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Northwestern Attitude

In 1860, less than 1 percent of the Northern population was black. Blacks were largely segregated and could hold only lowpaying menial jobs. An English journalist wrote, "The truth is, the negroes, slave and free, are a race apart, in both North and South." The actual number of abolitionists in the North, despite their loud combined voice, was quite small. Most Northerners were, at best, quite indifferent to the plight of the black race. If the emancipation of the Southern slaves had been stated as a Northern purpose for the war at its beginning, the Union war effort would probably never have gotten off the ground. Many Americans who were opposed to slavery in principle would have thought the idea of 4 million free blacks migrating through the country, competing for white jobs and mixing with white society, to be absurd.

Many people in the northwestern states felt closer ties to the agrarian South than to the New England city dwellers. Economically, they were dependent on the Mississippi River and the Southern port of New Orleans for much of their trade and transportation. Three northwestern states—Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa—wanted nothing to do with black people, slave or free, and had enacted laws to bar them from their states. After Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, a great uproar was heard in these states from people who felt they could not support a war that would end black slavery. Some felt that since the Constitution clearly sanctioned the institution of slavery, the South should be allowed to withdraw from the government if it was to be denied the right to allow slavery.

The idea of making soldiers of black men also brought the racist attitudes of many Northerners out into the open. A Pennsylvania soldier wrote a friend, "Jack what do you think about them dam niger Regiments they had better not send any of them out hear fore if they do our own Soldiers will kill more of them than the Rebs would fore a Soldier hates a niger more than they do a Reb."

Fascinating Fact: Lincoln did not think whites and blacks could live in harmony. His plan was to resettle blacks in Central America.

Illustration by Patricia A. Halbert
Written by Stephen T. Foster
© MCMXClll Atlas Editions, USA
Printed in USA
D3 602 03.18