John Elliott Cairnes.

Political essays online

. (page 6 of 27)
Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 6 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

sylvania or Massachusetts might do, not to support
the structure, but to profit by it, it were as well
they should not join, and we can find no interest in
such association." .... And then, referring to what
was well understood to be the other reason for the
prohibitory clause the desire to conciliate European
support Mr. Spratt thus expresses himself :

"They (the European nations) will submit to any terms of
intercourse with the Slave Republic in consideration of its

F 2


markets and its products. An increase of slaves will increase
the market and supply. They will pocket their philanthropy
and the profits together. And so solicitude as to the feeling
of foreign States upon this subject is gratuitous : and so it is
that our suppression of the slave trade is warranted by no

necessity to respect the sentiment of foreign States

I truly think we want more slaves. We want them to the
proper cultivation of our soil, to the just development of our
resources, and to the proper constitution of society. Even in
this State I think we want them ; of eighteen million acres
of land, less than four million are in cultivation. We have
no seamen for our commerce, if we had it, and no operatives
for the arts ; but it is not for that I now oppose restrictions
on the slave trade. I oppose them from the wish to emanci-
pate our institution. / regard the slave trade as the test of its
integrity. If that be right, then slavery is rig/it, but not without;
and I have been too clear in my perceptions of the claims of
that great institution too assured of the failure of antagonist
democracy, too convinced the one presents the conditions of
social order, too convinced the other does not, and too con-
vinced, therefore, that the one must stand while the other
falls to abate my efforts or pretermit the means by which it
may be brought to recognition and establishment.

" Believing, then, that this is a test of slavery, and that the
institution cannot be right if the trade be not, I regard the

constitutional prohibition as a great calamity I was

the single advocate of the slave trade in 1853 ; ** is now the
question of the time" *

* " Now, if that," said the Hon. Andrew Jackson Hamilton, of Texas,
in a recent speech at New York, referring to Mr. Spratt's essay, "was but
the sentiment of one Southern man, addressed to a trusted agent of the
State of Louisiana, then a sitting member in the Convention, there might
be but little practical significance in it. If it had been reprobated by the
public press in that section, or condemned by the public voice, there might
be little significance in the fact that such sentiments were promulgated to
the world. But when you bear in mind that that letter was reproduced in
the leading prints of the South, and spoken of in terms of commendation,
and that up to this hour no man has lifted his voice in criticism against
any of the positions there assumed, then it is significant. I have heard
the echoes of those sentiments in the streets, in the hotels, in the parlours,
and at the festive board."


So far the representative man of the leading secession
State the exponent of the " philosophy of secession."
And now I will ask you to observe how fully these
doctrines have been accepted by the men who have
been entrusted with the actual guidance of this move-
ment. Mr. A. H. Stephens, the Vice- President of the
Confederacy, thus states the principles on which it
has been founded :

" The ideas entertained at the formation of the old Consti-
tution," says Mr. Stephens, " were that the enslavement of the
African race was in violation of the laws of nature ; that it was
wrong in principle, socially, morally, politically. Our new
government is founded on exactly opposite ideas ; its founda-
tions are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth, that
the negro is not equal to the white man ; that slavery
subordination to the superior race is his natural and moral
condition. This our government is tlie first in the history of the
world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral
truth. It is upon this that our social fabric is firmly planted ;
and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success
and the full recognition of this principle throughout the

civilized and enlightened world This stone which

was rejected by the first builders ' is become the chief stone '
in our edifice."

