LETTER FROM MRS. STOWE
The following letter, received from Mrs. Stowe by the Committee of the Ladies' New Anti-Slavery Society in Glasgow, (Scotland,) was read by the Rev. Dr. Robson at a meeting of Committee, held in the Religious Institution Rooms, in that city, Dec. 13, 1853.
TO THE LADIES' NEW ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY OF GLASGOW
ANDOVER, NOV. 18, 1853.
DEAR FRIENDS:—I have had many things [illegible] my mind to say to you, which it was my hope to have said personally, but which I am now obliged to say by letter.
I have had many fears that you must have thought our intercourse, during the short time that I was in Glasgow, quite unsatisfactory.
At the time that I accepted your very kind invitation, I was in tolerable health, and supposed that I should be in a situation to enjoy society, and mingle as much in your social circles as you might desire.
When the time came for me to fulfil my engagement with you, I was, as you know, confined to my bed with a sickness, brought on by the exertion of getting the Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin through the press during the winter. The labor of preparing that book, simply as an intellectual investigation, was severe; but what a risk of life and health it was for me no one can appreciate but myself.
Nothing could have justified me, with my large family and children, in making such an effort in the state of health to which I then was except the deep conviction which I had, and still have, that I was called of God's providence to do it.
In every part of the world, the story of Uncle Tom had awakened sympathy for the poor American slave, and, consequently, in every part of the world, the story of his wrongs had been desired; and it has been asserted that it was a mere work of romance, and I was charged with being the slanderer of the institutions of my country.
I knew that, if I shrank from supporting my position, the sympathy which the work had excited would gradually die out, and the whole thing would be looked upon as a mere romantic excitement of the passions, without any adequate basis of facts.
Feeble and reduced as I was, it became absolutely necessary that I should take this opportunity, when the attention of the world was awakened, to prove the charges which I had made.
Neither could such a work be done slightly, for every statement was to be thrown before bitter and unscrupulous enemies, who would do their utmost to break the force of every thing which was said.
It was, therefore, necessary that not an assertion should be made, without the most rigorous investigation and scrutiny; and, worn as I then was with the subject, with every nerve sensitive and sore, I was obliged to spend three months in what were to me the most agonizing researches.
The remembrance of that winter is to me one of horror. I could not sleep at night, and I had no comfort in the day time. All that consoled me was, that I was bearing the same kind of suffering which Christ bore, and still bears, in view of the agonies and distresses of sin in this world.
When I came to Scotland, I felt like one out of whom every drop of blood has been drained. If there had been any other way to do, I think I would not have accepted the invitation; but it was absolutely necessary that I should have a change of scene and association, and I did not wish to stay here to read the comments of the press on my labors. I thought that I had had suffering enough without that. With this feeling, I was taken from my sick bed on board the ship.
I had not the slightest idea of the kind of reception which was to meet me in England and Scotland. I had thought of something involving considerable warmth, perhaps, and a good deal of cordiality and feeling on the part of friends; but of the general extent of feeling through society, and of the degree to which it would be publicly expressed, I had, I may say, no conception.
I could not help feeling painfully, while I was with you, how utterly unable I was to return anything in kind, adequate to the very warm feeling which was shown to me. How little I could do, and how little I could say to meet it.
I fear that many must have felt disappointment in me, and that my visit must, on the whole, have proved an unsatisfactory one to you. This it was my hope in some measure to repair, by making you another visit in the autumn, when my health should be in a state to enable me to receive and return your kind attentions, and to enjoy more of the pleasures of friendly intercourse.
This expectation also has, by the Providence of God, been disappointed.
It only remains for me to supply it as well as I possibly can by letter; and I have delayed thus long writing, because I wished to observe the state of the anti-slavery cause in this country, and be able to give you some definite report of it.
As your society were the means of inviting me to your country, it may seem proper that, whatever communications I have to make to friends in England and Scotland, should be made through you.
In the first place, then, the question will probably arise in your minds, Has the recent demonstration in Great Britain done good to the anti-slavery cause in America?
The first result of these demonstrations, as might have been expected, was an intense reaction. Every kind of false, evil, and malignant report has been circulated by malicious and partisan papers; and if there is any blessing in having all manner of evil said against one falsely, we have seemed to be in a fair way to come in possession of it.
So far as this goes, it simply shows that the testimony was felt. In order to know whether it did good or evil to the anti-slavery cause, it was necessary to inquire, not of the enemies, but of the friends. I therefore have taken some pains to inquire among leading minds, friendly to the cause, as to their general opinion.
