of all slaveholders in America at the time, as it explicitly states towards the end. It served to refute common arguments on the basis of morality and religious admonishment of slavery, as well as “dispute” any misconceptions floating about on the subjects of conservativism, and the benefits to the model of slavery. Naturally, we all know slavery is wrong. This is not what will be analyzed in this assignment- but rather it will focus on Hammond’s viewpoints and their relation to Lincoln’s argument on the free market system, which will be analyzed as well. Specifically, the underlying goal of a free market economy and slavery’s failure to uphold it, as well as the religious justification of a free labor economy and its place in 19th century American society.

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Hammond’s argument to justify slavery on its own, as an abstract concept and its very real execution in the slave states of pre-civil war America, relies heavily on scripture and a heavy heart of faith. He, as many people do to this day, chose to justify the moral ramifications of slavery by both proving that it was not a sin through citation of scripture, and by going as far as to say it is in fact the moral thing to do, as according to scripture. To quote: “We accept the Bible terms as the definition of our Slavery, and its precepts as the guide of our conduct….” (Hammond 263). This is the basic closing to an argument I do not wish to regurgitate, but it essentially boils down to a firmly set belief that slavery’s morality is as strong as fact. There is no changing that- its roots are in faith, which cannot be usurped. Beneath this, though, and much less directly addressed, is Hammond’s disdain for the idea that slavery is contrary to the Republican model. While there is more to discuss on Hammond’s specific underlying disdain for a free market, there is a more basic message to be found in his support of slavery from an economic standpoint. A Republican model would, at its most basic abstract concept, level the playing fields to pave the way for a free market- to try and displace the wealth solidified in slaveholders that remains solely in the hands of slave owners and is not recycled to a working class, a prominent and poorly treated feature of the north’s economy at that present time. So, clearly, there is more to this justification of slavery than just the morality. Even if the bible dictated it was the moral thing for Hammond to own and extort another human being for free labor and unmatched monetary gain, it does not match the more common desire to acquire and amass wealth. Hammond is not just abiding by the scriptures apparent desire for the superior man to take the weaker “heathen” under his wing to serve him and be cared for by him, rather, he is chasing a system that serves his own gains and chooses to justify it after the fact. The exact gains behind slavery and its pertinence to Lincoln’s idea of a free market economy will be further discussed later in the paper.

Lincoln, a man most known for politically siding amongst the more progressive of two prejudiced sides of a country, had a different kind of argument against slavery. One that ousted the repercussions of slavery from an economic standpoint. Lincoln spends the first few paragraphs of his piece explaining the virtues of hard work and the satisfaction we share as a country when the economy benefits from honest working class men pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Then, he starts introducing the concept of what is called a “free market”. In short, a free market is a system that starts with a working class citizen. This person, starting with little to their name, is hired to work in some manner of profession, be it a farmhand or a factory worker in the rapidly industrializing union. Then, when this person has worked hard enough for a long enough time and has accumulated enough wealth to start their own life, they provide for themselves on an independent venture- providing for a family. This is where they start their own mill, or farm, or what-have-you. After enough time, their prospects expand to the point where additional hands are needed, and this person hires another working class citizen into their field. Thus, you have the cycle of a free market. While explaining this system and its correlation to a world that betters itself by combining the benefits of strong hands and able minds, Lincoln establishes an implied argument against the southern model of free (slave) labor. A free market cannot thrive in a slave economy, because instead of a free hired man moving on to spread his wealth down to his own future farm hands, slave owners relish in the wealth of their slave labor and fail to disperse any wealth back into the market. Making for a stagnant lower class and a stacked economy that favors the South. He goes on to explicitly chastise the south with statements like “A Yankee who could invent a strong handed man without a head would receive the everlasting gratitude of the ‘mud sill’ advocates.” (Lincoln 230), mud-sill theory being, of course, the model of letting the poor do all the laboring and mindless strength at the bottom of society while the rich utilize their restricted special access to education to “advance civilization” (i.e. retain wealth and power indefinitely).

This is where things come back to Hammond’s rationale against free market and the republican dream. Hammond views the republican model as one of equal representation and power to everyone, which he then cites as detrimental to the country because if everyone equally powered, population alone would favor the lower class- giving the poor and less educated more say in the “advancing of civilization”, as the mud-sill theory puts it. This is further expounded the idea that Hammond simply did not care whether or not the lower class were hurt by a free labor system. Hammond thought that the world was on a divine track and there was no reason to interfere in matters concerning slavery, poverty, disease, and so on. He actually cites these as things beyond our control or meddling, as it only ends in divine intervention and tragedy for us. So what Hammond is implying is that if the nation kept up with the free labor system, then it is simply God’s plan for the destitute to remain and destitute and for he and his slave owners to retain all the wealth they can scrape into their bloodline. A free market would only proport equality amongst the major divide between rich and poor, and since Hammond disagrees with Lincoln’s notion that everyone should take on the responsibilities of the hand and the mind in order to create a society that can thrive upon the smallest plot of land, it is evident he does not proport a society that needs to thrive in those situations. This further implies that if he does not wish for a society of that nature, then he does not truly wish for any peace, as peace would lead to rapid population expansion and Lincoln’s model favors this prospect. Furthermore, one could go as far as to say this is indication of Hammond’s desire for secession, or even civil war, as his loathing of the destitute and admonishment of Lincoln’s models as improper for Hammond’s biblical America all point towards a disdain for the republican values Lincoln purports.

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