1. Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE. Boston: J.P. Jewett & Co. 2 vols. 12 mo.
2. A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon which the Story is founded, together with Corroborative Statements verifying the Truth of the Work. By HARRIET BEECHER STOWE. Boston: J.P. Jewett & Co. 1850. 8 vo. pp. 262.
IT is quite too late in the day to review Uncle Tom's Cabin; but it is not too late to speak of the subject to which it relates, and from which it derives much of its interest. Upon the discussion of this subject, surrounded as it is with difficulties, and hedged about with sensitive and vehement passions, the publication of Mrs. Stowe's work has exerted an important influence. It has not merely fanned the excitement of parties; it has induced many sober and reflecting people, who had hitherto stood aloof from a controversy which had too much the aspect of a bitter political feud, managed on both hands with equal indiscretion and acrimony, to turn their thoughts towards it again, in the hope of finding some middle course, or of suggesting some plan which might have an effect to alleviate the evil which it seemed impossible to eradicate. It is for this class of persons only that the present article is intended.
The enthusiastic reception of Mrs. Stowe's novel is the result of various
causes. One is the merit of the book itself.
It is, unquestionably, a work of genius. It has defects of conception and style, exhibits a want of artistic skill, is often tame and inadequate in description, and is tinctured with methodistic cant; but, with all its blemishes,—thought, imagination, feeling, high moral and religious sentiment, and dramatic power shine in every page. It has the capital excellence of exciting the interest of the reader; this never stops or falters from the beginning to the end. The characters are drawn with spirit and truth. St. Clare is a person of talents and education, high-minded, generous, and impulsive; the influences of his position and circumstances on his character are well developed. Ophelia is an admirable picture of a conscientious, practical, kind-hearted, energetic New England woman. St. Clare's wife is well imagined, but somewhat overdrawn. Tbe Shelbys are worthy, amiable, commonplace people, soberly and truly sketched. Legree is a monster, and is painted in strong colors; but the picture wants truth and minuteness of detail to bring out the conception, for no woman's hand could properly describe him. The pencil that drew Front de Boeuf, Dick Hatteraick, and William de la Marck would have made him start from the canvas. We fear he is not exaggerated. There are many such at the North and South; only, in the North, we do not give them so much power, and they sometimes, when not saved by the "ingenuity of counsel," or an executive pardon, or the sympathy of a jury, or the lenity of an elected judge, meet their reward in the dungeon or on the gallows. Eva and Tom are dreams; the one is a saint, the other an angel. But dreams are founded on realities, and "we are all such stuff as dreams are made of." These characters are both exaggerated; but to color and idealize is the privilege of romance, provided the picture does not overstep the modesty of nature or contradict nature. There are no Evas or Uncle Toms, but there are some who possess, in a lower degree, their respective virtues. Many a home has been blessed by the presence, and darkened by the departure, of a child, whose early intelligence seemed inspired, and whose purity, sweetness, and love were too delicate to mingle with the coarse passions of the world;—and many an old family servant in the South is distinguished
for probity, fidelity, truthfulness, and religious feeling, and, slave though he be, is the object of respect and attachment.
But whatever may be the literary merits of Uncle Tom, they do not account for its success. It exhibits by no means the highest order of genius or skill. It is not to be named in comparison with the novels of Scott or Dickens; and in regard to variety of knowledge, eloquence, imaginative power, and spirited delineations of life and character, manners and events, it is inferior even to those of Bulwer, or Currer Bell, or Hawthorne. Yet none of these have been read and talked of, for months together, by Europe and America, or have sensibly influenced a great moral movement, or have disturbed whole communities by the dread of a social revolution. It is true, that, were Uncle Tom not well written, it would not have produced these effects; but the result is so disproportioned to its merit as a work of art, that we must look to other causes. The book has one idea and purpose to which it is wholly devoted. Its sole object is to reveal to the world the nature of American slavery, and thus to promote the cause of abolition.
Now this subject of slavery is one in which the world, or at least the reading and thinking part of it, which has become a very large part, just now takes a very lively interest. In Europe, the dream of political liberty, in the sense of the French Revolutionary school, has vanished. It has been discovered, after repeated and most disastrous experiments, that it means the absolute power of the mob and its demagogues; that equality means plunder, and fraternity, massacre. The people of France have discovered, by bitter experience, that there, at least, democracy is inconsistent with freedom, property, and civilization; and they have acquiesced quietly and cheerfully in a strong government, supported and guided by the public opinion of the rich and educated, and surrounded by bayonets to protect property and order, and keep the dangerous classes in subjection.
Disenchanted on the subject of political liberty, disgusted with Kossuth,
and Mazzini, and Louis Blanc, tired and out of humor with Poles and Hungarians,
with French Revolutions, Chartist movements, and Irish rebellions, which have
nothing but sound and fury, because destitute of truth and reason, adequate cause, virtuous motive, or definite purpose; their sympathies have found an object in the condition of the negro slave. Political liberty, in the democratic sense, they have found a delusion; but personal liberty is quite another thing. They can understand why it is dangerous to the security of society to give political power to the ignorant and reckless mob; but they cannot understand why it is necessary for any community to deprive a portion of its people of all civil rights whatever, and reduce them to the condition of property. They see a great, prosperous, and civilized democracy, advancing with rapid strides to the position of a formidable power, rivalling them not only in wealth but in refinement, boasting of liberty, advocating liberty, openly and avowedly giving countenance and support to every revolutionary movement among their discontented classes,—yet all the while, holding four millions of its own people in abject slavery, and defending with warrant and defiance its right so to hold them. This strange inconsistency provokes comment and discussion. The subject is not a new one in Europe; late events have revived it there. Constant intercourse with us has brought it closer to their minds and feelings. They see in it an incongruity,—a contradiction to the advanced culture, the enlightened intelligence, of the age, a stain and blemish on the common humanity and civilization of the world. They have got rid of it themselves; personal slavery with them is matter of history. It lies behind them, among the barbarisms of the past. They regard it as a wrong and an evil which ought not to exist, and which, therefore, the good, the wise, and the gifted should endeavor to remove by those means which have dispelled so much moral evil from the world,—by truth and reason, by argument and persuasion, by the keen arrows of invective and scorn. Mixed with these sentiments, there is, doubtless, something of national jealousy and fear, something of dislike to republican government, and of triumph at being able to point to such a blot on its mantle. But these feelings only add to the excitement of the subject, and prepare the public mind of Europe to receive, with the greater eagerness and interest, the animated pictures,
the heart-stirring scenes, the passionate appeals of Uncle Tom.
