Copyright
George Washington Cable.

The silent South, together with the freedman's case in equity and the convict lease system online

. (page 7 of 13)
Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableThe silent South, together with the freedman's case in equity and the convict lease system → online text (page 7 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


talk never won a battle or a race, and the hun-
dred years past is long enough for us of the South
to have been content with a speed that the rest



THE SILENT SOUTH.



105



of the civilized world has left behind. The tor-
toise won in the race with the hare, the race
didn't win itself. We have listened far too much
already to those who teach the safety of being
slow. ' " Make haste slowly," is the true empha-
sis. Cannot these lovers of maxims appreciate
that "Delays are dangerous"?* For we have a
case before us wherein there is all danger and no
safety in floating with the tide.

Our fathers had such a case when African
slavery was first fastening its roots about the
foundations of our order of society. They were
warned by their own statesmen to make haste
and get rid of it. " You must approach the sub-
ject," cried the great Jefferson. " You must
adopt some plan of emancipation or worse will
follow " ; and all the way down to Henry Clay
that warning was with more or less definiteness
repeated. But our fathers were bitten with the
delusion of postponement, and the practice of
slavery became an Institution. It grew, until
every element of force in our civilization the
political arena, the sacred desk, the legislative
hall, the academical chair all were wrapped in
its dark shadow. Where might not our beloved
South be to-day, far on in front, but for that sad
mistake? At length, suddenly, rudely, slavery
was brought to an end. What that cost we all
know ; yet let us hope there are many of us who
can say with our sainted Lee, not merely " I am

u



106 THE SILENT SOUTH.

rejoiced that slavery is abolished " ; but " I would
cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war,
and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this
object attained." l

Such was our fathers' problem. The problem
before us is the green, rank stump of that felled
Institution. Slavery in particular the slavery
of the individual man to his one master, which
rested upon the law, is by tire law abolished.
Slavery in general the subordination of a fixed
ruled to a fixed ruling class the slavery of civil
caste, which can only in part, and largely can-
not, be legislated away, remains. Sad will it
be for our children if we leave it for their inher-
itance,

A Southern man traveling in the North and a
Northern man just returned from a commercial
tour of the South lately fell into conversation on
a railway train. Said the Northerner, " What the
South needs is to import capital, induce immigra-
tion, develop her enormous latent wealth, and let
politics alone." " Sir," said the Southerner, " I
know you by that sign for a commercial man, as
I might know a hard student by his glasses and
peering eyes. With you all things else are sub-
sidiary to commerce ; hence, even commercially,
you are near-sighted. It is true the South should
seek those things you mention. They are for
her better safety, comfort, and happiness. But
1 See open letter in THE CENTURY for May, 1885.



THE SILENT SOUTH.



ID/



what are politics ? In this land, at least, simply
questions concerning the maintenance or increase
of our safety, comfort, and happiness ; questions
that cannot be let alone, but must be attended to
as long as those things demand to be maintained
or increased." The train stopped in a depot.
Men could be heard under the wheels, tapping
them with their hammers to test their soundness.
" To ask us to let politics alone is to ask us to
leave the wheels of our train untested, its engine
unoiled, its hot boxes glowing, while we scurry
on after more passengers and passengers' fares ;
which is just the way not to get them. Do
not ask it of us. Our scantiness of capital, mea-
gerness of population, and the undeveloped con-
dition of our natural resources are largely owing,
this day, to our blindly insisting that certain
matters in our politics shall be let alone. It was
our letting them alone that brought Federal in-
terference, and that interference has been with-
drawn upon our pledge not to let them alone but
to settle them."

