LETTER – South was a sprawling prison system

Published 3:47 pm Friday, April 16, 2021

To the Editor:

April 15, 2021 was the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death.

Yes, he died on Good Friday, April 15, 1865. Speaking of Lincoln, why did his election in 1860 set off a stampede of southern states seceding from the Union?

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Black slaves, for the first time, could boast of having a friend in the White House. For Lincoln was a bona fide abolitionist. Southern plantation owners were worried that he might make speeches appealing to blacks. The owners feared their unpaid workers, under Lincoln’s influence, might do things (escape in the middle of the night) that they ordinarily wouldn’t do.

This leads to my main point. Each plantation was a prison with black slaves as inmates. The South was thus a sprawling prison system. But there were no guard towers occupied by men armed with rifles. Plantations were prisons that were imminently escapable. Any time inmates got it into their heads that they had had enough, they could readily escape. Sure, there were dog handlers to track them down, as in the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” But handlers were effective only when the escaping slaves were few in number. The system just wasn’t geared for wholesale mass escapes. The dog handlers would be overwhelmed.

In short, slavery was a house of cards. Under the right conditions (such as having Lincoln in The White House) the plantation owners were vulnerable, and they knew it. No wonder they pushed for secession from the Union.

Joseph William Grace