With us, the subject is of far deeper concern. It comes home closely and immediately to our firesides and altars, to our honor and prosperity, to our peace and union. On it hang the issues of life and death. It is not an abstract question, to be discussed with philosophic serenity in the seclusion of libraries and drawing-rooms; but it involves property and security, sectional power and party power, and sweeps into its vortex the passions which disturb the repose of society and shake the stability of empires. The country has just passed tbrough a painful and perilous crisis growing out of this question, which yet did not decide it. It still hangs like a dark cloud over the horizon of the future. The public mind, like the sea after a storm, heaves and swells with ominous agitation, and parties are mustering their forces to renew the contest. It is a question about which many are alarmed, many more are strongly excited, and none are indifferent. Viewed simply as a moral question, affecting individual conduct and the condition of millions of human beings, it is one of deep and serious interest; but involving, as it necessarily does, a vast amount of property, and connected, as it has become, with party strife and sectional rivalry, moderation, fairness, and reason in the treatment of it are not to be expected. A work like Uncle Tom, coming at such a moment, so admirably suited to the common mind, teaching, not by abstract reasoning addressed to the intellect, but by actual scenes and events affecting the imagination and the feelings, written, too, with so much power and beauty, is eagerly seized on by one party as a valuable auxiliary, and indignantly resented by the other as a new attack. It becomes at once the topic of animated criticism and discussion, and the result is—it is read by all.
Another cause of the wide-spread popularity of Uncle Tom is its foundation
in truth. It is a highly-colored description of a reality. This is undeniable
by any one who can reflect on what must be the consequences of absolute and
irresponsible power, bestowed without reference to character. Here is the
real source of the power of the work. Were it a mere
fanciful picture of ideal scenes, it would have already taken the place of other falsehoods, and been forgotten; for it does not pretend to be a work of mere imagination, and if it did, it wants the creative power, the touches of genius, that could give it life as such. If it be not founded on truth, it is nothing. It has been accused of exaggeration, and it is said that the imputed atrocities are exceptions to ordinary usage. But the charge of exaggeration admits the substance, and to acknowledge the exceptions yields nearly the whole case; for the favorable view of Southern life is given by Mrs. Stowe as well as the unfavorable, and she does not say or imply that brutal violence and cruelty are either universal or general. The main points, the state of the law and the existence of practices under it which are inconsistent with enlightened and Christian humanity, and which are not prohibited, are even sanctioned, by the law, are not, and cannot be, denied.
This picture of slavery has astonished Europe and the North. It has astonished many also in the South, who, judging of the state of society only from what passes before their eyes, are ignorant of the existence of what they do not see, or indeed of the true meaning and nature of what they do see, until their attention is forcibly called to it. Nothing is more common than such ignorance of what is passing around us. How few know or think of the scenes of misery and destitution in our cities; yet they exist within a few squares of the comfortable and luxurious homes of wealth, and we see beggars in the streets every day. Now and then, a statistical account, or a police report, or an investigation made for charitable purposes, reveals them to us. Otherwise we should know nothing about them, and perhaps indignantly deny that, in this land of plenty, in New York and Philadelphia, thousands live in all the wretchedness of extreme want, or that the percentage of poverty and crime equals or surpasses that of London.
Some years ago, certain statements were published showing the condition
of the children who worked in the English factories and mines. These statements
produced universal horror and disgust. The attention of Parliament was called
to the subject, investigating committees were appointed, and
remedial laws passed. The amazement and indignation universally expressed by the journals of the day showed clearly that very few people knew any thing about the painful reality which these examinations brought to light; and, doubtless, had the charge been made without the proof, hundreds of sensible persons, living in the neighborhood of these very factories and mines, would have rejected, with warmth, the idea that such a state of things could exist in England.
So it is with slavery. Very few in the North have more than a vague and general idea of it. No precise and definite images that mark its character have been presented to their minds. They have never seen the slave-pen, or the slave auction, or the slave-gang chained and driven along the road to market. They have never visited the Calabooze at New Orlcans, or the Sugar-house at Charleston. They have never seen the wife sold from the husband, the child from the parent; nor made acquaintance with the negro-trader, the negro-catcher with his trained dogs, or the negro-whipper, professions unknown in the Northern States. Very many in the South, too, are almost equally ignorant of such things, and those most ignorant from whom we are likely to hear any thing on the subject. These have seen slavery in its mild and beneficent aspect, in the old homesteads of Virginia and Carolina, where hereditary attachment and enlightened humanity have softened and mitigated the system. The evil of it, though around them, they have not noticed, or not thought of as evil; the good they know and are familiar with, and it is difficult to make them believe that the evil exists; just as it would be difficult to give to the amiable mistress of a sumptuous and decorated mansion in the Fifth Avenue or Walnut Street, a distinct and adequate idea of the misery and degradation of the dens and alleys of Southwark or the Five Points. We are all very prone to believe that our little sphere is the world; and it is a true saying, that one half of mankind do not know how the other half live Those who having eyes, see not, and ears, hear not, are greatly the majority; and the chief office of the preacher and teacher, the poet and the thinker, is to tell us what we are, and to show us the things that are before and around us.
