Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER V

CALHOUN AND GARRISON

Thus, with the beginning of the second third of the nineteenth century, the issue as to American slavery was distinctly drawn, and the leading parties to it had taken their positions. Let us try to understand the motive and spirit of each.

In the new phase of affairs, the chief feature was the changed attitude of the South. In the sentiment of its leading and representative men, there had been three stages: first, “slavery is an evil, and we will soon get rid of it "; next, “slavery is an evil, but we do not know how to get rid of it”; now it became “slavery is good and right, and we will maintain it.” To this ground the South came with surprising suddenness in the years immediately following 1833. What caused the change? The favorite Southern explanation has been that the violence of the Abolitionists exasperated the South, checked its drift toward emancipation, and provoked it in self-defense to justify and extend its system. This may be effective as a criticism of the extreme Abolitionists, but as regards the South it is rather a confession than a defense. On a subject involving its whole prosperity, its essential character, its relation to the world's civilization, did it reverse its course at the bitter words of a few critics? If that were true, it would bespeak passionate irritability, an incapacity for the healthy giveand-take of practical life, in keeping with the worst that could be said of the effect of slavery on the master. In truth the violence of Garrison and his few followers was

but a minor element in the case. Slavery had become immensely profitable; it was the corner-stone of a social fabric in which the upper class had an extremely comfortable place; it was involved with the whole social and political life of the section. It was too important to be dealt with half-heartedly: it must be accepted, justified, believed in, or it must be abandoned. John Randolph of Roanoke had said of slavery: “We are holding a wolf by the ears; it is perilous alike to hold on or to let go.” But one or the other must be done, and the South elected to keep on holding the wolf.

The better to understand the developments of the following years, it will be well to consider a group of representative men,-Calhoun, Garrison, Birney, Channing, and Webster.

Calhoun had many of the elements of high statesmanship-clear views, strong convictions, forcible speech. He was ambitious, but in no ignoble fashion; he often served his country well, as in his efficient administration of the war department under Munroe, his protest against the spoils system and the personal government of Jackson, and his influence in averting war with England over the Oregon boundary in 1845-46. After the Presidency was clearly out of his reach—from 1832—he was growingly identified with and devoted to the interests of his own section, yet always with a patriotic regard for the Union as a whole. He had that fondness for theories and abstractions which was characteristic of the Southern statesmen, fostered perhaps by the isolated life of the plantation. With this went a kind of provincialism of thought, bred from the wide difference which slavery made from the life of the world at large. When Calhoun, in one of his Senate orations, was magnifying the advantage of slave over free labor, Wade of Ohio, who sat listening intently, turned to a neighbor and

exclaimed: “That man lives off of all traveled roads!” He had neither the arts nor the magnetism of the popular politician; he won no such personal following as Clay and Jackson; but the South more and more accepted him as the most logical and far-seeing champion of its peculiar interests.

His personality had much in common with Jonathan Edwards. There was in both the same inflexible logic and devotion to ideas, the same personal purity and austerity. The place of the mystic's fire which burned in Edwards was taken in Calhoun by a passionate devotion to the commonwealth. In both there was a certain moral callousness which made the one view with complacence a universe including a perpetual hell of unspeakable torments; while the other accepted as the ideal society a system in which the lowest class was permanently debased. Each was the champion of a cause destined to defeat because condemned by the moral sentiment of the world, Edwards the advocate of Calvinism, and Calhoun of slavery.

Calhoun is to be regarded as a typical slave-holder of the better class. He owned and cultivated a plantation with several hundred slaves; spent much time upon it; made it profitable, and dispensed a generous hospitality. Such a plantation was a little community, organized and administered with no small labor and skill; with house servants, often holding a friendly and intimate relation with the family; with a few trained mechanics and a multitude of field hands. As to physical comfort the slaves were probably as well or better provided than the bulk of European peasantry,—this on the testimony of witnesses as unfriendly to slavery as Fanny Kemble and Dr. Channing. Order and some degree of morality were enforced, and religion, largely of the emotional type, prevailed widely. So much may be said, perhaps, for the average plantation, certainly

for the better class, and a very large class. Joseph Le Conte, the eminent scientist, a writer of the highest credit, in his pleasing autobiography describes his boyhood on a Georgia plantation, and characterizes his father as a man of rare excellence to whom he owed the best of his mental inheritance. He writes of him: “The best qualities of character were constantly exercised in the just, wise, and kindly management of his 200 slaves. The negroes were strongly attached to him, and proud of calling him master.

There never was a more orderly, nor apparently a happier working class than the negroes of Liberty county as I knew them in my boyhood.”

Against this description are to be set such statements as this made by Frederick Law Olmsted, after many months of travel in the South: The field hand negro is on an average a very poor and a very bad creature, much worse than I had supposed before I had seen him and grown familiar with his stupidity, indolence, duplicity, and sensuality. He seems to be but an imperfect man, incapable of taking care of himself in a civilized manner, and his presence in large numbers must be considered a dangerous circumstance to a civilized people.” Olmsted saw no resource but gradual emancipation with suitable training. A resident of this same Liberty county, Rev. C. C. Jones, himself a staunch supporter of slavery, but urgent for giving better religious instruction to the slaves, wrote in 1842; “ That the negroes are in a degraded state is a fact, so far as my knowledge extends, universally conceded.

Negro marriages are neither recognized nor protected by law. Uncleanness—this sin may be considered as universal.

They are proverbial thieves.” But how could religious instruction” produce chastity in those for whom the law did not recognize marriage, or honesty in those who themselves were stolen ?

[ocr errors]

But the bright side of the medal, which had so dark an obverse, was the interpretation on which Calhoun and the slave-holding class took their stand. They resolutely ignored the frequent abuses and the essential degradation of manhood. They fashioned the theory-it was the old familiar theory of past ages, but had fallen out of sight in the enthusiasm of the revolutionary period—that society rightly and properly is constituted with a servile class as its base. Calhoun declared: “I hold that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.” And generally, he adds, the condition of the laborer has been worse than it now is in the South. In advance of civilization, he declares, there always comes a conflict between capital and labor; and this conflict the South avoids by unflinchingly holding the laborer in his subject condition.

Calhoun is dead, and slavery is dead, but the ideas he then avowed are still powerfully, if more latently, asserting themselves in our social order.

For these theories the slave-holders now found justification from the ministers of religion. The South held more tenaciously than any other section to the old-fashioned type of Christianity. In earlier days, religious teachers—as in the unanimous vote of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1818—had held slavery to be " utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves.” But now the Southern ministers of all denominations appealed for ample justification to slavery as it was permitted under the Jewish law, and as it existed in the time of Christ and the Apostles, and was unrebuked by them. They went further back, and in the curse pronounced by Noah upon the unfilial Ham and his posterity, they found warrant for holding the African in perpetual bondage. So

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »