The National Era
Washington, D.C.: 9 June 1853


  Frederick Douglass says that the people of the South are the slave owners, but those of the North are the slave holders; and Professor Stowe, at Glasgow, told his entertainers that the people of Great Britain are the great slavery supporters. He said, "in this country is the great market for cotton; and it is cotton which sustains American slavery." We certainly need a key to Uncle Tom's Cabin—not an explication of the book known all over the world by that name—but an exposition of the agencies and influences which sustain the system of slavery amongst us. Some say that the institution rests upon a necessity which opinion can neither support nor overturn, which no policy can counteract, and the principles of abstract justice cannot remedy. Some say that the churches are competent to its abolition, and inexcusably culpable for its continuance; some, that political policy alone sustains it; and others charge the evil as entirely to the pecuniary interests which are involved in it.

  The remedies proposed, and the methods of applying them, are as various.

  A key, expository of the system, is much wanted, that the key reformatory may fit the lock of the cabin that holds Uncle Tom.

  The South is as much in want of a key as its antagonists—a master-key that will drive the bolt more securely into the socket. The owners have been for a long time suffering from a system of petty pilfering, which is hard to bear, and are now growing apprehensive that a general conspiracy of lawless foreigners is organizing, for the perpetration of wholesale burglary upon their premises. The old fastenings are wearing loose, and the difficulty about the new keys proposed for the service is, that they all have the common fault of unlocking as well as locking the bolts. The key wanted is such a one as will lock, but will not by any turn that it can possibly take, undo its own work. The warders of the Uncle Tom gang are not a little perplexed and alarmed at discerning that every key proposed by their earnest well-wishers is the exact pattern of some one in the bunch that the burglars themselves rely upon. They want, and from the nature of the case must have, an instrument wholly unlike anything that has ever been in use heretofore, and so adapted to its office that the owners can make no mistake with it, and the enemy can make no use of it.

  The British cotton trade sustains the American slave trade, is the proposition. The English philanthropists feel the impossibility of shutting up their manufactories, but they propose to grow their own cotton in Africa, Australia, and India. The London Daily News demonstrates the practicability of the project. Refuse to purchase from the Southern States, and starve the system of slavery to death, is its policy. But the Cotton Plant, of Baltimore, and the Southern agitators generally, propose to devise the means, and set on foot the policy of direct trade in the great staple with the continent of Europe, to the exclusion of Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow.

  The Cotton Plant says:

  From Memphis (the Convention to be held first Monday of June,) will come forth a policy, the necessary result of which will be the triumphant success of Direct Trade in all its parts. While Mrs. Stowe is combining England against us, we are combining to crush the power of that hypocritical empire. While the North is agitating to strip us of our rights, we meet in Memphis, quietly, calmly, with the consciousness of power, to throw into the lap of a great Southern and Western emporium the riches of our trade. The great question to be met is the abolition of slavery. Disguise it as we may, it is the great political, social, and religious idea of the day. It must be met. At Memphis it will be met. The oligarchy of American Cotton Planters have determined to take their own preservation into their own keeping. The Agricultural Congress at Montgomery, Ala., will ultimately be the nucleus for an organization, terrible in its effects upon English and Northern industry. The continent of Europe will contend successfully for commercial supremacy with England, for cotton will decide the question, and the cotton power will go against England."

  Thus the non-importation remedy by the British Abolitionists, and the non-exportation of the cotton Oligarchy, propose the same key—the one to lock, the other to unlock the cabin.

  At home, Abolition agitation is regarded by the respective belligerents as acting for, and reacting against emancipation. Discussion weakens the system, and will destroy it, says the one; it rivets the chain all the tighter, says the other.

  The Compromise legislation of 1850 is held by the South to be a final settler of the great controversy; the North treats it as a provocative and a cause of more vigorous warfare. The Fugitive Slave Law is hailed as the palladium of the besieged citadel; but Mrs. Stowe's Cabin was built, like the wooden horse of the Greeks, to destroy it; and the very walls of the fortress are broken down to admit it.

  The Southern planters and merchants, with remarkable unanimity, are preparing, through the Convention to be held at Memphis, to inaugurate a new policy of defence for their great interest, which is to be modelled after the system prevailing in the North—that is to say: a system of internal improvements which shall perfect the intercourse, commerce, and transportation of the planting region; diversify its industry by introducing and extending manufactures of every kind; favor the growth of population by inducing immigration of foreign laborers and artisans; advance and improve popular education; and, by every means, endeavor to establish sectional independence of the North, and of Great Britain especially.

  This is the key with which they will lock up the slave system in perfect security from all foreign aggression. But the philosophers of the North are just as sure that it will turn the bolts the other way, and that all approximation to the life, order, and economy of the free States will, notwithstanding the slave element intermixed, inevitably bring about substantially similar fortunes to the whole community; and that slavery, under such treatment, must gradually and surely change itself into hired industry.

  The ultraism of both sections speaks of a dissolution of the Union as a consummate stroke of policy for the security of their directly opposite aims.

  The religionists agree as perfectly in their respective reliance upon the two edges of the Gospel sword. It cuts both ways in their handling, very marvellously. It teaches submission, non-resistance, fidelity, to the slave, according to the South; but the North believes that the faithful preaching of the Word will open the prison doors to them that are bound.

  Even Uncle Tom's Cabin (the book) finds a ready circulation south of Mason and Dixon: and is actually received as a fair and serviceable presentment of the system, by some respectable pro-slavery authorities. Legree, as an exceptional monster, overdrawn or very rare, doesn't hurt the favorable effect of the amiable St. Clare, and the saintly Uncle Tom; and the colonization drift and conclusion of the work is pat to the purpose of their defence.

  So, the problem of slavery turns up a complete paradox in either aspect, in keeping with the intrinsic character of the subject. The opposite demonstrations look both ways, logically enough; the truth is under a veil; progress will develop it, and the future must give the solution. Only let the system move, and it must change it does move, it must. The Lord reigneth; "He makes the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain." It moves: that is enough. It must be toward its doom. Philosophy is at fault, but the key of fate will unlock the Cabin.