[From] Traveling in Vermont—Conversation with a Slaveholder.
Correspondence of the Circular.
Cambridge Community, May 26, 1853.
—I take an early opportunity to inform you of my arrival at our Northern Vermont home, and to give you some incidents of my journey.
I left Putney yesterday at 11 o'clock, A.M., expecting to spend the night at Northfield, as I supposed the afternoon train stopped there; but finding it going direct through to Montreal, I came on to my journey's end.
I had anticipated much pleasure in a trip through Vermont at this season of the year, when I could see her hills and mountains in their spring dress, fresh and green; but the day was rainy and dull, and I found nothing attractive outside the cars. I spent the day pleasantly, however, in reading the 'Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin,' and conversing occasionally with some fellow-passengers. The Vermonters I find much more inclined to enter into free conversation with strangers, when traveling in the cars, than the New Yorkers are.
After passing Montpelier, a gentleman who occupied an adjoining seat made some remark to me about the State of Vermont, which opened a conversation. We had talked a few moments, when he discovered that I held in my hand the book which I have mentioned. He at once exclaimed, 'Poh! that is a pack of the biggest lies that was ever published.' 'Are not these stories true?' said I, 'and is not Uncle Tom's Cabin a true picture of slavery?' 'No,' said he, 'it is abominable—a horrid exaggeration.' All this was said in a pleasant, respectful tone, though he evidently felt quite sensitive on the subject. Suspecting him to be a slaveholder, I said, 'Do you live at the South, sir?' 'I do,' said he; 'I live in Arkansas.' 'Are you a slaveholder,' I inquired. He replied, 'Yes, sir, I am; I have left my slaves in charge of my business at home, and I will defy all the abolitionists at the North to get them away. You at the North don't know anything about the attachment that exists between the slaves and their masters.'
Finding him disposed to converse freely on the subject of slavery, in a good natured way, I entered into a discussion with him, not expecting to convert him, but having just finished the second reading of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' and reading now the Key to it, I felt some interest to hear what a slaveholder would say at this day in favor of that 'peculiar institution.'
He had a good deal to say about the oppression that existed at the North—thought the North had faults enough of their own, without meddling with slavery. I freely admitted all he said about the North, and told him I was not one of those who thought slaveholders the only sinners in the world. This convinced him that I was disposed to reason with him candidly.
'But,' said I, 'all this does not make slavery right, or justify you in holding slaves. By what authority do you claim the right to hold human beings in bondage, and make merchandise of them?' He replied earnestly, 'The God that made them gave me the right. We have the Bible on our side—we have the law on our side, and we have custom on our side.' I told him that I should not admit that the Bible sustained slavery, and as for human laws and customs, they neither made it right or wrong—that I believed in a 'higher law,' &c.
'Christ came into the world,' said he, 'to destroy sin, and if slavery is such a sin as you at the North think it is, why did he not preach against it? He said nothing about it.' I replied, 'He did preach against slavery—not by attacking it directly, but by aiming his blows at the love of money, the axe was laid at the root of the tree. You destroy the love of money—the right of private ownership—and slavery falls to the ground. The gospel of Christ would free every slave, and make them Christians and brothers. The effect produced on the day of Pentecost, shows the spirit of the gospel of Christ. "No man said that aught of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common."' He was quite an intelligent man, and thoroughly posted up in all the arguments in favor of slavery, but this seemed to be a new idea to him; he simply said, 'That is rather straining the argument,' and then seemed in thought for a moment, as though he had never taken this view of it before.
He said, 'You Northerners, who have not been at the South, don't know anything about slavery. Nearly every Northern man who goes to the South to reside, becomes a slaveholder, and they are almost universally the hardest masters.' I told him that I supposed the reason of that was, because they engaged in it with no other motive than to make money, and that the 'love of money was the root of all evil,' &c.
He claimed that Southern slavery was instituted by God himself to elevate the African race, and then went on with quite an argument to show how much better off they are than they were in Africa. He said that slavery was the connecting link between barbarity and civilization—that it was for the interest of the master to use his slaves well, just as it would be for my interest if I had a valuable horse to have him well fed, that he might serve me the more faithfully.
I should judge that he was a kind master, and would get the affections of his slaves. . . .
Your brother, J. R. MILLER.