The National Era
Unsigned Article
Washington, D.C.: 18 November 1852


  The sales of this work in Great Britain are incredible, and it seems to have given a new impulse there to the discussion of Slavery. Our pro-slavery patriots complain of this: "What right have the English to discuss or even consider the question of Slavery?" The answer is easy: it is a question of humanity; it concerns, not one country, but all countries; not one race, but mankind; not a single right, or one class of rights, but all rights. If Slavery be a legitimate institution here, it is legitimate in Cuba, in Brasil, in India, in Africa. If it be honest and decent in the South for one man to use for his own profit, work for his own benefit, and without wages, another man, it is honest and decent to do the same thing at the North, in England, in France, in Austria, in Russia. If the principle of Despotism is right in America, it is right in Europe, right wherever the heel of Tyranny grinds Humanity in the dust. If the argument for maintaining Slavery in the United States be good, so is the argument for maintaining aristocracy, feudal privileges, unequal laws, governing and subject classes, everywhere. American Slavery is linked with all Oppression, American Liberty with all Freedom. And shall we ask what right have the People of other countries to be concerned about our Slavery? The democratic masses of Europe must be concerned, because it is upheld by the same instrumentalities and arguments which are used to enforce their degradation; and the Despots are concerned, because every protest against Plantation Slavery is a protest against their prerogative.

  But this volume is doing the most potent work in this country. The coarse personal assaults of reckless Pro-Slavery partisans, their vile misrepresentations, their spiteful criticisms, their audacious denials, cannot stop the circulation or weaken the effects of this work. By falsely charging that it depreciates the whites and exalts the blacks, that it exaggerates the evils and conceals the good of the social institutions of the South, and that it is imbued with an envenomed hate against the Southern people, they hope to induce them to reject without reading it, so as to make them inaccessible to its gentle, all-powerful teachings. The effort is vain. Hundreds of copies have been eagerly bought by the citizens of this District, and they will testify to its truthfulness. Thousands of copies have been called for from the South, and it is in vain for the Press there to attempt to arrest its circulation. Those who have read it, know that its characteristic spirit is genial and Christian; that its manifest aim is to be candid and truthful; that towards this Southern people it breathes naught but good-will; that its representations, while they must awaken sympathy for the Slaves, and hostility to the system of Slavery, are not calculated to disparage the white people of the South, to foster hostility against them, to alienate from them the sympathies of the North. The impression made by the work upon the liberal mind is, that Slavery is an incalculable evil, in which the Southern people are so involved by law, education, habit, intellect, prejudice, pride, that, while every legitimate means should be put in requisition for its removal, they are entitled to forebearance, brotherly kindness, charity, though not exempt from a fearful responsbility.

  We are glad that, while the pro-slavery press is busy in its work of defamation, there are presses in the South fair-minded and fearless enough to commend the book to the attention of their fellow-citizens. Read the following from the Georgetown (Ky.) Herald, one of the long-established papers of that state:

  "Uncle Tom's Cabin, by H. B. Stowe.—Good books, like good actions, best explain themselves, and in the work before us the 'good' is quite comprehensive enough to insure its appreciation; but we are so accustomed to accounts of the 'horrors of slavery,' we repeatedly have before us such lacerating descriptions of floggings and burnings to death, done under its shadow, that it is necessary to explain that 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' consists of no such dreadful details. It is at once an impartial statement of the case as regards Slavery, and a gracefully-told tale of human life and human hearts, glowing with heavenly colors, and full of the force and power which nature and truth impart. The delineation of character is as simple as it is exquisite in its touches. In the haughty 'Southron' of New Orleans, of French and aristocratic English descent, with his generous sympathies and lavish liberality, as well as in the soul-grinding planter whose heart has reached the last stage of callosity in the exercise of irresponsible power, and no less in the serene but active and practical Quaker matron of the North, than in the languid lady of the Italian latitudes, wearied to apathy by the satiety of wealth, we can trace the varied and combined influences of nature and circumstances. Character, whether in black, delicately discriminated by his gifted pen, the stern integrity and touching piety of the hero, 'Uncle Tom,' claim our sincere respect; the graceful and ingenuous quadroons interest us immediately; the New England lady is a very ideal of old maidenhood; and the natural drollery of the negro character admits a clown into the corps dramatique; while our tenderest sympathies are awakened by the trembling sensiblity and angelic nature of the beautiful little Evangeline, and in each and all we recognize real portraits from the great gallery of Nature. There are some most life-like home scenes and conversations, and the changes and turn of the letters are managed with an ease and grace which, with the elegance of the style, give the book a charm as a merely literary and artistic performance. We shall merely premise that the tale runs in so fluent a stream that detached extracts must needs lose much of their force and beauty when read apart from the 'before and after.'"

