The National Era
Unsigned Article
Washington, D.C.: 21 October 1852


  The New York Courier and Enquirer of the 8th instant, contains a well-written editorial, reviewing briefly the controversy between Mrs. Stowe and Dr. Parker, and severely censuring both parties. That a journal so thoroughly pro-slavery in its sympathies should feel constrained to condemn Dr. Parker and his associates, with whom it affiliates, as equally blame-worthy with Mrs. Stowe and her brother, towards whom it occupies, on almost all questions of reform, an antagonistic position, is a plain intimation to the reverend gentleman that his cause is desperate.

  But, we refer to the article, not for the benefit of the opinion it advances in relation to this controversy, but for the purpose of commenting upon the judgment it pronounces against Uncle Tom's Cabin. It charges Mrs. Stowe with slandering hundreds of thousands of her own countrymen.

  "She has done it, (it says,) by attaching to them as slaveholders, in the eyes of the world, the guilt of the abuses of an institution of which they are absolutely guiltless. Her story is so devised as to present slavery in three dark aspects: first, the cruel treatment of the slaves; second, the separation of families; and, third, their want of religious instruction.

  "To show the first, she causes a reward to be offered for the recovery of a runaway slave, 'dead or alive,' when no reward with such an alternative was ever heard of or dreamed of south of Mason and Dixon's line, and, it has been decided over and over again, in Southern courts, that 'a slave who is merely flying away cannot be killed.' She puts such language as this into the mouth of one of her speakers: 'The master who goes furthest and does the worst, only uses within limits the power that the law gives him;' when in fact the Civil Code of the very State where it is represented the language was uttered, Louisiana, declares that—

  "'The slave is entirely subject to the will of his master, who may correct and chastise him, though not with unusual rigor, nor so as to maim or mutilate him, or to expose him to the danger of loss of life, or to cause his death.'

  "And provides for a compulsory sale—

  "'When the master shall be convicted of cruel treatment of his slaves, and the judge shall deem proper to pronounce, besides the penalty established for such cases, that the slave be sold at public auction, in order to place him out of the reach of the power which the master has abused.'

  "'If any person whatsoever shall wilfully kill his slave, or the slave of another person, the said person, being convicted thereof, shall be tried and condemned agreeably to the laws.'

  "In the General Court of Virginia, last year, in the case of Southern vs. the Commonwealth, it was held that the killing of a slave by his master and owner, by wilful and excessive whipping, is murder in the first degree, though it may not have been the purpose of the master and owner to kill the slave! And it is not six months since Governor Johnston of Virginia pardoned a slave who killed his master, who was beating him with brutal severity.

  "And yet, in the face of such laws and decisions as these, Mrs. Stowe winds up a long series of cruelties upon her other black personages, by causing his faultless hero, Tom, to be literally whipped to death in Louisiana, by his master Legree; and these acts, which the laws make criminal, and punish as such, she sets forth in the most repulsive colors, to illustrate the institution of slavery!

  "So, too, in reference to the separation of children from their parents. A considerable part of the plot is made to hinge upon the selling, in Louisiana, of the child Eliza, 'eight or nine years old,' away from her mother; when, had its inventor looked in the statute-book of Louisiana, she would have found the following language: "'Every person is expressly prohibited from selling, separately from their mothers, the children who shall not have attained the full age of ten years.'

  "'Be it further enacted, That if any person or persons shall sell the mother of any slave child or children under the age of ten years, separate from said child or children, or shall, the mother living, sell any slave child or children of ten years of age, or under, separate from said mother, said person or persons shall be fined not less than one thousand or more than two thousand dollars, and be imprisoned in the public jail for a period of not less than six months nor more than one year.'

  "The privation of religious instruction, as represented by Mrs. Stowe, is utterly unfounded in fact. The largest churches in the Union consist entirely of slaves. The first African church in Louisville, which numbers 1,500, and the first African church in Augusta, which numbers 1,300, are specimens. On multitudes of the large plantations in the different parts of the South, the ordinances of the Gospel are as regularly maintained by competent ministers, as in any other communities, North or South. A larger proportion of the slave population are in communion with some Christian church, than of the white population in any part of the country. A very considerable portion of every Southern congregation, either in city or country, is sure to consist of blacks; whereas of our Northern churches, not a colored person is to be seen in one out of fifty.

  "The peculiar falsity of this whole book consists in making exceptional or impossible cases the representatives of the system. By the same process which she has used, it would not be difficult to frame a fatal argument against the relation of husband and wife, or parent and child, or of guardian and ward; for thousands of wives and children and wards have been maltreated and even murdered. It is wrong, unpardonably wrong, to impute to any relation of life those enormities which spring only out of the worst depravity of human nature. A ridiculously extravagant spirit of generalization pervades this fiction from beginning to end. The Uncle Tom of the authoress is a perfect angel, and her blacks generally are half angels; her Simon Legree is a perfect demon, and her whites generally are half-demons. She has quite a peculiar spite against the clergy; and, of the many she introduces at different times into the scenes, all save as insignificant exception, are Pharisees or hypocrites. One who could know nothing of the United States and its people, except by what he might gather from this book, would judge that it was some region just on the confines of the infernal world. We do not say that Mrs. Stowe was actuated by wrong motives in the preparation of this work, but we do say that she has done a wrong which no ignorance can excuse and no penance can expiate."

  The criticism on "the ridiculously extravagant spirit of generalization" which it is assumed pervades the work, is groundless and unjust. Either the editor never read the book, or his judgment is warped by prejudice. Uncle Tom is neither a perfect nor an imperfect angel, but a singularly good man; and certainly this should not appear strange to one who discourses so eloquently on the extraordinary religious advantages of the slaves. Even supposing that they are not so highly blessed as he fondly imagines, there is nothing unnatural or improbable in such a creation as Uncle Tom. Is it not specially to the poor that the gospel is preached? Did not Christ select his first evangelists from the poor and degraded? Eminent goodness is often the only portion of the lowly. It would seem, indeed, at times, as if the death of all earthly hope were the birth of angelic life. But Uncle Tom is not generalized. He stands all alone. Nor are "her blacks generally half angels." There is not one among them all, except Uncle Tom, approaching the angel. They are all human beings, and just such human beings as we may expect to find under a system which, while it crushes the mass of its victims to the earth, furnishes occasions for the display of rare heroism and self-devotion. Of the "blacks" introduced to notice, beside Uncle Tom, three characters are represented as having risen above the degradation of slavery; all the rest illustrate, in painful contrast, its baleful effects.

  Nor are "her whites generally half demons." The slaveholder, and Legree, the Yankee apostate, are whole demons; but as for the rest of the whites, they are all human. Shelby is one of a class of people, everywhere abounding, kind enough as the world goes, reluctant to do harm or hurt anybody's feelings, but unwilling to sacrifice self-interest to a Sentiment, generally taking their notions of right and wrong from the laws and usages of the society in which they live. His wife, amiable, kind-hearted, conscientious, but submissive, tries to make the best of a bad system. St. Clair, neither demon nor angel, is invested with attributes which compel our love, despite his failings, and divert the reproach, at first designed for him, against the institution in which he is entangled. His father and brother are fair specimens of Northern business men, retaining in a Southern latitude the rigor of their Northern clime, sagacious, cold, stern, not cruel or wanton, but never suffering themselves to be diverted from the pursuit of their interest, by gentle impulses or dreams of philanthropy. And Eva!—if there be an angel in the book, it is Eva, brightest and loveliest of the creations of Fiction.

  In a word, the criticism of the Courier is a gross piece of misrepresentation.

  But all this has nothing to do with our main purpose, which is, to review the opinions and statements of the editor of the Courier and Enquirer in relation to Slavery.

  First, as to his statements, which are intended to discredit the representations of Slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

  Mrs. Stowe "causes a reward to be offered for a runaway slave, dead or alive." She does not pretend, and no reader would infer, that such advertisements are common. They are exceptions, and her object is to show to what the system of Slavery may lead, what spirit it may engender, what enormities it may allow. The Courier and Enquirer takes issue with her, and flatly asserts that no such "alternative was ever heard of or dreamed of south of Mason and Dixon's line, and it has been decided, over and over again, by Southern courts, that 'a slave who is merely flying away cannot be killed.'" We must confess our reluctance to disprove this assertion; it is painful for us to be obliged to deal with examples of savage barbarity; but the truth must be told.

  In a book, entitled "American Slavery as it is," the spirit of which we do not always like, but whose statements of facts are sustained by overwhelming evidence, we find six advertisements of this kind, in which rewards are offered for the runaways, "dead or alive,"—the terms used at times being so shocking that we dislike to reprint them here. We give the papers containing these advertisements, with the dates, so that if there be any error it may be exposed.

  Wilmington (N.C.) Advertiser, July 13, 1838—advertised, "a certain negro man, named Alfred"—same reward offered, "if satisfactory evidence is given of his having been killed."

  Same paper, same date.—"My negro man Richard"—"dead or alive."

  Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, May 28.—"The negro man Ransom"—"dead or alive"—advertised in Crawford county, Georgia, by Bryant Johnson.

  Newbern (N.C.) Spectator, June 5th, 1838.—"Negro man, named Samson"—advertised in Jones county, N.C., by Enoch Fay.

  Charleston (S.C.) Courier, Feb. 20, 1836.—Billy, twenty-five years old—"$50 for head," if he resist.

  Newbern (N.C.) Spectator, Dec. 2, 1836.—$100 each for two runaways, Rigdon, and Ben Fox—"or for the killing of them, so that I can see them"—signed, W.D. Cobb.

  In the same number of the Spectator is the following advertisement, for the same negroes, by two justices of the Peace:

  "And we do hereby, by virtue of an act of Assembly of this State, concerning servants and slaves, intimate and declare, if the said slaves do not surrender themselves and return to their masters immediately after the publication of these presents, that any person may kill and destroy said slaves, by such means as he or they think fit, without accusation or impeachment of any crime or offence for so doing, or without incurring any penalty or forfeiture thereby.

  B. COLEMAN, J.P.,(Seal.)

  JAMES JONES, J.P.,(Seal.)"

  This is enough, and too much. We cannot bear to dwell upon such atrocities; but when Northern men undertake to dogmatize about Slavery, they should first make themselves acquainted with the facts.

  The last advertisement proceeds under a statute of North Carolina, which is certainly in the face of the judicial decision quoted by the Courier and Enquirer. That decision must have been rendered in another State. It is found in Wheeler's Law of Slavery, page 203; but the compiler, writing we suppose for lawyers alone, gives us no information of the State in which the opinion was delivered. The Courier and Enquirer erroneously assumes, it will be seen, that the Slave Code is the same in all the States.

  In regard to the power given by Slavery over the slave, Mrs. Stowe puts the following language in the mouth of one of her characters—St. Clare, we believe: "the master who goes furthest and does the worst, only uses within limits the power that the law gives him." The Courier and Enquirer takes exception to this, and quotes in refutation of it, certain provisions from the Civil Code of Louisiana, and a decision of the General Court of Virginia. We know that there are laws in the slaveholding States designed to prevent cruelty in masters, and to guard the life of the slaves; but unfortunately, they evidence rather the will than the power to restrain the terrible prerogatives of the master. What do they amount to? The slave, by the essential nature of the relation which binds him to his master, is "entirely subject to his will." The law forbids cruelty, but who is to prove the fact of illegal treatment? On the isolated plantation, inhumanity may be habitually practiced, punishment may be carried to extent of maiming, or loss of life, and how is the criminal to be convicted? Does not the Courier know that the testimony of a thousand colored men, though they be eye-witnesses to the same atrocity, could not be admitted in evidence? The universal incapacity of slaves in all the States of the South, to bear testimony in any case where a white person is concerned, is enough to render almost null and void all laws designed for their protection. Take the case, for example, of Legree. Admit that such a monster may exist. Rome had its Neros—why should not America have its Legrees? He is master of hundreds of slaves, on a solitary plantation, far removed from the observation of white men. He regards the negro as a brute, and only uses him for gain. A being of ferocious passion, he fears not God, regards not man. Suppose he overwork or underfeed his slaves, subject offenders to cruel or unusual punishments, or under the influence of demoniac passion cause the death of one of his hands, how is the law to reach him? The laws forbid cruelty—forbid the taking of life unnecessarily—but they exclude the only testimony on which the man guilty of cruelty or murder can be convicted! Mrs. Stowe concedes the merciful intent of the laws for the protection of slaves, but in view of this exclusion of negro testimony, the sentiment put in the mouth of St. Clare is true—"the master who goes furthest, and does the worst, only uses within limits the power that the law gives him."

  Again: suppose the slave resist correction. There is not a Southern State in which the law does not authorize the master to kill him. We challenge the Courier and Enquirer to produce a single case from the judicial records of the South, in which a white man has been convicted of the murder of a slave and hung. If any Southern friend will furnish us with an authentic account of any such case, we will promptly publish it. The truth is, without this dread power of life and death held in reserve, to be used to enforce submission when other means fail, slavery could not exist.

  Let us repeat, for it is important to guard against misrepresentation on this subject, Mrs. Stowe does not give these extreme cases to show how masters commonly manage their slaves but to exhibit the fearfully irresponsible power with which the system of slavery clothes them.