We are told by those who, in this country, advocate
the immediate recognition of the South, that we should
not be deterred from this course by the circumstance
that the South is a slave power. " A slave power ! "
they exclaim. "Was not the United States a slave
power ? Is not Spain a slave power ? Is not Brazil
a slave power ? And have we not recognized these ?
Why, then, should we now become all at once so scru-
pulous ? " This is the position taken by the admirers


of the South in England ; but it is evident it is not the
position taken by the statesmen who now govern the
South. " Our new government" says the Vice-President
of the Confederacy, " is founded upon exactly opposite
ideas " to those which presided at the founding of the
Union. " This our government is the first in the history
of the world based upon the great physical, philosophical,
and moral tritS/i"-t\ie. lie embodied in slavery. In
other words, slavery has before existed, but it has
never before been propounded as a fundamental prin-
ciple of social and political life ; it has never before
been preached as a gospel ; it has existed, but it has
never before been taken as the corner stone of an
empire. This it is which, as set forth by its own Vice-
President (who^e statement of the case I prefer to
English glosses) this it is, I say, which separates
the Southern Confederacy from all previous, and
from all existing, examples of communities tolerating
slavery, which renders it a new fact in history, and
constitutes it unequivocally the one Slave Power in
the world.

I say, then, that the present convulsion in America
has originated in the exigencies of slavery ; and that
the stake at issue in the struggle is the existence of a
Slave Empire, founded upon principles of policy now
propounded for the first time in the history of the
world. A year or two ago I should have thought
that, having established this, I had sufficiently estab-
lished my case ; and that a dozen men in the British
Islands could not be found who would express open
sympathy with a body convicted of such designs.
But really it seems to me that a singular change has,


in relation to this .subject, passed over the minds of
my countrymen. I do not mean to say that there
is any considerable number of persons in these coun-
tries, much less that there are any among my present
audience, who regard slavery with positive favour ;
but I do say that public feeling on the subject is not
what it used to be. I find a disposition in high
quarters among eminent public men, and some of
our most influential organs of public opinion a dis-
position to evade this aspect of the case, or, where
it is met, to palliate it a tone of apology, in short,
assumed towards slavery to which British ears have
not hitherto been accustomed. " The Negroes," says
the Saturday Review, in a recent number (Oct. 1 1 ,
1862), " have been slaves for generations. They
are used to slavery, and, for the most part, contented
with it. They are plentifully fed, for food is cheap
and abundant ; and even their legal allowance is
more than they can possibly eat. They are well
housed as racehorses or hunters are well housed
in this country because they are costly chattels.
They are well clothed as the climate requires. In a
word, the vast majority of them have no grievance
whatever except in the fact that they are slaves "
a grievance, it would seem, which is not worth speak-
ing of; for, says this elevated moralist and edifying
public instructor, "that grievance is one which few
of them are thoughtful enough to feel."

o o

This is the language in which slavery is now
discussed by writers who command the ear of culti-
vated England. The slaves are well off well fed,
clothed, and housed, and what more would you


have?* They have no grievance whatever except in
the fact that they are slaves, which after all, it seems, is
not a grievance, since they are not thoughtful enough
to feel it ; in other words, it comes to this, that four
millions of the African race, a race capable as we
know from the testimony of competent witnesses to
their condition in our own West India Islands, from
the results of the mixed schools in New England,
and from occasional instances which come under
our observation in this country not merely of feeling
the obligations and performing the duties of rational
creatures, but of receiving a very considerable amount
of intellectual cultivation, that four millions, I say,
of these people, thus capable of human destiny, have,
under the system of the South, been reduced to a
condition in which they are simply brutes, with the
instincts of brutes, and with no aspiration beyond
the aspiration of the brute. This is the cool admission
of a writer whose object is for this is the important
point not to discredit, but to do honour to, Southern
slavery, of a vehement admirer and thorough-going

* In truth, however, the facts are very far from being as the apologists
of slavery represent them. Commenting on the 38th section of the South
Carolinian Act of 1740, which requires the owners of slaves to provide
them with sufficient clothing, covering, and food, the Hon. Judge O'Neal,
of South Carolina, a slaveholder and advocate of slavery, but more alive
to its evils, it would seem, than some Englishmen, remarks : " This
provision is a very wise and humane one, except that the penalty is
entirely too slight. I regret to say that there is in such a State as ours,
great occasion for the enforcement of such a law, accompanied by severe
penalties.' It seems then, that, in the opinion of those who are best
qualified to judge, some other security for the physical comfort of the
negro is needed, than the self-interest or the humanity of the master. No
such remark as the above would be applicable to the treatment of race-
horses and hunters in this country.


