Reconstruction Period Research Forum
Re: James Speed
In Response To: James Speed ()
The writer says that
"Speed's political career was complicated by his and his family's long opposition to slavery. He was no radical, however; surrounded by business associates and friends who supported the institution, he was a gradualist who expected emancipation to come slowly, possibly in conjunction with colonization of African Americans abroad. He did not advertise his views either."
James Speed did not grow up in a family opposed to slavery. Instead, paternal and maternal ancestors were powerful slaveholders in Virginia and Kentucky. His father, John Speed, owned one of the largest slave holdings in Jefferson County at his plantation, Farmington, now a historic site in Louisville, KY. A contemporary of John Speed's indicates that, while Speed spoke about the evils of slavery, he adopted a paternalistic attitude to justify his own participation in the institution. According to James, his father offered a favored slave, Morrocoo, emancipation dependent upon the man moving to Liberia.
James Speed, in an 1861 interview with the Freedman's Bureau, describes himself as an emancipationist who, upon visiting a large Arkansas plantation in 1849, became an "immediate abolitionist." Speed freed his own slaves soon after his trip. At least one of his ten surviving siblings, an unnamed sister, also emancipated slaves in the 1840s-50 while others, including his younger brother Joshua, who is regared as Abraham Lincoln's closest friend, continued to enslave indiviuals until the ratification of the 13th ammendment. Speed's position, unusual for the son of a slaveholder, certainly did "complicate his political career."
(former Associate Director, Farmington Historic Home, Louisville, Kentucky)
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