My husband, who has watched the course of affairs critically since his return, and my brother, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, who has had extensive opportunities for observation, both consider the results as, on the whole, decidedly good.
The same opinion was expressed to me with equal decision by the Hon. Charles [illegible], by Cassius M. Clay, of Kentucky, by Frederick Douglass, Louis Tappan, and by others too numerous to mention.
I confess this has been a relief and a satisfaction to my own mind; for I am naturally disposed to shrink from public demonstrations, and to question any form of advancing the kingdom of God that cometh with observation.
The testimony, which England and Scotland took advantage of my presence to give, has now become a fixed historical fact, and its effect, I trust, will in due time become historical.
The sanction which was given in this matter to the voice of the people, by the nobility of England and Scotland, has been regarded and treated with special rancor; and yet, in its place, it has been particularly important. Without it, great advantages would have been taken to depricate the value of the national testimony.
The value of this testimony, in particular, will appear from the fact that the anti-slavery cause has been treated with especial contempt by the leaders of society in this country, and every attempt made to brand it with ridicule.
The effect of making a cause generally unfashionable is much greater in this world than it ought to be. It operates very powerfully with the young and impressionable portion of the community; therefore, Cassius M. Clay very well said, with regard to the demonstration at Stafford House, "It will help our cause, by rendering it fashionable."
I may say here, that, from my intercourse with some members of the aristocracy, I have been led to feel, that it was not a mere fashionable caprice, or the passing emotions of an hour, but a deep and earnest conviction, having its root both in religion and humanity.
With regard to the present state of the anti-slavery cause in America, I think, for many reasons, that it has never been more encouraging. And it is encouraging in this respect, that the subject is now fairly up for inquiry before the public mind; and that the systematic effort which has been made for years to prevent its being discussed, is proving wholly ineffectual.
I have the best reasons for knowing, from different regions in the South, that there is a greater amount of reading and inquiry on the subject, than has ever been known there for years.
I could not communicate to you some very interesting facts which have come to my knowledge, without running the risk of defeating the good thus commenced; for it must be ever borne in mind, that any movement towards the reform of this great abuse, on Southern ground, must at first be a secret one. Some passages, however, which I noticed in the Liberator last week, I enclose to you, to show you the class of facts to which I allude.
* * * * *
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin has sold extensively at the South, following in the wake of Uncle Tom.
No one fact or statement in it has been disproved, as yet—I have yet to learn of even an attempt to disprove anything in it. That great numbers of it have been sold and circulated at the South, the publisher's accounts must show; that it was not read there with indifference the nature of the work makes sufficiently evident.
They are perfectly aware that it is intended to confirm a work with regard to their institutions, which has gone forth into all the countries of the civilized world; and yet they do not answer it, and the only reason is, they feel they cannot!
The last number of the North American Review, a periodical which has never been favorable to the discussion of the Slavery question, has come out with a review of Uncle Tom's Cabin, in which, while rating the work very low as a work of art, they account for its great circulation and success, by the fact of its being a true picture of slavery; and go on to say, that the system is one so inherently abominable, that, unless the South shall rouse itself, and abolish the principle of chattel ownership, they can no longer sustain themselves under the contempt and indignation of the whole civilized world.
What is the South to do when this is the best their friends and supporters can say for them?
As a consequence of the state of feeling awakened in the South, disclosures are, from time to time, being made, which go powerfully to confirm the statements of the book and Key; one of these, now in press, is the Diary of a Physician, who has been for many years in extensive practice on Southern plantations, being himself a slaveholder.
These indications give me hope, that the day is not far off when the South herself will take this matter in hand; and when she does so, we may begin to have rest.
I regret to say that the movements of Christian denominations, on this subject, are yet greatly behind what they should be.—Some movements have been made by religious bodies, of which I will speak; but, as a general thing, the professed Christian church is pushed up to this subject by the world, rather than the world urged on by the church.
One religious operation, from which I hope much, is the American Reform Tract and Book Society. The original American Tract Society, as you are aware, declines to publish anything distinctively on the subject of slavery.
The Reform Society gives admittance to the subject, and has issued a series of very valuable and efficient tracts, which are circulating with the best possible results.
