Hermann Schlüter (1851-1919) was born in Schleswig-Holstein and joined the left wing of German Social Democracy as a teen and helped publish newspapers and magazines of the SPD. Schlüter emigrated to the US in 1889 where he joined the editorial board of the New Yorker Volkszeitung, and and the Socialist Labor Party. Later he joined the Socialist Party, which he represented at the Amsterdam Congress of the Second International in 1904. An anti-revisionist, he contributed to the debate in Marxism in both Germany and the US. However, it is Schlüter’s historical works, mainly of the proletarian movement in the US and England, that are his lasting legacy. This chapter from Hermann Schlüter’s Marxist study on the US Civil War, ‘Lincoln, Labor, and Slavery: A Chapter from the Social History’ looking at the attitude and role organized English workers to the struggle over American slavery in the decades leading to the U.S. Civil War.
‘The Workingmen of England and Negro Slavery’ by Hermann Schlüter from Lincoln, Labor, and Slavery: A Chapter from the Social History of America, 1913.
Almost simultaneously with the rise of the Abolitionist movement in the United States, anti-slavery societies were formed in England which entered into communication with the American movement and often joined hands with it for common work. At the very time when the English middle classes were preparing to subject their own workers to the worst conceivable industrial slavery — one needs but recall the conditions prevailing among the factory population of England in the thirties and forties — a portion of these ruling classes began to preach in favor of the abolition of slavery.
The workingmen of England had ranged themselves against slavery from the start. But like their class comrades in the United States they could not overlook the hypocrisy of the ruling classes in condemning Negro slavery abroad and opposing with all their might any limitation of white slavery at home. With the contemporary English and German labor press of the United States, the labor press of Great Britain also denounced this hypocrisy. Everywhere their awakening class consciousness led workingmen to realize that while the abolition of Negro slavery was desirable, they must not forget their own slavery, wage slavery.
Bronterre O’Brien represented their position in a specially striking manner in the radical labor papers in the thirties, in the Poor Man’s Guardian, in The Destructive and others. Among other things he wrote:
“When one listens to an Abolitionist one might think that outside of the blacks there was no slave under British rule. If these scoundrels entertained a sincere hatred against slavery they would begin by abolishing it at home. He who sallies forth on a philanthropic mission in Jamaica when he needs only to go to Spitalfields (a poor section in London) to find more misery than he will be able to abolish, is either a thickheaded fool or a heartless fraud. How is it that we never hear the Buxtons or the Wilberforces complain about slavery here at home? Listen, Buxton, and we will tell you: it is because you know, you smooth-tongued rogue, that English slavery is indispensable for ‘our highly civilized state.’ That is the reason, Buxton! The slavery of millions is the foundation of our cannibalistic civilization. Your cannibalistic institutions are reared on this foundation — just because the millions are slaves, you and your kind prosper so splendidly. You lose nothing by freeing the Negroes; but you would lose a great deal if you would free Englishmen.”
And O’Brien explains the last statement thus:
“In the one case (that is, in England) the master employs and supports his slave only when he needs him; in the other he supports him whether he has work for him or not. Emancipation enables the master to get more labor and to pay less for it. Emancipation frees the slave from the whip, but deprives him also of his food, and since hungry people have small respect for the laws, he soon discovers that while he escapes the whip he stumbles upon the treadmill or the gallows.”
Despite this glaring exposure of the hypocrisy which was really back of the whole middle-class movement in behalf of the emancipation of the slaves, the workingmen of England nevertheless demanded the abolition of Negro slavery, only insisting, like their American class comrades, on the equal necessity of the abolition of white slavery. The workingmen took an active part in the numerous meetings arranged by the middle class anti-slavery societies in England in the thirties and forties in the interest of their cause. The adoption of the Reform Bill (1832) had put the English middle class into political power, but at the same time had set in striking relief the antagonism existing between the middle class and the working class, and inspired the latter to independent action.
