The Southern Unionist
Albion W. Tourgee

There were throughout the South thousands of men who were Unionists pure and simple. As a rule, they had no sympathy with the antislavery idea which had come to permeate the whole mental life of the North. Slavery was to them as much a matter of course as any event of their every-day life. Very many of them were hereditary slave-owners. The inferiority, inherent and fore-ordained, of the colored man, was as much an article of faith with them as any portion of the Sacred Word. Not only this, but they believed with equal sincerity that the normal and proper sphere of the inferior race was slavery. They might regret its abuses, that there should be cruel and ruthless masters and brutal overseers, just as they did when an up-country teamster abused his overloaded horses; but they were no more troubled with qualms of conscience in regard to the enslavement of the one than as to the driving of the other. Such a man was in favor of the Union from a profound conviction of its glory, a traditional patriotism, or a belief that secession and disunion would be ruinous and fatal; but he did not look for or desire the abolition of slavery in bulk or as an institution. His attachment to the Union was an absorbing devotion to an abstract idea. He had no hostility to the ultimate object of secession, - the security and perpetuity of slavery, - but only to the means by which it was accomplished. He worshiped the Union; but it was the Union with slavery, except as the right to hold slaves might be forfeited by rebellion; which forfeiture he believed would be purely personal, and would affect only those actually guilty of rebellious acts. Such was the position of the Southern Unionist at the beginning of the war. Some receded from it as the struggle progressed; but many thousands held to their faith in spite of every persuasion and persecution which could be brought against them. The heroism of many of these men was fully equal to the highest courage and devotion shown upon the field of battle. They dodged, hid, fought, struggled, and in always evaded the service of the Confederacy, and were true to the Union of their faith. The close of the war found them just where they had been at its beginning. They had neither gone backward nor forward.

They regarded the abolition of slavery as justifiable solely upon the ground of the master having personally and individually engaged in rebellion, - a punishment for his treason. Upon this ground, and this alone, they regarded it as possible that this idea should be sustained; and with this doctrine they held, as an unavoidable corollary, that they were entitled, either to be excepted from its operation, or to be compensated for such slaves as were taken from them by the Military Proclamation.

When it comes to the application of logic, and the principles of equity on which all such questions of national polity are said to be based, it is difficult to perceive what is the fallacy in the reasoning of these Southern Unionists. It has always been claimed that slavery was abolished as a military necessity, and not because of its inherent wrong, or merely as a humanitarian measure to benefit the enslaved. Almost any one of the wise men who made the laws, and regulated the course of political events at that time, would have affirmed this. Yet, if this were true, there should have been no interference with the slaves of the Southern Unionist, or, if there were, he should have been compensated for the same as well as for his cotton, his corn, his tobacco, his fences, his timber, and cattle, unwittingly destroyed, or needfully appropriated, by the national forces. This was not done, however. The wise men decided that it would not do to attempt it.

So the result was, that, while the open and avowed rebel lost his slave-property by the events of the war, the most ardent and devoted Unionist lost his also. It was hard, very hard, when a man had given the best years of his life to the honest acquisition of a species of property which was not only protected, but seemed to have been peculiarly favored and encouraged, by our laws; and when, the life of the nation being in peril, at the risk of his own he stood by her, espoused her cause against his neighbors, made himself an outcast in his own land, - it was hard indeed, when the struggle was over, to see that nation to which he had been so devotedly attached reaching out its hand, and stripping him of the competence thus acquired, and leaving him to suffer, not only the pangs of poverty, but the jeers of those whose treason he had opposed. That the love of these men should gradually grow cold for the country which measured out to friend and foe alike one even measure of punishment, our Fool thought not a matter to be wondered at; but the wise men of the National Capital were unable to believe that this could be. So time wore on, and wise men and fools played at cross-purposes; and the locks of Samson grew while he wrought at the mill.


A Fool's Errand by One of the Fools by Albion W. Tourgee
Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, New York, 1880, pages 127-129.