The Independent
New York: 9 June 1853

The Senior Editor on Uncle Tom's Cabin.

  We find in the New York Observer, a carefully prepared article by "the senior editor," who avails himself of the absence of his junior and more impetuous partner, to give his own opinion touching the merits of Uncle Tom's Cabin. He has the honor to differ in some important respects from the ruling genius of that journal. Recognizing the portentous fact that the book in question "has probably been more extensively read during the past year than any other in the English language"—a fact to which the Observer, under the guidance of its junior editor, has unintentionally contributed its quota of influence—he frankly admits "that the book is the production of genius of high order," but affirms that "in its moral and religious character there is throughout a strange mixture of good and bad." Heretofore, if we remember right, those who take their opinions from what Prof. Stowe has inconsiderately denominated "the leading religious newspaper in the United States," have not been allowed to think that Uncle Tom's Cabin has a "mixture of good" in it, or even that it is a "production of genius of high order."

  It is worth while to observe how many "good points" the "senior editor" has found in that "famous book," and what they are. We cannot but opine that if the junior editor had been equally perspicacious at the proper time, he might have spared himself some trouble.

  The good points are numbered as follows.

  "1. The character of Uncle Tom.

  "Uncle Tom is a truly pious negro slave; one of the converts at a Methodist camp-meeting in Kentucky; a really conscientious, simple-hearted, evangelical Christian, and the character is well sustained throughout the narrative. Uncle Tom loves the Bible, and loves to pray; loves and obeys his master; refuses to escape to Canada when he has a fair opportunity, and is strongly tempted to do so; forgets himself, and sacrifices himself constantly, for the good of others; prays for his oppressor; respectfully refuses to allow himself to be made an instrument of cruelty and injustice; and dies for the firmness with which he adheres to his resolution."

  "2. The character of little Eva."

* * * * *

  "3. Mrs. Stowe has the fairness to exhibit one of the bright features in the system of slavery.

  "Slavery is a great evil, but it is not all evil. Mrs. S. shows that the relation of master and slave is capable of being made an exceedingly endearing one. Mrs. Shelby and her son George, Augustine St. Clare and his daughter Eva love the slaves, and are loved in return with a simplicity and warmth of affection truly captivating. This strong mutual attachment grows directly out of the power of the master under the system of slavery to make the relation a permanent one. Such attachment is comparatively rare between employers and their hired dependents in England and in the northern states. In a book clearly intended to excite the reader against the system of slavery, it is no small merit, in these days of denunciatory abolitionism, that the author dared to say anything in its favor."

  This, we have no doubt, is well meant, though not very carefully expressed. Doubtless "the relation of master and slave is capable of being made an exceedingly endearing one." The master may be, in return, affectionate, docile and grateful. But this is no part of "the system of slavery." It is not at all necessary to mutual affection between master and servant, that the master shall have the power to sell the servant, or the power to flog him, or the power to violate all that is sacred in his relations to his wife and children, or the power to rob him of all his earnings; and "the senior editor" well knows that the system of slavery is made up only of such elements as these. It is such powers as these, lodged by law in the hands of the master, that make the free servant a slave. To say that the affection which sometimes springs up between the master and the slave, which is either a sort of vis medicatrix naturae working against the dreadful disorder—a struggle of gentle and genial nature to heal the violence which she has suffered, or perhaps the mightier working of the grace of God in the hearts of master and slave, assuaging the harshness of an unrighteous human institution—to say that this is "a bright feature in the system of slavery," is at the best to speak inaccurately.

  But let us proceed with the catalogue of "good points" in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

  "4. The liability of the slave to be separated forever, at the arbitrary will of another, from his nearest relatives and friends, is justly represented as the great evil of American slavery.

  "This is indeed a sore evil, demanding the earnest attention of all wise and humane legislators at the south. * * * In some parts of the south, indeed, the law does now, and has for many years forbidden the sale of the slave child from its mother; and southern philanthropists, we know, have for a long time been anxious to extend legal protection to the conjugal relation. When the attention of the wise and good in any land is awake to a domestic evil, a great clamor about it elsewhere is unnecessary, and commonly in not calculated to aid in removing it."