  Here is another witness from Missouri—the Jefferson Inquirer, published at Jefferson City, in that State, and a warm supporter of Pierce and King:

  "Uncle Tom's Cabin.—Well, like a good portion of 'the world and the rest of mankind,' we have read the book of Mrs. Stowe, bearing the above title.

  "From numerous statements, newspaper paragraphs, and rumors, we supposed the book was all that fanaticism and heresy could invent, and were therefore greatly prejudiced against it. But on reading it, we cannot refrain from saying that it is a work of more than ordinary moral worth, and is entitled to consideration. We do not regard it as 'a corruption of moral sentiment,' and a gross 'libel on a portion of our people.' The authoress seems disposed to treat the subject fairly, though in some particulars the scenes are too highly colored and too strongly drawn from the imagination. The book, however, may lead some of its readers at a distance to misapprehend some of the general and better features of 'Southern life as it is' (which, by the way, we as an individual prefer to Northern life,) yet it is a perfect mirror of several classes of people 'we have in our mind's eye' who are not free from all 'the ills flesh is heir to.' It has been feared the book would result in injury to the slaveholding interests of the country; but we apprehend no such thing, and hesitate not to recommend it to the perusal of our friends, and the public generally.

  "Mrs. Stowe has exhibited a knowledge of many peculiarities of Southern society, which is really wonderful, when we consider that she is a Northern lady, by birth and residence.

  "We hope, then, before our friends form any harsh opinion of the merits of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' and make up any judgment against us for pronouncing in its favor, (barring some objections to it,) that they will give it a careful perusal; and, in so speaking, we may say that we yield to no man in his devotion to Southern rights and interests."

  Per contra, we have the Washington Union, which seems to think that a single blast of its declamation enough to extinguish this work of genius:

  "The publication in Great Britain of a fictitious representation of American slavery, by a writer who knows about as much of the subject as of the social system of the moon, has imparted a fresh impulse to Exeter-Hall philanthropy. The hyperbolical horrors and ridiculous 'Roorbacks' of 'Uncle Tom' literature, being taken for gospel truth and sober realities by the credulous fanatics of Exeter Hall, have kindled a flame of excitement in Great Britain against American slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law."

  The cant of politics is not criticism. Had the Union editors read Uncle Tom's Cabin, the impertinent epithets of partisan warfare would for once have been forgotten.

  Several attempts have been made, by elaborate criticism, and by fictitious narrative, to counteract the workings of this extraordinary volume; but generally they are beneath contempt. From this remark we except two publications, now on our table—one, entitled "The Southern View of Uncle Tom's Cabin," by the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger; the other, a novel, styled "The Cabin and Parlor," by J. Thornton Randolph.

  The critique by the Southern Literary Messenger is fluent and plausible, but unfortunately lacks truthfulness. The author's representation of Mrs. Stowe's portraiture, when he declares that her whites are constantly depreciated and her blacks as constantly exalted—the former generally being villains, the latter angels—is all false, and the world knows it. We can tell the writer—if he be Mr. Simmes, as we suppose—that Southern character has never appeared to so much advantage under his touch, as in the painting of Mrs. Stowe. When he can point in his own writings to a George Shelby, a St. Clare, an Eva, he can claim that he has done as much justice to the South as this Northern woman.

  The Cabin and Parlor is designed to present Slavery under an attractive aspect, and by the aid of a lively fancy, without regard to facts, the author has approximated as near as may be to an unattainable object. The design is certainly a daring one. Think of it—People with flesh in their hearts are to be tricked into a belief that a system which puts men and women and children under the absolute control of a master, to be used by him solely for his own profit—a system which denies education, denies the civil rite of marriage, denies the use of one's own earnings, denies the acquisition of property, denies the freedom of locomotion, repudiates all appeal to the ordinary motives of human action, and substitutes force, with its bloody symbol, the lash, makes intelligent beings the subjects of sale, of barter, of inheritance, authorizes and constantly leads to the most heart-rending disruption of families—is one which God sanctions and Humanity must delight in!

  Now, if there be two things more opposed to each other in their fundamental elements than Human Nature and Slavery, our philosophy is at fault. The growth of one is the dwarfing of the other; the full development of one is the death of the other. Let a Congress of the wisest men meet, and set to work to devise some system which shall most effectually repress every noble aspiration, check every progressive tendency, generate the profoundest ignorance, reduce the human being nearest to the level of the brute, and what would they do? They would declare him to be property, and incapable of holding property: they would place him under the absolute control of another, so as to destroy all self-dependence: they would render him incapable of sustaining the civil relations of father, husband, child: they would compel him to use his activities at the will of another, and for the ends of another: they would deprive him of the means of education, and forbid his instruction: they would cut him off from all opportunity of elevating his position—in one word, they would make him a SLAVE—for that one word defines the extremes of privation and degradation. It is this system which Mrs. Stowe has labored to present to us, in all its natural and necessary balefulness, and which J. Thornton Randolph would commend to the sympathies of a Christian Republic!

  We shall refer to a single passage in The Cabin and Parlor, as an illustration of the general manner in which he has executed his task. The father of Isabel, the heroine, suddenly dies. The alarming discovery is made that he is insolvent. His estates must be sold—lands, houses, slaves, all. This is law. So much the writer admits. But see how harmless the affair turns out:

  "What must the difference be," said Dr. Worthington, with startling energy, "between Isabel and her servants. To her it is loss of position, fortune, the fair hopes of life, perhaps even health, for she must inevitably break down under the unaccustomed labor and privations she will have to undergo. But to them it is merely a change of masters."

  "Yes, for the neighbors won't allow any of the families to be separated."

  "Of course not. We read of such things in novels sometimes. But I have yet to see it in real life, except in rare cases, or where the slave has been guilty of some misdemeanor, or crime, for which, in the North, he would have been imprisoned, perhaps, for life."

  This picture is intended as a set-off against Mrs. Stowe's representation of the separation of families. We are to believe that, except in rare cases, the planters of a neighborhood where slaves are sold, would step forward and prevent the separation of families, by timely purchase. We confess our indignation at this false representation. Our personal knowledge enables us to give it a flat contradiction. What Mrs. Randolph states as a general rule, is the exception. Planters, had they even the will, would not have the means for such interposition. The every-day advertisements of slave-buyers, and slaves to be sold, in the newspapers of the South, prove that the separation of families is a common occurrence. Here in this District, we know it to be such. There are few colored families among us, that have not been thus bereaved. A dozen cases, in which we have been called on to interpose, haunt our memory. It is outrageous that any man who values his character for truth, should delude himself, or try to delude the world, with the idea that the American slave trade is not a common one, or that it pays any habitual regard to family relations. It will not do for the apologists of Slavery to provoke controversy on this point. Their more prudent policy will be to admit, as intelligent Southern men generally do admit, the fact, and then try to extenuate the evil, as the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger attempts to do—by saying that ever since the day that St. Paul bade adieu to the little flock at Miletus, who followed him down to the ship, sorrowing most of all for the words that he spake, that they should see his face no more—there have been mournful partings and sobbing farewells."

  But enough. Mrs. Stowe has been furnished with the evidence to prove her representations truthful, as will be seen in due time.

  For ourselves, we have preferred to discuss the question of Slavery on grounds involving its acknowledged, fundamental elements, and have turned our attention specially to its general effects socially, economically, and politically. We have rarely dwelt upon what are called its cruelties, or evil incidents; but when its advocates undertake boldly to deny the existence of these incidents, or attempt insidiously to explain them away, Truth requires that they should be confronted, and their fictions exposed. We do this, not because we are unfriendly to the Southern People—our relationship with them is too intimate to allow this—not because we undervalue their many noble traits of character, underrate their difficulties, or would defame them before the world—but because the system which they advocate, Christendom once tolerated, the North encouraged, and the South still clings to, we abhor and execrate, as we abhor and execrate every law, system, or institution, which degrades, debases, and fetters human nature.