partisan of the Southern Confederacy, \vho seeks, by the
description which I have quoted, to conciliate public
favour towards the institution which he thus describes.
But my present hearers will, I doubt not, disclaim
the morality of the Saturday Review. Public senti-
ment on this as on many other subjects has not yet,
thank God, reached the high level of that adventurous
guide.* Still it is important to note the extreme
line that the wave has yet touched ; and if opinion
still falls short of the sentiments I have quoted,
I think most candid persons will admit that it has,
at least, been moving in that direction. No doubt,
it is common to hear the disclaimer " Of course
we don't approve of slavery ! " but I think it will
generally be found that this is but the prelude to
a discourse showing how much is to be said for the
institution, and winding up with a warning as to
the dangers of premature emancipation. Yes ! the
bugbear of " premature emancipation " is fast be-
coming to the popular mind more frightful than the
fact of ripe and flourishing slavery; and the danger
which Englishmen are now learning above all others
to dread, is, lest slaves should be liberated one
moment too soon. This, it seems to me, is becoming
the prevalent feeling with reference to slavery ; and
I cannot, therefore, deem it superfluous to call atten-
tion for a few moments to the character of the insti-
tution towards which this feeling of toleration, if not

* Since the above was written, I find that this journal has made
another step forward. It now ranks the emancipation of slaves with the
most horrible crimes. " They (the Democratic party) will have no eman-
cipation, no confiscation, no murders in cold blood." Saturday Review,
Nov. 22, 1862.


of countenance and encouragement, is rapidly grow-
ing up.

What, then, is the character of slavery as it exists
in the Southern States of North America ? It is
a system under which men and women, boys and
girls, are exposed like cattle in the market-place,
and are bought and sold. It is a system under which
a whole race of men is deprived of all the rights
and privileges of rational creatures, and consigned
to a life of hopeless, unremitting toil, in order that
another race may live in idleness on the fruits of
its labours. It is a system under which, if we are
to believe its admirers, the Negroes are perfectly
contented, but from which they are constantly
escaping in spite of the terrors of fugitive slave laws,
of bloodhounds and man-hunters a paradise, if you
will, but a paradise from which its denizens escape
to the dismal swamp * a paradise to which no

* " The dismal swamps are noted places of refuge for runaway negroes.
They were formerly peopled in this way much more than at present ; a
systematic hunting with dogs and guns having been made by individuals
who took it up as a business about ten years ago. Children were born,
bred, lived, and died here. Joseph Church told me he had seen skeletons,
and had helped to bury bodies recently dead. There were people in the
swamps still, he thought, that were the children of the runaways, and who
had been runaways themselves all their lives. What a life it must be :
born outlaws ; educated self-stealers ; trained from infancy to be con-
stantly in dread of the approach of a white man as a thing more fearful
than wild cats and serpents, even starvation. ... 1 asked if they were
ever shot. ' Oh, yes,' he said, ' when the hunters saw a runaway, if he
tried to get from them, they would call out to him that if he did not stop
they would shoot ; and if he did not, they would shoot, and sometimes
kill him. But some on 'em would rather be shot than took, sir,' he added
simply. A farmer living near the swamp confirmed this account, and
said he knew of three or four being shot in one day ! " OLMSTED,
Seaboard Slave States, pp. 159, 160.


