One of the key people in my paper on jurisprudence at Washington College before the Civil War is George Junkin (the other is Henry Ruffner, who was president before Junkin). One point here -- my friends in Lexington tell me his name is pronounced "Junk" (as in, "Al, tomorrow's trash day, have you carried that junk to the curb yet?") - "in." Why that's the case and not yunk-in, I have no idea. Be that as it may...
Junkin was consistently proslavery and also pro-Union. This is a linking of ideas we see a lot of from conservative Whig thinkers -- like Daniel Webster -- in the 1840s and 1850s. Junkin's first major public statement about slavery and Union came in 1843 when he gave a proslavery speech in Ohio, where he was serving as president of Miami University. Much of the speech was about pro-slavery religious thought and how slave-owners should not be excluded from communion in the Presbyterian chuch. He thus thought it improper to exclude someone for an act that was not prohibited by the Bible. But towards the end of his address, he explained what he saw as the dire consequences of exclusion of slave-owners from communion. That would lead to the dissolution of the Union.
That was a common argument, among jurists and lawyers, as well as religious leaders -- that the importance of Union was superior to the claims of individual slaves. (Junkin's argument was that there was no religious claim on behalf of slaves to freedom, so he especially minimized the slaves' side of the equation.) However, this utilitarian calculus that weighed value of Union against interest of the enslaved humans -- and found the value of Union greater -- was quite common.
Now enter some recent debate among legal historians about this. Robert Cover's fabulous book Justice Accused deals with this in the context of anti-slavery judges who said (in essence), I'd like to do something against slavery, but the cost to Union would be too high. They also said, the law is proslavery, so there's nothing I can do. Just last month in a very nice and I think potentially quite important article in Law and History Review, Jeffrey M. Schmitt challenged part of Cover's argument by arguing that the fugitive slave act of 1850 might actually have been unconstitutional, as a generation of abolitionist lawyers had argued at the time. That is, Schmitt's thinking that maybe the anti-slavery judges had more freedom than they thought at the time.
If Schmitt is correct -- and I like to think that he is on the constitutionality of the fugitive slave act -- then that highlights even more how the calculations regarding Union played into the decisions of judges, politicians, and ministers to support the act and to support slavery more generally. It highlights how Union and slavery were joined in the minds of so many. And while during the Civil War, it was Union that ended slavery, before the war, considerations of Union caused many to support slavery, even if they were not otherwise disposed to do so.
Junkin is a somewhat different case from the anti-slavery judges that Cover dealt with -- he was in fact proslavery. One of his daughters was Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's first wife; tragically, she died in childbirth. Another daughter, Margaret Preston Junkin, was an important proslavery author. She also produced some really beautiful landscape art. She is worth a separate post at some point. So Junkin was arguing in favor of a proslavery interpretation of the Constitution for both prudential reasons - it would keep the Union together -- and because that is how he viewed the document. In fact, as late as 1863 he published a book, Political Fallacies, calling for an end to the war and a return to "the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was." (Excerpt here) At that point he was far behind the times in terms of what either North or South was thinking. But what I think Junkin illustrates is the centrality of considerations of Union -- and just how powerful such imagery was to antebellum Americans.
Internet archive has Junkin's 1843 address on-line; and here's the address he gave in 1856 to the Rutgers Literary Societies at graduation, which presents a detail version of his constitutional vision. Junkin was fully supportive of owners' rights in enslaved human property; he emphasized that attacks on slavery threatened the Union, which itself provided economic benefits and ensured liberty (sort of laughable to us looking back on this now, I guess). At the end of the speech, Junkin proposed a Constitutional amendment to authorize Congress to spend up to five million dollars per year to move free people (or those whom they owners had freed) to Africa. Junkin summed up the plan: "It would leave the question of slavery itself, where God and our constitution leave it, at the bar of individual conscience; and it would give the United States Government no power over it whatever, whilst it would open a door for the return of captive Africa to his own land."
The images are of Junkin and the Junkin family plot in the Lexington City Cemetery.