from Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Edited by Her Son Charles Edward Stowe
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1890

Chapter IV.

[Professor Stowe's Interest in Popular Education.—His Departure for Europe.—]Slavery Riots in Cincinnati.

  During her husband's absence abroad Mrs. Stowe lived quietly in Cincinnati with her father and brothers. She wrote occasionally short stories, articles, and essays for publication in the "Western Monthly Magazine" or the "New York Evangelist," and maintained a constant correspondence with her husband by means of a daily journal, which was forwarded to him once a month. She also assisted her brother, Henry Ward, who had accepted a temporary position as editor of the "Journal," a small daily paper published in the city.

  At this time the question of slavery was an exciting one in Cincinnati, and Lane Seminary had become a hotbed of abolition. The anti-slavery movement among the students was headed by Theodore D. Weld, one of their number, who had procured funds to complete his education by lecturing through the South. While thus engaged he had been so impressed with the evils and horrors of slavery that he had become a radical abolitionist, and had succeeded in converting several Southerners to his views of the subject. Among them was Mr. J. G. Birney of Huntsville, Alabama, who not only liberated his slaves, but in connection with Dr. Gamaliel Bailey of Cincinnati founded in that city an anti-slavery paper called "The Philanthropist." This paper was finally suppressed, and its office wrecked by a mob instigated by Kentucky slaveholders, and it is of this event that Mrs. Stowe writes to her husband as follows:—


  "Yesterday evening I spent scribbling for Henry's newspaper (the 'Journal') in this wise: 'Birney's printing-press has been mobbed, and many of the respectable citizens are disposed to wink at the outrage in consideration of its moving in the line of their prejudices.'

  "I wrote a conversational sketch, in which I rather satirized this inconsistent spirit, and brought out the effects of patronizing any violation of private rights. It was in a light, sketchy style, designed to draw attention to a long editorial of Henry's in which he considers the subject fully and seriously. His piece is, I think, a powerful one; indeed, he does write very strongly. I am quite proud of his editorials; they are well studied, earnest, and dignified. I think he will make a first-rate writer. Both our pieces have gone to press to-day, with Charles's article on music, and we have had not a little diversion about our family newspaper.

  "I thought, when I was writing last night, that I was, like a good wife, defending one of your principles in your absence, and wanted you to see how manfully I talked about it. Henry has also taken up and examined the question of the Seminole Indians, and done it very nobly."


  "The excitement about Birney continues to increase. The keeper of the Franklin Hotel was assailed by a document subscribed to by many of his boarders demanding that Birney should be turned out of doors. He chose to negative the demand, and twelve of his boarders immediately left, Dr. F. among the number. A meeting has been convoked by means of a handbill


in which some of the most respectable men of the city are invited by name to come together and consider the question whether they will allow Mr. Birney to continue his paper in the city. Mr. Greene says that, to his utter surprise, many of the most respectable and influential citizens gave out that they should go.

  "He was one of the number they invited, but he told those who came to him that he would have nothing to do with disorderly public meetings or mobs in any shape, and that he was entirely opposed to the whole thing.

  "I presume they will have a hot meeting, if they have any at all.

  "I wish father were at home to preach a sermon to his church, for many of its members do not frown on these things as they ought."

  "Later: The meeting was held, and was headed by Morgan, Neville, Judge Burke, and I know not who else. Judge Burnet was present and consented to their acts. The mob madness is certainly upon this city when men of sense and standing will pass resolutions approving in so many words of things done contrary to law, as one of the resolutions of this meeting did. It quoted the demolition of the tea in Boston harbor as being authority and precedent.

  "A large body, perhaps the majority of citizens, disapprove, but I fear there will not be public disavowal. Even N. Wright but faintly opposes, and Dr. Fore has been exceedingly violent. Mr. Hammond (editor of the 'Gazette') in a very dignified and judicious manner has condemned the whole thing, and Henry has opposed, but otherwise the papers have either been


silent or in favor of mobs. We shall see what the result will be in a few days.

  "For my part, I can easily see how such proceedings may make converts to abolitionism, for already my sympathies are strongly enlisted for Mr. Birney, and I hope that he will stand his ground and assert his rights. The office is fire-proof, and inclosed by high walls. I wish he would man it with armed men and see what can be done. If I were a man I would go, for one, and take good care of at least one window. Henry sits opposite me writing a most valiant editorial, and tells me to tell you he is waxing mighty in battle."

