A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia

By Craig M. Simpson | Go to book overview

Chapter 5 The Good Slaveholder

Wise arrived in Rio de Janeiro on 2 August 1844. He read French and understood a smattering of Spanish, but no Portuguese. Aided by an efficient secretary of legation, he returned nearly twelve thousand pages of manuscript to Washington in about three and one-half years. Wise worked conscientiously to expedite the growing trade in Brazilian coffee and American wheat. Curious about Brazilian flora and fauna, he regularly sent specimens home to interested parties and his neighbors to test their viability in North America. In conformity with Secretary of State Calhoun's instructions, he also labored to settle the claims of American citizens against the imperial government. As his correspondence shows, however, Wise spent at least two-thirds of his time in a sustained, passionate, and ultimately unsuccessful effort to suppress American involvement in the African slave trade. 1

Calhoun's instructions set forth two primary objectives for Wise's mission but ignored the slave trade controversy, into which the Virginian plunged on his own responsibility. Calhoun wanted Wise to negotiate a new commercial treaty, but it proved impossible because of the antagonism he provoked among the Brazilian authorities. His successor obtained the desired treaty. The secretary of state also requested Wise to explain and justify United States policy toward Texas. Annexation, Calhoun wrote, was necessary to prevent abolition. If Great Britain's emancipationist policy should succeed, he continued, it would "destroy the peace and prosperity of both [ Brazil and the United States] and transfer the production of tobacco, rice, cotton, sugar and coffee from [them] to her possessions beyond the Cape of Good Hope." Calhoun added his congratulations to the Brazilians for not abolishing slavery in order to get their sugar into the British market duty free. Wise complied enthusiastically with these instructions, although his mission failed to promote the cooperation that Calhoun thought should exist between the hemisphere's two great slaveholding nations. 2 His greatest enthusiasm, however, was reserved for the

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A Good Southerner: The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Maps x
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Chapter 1 the Character and Politics of a Young Virginian 3
  • Chapter 2 a Long Farewell to Jackson 16
  • Chapter 3 Defending Shaky Outposts 29
  • Chapter 4 Supporting Tyler and Escaping the Consequences 45
  • Chapter 5 the Good Slaveholder 61
  • Chapter 6 Political Compromise and the Protection of Slavery 78
  • Chapter 7 Political Entitlements 87
  • Chapter 8 Saving Virginia, Preserving the Union 106
  • Chapter 9 a Futile Effort to Revive the Old Dominion 135
  • Chapter 10 Kansas 157
  • Chapter 11 Two Men at Harpers Ferry 203
  • Chapter 12 Failed Hope and the Choice of War 219
  • Chapter 13 Steadfast to the Last 252
  • Chapter 14 Confederate Past, Yankee Future 285
  • Abbreviations 315
  • Notes 319
  • Bibliography 395
  • Index 435
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