  We hope that "all wise and humane legislators at the South" will carefully ponder the "sore evil," which the senior editor of the New York Observer concurs with Mrs. Stowe in commending to their attention. If they should take any action in regard to it—if for example the legislature of Virginia should enact a law next winter or at any future time, to protect the slaves in that commonwealth from a liability so dreadful, we shall be happy to copy the earliest authentic intelligence of the new law from our venerable contemporary. Meanwhile we hope that the senior editor will employ some leisure hour in telling the public exactly how many states there are at the south which have laws to forbid "the sale of the slave child from its mother"; what are, in each of those states, the precise provisions are, in each of those states, the precise provisions of the law on that point; and whether those laws are on the whole any more effectual to prevent the separation of slave children from their mothers, than the license laws of New York are to prevent the unlicensed sale of intoxicating liquors.

  "5. Mrs. Stowe does not regard slaveholding as in itself a sin.

  ""She makes Miss Ophelia, a rigidly conscientious Christian from New England, after residing for a short time in Louisiana, become a slaveholder, at her own request, by receiving a regular deed conveying a legal title to a slave named Topsy, who is carried to Vermont, educated, and sent as a missionary to Africa. If Miss Ophelia had been a Quaker, or an abolitionist of the Garrison or English stamp, she could not have received the deed, and poor Topsy, instead of being a free happy Christian preacher of the Gospel in Africa, would probably have continued all her life a miserable heathen, and might have been sent to pick cotton, under the lash, on Simon Legree's Red river plantation. Mrs. S. probably made Miss Ophelia a slaveholder for the purpose of administering a reproof to those abolitionists who maintain that slaveholding under all circumstances is a sin."

  "6. Mrs. Stowe is friendly to the colonization of the negroes in Africa.

  "After landing several fugitive slaves safely in Canada, and after carrying Topsy to New England, and placing her there in a Christian family, Mrs. S. seems to be conscious that she has done very little for their benefit. * * * * She has the good sense, therefore, to send them all to Liberia, to help build up in Africa a nation which will prove, to all who undervalue the capabilities of the negro race, that God has fitted them to act a conspicuous and glorious part in the future history of the world."

  It seems strange to us that so intelligent a critic could omit, in his catalogue of "good points," the character of St. Clare. A more appreciative representation of the highest style of southern character, or one more fitted to make a stranger understand the difficulties of such a man's position, was never made. Nor, since Hamlet, has the literature of the English language been enriched with any tragic portraiture at once so high and so human as this of St. Clare. How tame and common-place by the side of it, is even that most admirable of all the tragic characters in the works of Walter Scott, "the Master of Ravenswood" in "The Bride of Lammermoor." To our thought, neither the ethereal loveliness of little Eva, nor the martyr heroism of Uncle Tom, is so impressive in its lessons for thoughtless and irreligious readers as is the entire character and story of Eva's loving and disconsolate father and Tom's magnanimous but irresolute and procrastinating master.

  We now come to the "faults" imputed by this critic to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

  "1. Full justice is not done to the character of the American slaveholder for humanity and generosity.

  "Mrs. Stowe does indeed represent some slaveholders at the south as kind and generous masters, but the reader rises from her book with the impression that, as a body, they are cruel and selfish."

  We take the liberty to say, in answer to this accusation, that if the reader rises from Mrs. Stowe's book with any such impression, the blame of it cannot be reasonably imputed to the book nor to its author. Her representations of slave-holders, as distinguished from slave-traders, are not chargeable, on the whole with any exaggeration in that direction.

  "The character of the American slaveholder [not of some individuals, but of the American slaveholder generally considered] for humanity and generosity" towards his slaves is written in the laws of the slaveholding states. We cannot but think that our respected friend would form a more accurate judgment concerning the character of the genus "American slaveholder," if he would undertake to collect and digest from those laws, and from the judicial decisions under them, whatever provisions or principles have in them any touch of humanity or generosity toward the slave.

  Two "great facts" are cited by the editor, which, he thinks, are proof "that the slaves at the south are on the whole remarkably well-treated, and that their masters are nowhere excelled in willingness to make generous sacrifices of property to principle."

  "First. The census of 1850 shows that the natural increase of the slaves during the ten years previous was 29 per cent., while that of the whites in the whole United States was only 26 per cent., and that of the free blacks only about 10 per cent. Slaves could not increase 29 per cent. in ten years if infanticide, and suicide, and working men to death on the plantations, and general misery prevailed to the extent that many readers of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" imagine. Increase at that rate implies that the slaves generally are well cared for; and the fact that the free blacks increase only at about one-third of that rate amounts almost to a demonstration that their condition is less happy than that of the slaves, and that mere emancipation is not the true remedy for the great evil of the south.

