Southern Slavery. A Glance at Uncle Tom's Cabin.
BY A SOUTHERNER.
So far from being disposed to quarrel with Mrs. STOWE on account of her book, we are really pleased to see that it has attracted so much attention. We had thought that the commercial spirit was in the ascendant so decidedly, as to make it a very difficult talk to touch the heart of the great world, or to make it throb with generous impulses. In the progress of civilization, we have almost attained the state which entitles us to BURKE’s splendid and indignant description of Europe, viewed under the baleful light of the French revolution—"but the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators, has succeeded."
The commercial spirit, which estimates everything by market prices, is very powerful. But there is one beautiful and noble exception of the depth of that generous current which yet flows through the world: there is one fact which will vindicate our age from the reproach of utter selfishness. The tone of Lady FRANKLIN, tones of blended sadness and hope, imploring good and brave men to search the Polar seas for the unreturning ships which bore Sir JOHN and his companions into those unknown ice-regions, sent a thrill throughout the civilized world. Year after year sees generous and courageous men push the keels of their vessels far into those frozen solitudes; the light of hope scarcely sheds a gleam upon the icebergs which surround them, but they yet spread their sails in the midst of eternal Winter, and seek to find some trace of the long lost navigators. It is to be feared that we may borrow for Sir JOHN and his companions the mournful lines of GRAY’s Elegy in a Country Church-yard:
"For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Still, the very search will do good; it sets at defiance the sophisters, economists and calculators of our day; and in the very midst of the busy and noisy shops, and great warehouses filled with the products of the world, heaped up by wealth, and in the market places where men trade, it proclaims the supreme authority of the affections, and sets up the law of love.
The success of the sketches of "Life among the Lowly," satisfies us, too, that the world can be moved by a tale of wrong and oppression; and we will not complain of the world, or of Mrs. STOWE,—although we see that there is a misunderstanding on both sides; the world being in tears over a work of the imagination, and Mrs. STOWE glowing with the thought that she is accomplishing a great moral revolution.
We have said that we think the book must produce great results, and we certainly hope so.
Its aim is to exhibit the evils of Slavery; and the two great pictures which it presents are, the slave sold to a trader and placed under his unchecked and mercenary will, and the slave toiling for a harsh, avaricious and merciless master, upon a Southern plantation. Let us look at these pictures,—they deserve to be studied; and above all men, the people of the South should study them. For whatever is to be done for the slave, must be done by his master; the abolitionist can do nothing for him—his misguided efforts only retard the amelioration of the condition of the enslaved race, by making it necessary to observe a stricter police system in the plantation States, and by putting it out of the power of the enlightened and humane men in the South to undertake any modification of the system. We have seen the shadow actually go back upon the dial under a Southern sun. It is again advancing. Since the adjustment of the great controversy by the passage of the Compromise measures, a much better sentiment has been manifested in regard to the slave question, in the Southern States, than existed for some years previous to that time.
Mrs. Stowe undertakes the expose the abuses of Slavery, and her first object is to show how the internal slave traffic works. She selects some incidents to illustrate this. In every case the same exaggerated style prevails; and every case appeals to our sensibilities in the most painful way. We are not in the least degree disposed to find fault with this; for no one can exceed us in that detestation of the Slave traffic which is so powerfully exhibited both at the North and the South. It is often attended with the most revolting circumstances. It is proper that its abuses should be exposed; and it is to be hoped that the vivid sketches of the results of this inhuman traffic which are found in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, will contribute a powerful momentum to Southern opinion in regard to it. That opinion is already advancing, and we hope to see it reach a point of such high and commanding power, as will enable it to control and shape Legislation, until a thorough reformation can be effected, and the true principles of Christian statesmanship find a place in the code of every Southern State. Slavery is one thing, the Slave trade is quite another thing. To regard the slave as a mere chattel, to overlook or treat with contempt his moral nature, to trifle with his sensibility or do violence to his affections, to regard him mainly as a being who is to be bought or sold whenever the state of the market will make the speculation pay, without any reference to his volition, without consulting his relations to his home, his wife, his children, is so utterly and eternally at war with the spirit of Christianity, that we look with indignation upon every such instance which meets the eye. Fetters and the slave-pen we loathe. Mrs. STOWE does not, however, we believe, paint from real life, when she represents Haly as seated at the table of Mr. Shelby, engaged in familiar conversation over the wine.
It is quite certain that no such scene can be witnessed in any Southern State. Haly would be regarded not merely with distaste, but with aversion, and his presence would not be allowed to pollute the family group of any Southern gentleman.
It is unjust in a high degree, to call upon the civilized world to see Haly seated at the table of Mr. Shelby, and then to observe him, as he stops at a neighboring smith-shop to adjust the fetters to the limbs of the faithful Uncle Tom, the early friend of Mr. Shelby, the trusted and confidential slave, who had never deceived him, and whose religious character was revered by his master.
No one acquainted with Southern gentlemen, will fail to see that this picture is not true to nature; there is in it a fatal want of harmony. The sale of Uncle Tom to Haly is a voluntary one; it is true, he holds a claim against Mr. Shelby, but yet the sale is voluntary, and it is represented as that of a man of some kindness of heart, at least, and whose good breeding is not to be questioned,—a man who esteems himself a gentleman,—invites a wretch, like Haly, to sit at his table and take wine with him; and this gentleman consents, presently, to sell to the trader his most valued servant,—in truth, the friend of his youth—and a child reared in his own house; and this traffic is carried on without the intervention of the stern process of the law, but in a most amiable way. Now, if Mrs. STOWE wishes to represent that some modification should be made in the codes of the several Slaveholding States, a modification so great as to protect the sacred which bind alike the hearts of the white and the colored races, we say at once—we say, with all our Southern blood rushing with the rapidity and force of an ocean tide—throw the ample shield of the law between the slave and the detestable trader.
