Here’s an interview with Thomas Fleming on his new book, Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War:
FLEMING: Americans first experienced one of these episodes in 1692, when the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony became convinced that witches were threatening their society with evil powers. Over two hundred people were arrested and flung into fetid jails. Twenty one were hanged. One 71 year old man was “pressed to death” beneath heavy stones.
No one has described this frenzy better than the great New England novelist, Nathanael Hawthorne. “That terrible delusion…should teach us, among its other morals, that the influential classes… are fully liable to all the passionate error that has ever characterized the maddest mob. Clergymen, judges, statesmen – the wisest, calmest, holiest persons of their day, stood in the inner circle roundabout the gallows, loudest to acclaim the work of blood, latest to confess themselves miserably deceived.” …
FORSMARK: Some of the Abolitionists openly expressed contempt for the blacks their crusade was supposed to be designed to help. Was slavery really the whole story in the full out hatred of the South, or was something else at work in a particular corner of the Yankee mind?
FLEMING: Here we get into the peculiarities of the New England mind. They had a natural tendency to look down on the rest of the country. They saw themselves as the real founders, and were infuriated that the leadership had passed to Jefferson and other southern president. Jefferson’s embargo, which was an economic disaster for New England, was the trigger that made them see the South as enemies. Then they focused on the South’s moral flaw — the continuance — and the growth — of slavery, and the two arguments fused into Abolitionism, a creed proclaimed in their souls by God.
In Britain, one of the ways the situation was diffused was to compensate the slaveholders. Reasonable voices—Abraham Lincoln for example—proposed that here, but the Abolitionists in Congress never backed his bill. The abolitionists’ goal was not persuasion of southerners. It was to shame them into submission, confess their guilt and free the slaves. It was essentially a fanatical religious crusade.
So little has changed.