  "Secondly. The negroes voluntarily emancipated at the south would be worth, in the market, as slaves, more than $100,000,000. Neither the people of England, nor the people of any other country on the globe, ever made such a sacrifice as this to anti-slavery principles. But this is not all. The sacrifice might probably have been doubled and trebled if emancipation had proved a blessing to the negro."

  If "many readers of Uncle Tom's Cabin" imagine that "infanticide, and suicide, and working men to death on the plantations" are so prevalent as to cut off the natural increase of the enslaved population, then we have only to say, in regard to that fact, that "many readers of Uncle Tom's Cabin" have more imagination than common sense—which is not strange, considering that the readers of that book, all told, are probably not fewer than ten millions. The increase of slaves in the United States is as easily accounted for as the increase of horses or of swine. Slaves are chattels, or merchandise. Slaves are raised for the market. Every slave-child born is so much added to his master's wealth. The increase of the enslaved population, therefore, instead of being conformed to the laws which regulate the increase of human beings in a state of freedom, follows the laws which regulate the increase of cattle. As the increase of horses in the census does not prove that horses are not sometimes by cruel drivers, and sometimes "worked to death" upon system; as the increase of swine does not disprove the current belief that a great many swine are slaughtered every year at Cincinnati, so the increase of slaves in the census does not disprove the notorious facts that slaves are sometimes cruelly abused and tortured; that sometimes they are over-tasked, even to their death; and that sometimes they are driven by despair to infanticide and to suicide. Nothing but the extremity of cruel treatment can hinder slaves from multiplying on the hands of their owners.

  But our old friend is sure of his conclusion. "Increase at that rate implies that the slaves generally are well cared for"—nay, that they are "on the whole remarkably well treated."

  Then certainly the increase of the Israelites in the land of Egypt demonstrates that on the whole they were remarkably well treated there, and that Pharaoh ought to be honored through the world for his "humanity and generosity."

  The other "great fact" is one which has done duty so often in the Observer, that it has almost ceased to be amusing. At first, an intelligent reader could hardly suppress a smile at an argument so absurd; and nobody, if our memory serves us, ever thought it worth answering. But when the poor, weak thing is brought out so often, one cannot but feel that to extinguish it and put it out of its misery is no more than an act of charity. "The negroes voluntarily emancipated at the south would be worth in the market, as slaves, more than one hundred millions of dollars." The meaning of this is, that by the census of 1850, there are in the fifteen slaveholding States, 237,006 free blacks, including a great many mulattoes, and not a few whose blood is almost wholly Anglo-Saxon; that if these free people were all slaves they would be worth to their owners, on an average, at the present prices of human flesh, more than $420 each; and that the amount thus estimated (100,000,000 dollars), represents the actual pecuniary sacrifice which the slaveholders in our southern states have made "to anti-slavery principles"—a greater sacrifice, as the senior editor assures us, than has ever been made by the people of any other country on the globe. In kindness to our neighbor, and that he may not expose his inconsiderateness again, we will now show him how he deludes himself about this "great fact."

  (1.) What are the 237,006 free people of color in the slaveholding states? The argument presumes that they are all emancipated slaves. We will hazard the opinion that 200,000 of them were born free. Who are they? Let our friend tell if he can how many of them are essentially of the Anglo-Saxon race. How many are there in whose veins is the proud Norman blood of the first families of Virginia? The children of the late Richard M. Johnson, once Vice President of the United States, and we know not how many men equally distinguished at the South, are counted in that column of the census. If a man is unwilling to send his own children to be sold to the slave-traders, and accordingly takes pains to secure them from so horrible a fate, shall we celebrate that man as an extraordinary example of "humanity and generosity," glorify the costliness of the "sacrifice" which he has made "to anti-slavery principles"? Not a few of the emancipated slaves are persons who have bought their own liberty, under a compact with their masters, paying for it by the slowly accumulated wages of labor which they have voluntarily performed beyond the tasks assigned by the ordinary discipline of slavery. Others have been bought, in the same way, by their parents, by their husbands or wives, or by other friends. When a man sells his slave, and gets a fair price for him, is that regular business transaction to be set down to his credit as a memorable act of humanity and a glorious "sacrifice to anti-slavery principles"? David Rice, the confidential servant emancipated by the will of Secretary Upshur, [see Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, p. 24,] if he is still living, and if he has not been expelled from Virginia by the force of the laws prohibiting emancipation in that State, is one of the 237,006 free blacks in the Southern States as reported by the census. Was his emancipation a "sacrifice" to Mr. Upshur's anti-slavery principles? Was it not rather the simplest payment of a debt? How many other instances are there of the same kind?

