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Comments about Abolitionism

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Bob Arrington says...

On 10/15/12
at 02:31 PM

The article overstates the case for abolitionism in West Virginia. There were no abolition societies in West Virginia as there were in Kentucky and Maryland. Although there were just 18,371 slaves according to the 1860 census, and there were probably quite a bit more that the census didn’t count, these slaves represented a very large investment just in physical value, over one-third of a billion dollars in today’s terms. The economic contribution of these slaves affected almost every aspect of West Virginia society and business. Wilma Dunaway’s Slavery in the American Mountain South goes into great detail on the economics.

Many of the men whose names are mentioned here as abolitionists were not native to Western Virginia. Z.D. Ramsdell, Chester Hubbard, William Stevenson, Gordon Battelle, and Granville Parker were from the north. Henry Ruffner was from eastern Virginia. The Ceredo colony was a Massachusetts import to Wayne County, and by the end of the war, was burned out by the local residents. Most of the violence against abolitionists occurred in western Virginia from 1850-1860, with mobs crossing into Ohio to kidnap or beat abolitionists. (Source: David Grimstead’s American Mobbing, 1828-1861, Toward Civil War.)

The leaders of the government did not want emancipation at all. Waitman Willey argued strenuously against the emancipation of District of Columbia slaves in 1862 as a senator from Virginia. Mr. Willey’s amendment, which purportedly was an emancipation amendment, did not free one single slave when West Virginia became a state. There was no emancipation for slaves over 21 years of age, who would have lived the rest of their lives as slaves in West Virginia.

As the National Republican said on July 2, 1862: “The pretence is too bald, that a state, which refused to abolish slavery when she had a direct motive to do so, in the strong desire to get into the Union, would forthwith proceed to abolish slavery after admission into the Union. Equally vain are the suggestions, that slavery is a weak interest in West Virginia, that the number of slaves is not large, and that the institution will soon die out. We know to well how little it takes of the virus of slavery to corrupt a great body politic.”

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