In June, 1836, the Working Men’s Association, which subsequently played an important part as the mother organization of the Chartist movement, was founded in London. In the fall of 1837 the English press, Tory and Whig alike teemed with inflammatory attacks against the United States, whose republican institutions were bitterly assailed and ridiculed. The Working Men’s Association resolved to combat the mischievous machinations of the ruling class. The carpenter, William Lovett, who in the following year outlined the “People’s Charter,” those six points embodying the demands of the workingmen which gave the Chartist movement its name, was entrusted by the Working Men’s Association with the composition of a manifesto in which the inflammatory attacks of the middle-class press were to be answered and the existing prejudices neutralized as far as possible.
The manifesto began with an allusion to the spirit of fraternity which should govern workingmen in all the countries of the world:
“For, as the subjugation and misery of our class can be traced to our ignorance and dissensions — as the knaves and hypocrites of the world live by our follies, and the tyrants of the world are strong because we, the working millions, are divided — so assuredly will the mutual instruction and united exertions of our class in all countries rapidly advance the world’s emancipation.”
In this address the English workingmen called the attention of the working classes in America to the fact that within the borders of their country millions of human beings were held as slaves, because their skins were not white, but black. The part of the manifesto which alluded to chattel slavery was as follows:
“With no disposition either to question your political sincerity, impugn your morality or to upbraid you for vices you did not originate, it is with feelings of regret, brethren, that we deem it is even needed to enquire of men who for more than half a century have had the power of government in their hands, why the last and blackest remnant of kingly dominion has not been uprooted from republican America?
“Why, when she has afforded a home and an asylum for the destitute and oppressed among all nations, should oppression in her own land be legalized, and bondage tolerated? Did nature, when she cast her sunshine o’er the earth, and adapted her children to its influence, intend that her varied tints of skin should be the criterion of liberty? And shall men, whose illustrious ancestors proclaimed mankind to be brothers by nature, make an exception to degrade to the condition of slaves, human beings a shade darker than themselves?
“Surely it cannot be for the interest of the working classes that these prejudices should be fostered — this degrading traffic be maintained. No! No! It must be for those who shrink from honest industry, and who would equally sacrifice, to their love of gain and mischievous ambition, the happiness of either black or white. We entertain the opinion, friends, that those who seek to consign yon to unremitting toil, to fraudulently monopolize your lands, to cheat you in the legislature, to swell your territory by injustice, and to keep you ignorant and divided, are the same persons who are the perpetuators and advocates of slavery.
“They are rich and powerful, we judge from their corruptive influence; for, with few honest exceptions, that surest guarantee of liberty, the press, is diverted to their purpose and subject to their power, instead of performing its sacred office in developing truth, and in extirpating the errors of mankind and — shame to their sacred calling — there are preachers and teachers and learned men among you, who plead eloquently against the foibles of the poor, but shrink from exposing vice in high stations — nay, who are even the owners of slaves, and the abettors and advocates of slavery!”
In the same manifesto the English workingmen expatiate also on the regrettable fact that the workingmen of the United States do not understand the democratic principles of their Charter of Independence to that extent “which it becomes you to understand them.” Further, in showing what the working class of England was trying to do for the betterment of its “degrading condition,” the address says:
”Seeing the result of our ignorance and divisions, subjecting us to be tools of party, the slaves of power, and the victims of our own dissipations and vices, we have resolved to unite and mutually instruct ourselves; and, as a means to that end we have formed ourselves into workingmen’s associations…
“…And we would respectfully urge you to enquire whether similar means might not be more advantageously and extensively employed in your country.” (William Lovett: Life and Struggles. London, 1876.)
That the Chartist papers in the forties declared themselves against Negro slavery in the United States, we have already learned from the controversy between Feargus O’Connor of the Northern Star in Leeds and George H. Evans of the Working Men’s Advocate in New York, in which, from a historical point of view, the English Chartist leader proved himself superior in insight and clearness of conception to the American National Reformer. The remaining organs of the English Chartist press also ranged themselves bravely against slavery in America.
In 1846 an Anti-Slavery League, whose membership was composed principally of English radical workingmen and whose president was the Chartist George Thompson, was formed in London. Among the members of the League were also William Lovett and many other well-known followers and champions of the Chartist movement. This association was formed when William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglas, and Henry C. Wright, all three very active Abolitionists, visited England. The chief object of their visit was to impress upon religious bodies that slavery was a heinous sin and ought to be abolished; and also to urge on them the necessity of withholding fellowship from the religious bodies of America which were the advocates and abettors of slavery. Among other religious bodies in England and Scotland they endeavored to influence the Evangelical Alliance, but were unsuccessful. They called a public meeting on the subject at Exetor Hall, where the Christianity of the Evangelical Alliance was exposed. The Workingmen’s Anti-Slavery League condemned in strong terms the conduct of these Christian bodies, which, for the sake of filthy lucre, and the subscriptions they were in the habit of receiving from the religious Christian slaveholders of America, persisted in recognizing them, regardless of the millions of their fellow-men in slavery.
The Anti-Slavery League employed and paid Frederick Douglas for a time as an agitator for the anti-slavery cause, and he and the president of the League, George Thompson, made extended trips throughout the land and called forth great sympathy in behalf of the slaves.
As we see, Garrison and his Abolitionist friends met with the same experience in their encounters with Christian ministers and similar middle-class elements which they had made at the beginning of their agitation in New England. They found themselves opposed by enemies where they had hoped to find friends, and they found friends of their cause among the working class who had to fight slavery within their own ranks.
The organized workingmen of England continued their resolute opposition to slavery also in the following decade. In the numerous meetings called by the anti-slavery societies it was especially the workingmen who again and again protested against the preservation of slavery. The labor organizations also frequently took a similar position, and in May, 1853, George Jacob Holyoake sent an anti-slavery address from the Democrats of England to the Democrats of the United States. This address was signed by about 1,800 men, all prominent among the workers and their organizations in England.
More emphatically than even the free workingmen of the North of the United States, both American and German, did the workingmen of England raise their voice against slavery during the whole period of the agitation. Although, or perhaps because, they were at that time themselves in a condition which can be truly described as white slavery, they did not in their own dependence forget that of the poor blacks, who, bound to the soil and to their masters, were compelled to bear the twofold burden of the oppressed class and the oppressed race.
We shall see later how nobly the workingmen of England during the Civil War redeemed the promise of their attitude in the anti-slavery movement. The narrative dealing with this attitude covers one of the most glorious pages in the history of the labor movement.
Lincoln, Labor, and Slavery: A Chapter from the Social History of America by Herman Schlüter. Socialist Literature Company, New York. 1913.
Contents: Preface, I. ECONOMIC ANTAGONISM AND POLITICAL STRUGGLE, Historical Review, Economic Contrast, Political Struggle, II. THE WORKINGMEN AND CHATTEL SLAVERY, The Industrial Workers of the North and Slavery, The German Workingmen in America and Slavery, The White Workingmen of the South, The Workingmen of England and Negro Slavery, III. FREE LABOR BEFORE THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES THE OUTBREAK OF THE CIVIL WAR AND THE LABOR MOVEMENT, General Condition of the Labor Movement, The Attitude of the Workingmen towards the War, Effects of the War on Labor, ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE WORKING CLASS, The English Workingmen and the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and the Workingmen of England, Lincoln’s Attitude towards the Working Class, VI. THE INTERNATIONAL WORKINGMEN’S ASSOCIATION AND THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, Address of the General Council to Abraham Lincoln, Address of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association to President Andrew Johnson, Address of the General Council to the People of the United States, VIL THE LABOR MOVEMENT DURING THE CIVIL WAR, The Draft Riot in New York, Laws Against Labor Organizations, Military Interference in Labor Troubles, White Slavery. 237 pages.
PDF of full book: https://archive.org/download/lincolnlaborand00schlgoog/lincolnlaborand00schlgoog.pdf