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“Peaceable Secession an Absurdity” (New York Evening Post, November 12, 1860)

52. Peaceable Secession an Absurdity

(New York Evening Post [Lincoln], November 12, 1860)

In behalf of the treachery and imbecility of the Administration at Washington the new doctrine is invoked that each state has a right peacefully to secede–that nullification of any particular law of Congress is to be resisted and punished by the government, but that secession, i.e., the absolute nullification and defiance of all such laws, and of the Constitution and of the Union, is perfectly right and within the power, at all times, of each and every state. The faithless members of the cabinet seek thus to shelter themselves and their partisans in disunion from resistance by the general government, while the imbeciles aim in the same way to find an excuse from [sic] shrinking from their duty of affirmative and energetic action for which they lack courage if not principle.

A more monstrous and absurd doctrine than that of the right of any state at its pleasure to secede from the Union has never been put forth. the government in such case would indeed be a mere rope of sand. According to this dogma, Cuba, after we shall have paid $200,000,000 for her purchase, as a state may at once secede, and leave the United States Treasury to place that small item to the account of “profit and loss.” Texas, when she came into the Union after we had paid many millions to discharge her debts, and other millions to go into her coffers, was and is entirely at liberty to secede with the booty. Each and all the states carved out of the Louisiana purchase, for which we also paid such an immense sum, may do the like.

So, too, states in which the largest amounts of the public property may be situated may at any time secede with that property. When the Pacific Railroad shall be constructed, at an expense of countless millions, paid from the common treasure, the two or three states through which it will run may decamp with the plunder and plant a custom-house on the site of our storehouses. Vermont, New Hampshire, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the other inland states, which will have contributed to these great disbursements, and in which states hardly a dollar of the public treasure is even [ever?] expended, are to look quietly and approvingly on the exodus of those which have been thus purchased and enriched at their expense, and to recognize the right of each of them to secede and take the property with them.

Again, if this right exists it exists at all times, until no two states remain united. What, then, would become of the national debt and the national credit? To whom would the creditors of the government look for payment? Should the government be, as it may at any time be, indebted on its stocks hundreds of millions of dollars, its creditors could look, in case of secession, only to the states which should remain united. Those which should have seceded and established independent governments could not be reached. The creditor could claim of them no percentage of liability. They would plead that they had never contracted, and that they had been only stockholders in a corporation in which there was no individual liability.

Nor could the continuing government of the United States compel the payment by the seceding state of a portion of the public debt. There would be no data from which a definite percentage could be assigned to it, nor would it have the ability to pay. If South Carolina finds it [161] necessary to repudiate at the outset by suspending specie payments, and (as already foreshadowed) by annulling even private debts due by its citizens to those of other states, it is plain that both ability and principle will be lacking for payment of her share (if it could be allotted) of the public debt. There is no court by which any fixed amount could be established as due from her on account of that debt, or which could issue execution for its payment. It results therefore that the seceding state could only be compelled to pay any share of the national debt (contracted on her account, as well as that of the other states) by war and reprisals by the general government. This puts an end to the idea of peaceable secession and the right of secession.

But can any of the democratic book-keepers tell us how (if payment could be compelled) they could make out the account current between the seceding state and the government, so as to strike a balance between the debit and the credit sides? Large amounts have been expended by the government on her account and within her borders. Forts for her harbors, light-houses, court-houses, coast-surveys, custom-houses, nonpaying postoffices and post routes, and salaries of the swarms of officers and leeches attendent upon all these, in addition to her undefinable share of the public debt, have all been paid. But then she has a credit side of the account also, which it will be impossible to adjust. How are we to ascertain the values and the proportions thereof to which she is entitled of the public arms and ammunitions of war, arsenals, ceded places, public edifices, ships of war, and of the public lands? Is there any court, or is there any form of action by which partition can be made of the territories? This last item is a very material one, for the only point of principle on which the secessionists take issue with the Republicans as to the platform of the latter (adopted at Chicago) is that of carrying slavery into the territories. What foothold or property in the territories will the seceders retain on leaving the Union? They will be foreign states, and we believe it has not yet been claimed, even by Judge Taney, that the laws of foreign states extend proprio vigore over the territories.

Another difficulty in making up the account with South Carolina would result from her claiming an almost incalculable credit for the disproportion of the public burdens which she fancies she has borne in the confederacy, by reason of what she considered the unequal operation of the various revenue laws.

Now, this right of secession, if it exist at all, is an absolute one, and a state has as much right to exercise it at one time as at another. If she may secede at will, she may do so in anticipation of war, or in time of [162] war. If she can secede when she chooses, she owes no allegiance to the government an hour after she decides to secede, but will then be just as independent of the government as she is of any other nation. In the midst of war, then, it will be the right of any state not only to desert our own government, but at the same time to ally herself with the enemy. The Hartford Convention complained that New England was heavily taxed, but not defended by the general government, and merely proposed to ask the consent of the government to expend in the defence of New England the taxes raised in New England. This was not claimed as a right, but the consent of the government was to be sought. This was hardly an approach to secession, but the democracy of that day did not tolerate even the proposition, and the Hartford Convention was execrated.

But the absurdity of this new doctrine of the right of secession is too palpable for serious argument. The government under such a principle could not have twenty-four hours of assured existence. Neither other nations, nor its own citizens, could have confidence in its permanence. It would lack the vital principle of existence, because it would wholly lack credit. Nobody would lend it a dollar, for nobody could be sure that it would hold together long enough to pay a six months’ loan, to say nothing of loans for long terms of years. The public faith, on which alone all who deal with governments can repose, would be utterly lacking. Business could have no security or stability, for men would not embark either their industry or their capital, unless under the shelter of laws and institutions not liable to change.

No–if a state secedes it is revolution, and the seceders are traitors. Those who are charged with the executive branch of the government are recreant to their oaths if they fail to use all lawful means to put down such rebellion. The people of no party base any confidence either in the fidelity or nerve of the Administration in Washington, but fear they will prove, some of them from inclination and others from timidity, practical allies of the revolutionists. They and their partisans have done all in their power to inflame and mislead the South, by charging upon the northern states the design of interfering with the rights of the people of the South, and the mercenaries here have co-operated in this false clamor and deception. The Administration, in relinquishing the government will endeavor to leave all possible embarrassments in the way of its successors, but we much mistake if those of its partisans here who have been foremost in the false work, will not be the first with whom the consequent mischief will come home to roost.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Volume I (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 158-162.

From John V. Denson, “Slavery Laws in Alabama” (1908), Parts III (Patrols) and IV (Mode of Trial of Slaves)

Here is some more text transcribed from John V. Denson’s 1908 monograph, Slavery Laws in Alabama, which we are in the process of serializing here at the blog in order to add the text to the Fair Use Repository. (For previous instalments, see Part I on the law of manumission and Part II on “Runaways”.) The text was originally published in booklet form as part of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute Historical Studies series. The author, John V. Denson was a student and later GTA instructor at Alabama Polytechnic for History and Latin; he later became a prominent lawyer in the Auburn-Opelika area. Like most of the historical studies from Alabama Polytechnic (now Auburn University) from the first decade of the 1900s, the booklet takes the standpoint of “Lost Cause” apologia for Southern slavery, and adopts a point of view that is persistently racially insensitive, and at times frankly white supremacist. It is however an extensive and detailed study of the slave code in Alabama in particular, and essetial documentation for how Alabama historians and students of history wrote and thought about slavery at the turn of the 20th century. The next two sections of the text deal with the laws establishing and regulating Alabama slave patrols, and the laws governing the trials of slaves accused of criminal offenses (as well as the claims that could be made by the state against slaveholders, or by slaveholders against the state, in case the people that they claimed as their chattel property were punished or executed for crimes).

[11] PATROLS: The patrol system was for the purpose of preserving order and peace, of preventing disturbances of any kind, and of serving as a special police system for slaves. In the system all white males between the ages of eighteen and sixty, who owned slaves, and other free white persons between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, who were subject to militia duty, were subject to perform patrol duty. Each patrol consisted of from four to six men under a leader, to serve not less than two nor more than three weeks, and to patrol such districts of their precinct as they thought necessary, at least once a week at night, and to be subject at all times, in addition to their prescribed duties, to the command of the justice of the peace [12] of the precinct.[19] I shall omit the patrol laws having to do with the making up of the patrol, eligibility, length of service, duties of leader, etc., and notice only those laws that related especially to slaves.

