The Political 'Reopeners'

The revivalists were a diverse lot, and they did not all share the same ultimate objective. For some, it was a question of needed labor, but for others, it was mostly a political matter. The political "reopeners" alleged that the country was at an economic disadvantage vis- à -vis other countries such as France and Great Britain–which had introduced tens of thousands of "free Africans" and others liberated from the seized slave ships–because of a dearth of plantation workers, most critically in the Deep South.

They were also concerned that the Free states were expanding, while the South could not claim new lands due to the scarcity of enslaved labor to work them. In addition, they saw their region as losing political power within the nation, due in part to a strong demographic increase in the North fed by European immigrants, while the South was cut off from its traditional supply of manpower: deported Africans. Spratt calculated that–if allowed to do so–each time the South were to introduce 50,000 Africans, it would gain 30,000 federal votes, according to the "3/5 clause."

At the other extreme of the revivalist movement were people like pamphleteer and sociologist George Fitzhugh of Virginia, who believed that reopening would save the Union by pushing a revitalized South to remain in it.

Some advocates had a much grander plan in mind, one that transcended the region and the nation. They envisioned southern expansionism not within the United States, but into the Caribbean and Central America. Once they had conquered and secured control of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and other parts, they would bring in Africans whose free labor they would exploit for the benefit of the white slave-holding South.