It may be gratifying to you to know, that this Society has received aid from the Scottish Penny Offering, and that thus, by the assistance of Scottish Christians, the silent appeal of love and reason is being made to many consciences and hearts. By the help of the same offering, I have been enabled to place a thousand copies of Uncle Tom, and a thousand of the Key, in the hands of as many home missionaries. These men are the most devoted soldiers of the Cross which our country contains. Like the Apostles of old, struggling in necessity, poverty, and self-denial, they are yet unflinching supporters of every good work, that of anti-slavery among the rest. Their extreme poverty renders them unable to purchase books for themselves; but a better investment for the cause could not be made than by lodging anti-slavery documents in their hands; they will be sure to be efficiently used.
I may mention here, further, that one thousand dollars of the same fund have been appropriated for the support of Miss Miner's school for colored females in our national capitol. Miss Miner has been for many years a heroic and most indefatigable laborer for the colored people at Washington.—She has been gifted by nature with singular talents for this work, and endowed by God's grace with a courage, zeal and devotion such as are given to but few. When her school was yet in its infancy, it excited bitter opposition. A man one day called upon her, and told her that a mob was organized to destroy her school-room, as they were determined that her school should no longer exist.
"What good will it do to destroy my school-room?" was the reply. "I shall only get another, and go right on." "But," said he, "we will frighten your scholars, so that they will not dare to come to you."
"No, you will not," said she. "Wherever I dare go to teach, they will dare to come to learn."
Then, fixing her eyes very decidedly on the man, she added, "You may tell your associates, that destroying any number of school-houses will not stop my school; you cannot stop it, unless you take my life." The man retired, and the school-room remained unmolested.
This school has exerted a great influence on the minds of many slaveholders, who, on visiting it, have been struck with the capabilities, under education, of the very people whom they hold in slavery.
A more particular account of Miss Miner's school will, ere long, appear in Frederick Douglass' Paper, which I commend to your notice and attention.
The colored people in this country are rapidly rising, in every respect.
I shall request Frederick Douglass to send you the printed account of the recent colored convention; it would do credit to any [illegible] of men whatever, and I hope you will get some notice taken of it in the papers of your United Kingdoms. It is time that the slanders against this unhappy race should be refuted; and it should be seen how, in spite of every social and political oppression, they are rising in the scale of humanity. In my own opinion, they advance quite as fast, taking all their disadvantages into account, as any of the foreign races which have found an asylum among us.
While my husband and myself were in England, our attention was turned very seriously towards the subject of encouraging, as far as possible, free labor produce in preference to the produce of slave labor. We had not before attended to the subject, but it struck us very favorably, as suggesting an opening which might, through Divine Providence, be improved to yet wider results. It is generally conceded that God has so made the world, that right-doing is, in the long run, always more conducive to profit than wrong-doing. Slave labor is as wasteful and unprofitable, compared with free labor, as it is immoral. In every branch of labor, where the two come fairly into competition, the free labor invariably runs out the slave labor. Thus it happens that the shoes, the blankets, the tubs, the pails, the axes, and innumerable other necessary articles on Southern plantations, are made by Northern free labor, simply because, being free, it can do the thing better and cheaper than it can be done under the operation of slavery.
The immense price of slaves now, renders the stocking of a plantation with slave labor a most exorbitant outlay. At the same time, through the immigration of the Chinese on to our Western shores, a very cheap and industrious free labor population is being introduced into our country. Coincidently with this, it is being discovered that cotton of prime quality can be raised in Liberia, in Australia, in the British provinces in India; in all these countries, it can be raised as the result of free labor.
In our Southern States, there are many small planters, who, either from poverty or principle, cultivate cotton entirely through free labor. An association exists in this country, of some standing, who receives this cotton, and a large amount of raw material is thus produced by free labor. Movements are now being made to organize manufacturing companies to work this up into the various forms necessary for domestic consumption.
Does not his combination of circumstances present the subject of free labor to the Christian philanthropist in a most interesting point of view?
If a certain number of planters at the South are laboriously endeavoring to produce cotton by free labor, should not the Christian community encourage them, by giving a preference to what is thus produced over what is grown by slave labor.
If the subject of free labor is presenting itself already to planters who are thinking of stocking plantations, will it not much more present itself, should they see that a general demand is rising in the Christian world for free instead of slave produce?
That such thoughts are presenting themselves to the minds of slaveholders, will be made evident from such facts as these, which begin to appear in our public prints:—
"SLAVE LABOR vs WHITE LABOR.—We yesterday conversed with a planter from the Northern part of Georgia, who has come on here to engage men to work on his plantation. He has commenced harvesting, and requires additional help; but the enhanced value of slaves since the abolition agitation places it beyond his ability to purchase a larger supply, and white labor can be employed more economically than that of hired slaves.—N.Y. Journal of Commerce.