The general duties of the patrol were as follows: “It shall be the duty of each patrol detachment to visit all negro quarters, all places suspected of entertaining unlawful assemblies of slaves, or other disorderly persons unlawfully assembled; and upon finding such disorderly person or persons, to take him, her, or them, if free, before the nearest justice of the peace of such county, or make report thereof to said justice, so that he, she, or they, may be dealt with according to the law; and if any slave or slaves shall be found so assembled, or strolling without a pass, or some token from his or her owner or overseer, the said patrol may give such slave any number of lashes not exceeding fifteen; and if there be reason to suspect any such slave to be runaway from his or her owner they shall take such slave or slaves before the nearest justice of the peace for such county, to be dealt with according to the law; and to be allowed and paid by the owner, for all runaway slaves so taken up, the sum of ten dollars, and shall also be entitled to receive all other fines for which parties may be liable, which they may bring before any jurisdiction having cognizance thereof.”[20]

Special acts with reference to patrol duties were few, and the following constitute those connected with slave matters:

In 1805 the Territorial Legislature passed an act providing that: “In cases of slaves lying out hid, killing hogs, etc., the justice of the peace must direct the provost of patrols to take the slaves by force and to commit them to jail, the provost getting thirty dollars, three-fourths of which was to be repaid by the master in addition to his taxes.”[21] [13] In 1809 patrols were ordered to kill the dogs of slaves. In 1832 the Legislature passed this act: “It shall be an unlawful assembly for more than five male slaves, with or without passes, to assemble off their owner’s plantation. The patrol must disperse such assembly, and may punish each slave with ten lashes, and for each subsequent offense with thirty-nine lashes.”[22] This law, it will be noticed, was enacted in 1832, the year after the Nat Turner insurrection in Virginia, and it is very probable that the law is a result of the apprehension of the South caused by that insurrection.

The law of 1834 regulating emancipation had this clause:

It shall be the duty of all sheriffs, constables and patrols to apprehend slaves who shall return within the limits of this State after having been so emancipated and removed, (that is, according to the legal method prescribed) and bring them before some justice of the peace, who shall commit them, and the same compensation shall be allowed in such cases, as is allowed for apprehending runaway slaves.[23]

The patrol system and laws of South Carolina were similar to those of Alabama, except that in South Carolina much more authority and more duties were laid upon the patrol. For a sketch of the South Carolina patrol laws, see O’Neal’s article in “DeBow’s Industrial Resources of the South,” vol. 2, p. 286.

[14] MODE OF TRIAL OF SLAVES: The laws of Alabama relating to the trial of slaves were explicit, and on the face of them seemed to guarantee justice to the criminal.

Before 1812, while Alabama was included in the Mississippi Territory, there were no juries in slave trials. By the act of 1807 it was provided that the justices of the quorum of every country were to be justices of oyer and terminer in the trial of slaves charged with treason, felony or other crimes or misdemeanors. There were to be three justices of the quorum, who should have with them two justices of the peace, and the trial should be without a jury, but upon legal evidence, only. To convict a slave all the justices sitting must agree in the verdict, and the prisoner must have counsel to defend him.

No justice who had an interest in the slave was allowed to sit in the trial. Legal evidence was defined to be, the confession of the offender, the oath of one or more creditable witnesses, or such testimony of negroes or mulattoes, with pregnant circumstances, as to them shall seem convincing.[24]

This act remained in force till 1812, when a superseding law was enacted, which made juries necessary in all slave trials. That law provided that for the trial of slaves charged with treason, felony or misdemeanors, a competent court should be any three justices of the quorum with one or more justices of the peace, excepting the justice who committed the prisoner to jail,[25] and a jury of men, no one of whom was the master of the slave or related to the master or to the prosecutor of the slave, and the court was to [15] proceed without indictment.[26] This law was in effect only two years, the act of 1814 providing that a slave charged with an offense not capital might be tried by a justice of the peace on warrant, and might be punished with not exceeding one hundred lashes, provided two slave-holders concurred with him in the propriety of the sentence, otherwise the punishment was to be not exceeding thirty-nine lashes.[27]

When Alabama became a State, she declared in her constitution, Art. 6, sec. 2, that, in the prosecution of slaves for crimes of a higher grade than petit larceny the General Assembly shall have no power to deprive them of an impartial trial by a petit jury. For offences below petit larceny the trial was to be as it was under the Territorial act, except that not more than fifty lashes were to be administered by the justice.[28]

In accordance with the provision of the constitution, laws were passed as follows for trial by jury:

From and after the passage of this act, the justices of the inferior court of every county or corporation in this State, shall be justices of oyer and terminer, for trying slaves charged with treason, felony, or other crimes and misdemeanors of higher grade than petit larceny, which trial shall be before any three or more justices of the court aforesaid, and by a jury of twelve good and lawful men of the vicinage where such crimes shall have been committed.[29]

The procedure was as follows:

Whenever any slave shall be brought before a justice of the county court, or of the peace, for the commission of any offence against the penal laws of this state of a higher grade than petit larceny, if the justice after examination should think there are just or probable grounds of suspicion of the guilt or criminality of the offender, he shall immediately commit such slaves to jail, and he is hereby [16] empowered and directed to issue a summons to the sheriff of the county, to summons the justices of the county court, and a jury of twelve good and lawful men of the vicinage, to meet at the court house of said county, neither of whom shall be master of said slave or related to the master or prosecutor of such slave, in any degree, which would be a cause of challenge to a juryman in a trial of a free person; and such court and jury shall proceed in the trial of such slave without presentment or indictment; and no slave shall be condemned unless he be found guilty by a jury, after allowing him or her counsel in his or her defence, whose fee amounting to ten dollars shall be paid by the owner of the slave: Provided always, That when judgment of death shall be passed upon such offender, there shall be thirty days, at least, between the time of passing judgment and the day of execution, except in cases of conspiracy, insurrection, or rebellion.

Some minor changes were made in 1822 and in 1832, and finally in 1841 the law as to capital offenses was as follows:

The trial of all slaves for capital offences shall be by the circuit court of the proper county, in the mode now provided by law for the trial of white persons; but on such trial the slave shall be allowed but twelve peremptory challenges, and the State but four, and at least two-thirds of the jury shall be slave-holders; but if there be an actual or threatened rebellion, of the slaves of this State, it shall be the duty of any justice of the peace, before whom any slave or free person of color is brought, charged with a capital offence, if there be probable grounds for believing him or her guilty of the offence charged, to commit him or her to the county jail and appoint a time for the trial of the offence, not more than fifteen days from the commitment; it shall also, at the same time, be the duty of such justice to give notice of the time of such trial to the judge of the [17] county court, and some other justice of the peace, to attend the trial, which notice may be served by the sheriff or any constable; if there be no judge of the county court, one other justice shall be summoned in his stead to attend, and a majority of the persons thus summoned shall constitute a court for the trial of the offence, and if neither attend, any justice may summon two others forthwith to attend and try the cause.[30]

[18] It shall be the duty of the justice making such commitment, to require the sheriff, in writing, to summon a jury, to appear at the time appointed for the trial of the accused, and it shall be the duty of the sheriff to summon a jury, [19] possessing the qualifications prescribed by the chapter entitled, “Grand and Petit Jury”, to consist of twenty-four persons, at least two-thirds of whom shall be slave-holders; and if the panel should be exhausted by challenges or otherwise, the deficiency shall be made up from the bystanders; but no one having an interest in such slave shall be a competent juror, or sit on the trial.[31]

In trials involving cases of insurrection, the only form of indictment necessary was a brief written statement of the nature of the crime, signed by the prosecuting attorney,[32] but in regular trials the indictment must be the same as in the prosecution of a white man, that is, it must have been found by a legally constituted grand jury, and a copy of the indictment must have been delivered to the prisoner at least two days before his trial, and his counsel, which was to be provided by the court, if necessary, was to have a list of the names of the jurors summoned.[33]

The law made it imperative that the accused slave in these trials have counsel, and if the master should neglect or refuse to employ such, it was the duty of the court to assign counsel for the defendant, who was authorized to demand a fee of ten dollars from the master. If the [20] dedefendant was a free negro and unable to employ counsel, the State was to pay the fee.[34]

It was the duty of the clerk of the court or the committing magistrate, to issue subpoenas for witnesses, and the duty of the sheriff to execute them, the same for the prisoner as for the State,[35] and the slave enjoyed the same privilege as the white man in having the State to force his witnesses to appear in court.[36]

If a slave was found guilty in such capital cases, the court was to pronounce the sentence and cause execution to be done in the same manner as that prescribed for white persons, except that on conviction of conspiracy, insurrection or rebellion, execution might be had immediately.[37]

Trials of capital cases as described above, were to be held in the court house of the county, and the clerk was to keep a record of the proceedings on the minutes of the court.[38]

Trials of slaves charged with petit larceny or lesser offences, as said above, were conducted according to the Territorial law, that is, For the offence of petit larceny, or any offence of a lesser grade, any slave may be tried by any justice of the peace on warrant, and may be sentenced to receive any number of stripes not exceeding fifty, which sentence shall be executed by the constable; but no justice of the peace shall be authorized to inflict more than thirty-nine lashes, unless he associates with him at least two respectable slaveholders, who concur with him in the propriety of the sentence.[39]

All offences higher than petit larceny, not capitally punished, which if committed by a white person or a free negro would be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary, were to be tried by the judge of the county court and two justices of the peace, with a jury, and the jury was to direct the punishment, not to exceed thirty-nine lashes,[40] or branding in the hand, or both.

By the act of 1849 all slaves were bailable before conviction except in capital cases where the proof was evident or the presumption great.[41]

[22] When a slave was convicted of an offence not capital, he was liable to be sold by the sheriff ten days after conviction to pay the costs of the prosecution, unless such costs should be paid by the owner;[42] and on conviction of a slave of a capital offence, the same jury was to assess the value of the slave, and upon execution of the slave the master was to receive one-half the amount assessed, paid out of a fund provided for that purpose.[43]

[23] The right of appeal in capital cases was certainly not denied to slaves, for though I find no special law providing for it, other than that in Clay’s Dig., p. 473, sec., 10, that the mode of trial for slaves should be the same as for white persons, I do find in the reports of the Alabama Supreme Court a number of decisions in cases appealed by slaves convicted of capital offences. I did not find any instance of appeal in other than capital cases and presume that the slave had no appeal in such cases. This was the law in South Carolina.[44]

In the trial of slaves the testimony of slaves was legal. The Territorial act of 1805 provided that: No slave can be a witness against any person except in criminal cases, in which the evidence of one slave shall be admitted for or against another slave.[45]

O’Neal, in his article in DeBow, vol. 2, p. 274, states that slaves as witnesses against slaves were to testify without oath, but such was certainly not the case in Alabama, for though I have failed to find a direct provision for it, certainly it will be inferred from the following act, the principle of which was never annulled: Whenever a slave shall be a witness in any cause, it shall be the duty of the presiding judge to explain to him or her the punishment for swearing falsely; and if the court before whom any slave is sworn, shall have reason to believe that he or she has sworn falsely, it shall be the duty of the court to direct him or her to be taken into custody, and, as soon as practicable, to cause a jury to be empanelled to try the fact, and if such slave be found guilty, the court shall, without delay, cause the proper punishment to be inflicted.[46] Every slave who shall commit the crime of perjury shall be [24] punished with thirty-nine lashes, and branding in the hand with the letter P.[47]

In the Territorial period, and possibly during the early years of Statehood, slaves did not take oath, and at every trial of a capital offence, where slaves were witnesses, the judge was to say to the witness: You are brought hither as a witness, and by the direction of the law, I am to tell you, before you give your evidence, that you are expected to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and if it be found hereafter that you tell a lie, and give false testimony, in this matter, you must, for so doing, have both your ears nailed to the pillory and cut off, and receive thirty-nine lashes on your bare back, well laid on, at the common post.[49]


  1. [19] Ala. Code of 1852, Part 1, Title 13, Chap. 3.
  2. [20] Clay’s Dig. of 1843, p. 392, sec. 2. This act was passed in 1819, and it has been impossible to get the Acts of 1819.
  3. [21] Toulmin’s Dig. of 1807, p. 378.
  4. [22] Acts of ’32, p. 17.

    Sec. 17. And be it further enacted, That hereafter it shall not be lawful for more than five male slaves, either with or without passes, to assemble together at any place off the proper plantation to which they belong; and if any slaves do so assemble together, the same shall be deemed and considered as an unlawful assembly.

    App’d, Jan. 16, ’32.

    Also see section 18 of this act, quoted later.

    Also Clay’s Ala. Dig. p. 544, secs. 30-31.

  5. [23] Acts of ’33-’34, p. 29. See sec. 3 of this act already quoted in footnotes.

    See also Clay’s Ala. Dig. p. 545, sec. 39.

  6. [24] Toulmin’s Dig. of 1807, p. 328
  7. [25] The provision prohibiting the committing justice from sitting in the trial, was to insure impartial judges. Any justice might commit a slave for any reason on any charge, and it was to prevent such justice from sitting as a judge in the trial of a case in which he might be personally interested, and thus having beforehand a fixed opinion in the case.
  8. [26] Miss. Territorial Statutes, Dig. of 1816, p. 192.
  9. [27] Miss. Territorial Statutes, Dig. of 1816, p. 199.
  10. [28] Afterwards changed to 100 lashes. Code of 1852, sec. 3317.
  11. [29] Acts of 1819, p. 88.
  12. [30] Acts of ’40-’41, p. 189, sec. 10.

    Also Clay’s Ala. Dig. p. 473, sec. 10.

    In 1822 an act was passed in which was this section:

    Sec. 11. And be it further enacted, That in all prosecutions of slaves and free people of color punishable capitally, the circuit courts, and not the county courts, shall have jurisdiction; and that the trial shall be conducted in the same manner and under the same rules except as to evidence, as the trial of free white citizens.

    Acts of ’22-’23, p. 4. App’d Dec. 31, 1822.

    In 1832 this act was passed:

    AN ACT. To provide for the more speedy trial of slaves and free persons of color.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That from and after the passage of this act, the judge of the county court of each and every county in this state, together with two justices of the peace to be associated with him, or in case there should be no judge of the county court, then any three justices of the peace, shall constitute a court for the trial of all slaves and free persons of color, charged with any crime or misdemeanor of a higher grade than petit larceny.

    Sec. 2. Be it further enacted, That whenever any slave or free person of color, shall be brought before any justice of the peace, charged with the commission of any crime or misdemeanor of a higher grade than petit larceny, if the justice, after examining the witnesses on the part of the prosecutor, shall believe there exists any reasonable or probable grounds of the guilt or criminality of such slave or free person of color, he shall immediately commit him or her to jail, and at the same time shall issue a notice to the judge of the county court of his county, and also to some justice of the peace, which notice shall be served by the sheriff or some constable of the county, informing them of such commitment, and state the time and place of the trial which shall not be less than ten nor more than fifteen days from the date of said notice; and the said justice who shall make the commitment as aforesaid, and the judge of the county court, or if there be no judge of the county court, two justices of the peace summoned as aforesaid, shall form a court to try and determine said offence; and it shall be the duty of the magistrate to order the sheriff or the coroner of his county to summon twenty-four jurors, to be and appear at the place and time appointed, for the trial of said offence, one-half of whom shall be slave-holders, and should the judge of the county court or any justice summoned to attend said trial fail to attend, any justice of the peace shall forthwith cause to be summoned two justices of the peace to be associated with him in forming said court, and may adjourn from day to day until the business before them is disposed of.

    Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That out of the number of jurors summoned by the sheriff, there shall be drawn twelve, who shall compose and be a jury for the trial of anyone prosecuted under this act: Provided always, that the accused shall have and enjoy the right of twelve peremptory challenges, and the state shall have the right of four peremptory challenges, and if the original panel should be exhausted by reason of challenge or otherwise, so that a sufficient number be not left to compose a jury, the court shall order the sheriff to summon a sufficient number of talesmen from the bystanders for that purpose.

    Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That in all trials had under this act, it shall be sufficient for the solicitor, or counsel appointed by the court to prosecute, to write out a brief statement of the nature of the crime charged against the defendant, and sign his name thereto, and no indictment or presentment shall be necessary.

    Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That if at any court held under this act, the solicitor of the circuit court should not be present, the court shall appoint counsel to prosecute, whose fee amounting to the sum of ten dollars, shall be paid by the state, and if the owner of any slave prosecuted under this act, shall not employ counsel to defend such slave, it shall be the duty of said court, to appoint counsel for that purpose, whose fee, amounting to the sum of ten dollars, shall be paid by the owner of said slave; and if any free person of color, prosecuted under this act, shall be unable to employ counsel to defend him or her, it shall be the duty of the court to appoint counsel for this purpose, whose fee, amounting to ten dollars, shall be paid out of the county treasury.

    Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the clerk to issue all subpœnas or other legal process, as well for the defendant as for the state, all of which shall be executed by the sheriff; and the said clerk and sheriff shall receive the same fees therefor as now provided by law for similar services, and none other.

    Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That if any slave or free person of color shall be found guilty under this act, it shall be the duty of the court to pronounce sentence in the manner now prescribed by law, which sentence shall be carried into execution by the sheriff: Provided always, that if any slave or free person of color, shall be found guilty of any capital crime, there shall not be less than five nor more than ten days, between the day of passing sentence and the day of execution, except in cases of conspiracy, insurrection, or rebellion, when the sentence of the court may be executed forthwith.

    Sec. 8. And be it further enacted, That all acts contrary to the provisions of this act be, and the same are, hereby repealed.

    App’d, Jan. 7, 1832. Acts of ’31-’32, p. 10.

  13. [31]

    Acts of ’40-’41, p. 189, sec. 11.

    Clay’s Ala. Dig. p. 473, sec. 11.

  14. [32]

    Acts of ’40-’41, p. 189, sec. 12.

    In all trials thus to be had, it shall be sufficient for the solicitor or counsel, prosecuting for the state, to write out a brief statement of the nature of the crime, and sign his name thereto, to which the accused shall be required to plead; but if he or she refuse the court shall cause the plea of not guilty to be entered and proceed to the trial of the cause.

    See also Clay’s Ala. Dig. p. 473, sec. 12.

    Also Code of 1852, sec. 3324.

  15. [33]

    Ala. Code of 1852, sec. 3576, and sec. 3319.

  16. [34]
  17. [35] See sec. 6 of the act quoted in note 4 to page 10.
  18. [36]
  19. [37] Constitution of Ala., 1819, Art. 1, Sec. 10.
  20. [38]

    Acts of ’40-’41, p. 190, sec. 14, of chap. 15.

    Trials to be had as aforesaid, (that is, as has been shown in the above,) shall be held in the court house of the county, where it shall be the duty of the sheriff and the clerk of the circuit court to attend, and the clerk shall keep a record of the procedings on the minutes of the court.

    See also Clay’s Ala. Dig. p. 473, sec. 14.

  21. [39]

    Clay’s Ala. Dig. p. 474, sec. 17. This law was made a part of the statute law of Ala. in an act in connection with the penal code in 1841, in the same language, and may be found so in the Acts of ’40-’41, p. 190, sec. 17 of chap. 15.

  22. [40]

    Acts of ’40-’41, p. 190, sec. 18.

    All offences committed by a slave, of a higher grade than petit larceny, and not capitally punished, which may be committed by slaves, and which, if committed by a white person or free negro, would, by the provisions of this code, be punished by imprisonment int he penitentiary, shall be tried by the judge of the county court and two justices of the peace, as provided for in this chapter, and the jury shall, by their verdict, direct the punishment to be inflicted, which shall not exceed thirty-nine lashes, or branding in the hand, or both, at the discretion of the jury.

  23. [41]

    Acts of ’49-’50, p. 51.

    AN ACT. Authorizing the bail of slaves in certain cases.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, that all slaves shall, before conviction, be bailable, except for capital offences, where the proof is evident or the presumption great.

    Sec. 2. Be it further enacted, that the owner of such slaves or overseer of the owner or his agent, or such person or persons as may be entitled to the possession of such slave or slaves shall be permitted to bail the same, in all cases deemed bailable, upon giving such bond and sureties as may be required by the judge or justice trying the same.

    Sec. 3. Be it further enacted, That the justices of the peace in this state before commitment, shall have jurisdiction to jail, bail, or discharge any slave charged with any offence as the law and circumstances of the case may require.

    Sec. 4. Be it further enacted, That the judges of the circuit and county courts in this state shall have jurisdiction on application to commit to jail, bail, or discharge any slave under the provisions of this act, notwithstanding any previous order made by any justice of the peace as the case may require.

    App’d Jan. 12, 1850.

  24. [42]

    Acts of ’43, p. 121.

    Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That in all convictions of slaves of any offence not capital, said slave shall be liable to be sold, within ten days after the conviction, by the sheriff, for the costs of prosecution, unless said costs shall be paid by the owners of said slaves. App’d Feb. 2, 1843.

    See also Clay’s Ala. Dig. p. 476, sec. 28.

  25. [43]

    Acts of ’43, p. 9.

    And be it further enacted, That whenever on the trial of any slave for a capital offence, the jury shall return a verdict of guilty, the presiding judge shall have the same jury sworn to assess the value of said slave, and the verdict of said jury shall be entered on the record of the court, and the master or owner of such slave producing to the Comptroller of Public Accounts a transcript of the record of the court, regularly certified by the clerk, the certificate of the sheriff, that any slave has been executed in pursuance of the sentence of the court, shall be entitled to receive a warrant on the treasurer for one half of the amount assessed by the jury to be paid out of the fund hereinafter provided for that purpose.

    App’d Feb. 13, 1842.

    In sec. 24 of this act, it was provided, that: To raise a fund for the purpose aforesaid it shall be the duty of the assessor annually, to assess a tax of one cent on all slaves under ten years of age, and two cents on all slaves over ten and under fifty years of age, and it shall be the duty of the tax collector to collect and return the same, at the same time and in the same manner, they are compelled by law, to collect and return the state tax, and it shall be the duty of the treasurer to keep said fund separate and distinct from the revenue of the state.

  26. [44] DeBow’s Industrial Resources of the South, vol. 2, p. 284.
  27. [45] Toulmin’s Dig. of 1807, p. 378. Ala. Justice, p. 421.
  28. [46]

    Acts of ’40-’41, p. 188, sec. 9.

    Clay’s Dig. p. 473, sec. 9

  29. [47]

    Acts of ’40-’41, p. 188.

    Clay’s Dig., p. 472, sec. 8.

  30. [49]

    Toulmin’s Dig. of 1807, p. 328, sec. 61.

  31. [48]

    Ala. Justice, p. 431, sec. 49.

Now available: the “Plumb-Line or Cork-Screw” debate, on anarchism and political compromise, from the pages of Liberty, 1886


In the Spring and Summer of 1886, a number of the contributors to Benjamin Tucker’s individualist anarchist newspaper Liberty debated the value of political compromise. The debate intersected with other debates that Tucker, Henry Appleton and Gertrude B. Kelly, as well as Dyer Lum and others, were engaged in over participation in the Knights of Labor, the relationship between anarchist radicalism and organized labor movements, and other long-running debates over social reform, Irish land politics, Malthusianism, sexual liberation, and so on. In the debate, the images that Tucker used for reasoning from radical principle, and adopting compromise stances in an effort to persuade indirectly — the plumb-line and the cork-screw — remained as characteristic phrases in individualist anarchist literature throughout the remaining decades of Liberty and its circle, with the term plumb-line Anarchism or plumb-line Individualism came to be used often as a in-group label for Tucker’s school of individualist anarchist thought. (See, for example, Will and Lizzie Holmes’s reference to our old plumbline friends decades later in Instead of a Magazine.)

Now at fair-use.org, I’ve made available full HTML hypertext transcriptions of 11 articles from the debate, including contributions by Henry Appleton, Benjamin Tucker, Gertrude B. Kelly, Victor S. Yarros, J. William Lloyd, and the pseudonymous D.D. The debate as a whole is collected here, at fair-use.org; the individual articles now available online are:

  1. X. Anarchism and Expediency in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 4.
  2. T. Plumb-Line or Cork-Screw, Which? in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 4-5.
  3. Benjamin Tucker. On Picket Duty in Liberty IV.1 (#79). 1.
  4. X. and T. Liberty and Compromise in Liberty IV.2 (#80). 4-5.
  5. V. Yarros. The Plumb-Line at New Haven in Liberty IV.2 (#80). 8.
  6. J. Wm. Lloyd. Plumb-Centre in Liberty IV.4 (#82). 1.
  7. Benjamin Tucker. On Picket Duty in Liberty IV.4 (#82). 1.
  8. X. The Nub of It All in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 4.
  9. D.D. and Editor Liberty. Plumb-Line and Cork-Screw in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 4.
  10. Gertrude B. Kelly. Justice or Force, Which? in Liberty IV.5 (#83). 7.
  11. X. and T. Anarchistic Small Fry in Liberty IV.6 (#84). 4-5.

From John V. Denson, “Slavery Laws in Alabama” (1908), Part II: Runaways

This text is transcribed from John V. Denson’s 1908 pamphlet, Slavery Laws in Alabama. The booklet was originally published as part of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute Historical Studies series. John V. Denson was a student and later GTA instructor at Alabama Polytechnic for History and Latin, later a prominent lawyer in the Auburn-Opelika area. Like most of the historical studies from Alabama Polytechnic (now Auburn University) from the first decade of the 1900s, the pamphlet apologizes for Southern slavery, and adopts a point of view that is at times frankly white supremacist. The pamphlet begins with a discussion of the law of manumission; here is the next section, on the law concerning fugitive slaves.

[7] RUNAWAYS: The laws of Alabama relating to runaways were never cruel and never overstepped the bounds of conservative measures for the recovery of property. The act of 1805, in Secs. 12 and 13, provided that runaway slaves[9] might be apprehended by any person and carried before the next justice of the peace, who should commit such runaway to jail or send to his master, who was to pay a fee of six dollars and reasonable costs and charges, and further, that all slaves lying out hid, killing hogs, etc., were to be taken by force by the patrol, at the direction of the justice of the peace, and committed to jail, the provost’s remuneration being thirty dollars paid by the state, three-fourths of which were to be repaid by the master in addition to his taxes. By the act of 1809[10] it was provided that [8] when a runaway slave was committed to jail and was not claimed by the owner within six months after the first publication of commitment, the sheriff should sell such slave, the proceeds going to the county; but if the owner should afterwards assert and prove his title, he could recover the amount paid to the county for the slave, but could not divest the title of the purchaser of such runaway, the time for such claim being limited in 1848 to five years after first publication.[11]

A slave found at a distance of eight miles from his master’s plantation without a pass from his master, or one who had lain out more than two days without leave of his master, was considered a runaway.

The penalty visited upon any person who knowingly aided any negro or any other slave to runaway or depart from his master’s service was imprisonment in the penitentiary [9] for a term of not less than two nor more than five years.[12]

So far as I have been able to discover there never existed in Alabama any statute, as there did in other states, providing for the outlawing of runaway slaves. In 1741 there was such a statute in North Carolina, providing that, Any person may lawfully kill a slave who has been outlawed for running away and lurking in swamps, etc.,[13] and a similar statute existed earlier in Virginia. In Maryland and the District of Columbia a similar law existed providing that when a slave should runaway from his master’s service into the woods and remain there, killing hogs, etc., and should refuse to surrender, and offer resistance to persons legally empowered to pursue and capture, it should be lawful for such pursuers to shoot, kill, and destroy such slave.[14] The Alabama law, it seems to me, gave very little more authority to legal pursuers of fugitive slaves than is now given to officers when engaged in the pursuit of fugitives.

