Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER IV.

THE QUESTION OF SLAVERY..

We have at length introduced the subject of Slavery; and it remains to be seen how much it has had to do with secession and the war.

The advocates of the North seem to maintain that this institution is the sole cause of what is going on in America. Some of the advocates of the South maintain that it has had nothing whatever to do with it. If the account just given of the battle of the tariffs is believed, I think it would be allowed that the former are mistaken. I am not without a hope that I may succeed in convincing the latter that they are mistaken also. They may make the admission without its doing them any harm.

The subject appeared at the end of the last chapter, as that by which the North-Eastern States hoped to secure the assistance of those of the North-West in their war against the South.

Not that the great West had any objection to slavery on its own account. The dislike which it had to the “ peculiar institution” rested on two grounds—first, It enabled the niggers to exist and to multiply ; secondly, It enabled them to compete with the whites. Now, when they were free, they did one of two things. In a cold climate, and among an unfriendly people, they became frightfully demoralised and diseased, and generally died off like rotten sheep, as at New York, and generally through the Northern States, and even in British North America. In a warm climate, and where they were not persecuted, they spent their days in doing absolutely nothing, trusting for their subsistence to the bounty of unassisted nature, as they did in Jamaica. It was only in the Slave States of the Union that they were in anything approaching to a flourishing condition ; and therefore it was only there that their competition was to be dreaded. It would be very unfair to the Western States to say that their sturdy and vigorous citizens are seriously afraid of competition, or that they did not consider themselves fully competent to whip all creation, from the Britishers to the niggers. But the truth is, they hated the negro to an extent which amounted almost to a disease; and they wished him to be improved off the American continent. As long as the institution of Slavery lasted, there would be States in which it would be an object that they should live and thrive and increase; and in that case it would be difficult to prevent them from spreading into other States. It was in vain that they passed laws to prevent free blacks from entering in, and contaminating their sacred soil. They could not keep them out altogether. And the contamination was not altogether ideal. They were a thoroughly worthless and degraded set of mortals, who crowded together, breeding diseases of every kind, moral and physical. The jails and hospitals were crammed with them to an extent which, when considered relatively to their total number, was simply appalling. It is perhaps not to be wondered at that the Western States were anxious to be rid of them. And if emancipation would answer that end, why, let them be emancipated, and be hanged to them.

These feelings existed also in New England; but there they were combined with others. I suppose there never was a country where any sensation theory, or any new idea, was so sure to flourish, at least for a time, as in that region. The most extravagant notions that could be started, and which the most visionary dreamers in Europe would reject, were sure of finding welcome there; and the native genius was fully competent to originate ideas of its own devising, which would cap the wildest absurdities that could be produced by France or Germany. From Communism to Bloomerism, there was nothing that they did not try, — founding communities in different parts of the country in order to be able to do so fully; and I think one colony was started in order to raise a practical protest against the mistaken fashion of wearing clothes. These realised theories, though they were constantly changing, became a recognised fact in the social relations of New England; and the “Isms," so they were called, grew to be a regular national institution, to be taken into account by the political wirepullers. It could hardly have been expected that in such a country the doctrine of abolitionism should have had no place. It was always rather powerful; and after the English West Indian experiment, it became more powerful than ever. There was one part of the English precedent which its supporters did not care about copying; and that was compensation to the slave-owners. Immediate, unconditional abolition, that was what they required. They would listen to no argument. It was of no use to say that slavery was an affair of the States, and not one for the Federal Government at all; the answer was, that slavery was a sin, which the Federal Government ought to put down, whether it had any legal right to do so or not. It was of no use to say that it was recognised by the Constitution; the answer was, that it should not have been so recognised. It was, of no use to say that emancipation would be inflicting a grievous wrong on the possessors of slaves; the abolitionists replied that the possessors of slaves could not be wronged, as they had no rights. If it was urged that such a measure would lead to the extermination of the blacks and the ruin of the whites, and would reduce many of the Southern States to a desert,-if it was pointed out what results had followed from sudden emancipation, in a violent form at San Domingo, and in a milder form at Jamaica, there came the eternal reply, “Fiat justitia, ruat cælum.” Better that the Southern whites should be ruined, better even that they should be massacred; better that the vast regions now cultivated by slaves should return to their pristine condition of jungle; better that the blacks should loiter away their lives in idleness or worse, better even that they should perish off the face of the earth, than that the vile institution of slavery should continue to exist on the continent of North America.

These theories were reinforced and strongly supported by stories of individual cases of negro suffering, and cruelty on the part of the masters, which

« AnteriorContinuar »