It is true, that, in some of the Southern States, particularly in Louisiana, there are laws providing for the protection of the slave from excessive cruelty, and for his proper treatment in regard to food, clothing, and labor. But they are so vague and general, encumbered with so many conditions, so easily evaded, and so very lenient to the master, that it is obvious they are totally inadequate for the end in view. In no case can a slave be a party to a suit, but must find a white man willing to act for him; and in those cases most requiring the intervention of the law, the oath of the master, denying the charge, is a sufficient defence. There is also one general principle pervading the whole law of the South, that no negro can be a competent witness against a white man, which, so long as it is maintained, must render all laws, intended for the defence and benefit of the negro race, nearly nugatory.
A more signal example of the prejudices of race could scarcely be imagined;
for such a principle, being contrary to reason, can proceed only from prejudice.
It is founded on the vulgar idea that a suit at law is a hostile attack, and
therefore, that the evidence of a negro, supporting such an attack, is derogatory
to the dignity of the white man. This notion, natural enough to a party implicated,
is unworthy of a government, as it betrays ignorance of the principles of
jurisprudence. The first object of all legal proceedings is to investigate
the facts in order to apply the law,—to discover the truth; and this principle
shuts out the truth. Cannot a negro tell what he knows, and describe what
he has seen and heard? And is it not sufficient that he is subjected to cross
examination, that court, bar, and jury are composed of the superior race,
and that his testimony will be received with caution, because of his color
and condition? Is there any danger that he will be too easily believed when
his testimony is against a white man? and are not the rules of evidence sufficient
to protect the jury from falsehood and deception? Modern opinion justly regards
the common law as unwisely strict in some of its provisions as to the exclusion
of testimony; and the courts now discourage objections to the competency of
witnesses,—desiring to open wide all avenues to a knowledge of the facts.
It is thought that the sanction of an
oath, the test of cross-examination, the opportunity afforded of estimating credibility from the manner, education, intelligence, and relative position of the witness, afford sufficient security; and that it is better to run the risk of admitting some falsehood, than to incur the certain evil of excluding much truth. The law which refuses the testimony of negroes refuses what must often be the best and the only evidence in the case, and renders all laws, professedly passed for the advantage of the slave, practically ineffectual, by making it easy to evade them.
It may, with much truth, be urged, by way of extenuation and apology, that the system, on the whole, works well, as is proved by the rapid increase and general condition of the negroes in the South; that cruelty is rebuked by public opinion; that the large planters, the wealthy and educated, own the great majority of the slaves; that with these, as also with many others, they are for the most part well-fed, clothed, and kindly treated; that doubtless there is a certain proportion of bad masters, and a certain proportion of miserable, ill-used, overworked negroes; but that, in every community, violence, brutality, and ignorance exist, which produce, as a necessary consequence, much human suffering; that the statistics and police reports in the North show the existence of wretchedness from extreme want, and a constant succession of riots, brutal assaults, and horrible murders; but that it would be unfair thence to infer a general state of moral degradation, or to ascribe the presence of these evils to the institutions and domestic relations of Northern society.
To this reasoning there is a conclusive reply. It is true that, in the
Northern States, cases of violence and outrage are of frequent occurrence.
But they are crimes; they are against the law, not permitted and sanctioned by it. No portion of the population
here is placed beyond the pale of the law and excluded from its protection.
When the Southern States shall have extended the shield of the law and the
care of the magistrate over every human being within their limits; when wrong,
outrage, and injustice shall have been declared crimes, and punishable as
crimes, whether committed against white or black, slave or free,—then only
will they be en-
titled to plead not guilty to many of the charges made against them by Mrs. Stowe. Till then, they must remain silent; till then, they must stand convicted of maintaining a system at war with the principles of enlightened humanity and Christian civilization. They must remain in a state of moral isolation from the rest of mankind, and behold pointed against them the whole artillery of the literature and opinion of the world.
This is a frightful position for any people to hold. As moral evil necessarily produces material decay and disaster, it is one in which no people can live and prosper. It is one in which the South does not prosper. There, alone, throughout our broad territory, are to be seen the tokens of stagnation and decline. In no part of it, is its progress in wealth and population comparable to that of the North. To internal weakness and disease are now added, arising from the same cause, the formidable array of public opinion in Europe and America. Such a state of things cannot continue. It must, unless something be done to remedy the evil, come, in some way or other, sooner or later, to a violent and calamitous end.
Is there a remedy? and what is it? These are important questions, and they are daily becoming more important.
The South is a valuable portion of our country. Its extent of fertile territory, its staple productions, the cultivation, refinement, and noble traits of a large portion of its people, add vastly to the power and wealth of the republic. Its rice, sugar, and tobacco increase the accommodation and luxury of mankind. Its cotton crop alone is a vital element in the industry and commerce of the world, and has become essential to the comfort of all classes in all civilized nations. The prosperity of the South advances the prosperity of the whole country; union with the South is essential to the safety, liberty, and happiness of the whole country; disunion can produce nothing but anarchy, bloodshed, and ruin. Can no way be found to reconcile interests so vast with the dictates of humanity and justice? This is the Sphinx's riddle, which we must read on pain of death.
The wealth and greatness of the South are the result of the labor of about
4,000,000 of negroes directed by the su-
perior intelligence of the whites. These negroes are, as a race, inferior in mental and moral force to the white race with whom they live. This inferiority is proved by their condition here and everywhere. Being the result of organization, it is a permanent inferioritv. The negro is improvable to a certain point by contact with the civilized white, but only to a certain point. When that contact ceases, he relapses speedily into barbarism.
It is a law of nature, that the intellectually strong shall govern the weak; in other words, that the weak shall serve and obey the strong. As the white race is the permanently strong, and the negro race the permanently weak, it follows that so long as the two races live together, the negro must be the servant of the white.
But the negro, though inferior to the white, is still a man. He has intelligence, passions, moral sentiments, affections. He is capable of happiness and misery, of other pains and pleasures than those of the body. The laws of nature are all beneficent. If superior strength implies government, government implies duty and responsibility. The duty of the governing party is care, guidance, and protection, and it is responsible for the well-being of the party governed. From this duty and responsibility there is no escape. Whoever has charge of another incurs thereby an obligation of the highest character, which cannot be neglected, either by an individual or a nation, without incurring a heavy penalty. This obligation is a consequence of the great moral law of nature, which commands us to do good when in our power, to love our neighbor, to love even our enemies, to do unto others as we would that others should do unto us, and which binds together all men in one brotherhood, whatever the differences and distinctions of rank or race or nation.
If these principles be correct, it follows, that the negroes in the South
are naturally and permanently the servants of the white race; that it is the
duty of Southern legislatures to provide for their proper treatment, and to
protect them from violence and outrage. The masters must be required to perform
the duty of masters; so far as the law can compel, they must be compelled
to exercise justice and humanity, kindness
and care. It follows, also, that these same legislatures are responsible for the happiness of these 4,000,000 of toiling human beings; that in withdrawing from them the protection of law, in declaring that they do not and will not regard their welfare, but simply the profit of their owners, and thus delivering them up helpless victims to occasional brutality and vice, they have failed to perform a solemn duty.
These 4,000,000 of negroes, with their humble capacities for enjoyment and improvement, are worthy and meritorious objects for the attention and care of a wise and humane government. They are here. To send them away is impossible; to emancipate them, equally so. It would destroy great interests, it would endanger the peace of society, it would be disastrous to themselves. Ignorant, improvident, without self-sustaining energy of character, and of limited intellectual faculties, they are incapable of providing for their own support or caring for their own interests. Freedom to them would be like freedom to children, or to the domestic animals. It would be helplessness, abandonment, the absence of guidance and protection. Thus deserted, indolence, vice, and poverty would speedily degrade them below even their present condition, and they would gradually dwindle away and disappear, as they are disappearing in the North, where they are left to themselves to struggle with difficulties too great for their strength, difficulties arising from climate and social circumstances which do not exist in the original seat of their race, and which therefore they are not fitted, by nature, to encounter.
The negro is naturally the servant of the white man, because all mental
inferiority is naturally the servant of mental superiority, the degree of
servitude varying with the degree of inferiority. It is his happiest position.
His docility, his good temper, his bodily vigor, his intellectual weakness,
all fit him for it. As a servant, under just treatment, he thrives and rejoices,
and is tormented by no ambition for a higher sphere. He is a servant in the
North. The menial labors, the drudgery of society, to obey always and never
to command, to be forever one of a degraded caste, are his portion there.
He has the privilege of choosing his master and his
employment; but on the other hand, he must take care of himself and his family, a task often too great for his feeble powers, amid the energetic stir and competition of a stronger race. But he has one advantage. Servant though he be; inferior by nature though he be; though he may neither sit in the legislature, nor on the bench, nor vote, nor enter the jury box,—the law cares for him and protects him. He has civil rights, the right of self-defence, the right to wife and child, the right to hold property. Acts criminal and punished by law if committed against a white man, are equally criminal and punishable if committed against him. These rights are accorded to him in the North by the governing race,—some of them because it is just under all and any circumstances to give them; others, because the condition of society makes it safe to give them.
The negro is a servant in the North, but he is a slave in the South. Slavery
is another and stricter form of servitude. The slave cannot choose his master,
or his employment, or his place of residence, or acquire property. He may
be compelled to labor, and his master has control over him, and may punish
his vices, his idleness, his disobedience, or insubordination. This condition
is imposed on the negro in the South, because the circumstances and interests
of society there require it. It is rightfully imposed; for the white race
are the natural rulers, and may justly regard their own safety and welfare
as objects of paramount consideration. For these they must provide at all
hazards; but, in doing so, they must not violate humanity and justice. They
have among them this vast multitude of helpless and dependent beings, from
whose labor they derive their wealth and importance. Slavery with them is
a necessity, whatever may be its evils. The peace, security, and prosperity
of society, the interests of commerce and the arts require it; the well being
and safety of the negro himself require it. But the laborer is worthy of his
hire; and thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. The free
negro of the North makes his contract for his labor, and the law enforces
it; he can defend himself and his family from aggression and outrage, and
the law sustains him. The slave is deprived of the right to make a contract,
of the right to
defend himself and those dear to him, and the law should itself be to him all that it has taken away. The very helplessness, dependence, mental inferiority, and hard fate of this humble race call loudly, with the commanding voice of duty, on government to interpose, with special care, its protecting arm, to shield the slave from wrong by all the force and terrors of the law; to secure for him all the happiness of which his condition is capable.
The enormities of the law of the South, as it exists in the statutes and judicial decisions of the several States, arise from one great principle upon which the whole system is founded—that a slave is property.
This is an error. A slave is not, and cannot be, property. Such an idea is equally inconsistent with the nature of property and the nature of slavery; and it is because the institution has been thus founded on an untruth, that so much evil has flowed from it; for error is the source of all evil, and evil continually.
A slave is not property, because he is a man. A man cannot be the subject of property, though his labor may. He is not a thing. Even in the lowest forms of humanity, he has intellect, passions, sentiments, conscience, which establish his brotherhood with all men, which establish the theoretic equality of man as man, and separate him from the lower animals and material things. To man, to the race of men, the earth was given as an inheritance. Whatever he can make, or modify, or add value to, is property. But man was not given to man to possess. He is not a product of industry, but himself a producer.