About a year ago the present writer visited the
thriving town of Birmingham, Alabama. Its
smelting furnaces were viewed with special inter-
est. It was fine to see the crude ore of the earth,
so long trampled under foot, now being turned
by great burnings and meltings into one of the
prime factors of the world's wealth. But
another thought came with this, at sight of the



IO 8 THE SILENT SOUTH.

dark, brawny men standing or moving here and
there with the wild glare of molten cinder and
liquid metal falling upon their black faces and
reeking forms. These were no longer simple
husbandmen, companions of unfretted nature. If
the subterranean wealth of the South is to be
brought to the surface and to market all over the
land, as now it is in this miniature of the great
English Birmingham; if, as seems inevitable, the
black man is to furnish the manual labor for this
vast result, then how urgent is our necessity for
removing from him all sense of grievance that we
rightly may remove, and all impediment to his
every proper aspiration, ere the bright, amiable
influences of green fields and unsoiled streams, of
leafy woods, clear sky, fragrant airs, and song of
birds pass out of his life, and the sooty, hardening,
dulling toils of the coal-pit and the furnace, and
the huddled life that goes with it, breed a new
bad knowledge of the power of numbers and a
thirst for ferocious excitements, and make him
the dangerous and intractable animal that now he
is not. For our own interests, one and all of
them, we ought to lose no time.

Our task is one whose difficulties can never be
less, its facilities never be greater. We have no
wars to distract and preoccupy. Here is a kindly
race of poor men unlearned in the evil charms of
unions, leagues, secret orders, strikes and bread-
riots : looking not upon the capitalist as a natural



THE SILENT SOUTH.



IC9



enemy; stranger to all those hostilities against
the richer and stronger world around them which
drive apart the moneyed man and the laborer
wherever living has become a hard struggle.
What an opportunity is ours to-day that will
never return when once it goes from us. Look
at Ireland.

xii. "MOVE ON."

We occupy, moreover, a ground on which we
cannot remain. It is not where we stood at the
war's end. We approve the freedman's owner-
ship of himself. We see and feel there is no
going back from universal suffrage. And its
advocate may make a point of tremendous
strength in the fact that this very universality
of suffrage is what has bred in the South a new
sense of the necessity of public education for all
and of whatever else will enlighten and elevate
the lower mass. Ignorance, penury, unintelli-
gence, and the vices that go with them the
bonds that hold the freedman down from beneath
we are helping them to cast off. But to cut
these loose and still lay on the downward pres-
sure of civil caste is there any consistency in
this? We cannot do it and respect our own
intelligence. Socially we can do nothing for the
freedman or against him by rule or regulation.
That is a matter, as we might say, of specific
gravity. But as to his civil rights, we cannot



! I0 THE SILENT SOUTH.

stay where we are. Neither can we go back-
ward.

^ To go forward we must cure one of our old-
time habits the habit of letting error go uncon-
tradicted because it is ours. It grew out of our
having an institution to defend, that made a
united front our first necessity. We have none
now. Slavery is gone. State rights are safer than
ever before, because better defined ; or, if unsafe,
only because w'e have grown loose on the subject.
We have nothing peculiar left save civil caste.
Let us, neighbor with neighbor, and friend with
friend, speak of it, think of it, write of it, get rid
of it. Ruskin's words seem almost meant for
our moment and region : " For now some ten or
twelve years," he says, " I have been asking every
good writer whom I know to write some part of
what was exactly true, in the greatest of the
sciences, that of Humanity." We speak for
this when we speak truly against civil caste. It
is caste that the immortal Heber calls " a system
which tends ... to destroy the feelings of gen-
eral benevolence." As far, then, as civil rights
are concerned, at least, let us be rid of it. This
done, the words North and South shall mean no
more than East or West, signifying only direc-
tions and regions, and not antipodal ideas of
right and government ; and though each of us
shall love his own State with ardor, the finest
word to our ear as citizens shall be America.



THE SILENT SOUTH. l , j

To America we see irreversibly assigned the
latest, greatest task in the " science of Humanity " :
to burst the last chrysalis of the national relation
and consummate its last grand metamorphosis.
Once it knew no wider bound than the tribal
relation. But the day is on us at length, the
problem is ours, and its great weight and respon-
sibility and the honor of it when achieved rest
and will rest on our Southern States. It is to
make national harmony and unity broader than
race ; to crystallize into fact the truth that na-
tional unity need not demand unification of race;
to band together without one single class disa-
bility or privilege diminishing or enhancing any
individual's intrinsic value in that one common,
undistinguished enjoyment of every human civil
right which only can insure national harmony
and unity, two antipodal races ; two races that
have no wish to, and for all we know never will,
mingle their two bloods in one stream.

