The above images are from the Virginia Historical Society: Unidentified African American Woman (1997.110.4), Cary Robinson (0000.306), Elizabeth Marshall Robinson (0000.305), Churchill G. Gibson (1994.108.9), Elizabeth M.A. Wynne (1982.38)
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Enslaved African Americans generally welcomed the war as an end to intolerable conditions. Former slave Charles Grandy remembered, "All dem what could pray ‘gin to pray more’n ever. So glad God sendin’ de war." One of the worst abuses was the slave auction, a horribly degrading experience in itself and one that often separated family members. Virginia novelist George Tucker wrote, "One not accustomed to this spectacle, is extremely shocked to see beings, of the same species with himself, set up for sale to the highest bidder, like horses or cattle." Here a British artist dared to record the spectacle, though he idealized it. Because of the critical need for black labor, auctions lessened during the war, but they did not cease.
Slave Auction, Virginia, Lefevre James Cranstone, 1860-63 (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 1991.70)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852 (Virginia Historical Society, Call Number Rare Books PS2954 .U5 1852 )
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of the most influential books in American history. Its story of abused slaves fueled anti-slavery feeling. One southerner who objected to Stowe’s harsh depiction of slavery wrote a rebuttal called Life in the South: Or "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" As It Is. It portrayed slaves as contented and well-treated.
Pike, 1859 (Virginia Historical Society, bequest of Lee A. Wallace, Jr., Accession no. 1997.167.1)
When John Brown attacked Harpers Ferry in 1859 in an attempt to ignite a slave rebellion, did he act alone? This is one of 950 pikes purchased by Brown to arm slaves. His small group of northeastern abolitionist supporters provided financial support, but white southerners mistook them as representing the sentiment of the entire North. After Brown’s execution, a Virginia secessionist sent a pike to each governor of a slaveholding state as a symbol of “the fanatical hatred borne by the dominant northern party to the institutions & people of the Southern States."
There were four major candidates for president in 1860. Northern Democrats supported the right of territorial residents to decide the issue of slavery without federal interference while Southern Democrats endorsed a federally mandated slave code for the territories. A new middle group, the Constitutional Union Party refused to take a position for or against slavery or its expansion. The Republican Party determined to bar the expansion of slavery into the western territories. Lincoln’s Republican Party was not even on the ballot in most of the South. In Virginia he received fewer than 2,000 of 167,000 votes, mostly from counties that later became West Virginia. Lincoln’s victory prompted South Carolina to secede from the Union.
Republican Party Election Ticket, 1860 (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2002.20.464)
Southern Democratic Party Election Ticket, 1860 (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2002.20.482)
Constitutional Union Party Election Ticket, 1860 (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2002.20.481)
Northern Democratic Party Election Ticket, 1860 (Virginia Historical Society, Accession no. 2010.1.56)
Why Did the Civil War Happen? is the subject of the introductory video for the VHS blockbuster show, An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia. Slavery caused the war, but the war did not begin to free the enslaved. Throughout the 1850s, slavery had kept the free North and the slaveholding South on a collision course that could end in dissolution of the Union or a war to preserve it.