In North Carolina a proclamation of outlawry against a slave was authorized whenever he should runaway from his master and conceal himself in some obscure retreat, and to sustain life, should kill hogs, etc., and any person might lawfully kill such outlawed slave.[15] Also in Virginia two justices of the peace were authorized to outlaw runaways, whom any person might kill, without accusation of crime for so doing, but this act was repealed in 1792.[16]

This authority to outlaw slaves never existed in Alabama, and a person neverp possessed authority to kill a slave without possibility of accusation of crime, the law in Alabama [10] most resembling this being as follows: Any justice of the peace receiving information that three or more runaway slaves are lurking in swamps and other obscure places, may by warrant, reciting the names of the slaves and their owners, if known, direct a leader of the patrol of the district, and if there be none, then any other suitable person, to summon and take with him such power as may be necessary to apprehend such runaways, and, if taken to deliver them to the owner or to commit them to the jail of his proper county.[17]

Even after 1860, when it would be natural to expect more rigorous laws, the only new laws as to runaways were acts providing for increased compensation for taking up runaway slaves.[18]

  1. [9] Sec. 12. All runaway slaves may be apprehended by any person and carried before the next justice of the peace, who shall commit such slave to jail or send him to his owner, who shall pay six dollars for the slave so taken, and costs and charges.

    Sec. 13. In cases of slaves lying out hid, killing hogs, etc., the justice of the peace must direct the provost of patrols to take the slaves by force and commit them to jail, the provost receiving thirty dollars from the Territory, three-fourths of which was to be repaid by the master in addition to his taxes.

    See also Ala. Justice, p. 425.

    Toulmin’s Dig. of 1807, p. 378.

  2. [10] Sec. 20. When any slave shall be committed to the jail of any county as a runaway, and such runaway shall not be claimed and proved by the owner thereof within six months of the first publication of the commitment of such slave in some newspaper published in this state, it shall be lawful for the sheriff of said county to sell said slave at public auction, at the court house of his proper county, upon giving at least thirty days’ previous notice of such sale, by advertisement published in some newspaper in this state at the court house of the proper county, and at least two other public places in the same; and out of the proceeds arising from the sale of any runaway slave as aforesaid, the sheriff shall be entitled to the same commissions and fees as are allowed in execution, and the balance, after paying all prison fees and maintenance of said runaway slave while in jail, shall be for the use of the proper county: Provided, that if the owner of such runaway slave shall, after such sale prove his property in any such slave, the proper county shall pay to him the amount that shall have gone into the treasury, on account of the sale of such slave, but the right to any slave, sold as aforesaid, shall be and remain vested in the purchaser under the sale made by the sheriff as aforesaid.

    Clay’s Ala. Dig., p. 542, sec. 20.

    Almost word for word in Ala. Justice, p. 432, and referred to Dig. p. 373.

  3. [11] There may arise in some minds this question: When a negro committed to jail as a runaway, is not claimed by any man as a slave, why is it not presumed that he is a free negro and discharged? Free negroes did live in Alabama, for there are laws which are specially applicable to them, and before 1834 emancipated slaves might remain in Alabama as free negroes, and therefore there might arise some question as to whether such free negro was free or slave, but the Supreme Court of Alabama, in the case of Field v. Milly Walker, Ala. Rep. vol. 17, p. 81, has held that a person of color in this state is presumed to be a slave and the burden of proof is on such person of color.
  4. [12] Acts of ’40-’41, p. 129, sec. 15.

    Every person, who shall knowingly aid any negro or any other slave to run away, or depart from his master’s service, such person, so offtending, on conviction, shall suffer imprisonment in the penitentiary not less than two, and not exceeding five years.

    See also Clay’s Dig. of 1843, p. 419, sec. 15.

  5. [13] Stroud, p. 103; Haywood’s Manual, pp. 521-522.
  6. [14] Goodell’s American Slave Code, p. 231, Laws of Maryland, 1723, chap. 15, sec. 7.
  7. [15] Stroud, p. 38.
  8. [16] Goodell’s American Slave Code, p. 231; Stroud, p. 103.
  9. [17] Ala. Code of 1852, sec. 1024; Clay’s Dig., p. 541, sec. 15. This law was enacted in 1805, by the Miss. Territory.
  10. [18] Acts of ’61, p. 15.

    AN ACT. To amend section 1023 of the Code in relation to runaway slaves.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That hereafter it shall be the duty of justices of the peace before whom runaway slaves are brought, instead of committing them to jail, to order and direct such slaves to be delivered to their owner, overseer or agent, in all cases where the justice is satisfied that the name of the true owner is made known, and where the residence of such owner, his overseer or agent, is nearer than the county jail: Provided, that the owner, his overseer or agent, shall on delivery of the slave pay the fee now allowed by law for arresting, and the compensation hereinafter provided to the taker-up, or such other person as may have the custody of the slave, and in case of the refusal of the owner, his overseer or agent, to pay such fees and compensation promptly on delivery, then it shall be the duty of the person having charge of the slave, and the justice shall so instruct him, to carry the slave back to the office of the justice, who shall forthwith commit him to the county jail.

    Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That where runaway slaves are committed to jail, it shall be the duty of the justice in such cases to endorse on the back of his warrant to the sheriff, the cost and charges for apprehending and bringing to jail, and to certify the same to the owner, when delivery is made to him, but in no case to exceed the amount allowed by law.

    Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That for bringing a runaway slave to jail, the persons performing such service shall be entitled to the sum of ten cents a mile in coming to and returning from the jail, estimating the distance by the nearest route, and ferriages, and to the same compensation when the slave is carried to his master, or overseer, and the justice for his service shall be allowed the sum of seventy-five cents.

    Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That any justice who allows and endorses on the warrant or certificate to the owner, larger or other fees and compensation, than is now allowed by law, and by the provisions of this act, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be fined not less than double the aggregate amount endorsed, or certified, to be recovered before any magistrate for the use of the owner. App’d. Dec. 7, 1861.

    Also in the Acts of ’63, p. 63, appears this act.

    AN ACT, To increase the fees now allowed by law for apprehending and committing to jail runaway slaves.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That for apprehending and committing a runaway slave to jail, or for delivering him to his owner, the sum of ten dollars shall be allowed instead of six dollars as now provided by law; and for taking a runaway slave to jail the person performing such service shall be entitled to fifteen cents per mile, in giong to and returning from the jail, and to a like compensation when the slave is delivered to his master or overseer, instead of ten cents per mile as now provided, and the justice of the peace shall be allowed for his services one dollar and a half in lieu of seventy-five cents now allowed. App’d Dec. 7, 1863.

    Also in ’64 this act was passed. Acts of ’64, p. 78.

    AN ACT, To increase the compensation for taking up a runaway slave.

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Alabama, in General Assembly convened, That from and after the passage of this act the compensation for taking up a runaway slave shall be twenty-five dollars, instead of the amount now allowed by law. Provided, that this act shall terminate with the existing war. App’d Dec. 10, 1864.

“Enemies In Almost All Our Institutions”: The Rise and the Tactics of the Cheka under Dzerzhinskii, from W. Bruce Lincoln, Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War (1989), 381-385.

The following passage comes from pp. 381-385 of Chapter 11, The Struggle to Survive in W. Bruce Lincoln’s book Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989). The passage is cited as a source in recent revisions of Wikipedia:Cheka, but the text of the passage was not yet fully available online, so here it is, for reference. Hyperlinks have been added; footnotes are from the original text.

[…] Rather than admit the real enemies they faced were an acute lack of civic responsibility among the people they ruled, the Bolsheviks proclaimed bungling, shirking, and sabotage to be the reason for their inability to mobilize the working men and women of Russia in the cause of economic reconstruction. To deal with such spectral foes required a massive invasion of Russians’ daily lives. For the first time in their modern history, the men and women of Russia became responsible not only for what they said and did, but for what they thought.