A proposition so plain, it is difficult to make plainer by argument. Its truth is self-evident. No man can imagine himself to be property. Every instinct and impulse of his nature revolt at the idea. But the idea of subjection to a superior nature, of obedience and service in return for protection and care, of looking up to another for guidance and direction, is natural, arises at once from inequality of intellectual force, and pervades, in a greater or less degree, all the relations of life.
The argument that inferiority of race confers the right of
property is an obvious fallacy. What degree of inferiority confers it? The Indians are an inferior race. Are they property? The Irish Celt is inferior to the Anglo-Saxon. Is he property? What would be thought of any State that should declare him a chattel? Is the negro the only race who can be the subject of property? With his capacity for improvement, his courage, his warm feelings, is he so low in the scale of being that he cannot be recognized as a man, but must be regarded as one of the lower animals? If so, why are there free negroes? The idea that any thing can be the subject of property which yet cannot be appropriated, is absurd. There are no free horses. Free horses in a civilized community,—that is, horses turned out and abandoned by their owners,—are the property of any one who chooses to take them. Wild horses in the desert are also, legally, the property of him who can secure them. But free negroes are protected by the law of every community; and wild negroes, that is, negroes in their native land, are also theoretically protected by the law of all civilized nations, and though often captured by violence, such capture is piracy, and no right of property can be acquired by it.
But though the law cannot regard a man as property without committing
a wrong and violating the truth and nature of things, it may rightfully declare
him a slave;—that is, it may determine the relation he must hold to other
men. This power is inherent in the idea of government. It is constantly exercised
by all governments. The only question that can arise is, not as to the power,
but whether it is justly exerted in the particular case. If the truth be,
as it undoubtedly is, that, under existing circumstances, it is necessary,
to the security, well-being, peace, and happiness of the people of the South,
white and black, that the negroes should be slaves; that is to say, not chattels,
but men deprived of liberty, compelled to labor, and bound to a definite servitude,—then
slavery is an institution, or social relation, which government has not only
the power to create, but may justly create, enforce, and regulate. But all
power is trust-power, and is coupled with duty and responsibility. It is to
be exercised for the good of the governed—under penalties. This is the divine
eternal law. If the governing party look to its own good exclusively, its action is injustice and oppression, the punishment for which is the vengeance of the injured, or the constant dread of it; for
The slave is a party governed, for whose benefit the power to govern exists as much as for that of his master. In so far as he has been governed justly, slavery has been found consistent with his happiness and the well-being of society. In so far as he has been governed unjustly, in so far as his master's interest and not his welfare has been exclusively regarded, slavery has proved a danger and a sore evil, a disease and a canker in the state; has roused the indignation and opposition of the world, and called forth deadly passions that threaten the repose and existence of society.
There are, no doubt, some persons,—believers in the "rights of man," according to the French Jacobinical version of them,—who would deny the power of government to establish such a relation as master and slave, however much the condition of things might require it, and however carefully it might be guarded from abuse. They consider personal liberty as one of those rights, and political liberty as another. But these notions about vague and undefined rights, incapable of practical application, have been long since banished from the counsels of the wise. They are necessarily violated by every government; and, if carried out to their extreme consequences, would destroy all government whatever. The only right of man is to be governed according to the principles of truth, reason, and justice, for his own happiness. The government which suits the mental and moral condition of a nation is the rightful one, whatever its form, for that nation, whether power be intrusted to one, or a few, or many,—whether it be by the people or not, provided always, it be for the people.
No one worthy a reply would contend that political liberty, or, in other
words, a share of political power, ought to be given to the negroes of the
South, or that it is not, in some cases, properly withheld from the negroes
of the North. Po-
litical power is refused by all governments to women and minors,—by most governments to the very poor and ignorant, and for the same reason that it is withheld from negroes, North or South,—their presumed incapacity to exercise it. Yet, if the abstract right exist, such refusal is a wrong. So with regard to personal liberty. The law everywhere establishes various relations by which this is violated; by which one person is subjected to the will of another, under certain conditions and restrictions suited to the nature of the case. Such are the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, master and apprentice, master and servant, the master of a vessel and the mariners, the officers of an army and the troops, the commander of a ship-of-war and the sailors. In all these cases, individuals are deprived of personal liberty, and subjected to the authority, more or less absolute, of others, for their own good and the good of society. Were not both these objects intended and accomplished by the law, then it would be an injustice. The foundation of all these relations is the mental superiority of those to whom authority is intrusted. Slavery rests on the same basis. Government has the same power to establish and regulate this relation as others. Slavery is necessary to the repose, prosperity, and safety of the white race in the South, because of the numbers and degraded condition of the negroes; it is also essential to the well-being of the negro, because of his incapacity to govern and take care of himself, and because experience shows that he is by nature fitted for this relation, and that he thrives and is happy in it. Slavery, therefore, exists rightfully in the South. No rights of the negro are violated when he is made a slave. His right, like that of all men, is to be governed for his own benefit. Some even go so far as to maintain that a social relation, founded on the same principles, and modified to suit different circumstances, a relation more strict than that of master and apprentice, and less severe and permanent than that of slavery, might, with equal justice and much advantage, be introduced into some of the Northern States, in relation not only to negroes, but to the swarms of emigrants who crowd our shores, many of them equally degraded by ignorance, poverty, and vice, and equally needing
care, guidance, and government. Less liberty in them, and more authority over them, would be alike beneficial to themselves and society. But as these last have not only personal liberty, but political power, and can influence or decide an election, and as their votes are more easily gained by flattering their passions than by governing them for their good, such provision can scarcely be expected; and, for our own part, we are not sure that it is desirable.
The governments of the Southern States, then, commit no wrong when they keep the negro in slavery; but they do commit a wrong, and violate the truth of things, when they declare that he is property. The consequences that flow from this distinction are most important, and show the imperative necessity of founding all institutions and all reasoning on the eternal principles of moral truth.
