Saturday, December 27, 2008

Slavery in the Territories

In the last post, I noted that Kenneth S. Greenberg believed that southerners reacted to the slavery in the territories issue as a symbolic one. Daniel W.Crofts is decidedly of the same view:
Historians who contend that the South had a material interest in taking slaves to new territories surely have overstated their case. Many southerners shared eagerly in the enthusiasm for territorial expansion widespread in mid-nineteenth-century America. Democrats, especially, believed that economic opportunity and social harmony depended upon access to new land. And some racial theorists held that new territory would become an essential escape valve to keep the South from becoming “Africanized.” But during the 1850s slaveowners displayed no inclination to take their property to the recently acquired domain in the Southwest, even though the huge New Mexico territory had as thorough a territorial slave code as any southerner could wish.

About the illustration:
Perkins's grim picture of conditions in the goldfields of California during the 1849 Gold Rush contains a backhanded swipe at the outgoing Polk administration. In the foreground, violence breaks out against a backdrop of hills in the "Gold Region." On the left a man cuts the throat of another over a sack of gold, while beyond and farther to the left appear a man carrying a sack and another fallen victim. At far right two men spar with daggers, one of them evidently a Mexican or Spanish Californian, who declares, "Clear you D--d Foreigner our law is the law of might." Meanwhile, apparently oblivious to the mayhem, other men go about the search for gold. A man with a kerchief around his forehead calmly sifts a pan over a barrel or tub. Behind him another man with a flintlock slung across his back digs into the side of a small rise, and a third, wearing a smock, shovels ore into a wooden sieve. Visible above, beyond the hills, is the U.S. Capitol, on whose lawn stands newly elected President Zachary Taylor. In uniform with his hands behind his back, Taylor watches former President James K. Polk and five of his officers, in the form of birds, fly away toward California. They are armed with pickaxes and the spoils of office. Polk, in the lead, carries a sack marked "Secret Service 3,000,000 [i.e., dollars]" and declares, "The happiest days of my administration. We will take unto ourselves the wings of the morning and depart into the depths of California." Taylor addresses a man who aims a cannon at the flock of birds, "Hold on Capt Bragg 'Dont' waste your Grape.' it is nothing but a "Shide-Polk." Our extra Session shall regulate "California."" These lines echo his famous and decisive order at the Battle of Buena Vista, "A little more grape Captain Bragg." Bragg responds, "As you say General but by G-d! I'd like to make him smell of Buena-Vista." Nearby is the "High Road to California" and a grave marker reading, "In Memory of the Shide-"Poke" Administration. Died 4 M[ar]ch 1849," the customary inauguration date.

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