Now openly acknowledged by the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee as an instrument for fulfilling the will of the Party and the proletariat,[112] Dzerzhinskii‘s Cheka became the Bolsheviks’ chief defense against their inability to mobilize Russians to rebuild their nation’s economic life. Although its brutality against the Whites continued unabated in those areas where Bolsheviks still vied for control, the Cheka now became an instrument to coerce a nation as [382] it began to search for enemies of the people among peasants, Red Army soldiers, workers, bureaucrats, and even loyal Bolsheviks. The form of our struggle against our enemies must change, Dzerzhinskii told the Central Executive Committee in February 1919 as he argued (very prematurely, it turned out) that the battle against the Whites had been won. They now are trying to worm their way into our Soviet institutions so that, once they have infiltrated our ranks, they can sabotage our work. Nothing could have expressed more clearly the Bolsheviks’ increasingly paranoid response to the crises that surrounded them. We know that we have enemies in almost all our institutions, Dzerzhinskii concluded, but we cannot smash our institutions. We have to dig out clues and try to catch them.[113] Its resources now focused upon government offices, trade unions, factories, villages, and party headquarters, the Cheka declared war against the Russians. In this struggle, the organs of the Cheka must become an instrument for realizing the centralized will of the proletariat, Lenin told the Fourth Conference of Provincial Chekas a year later. He therefore insisted that the Cheka must become a weapon for creating the sort of discipline that we have been able to establish in the Red Army [in society as a whole].[114]

Dzerzhinskii shared all the fears of internal enemies that plagued Lenin and his comrades. Power had not softened him physically or morally, for he had continued to live a thoroughly ascetic life, even when others had begun to enjoy the comforts that their newly won positions made possible. Although he had exercised the power of life and death over men under the most trying conditions, Dzerzhinskii still remained true to his once-stated ideal that a Chekist must always have a cool head, a warm heart, and clean hands.[115] His features sharpened by age and the burdens of office, Dzerzhinskii now resembled the Grand Inquisitor more than ever. When his appointment as commissar of internal affairs in March 1919 enabled him to combine the personnel of the Cheka with the much larger institutional and financial resources of one of Soviet Russia’s most important commissariats, he shaped the two into an institution of uniquely pervasive coercive abilities. Eventually, the Cheka became reorganized as the GPU, the acronym for Gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie (State Political Administration), which, popular gallows humor bitterly remarked, really stood for the phrase Gospodi, pomilui umershikh, or Lord, have mercy upon the dead.[116] With a clear mandate to act as the Party’s special [383] instrument to rout out sedition and sabotage wherever it might threaten the Bolsheviks’ efforts to move ahead with Russia’s economic reconstruction,[117] Dzerzhinskii‘s Cheka became in every sense the avenging sword of the Revolution.

As the Cheka expanded its work beyond those Civil War fronts where it faced enemies in open battle, it took control of Russia’s railways, waterways, frontiers, cities, large towns, factories, and government offices. Everywhere, it searched for White Guardists, saboteurs, and shirkers who might be trying to undermine Russia from within. Far distant were the days when Dzerzhinskii had carried the Cheka‘s entire files around Petrograd in a briefcase. Now the Cheka‘s dossiers about real, suspected, and imagined enemies numbered in the tens of thousands. How a person’s parents and grandparents had been employed, where and how they had lived, and whom they had entertained in their homes all became important, as things written or said in days long past returned to haunt innocent Russians. Inheritor of the tsarist belief that it was in man’s nature to do evil, the Cheka lived with the frustrating conviction that most crimes inevitably would go undiscovered and unpunished. Its agents always tried to uncover new crimes in the course of every inquiry. One should never … confront [a suspect] … with material evidence convicting him of guilt at the beginning of an interrogation, the Cheka instructed its interrogators. It is important to ascertain first other participants in the case and the possibility of other as yet undisclosed crimes.[118]

As they violated the minds and bodies of their victims, the Cheka‘s inquisitors abandoned every moral principle that guided the behavior of civilized men and women. Usually, prisoners were questioned late at night after they had been kept without sleep and fed starvation rations for long periods. Hunger and disease were part of everyday life in Cheka prisons, but so were physical and psychological tortures. Rapes of female prisoners by Cheka guards and interrogators were so commonplace that they occasioned comment from superiors only if performed in some particularly brutal or perverted fashion. Threats against relatives, whippings, and beatings (during which interrogators sometimes gouged out one of the victim’s eyes) were everyday methods of extracting confessions, but each Cheka headquarters evidently developed certain specialties. The Cheka in Voronezh rolled its prisoners around inside a barrel into which nails had been driven, while the Cheka in Kharkov used scalping as a preferred form of torture. In Armavir, the Cheka [384] used a death wreath that applied increasing pressure to a prisoner’s skull; at Tsaritsyn, they separated prisoners’ joints by sawing through their bones; and, in Omsk, they poured molten sealing wax on prisoners’ faces, arms, and necks. In Kiev, Chekists installed rats in pieces of pipe that had been closed at one end, placed the open end against prisoners’ stomachs, and then heated the pipes until the rats, maddened by the heat, tried to escape by gnawing their way into the prisoners’ intestines.[119]

Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of death hung over every prisoner of the Cheka, not only because interrogators terrorized prisoners with mock executions,[120] but because real executions occurred very often. Estimates of men and women killed by Cheka executioners between 1918 and the end of the Civil War in 1921 vary wildly from a few thousand (Dzerzhinskii‘s lieutenant Martyn Latsis set the total for this period at 12,733)[121] into the hundreds of thousands, and one estimate set the number of Cheka victims for the somewhat longer period between the October Revolution and Lenin‘s death at the astronomical figure of one and three-quarters million.[122] Although they do not take into account those killed when the Cheka suppressed hundreds of insurrections against Soviet authority, the best estimates set the probable number of executions at about a hundred thousand,[123] or about seven times the number killed by the tsarist government during the entire century before the Revolution. That staggering statistic becomes even more appalling if we remember that it does not include those who died in Cheka prisons from disease, hunger, or beatings. To this day, it remains impossible to do more than guess at the number of men, women, and children whose lives were snuffed out by the Cheka between 1918 and 1921.

If any estimate of the Cheka‘s victims must remain an uncertain conjecture, the methods by which they met their deaths are far better known. Chekist executioners sometimes crucified their vctims in Ekaterinoslav and Kiev. In Odessa, they favored chaining White officers to planks and pushing them slowly into furnaces or boiling water. The Sevastopol Cheka preferred mass hangings. In other places, the Cheka beheaded its victims by twisting their necks until their heads could be torn off. Some executioners had their victims stoned to death. Denikin‘s investigators discovered corpses whose lungs, throats, and mouths had been packed with earth. Other victims died after being chopped apart with axes. Still others were skinned alive. Severing arms and legs, disemboweling, blinding, cutting [385] off tongues, ears, and noses, and various sorts of sexual mutilation often prolonged victims’ agonies before the executions.[124]

Most commonly, an executioner fired a single bullet into the base of his victim’s skull. When larger numbers of prisoners needed to be killed quickly, as in cases where sudden advances by White forces threatened their liberation, Cheka firing squads and machine-gunners did the killing. As the armies of General Denikin advanced toward Kiev, more than four hundred Cheka prisoners met their deaths in that fashion on the night of August 26, 1919. In Kharkov, the Cheka killed seventy-nine in a single night, and there were reports that some two thousand died in Ekaterinodar during one twenty-four-hour period in August 1920.[125] The whole of it was coated with blood–blood ankle deep, wisps of hair, and the like, investigators from Denikin‘s forces reported after they visited the main Cheka slaughterhouse in Kiev. A conspicuous object, their report concluded, was the wooden block upon which the victims had to lay their heads for the purpose of being brained with a crowbar, with, in the floor beside it, a traphole filled to the brim with human brain-matter from the shattering of the skulls.[126]

  1. [112]Obrashchenie TsK RKP(b), p. 250.
  2. [113]Dzerzhinskii, pp. 254-255.
  3. [114]Lenin, Rech’ … na 4-i konferentsii, pp. 370-371.
  4. [115]Quoted in Legett, p. 187.
  5. [116]Quoted in Mel’gunov (1925), p. 265.
  6. [117]Obrashchenie TsK RKP(b), p. 250.
  7. [118]118. Quoted in Gerson, p. 150.
  8. [119]119. Mel’gunov (1925), p. 111.
  9. [120]See, for example, Berkman (1925), p. 166.
  10. [121]121. Latsis (1921), p. 9.
  11. [122]Mel’gunov (1925), p. 111.
  12. [123]Chamberlin, II, p. 75; Gerson, pp. 172-176; Leggett, pp. 466-468.
  13. [124]Mel’gunov (1925), pp. 78-81, 172-187.
  14. [125]125. Chamberlin II, p. 83, note 16; Leggett, p. 200; Mel’gunov (1925), pp. 73-74, 174-175.
  15. [126]Ibid., pp. 75-85; Leggett, p. 200.

Max Eastman Is ‘Sorry’ For Today’s Rebels (Alden Whitman, New York Times, Jan. 9, 1969)

Here is an article on Max Eastman and his reflections on the New Left in his old age. This article appeared in The New York Times of January 9, 1969 (p. 33).

Max Eastman Is ‘Sorry’ For Today’s Rebels


One of the country’s reigning radical writers and agitators of a half-century ago looked this week at today’s young militants and found more to pity than to praise.

He is Max Eastman, editor of the Socialist periodical, The Masses, and its successor, The Liberator, in the years before and during World War I. Widely influential in left-wing and labor circles, these magazines printed articles by Mr. Eastman and by, among others, John Reed and Floyd Dell. Art Young and Robert Minor were among the cartoonists.

Twice Faced Trial

Because of antiwar articles in The Masses, Mr. Eastman was twice brought to trial amid nationwide publicity, charged with conspiracy to obstruct the draft. The charge was dropped after two Federal juries were unable to agree on a verdict.

I feel kind of sorry for these young rebels of today, he said in an interview last Saturday at his West 13th Street apartment that marked his 86th birthday. He was on his way from Martha’s Vineyard, where he and his wife spend their summers, to a winter home in Barbados.

They have an emotion not unlike ours, he continued, running his fingers through a shock of fine, snow-white hair. They want to make a revolution but they have no ultimate purpose.

I have a certain emotional sympathy for them, but they are rather pathetic because they have no plan. They just seek a revolution for its ow sake.

