Stake of the South

The text is a campaign document from 1856 arguing for the Democratic party by showing the South’s monetary stakes in a civil war.
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 7.

campaign document

When Mr. Burke conjured the English people to resist the division of the British empire, and when Mr. Webster made a similar appeal for the preservation of the American Union, each of these statesmen presented an exhibit of the material values involved in the conflict, which they respectively deplored. This was an argument which addressed itself directly to every class of interest and intelligence. Behold, then, fellow-citizens, the actual value at stake upon the integrity of slave title, add to them the moral consequences inseparable from its overthrow, and say whether with the tremendous responsibility trembling upon the issue of the present Presidential campaign, you dare pursue the abstractions of personal consistency, indulge the animosities of party prejudice, or hesitate to cast your vote for the man and the party who can best protect your honor, your rights, and your interest. 


  • Value of slaves   $1,750,000,000 

  • Estimated value of all other taxable property   1,250,000,000 

  • Value of annual products of slave labor*  500,000,000 

  • Total   4,000,000,000 

[Note : *This is a very moderate estimate of the value of slave productions, since the staples exported last year were as follows: 

  • Cotton    $88,143,844 

  • Tobacco   $14,712,648 

  • Sugar and hemp   $400,000 

  • Spirits from molasses   $1,448,280 

  • Rice   $1,717,953 

  • turpentine   $1,137,152 

  • Tar, pitch, &c.    $1,849,456 

  • Flour, wheat, &c., about   $3,000,000 

  • Corn and meal   $5,500,000 

  • Total   $117,909,153 

We cannot reduce civil war, with all its terrible concomitants and consequences to a money equivalent, but there can be no southern man who will not admit that the great interests of the south are staked upon the continued agitation of the slavery question, nor deny that the happiness and safety of more than seven millions of southern slaveholders and non-slaveholders are involved in a common responsibility, and liable to a common ruin. 

We regret to believe that these dangers have been concealed from our fellow-citizens of the south, that partial statements have been made to prejudice them against the fidelity of the Democratic party to the great trust confided to them in the administration of the federal government, to convince them that the present agitations have been the work of a few ambitious men, and that the Whig and Know-Nothing parties, headed by a candidate notoriously non-committal upon the immediate issues of the day, affords the best protection for the rights of the south and the duration of the Union. 

Fellow-citizens! No man, however powerful in station or ability, could have excited this national agitation. It has originated long since, in other days and other councils. It is a radical, spontaneous, and irrepressible strife between antagonist principles embodied in the Constitution. They are now grappling in a conflict which will tolerate no compromise. Upon the part of your antagonists it is an unconcealed effort at supremacy and domination, and to obtain this they are willing to destroy your rights, property, and political influence [f]orever. Do you believe this? 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/rbaapc:@field(DOCID+@lit(rbaapc00500div1))#005000002.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    “[V]ote for the man and the party who can best protect your honor, your rights, and your interest.” To what interests is the author likely referring?
    He is most likely referring to economic interests.
  2. Question
    If slavery is eliminated, what does the document say will happen to the South?
    It will jeopardize the “happiness and safety” of the South, as well as make it vulnerable to economic ruin.
  3. Question
    How does the document describe those who are opposed to slavery?
    They are “radical” and “spontaneous.” They are antagonists to the principles of the Constitution. They are intolerant of compromise. They are trying to exert their “supremacy and domination” in order to destroy the South’s “rights, property, and political influence [f]orever.”
  4. Question
    How does this document contribute to understanding the cause(s) of the Civil War?
    It says that civil war should not be considered only in terms of the “money equivalent,” but then explains that the perpetuation of slavery is necessary for the economic and societal well-being of the South, its elimination making the South vulnerable.
  5. Question
    How does this document see partisan politics in light of the issue of slavery?
    It emphasizes the stake the South has in slavery. Their vote in the 1856 presidential election should thus be based on this issue, rather than voting for the same party they always have (“personal consistency”) or refusing to vote for the Democrats because of past issues or allegiance (“indulge the animosities of party prejudice”). They believe other politicians have not provided complete information as to the economic impact eliminating slavery would have. They also imply that the parties who are “non-committal” on issues of slavery are not protecting the South or the unity of the country.
Reveal Answers
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