UNCLE TOM'S CABIN—OBJECTIONABLE CHARACTERISTICS.
Lenawee, Water Cure, M—n,
June 25, 1852
DEAR GARRISON—I have just read the above book. It has affected me strongly. It has fascinated and repulsed me at the same time, as a reptile that enchants you while it excites your loathing and abhorrence. I had heard so much said in its favor, I tried to like it all, but could not. My moral nature rebelled against some things that seemed to be among its prominent features. If you have room in the Liberator, I would like to say a word on certain matters relating to slavery, suggested by reading that book. I know not that another of its readers feels and thinks as I do about it.
My word relates to the author's ideas as to the effect of Christianity on slaveholders. She carries the idea, that it is to make him kind, just, humane, as a slaveholder. Now I conceive that the first, and last, and only effect of the Christian spirit on such a character is, to cause him to cease, at once and forever, to be a slaveholder. A slaveholder, as such, cannot be improved: as well attempt to improve a drunkard, a thief, a murderer or pirate, as such.—The first manifestation of Christianity—of love, justice, purity, honesty—in a slaveholder, will appear in the entire and unconditional abolition of slaveholding, in his spirit and practice. Yet this author talks of "generous," "noble-minded," "loving," "kind," "just," "pure-hearted" slaveholders, of the "virtue," "purity," "magnanimity," "justice," "honesty," and "Christianity," of men who subject their fellow-beings to all the liabilities of the chattel principle; who herd men and women together in concubinage, and hold them in a condition in which education, self-respect, purity, honesty, Christianity, and reverence for truth, justice, humanity, and God, are crimes to be punished with death. This feeling of regard for the possible goodness, purity, Christianity in slaveholders, as such, pervades the entire book. True, the author paints some slaveholders as fiends, but she admits, throughout, that they might be angels, and still hold, and use, men, women and children as chattels. What more do slaveholders ask of us? This is all they want to satisfy their consciences.
Again. The effect of Christianity on the slave. This the author paints in glowing colors. In her view, the effect of it is to make him truthful, just, faithful, obedient, industrious, submissive, as a slave. Can this be true? So thinks the writer, as she has aimed to show in the character of Uncle Tom throughout. When about to be torn from his wife and children, Tom was told to run. He would not, because he was a Christian; as though a Christian slave would run away from a kind master! So when Cassy takes money from her master's drawer, to assist her to escape, Emmeline remonstrated and said "it would be stealing," because she was more honest and Christian than Cassy. So Tom is often represented as being more industrious, economical, and humble and submissive than others, because he was more Christian than they. Now, the first breathing of the Christian spirit in the soul of the slave is, an aspiration for freedom; the first whisper, an instigation to escape from slavery by every right means. It begets self-respect, and a resolution to be true to himself. Christianity will make a slave industrious, but only to free himself and others from slavery; it will make him economical, but only of his time and energies to escape; just as a drowning man would be industrious and economical only to get out of the water. It will make him obedient and submissive, but to nothing save to the mighty impulses and aspirations of his soul after freedom; the will and word of his master, or of his master's allies, will be naught to him. He will obey the call of liberty in his own soul, before he thinks of obedience to any thing else. It will make him patient and long-suffering; but only under whatever hunger, thirst, cold, fatigue and suffering are necessary to break his bonds. Patience and endurance in a slave point only to sufferings, dangers and death to gain his liberty, and that of others. Christianity will make slaves honest, truthful, forgiving; but justice, honesty, kindness, love and forgiveness in Tom towards his masters would have led him to have taken their money, their horses, their clothes, or anything they claimed as theirs, to aid him to free himself from the horrors, and them from the guilt of slavery. The slave truly loves, forgives and blesses his master when, without injury to him, he escapes from his tyranny. Cassy was, practically, honest, just and loving to Legree, when she took his money to pay her way to Canada. God, in the heart of the slave, is but a call to freedom; and an instigation to exert his own will and energies to obtain it. But so thinks not the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. In her view, God, in the slave's heart, is but a call to submit the question of his liberty to the will and pleasure of his master, and, in the meantime, to endure all the cruelties and horrors he shall see fit to inflict on him, uncomplaining and submissive, till it shall seem good to the despot to settle that question.
Again. The connexion of the Christian church with slavery. The author represents the church of Christ as made up, in part, of slave-traders, slave-hunters and slaveholders. She speaks of "the church of Christ hearing, in silence, the taunt that is thrown at them, and shrinking from the helpless hand they (the fugitive slaves) stretch out; and by her silence encouraging the cruelty that would chase them from our borders." She speaks of "Christian and humane people actually recommending the remanding escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding to a good citizen"; and of "kind, compassionate and estimable people, in the free States of the North, deliberating as to what Christian duty could be," as to hunting, seizing and dragging fugitive slaves back to pollution, heathenism, torture and death.