fugitive Negro, who has once escaped from it, has
ever yet been known to return. Under this system
a human being, convicted of no crime, may, in strict
conformity with the law, be flogged at the discretion
of his fellow, and may even die under the lash without
entailing any penalty on his murderer. Under this
system human beings may be, and within the last ten
years have been, in several instances, burned alive.
All property is for the Negro contraband; the acqui-
sition of knowledge is for him a penal offence. The
marriage tie receives no legal recognition, and no
practical respect. Nay, it is worse than this ! Those
consequences, which in civilized communities form
the natural restraints on unlicensed desire, are here
converted into incentives ; for the relation between
father and son is, in the presence of slavery, less
sacred than that between master and slave ; and the
mulatto offspring of a white father is not a child
but a chattel : instead of entailing responsibilities it
brings to the author of its being so many dollars as a
price. Yes, I say that the laws of the Southern
States permit fathers to enslave and sell their children,
and that there are fathers in the Southern States
who freely avail themselves of this law.* Do you

* "It is a general custom of white people here to leave their illegiti-
mate children of slaves (and they are very common) in slavery. A man
of wealth and station, who enjoys the friendship of the best and most
respected people, lately sold his own half-brother, an intelligent, and of
course valuable young man, to the traders to be sold South, because he
had attempted to run away to the Free States." OLMSTED, Seaboard
Slave Stales, p. 127.

" ' There is not,' said another planter, ' a likely-looking black girl in
this State that is not the paramour of a white man. There is not an old
plantation in which the grand-children of the owner are not whipped


doubt it ? Then account for the mulattoes, quad-
roons, and octoroons many of them scarcely dis-
tinguishable in colour from Europeans who now
form so large a proportion of the whole enslaved
population of the South. From what source has this
European blood flowed into servile veins ? From
whence, but from the white caste in the South ?
from the men who commit their own flesh and blood
to the charge of the brutal overseer, or to the more
brutal trader in human flesh. This is an aspect, of
the case which I would gladly have passed by ; but, in
the present state of opinion, the facts are too serious
to be blinked ; and before the people of this country,
which has achieved its best renown in ridding its own
lands of this curse, be committed to the countenance
and support of a power, the final cause of whose
existence is to extend this very evil, it is important
that we should understand what the cause is that we
are assisting to sustain.

We hear much in these times of the " chivalry " of
the South. The Southerns, we are told, are gentle-
men, and on this ground they are contrasted favourably
with the shopkeepers, the traders, and the lawyers of
the North. I shall certainly not deny that the
wealthier classes in the South possess in a high degree
those qualities which the principle of caste tends to
engender pride, courage, loyalty to the interests of
their order, capacity for government, perseverance in

in the field by his overseer. I cannot bear that the blood of the

should run in the veins of the slaves.' He was of an old Scotch

family He said the practice was not occasional or general, it was

universal." OLMSTED, Seaboard Slave States, p. 602.


a fixed course of policy. Nay, even as regards the
chivalry and gentility these being points about which
our notions are somewhat vague, and on which
opinions are apt to differ I shall not undertake to
say that the South does not possess them. I only ask
you to remember that the chivalry and gentility of
the South is not incompatible with the systematic
appropriation of the fruits of another's labour, with
laying the whip on the shoulders of a woman with
acts, that is to say, which called down on Marshal
Haynau the indignation of the London draymen ; with
turning one's own flesh and blood to pecuniary profit ;
or, to give a particular illustration, with such atrocities
as that committed by a Southern gentleman on the
person of Mr. Sumner. The story is an old one, and
probably familiar to many whom I address, but it
throws so much light on the manners of the gentle
and chivalrous South, that I must tell it once again.
In 1856, when opposing the introduction of slavery
into Kansas, Mr. Sumner made in the Senate of the
United States, as senator for Massachusetts, one of
the most powerful speeches ever delivered in any legis-
lative assembly. In this speech he denounced the
policy and aims of the Slave Power in language
which was plain and outspoken, but which did not pass
what in this country is considered the legitimate limit
of parliamentary debate. The adherents of the South
were fiercely exasperated ; and how did Southern
chivalry take its revenge ? Two days afterwards, as
Mr. Sumner sat at his desk in the Senate House,
the House having adjourned, engaged in writing a
letter, and with his head bent over his paper, he