From the error, the falsellood, that man can be the subject of property, which is the basis of the law and practice of slavery in the South, have arisen most of the evils of the system,—the reproach and odium that have been heaped upon it, and the alienation of the Northern people. This doctrine of property once admitted, the consequences are obvious. It implies absolute control on the part of the owner, without duties or responsibilities to the thing owned. It implies that the property exists only for the benefit of the owner, which is alone worthy of regard or care; that it has no interests or enjoyments which the law can recognize. It implies that any one may be an owner, however depraved and vicious. These are the legal and logical consequences that flow from such a principle; and they are established, with few exceptions, theoretically in the law, and practically in the habits of the South; though the enlightened humanity of slave-owners has very generally softened the shocking hardness of the system, and exercised the terrible power conferred on them with a moderation and gentleness worthy of the race from which they sprang and of a Christian age and country. The power, nevertheless, is claimed by all to its fullest extent, and whilst the law gives it, the stigma cannot be effaced.
Could this false and wicked principle be stricken out of the law, slavery
would then, in truth, become what its advocates
claim it to be, one of the domestic relations. Give the slave his true position—that of a man, of a servant, and a perpetual servant, and immediately would arise mutual duties and responsibilities,—of care, kindness, and protection on the one part, of obedience, loyalty, and service on the other, which could be clearly defined and enforced by the law. Government could then regard the slave as the legitimate object of its care and attention, could provide practically and really for his welfare, and could limit the povrer of the master, so as to prevent its abuse; could also say, who should not be masters,—controlling this relation, for the good of both parties and of society, as it does the other relations of life. The slave could be shielded from excessive cruelty, from absolute degradation; some rights could be given him; and, as his improved condition enlarged his mind, these could be, and would be, extended, until the relation would lose its repulsive features, and take its place among the kindly and humane institutions of society. All this could be done without weakening, in any degree, the authority which any virtuous and enlightened slave-holder either exercises or desires to exercise. Much must still be left with him. His power must be maintained; but the gross abuse of power, by the brutal, the avaricious, the passionate, and the vile, might be restrained.
Each party would be a gainer by such a system. The injurious moral influences
of slavery upon the master and upon the community would be diminished by wholesome
restraint; scenes of revolting cruelty would be prevented; a sore reproach
would be removed from the South and from the country, whilst the friends of
both would be encouraged and strengthened in the contests too likely to arise
from this unhappy subject. The slave would be equally benefited. Not only
would better treatment be secured to him, in many cases where it is now wanting,
but his moral condition would be improved by the feeling that he was guarded
and protected; by the knowledge that there was a power above his master, to
which he could appeal from wrong and outrage. He would be elevated, in his
own esteem, by the consciousness that he was working for something; that the
law gave him a right to his humble food and raiment and shelter; and that
was better than the ox or the mule, the companions of his toil.
The truth, that the slave does really, notwithstanding the law, stand in a human relation to his master, is recognized by the practice and language of a large number of wealthy, educated, and humane proprietors. Their ideas and their conduct are in advance of the law. They speak habitually of slavery as a domestic institution, as one of the social relations. Custom and opinion among these, especially in the old States, and where families have inherited their property, secure to the slave much kindness and many privileges. Mutual attachment has grown up between the parties. A certain standard of treatment has been established in regard to holidays, food, clothing, work, discipline, and punishment, well suited to the character of the negro, and which, on many estates, could hardly be improved. This standard cannot be widely departed from without loss of character. But unfortunately the gentlemen, the enlightened and humane, those who have character and position to lose, and who can be influenced by public opinion, by any thing short of legal restraint in the pursuit of their interest or the gratification of their passions, are not appointed by the law as the exclusive owners of slaves. The trader, the speculator, who buys land and negroes to make money, and who regards the latter simply as stock, as an investment,—the mercenary, the reckless, the brutal, still remain; and to these, also, the law gives the negro as a chattel, stripped of every human right, the helpless, unshielded, uncared for victim of rapacity, of selfishness, of coarse and violent passions inflamed by the possession of absolute power.
Now, here is the point of the case. This is the evil set forth in vivid
colors by Mrs. Stowe; and the only question for sane men to consider is, can
this evil be remedied?—not can slavery be abolished; that is neither possible
nor desirable. But can it be made to conform to the dictates of humanity and
justice, to the enliglltened opinion of the civilized world? This evil, like
all moral evil, is the result of error, of falsehood. It follows, as a necessary
consequence, from the law which says that man can be property, that a
slave is property, which is untrue, and being so, every inference from it, whether of doctrine or practice, must be untrue and pernicious.
Let the law tell the truth. Let it say that a slave is not, and cannot be, property; that, as a man, he is entitled to justice, to the care of government, to protection from wrong, and the subject at once becomes manageable. Let the law conform to and execute the virtuous and enlightened portion of public sentiment in the South; let it really make slavery a domestic institution; let it enforce, universally, in the treatment of slaves, the customs and habits which have grown up among respectable masters; let it describe slaves, not as chattels, but in the wise and truthful language of the Constitution, as "persons held to service and labor"; and a new light would break in the horizon over this terrible subject, the light of dawn. We might then hope for day. Slavery would assume a new aspect. It would put on the robes of justice and truth. The Southern people would then have an answer to the charges made against them. They could say, we have this race among us. They are bound to us, and we to them, for good and for evil. To get rid of them is impossible; to emancipate them, equally so. It would involve calamities far worse than slavery to us and to them. The only thing that remains for us to do is to take care of them, to govern them for our welfare and their own; and that we are doing, that we mean to do.
Had this been done heretofore, there would have been no abolition party, and Uncle Tom would never have been written. Were it done now, its influence on opinion would be imediately felt. The chief argument of the abolitionists would be taken away. The moral sense of one half of the country would no longer be revolted at the life and habits of the other; the moderate, the judicious, the lovers of their counlry and of humanity, those who regard the right and the true as above country, above life, above every thing earthly, could give to slavery their support and aid; the fanatic, the demagogue, would be disarmed, and the frightful dangers which surround the agitation of this subject might be averted.
Whatever the motive of Mrs. Stowe's books, their effect
will be good. They point to the truth, and the truth is always beneficial. It is the one thing needful in the management of all affairs. In the novel, the truth is not merely told; it is painted; it addresses the imagination and the feelings. Being thus put into a popular form, the multitude, on whom abstract reasoning would be thrown away, can understand and appreciate it. Curiosity, discussion, investigation are stimulated, and public attention forcibly drawn to the subject. The Southern people are put on their defence. In this contest, they have no State rights, or constitutional rights, to fall back upon. These are no barriers against reason, truth, and justice. They must reply, and ard driven to apology, extenuation, denial, or confession,—at all events, to examination and discussion, from which some practical good may be hoped. Their condition is thus revealed to themselves, the good as well as the evil of it; and there are among them so much wisdom and virtue, so much cultivated intelligence and moral worth, that they may well be trusted to find remedies for the evil, and to hold fast to the good.
Mrs. Stowe has also, in her novel, unconsciously and unintentionally, done the South a service, by showing very clearly three things of great importance.
First, that the general condition of the slaves, notwithstanding many exceptions, is a happy one, well suited to their nature. The Shelbys may be regarded as a fair picture of the majority of masters, because they are a fair specimen of the majority of families of respectability and easy fortune everywhere. With such masters and such treatment, the negro is as well placed as he can be. He has kindness and care, government and guidance, and is exempt from the miseries of poverty, idleness, and vice. His position is better than that of most of the free negroes in the North, of the peasantry of many parts of Europe, and infinitely better, in all respects, mental, moral, and material, than that of his brethren in Africa. A similar description of the condition of the slaves on a well-ordered estate is contained in the letter of a gentleman in Virginia, at page 8 of the Key.
Secondly, the book shows that while the benefits of slavery may be increased
and extended, its evils are capable of being
remedied by wise and just legislation. These evils arise chiefly from the cruelty of brutal masters; from the separation of families by judicial and other sales; and from the defenceless condition of the slave with reference to others than his master.
It would swell this article beyond its proper limits, to attempt a discussion of the means by which the atrocities produced by these causes might be prevented. In the slave laws of other nations, ancient and modern, may be found provisions which would palliate or wholly remove them. It is a disgrace to the country and the age, that our laws on the subject are more severe, with the exception of the early Roman, than any other. It is obvious that the cruelty of masters might be restrained by providing for the sale of the slave who is the subject of it, and by declaring persons guilty of it incapable of holding slaves, as they are certainly unfit for such a trust. The inhumanity of separating families might be prevented by regarding farm and plantation slaves as part of the realty, so that they could not be sold from it, at least by process of law; by prohibiting the sale of slaves apart from their wives, children, husbands, or parents, unless by their own consent, properly authenticated; and by providing that such sale should be void, or that by it, the slave should ipso facto gain his freedom. The slave might also be protected not only from excessive severity by his master, but from the violence and abuse of others, by penal laws properly executed.
Laws founded on these principles would but enforce on all what are now
the opinions and practice of respectable slaveowners. Similar provisions exist
already in the statutes of some of the Southern States. That they could be
made effectual, and to a great extent accomplish their object, by vigor of
execution and by a different system of evidence from that which prevails,
it is impossible to doubt. An enlightened public opinion, to demand them,
alone is wanting; and it is wanting, not so much among slave-holders, as among
those who are not slave-holders, but who vote; and whose ignorance, passions,
and prejudices control government. These last, a wretched population, idle,
vicious, and poor, such as grows
up where free industry is degraded by slavery, and robbed by it, also, of employment and reward, oppose with violence every attempt to improve the condition of the negroes, because their selfishness and pride are gratified by having at class below them, whom they may insult and abuse with impunity. They are the worst enemies of the slave, and their liberty, or political power, the greatest obstacle to any scheme for his benefit.
Thirdly, no one can read Uncle Tom without the irresistible conviction, that the Southern people alone can deal with this subject. Slavery, as this work shows, is so interwoven with all the relations, interests, and habits of their lives, that they only, who are thus in contact with it, can properly understand and manage it. It is no light task; and we believe that this novel, though written in no friendly spirit,—written, indeed, with much of the bitterness of fanaticism,—will have a happy influence in convincing the liberal and enlightened among the Southern people of the necessity for reform, and of stimulating them to the work.
Much has been said of the evils of slavery; and it is a remark that passes current with most persons, that it is a social and political curse. It would be more correct to say, that it is an evil for any country to have any portion of its people who are fit subjects for slavery. It is not slavery that is the curse of the South; it is Africa. It is the presence of an alien, inferior race, with whom amalgamation is degradation and corruption of blood, who can never be citizens; whose natural tendency is not to improvement, but to barbarism; who make industry ignorant, unskillful, and abject; who form no part of the people, though a large proportion of the population; and who are thus a source of weakness, and not of strength. This is the curse; and it would be infinitely greater, were this degraded population free instead of being slaves. It is the punishment for the lawless rapine that tore the negro from his native sands,—for the nameless horrors of the middle passage,—for all the atrocities of the slave trade. A portion of the South being so largely African, slavery is a necessity.