By contrast, said Mr. Eastman, glancing from his padded chair around a room festooned with Christmas and birthday cards, We had a program and a purpose, which was to make over capitalism into Socialism, and it was based on an ideal and on an ideal and on an ideology.

With a vigor that belied his years, the ruddy-faced Mr. Eastman categorized the radicals of the New Left as the bohemian wing of the bourgeoisie, sons and daughters of the well-to-do, who have no real class affiliation and no alliances with the working class.

It is not possible, he said in slow, measured tones, to bring about a revolution–except on a class basis–unless by some sort of fluke.

Asked why today’s rebels appeared to lack an ideology, he declared:

Socialism was once a plausible plan, but when Socialism failed completely and produced a totalitarian tyranny [in the Soviet Union under Stalin], it left social ideas without a theoretical basis.

Mr. Eastman stressed, though, that there were some similarities between rebels in 1969 and those of his era.

Mood Called the Same

The mood of militance is the same, he asserted, and so is the general rejection of convention. But many of today’s restive youth are caught up in trivialities. Obscenity, for example.

Having broken with the Socialist movement (but I never considered myself a Marxist, not even in The Masses days in 1913) when his friend Leon Trotsky was read out of the Communist party by Stalin in 1926-27, Mr. Eastman made his own transition from radicalism to the Reader’s Digest. He has been a roving editor for that publication since 1941.

The author and poet indicated hat his outlook for social change in the United States and the world was gloomy. He doubted, he said, that this country needs a revolution, or that one was possible either from the New Left or the Negro community. Negro militants, he said, are bound to raise hell, but they can’t make a revolution.

We have to patch up the world as it is and accept it, although I don’t feel very happy about it, Mr. Eastman said.

Like many writers, he has given no thought to retirement. Doubleday is to publish this spring a translation he made many years ago of Trotsky’s account of Lenin’s youth.

The manuscript, which Mr. Eastman had believed lost, turned up in the Harvard library a few years ago. It chronicles the Bolshevik leader’s life up to when he joined the Russian revolutionary movement after becoming a lawyer in St. Petersburg, now Leningrad.

In addition, Mr. Eastman is collecting a number of essays and portraits of his contemporaries for publication soon. These, he remarked with a twinkle in his bluish eyes, are to be entitled Bull in the Afternoon and Other Essays.

The lead essay, a criticism of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, precipitated the famous set-to between the two authors.

Fresh in His Mind

That encounter, which took place in 1937 in the office of Max Perkins, an editor at Scribner’s, was still fresh in Mr. Eastman’s mind.

Hemingway shoved an open book against my nose, he recalled, and accused me of saying that he lacked virility. I grabbed him by the throat and threw him–or backed him up–over Perkins’s desk and onto his back on the floor.

The two men’s friendship, never thereafter the epitome of cordiality, is now largely a mellow memory for Mr. Eastman. In addition to the piece on Hemingway, Mr. Eastman plans to include his new book essays on H. L. Mencken, Bernard Berenson and Sherwood Anderson.

At 86, an author is still an author.

The article closes with a photo from
The New York Times (by Michael Evans)
Max Eastman, with his tabby Twiggy, during the interview at his home on West 13th Street.

Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie on Robert E. Lee and the whipping of the Norris slaves

This passage is from Bruce Levine’s 2013 study, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South (Random House, 2013). Levine’s text includes an error of misreading the sources: in reading descriptions of the escape and whipping, he seems to have mistakenly parsed my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away as my sister, Mary (a cousin of ours), and I determined to run away, thus mistaking Mary Norris for the unnamed cousin of ours in Norris’s testimony (in fact, according to Pryor, inf., the cousin is George Parks).

Hundley was anxious to attribute such conduct to only the greediest and cruelest masters. In fact, however, cracking whips and piercing cries were heard throughout the South. Robert E. Lee liked to think of himself as a humane owner. But he could react as fiercely as any other when his power and authority were challenged. In 1859, three of Lee’s slaves–Wesley Norris, his sister, and a cousin named Mary–attempted to escape from the Arlington plantation. Recaptured in Maryland, the unfortunate people were jailed there for two weeks and then delivered back into Lee’s hands. Promising to teach them a lesson they would not soon forget, Lee had them taken to the barn, stripped to the waist, and whipped between twenty and fifty times each on their bare flesh by a local constable named Dick Williams. As the punishment proceeded, Wesley Norris later recalled, Lee stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, which he did.44

44. Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee through His Private Letters (New York, 2007), 260-261.

–Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South (Random House, 2013). 11, 309n44.

Two more years of THE LIBERATOR now available! (Scanning Project, Week 1 update)

I’m happy to announce, as an update to the ongoing Liberator online archive project that two more volumes of The Liberator — Vol. XII and Vol. XIII — are now available, in full page-scan PDF facsimiles — at the Liberator online archive:

The early 1840s were eventful and contentious years in the American Abolitionist movement, with much of the controversy centered on Garrison, Abby Kelly and their radical allies — especially the ultras’ strident opposition to electioneering and political parties, and their principled defense of women’s freedom to participate equally in the Abolitionist movement. In May 1840, the American Anti-slavery Society underwent a schism in the conflict over both propositions; more conservative, politically-oriented and anti-feminist abolitionists attempted to purge Garrison from the AAS, and when they failed to run him out, they left to form a new, conervative American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. The pages of The Liberator in 1841-1842 were full not only of news about national events, slavery, war, but also internal debate within the movement over the AAS/AFAS split and the electoral campaigns of the recently-formed Liberty Party, as well as new reports and arguments over the Come-Outer religious movement, endorsed by Garrison, Abby Kelly, and others, which called on Christians to come out of mainline denominations that did not reflect their conscientious beliefs on spiritual practice or which refused to take a moral stand against slavery, alongside established features such as the Refuge of Oppression columns (in which Garrison quoted, verbatim, the words of defenders of slavery and racism, in order to demonstrate the inhumanity of their views), international updates on the Caribbean and on the speaking tours of British Abolitionists, reflections on religious and moral topics, and pages of bad moral reform poetry. To see it as it happened, you can now check out 104 more issues of The Liberator available online, in full, for free, from January 1841 to the end of December 1842.

If you enjoy this project or find the materials useful, you can help support the work and speed up the on-going progress with a contribution to the project, in any amount, through the Molinari Institute — the not-for-profit sponsor of the Fair Use Repository. You can read more about the fundraiser and the archive project in the introductory post here at Fair Use Blog.

Read, cite, and enjoy!

The Liberator in Full Online for Free: Scanning Project, Week 1

From time to time I have mentioned my ongoing project of making full issues of William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator available here at fair-use.org. The Liberator is big (52-53 issues every year, for 35 years!) and the project has progressed at a slow pace. But I’m happy to announce that, thanks to a break from other obligations, a sponsorship from the Molinari Institute, and generous contributions from supporters all over the Internet, the project will be able to proceed much more quickly and steadily from here on out — hopefully with every issue of The Liberator available in full, online, for free, by the beginning of August 2014. But we need your support to make it happen!

Here’s the deal. When the fundraiser project started, thanks to occasional scanning when I had the time to volunteer, fair-use.org had ten years’ worth of The Liberator online: Volumes I.-IX. (1830-1839) and Volume XXI. (Jan.-Dec. 1851). In order to finish the remaining 25 years’ worth of issues this summer — instead of sometime around 2019 — we’re raising funds through our fiscal sponsor, the Molinari Institute — in order to get the scans online and begin to prepare an extensive, open, free and researcher-friendly archive and index for anyone who wants to learn more about radical abolitionism and the history of American social movements. The fundraiser will cover the labor costs for the scanning and the increased web hosting costs for what’s likely to become a very widely used web resource.

We started the fundraiser with a soft, quietly circulated launch last week. And I’m happy to announce to-day that, thanks to generous donations from 8 donors, we’ve already raised over 10% of our goal — $246 out of the projected $2,000 budget. And also that thanks to the donations, we’ve already been able to add two new volumesVolume X. and Volume XI. of The Liberator (1840-1841) are now available online. We’re on track to add the next two volumes (XII. and XIII.) by the end of this week.

About the project:

Our goal is to make every issue of The Liberator, from 1831-1865, available in full, online, for free, and to add free tools to aid students and researchers in searching through the archives of the paper.

  • Phase I. is to scan every issue from every year of The Liberator from microfilm sources and to make facsimile PDFs available online for free at fair-use.org/the-liberator. If the fundraiser is fully funded, we should be able to add about two new volumes’ worth of facsimile PDFs each week, and complete Phase I by August 2014.
  • Phase II. is to prepare a free, online hypertext index of The Liberator, similar to the Individuals and Titles and Periodicals sections of Wendy McElroy’s indispensable Comprehensive Index to LIBERTY. The index will provide an easily searchable, easily browseable and interlinked complete table of contents for every issue of The Liberator and an index of names, book titles and periodical titles appearing in its pages. If we reach our stretch goals for the fundraiser, then the fundraiser will cover most of the labor cost for Phase II as well as for the scanning project. After Phase I is complete, I should be able to work out a plausible timeline for completing Phase II, but my guess at this point is that it could possibly be completed by the end of the year.
  • Phase III. would be to begin to transcribe individual articles and columns from the PDF facsimiles into lightweight, standards-based, linkable searchable HTML. This will be an immense amount of work and systematic effort to complete it will be a bit down the road. We’ll do another round of fundraising to support the Phase III transcriptions once Phase I. is complete and Phase II. is in progress.