was approached by Mr. Brooks, the representative of
South Carolina. Mr. Brooks addressed him : " I have
read your speech, and it is a libel on the South ;" and
forthwith, while the words were yet passing from his
lips, and before Mr. Sumner could rise from his seat,
commenced a succession of blows on his bare head
with a heavy cane. Mr. Sumner was immediately
stunned, and fell upon the floor : his assailant stood
over him, and continued the assault. Blow after blow
fell upon his defenceless head. There were senators
of the South present, and there was one senator from
the North Mr. Douglas of Illinois a democratic
politician and close ally of the South ; but there was
no interference. One old man, indeed, did interfere
a little towards the close, but for that little he was
threatened with chastisement on the spot. The scene
proceeded to its close, Mr. Brooks desisting just before
murder was accomplished. This is the mode in which
the South avenges its grievances : this is its notion
of parliamentary fence. But the important point is
the mode in which the outrage was received by the
Southern people. Not one press south of the Potomac
condemned the act ; not one public body, not one
public man, condemned it. Not one word of repro-
bation, or even of rebuke, came from any quarter of
the South. On the contrary, it was universally hailed
as a proper manifestation of Southern spirit : it was
recognized as a sample of the policy which the times
required ; and, not the men of the South only, but the
women of the South, combined to heap commendation,
honour, and reward upon the perpetrator.

So far as to the character and aims of the Southern


Confederacy. Let me now endeavour to state the
nature of that political movement which has brought
the Free States and the South into collision. And
here you will of course understand that I cannot
pretend to do more than to give the barest outline of
the case. At every step I encounter events which
deserve description, and questions which need expla-
nation I leave difficulties unsolved and objections
unanswered. I cannot help it. The utmost I can
hope to do in the brief time during which I can
venture to occupy your attention, is to touch on a few
salient points of the picture, and thus to convey a
general notion of the drift and meaning of the whole.

To understand the influences which now agitate
Northern society, to appreciate the significance of the
part which the North has already acted in this great
drama and the results towards which it is tending, the
first capital fact to be seized is, that the movement of
which we now contemplate the results the movement
which carried Mr. Lincoln to power, and of which the
success was the signal for secession that this move-
ment is a reaction against the influences which had
previously been supreme in the Union.

As I have already stated, from 1820 down to the
present outbreak, the government of the United States
has, with the exception of a few short intervals, been
in the hands of a party composed of Southern poli-
ticians, and of a section in the North, which, for poli-
tical purposes, may be regarded as Southern the
Northern democrats. Of this political combination, I
do not overstate the case when I say that its leading
idea, its paramount aim, almost its single purpose, was


to extend slavery, and to achieve political power by
extending it. Under the influence of this party, poli-
tical life had suffered a blight, such as in no country it
had ever before undergone in the same space of time :
political morality had deteriorated ; the intellect of
political men had waned ; political honesty was scarcely
to be found ; politics had become a by-word ; and, in
spite of a material prosperity which dazzled the world,
the United States in all the qualities which make a
nation respected and honoured had visibly declined.
Down to 1855 this progress towards ruin encountered
no serious obstruction ; but in that year the evil at
length began to work its own cure. The excesses of

o o

the dominant party, the shameless doctrines which it
advanced, the still more shameless deeds which it per-
petrated, awoke the best minds in the United States
to a sense of the fearful descent down which they were
hurrying of the certain perdition which lay ahead.
A reaction in public feeling at this point took place.
The Republican party was formed. From that time
to the present the influences which produced this party
have been gathering strength. Jt is this party which
carried Mr. Lincoln to power, and it is the same which
is now rapidly transforming the whole policy of the

It is important that we should understand the prin-
ciples of this Republican party ; for they are those

Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 6 of 27)