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

Augusta's Democratic Party emphasized that slavery was the country's economic engine of success, protected in the territories by the Dred Scott decision, and they defended Stephen Douglas to the end as the best candidate to defeat Lincoln.

For Democratic editors in Augusta slavery was the basis for economic growth not only in the South but also in the North and in England, where cotton textile workers depended on the productivity of the South. Democrats could hardly comprehend why the Methodist Episcopal General Conference in 1860 would call slavery "evil" and get involved in what they considered a "purely political" matter. Democrats disliked any consideration of slavery as an abstraction. "We have, as we contend and the compromisers acknowledge," the Vindicator editor proclaimed, "the same abstract right to protection for our slave property in the territories which we have to protection for our lives, liberty and property here in Virginia." The issue was property, Democrats insisted, and the right of slaveholders to control and manipulate their property.

Augusta's Democratic editors were furious that some in the county supported Breckinridge and they considered the "seceders" within the Democratic Party politically misguided. Like their Whig counterparts, they were worried about the battle over "abstract" principles of slavery. "The declaration of the abstract right of the South to the protection of its property in the Territories can be of no possible practical good at this time," they warned, "but which we are sure if insisted upon must result in the defeat of the Democratic party, and the rending asunder of this Union of States."

The Vindicator supported Stephen Douglas, but the Breckinridge men enjoyed the benefit of the patronage bestowed by President Buchanan. They would have no conciliation and compromise. The Breckinridge men treated Douglas supporters like "fungi to be lopped off from the party organization."

Stephen Douglas came to Augusta in early September. All along the Virginia Central Railroad as it crossed the Blue Ridge, "groups of men, women and children were assembled at each Depot to catch a glimpse of the great statesman and patriot." "An immense concourse" of three thousand people greeted Douglas as the train station in Staunton, the "largest audience we have ever seen congregated" in the town. The Staunton Artillery escorted Douglas; the unit's captain, John Imboden, took the lead. William H. Harman introduced Douglas, telling him that "To you, sir, all eyes are turned!" The people of the Valley, of Virginia, and of the nation were counting on Douglas to "roll back the swelling tide of sectionalism and fanaticism which threatens to engulf them," to preserve "this magnificent republican edifice reared by our fathers."

Douglas, to repeated cheers, spoke modestly. He declared that "he was not courting votes for the Presidency. If the people would put down the two sectional parties which are threatening the perpetuity of the Union--rebuke fanaticism both North and South--he did not care who they made President." Unlike the other men in the field, Douglas had seen all of America and knew what people had in their hearts. He feared for the Union above all else. At the end of his speech, cheers echoing through Staunton, Senator Douglas went by carriage to the home of M. G. Harman, where hundreds of people came to visit and where Turner's Cornet Band serenaded the visitor. After a day of rest, Douglas headed down the Valley to Harrisonburg to spread his warning and plea once more. (Republican Vindicator, September 7, 1860)

The paper resented Yancey's ignorance of the Valley. He could not understand that Augusta could remain unshaken both in its commitment to slavery and in its ties to the Union. "Mr. Yancey, when down in Alabama, remote from the 'slave depopulated' border State of old Virginia (all bosh--we have more slaves now than we had ten years ago) can write his disunion manifestoes." Yancey and the Breckinridge Democrats could not wrap their minds around the subtlety of the situation of the Border. Like the Republicans, they thought only in opposites, not in the shifting shades of gray that enveloped the slaveholding Unionist South. (Republican Vindicator, October 5, 1860)

Supporting Evidence

J. H. Cochran, J. H. Cochran to Mother, October 8, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, The Results of African Labor in the New World, February 10, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, Cotton and American Slavery, February 24, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, Methodist General Conference, May 18, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, The Protection of Slavery in the Territories, June 29, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, For the Vindicator, July 13, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, Judge Douglas in Staunton, September 7, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, For the Vindicator, September 7, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, Judicial Protection in the Territories, September 28, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, Hon. Wm. L. Yancey, October 9, 1860

Staunton Vindicator, Some Supporters of Judge Douglas, February 8, 1861

Staunton Vindicator, Untitled, March 29, 1861

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 = TAF41
Historiography Tools