Southern Slavery. A Glance at Uncle Tom's Cabin.
BY A SOUTHERNER.
We have said that Slavery is one thing, and that the Slave-trade is quite another thing. In the popular mind they are confounded; and the thunderbolts which are hurled by indignant philanthropists against the system of domestic servitude which prevails at the South, are provoked by the atrocities of the Slave trade, in almost every instance. Of that traffic,—a traffic upon which the whole civilized world frowns, when its victims are torn from Africa, subjected to the horrors of the middle passage, and sold to hopeless servitude; but which, in a much milder form, is still carried on in this country,—we have, in our second paper, freely expressed our views.
Mrs. STOWE is too intelligent to blend the odious features of the Slave-trade with Slavery as it exists in its regular and well-ordered state; but as her book is intended to turn the indignation of the whole world against the social system of the Southern States, she presents a series of pictures, some of them exhibiting atrocities of a traffic which too often involves not only the physical comforts of its victims, but makes shipwreck of their affections, their hopes, and all that they hold dear; while others bring to our view the abuses of Slavery itself. Uncle Tom sold to Haley, put in irons, borne away from his happy cabin; Eliza flying with her boy, snatched from the very hands of the trader; the heart-broken mother plunging from the boat, that she might bury her griefs beneath the waters of the Ohio, when her infant had been torn from her arms;—these, and other instances, are intended to illustrate the horrors of the Slave trade. It is described as a story "every day told—of heart-strings rent and broken—the weak broken and torn, for the profit and convenience of the strong!"
The scenes brought to view in New-Orleans,—Prue, whose master, in her own language, "counts my money and my tickets when I gets home, to see if I’s got the change; and if I ha’nt, they half kill me;" Topsy, whose cruel treatment had well-nigh destroyed the moral sense within her;—these cases, together with the scenes sketched on Legree’s plantation, where Sambo and Quimbo executed the infernal tyranny of a fiendish master, without a peer in all the earth where the light of God’s day shines, and with scarcely an equal in that dismal region where the lost spirits display their worst passions—these scenes are offered as proper illustrations of the evils of Slavery. The whole dark and terrible picture painted at Legree’s plantation, is the most hideous and revolting which we have ever looked upon. It would, by contrast, actually light up the darkest scene to be found in VIRGIL’s description of the infernal regions, if placed side by side with it; and it is not surpassed in horrors by any of the dread scenery of DANTE’S Hell.
The Hungry, naked, despairing troop of slaves,—pressed from the earliest glimmer of morning up to the darkness of descending night—tasked beyond their strength,—feeble women lashed by athletic men, because they failed to pick the allotted weight of cotton,—no home to return to in the evening but a wretched, unlighted, filthy hovel,—the necessity of grinding the corn which was to make their small, course allowance of bread after the day’s labor,—no words of kindness or encouragement to-day,—no faintest light of hope touching to-morrow’s dawn with the promise of better things,—the present dark,—the future rayless,—the only sounds heard the weary grinding of the mill, the voice of fault-finding and coarse abuse, the smiting of the lash as it fell pitilessly upon human flesh;—what is there here, in a scene like this, short of hell?
But Mrs. STOWE describes all this as a scene to be looked upon in the State of Louisiana! This she offers to the world as her picture of Slavery!
As to the Slave-trade carried on within our own country, we may be allowed to say, after the frank expression of our views in regard to it, that it is to be distinguished from the foreign Slave-trade in this: it does not add to the number of slaves; it changes the field of labor, but it does not increase the number of the enslaved. That defence it is at least entitled to. It is sometimes replied to this statement, that the number of slaves is actually increased, because the internal Slave-trade encourages the breeding of slaves. This argument has actually been urged in the Congress of the United States. A more unfortunate one for the opponents of Slavery could hardly be started; for it concedes that the Slave-trade actually adds to the physical comforts of the African race, and that they, as a consequence of it, give the highest proof which a people can give, of being well provided for, by a rapid increase in the population.
But we will not recur to that topic. If Mrs. STOWE can succeed by the geographic descriptions with which her book abounds, in discouraging the Slave-trade—foreign or domestic,—so far from complaining, we shall thank her for it.
It is our purpose in this paper, to say something of Slavery as it actually exists in the Southern States. In the fullest candor we shall write of it. Truthfully we shall write of it; and we shall utter no complaints against the gifted lady who as arraigned us before the civilized world, nor against any other human being, living or dead.