Dear Garrison, to constitute a church, is it necessary that persons have the spirit of Christ? Or be governed by the common principles of justice and honesty? Truth, justice, honesty and kindness, are, in their very nature, hostile to slavery, and never did and never can have any harmonious union with it. These attributes never "shrunk from the helpless hand of the fugitive, stretched out"; never "chased a fugitive from our borders"; never, by silence or otherwise, aiding in remanding escaped fugitives into slavery; and never, for one moment, "deliberated as to the duty of returning fugitive slaves," or of executing the fugitive law. All is as loathsome and abhorrent to them as is falsehood to truth, injustice to justice, hatred to love, revenge to forgiveness, cruelty to mercy. A heart touched by kindness, compassion and purity shrinks from all contact with slavery. If to be a Christian be to possess these attributes, then no "Christian people" ever recommended or connived at, even by silence, the seizure and return of a fugitive slave. Just so far as the church of Christ is tinctured with justice, truth, honesty, just so far is she actively opposed to slavery, and to every law, constitution, custom, book, or confederacy, that sanctions and upholds it.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, by allying Christianity with slavery in possible harmony, and by opening the Christian church to receive slaveholders into a loving embrace, while they remain such, has done what she could to make that church and that religion the scorn and execration of all that is pure, truthful, compassionate and just. I do not believe that any human being, guided by the spirit of Jesus, can hold a slave, or confederate with slave-hunters and slave-drivers in Church or State, even "to establish and secure liberty"; or, by direct assistance, or by silence, sustain or connive at this sublimate of fraud, selfishness, robbery, cruelty, adultery, and every conceivable crime; and, when the writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin teaches, as she does, that this is possible, she proves herself to be a reviler of the Son of God, and an efficient enemy to his spirit and his principles.
Again. Colonization—yes, COLONIZATION! Hear her arguments for this scheme of injustice and inhumanity. "The sympathies of the oppressed of this land should be with those of their own color, and must be; their own hearts tell them this. They should and must feel themselves identified with the African race, and not with the Anglo-Saxon. They should yearn for an African nationality. They want a people that shall have a tangible, separate existence of its own." They cannot "look for this in Hayti." They cannot look for it in this republic, in England, in France, on this, or on the European or Asiatic continent; only "on the shores of Africa." There they find a "republic of picked men," energetic, self-devoted, whose nationality is acknowledged by France and England. There they should go, and "find themselves a people." The struggle between abolitionists and colonizationists, seen from a proper stand-point, would be all in favor of colonization. "The Providence of God has provided a refuge in Africa. This is indeed a great and noticeable fact." Many have used colonization to retard emancipation. "But, the question is, is there not a God above man's schemes? May He not have overruled their designs, and found for the oppressed negro a nation by them?" "Let the colored people hold on to colonization with all their might"; for "the whole splendid continent of Africa opens before them and their children. Their nation shall roll the tide of civilization and Christianity along its shores, and plant there mighty republics that, growing with the rapidity of tropical vegetation, shall be for all coming ages." What can the free colored people do for the slaves? "Can they break their chains? Not as individuals"; but let them go to Africa—"let them go and form a nation, and then they can speak. A nation has a right to argue, remonstrate, implore, and present the cause of its race,—WHICH AN INDIVIDUAL HAS NOT." The colored people should "not want to live here—they should want a country, a nation of their own." "In Africa, they can have it, and no where else."
Such are the author's arguments in favor of that unrivalled scheme of malignancy and oppression, the American Colonization Society. They are but the echoes of the arguments, by which the negro-haters of this republic have for thirty years been seeking to drive the free colored people from this land; and the author, by repeating them, though she could paint the horrors of a slave auction and a slave plantation, is but a counterpart of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, whose names, on the records of eternity, will stand first on the list of unscrupulous tyrants, of despisers of humanity, and blasphemers against God.
I could not but weep tears of mingled pity and indignation over one, who, after moving and melting and swaying my heart and sympathies as this writer had done, should wind up identifying herself, and seeking to bring me into harmony, with men of such cruel, stony hearts, and bloody hands. I could not but cry out, respecting them all, in the unalterable but saddened purpose of my soul, "Get thee behind me, Satan! Oh, full of all sublety, thou child of the Devil, when wilt thou cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?"
I wonder not at the unprecedented popularity of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The conscience of this nation is lashed to madness by uncompromising Anti-Slavery. Uncle Tom's Cabin comes as a quietus, to some extent. Thousands will be satisfied by reading and praising it. The deadliest enemies of immediate, unconditional abolition do read and admire it—and still hold, whip, buy, breed and hunt slaves. God grant the very elect may not be deceived; that their anti-slavery be not diluted; that they may stand firm in the Lord of anti-slavery truth.
HENRY C. WRIGHT