Defense of Slavery: James Henry Hammond



Nancy Garrido

James Henry Hammond                                                         
James Henry Hammond was a Southern Planter and fire-brand. He was a descendant of a family that settled in Massachusetts in 1634. His father was a man by the name of Elisha. Elisha always insisted that James become a professional. Elisha was a very poor man, though a graduate of Dartmouth College. He later went on to become a teacher at the Methodist Academy of Mt. Bethel near Newberry, South Carolina. For the next twenty years he was a teacher at South Carolina College in Columbia.

Thoughout his lifetime he was a merchant, a farmer, a food steward for South Carolina College, a school principal at Mt. Bethel and a barge operator carrying cotton down the Savannah River. Elisha married Catherine Fox Spann in 1806 and on November 15, 1807 they had their first born son, James Henry. He was born at Stoney Battery, near Newberry. His family was composed of four brothers and a sister which include: Caroline Agusta, Marcus Claudis Marcellus, and John Fox, respectively. He moved to Macon, Georgia in 1828, to head its local academy but died unexpectedly on July 9, 1829, evidently of yellow fever.

James Henry  believed that law was the corner stone to wealth and happiness. As a youngster he had thoughts of leaving and becoming a Methodist preacher. He later regretted not having done so. However, orthodox religion plays little part in the Hammond family life story. The family had little money, but James was very prepared for college. At the mere age of sixteen he entered South Carolina College as a Junior.  He graduated in December 1825, fourth in a class of thirty-three. As a student he was president of the Eupharian Society, a club for debating.

He finished college at the age of eighteen and taught school while reading law. He soon became impatient and remembered his father saying that Daniel Webster attended Dartmouth with him, and that he taught in order to pay for his studies. In 1828, at the age of twenty-one,  James became a lawyer and attained his father's ambition. Hammond professed that he hated law. He learned about politics and became editor of The Southern Times in 1830.  That same year he met a sixteen-year-old Chaleston beneficiary by the name of Catherine Elizabeth Fitzsimons. Her father Christopher Fitzsimons was a shipmen, a merchant and a planter. He died in 1825. In 1831 when James Henry Hammond proposed marriage to Catherine. Her family objected because they believed he was a money hunter.

Her family objected until finally her mother gave in and in June 1831 the wedding took place. He found Catherine irreplaceable. His views towards women made him believe that he couldn't develop a loving relationship with a member of the opposite sex. In a letter he wrote to his son Harry in December 20, 1825, he told him to stay away from poor girls no matter how attractive they may be. Through his marriage to Catherine, James Henry Hammond acquired 7,500 acres in Barnwell District at Silver Bluff on the Savannah River. He also received one hundred forty seven slaves, and plenty of farm equipment. He said the land only had a yearly income of 600 dollars which he later increased to 21,000.

Even though he moved away from the capital, James Henry Hammond's ambitions and ideals continued. He had a seat as a delegate from Barnwell in November 1832 for the Nullification Rights convention. He was a new comer and he lost by only a few votes. In 1834 he ran for Congess and won. He became a strong believer in the death penalty for abolitionists. He later resigned because of his health problems. The doctor told him that travelling would do him good. He decided to go to Europe. In July 1836, James Henry, his wife Catherine, and his eldest son Harry sailed for Europe, where they stayed most of the time in England, France and Italy. They returned to Silver Bluff in 1837.

His success was due to his personality and to oppurtunity. Since he married his wife for her fortune he continued to exploit her lands. In 1840 he lost an election by the vote of 104 to 47. In 1841 he was elected as a general for a militia in South Carolina.  He was named director of the Columbia branch of the Bank of the State of South Carolina, and was picked out to be a trustee of South Carolina College, the school from which he graduated.  In December 1842 he was elected governer by defeating R.F.W Allston, a very well-known man, by a vote of 83 to 76. In 1846 his friends brought his name before the legislature as a canidate for the United States Senate. His wife's brother-in-law was opposed to this matter.

It is documented that James Henry Hammond had a wandering eye upon his nieces, whose ages ranged from thirteen to sixteen.  The girls did not object and often frolicked with the governer.  When the eldest daughter was nineteen she told her aunt Catherine that she was angry at something James Henry did to her. In 1844 Hammond left Columbia because he was intimidated by the sons of Wade Hampton. In 1846 when Hammond wanted to be Senator, he was threatend by Wade Hampton, who said that he would reveal the scandal. Catherine stood by her husband but in December 1850 she left him because of an affair with a slave named Louisa.  He refused to give her up. Catherine didn't want to come home because Louisa was still a part of James Henry Hammond's life. He sent her away to his sister-in-law's house where she later became her personal maid.  On November 17, 1852, Catherine and her children returned home after a two year absence.

According to Hammond's journal, Louisa had returned to Silver Bluff. In 1855 he purchased land at Beech Island, a community in Edgefield District on the South Carolina bank of the Savannah River. He named it Redcliffe. The land was named Redcliffe because it stood at the edge of a cliff which was made of a reddish clay. He was elected as a Senator by the legislature. On March 4, 1858, he made a speech concerning the "mudsills of society." He defended slavery by saying that all classes of people need servants to do menial duties. He believed that the working class of the North and the slaves of the South provided the substructure, or mudsills, where great societies were created. He stated that there could be no civil war, for "you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king." This was a speech on the admission of Kansas to the Union. He believed that cotton was the key to the economic hiearchy of the nation. According to him, the Northern abolitionists should have been thankful that cotton existed. He stated that the South made 100,000,000 dollars worth of cotton and only charged 65,000,000. He claimed that the South must be left alone by the Northern abolitionists.

At times in the speech, he acts like a hypocrite, for on one hand he claims that slaves are not starved and that they don't beg and they have no need for employment. He is certain that the working classes of the North are the slaves of the North.  He believes that the North cannot survive without cotton, hence, slavery must continue and abolition must be abandoned. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, James Henry Hammond resigned from the Senate and supported the Southern Confederacy. In 1836, concerning a speech on the defense of slavery, Hammond claimed that the only way slavery could be abolished was if the slaveholder permitted it.  He declared that in other countries slavery had been abolished because it was unprofitable. In a letter addressed by Hammond to the English, he mentioned that two-thirds of the national debt is owed by non-slave-holding states.  He believes that free labor is cheaper than slave labor. In order to have a slave, one must feed him, and clothe him so he can do good work. The slave is a much greater burden than the laborer.

James Henry Hammond tells the English abolitionists that  their accusations of cruelty against the South are foundless, and that they must be mistaking them for the West Indian slave-holders. He claims that in Great Britain, the working class is being degraded more than the Southern slave. This is morally wrong because both the English accusers of cruelty to slaves in America and southern Americans are of the same race.

James Henry Hammond was dedicated to the defense of slavery.   When the war broke out in April 1861, he gave his full financial support for the Confederate cause. By 1864 half of his estate was composed of Confederate bonds.  Paul and Harry Hammond fought in the Confederacy. His son Spann served briefly in the Confederate army. He thought the war was going to end six months after the fall of Atlanta on September 1, 1864. The day before his death he told his son Spann that he wanted to be buried in the woods on the highest ground, where there would be a view of Augusta and the Sand Hills. He finally died on November 13, 1864, just two days before his fifty-seventh birthday.

Works Cited

Bleser, Carol. The Hammonds of Redcliffe. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1981

Works Consulted

McKitrick, Erick L. Slavery Defended. New Jersey; Prentice-Hall, 1963

Slavery in the South. Farrar, Straus and Company, Inc. 1964.

Wilentz, Sean. Major Problems in the Early Republic 1787-1848. 1992



James Henry Hammond