  In another letter she writes:—

  "I told you in my last that the mob broke into Birney's press, where, however, the mischief done was but slight. The object appeared to be principally to terrify. Immediately there followed a general excitement in which even good men in their panic and prejudice about abolitionism forgot that mobs were worse evils than these, talked against Birney, and winked at the outrage; N. Wright and Judge Burnet, for example. Meanwhile the turbulent spirits went beyond this and talked of revolution and of righting things without law that could not be righted by it. At the head of these were Morgan, Neville, Longworth, Joseph Graham, and Judge Burke. A meeting was convoked at Lower Market Street to decide whether they would permit the publishing of an abolition paper, and to this meeting all the most respectable citizens were by name summoned.

  "There were four classes in the city then: Those who meant to go as revolutionists and support the


mob; those who meant to put down Birney, but rather hoped to do it without a mob; those who felt ashamed to go, foreseeing the probable consequence, and yet did not decidedly frown upon it; and those who sternly and decidedly reprehended it.

  "The first class was headed by Neville, Longworth, Graham, &c.; the second class, though of some numbers, was less conspicuous; of the third, Judge Burnet, Dr. Fore, and N. Wright were specimens; and in the last such men as Hammond, Mansfield, S. P. Chase,* and Chester were prominent. The meeting in so many words voted a mob, nevertheless a committee was appointed to wait on Mr. Birney and ascertain what he proposed to do; and, strange to tell, men as sensible as Uncle John and Judge Burnet were so short-sighted as to act on that committee.

  "All the newspapers in the city, except Hammond's ('Gazette') and Henry's (the 'Journal'), were either silent or openly 'mobocratic.' As might have been expected, Birney refused to leave, and that night the mob tore down his press, scattered the types, dragged the whole to the river, threw it in, and then came back to demolish the office.

  "They then went to the houses of Dr. Bailey, Mr. Donaldson, and Mr. Birney; but the persons they sought were not at home, having been aware of what was intended. The mayor was a silent spectator of these proceedings, and was heard to say, 'Well, lads, you have done well, so far; go home now before you disgrace yourselves;' but the 'lads' spent the rest of the night and a greater part of the next day (Sunday)


in pulling down the houses of inoffensive and respectable blacks. The 'Gazette' office was threatened, the 'Journal' office was to go next; Lane Seminary and the water-works also were mentioned as probable points to be attacked by the mob.

  "By Tuesday morning the city was pretty well alarmed. A regular corps of volunteers was organized, who for three nights patrolled the streets with firearms and with legal warrant from the mayor, who by this time was glad to give it, to put down the mob even by bloodshed.

  "For a day or two we did not know but there would actually be war to the knife, as was threatened by the mob, and we really saw Henry depart with his pistols with daily alarm, only we were all too full of patriotism not to have sent every brother we had rather than not have had the principles of freedom and order defended.

  "But here the tide turned. The mob, unsupported by a now frightened community, slunk into their dens and were still; and then Hammond, who, during the few days of its prevalence, had made no comments, but published simply the Sermon on the Mount, the Constitution of Ohio, and the Declaration of Independence, without any comment, now came out and gave a simple, concise history of the mob, tracing it to the market-house meeting, telling the whole history of the meeting, with the names of those who got it up, throwing on them and on those who had acted on the committee the whole responsibility of the following mob. It makes a terrible sensation, but it 'cuts its way,' and all who took other stand than that of steady opposition from the first are beginning to feel the reaction of pub-


lic sentiment, while newspapers from abroad are pouring in their reprehensions of the disgraceful conduct of Cincinnati. Another time, I suspect, such men as Judge Burnet, Mr. Greene, and Uncle John will keep their fingers out of such a trap, and people will all learn better than to wink at a mob that happens to please them at the outset, or in any way to give it their countenance. Mr. Greene and Uncle John were full of wrath against mobs, and would not go to the meeting, and yet were cajoled into acting on that committee in the vain hope of getting Birney to go away and thus preventing the outrage.

  "They are justly punished, I think, for what was very irresolute and foolish conduct, to say the least."

  The general tone of her letters at this time would seem to show that, while Mrs. Stowe was anti-slavery in her sympathies, she was not a declared abolitionist. This is still further borne out in a letter written in 1837 from Putnam, Ohio, whither she had gone for a short visit to her brother William. In it she says:—

  "The good people here, you know, are about half abolitionists. A lady who takes a leading part in the female society in this place yesterday called and brought Catherine the proceedings of the Female Anti-Slavery Convention.

  "I should think them about as ultra as to measures as anything that has been attempted, though I am glad to see a better spirit than marks such proceedings generally.

  "To-day I read some in Mr. Birney's 'Philanthropist.' Abolitionism being the fashion here, it is natural to look at its papers.


  "It does seem to me that there needs to be an intermediate society. If not, as light increases, all the excesses of the abolition party will not prevent humane and conscientious men from joining it.

  "Pray what is there in Cincinnati to satisfy one whose mind is awakened on this subject? No one can have the system of slavery brought before him without an irrepressible desire to do something, and what is there to be done?

* Salmon P. Chase