The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities
Return to Comparison Statements: Campaign of 1860

Augusta's Whig Party emphasized that slavery was safer within the Union than without and that in the 1860 election slavery had become needlessly politicized. The Augusta Whigs moved to develop a new party around Constitutional Unionism.

The editors of the Staunton Spectator considered both the Republican and Democratic parties increasingly sectional and secessionist. They argued that only a new party dedicated to Union could prevent the country from falling into internecine warfare and at the same time protect slavery. Whigs in Augusta were concerned about "whether the peace of the country and the Union itself must be sacrificed to abstract theories." They wanted slavery as a political issue removed from the debate--"The only way we know of is to agree to disagree upon questions of really no practical importance. If let alone, the question of slavery in the Territories will settle itself to the satisfaction of all reasonable and patriotic men in both sections of the Republic."

The Constitutional Union Party of John Bell, attractive to many old Whigs and Unionists in Augusta, had no party machinery in place. Fractional politics held sway. Augusta men, to be sure, put on a brave face. The Spectator agreed with other border-state papers that the disruption of 1860 might be just what Southern Unionists needed. With the Democrats committing suicide, perhaps the former Whigs of Virginia would finally have their chance, long overdue, within their own state. "For years and years seventy thousand gentlemen, comprising the pith and flower of the Virginia population, have been virtually disfranchised," the Spectator spat with undisguised class resentment. "Men of wealth, of learning, of influence, of the first order of ability in all things pertaining to public affairs, they have nevertheless had no more lot or part in the State government than if they had lived in China or Timbuctoo." But 1860 offered the chance of a lifetime. "A glorious hour is at hand for the Whigs of Virginia." And what was glorious for Virginia would be glorious for the Union. The great talents of Southern Union men, squandered for the last decade, would finally have a chance to save the entire country, steering it between the detested Republicans and the reviled Democrats. "A noble work, a great work, a task worthy, so unselfish, so unconquerable, so patriotic a band, is to be done."

Those who distrusted Douglas because he seemed to value the North over the South and slavery "should vote for Bell, who is as firm and true a friend of the 'peculiar institution' of the South as any man who was ever born upon its soil or breathed its atmosphere." Bell, from the patrician Whig point of view of Augusta, supported slavery for the right reasons: he believed that slavery possessed "the sacred sanction of the Bible--that it is religiously, morally, socially, and politically right." Bell also understood that slavery "is the fountain from which springs the vast stream of our national wealth and prosperity--that it is the Midas which converts all it touches to gold." A Southern man did not have to sell out on slavery to support the Union. (Staunton Spectator, July 17, 1860)

The Unionists mobilized Augusta. The parties formed clubs in every hamlet, fourteen of them by early October, in Sherando, Churchville, Hamilton's school house, Middlebrook, and Mt. Solon, with Greenville, Midway, Newport, and Craigsville soon joining in. (Staunton Spectator, October 9, 1860) They put their tallest men on their highest horses to ride along the Valley Road. (Staunton Spectator, October 2, 1860) They rang bells at every opportunity. They advertised that seats would be provided for ladies at the speeches. They sent children with "Bell and Everett grapes" for the editor. They brought in speakers from other states and counties. They enlisted any local man who could screw up the nerve to stand in front of his neighbors and speak. They printed the name of every man who came to their club meetings.

At a local rally for the Unionists, State Senator Alexander H. H. Stuart, a long-time leader of the Whigs, Americans, and Unionists, spoke for an hour and thirty-five minutes. "He delivered an able, clear, and eloquent address, exhibiting a great deal of accurate information upon all the questions discussed. He gave a history of the rise and progress of the slavery agitation between the North and South so clearly and succinctly that no man could fail to understand it." Stuart offered a "withering rebuke of those unworthy sons" of Virginia who would allow her to be "dragged into a common destiny with the disunion States."

Even the Democrats' Vindicator had to admit that the Union rally seemed a great success. "Bells and flags (expense being not a consideration) tossed and dingled, evidencing at least energy was not wanting in the contest." The Spectator, glowing with pride, had no doubt that "Those who traveled many miles through the mud and rain were more than compensated for all their toil and trouble." The moral seemed clear: "If the destiny of this country and the fate of the Union were in the control of Augusta, the watchman on the tower of Liberty might confidently exclaim: 'All is well--All is well--the country is safe!'"

Supporting Evidence

C. Alexander, C. Alexander to John H. McCue, December 12, 1859

John G. Imboden, Letter to John H. McCue, December 3, 1860

Alexander H. H. Stuart, Alexander H. H. Stuart to Reverend W. G. Brownlow, August 18, 1856

Lucas P. Thompson, Lucas P. Thompson to John H. McCue, November 1, 1860

The Reverend Abraham Essick, Diary, 1849-1864

William S. Garvin, William S. Garvin to Simon Cameron, January 24, 1861

Staunton Spectator, Civil, Not Sectional War, January 24, 1860

Staunton Spectator, State of the Country, January 31, 1860

Staunton Spectator, Democracy and Slavery, February 7, 1860

Staunton Spectator, The Position of Mr. Bates, April 3, 1860

Staunton Spectator, The Trouble at C[h]arleston, May 8, 1860

Staunton Spectator, Another Division in the M. E. Church Expected, June 12, 1860

Staunton Spectator, John Bell's Slavery Record, October 2, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, Untitled, November 2, 1860

Related Historiography

William W. Freehling, The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, Volume 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
William G. Shade, Democratizing the Old Dominion: Virginia and the Second Party System, 1824-1861 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996).

Citation: Key = TAF40
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