About The Liberator

Garrison’s Liberator, running from 1831–1865, was the most prominent periodical of radical Abolition in the united states. Proclaiming, in the first issue, that:

. . . I am aware, that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.

Together with the circle of black and white radicals that his paper attracted, Garrison’s Liberator helped to organize, and offered a forum for, the Abolitionist movement that spent the next 35 years working for the immediate emancipation of all slaves, condemning racial prejudice and “American Colorphobia,” and insisting that emancipation could only truly come about by inspiring a radical moral and social transformation. It urged a politics of radicalizing conscience, and denied that electoral gamesmanship, partisan politics, or political compromise would ever bring about liberation on their own. In the age of the Fugitive Slave Acts, the Garrisonians denounced the united states Constitution as a weapon of the slavers, “A Compromise with Death and an Agreement with Hell.” Rejecting the use of either political or military power as a means of overcoming the slave system, they argued for Disunion (“No Union with Slaveholders, religiously or politically”), holding that the Northern free states should secede from the Union, thus peacefully withdrawing the Federal economic, political and military support that the Slave Power depended on, and (they argued) driving the slave system to collapse, by kicking out the Constitutional compromises that propped it up. Garrison and his circle, in the face of condemnation from more conservative anti-slavery activists, also constantly drew parallels and connections between the struggle against slavery and other struggles for social liberation, taking early and courageous stances in defense of women’s rights and international peace.

What You Can Do To Help

If you enjoy this project or find the materials useful, you can help support the work and speed up the on-going progress with a contribution to the project, in any amount, through the Molinari Institute — the not-for-profit sponsor of the Fair Use Repository. We can accept credit card donations through GoFundMe.com and we can also accept Bitcoin donations to bitcoin:18Bojnp2UG3iDpXT9CxjutjsXQjWgbmSCW. (If you send us a BTC contribution, please contact us to let us know who you are, what you donated and where we can reach you, so that we can send you a thank-you and, if you want, keep you up to date with the progress of the project!) Contributors have the option of having their names appear, with our thanks, on the archive page at fair-use.org/the-liberator/, or remaining anonymous if they’d prefer. You can also get periodic updates (no more than one e-mail a week) about both the progress of the fundraiser and the progress of the scanning project.

Please share this notice far and wide! We can finish this project on a small budget, but we need your help in getting the word out. A link here will work fine; or you can link directly to the GoFundMe.com fundraiser page at www.gofundme.com/8tb288

If you have access to microfilm and scanning equipment, you could also help the project immensely by contacting us at fair-use.org about hosting any alternative page-scans of some issues — as with any 19th century periodical, many of the issues that we are scanning already had blemishes, tears or folds on the pages when they were preserved in microfilm, and if any parts of the text are illegible in our edition (the American Periodical Series microfilm collection, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Mich., as found in the Auburn University Libraries in Auburn, Ala.) we’d love to have alternative page-scans of those issues from other sources.

Thanks for anything you can do. And as always, read, cite, and enjoy!

S. E. Parker, “Anarchism versus Socialism” (1966)

This essay, by Sidney Parker, first appeared in Minus One, No. 14 (July-August 1966). It has since been reprinted in Enemies of Society (Ardent Press), pp. 150-3, and in The Sovereign Self No. 4 (Jan 2012) pp. 6-8.

Anarchism versus Socialism

S.E. Parker

The trouble with discussing socialism is that the word is such a vague one. Anarchism, in comparison, is clear and precise. An anarchist is someone who is without belief in authority–an individual who wants to live his life without having to submit to a will external to him. Anarchism is therefore the philosophy of living without authority, as its etymology suggests.

But what is socialism?

The Little Oxford Dictionary is blunt: “Socialism: the principle that individual liberty should be completely subordinated to the community.” Professed socialists themselves, however, have eschewed such bluntness and the most contradictory doctrines have been labeled “socialist”. There have been and are, national socialists, Christian socialists, libertarian socialists, state socialists, Marxist socialists, spiritual socialists, idealist socialists and so forth and so on. The only way one can get any sense out of the bewildering confusion of “true interpretations” is to find some belief or principle common to all socialists which distinguishes them from other people.

Since, for socialists in general, the economic question is paramount–every problem tending to be reduced to the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism–there is one belief which all socialists, from Statists to libertarian communists, share, and that is the belief in the need to put the ownership or control of the means of production into the hands of some collective body, be it the government or “society”. Socialism above all is, as Auguste Hamon has said, a “social system in which — a social doctrine by which — the means of production are socialized”. It is my argument that this wish to make society the owner and provider of the means of life is to put new authority over the individual in place of the old and is therefore not anarchism. Anarchism stands for leaving each individual free to provide for himself what he needs and is therefore not a complement of socialism but its opposite. It follows that those anarchists who think that anarchism is a form of socialism are deluding themselves and sooner or later will have to choose between them, for they cannot logically be both.

Undoubtedly there are some socialists who are genuinely concerned for the freedom of the individual and believe that by taking the means of production away from the capitalists and giving them to society, or the State as representative of society, they will abolish the subjection of the many to the privileged few and so secure the liberty of each individual. But how would this alter the position of the individual producer? Under capitalism he has to submit to the will of a handful of monopolists. Under socialism he would have to submit to the will of the collective. He would have no freedom to produce and exchange as he wishes and without this his individual freedom cannot exist.

The socialist might reply that when the means of production belong to all then everyone will be an owner. But of what use is it to me to be an owner of something in common with, say, 1,000,000 people? To own one millionth of something is in effect to own nothing. Under socialism, therefore, the individual would be a proletarian–that is, a property-less person–and control of the means of production would be in the hands of an abstraction called “society”, and the interests of this abstraction would be superior to the interests of the individual. Everything would be for the “common good”.

It is not enough to say that the individual would still own his clothing or his toothbrush, and that only the means of producing these things would be owned in common. As Benjamin Tucker pointed out this means “the liberty to eat, but not to cook; to drink, but not to brew; to wear, but not to spin; to dwell, but not to build; to give, but not to sell or buy; to think, but not to print; to speak, but not to hire a hall; to dance, but not to pay the fiddler.”

Socialism, being a species of humanism, is a doctrine of indiscriminate solidarity. It suppresses direct exchange between the producer and the consumer and has for its ethic the obligation of each to work for the benefit of all. It assumes that since each individual will have the right to a guaranteed living, he must all have the duty to put all he produces at the disposal of the collectivity. The producer cannot choose who will benefit from this production; the consumer cannot choose who will be his producer. Socialism is thus a herd-philosophy, the practice of the bee-hive. Its consistent application would deny all freedom of choice and it is therefore a totalitarian system. Even if in theory there would be no laws in a socialist society to enforce the subordination of the individual to the mass, there would be a socially sanctioned system of moral coercion to achieve the same end.

Economic freedom — any kind of freedom — for the individual can only exist where there is a choice of alternatives. Anarchism can only be pluralist, allowing any kind of economic relationship that will satisfy the individuals involved. To tie the individual to collective ownership is not anarchism, for anarchism can only exist where there is the possibility for infinite change and variety.

The fundamental issue between anarchism and socialism was well put some time ago by Francis Ellingham when writing of the difference between individualist anarchism and libertarian communism. He wrote that this difference concerned:

… who is to be the subject of the process of production, consumption and accumulation?

Is it to be the individual, working as an independent economic unit–either alone or, if he chooses, in association with other individuals? Or is it to be the community as a whole, working as a sort of super-family, and necessarily incorporating the individual, who thus becomes a cell in a larger economic organism?

Either the economy could be of such a nature that it necessitated association (and let us never forget that economic necessity can be at least as tyrannical as any government), or it could be based on the individual unit, leaving each individual free to associate, but never submerging him in any group from which he could not withdraw without economic ruin.

The libertarian communist ideal is, he continues,

… only a variation on the Marxist ideal that the State will ‘wither away’. there are no rulers in the Marxist paradise, which, in that sense, is an anarchist world. But the supposedly ‘free’ individual is merely a cog in a gigantic social machine, held together by sheer force of economic necessity.

Where socialists go wrong in this matter is in their assumption that the individual can only be free–i.e. self-governing, self-owning–when his interests are combined with those of all other individuals. They believe in the collectivization of interests. But I am not free if my interests are inseparable from yours. My freedom lies in my opportunity to differ, in dis-unity, dis-connection, dis-sent. I am freest when interests are individualized, when I can be sole sovereign over my person and can dispose of the things I produce, or the services I can offer, as I see fit.

Anarchism lies in the direction of the individualization of interests, economic or any other, not their socialization.

Socialism is a religion of Society–it is the sacrifice of the individual to the Collective.

Anarchism is the philosophy of the individual–it is the affirmation of individuality, the proud denial of legitimacy to any institution, group or idea that claims authority over the ego.

–From Minus One, No. 14 (July-August 1966).