We learn, on the authority of the New York Tribune, that
"The farm of Cassius M. Clay, who emancipated his slaves some eight years ago, is now yielding him handsome returns, whereas before, it used to run him constantly in debt. He has no difficulty in procuring white men as laborers, though he hires a portion of his old slaves. He cuts more hay, has better pasturage, and raises more and better stock than formerly, and his experiment, which was made under the most embarrassing circumstances, has proved, in every way, eminently successful."
I cannot leave this branch of the subject, without relating to you one incident. On board the ship, when I came over from England, was a professed slave-trader, and a thoughtless, gay young man, who is a large slaveholder. The trader apparently gloried in his shame, and seemed to take delight in relating, within hearing of my brother, scenes in which he had hunted down negroes with dogs, and otherwise practiced upon them the horrors of his trade. The young slaveholder declared some of these things "really too bad." "The fact is," said the young man, "this slavery is a bad thing, and it is bound to come to an end." "It never will come to an end," said the trader, "so long as grass grows, or water runs; it never will come to an end," he added, hesitating, "unless they get something that will do in the place of cotton. So long as all the world must have cotton, so long they will have slaves!"
Now, if we consider that there are immense tracts of cotton-growing land in America not yet taken up—and it is yet to be decided whether this land shall be appropriated to slave or free labor—does not this show a reason why a general movement should be made on the part of Christians, to patronize free labor produce?
The last encouraging symptom which I will mention, in relation to our cause, is the progress of the temperance movement.—This gives me as much hope as any one thing. The great fear that I had was, that the insidious influence of slavery had destroyed the moral tone of the country, so that there was no longer energy, enterprise, or courage, to come up to a great and self-denying work. But when we see that the State of Maine has enterprise and courage, as a State, to rise up and pass laws excluding intoxicating drinks from her borders; when we see the majority of the population, some of them at great pecuniary sacrifice, united in supporting and enforcing this law; and in consequence of it, the prisons being emptied, the dockets of courts almost clear of cases of crime, pauperism becoming a thing unknown, we cannot but feel encouraged that there is yet a restoring force in our country.
It has now become a moral certainty, that Maine will never recede from this law; and as long as she holds to it, her example will tell on every part of the Union; and there will be a great moral conflict in every State, until it extends over our whole Union.
It is a remarkable fact, that, wherever the Maine law conflict arises, a just anti-slavery sentiment generally goes with it. The two reforms appear to be twin brothers, and the support of the one very materially leads to the support of the other.
When a man's principles of right have been so strengthened, that he will give up a lucrative business from conscientious considerations, he necessarily gains in moral force; and the same principles which he has applied to the rum traffic, apply also to the traffic in slaves.
When the temperance reform has awakened the courage, energy, and virtuous feelings of the community, the evil of slavery is more likely to be seen and felt. They find that the same arguments apply to the slave traffic and to the rum traffic; that they have the same class of opposers and the same class of defenders, and I trust it will prove but a step from the one to the other.
It would much assist our cause, if all the friends of anti-slavery in Great Britain would earnestly and prayerfully consider the claims of the temperance cause.
According to the observations which we made among you, nothing but intemperance now stands in the way of your lower classes being as happy and as well off in every respect as any in the world.
Could you once see the results which have been exhibited in the State of Maine, where the temptation to intoxicating drinks has been entirely banished, you could never doubt this.
We are grieved to learn that some of our anti-slavery friends in England look with coolness upon the temperance cause, and even utter unfriendly sentiments with regard to it. Nothing could be greater grief to the friends of the slave in this country, because it exceedingly lessens the moral force of their testimony against slavery.
Excuse the freedom of these remarks, made in all Christian earnestness and affection.
May God so guide us in all things, that our good be not evil spoken of, and that we be left to defend nothing which is opposed to his glory and the good of man.
It remains that I close this too long epistle by presenting, once more, my affectionate thanks to those many dear friends in Glasgow, whose kindness made my visit there so delightful.
The contents of this letter are designed equally for anti-slavery societies of Scotland and England.
I transmit them through your Society, because through you I received that invitation, which led me to make the pleasing acquaintance of so many friends.
You will communicate my letter to them in such a way as you deem expedient.
Very affectionately yours,
H. B. STOWE
I am happy to add, that the elections which have occurred within a few days, in the great State of Massachusetts and New York, have returned legislators decidedly favorable to the Maine law, and that in New York, a decided majority is thus gained for Mr. Seward, the anti-slavery Senator to the United States Congress.