  (2.) What difference is there in point of "humanity and generosity" between the conduct of the Southern States in permitting a part of their colored people to be free, and the conduct of the Northern states in permitting all their colored people to be free? At the date of the last census, there were in the free-labor states, 211,655 free people of the same sort with those who are bought and sold in the New Orleans market. Assuming that the senior editor's information is correct as to the average price of slaves of all ages and conditions and of both sexes, these people, if enslaved by law, might be sold in the market for about $90,000,000. It seems then that the amount of property sacrificed to anti-slavery principles in the very Utopia of humanity and generosity, is only about one-tenth greater than the amount sacrificed to anti-slavery principles in the cold and niggard North.

  (3.) Why not apply the same reasoning to other classes of people who happen to be free but might be enslaved? Germans, we believe, and Scandinavians, and Dutch, when naturalized in this country are commonly considered to be Anglo-Saxons. But the Irish are not at all of that race; they even abhor the name. Whatever reasons there are, in a philosophic or philanthropic point of view, for enslaving our own native Africo-American population with their large infusion of Anglo-Saxon blood, will be found equally conclusive in favor of enslaving the immigrant Irish. See how ignorant they are—how ragged, how unfit to take care of themselves. See how slow is their natural increase, and how great is the mortality among them. The conclusion is not to be resisted that the slavery which is so beneficent an institution for negroes, and for which there is so ample a warrant in the Bible, would be an equally beneficent arrangement for these poor immigrant Irish. See then, how much the people of these states are sacrificing every year. Irish men, women, and children, are doubtless worth as much on an average as negroes. Estimating the annual immigration at only 50,000, we have a yearly sacrifice of $2,100,000—a sacrifice of more than two hundred millions of dollars every ten years—which the people of the United States are making to their anti-slavery principles. And how ill-judged is this sacrifice! If every poor Irishman arriving here were put into the absolute power of an owner who would have a vested interest in his life and health—if every Irish woman were converted into property, and disposed of to some person who would thus have a vested interest in her person, and in all her unborn or possible children, on that beautiful principle partus sequitur ventrem—what a saving would there be of human life, and what rapidity in the increase of our native Irish population! And besides all this, the immigrants generally, as everybody knows, are poor blinded Papists of the most ignorant and bigoted sort. But under the arrangement which we have suggested, and which has heretofore so strangely escaped the perspicacity of both statesmen and of philanthropists, how soon might they be brought up to the same high level of moral and spiritual improvement to which the Southern negroes have been elevated!

  (4.) If all the free blacks in the Southern States may be counted, and estimated at the current price of human beings in the slave-market, as showing exactly the pecuniary sacrifice which the people of those States, in their humanity and generosity, have made to anti-slavery principles, then why may we not apply the same calculation to all parallel cases? At the time of the Norman conquest, the laboring people of England were all enslaved. They were taken and divided among the conquerors as the soil was. At the present time the humbler laboring classes in England—particularly the agricultural peasantry and the manufacturing and mining operatives—are as really an emancipated Saxon population. They have become free not by insurrection, nor by conquest, but by the consent of their owners in the slow progress of civilization. Let our friend, then, the senior editor, apply his statistical knowledge to this problem. Let him calculate how much the entire operative population of England would be worth in the market at the present average price of slaves; and the result will show, in dollars, the sacrifice which the landholders of England have made to anti-slavery principles. The calculation is rather too large for us to enter upon, but we opine that the result would be an amount quite large enough to balance the national debt of Great Britain.

  We must curtail our notice of the other faults which this critic has found in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

  2. "Justice is not rendered to American slaveholders for what they have done in the religious instruction of the slaves."

  This may be passed over with the obvious remark that the avowed plan and purpose of the book did not require the author to give the statistics of the efforts made by various religious bodies at the South for the conversion of the slaves. The fact that some slaves have religious instruction, such as it is, and that the slaves generally have some sort of religious privileges, is a fact which almost the entire story assumes and illustrates.

