For an explanation of this series, please see the first installment, posted January 13, 2011.
In the weeks following the secession of South Carolina, chaos reigned throughout the nation. Rumors ran rampant. At the People’s Press, the Blums did, as always, what they could to check the accuracy of their reporting.
One early rumor had it that President Lincoln had dispatched federal troops to put down the rebellion in South Carolina, and that they would be occupying Fort Fisher in North Carolina.
But with only the busy telegraph lines linking them to the outside world, the Blums must have felt overwhelmed. So they resorted to grouping some of the most alarming rumors together in a column titled “Important, If True”.
The first of these was partly true, partly false. The Star of the West had indeed been dispatched to deliver supplies to the besieged federal troops at Fort Sumter. Not having had time to form an actual army, the citizens of Charleston summoned cadets from the Citadel. Apparently they had been well drilled in artillery practice, because they scored at least three hits on the Star of the West. But the ship was not sinking. It had, in fact turned back and was headed out to sea with minimal damage. Today, in each graduating class at the Citadel, the “best drilled” cadet receives the Star of the West award.
The Florida story was a bit premature. The others were a mishmash. The New York story was silly. The story from the Raleigh newspaper was simply bizarre. The Pennsylvania petition was mostly true, a move on the part of the citizens of Philadelphia to offer conciliation on one of the most burning issues of the day.
About two thirds of the “secession” stories reported locally mentioned the Fugitive Slave Acts, federal laws requiring non-slave states to cooperate with slave states in the recovery of runaway slaves. Abolitionists in the north had pushed through state laws guaranteeing the freedom of all residents of their states in an attempt to “nullify” the federal laws. These nullification attempts were a primary cause of the secession movement. Despite later attempts to cast secession as a states rights issue, the southern states actually opposed states rights in regard to the Fugitive Slave Acts. The Pennsylvanians were simply doing their part to try to fend off secession by urging repeal of their own nullification laws.
Ironically, the most important real story, that Mississippi had just become the second state to secede, did not appear anywhere in the People’s Press. Perhaps the Mississippians had been a bit slow in getting their message out.
In anticipation of South Carolina’s action, the local courts had already tightened restrictions on the movements of local slaves.
But most were hoping that the problems would simply go away, and that life could continue as usual. Long term ads for local businesses continued to run in the People’s Press.
The “32-tf” annotation at the end of Brother Hall’s ad was a code used by the Blums to help them keep track of the duration and terms of their advertisers.
The results of the Salem town elections were duly reported.
And the annual town treasurer’s report was published.
Cultural events went on as scheduled.
But the Blums wanted their readers to understand that the current events were of crucial importance, so they published in full a speech given in late December at the mass meeting at the Forsyth County Courthouse by Constantine Banner.
Banner was a prominent member of the Salem Moravian congregation, a wealthy farmer who lived with his wife and three of his adult children in what is now the Washington Park area. His circa 1855 house, although much modified in the 1920s, is still standing there.
According to the 1860 US Census, Banner owned over 900 acres of land, 260 acres of which were under cultivation, valued at $15,000 ($547,00 in current value). His net worth was $20,000 ($730,00 in current value).
He owned 3 horses, 2 mules, 12 cows, and 40 pigs, valued at $800. The previous year, he had produced 325 bushels of wheat, 800 of corn, 100 of oats, 75 of potatoes, 75 of sweet potatoes, 100 pounds of butter, 1,500 pounds of tobacco and a goodly amount of hay and orchard products.
But perhaps most importantly, he was a major slave owner, at least by local standards. He owned 25 slaves, ranging in age from 1 to 70 years old, and three slave houses. So one might think that he would be in favor of secession. Read this excerpt from his speech and see what you think.
One man’s opinion. But on the same page of the People’s Press, we have this story from New York.
Constantine Banner clearly believed that the citizens of South Carolina had made a big mistake. The above article might just confirm his opinion. Did the South Carolinians really believe that they could get a loan from a New York bank to finance an army that would oppose the interests of the Union, of which New York was very much a part?
Next: The plot thickens. Mississippi, Florida and others secede, leaving the citizens of Forsyth County in a state of disarray.Constantine Banner’s house, built around 1855, as seen in an 1890s photograph.