Wherever the white man can work, negro labor, slave or
free, is an evil; but wherever the climate does not permit him to work, it is not an evil, if properly regulated. It is better that countries thus situated should be cultivated, producing, as they do, so much that adds to the wealth of the world. Without negro labor, they must be a wilderness, and in them, negro labor implies slavery. In the northern slave States slavery is gradually disappearing. With them, emancipation is possible and desirable, and must happen in the progress of wealth and agricultural improvement; for skilful, intelligent labor always drives inferior labor out of the market. Thus, natural causes are withdrawing slavery from the North to the South; from the region of wheat and grass, where the white man can work, to the region of cotton and rice and sugar, where he cannot work; from the farm to the plantation. There it must remain, or the land must be abandoned; and there, if under humane and just direction, it may be rightfully maintained, to the advantage of the country and of civilization.
Thence, too, it seems likely to extend. Vast prospects are opening to
the South, vague and dim now, but becoming daily more definite in the nearing
future. Regions of undeveloped resources, and inexhaustible fertility, lie
around the Gulf of Mexico, our Mediterranean, awaiting the hour when the valor,
enterprise, and knowledge of a superior race shall call forth their stores
of boundless wealth, to give fresh springs to industry, wider scope to commerce,
new materials for the arts, immense increase to the accommodations, luxuries,
and refinements of civilized man. All this may be won, and, in those climates,
can only be won by the labor of the negro, guided and directed by Saxon intelligence.
But it must be rightfully won. It is a rich harvest; but it cannot be reaped
by tyrants and oppressors. For such, no harvests ripen. By the eternal law
of God, failure, disaster, decay, and misery are forever linked to cruelty
and injustice. This truth shines with divine light on every page of human
history. Well-being comes only of well-doing; and if, in the reckless greed
of gain, the callous calculations of avarice, the Anglo-American, in that
day when he shall lead the negro to these new fields of labor and wealth,
should disregard the welfare of his
humble companion; if he care only for himself and his gold, and, carrying with him the arts and the cultivated mind of civilization, forget the moral virtues that can atone sustain him, the negro will be terribly revenged. Out of his wrongs will come the punishment of his oppressors. Fear will dog their steps; the hatred, enmity, and opposition of the world will meet them in all their enterprises; their energy of character, their intellectual power, will wither and decay in the foul atmosphere of selfishness and crime, and they will themselves share the degradation they impose;
"Thus even-handed justice
They may succeed for a time; they may grow cotton and rice and sugar, and make money; but, like all ill-gotten wealth, it will prove not a blessing, but a curse.The punishment will be sure to come at last. As Carlyle says:—
"Foolish men imagine, that, because judgment for an evil thing is delayed, there is no justice but an accidental one here below. Judgment for an evil thing is many times delayed, some day or two, some century or two, but it is sure as life, it is sure as death. In the centre of the whirlwind, verily, now, as in the oldest days, dwells and speaks a God. The great Soul of the world is just.''
The fate of St. Domingo, of Cuba, and of Jamaica is full of instruction and warning.
One word more. It is said, perhaps truly, that the existence of this Union
depends on the execution of the fugitive slave law of 1850. That law is not
liked at the North. By some, it is openly and vehemently denounced and opposed;
by many, it is reluctantly acquiesced in, as a hateful necessity. There are
very many whom this law places in a most painful conflict between their reverence
for right, and their love and duty to their country. They appreciate fully
all the evils of disunion; they also appreciate fully all the shame and misery
of living under a law that shocks their sentiments of humanity and justice,
and of giving to it their aid and support; for "whoso consents to wrong doeth
wrong." A law which is thus revolting to the conscience of a large portion
of the people, and
the best portion too, those who have a conscience to be revolted, is a narrow foundation on which to build the existence and safety of a great nation;—a narrow and weak foundation, which must constantly need the props of self-interest and party management, the underpinning of "compromises," to keep it up. Self-interest, party drill and tactics, commercial relations, railroads and telegraphs are not the stuff out of which can be made the bands which unite man to man as a brother. When alienated feeling has been produced by moral disapprobation, there is already disunion. The invisible central cord is broken, and its outside wrappings of paper constitutions, commercial ties and party ties, will show what they are made of at the first strain. The main timbers of the house are rotten, and the next tempest will prostrate it to the ground. The people of the North,—not the mob, or the worshippers of mammon in the cities,—but the people who dwell on the peaceful farms, who plough the hills and valleys, and reap their harvests, who are daily accustomed to the sight and the companionship of free, hopeful, happy, and law-guarded industry around them, are no admirers of slavery, because they consider it another name for cruelty, oppression, and tyranny. When they see a man escaped from such a state, their first impulse is to assist and protect him, not to send him back. When they see him seized by the officers of the law; when they. are told that he is a piece of property; that they must help to send him back, or give their support and encouragement to those who do; that this law must be executed on pain of disunion, on pain of national death,—there arises at once a hard and doubtful struggle in their minds, between their sense of duty as citizens and their feelings as men; between their love of country and their love of humanity and justice; between the claims of the law and all the influences and teachings of their habits and lives.
If, however, they could look on the runaway, not as a man unjustly claimed
as a chattel, but as a person who has rights secured to him by law, as a
servant who had fled from his master, as one who really owed "service and labor" in return for support and protection, and who
had wrongfully and foolishly left a position well suited to his mental and
dition, thousands of honest and well-meaning men, who now oppose, or refuse their countenance and aid to, the fugitive slave law, would with joy and alacrity give it their support. The abolitionists would dwindle to an insignificant faction; fanaticism would lose its chief source of excitement, and the demagogues a topic for agitation. The subject of slavery would no longer be regarded as a weapon in party contests, as a means of influence and power in the ever-recurring strife of President-making, to which our politics seem now to have degenerated. It would thus be left, where alone it can be placed with safety, in the hands of the Southern people, who would be responsible to the country and to the world for its just and wise management. According to that management will be towards them the feeling of the North,—either coldness and aversion, or the sympathy, respect, and love due to worthy countrymen and brothers; and these are bonds stronger and more enduring than cotton and corn, than iron rails or iron wires, to preserve the Union, and to bind us together, not only as one nation, but as one people.