  3. "The grossest injustice is done to ministers of the Gospel in America.

  "They are scarcely ever introduced but with a sneer; and they are represented as not merely justifying the temporary continuance of the system of slavery, but as not daring to preach the Gospel faithfully in relation to the system, and, some of them, as holding sentiments which render them callous to the most grievous oppressions practised under it! This libel on the American clergy is extensively believed throughout Europe, and must for a time do much to destroy the influence of American example on the progress of Reform in that part of the world."

  Surely the senior editor of the New York Observer need not be informed that ministers of the Gospel of all denominations, in the Southern States, nor universally, but as generally understood by the American people North and South, have identified themselves with slavery as its defenders. By this we mean not merely that they are understood to recognize slaveholding as a relation which a good man may sometimes sustain without forfeiture of Christian character; but that they are understood to maintain, in the abused name of Christ, that the actually existing institution and system of slavery is right, and is not to be denounced or protested against by Christian men acting as free citizens in a democracy. Nor need the venerable editor be informed that, to a painful extent, leading ministers of the Gospel in the Northern States, pastors of rich and fashionable congregations in which the elders and vestrymen and chief supporters have their wealth by selling to Southern customers, have allowed themselves to be understood as committed either by some positive utterance or by their judicious silence, to the same abhorred position. We will not name any of those ministers, either North or South; for he can name enough of them if he will. We will only say that Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge is not one of them; nor is Dr. John C. Young. If all the ministers at the South, or all the Presbyterian ministers there, had taken such a position in regard to slavery as those two eminent men have taken, the allusions in Uncle Tom's Cabin to the Southern style of preaching and teaching about slavery would naturally have been of a different character.

  4. "The book is obviously intended to incite the people of the Northern States to refuse to comply with their constitutional engagements.

  "The constitution of the United States, as our readers well know, provides, &c. * * * * Within a few years, however, a conscience has been got up on this subject, and many persons at the North now think it is wrong to deliver up fugitive slaves, not only in cases of extreme oppression, but in any case whatever. * * * A refusal by the people of the Northern States to comply with their engagement in the provision of the constitution to which we have referred, would nullify the whole instrument," &c. &c.

  We deny that the intention of the book may be fitly described in the terms above quoted. "The book is obviously intended" for a different purpose—a purpose which every reader understands unless he reads with a predisposition to find fault. That purpose is to make the reader feel the exceeding wickedness of the system under which persons are held to service in some fifteen states, and the inevitable and helpless wretchedness of the people whom that system oppresses—a wretchedness which no humanity or generosity on the part of the masters, and no refined or Christian gentleness on the part of the mistresses, can adequately remedy till the system itself is changed.

  Our friend seems to admit that "in cases of extreme oppression," it may be right not to deliver up a fugitive. We beg leave to assure him that every case of a person held to service under the slave code of the Southern States, is a case of extreme oppression. To deliver a man into "the absolute power" of an owner, making him "liable to all the vicissitudes of property," annihilating by law all the dignity of his human nature and all the divinely guarded sanctity of his relation to his wife and children, exposing him to the horrid chance of being torn from every object of affection at any moment by the passion, the avarice, the caprice, or the misfortune of his owner—what is extreme oppression on the part of a state towards a human being living under its jurisdiction, if this is not?

  The senior editor is afraid that if the people of the Northern States fully understand and feel the wickedness of that oppression from which the fugitive slave escapes, they will so generally refuse to aid and abet in the capture of such fugitives under the existing law; and he thinks that such a refusal to comply with the provision of the constitution for the surrender of fugitives from service would nullify the whole instrument. But is he not aware that in this metropolis, the center to which fugitive apprentices most naturally resort from all parts of the Union, the commissioners under the act of 1850, have refused to act in the case of a fugitive from service who is not a slave, thus leaving the master of a runaway apprentice without redress, while heaven and earth and Castle Garden shall be appealed to, and the Herald and the Observer shall join in the cry of indignation if a runaway slave escapes to Canada in spite of the zeal of commissioners? Is the whole constitution nullified, now that the master of a runaway apprentice from Newark cannot recover his boy by any legal process in New York?

  There is one more particular in the indictment, but our commentary is already too long, and we will reserve that topic till next week.