Nationalization by fusion of bloods is the
maxim of barbarous times and peoples. Na-
tionalization without racial confusion is ours to
profess and to procure. It is not a task of our
choosing. But our fathers, unawares, entailed it
upon us, and we cannot but perform it. We
cannot hold American principles in perfect faith
and not do it. The good doctrine of liberty to
all and license to none thrusts it inevitably into
our hands. To make national unity without



! I2 THE SILENT SOUTH.

hybridity the world has never seen it done as
we have got to do it ; but it is the business of
every generation that comes into the world to
bring into it better things than it has ever seen.
We have got to build a nationality as free from
all civil estrangement as from social confusion,
yet wider than the greatest divergence of human
races. This is the meaning of the great revolu-
tion upon us to-day. Daily the number increases
of those who grasp it. A little while ago the
whole nation rejected it. To reject it to-day is
to be left behind the nation's best thought. How
fast that thought is spreading in the South few
know. Like the light of kindling watch-fires it
is catching from mind to mind. ''The best men
of the South are coming daily into convictions
that condemn their own beliefs of yesterday as
the antiquated artillery of an outgrown past^
and to the present writer, as one who himself
found this not easy, but hard, to do, it seems no
improbability that our traditionist friends, even
before this reply can reach them, may be found
ranging themselves among that number, for the
promotion of this revolution that everybody
knows must come. To say what must, is to say
what will be ; and so shall the reproach of
slavery, the greatest moral mistake made by the
whole American nation, be swallowed up in the
honor of this noble gain for the cause of
humanity and universal peace.



SIATENORSJALSCHOffi

r f^f\ t ^*0



THE CONVICT LEASE SYSTEM IN
THE SOUTHERN STATES



THE CONVICT LEASE SYSTEM IN
THE SOUTHERN STATES. 1

I. A MODEL PRISON.

HERE and there in the United States a penal
institution may be found that fairly earns
the pride with which it is pointed out by the
surrounding community. In the whole country
there may be four or five such. The visitor to
them admires the fitness of their architecture.

"Yes," the warden replies; "this is not a house
of pleasure, and so we have not made it pretty.
It is not an abode of crime, and so we have not
made it ugly. It is not a place where men seek
justice, and therefore we have not made it gran-
diose and majestic. But it is the house of chas-
tisement, of chastening punishment, and so it
is made solemn, severe, and calm."

The visitor praises the grave and silent decency
of all the internal appointments.



essay was first printed in 1883; but although it was
followed by many efforts for reform, they have failed because of
the political power of the " penitentiary rings," and except a
very inadequate, superficial improvement in Texas no changes of
moment have taken place to put these pages materially out of
date. (November, 1889.)



!l6 THE CONVICT LEASE SYSTEM

" Yes," responds the warden ; " the peace and
dignity of the State are here asserting themselves
over the person of the prisoner who has violated
them; there is no more room here for. merriment
or confusion than for strife."

The visitor extols the perfection of the sanitary
arrangements.

" Yes," says the warden ; "when the criminal
was free and his life at his own disposal, he took
no such care of it as this. He probably lived a
sort of daily suicide. If he shortened his days,
the State was, presumably, not to blame. But
if we by malice or neglect shorten his days here,
where he is our captive, we bring upon the State
both blame and shame. For his life is in our
custody, just as the clothing is with which he
came here ; the State, through its courts, has
distinctly declined to tamper with it, and holds
it subject to be returned to his own keeping, at
the expiration of his confinement, in as good order
as that in which it was received, the inevitable wear
and tear of time alone excepted. Can the State
maintain its peace and dignity as it should that
commits breaches of trust inside its very prisons ? "

The visitor remarks that a wise benevolence is
necessary even toward bad men.

" But," says the other, " it is not merely be-
nevolence to bad men that puts in these elaborate
sanitary appliances ; it is the necessity of up-
holding the integrity and honor of the State."



IN THE SOUTHERN STA TES. 1 1 j

The visitor shows his surprise at the absence
of all the traditional appliances for the correction
of the refractory. " Yet be certain," is the re-
joinder, " a discipline, sure, prompt, and effectual
meets every infraction of rules. How else could
we have this perfection of order ? But it is a
discipline whose punishments are free from bru-
talizing tendencies, increasing dispassionately as
the culprit's passions increase, and relenting only
when he has repented." *

The visitor is impressed with the educative
value of the labor performed by the inmates.

