God’s Blessing Liberty, God’s Curse Slavery

I am spending the day putting together maps for an animated video that will cover westward expansion and slavery from the passage of the Northwest Ordinance through to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  Along the way I came across this wonderful map that was produced for Congress in 1888.   This is a wonderful example of selective memory in the post-Civil War period and a reminder that emancipation and the end of slavery constituted an important outcome of the war for many.  According to this map the eventual divide between North and South over slavery had its roots int he formation of both Massachusetts and Virginia.  The tree of slavery was planted at Jamestown in 1619; while the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620 planted a tree of liberty that would eventually stretch across the nation. The text at the bottom of the map explains the allegory and associates the Republican Party with the liberty tree. Here is a little taste.

In time a dispute arose between the two colonies as to whose tree should grow so large that it would occupy all the land.  Slavery with its attendant evils would overshadow the land with darkness, while Liberty with its manifold blessings would send a flood of light over the whole country.


At one time it appeared that the tree of Slavery would gain the supremacy, but God cursed that tree and it soon began to lean southward.  Its friends then tried to prop it up, but it still continued to lean and showed signs that it would fall.  This made the Southern man jealous and he decided to murder his Northern brother, as Cain of old had done his brother Abel.  For this sin God send a black mark upon Cain and sent Father Abraham with his big emancipation axe to cut the tree of Slavery down.

This would be an incredible classroom resource to introduce kids to issues of historical memory.  You can discuss the extent to which the map simplifies the history of slavery during the 250 year period leading up to the war.  Why was this map produced for the federal government and what did Republicans hope to do with it?  Why does the map not include any references to the existence of slavery in the north during the colonial era and right down through the early part of the nineteenth century?  How has this shaped and reinforced our own view of what the war was about and who we believe was right and wrong?

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15 comments… add one
  • Dan Oct 26, 2012 @ 13:24

    I wonder what prompted the map=maker to place the only illustration of slavery in Alabama? Did he realize that it was the only space left open, after all of the “props” and “branches” were inked in? Or did he have a special animus towards that particular state?

    • Dan Oct 26, 2012 @ 13:28

      Also curious as to why the map-maker omitted any illustration of free labor, as a counterbalance to the Alabama cotton scene? Did he figure that the book laid open in Massachusetts was enough?

      And what about Arizona having a “branch” from the Tree of Liberty? Was he unaware of the pro-southern rump government that held sway over part of that state in 1861-1862, until the Confederate retreat from Glorietta Pass? Perhaps a single, blighted branch would have been more accurate…

      Such a neat image, Kevin! Thanks for sharing it!!

  • Mark Thompson Oct 9, 2012 @ 22:01

    This is a great classroom resource! It will be fantastic for teaching students to analyze the role of historical memory in shaping our views of the past. Thank you, Kevin!

  • Rob Baker Oct 9, 2012 @ 6:34

    Thanks for the map. Great find!

  • Brad Oct 8, 2012 @ 18:02

    As I recall from reading volume 1 of William Freehling’s book, at one point NY had more slaves than Georgia.

  • Al Mackey Oct 8, 2012 @ 16:20

    The Founding Fathers embraced the concept of keeping religion and politics separate because they knew politics would corrupt religion. Here we have an example (as if we needed another one) of politics corrupting history. As I interpret it, John F. Smith wanted to send a political message that would associate the Republican Party with Freedom and isolate the victorious Federals from the Southern Stain of Slavery, seeking to gain political points for the Republicans. And, by the way, Shakespeare’s plays glorified the Tudors at the expense of accuracy as well, because he knew what side of his bread was buttered.

  • Forester Oct 8, 2012 @ 13:39

    While you’re famous for debunking the “Lost Cause,” I see that you’re casting your critical eye on Northern propaganda/oversimplification as well. I wonder what your critics will say now? If you were merely a single-minded “Dixie basher,” than I expect you would embrace this map at face value. After all, a common thing shouted online is “the North had slavery too,” which you mention in this blog and even questioned why it was omitted from the map. But alas, I don’t think they will remember this.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 8, 2012 @ 13:40

      I’ve been doing that from the beginning, but my critics always seem to miss those posts for some reason. 🙂

  • Caleb McDaniel Oct 8, 2012 @ 13:18

    I always suspected Hades was at the base of the Texas panhandle but never had cartographic proof, until now.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 8, 2012 @ 14:17

      It explains the heat down there.

    • Andy Hall Oct 8, 2012 @ 14:36

      It does point right at the heart of Lubbock, doesn’t it?

      Buddy Holly has a sad. 🙁

  • Scott A. MacKenzie Oct 8, 2012 @ 10:28

    That’s a great map! I like how the Curse of Slavery smothers Kentucky whole. It’s another nail in the notion of peaceful reconciliation.

  • Boyd Harris Oct 8, 2012 @ 10:18

    Kevin, this is a wonderful find. I could not help but think of the Jackson Frontier Thesis as I looked at the map. Although his argument combined both aspects of Northern and Southern colonies (and downplayed slavery), the importance of the westward movement is quite evident in this map. It brings to mind a lot of questions about the acceptance of a historical interpretation based upon westward movement before the appearance of Jackson’s thesis in 1893.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 8, 2012 @ 10:23

      I guess you can also see this map as part of the post-war focus on and justification for overseas expansion as well. All of the (northern and now American) virtues are all neatly displayed for all to see.

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