How did slavery end? The Civil War? The Emancipation Proclamation? The challenge of White civility to the slave system. The answer to these questions together gives reason, but the only one person connected to each answer is Harriet Tubman. To look at the economic system of slavery you will see that Black and White people of the time were different than they are today.
Black people in the system of slavery had a stronger sense of family and community. A stronger way to communicate ideas amongst each other, with out being detected by others. Whites of the time strong religious beliefs made it possible to challenge the morality of slavery. The economic system of slavery compared to today’s economic system of employment slavery was not as total.
To understand the power of Harriet Tubman you must first look at William H. Seward. United States Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, Governor of New York, United States Senator of New York, Lawyer. As Governor of New York State, Seward made sure that fugitive slaves were guaranteed a trial by jury.
Harriet had a very close relationship to William Seward and his wife Frances Seward. Frances raised Harriet’s niece Margaret Stewart in the Seward’s home as to be a proper lady.
In 1846 Seward defended William Freeman. A Black man who murdered four members of a White family. Seward took on the case because he believed that Freeman was insane and concerned that Freeman would not receive a fair trial due to his race. Seward was the first Lawyer to use the insanity plea. During the trial Seward made several statements that supported the abolition movement, but one of his most powerful statements in his defense was:
You, gentlemen, have or ought to have, lifted up your souls above the bondage of prejudices so narrow and mean as these. The color of the prisoner’s skin, and the form of his features, are not impressed upon the spiritual, immortal mind which works beneath. In spite of human pride, he is still your brother, and mine, in form and color accepted and approved by his Father, and yours, and mine, and bears equality with us the proudest inheritance of our race—the image of our maker. Hold him to be a Man.[ii]
Seward was successful in saving Freeman’s life and started the mental health reform movement.
In 1850 Seward made his “Higher Law” speech where he stated: “there is a Higher Law than the Constitution.” This incendiary statement was to Seward’s successful argument that California should be admitted into the Union as a free state. Due to Seward’s compelling argument California entered as a free state.
Though Seward publicly supported the abolition movement he risked his political career behind closed doors by harboring fugitive slaves in his Auburn New York home.
In 1858 Seward made another public address about the issue of slavery. This speech became known as Seward’s “Irrepressible Conflict Speech.” Seward believed the slave system to be “intolerable, unjust, and inhuman.”
He also indicated that having slave states and free states was incompatible and that “it is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slave holding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation.” He insisted that a decision must be made about slave states and free states “even at the cost of civil war”.
Emancipation Proclamation the brainchild of Seward. Seward carefully planted the seed to the creation of this document into President Lincoln. After several revisions suggested by Seward the final draft was approved by the Cabinet and handed to Seward, who had it duly engrossed in official form, bearing the signature of the President and his own, with the great seal of the United States, and placed it on file in the Department of State.
In regard to the Proclamation Seward felt that “the interests of humanity have now become identified with the cause of our country.”
John Brown met Harriet Tubman do to introductions made by Frederick Douglass and the Reverend Jeremiah Logan. Brown immediately recognized a great intelligence and respected the command she had in St. Catherine, Canada. Brown immediately referred to her as General Tubman.
Harriet, fully aware of John Brown and his plan, upon first meeting describe to Brown a dream she had, in which a snake along with two other younger snakes were killed by a crowd of men. John Brown believed this dream was about him and his two sons. Formulating in Brown’s mind the strategy of Brown entering into a kamikaze mission, to be mourn for the cause of the abolition movement.
Harriet’s plan was executed perfectly and the raid on Harpers Ferry was the linchpin to the Civil War.
Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew called on Harriet in the fall of 1861 and asked for her help to go south and help with the Civil War acting as a spy, scout, or nurse, as the circumstances required. The governor arranged for her transportation and assigned her to Major General David Hunter, Union commander of the Department of the South.
The General issued Harriet a military pass in 1861. It read: “Give her free passage at all times, on all government transports. Harriet… is a valuable woman. She has permission, as a servant of the government, to purchase such provisions from the Commissary as she may need.” Once in Hilton Head, Harriet began her work as a spy and an organizer and leader of scouts. She selected and paid (out of “secret service money”) nine reliable black scouts.
Historian H. Donald Winkler, in his book Stealing Secrets, writes: “Harriet and her nine-man spy team evolved into a kind of special-forces operation for the black regiments. Her team sneaked up and down rivers and into swamps and marshes to determine enemy positions, movements, and fortifications on the shoreline beyond the Union pickets.”
Harriet was with the 54th Infantry during their legendary battle at Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. Marion Taylor and Heather Lehr Wagner wrote in their book, “Harriet Tubman: Antislavery Activist,” that she served the soldiers their last meal the night before.
She also buried the dead and treated the wounded after the battle, historians say. The dramatic story of the regiment’s struggles was told in the Academy Award-winning 1989 movie “Glory.”
“And then we saw the lightning, and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder, and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood falling; and then we came to get the crops, and it was the dead men that we reaped.” —-poetic tribute to the 54th Infantry by Harriet Tubman
Harriet worked to raise the 2nd South Carolina Colored Infantry regiment and planed the Combahee River Raid.
Harriet’s tactics of war are still being used today by special-forces.