" Yes," says the warden ; " send a man out
from here with knowledge of a trade, and may
be he will come back, but the chances are he
will not. Send him away without a trade, and
may be he will not come back, but the chances
are he will. So, for society's sake, -in the com-
munity's interest and for its safety, these men
are taught certain trades that they cannot turn
to bad account. We do not teach burglars lock-
smithing."

Yet the visitor takes a momentary alarm.

1 " Good order and discipline have been maintained during the
past year. There has not been one case of insubordination or
gross violation of any of the rules of the prison government;
not one case that required punishment, either for the purpose of
maintaining discipline or as penalty for an offense committed by
an individual prisoner." " Annual Report of the Inspectors of
the State Penitentiary, Eastern District, Pennsylvania, 1882,"
p. 89.



i: 8 THE CONVICT LEASE SYSTEM

" You put the housebreaker and the robber,
the sneak -thief and the pickpocket into open
competition with honest men in the community
around them."

" Exactly," responds the other; "trying to live
without competing in the fields of productive
labor is just the essence of the crimes for which
they were sent here. We make a short end of
that"

The visitor looks with pleased interest at the
statistical records of the clerk's office.

" We could not call our duty done without
these," is the warden's response. "These are the
keys to the study of the cause and prevention
of crime. By these we weigh our own results.
By these we uncover not only the convict and
his crime, but society's and the State's own sins
of omission and commission, whose fruits are
these crimes and these criminals."

"After all," at length the visitor says, " tell me
one thing more. Here where a prisoner is safe
from fire and plague and oppression and tempta-
tion and evil companionship, and is taught thrift
and skill, and has only to submit to justice and
obey right rules, where is his punishment? How
is this punishment at all ? "

And the warden makes answer with question
for question : " Had you a deformed foot, and
an iron mold were made to close around it and
press it into symmetrical shape and hold it so



IN THE SOUTHERN STATES. l ^

would you ask where is the agony ? The pun-
ishment here is the punishment of a deformed
nature forced into superficial symmetry. It is
the punishment that captivity is to unrestraint ;
that subordination and enforced self-control are
to ungoverned passion and inordinate vanity and
pride ; that routine is to the love of idle adven-
ture ; that decorum is to the love of orgies ; that
temperance is to the love of drink ; that loneli-
ness is to the social and domestic impulses ; that
solitude and self-communion are to remorse. It
is all the losses and restraints of banishment,
without one of its liberties. Nothing tempers it
but the repentance and reform which it induces,
and these temper it just in degree as they are
genuine and thorough."

" And your actual results ? " asks the visitor.

" Of those who come here for their first offense,
a majority return to honest life."

" You have a model prison."

" No," says the warden, " not yet"

II. THE THEORY OF SELF-SUPPORT.

Now, the number of such prisons in America,
we say, may be counted on the fingers of one
hand. Communities rarely allow the prison its
rightful place among their investments of public
money for the improvement of public morals and
public safety. Its outlays are begrudged because



12Q THE CONVICT LEASE SYSTEM

they do not yield cash incomes equal to their
cash expenses. Legislatures, public schools,
courts of justice, and departments of police are
paid for by the people in the belief that they will
and must be made to yield conditions and
results necessary to be obtained, for whose
absence no saving of public wealth can atone,
and that ultimately, though indirectly, even on
their pecuniary side, they are emphatically pro-
fitable. But when it is asked by what course of
reasoning the prison is left out of this count,
there is heard only, as one may say, a motion to
adjourn. Society is not ready for the question.

The error is a sad one, and is deeply rooted.
And yet it is a glaring one. A glance at the
subject is enough to show that unless the money
laid out in prisons is devoted to some end far
better than the mere getting it back again, then
legislatures, public schools, courts, and police all
are shortened in their results, and a correspond-
ing part of their expenses is rightly chargeable
to the mismanaged prison. The prison is an in-
separable part of the system ; and the idea that
the prison must first of all pay back dollar for
dollar, if logically pushed on through the system,
would close public schools, adjourn courts of
justice, dissolve legislatures, and disband police.
For not one of these could exist on a " self-sup-
porting " basis.