It is quite a common mode of repelling attacks upon the system of domestic servitude in the South, to attack the forms of labor which exist elsewhere. But we shall not for a moment travel in that direction; it is not our purpose to carry the war into the enemy’s country; but we desire to dissipate, by the touch of an Ithuriel spear, if we can; or by the touch of a spear still more potential than his—that of truth—the mists which envelop the slave plantations of the South. By taunting England with her system of pauper-labor; a system which employs the abilities of her best Statesmen, in debates as to the number of hours her hard-tasked operatives shall work between the dawn of day and midnight; by describing the sad picture of Ireland in its defected and wretched servitude; or by calling upon the Northern States to feed and to clothe their poor, and especially the poor Slave escaped from his master and his bondage, before entering upon a crusade against us, we should only inflame them still more against us; and we should indirectly confess that our won system of labor was too little capable of defence or explanation, to encourage us to undertake the task. The physical comforts of our slave population we shall not compare with the physical want and suffering of the laboring classes at the North, in England, or elsewhere. There shall be no contest of that kind. We bear in mind the terrible denunciation of Dr. CHANNING against that style of argument. "In reply" he says, "to these, and other representations of the wrongs and evils of this institution, we are told that the slaves are well fed, well clothed—at least better than the peasantry and the operatives in many other countries; and this is gravely adduced as a vindication of Slavery. A man capable of offering it ought, if any one ought, to be reduced to bondage. A man who thinks food and raiment a compensation for liberty—who would counsel men to sell themselves, to become property, to give up all rights and power over themselves, for a daily mess of pottage, however savory, is a slave in heart. He has lost the spirit of a man, and would be less wronged than other men if a slave’s collar were welded around his neck." It must be observed, however, that while we do not adduce the physical well-being of the slave as a vindication of Slavery as an original institution, it affords a very proper reply to those who dwell upon its abuses; to those who, like Mrs. STOWE, describe a state of wretched over-working and scanty feeding—a state which the plantation of Legree exhibited—and offer it to the world as a picture of Southern Slavery. The comforts which the slave enjoys are conceded by Dr. CHANNING’s argument; and it is well that he does concede so much, for its makes his moral appeal on behalf of liberty far more powerful. After all, the actual physical comforts of a people are by no means to be overlooked or despised; and especially are they not to be overlooked in a paper which discusses Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That book seeks to expose the abuses of Slavery; it does not discuss the question of Slavery as an institution, but it appeals to the civilized world against it, because of its wrongs, its cruelty, its oppression.
Let us here say at once, that we do not belong to that school of economists, sophists and calculators, who advocate Slavery for its own sake. We recognize it as a fact—we defend it as an institution already deeply implanted in the social system of the South,—it is a full grown tree, and its roots have struck deep into our soil. If, like PLATO, we should sit down to sketch an ideal Republic, we do not think that Slavery would form any part of it; all the elements should represent the great idea of Freedom. But yet it is true—history proves it to be true—that Slavery is consistent with the highest, the noblest, the freest, and the happiest civilization which the world has so far exhibited.
Athens, "the eye of Greece," upon whose sea and upon whose land the light of freedom yet kindles with undying lustre—contained slaves.
Nowhere in all the world does the spirit of Liberty rise higher; nowhere in all the world is it readier for sacrifices, than at the South. The statesmen of the South are preeminent for their prompt and steady allegiance to constitutional liberty.
But, with this before our eyes, we shall not undertake any vindication of Slavery in the abstract, nor do we believe if it were a new question, that there would now be any difference of opinion in regard to it anywhere in the civilized world. If we walked with PLATO to-day, and discoursed with him upon the elements which should enter into his Republic, we do not suppose that, on the one side or the other, it would be suggested that Slavery was essential to its harmony, its happiness, or its glory. But in this world, where the whole race of man encounters the stern necessities of life; where the strong and the weak are thrown together upon the ever-heaving sea of human fortunes; where all of us have burdens to bear and tasks to perform; where the ideal must, at every step, be sacrificed to the real, it is very easy to defend Slavery, and to make it appear plainly, that slave labor is the least oppressive of any form of labor to be found in any country of all the earth.
The startling feature in Slavery—that which shocks so many who look upon it—is, that it subjects one human being to the absolute control of another human being; that it confers upon one man the power to dispose of the fortunes of another man; to say what he shall eat, and what he shall drink; what he shall wear; where he shall labor, and when; under what sun he shall toil; who shall surround him as associates, or whether he shall have any associates; whom he shall marry, or not marry; the power to scourge the wife of the slave before his eyes; to subject his children to the lash, without giving him, the husband and the father, the right to complain or expostulate; to take the fruit of his hard toil, when harvest-time comes, and appropriate it to the gratification of the master’s lusts; to insult him day after day; to task his powers in youth, in manhood, and in old age; to deny him the privilege of worshipping God in public, and with his fellows; and to seal up from his eyes the very Bible which cheers the poor and guides wandering and weary feet to heaven. It is this dread picture of colossal power which makes the soul recoil, and which appeals so powerfully to the depths of human hearts against the Slave System. But yet, this is merely ideal; this is the hideous form which Slavery wears to those who do not understand domestic servitude as it exists in the Southern States. Like the shadows which surrounded the couch of Richard, they strike more terror to the soul than the real, the actual, the every-day scenes which are beheld in broad daylight.
Wherever the rich and the poor are found, there is room for wrong, cruelty and oppression. Every form of servitude exposes weak to the heavy hand of the strong. Poverty, like STERNE’s slavery, "is a bitter draught, and though thousands have, in all ages, been made to drink of it, it is none the less bitter." An idealist, who should undertake to depict the evils of modern civilization, would describe the suffering of the poor—their hunger—their nakedness—their miserable abodes—the want of comforts when prostrated by disease—the necessity of separation between parent and child; or we might have presented to us a single victim, a poor needle-woman, taking the many weary stitches which could be numbered between early dawn and the late hours of the night, and earning them, with all this exhausting toil, a few cents only—hardly sufficient to buy bread for her neglected, pale children—such pictures would he paint; and if he should paint with Mrs. STOWE’s skill, he would make society appear very odious. Another COWPER, as he looked upon the heart-sickening sketch, might exclaim: "Oh, for a lodge in some vast wilderness."
It is insisted, however, that Slavery is exposed to great abuses; that it brings the operative under the unchecked authority of a master, whose interest it becomes to task his strength to the last point; and in whose view all the tender and ennobling qualities, which belong to our nature, are despised. The slave is protected by law; strict penal statues restrain the master in the administration of his government; and what is more powerful even than law—public opinion—restrains the authority of the slave-owner, and like Omnipotence it says, to the surges of human passions, "There are appointed bounds, which cannot be passed." We venture to say, from an extended observation of the operatives of Europe and of our own country, that the slaves of the Southern States are, to-day, the happiest laboring class to be found in the whole world. Of course we compare them with the corresponding class of laborers, as they exist elsewhere.
There is, too, a growing sentiment at the South in favor of granting all the ameliorations to the state of the slave, which his condition will bear.
Is this the impression which Uncle Tom’s Cabin will make upon the world? Turn for a moment to the history of Prue, the old woman who went out to take the rusks to her master’s customers. "A few days after, another woman came in old Prue’s place, to bring the rusks; Miss Ophelia was in the kitchen.
"Lor! said Dina, "what’s got Prue?"
"Prue isn’t coming any more," said the woman mysteriously. "Why not?" said Dinah, "she an’t dead, is she?" "We doesn’t exactly know. She’s down cellar," said the woman, glancing at Miss Ophelia. After Miss Ophelia had taken the rusks, Dinah followed the woman to the door. "What has got Prue, anyhow?" she said. The woman seemed desirous, yet reluctant, to speak, and answered in a low, mysterious tone.
"Well, you musn’t tell nobody. Prue, she got drunk agin—and they had her down cellar,—and there they left her all day—and I hearn ‘em saying that the flies had got to her—and she’s dead."
Dinah lifted up her hands, and turning, saw close by her side the spirit-like form of Evangeline, her large, mystic eyes dilated with the horror, and every drop of blood driven from her lips and cheeks.
This is the account which Mrs. STOWE gives of the end of old Prue; and the atrocious scene is described as having occurred in the city of New-Orleans.
We are favored with a defence of the affair by Augustine St. Clare, which is artfully put into his lips. Miss Ophelia bursts into the room, exclaiming, "An abominable business,—perfectly horrible!"
