Tag Archives: The National Era
Ordinance of 1787

The South and the Ordinance of 1787

The drawing above shows men in colonial dress nailing a broadside onto a tree. Other figures, including some which appear to represent historical figures such as George Washington and Patrick Henry, and some Indians, watch. The drawing probably refers to the 1787 Northwest Ordinance which created the Northwest Territory as a part of the United States. The artist was James Henry Beard (1812-1893).

The Ordinance of 1787

We have been accustomed to attribute the unanimity with which the Ordinance of 1787 was enacted, to the prevalend of Anti-Slavery sentiment in the country at the time of its passage. The Richmond Whig seems anxious to divest the South of all credit on this score.

Read the following:

“We have never been able, satisfactorily, to account for the extraordinary unanimity with which the Southern members of Congress supported this famous Ordinance – by which slavery was excluded from the Northwestern Territory. It is explained, however, by a paragraph in a letter from Colonel William Grayson, one of the members of Congress from Virginia at that time, (which we find in the New York Tribune,) addressed to one of his colleagues. He writes: ‘The clause respecting Slavery was agreed to by the Southern members, for the purpose of preventing Tobacco and Indigo,’ (the former the great staple of Virginia, and the latter of South Carolina,) from being made on the Northwest side of the Ohio, as well as for several other political reasons.’

“What those ‘political reasons’ were, however, we are unable to conjecture. That class of reasons now exert a contrary influence.”

It is painful to see this anxiety on the part of a leading Virginia paper to ascribe one of the noblest acts of Virginia and the Southern States, to merely selfish motives.

One is tempted, after reading such a paragraph, to believe that there was too much truth in the imputation made in the Convention that framed the Federal Constitution, that the efforts of Virginia to obtain an immediate prohibition of the foreign slave trade, were stimulated by a disposition to monopolize the business of supplying Georgia and South Carolina with slaves. But, no! we will not follow the example of the Whig, and offer such an indignity to the State which, through its delegates in the Federal Convention, stood pre-eminent in its opposition to slavery.

Whatever the public sentiment in Virginia now, once she had a Washington, who deplored Slavery as a crime, declared that it ought to be abolished by law, and that, so far as his suffrage could go in obtaining such a law, it should not be wanting.

Whatever the political or economical reasons which influenced the action of the Southern States, in 1787, this much is certain – they were unanimous in the passage of an ordinance prohibiting Slavery in the only Territory possessed by the United States.

The fact that they gave changed their policy, and that “that class of reasons exert a contrary influence,” does not make the prohibition of Slavery now, in United States’ territory, unconstitutional, or render it proper now that the other sections of the Union should change their minds – unless, indeed, it be claimed, that the fluctuating views of a few slaveholders, in relation to the interests of Indigo, Tobacco, Rice, Cotton, and Sugar, should decide what is constitutional, just, and politic, for twenty millions of people.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.

Source: The National Era, February 17, 1848


Plan of the city of Washington.

Happy Birthday to the District of Columbia!

The signing of the Residence Act on July 16, 1790, approved the creation of a capital district located along the Potomac River on the country’s East Coast. The U.S. Constitution provided for a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress and the District is therefore not a part of any U.S. state.

The states of Maryland and Virginia each donated land to form the federal district, which included the preexisting settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria. Named in honor of George Washington, the City of Washington was founded in 1791 to serve as the new national capital.

From its founding via the Residence Act in 1790 until the Civil War, the question of slavery in the district was often debated.
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bailey-newport-ky

An Appeal for WM. S. Bailey of Kentucky

Sir:

I wish to say a word to the Republicans of the free States, which I hope will be copied into other Republican journals. William S. Bailey of Newport, Ky., has edited and published, for seven years, an Anti-Slavery paper in Kentucky.

He and his family have suffered slow martyrdom all this time. He has been maliciously prosecuted, his buildings have been burned, and he has endured personal violence. But he preserves, and is resolved to do so till Kentucky becomes a free State. He needed new type for his paper, and I undertook to raise $500 of the $1,000 required for that purpose in the Massachusetts Legislature and in Boston.

I have sent him $430, and shall probably get the remainder. Other friends in Boston have sent him $200; friends in Salem nearly $200. He now needs and ought to have immediately $1,000 to pay on his house which he has sacrificed for Freedom, but holds still under mortgage. He will lose the opportunity of redemption unless he is aided to this amount. His paper is doing good service in Kentucky.

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Harriet_Beecher_Stowe_by_Francis_Holl

The First Chapter of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published on June 5, 1851

On June 5, 1851, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly began to appear in serial form in The National Era — an abolitionist weekly.  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery story was released in forty installments over the next ten months. Mrs. Stowe was paid $300 for the rights to publish the story.

In 1951 The National Era had a fairly limited circulation, but readership increased rapidly as reader after reader passed their copies along to friends and family. In 1852 a Boston publisher decided to issue Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a book and it became an instant best seller. Three hundred thousand copies were sold the first year. Folks all over America debated the book and discussed the most pressing issue of the day dramatized in its narrative and brought the debate over slavery into many new homes.

Because Uncle Tom’s Cabin so polarized the abolitionist and anti-abolitionist debate, some claim that it is one of the causes of the Civil War. Indeed, when President Lincoln received its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, at the White House in 1862, legend has it he exclaimed, “So this is the little lady who made this big war?”

The National Era can be found in our African American Newspapers Collection.  

Copyright Secured by the Author for the National Era.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly by Mrs. H.B. Stowe

CHAPTER I. In which the Reader is introduced to a Man of Humanity

Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P—–, in Kentucky. There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.

For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentleman. One of the parties, however, when critically examined, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species. He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which makes a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world. He was much over-dressed in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, be dropped gaily with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings, and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain with a bundle of seals of portentous size and a great variety of colors attached to it which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction. His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray’s grammar, and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe.

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Library of Congress

The OTHER Fire at the Library of Congress – 1851

As many people know, after capturing Washington, D.C. in 1814, the British burned the U.S. Capitol and destroyed the Library of Congress. Thomas Jefferson, in retirement at Monticello, offered to sell his personal library to the Library Committee of Congress in order to rebuild the collection of the Congressional Library. On January 30, 1815, President James Madison approved an act of Congress appropriating $23,950 to purchase Thomas Jefferson’s library of 6,487 volumes.

On December 24, 1851 the largest fire in the Library’s history destroyed 35,000 books, about two–thirds of the Library’s 55,000 book collection, including two–thirds of Jefferson’s original transfer. Congress in 1852 quickly appropriated $168,700 to replace the lost books, but not for the acquisition of new materials. This marked the start of a conservative period in the Library’s administration under Librarian John Silva Meehan and Joint Committee Chairman James A. Pearce, who worked to restrict the Library’s activities.

The fire was reported in The National Era.

National Calamity

Our whole city is intensely excited by the great calamity which has just fallen upon the Capitol.

The Library of Congress, with its rich collection of valuable books, public documents, precious manuscripts, paintings, busts medals, and other works of art, is in ashes. The loss to the nation is great, and, to a certain extent, irreparable. This was probably, on the whole, the best library in the United States; it was enriched by the choice collection of works brought together by the care, discrimination, and taste of Mr. Jefferson, and had been an object of deep interest and regard to successive intelligent committees of Congress, who were intrusted with the duty of superintending its management, and adding annually to its treasures.
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