New Englander
Unsigned Review
New Haven: W. L. Kingsley, February 1855


  A South-side View of Slavery; or, Three Months at the South, in 1854. By NEHEMIAH ADAMS, D. D. Boston: T. R. Marvin and B. B. Mussey & Co.

  THE author of "A South-Side View of Slavery," as our readers well know, is a highly respectable pastor of one of the orthodox churches of Boston. Outside of his congregation, to whom he is understood to be greatly endeared, both as a preacher and a faithful pastor, his reputation rests upon occasional sermons and a choice volume, entitled, "The Friends of Christ in the New Testament." He has never been prominent before the public, in connection with the reformatory movements of the day, nor has he published much, if anything, with reference to public affairs. How he was led to the preparation of the book lying before us, is quickly told. An invalid friend, hoping for benefit from the bland air of the South, needed a companion. This office belonged to our author, and he accordingly, spent about three months in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. As he looked about him, and found all things different from his preconceived notions, he at


first felt surprise, which grew upon him by degrees, until he seems to have experienced a complete revolution in his thoughts and feelings on the subject of slavery. Thereupon he was induced to write, and as the result, we have "A South-Side View of Slavery."

  The book is well written, and is adapted to make an impression on young minds; and indeed, upon all minds that are not informed, and grounded on right principles, with regard to slavery in the United States. We have no doubt that the author wished to be candid and to give a fair view of things as he saw them. Nor can the reader doubt that he is perusing the words of a man who is a friend of the colored race. He may, perhaps, pray that the negroes may be saved from such friends; but the evidence is abundant that the author desires the temporal and eternal welfare of the slaves. His hearty sympathy with them in their religious meetings, proves that he is not their enemy, and that he is not consciously moved by any other desire, with respect to them, than that they may be made good and happy. And yet, if the slaves could read the book which he has written about them, they would, undoubtedly, withhold their confidence, and feel that an enemy could not do them and their cause a greater injury than has been done by him.

  The book has a significant title. It is not a "North-Side View," nor an "Interior View," nor a round-about, "periscopic" View of slavery, but emphatically, a "South-Side View." It is even more limited in its scope. It is not the view which the majority of the people of the South would take; not the view of many non-slaveholders, nor of some slaveholders, nor of any of the slaves. It is the South-side view, which those take who look through the glasses of the adherents, or defenders, or the apologists of the system of American slavery. And the work throughout, notwithstanding occasional, apparent exceptions faithfully corresponds to its title. Nor is this all. Not content with taking a South-Side view, the author takes pains to disclaim all North-Side views,—some with sorrowful complainings, and others with bitter philippies. He takes the part of the South as the injured party, who have been subjected to the loss of their property, their peace, and their good name, by the ill-judged, impertinent, and mischievous interference of infidels, radicals, political parties, religious societies, and ecclesiastical bodies at the North.

  . . . We have known many young persons, of either sex, who have spent a year or more at the South, as teachers, agents, or peddlers. Some of these, after their return, have set themselves up as oracles on the subject of slavery, and have learned to look down with compassionate pity, or withering contempt, on those simple people, who still persist in thinking slavery a cruel and unjust system. This class of persons go to the South with incorrect ideas of the real evil of slavery, and with exaggerated notions of the physical hardships that slaves are obliged to endure. Supposing the negroes are half-starved, that they are whipped continually, and that they are a cowed down, melancholy looking race; and overlooking the fact that the great curse of slavery is, to be a slave, whether well or ill-treated, they soon change their views, and become the apologists of what they had been educated to detest. The process is very easy and natural. Our northern traveler finds himself in a southern hotel, or more probably, in the house of a friend, where he is surrounded with comforts. He soon learns that all his success, all his happiness, while there, must come from the favor of a certain caste. They are intelligent, polite, hospitable, and spirited. The slaves are mere servants, who must do their master's bidding. There is no public opinion which the slaveholders do not form; there is no power which they do not


monopolize; there is no honor but what is in their gift. The feted traveler insensibly takes up the views, and imbibes the feelings of the class with which he associates, and from which be is receiving polite attentions. Then he sees hundreds of slaves every day, and yet hears no sound of the lash; he sees stout, healthy, laughing boys and girls, and therefore infers that all the negroes are well-fed, well-treated, and happy. It follows, that he is ashamed of himself for his former ignorance, vexed at the "fanatics" who have misled him, and proud of his newly acquired knowledge. He begins to tell his southern friends of his change of opinion; and he becomes so zealous in apologizing for slavery, that he is set down as a hypocrite, a sharper, or a dunce; while in fact he is neither but the victim of his own erroneous notions. He then comes home, and is conspicuous among those who are called "northern men with southern principles;" and assumes to have exclusive knowledge of the whole subject, because he has been South, and actually seen the slaves.

  It is not strange that a portion of the youth who go from the North to the southern states, should have such an experience as this; but we are surprised that a man of talents, of education, and of thought, could have undergone such a complete revolution in his views on any subject, as the author of the "South-Side View" seems to have experienced, on the subject of slavery. We read the first few pages which give his "preconceived views," and are amazed that he entertained them; we read how they were put to flight, and suddenly followed by others quite as wide of the mark, and our amazement increases. Nor can we imagine how the reading of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," or the "White Slave," or even the "Key," could have led one so far from the truth. There is but one "Topsy" in the whole "Cabin," while there are dozens of rollicking children, with very little to do but to plague Chloe or Dinah. There is a "Marie," indeed, but she is the picture of the good-for-nothing fine lady everywhere; while the admirable "Mrs. Shelby" is the kind-hearted, pious mistress of a plantation. There is a description of a slave-pen, with Uncle Tom in sorrow, and Adolphe in vexation; but all the rest are in roaring glee at the grimaces of an ebony buffoon. Among the many merits of this wonderful novel, is this,—its fidelity to truth. It gives almost every phase of southern life but the dinner party and the political meeting, and its scenes are true to the life. As we read, and re-read, and compare its descriptions with our own recollections, we are free to say, that it will enable the reader to obtain a more correct view of southern society than


all other books pertaining to the subject, that ever have fallen under our notice.

  But it matters not from what source our author learned his views of slavery. It is clear that they were saddening enough to his own mind, if we may judge from the following passage: I felt sure that I should see on landing, the whole black population cowed down. This best expresses in a word my expectation. 'I am a slave,' will be indented on the faces, limbs, and actions of the bondmen. Hopeless woe, entreating, yet despairing, will frequently meet me.' And all this, after reading of Sam and Andy, those bundles of uproarious mirth, and of Uncle Tom, the happiest man in all the world.