St. Clare having been informed by Miss Ophelia, that old Prue had been whipped to death, cooly replies that he "thought it would come to that, some time." He then goes on to say—"It's commonly supposed that the property interest is a sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their own possessions, I don’t know what’s to be done." Another appeal being made by Miss Ophelia, he adds, "My dear cousin, I didn’t do it, and I can’t help it; I would if I could. If low-minded, brutal people will act like themselves, what am I to do? They have absolute control; they are irresponsible despots. There would be no law that amounts to anything, practically, for such a case. The best we can do is to shut our eyes and ears, and let it alone. It’s the only resource left us."
Now there is a double wrong in this description of an outrageous murder, and in the explanation which St. Clare makes of it. To represent such scenes as the death of old Prue as an ordinary occurrence in the Southern States, is a monstrous and unpardonable statement.
If this be true, we might expect to find some sculptor ambitious of rivaling PHIDIAS, who would order one of his slaves to be put to death before his eyes, that he might trace upon the marble the perfect lines which mark the agonies of expiring nature. Indeed, a mere amateur might verify his criticism of a picture as the Sultan did, who found fault with a painting representing a human head stricken off, because the artist did not make the skin contract sufficiently from the neck; and to establish the accuracy of his artistic taste, commanded one of his slaves to be brought into the studio, and had him forthwith decapitated.
So that, at all events, we are likely to excel in the arts.
Take, too, the terrible description of Uncle Tom’s death—expiring beneath the lash—the inhuman wretch Legree, altogether the most detestable sketch which genius has ever furnished, standing by and directing every blow. Take this description as an illustration of the state of Slavery at the South, and who does not see that it is intended to inform the world, that there the power of the master over the slave is unlimited?
Could a wretch like Legree exist in Louisiana? Would not atrocities such as those which Mrs. STOWE attribute to him, rouse men to hunt him down like a wild beats, and exterminate him, and the whole tribe of fiends like him, even if there were no law to punish such monstrous outrages?
That there are abuses of the institution of Slavery, it is idle to deny. That slaves are sometimes overworked, sometimes badly fed and clothed, sometimes cruelly scourged, is but too true. We profoundly lament that it is true. The condition of the slave appeals to all that is generous in man’s nature. He can look out upon the world only as his master permits him to see it; he can scarcely look to God, except by the light which master permits him to enjoy. His physical comforts—the happiness of his moral nature—all that is within and all that is without him, may be made either brighter or darker, by the influence of his master. To a dependent being like this, a noble nature is ready to extend whatever of protection or of kindness his circumstances may demand. But everywhere, in all the wide world, there are those who will crush the weak, and despise the cry of the poor and needy. Therefore it is, that in the Southern States, the laws protect alike the master and the slave; and they elevate the slave above "a chattel," for they recognize his moral nature, while they shield him from the brutal passions of an enraged tyrant. In Alabama, to which State we have already referred, the laws which protect the slave are wisely and humanely conceived, and we believe that they are faithfully executed.
There is one sketch at least amongst those which we find in "Life Among the Lowly," which is a full of blended humor and pathos, which is true and life-like, and which will, we do not doubt, really do good. Of course we refer to Topsy. She is, as St. Clare says, "rather a funny specimen in the Jim Crow line." Quick, subtle, mischievous, without moral training, knowing nothing of her origin or her destiny, brought up to obey only when under the eye of her owner, taught by blows only; she is a type of that degraded class of slaves who grow up under the tender mercies of those who despise the negro race, and who do not recognize their claim to be regarded as immortal.
Such is Topsy; she "spects she grow’d," and she freely says, "I’s mighty wicked, any how." Yet the soul of this poor, uninstructed, perverted creature, was touched and awakened by the angelic nature of the gentle, loving Eva. The finest passage in the whole book follows a description of the beautiful scene where Eva attempts to recover Topsy from her hardness by words of kindness, and when, for the first time, a ray of heavenly love penetrates the darkness of her heathen soul. St. Clare and Ophelia were standing apart, looking on; and observing the effect of Eva’s kindness on Topsy, St. Clare said:
"It puts me in the mind of mother. It is true, what she told me. If we want to give sight to the blind, we must be willing to do as Christ did—call them to us, and put our hands on them."
The picture is a beautiful one; the lesson which it teaches is full of the profoundest wisdom; and we may all learn that, in governing human beings, we must recognize their moral nature, and introduce into our system the law of kindness.