One of the great evils of Slavery is, that changes sometimes come over the fortunes of the master, which affect as deeply the fortunes of the slave. Debt, that blighting curse which attends civilization, and which the Shepherd of Salisbury Plain dreaded next to sin, deprives the master of a valued and trusted friend, and the slave of a protector and a home. The Democratic principle has entered so largely into our political system, that all property is exposed to the process of law, and lands, houses, slaves, whatever we most value, is brought under the hammer, and sold to the highest bidder, if we are overtaken by the calamity of owing that which we cannot pay. In most of the States, imprisonment for debt is abolished, and it ought to be abolished everywhere. No man should be permitted to cast his fellow-man into prison, there to remain until he has paid the uttermost farthing.
We venture to say, too, that we think the laws of the Slaveholding States ought to be so amended, as to prevent slaves from being sold under executions for debts. We believe that the day is not distant, when the benign spirit of that Christianity which is destined to restore the world to its pristine purity, will effect this change in our laws. Slaves will then be protected in those social relations which ought never to be broken up;—the sanctity of home, the indestructible marriage tie, the tender attachment which binds parent and child, the reciprocal confidence between master and slave,—all will be respected, and Slavery will lose some of those features which give to the whole system a most unhappy aspect. We might hope, too, to see the traffic in slaves still further restricted, by putting it out of the power of the master to separate those who are connected by ties which ought never to be broken.
The true friends of the social system of the Slaveholding States, will undoubtedly, in good time, effect these changes in the laws which relate to Slavery.
Already great modifications have been introduced into the laws of some of the Southern States. Take, for example, the State of Alabama. This noble State, now rapidly advancing, not only in wealth, but in all that constitutes true civilization, is leading the way in that work of reformation, which promises to make the system of Slavery, within its limits, a model of productive and cheerful labor.
Its new code contains some excellent provisions in regard to the separation of slave families. No execution can be levied on a child under the age of ten years, without including the mother; or upon the mother, without including the child; and they must be sold together, if they belong to the same person, unless the owner will make, and deliver to the officer who has them in charge, an affidavit, that his interests will be materially prejudiced by selling the slaves together; but no levy or sale can be made, by which a child under five years of age shall be separated from its mother, under any circumstances.
It is also provided, that in all sales of slaves under the decree of a Chancery Court, or under any deed of trust, or power of sale in a mortgage, the slaves must, if practicable, be sold in families.
These humane provisions in a code of laws adopted in the most important Slaveholding State in the Union—a State which contributes millions of dollars annually to the exports of the country, produced by slave labor—afford the most cheering signs of the progress of the public sentiment; and it is not to be doubted that the benign influence of Christian principle will yet achieve a complete triumph over that dark and hideous selfishness, which has, in some instances, shocked the moral sense of mankind, by ignoring the claims of the African race to be considered as human beings, with human hearts beating within their dusky bosoms.
There is yet another feature which is not to be overlooked in estimating the state of the slave question, as it stands out to-day before the civilized world. The crowded slave population in most of the Southern States, suggests to thoughtful minds the importance of protecting these States from a further increase of that population by importation. The introduction of slaves from abroad for sale, has more than once been prohibited by Legislative enactments in several of the slaveholding States, and it will in time become the settled policy of them all.
This will, of course, effectually break up the internal slave trade; and it is the only mode in which it can be broken up. For we insist that this whole subject must be left to the undisturbed jurisdiction of the Slaveholding States; they comprehend it; they are profoundly interested in it, and they will deal with it in a spirit at once enlightened and philanthropic. To the eye of the calm observer of human events, as they are occurring in the United States, it is quite plain that a most favorable change is going on in the whole country—at the North and at the South—everywhere, in the manner of treating the questions respecting Slavery. The mercenary spirit is no longer ascendant; and while it would be too much to say that its power is altogether broken, it may be very safely said that it is more than ever heretofore restrained and modified by moral considerations. The whole traffic, we freely admit, from the day when the first slave ship turned its prow from the Coast of Africa, freighted with the unhappy beings destined to exile and servitude, to this day, when gangs of their doomed descendants, bought up like cattle and exposed in the shambles where lust and avarice may come to drive their bargains,—the whole traffic is revolting. It originated under the influence of
"Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell from heaven,"
and it still feels the impulse which he gave it; but the slave trade of the year of grace eighteen hundred and fifty-three is divested of much of its horror, because the blaze of noonday surrounds it, and its former abuses would no longer be tolerated. The chains, the fetters, and all the instruments of cruelty have disappeared. Such scenes as Mrs. STOWE describes: the putting irons on Uncle Tom, the sale of an infant from its mother’s arms, the cruel disregard of the entreaties of a mother, not to be separated from her daughter in the one instance, and her boy in the other; the whole Mississippi steamboat picture, the slave mart in New-Orleans, we do not believe are to be witnessed. They are powerful sketches, but we do not think them truthful. Yet we hope that they will result in good. Let the imagination have fair play in describing the slave trade; dip the pencil which traces the forms of the victims in the darkest colors; spread the canvas before the eyes of the whole world; bring down upon the traffic the thunders of human indignation, and you will yet not offend the sentiment of the Southern people. Scorn and loathing would nowhere in all the world look out from human countenances more witheringly upon such men as Haly, Tom Loker and Marks, than in the Southern States of the Union. Nor would a prompt sympathy be excited in behalf of the slave suffering from cruel treatment, from hunger, disease or nakedness, or from the disruption of natural ties, anywhere so soon as under the skies where the cotton-plant grows, and where the songs of cheerful labor greet the ear of the traveler, as he pursues his journey amid the almost tropical verdure of Southern plantations.