Oftener, probably, than from any other one



IN THE SOUTHERN STA TES. l 2 ,

source, this mistake springs from the indolent
assumption that the call to make prisons what
they ought to be is merely an appeal to public
benevolence. It was so, in their earlier turn,
with public hospitals and public schools ; and
the effect was similar. For only here and there,
if at all, did they find their best efficiency or a
true public support, until society rose to the
noble modesty that recognized them not as public
charities, but as public interests. The manage-
ment of a State's convicts is a public interest
that still waits for the same sort of recognition
and treatment. In many directions this has
been partly conceded ; but there are few, if any,
other State executives who would undertake to
echo the lately uttered words of that one who said :

" In neither of the penitentiaries of this State has there ever
been an attempt yet made to administer them on the vulgar,
wicked, unworthy consideration of making them self-sustaining.
In neither of them has it been forgotten that even the convict is
a human being, and that his body and soul are not so the prop-
erty of the State that both may be crashed out in the effort to
reimburse the State the cost of his scanty food, and, at the end
of his term, what then is left of him be dismissed, an enemy of
human society."

The two dissimilar motives here implied govern
the management of most American prisons. In
a few the foremost effort is to make them yield,
by a generous, judicious control, every result
worth, to society's best interests, the money
16



I2 2 THE CONVIW LEASE SYSTEM

paid for it ; that is, to treat them as a public
interest. In a much larger number it is to seek
such, and only such, good results as may be got
without an appreciable excess of expense over
income ; that is, to treat them as appeals and
unworthy appeals to the public charity. One
motive demands first of all the largest results,
the other the smallest net expense. They give
rise to two systems of management, each of
which, in practice, has its merits and drawbacks,
and is more or less effectively carried out,
according to the hands and minds under which
it falls. These are known as the Public Ac-
counts System and the Contract System. 1 Each
has its advocates among students of prison
science, and it is not the province of this paper
further to press the contrast between them. It
is truly the country's misfortune that in several
States there is a third system in operation, a
knowledge of whose real workings can fill the
mind of any good citizen only with astonishment
and indignant mortification.

By either of the two systems already named,

1 The Contract System is often miscalled by the public press
the Convict Lease System. But the Contract System merely,
under careful restrictions, leases the convicts' labor within the
prison walls during certain hours of the day and is entirely sub-
ordinated to the official management of the prison. While
under the Convict Lease System the prison, the prisoner and the
prison management are all farmed out into private control and an
intelligent reformatory system is impossible.



IN THE SOUTHERN STATES.



123



the Public Accounts System and the Contract
System, the prison remains in charge of State
officials, the criminals are kept continually within
the prison walls, and the prison discipline rests
intact. All the appliances for labor the work-
shops, tools, engines, and machinery are pro-
vided by the State, and the convicts labor daily,
prosecuting various industries, in the Public Ac-
counts System under their official overseers, and
in the Contract System under private contractors.
In degrees of more or less excellence, these in-
dustrial operations, whether under official direc-
tors or contractors, are carefully harmonized with
those features of the prison management that
look to the secure detention, the health, the dis-
cipline, and the moral reformation of the prisoner,
the execution of the law's sentence upon him in
its closest and furthest intent, and, if possible,
his return to the outer world, when he must be
returned, a more valuable and less dangerous
man, impressed with the justice of his punish-
ment, and yet a warning to evil-doers. It is the
absence of several of these features, and some-
times of all, that makes the wide difference be-
tween these methods on the one hand and the
mode of prison management known as the Lease
System on the other.



124



THE CONVICT LEASE SYSTEM



III. EVIL PRINCIPLES OF THE LEASE SYSTEM.

Its features vary in different regions. In some,
the State retains the penitentiary in charge of its
officers, and leases out the convicts in gangs of
scores or hundreds to persons who use them
anywhere within the State boundaries in the


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableThe silent South, together with the freedman's case in equity and the convict lease system → online text (page 7 of 13)