  The Courier and Enquirer rashly presumes to question what Mrs. Stowe has to say of another incident of slavery—"the separation of families!" This is too bad. Every Southern man knows that this is one of the most lamentable adjuncts of the Slave system, and every kind-hearted slaveholder freely admits its cruelty. Our own experience in this District would furnish a most painful record of cases of this kind. It was but the other day that a distracted father applied to us for aid, to rescue from the slave pen his only daughter, a good-looking girl of seventeen, who had been sold by a citizen of Georgetown, to the trader, for transportation to the South. This is one of a score of similar cases which have come under our observation. And by what a miserable quibble the Courier and Enquirer attempts to discredit Mrs. Stowe's representations on this subject! A part of the story "hinges upon the sale in Louisiana of the child of Eliza, eight or nine years old," when the truth is, exclaims the Courier triumphantly, the law there expressly prohibits "the sale of children who shall not have attained the full age of ten years." And because Mrs. Stowe was not aware of the important fact that a child cannot be sold in one State of this Union from its mother till it is over ten years of age, the Courier would have the world believe that Slavery never leads to the separation of families!

  Now, let us inform this astute critic that in several Legislatures of the South, so prevalent is this evil, and so painful even to slaveholders, the proposition has been made to prohibit by law the sale of slaves, except in families; and at one time it was seriously contemplated by some of the most distinguished statesmen of the South, to propose this measure, as one of a series designed to mitigate the severity of the slave system!

  What the Courier says of the religious privileges of slaves is simply exaggerated. The laws of the slave States prohibit them being taught to read, or discountenance their education. The religious instruction they receive is oral; and on the insufficiency of such teaching, Protestantism has long since passed its judgment. As to the attendance of slaves in Southern congregations being more common than the attendance of free colored persons in Northern congregations, the reason is that it is the policy of the slave States to discourage the separate assemblies of the negroes, except under the most rigorous supervision. The simple fact that, as a class, slaves cannot read, and know nothing of the Bible except from oral teaching, and that, nearly always above their comprehension when in attendance on the churches of the whites, shows that they must be sadly deficient in religious education. To say that many of them are regular communicants, is little to the purpose, so long as their religion consists rather in animal fervor and social excitement, than in any intelligent understanding of their moral responsibilities, and in consistent, well-regulated principle.

  But we take great pleasure in expressing the belief that the Christian people of the South are more alive now than formerly to the spiritual wants of the slave population, and that means for their instruction have of late greatly multiplied. One might infer from the flattering picture in the Courier, that there was little necessity for this; but the religious bodies of the South differ on this point from that journal.

  Having disposed of the statements of the Courier and Enquirer, let us examine its views in relation to the nature of slavery and its responsibilities.

  "The peculiar falsity of this book," says that paper, "consists in making exceptional or impossible cases the representatives of the system. By the same process which she has used, it would not be difficult to frame a fatal argument against the relation of husband and wife, or of parent and child, or of guardian and ward; for thousands of wives and children and wards have been mal-treated, and even murdered. It is wrong, unpardonably wrong, to impute to any relation of life those enormities which spring only out of the worst depravity of human nature."

  Again: he says Mrs. Stowe has slandered slaveholders, "by attaching to them, as slaveholders, in the eye of the world, the guilt of the abuses of an institution of which they are absolutely guiltless."

  We are compelled to infer, from these expressions of opinion, that the editor of the Courier and Enquirer regards the relation of slavery as a legitimate relation, in the same sense in which the relations of parent and child, husband and wife, guardian and ward, are legitimate; and that the evils of Slavery are not necessary or natural incidents.

  The relation of parent and child is a natural and necessary relation, indispensable to the preservation of the individual, the perpetuation of the species, and the order of society. It is an institution of Nature, recognised and guarded by human laws, and the first object of it is, the welfare of the child, and the first duty of the parent is, to train the child and develop his powers, so that he may be able to assume and exercise all the responsibilities of independent manhood.

  The relation of husband and wife is a natural and necessary relation—indispensable to the perpetuation of the race, and to the order of society. Its object is, the equal welfare of both parties.

  The relation of guardian and ward is one of dependence, defined and regulated by law, the object being, not the benefit of the guardian, but the good of the ward.

  The relations of parent and child, guardian and ward, so far as they involve dependence and subjection, on the side of the child or ward, terminate at maturity, or adult age, as fixed by law.

  The wife is not the property of the husband, the child, the property of the parent, the ward the property of the guardian. They sustain none of the relations or uses of property.

  The relation of master and slave is not natural, not necessary, not indispensable to the preservation of the individual, to the perpetuation of the race, to the order of society.

  Its first object is, not the welfare of the slave, but the interest of the master. The interest of the superior is its supreme idea, while in the cases of wardship and parentship, the interest of the inferior is the supreme idea. The development of the slave, so that at maturity he may assume the responsibilities of manhood—the design of the relations of childship and wardship—is no part of the design of Slavery. The master who harbors such a purpose is an exception to his class. The relations just named, so far as they involve dependence and subjection, terminate when the subject parties are twenty-one years of age: the slave relation is perpetual.

  The three legitimate relations noticed, involve the possession of great power by the husband, parent, guardian—but the powerful instinct of parental affection restrains generally the abuse of parental power, even where law and public opinion are silent, as the Love that consecrates matrimony is generally sufficient, even were no safeguards provided by law and public opinion, to make the headship of the husband safe and beneficent: while in the case of guardianship, the law surrounds the ward with abundant protection.

  To class with the parental and filial relations, natural, necessary, divine, with their wise and good objects, and powerful restraints imposed by holy, ever-watchful, all-forbearing Love, the relation of master and slave, unnatural, unnecessary, at war with the progress of the race and of society, selfish in its origin and aim, securing perpetual supremacy on one side, perpetual degradation on the other, with powers over the inferior party, stimulated into activity by the hope of gain, and unrestrained by natural affection, argues gross misconception or gross heartlessness. Light and darkness, Heaven and Hell, the service of God and the service of the devil, do not differ more in nature, aim, and spirit, than the holy relations of parent and child, husband and wife, differ from the unholy relation of slave and master.

  The evils of Slavery, that is, cruel treatment, privation of education, separation of families, &c., the Courier and Enquirer regards as abuses of a legitimate relation. The contrast we have just drawn exposes the fallacy of the assumption that the relation is legitimate. It is itself an abuse, a monstrous abuse—and what are styled by that paper abuses, are the natural consequences of the relation itself.

  What is a slave? Under the slave code he is property—in some of the States, personal, in others, real property—but always, property. He can own nothing, inherit nothing, devise nothing; being himself the subject of ownership, of sale, of transfer or transmission, like other property. He is incapable of sustaining the civil relations of husband or parent. "He is entirely subject to the will of his master."* He cannot move without the consent of his master. He cannot live with the woman whom he calls his wife, he cannot take care of, or exact obedience from, the offspring of his loins, without the consent of his master. He cannot learn to read, he cannot teach his child, he cannot become the communicant of a church, he cannot attend public worship, without the consent of his master. He has no control whatsoever over his own powers, no right to fruit of his own earnings, except at the will of his master. In a word, he belongs not to himself, not to another, to whose interests he is made completely subservient.

  This is Slavery—this is the innocent relation, recognised and protected by the Law of Slavery! The man who, on this brief statement of the nature of it, does not admit at once that itself is an abuse, greater than all the evils which are styled its incidents—because they are but its legitimate effects—is not a fit subject for argument.

  Now, as to the question of responsibility. The slaveholders are pronounced by the Courier and Enquirer, absolutely guiltless of the abuses of the system. Are they guiltless or the relation itself? Do they not sustain before God and man the awful responsibility of the ownership of human beings as property? Suppose the law should allow Horace Greeley to seize Colonel Webb, appropriate him as property, use him as property, compel him to go and come, work and sleep, eat and drink, at the discretion of said Greeley. Greeley might be a very kind, considerate sort of master. He might feed the Colonel well—give him the fat of the land—keep him at work no longer than a clerk in one of our Departments—give him a hair mattress to sleep on—allow him to go and see his so-called wife once or twice or week—and even encourage him to improve his mind. In fact, the Colonel would experience not one of what he now calls the evils of Slavery: but would he then see and feel nothing in Slavery beyond its incidents, as he styles them, savoring of an abuse? Ah! the fact that he was a piece of property, subject of ownership, incapable of owning anything, the appendage of a man, not a man himself, material for sale and barter, not capable of buying or selling—in a word, entirely subject to the will of another—he would cry out against, as an abuse more monstrous and horrible than all the incidents he now thinks separable from Slavery.

  And what would he then think of responsibility? Would he hold the law-makers of the State of New York, and Horace Greeley, who availed himself of what the law allowed, guiltless of this foul abuse?

  They are responsible for the laws, who pass them, aid in their passage, or consent to their passage; and also, for whatever powers are conferred, acts enjoining, or evils allowed by them—and he is responsible for the laws and their effects, who avails himself of those powers, or complies with their requisitions. If I support by my act, my example, my influence, my apologies, a system which vests irresponsible power in the hands of fallible man, I share the responsibility of that abuse, and of whatever other evils naturally or legitimately flow from it.