Imágenes de páginas

ing, gambling, and debauchery for sole recreation; independent of all opinion; ignorant of all progress; isolated from all society-it is impossible to conceive a more savage existence within the border of any modern civilization.” The picture of the poor whites is graphic and somber, but space must limit these quotations.

She gives credit for the habits of courage and command, which are bred in the upper class, as when she tells of a heroic rescue from a shipwreck: The devil must have his due, and men brought up in habits of peremptory command over their fellowmen, and under the constant apprehension of danger and awful necessity of immediate readiness to meet it, acquire qualities precious to themselves and others in hours of supreme peril."

She touches repeatedly on the social restrictions on free speech; thus, speaking of two gentlemen, one a clergyman: “They seem good and kind and amiable men, and I have no doubt are conscientious in their capacity of slave holders; but to one who has lived outside this dreadful atmosphere, the whole tone of their discourse has a morally muffled sound which one must hear to be able to conceive." She observes that whenever she discusses slavery with people she meets, they waive the abstract right or wrong of the system. Now and then she gets a bit of entire frankness, as when a very distinguished South Carolinian says to her, “I'll tell you why abolition is impossible; because every healthy negro can fetch $1000 in Charleston market at this moment.”

She generalizes as to the effects of emancipation in a way which later events completely justified. Unlike the West Indies, she says, the South is not tropical, and will not yield food without labor, and necessity would compel the liberated blacks to work. That they would not work, and the ground would lie idle, was, as we know, the bogy which was

held up to scare away from emancipation-just as in our own day the danger of race mixture is made a bogy to scare away from social justice. But the event proved that Fanny Kemble was right in her predictions, in which indeed she was at one with other candid observers at the time. As to gradual emancipation, she believed it unwise—the system, she writes, is too absolutely bad for slow measures. Had she owned her husband's plantation, she would at once have freed the slaves, and hired them, if only as a means of financial salvation.

She pronounces Uncle Tom's Cabin to be no exaggeration. Her own story of facts gives a darker impression than Mrs. Stowe's novel. It may be asked, why, at this distance, revive the tragic tale? The answer is, that the truth of history is precious, and our present problems cannot be understood if we shut our eyes to their antecedents. Just now there is a fashion, among many Southern writers on the negro question, of beginning their story with the wrongs and sufferings of the reconstruction period. Now, it was indeed deplorable, and a thing not to be forgotten, that ignorant negroes sat in the Senate chambers of South Carolina and Mississippi, that taxes were excessive, and the public business mismanaged. But, in the broad view, it is well to remember that a few years earlier very much worse things than these were happening, and that a system which made cattle of men and women might be expected to avenge itself.

Another work may be merely mentioned as illuminating the facts of slavery. It is Frederic Law Olmsted's three volumes of travels in the slave States. He studied them with the eyes of a farmer and a practical man; a wellequipped, fair, and keen observer. His testimony, already touched on in these chapters, is very strong as to the economic mischief of the system, its frequent cruelties, its

demoralization of both master and slave, and the absolute need of its ultimate extinction. From his pages we can borrow but one or two passages. The contrasts of slavery are epitomized in two plantations he found side by side in Mississippi. On one the slaves had good food and clothes, were not driven hard, were given three stops in the day for meals, and had the time from Friday night till Monday morning for themselves. In this time the men cultivated gardens and the women washed and sewed. They were smartly dressed, and seemed very contented; many could read and write; on Sundays there was a church service and a Sabbath school taught by their mistress, both of which they could attend or not as they pleased. On the other plantation, owned by a religious woman, the working hours were from 3-30 A. M. to 9 P. M. The slaves had only Sunday free from labor, and on that day there were three services which they had to attend under penalty of a whipping. They were never allowed off the plantation, and were whipped if they talked with slaves from other plantations. Said a neighbor, “ They can all repeat the catechism, but they are the dullest, laziest, and most sorrowful negroes I ever saw.”

As to the possibilities of gradual emancipation, which he favored, Olmsted wrote that in Cuba every slave has the right of buying his own freedom, at a price which does not depend on the selfish exaction of his master, but is either a fixed price or is determined in each case by disinterested appraisers. “The consequence is that emancipations are continually going on, and the free people of color are becoming enlightened, cultivated, and wealthy. In no part of the United States do they occupy the high position which they enjoy in Cuba." So much for the despised Spanish-American.

From a still different standpoint-that of the non-slave

holding Southern white—the system was reviewed and scathingly judged in Helper's The Impending Crisis. But that, like Uncle Tom's Cabin, was not merely a book, but an event, and as such is to be mentioned in its place among events. The general survey of the slave system in itself need not here be carried further. As to its essential character and basal principle, no truer word was ever spoken than that which Mrs. Stowe puts in the mouth of the slaveholder St. Clare:

“The short of the matter is, cousin, on this abstract question of slavery there can, as I think, be but one opinion. Planters, who have money to make by it,-clergymen, who have planters to please,-politicians, who want to rule by it,-may warp and bend language and ethics to a degree that shall astonish the world at their ingenuity; they can press Nature and the Bible, and nobody knows what else, into the service; but, after all, neither they nor the world believe in it one particle the more. It comes from the devil, that's the short of it,—and to my mind, it's a pretty respectable specimen of what he can do in his own line. You seem to wonder; but if you will get me fairly at it, I'll make a clean breast of it. This cursed business, accursed of God and man, what is it? Strip it of all its ornament, run it down to the root and nucleus of the whole, and what is it? Why, because my brother Quashy is ignorant and weak, and I am intelligent and strong,because I know how, and can do it,—therefore I may steal all he has, keep it, and give him only such and so much as suits my fancy. Whatever is too hard, too dirty, too disagreeable, for me, I may set Quashy to doing. Because I don't like work, Quashy shall work. Because the sun burns me, Quashy shall stay in the sun. Quashy shall earn the money, and I will spend it. Quashy shall lie down in every puddle, that I may walk over dry-shod. Quashy shall

do my will, and not his, all the days of his mortal life, and have such chance of getting to heaven, at last, as I find convenient. This I take to be about what slavery is.”

St. Clare goes on to say that “ for pity's sake, for shame's sake, because we are men born of women and not savage beasts, many of us do not and dare not—we would scorn to-use the full power which our savage laws put into our hands." In truth, a compilation of the slave laws was one of the most convincing arguments against the whole system.

This book is characterized by Charles G. Ames,—whose long life of noble service to humanity included earnest work among the anti-slavery pioneers: “To my mind, the heaviest blow, though probably not the most telling one, ever struck against our slave system as a system was the compilation and publication of Stroud's Slave Laws-a codification from the statute-books of the Southern States of their own barbarous methods of legislation, made necessary for the protection of the peculiar institution. All the recent sentimental defenses of it, as gentle, humane, and patriarchal, seem utterly to ignore the rugged facts, which Lawyer Stroud's book made as plain as the stratification of the rocks to the eye of the geologist.”

In its actual administration, the system was in a measure softened and humanized. It was more humane in the border than in the cotton and sugar Statės, and it was generally better when a plantation was managed by its owner than when left to an overseer,-as the plantation of Fanny Kemble's husband had been left. But in one respect its disastrous effect was everywhere felt. By associating manual labor with the stigma of servitude, it bred, in free men, a strong disrelish for work,-a most demoralizing and ruinous influence. Inefficiency and degradation were the marks of the non-slaveholding whites. The master class missed the wholesome regimen of toil. Nature is never more

« AnteriorContinuar »