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an Act was passed abolishing slavery in the District
of Columbia a tract which falls exclusively under
Federal legislation, and therefore affords a sure index
of the policy of the Federal Government. Later
again, we encounter a still more important Act that
which at once gave effect to the cardinal principle of
the Republican programme the exclusion for ever of
slavery from the " territories." And, lastly, we can
point to the recent treaty with Great Britain, conced-
ing what all the previous Governments of the United
States refused the right of searching Federal ships,


and thus at once rendering effectual what has hitherto
been little more than an idle protest our blockade
of the African coast. These have been the achieve-
ments of the North under the present Government ;
and, in the face of these, will anyone tell me that the
policy of the North is not an anti-slavery policy ? If
it be not, I wish to know what is. I do not say that
in this policy the North has been disinterested. I do
not say that it is governed exclusively or principally
by philanthropic views. I do not say that, as a nation,
and as distinct from the small number of righteous
men who are the salt of the nation, it cares a jot about
the negro. I know too well that this is not the case.
But granting all this in the fullest sense, are we to wait
till some heroic nation arises to wage mortal combat
with the Slave Power in the name of simple justice ?
Are four millions of negroes to wear their chains till
the growing virtue of mankind culminates in a people
sublimely regardless of all but the loftiest aims. Is
it this that practical England waits for ? Or rather,
when the interests and instincts of a people conduct
them towards humanity and justice, shall we not cheer
them forward in the good path, and recognize in their
advances, albeit urged by no better than vulgar
impulses, that coincidence of right with well-being by
which Providence governs the world ? And, after all,
if we but look at the facts without prejudice, the North
has done that of which assuredly a nation may be fairly
proud that on which, I venture to think, future times
will look back with other feelings than that scornful
and horrified wonder, which, for the most part, is all
our critics here can find for it. In the midst of a


career of unbounded material prosperity prosperity in
which, had it so pleased, it might long have continued
to riot and to rot it has arrested its course ; it has
shaken itself free from the frightful night-mare which
had so long bestridden it ; and, for the sake of great
social and political ends, has committed all its best and
dearest interests to the chances of a terrible war.

I have now traced the course of this American
Revolution up to a recent time. Within the last
month, however, the policy of the North has undergone
a radical change. The anti-slavery measures which I
have just now instanced the proposal to co-operate
with the State Governments, the abolition of slavery
in the District of Columbia, the exclusion of slavery
from the " territories," the treaty with England for the
suppression of the slave trade all these measures
possess the same character they are all strictly con-
stitutional. Thus the Constitution assigns legislation
respecting slavery in the States to the State Govern-
ments ; and, accordingly, it was through the State
Governments that Mr. Lincoln proposed to deal with
slavery in the States. On the other hand, the legis-
lation for the District of Columbia, and for the " terri-
tories," is entrusted by the Constitution to the Central
Government ; it was open, therefore, to the Govern-
ment to deal with slavery there by a direct measure ;
and this accordingly was the course which was adopted.
And so also of the treaty with Great Britain for the
suppression of the slave trade ; it was a measure which
came distinctly within the competence of the central
authority. These measures, then, were all strictly
constitutional ; but, to give them effect, there was need


of something more than an Act of Congress. The
South had taken up arms to establish a Slave empire ;
and nothing short of military defeat would induce it
to accept terms of compromise, which were absolutely
destructive of its designs. The military defeat of the
South was therefore the primary and essential condi-
tion of the success of the new policy on which the
North had entered.

I confess I am one of those who thought that this
condition the defeat, not the permanent subjugation
of the South might have been accomplished without
departing from that constitutional policy which Mr.
Lincoln had evidently from the first marked out for
himself. But highly as I was disposed to rate the
military prowess of the Confederacy, formidable as
I thought it, and I did think it very formidable ; I
confess its achievements have exceeded my expecta-
tions ; and, after the experience of the present year,
I see no prospect of the fulfilment of that indis-
pensable condition to the success of an anti-slavery
policy the military defeat of the South, except
through an appeal on the Northern side to principles
more powerful than any which have yet been in-
voked. It has been well said, that, while the South
has enjoyed the full advantage of the evil principle
of slavery, the North has only availed itself partially,
and with hesitating nerve, of the good principle of
freedom. The cause of slavery, decidedly asserted,
and logically carried out, has rallied the whole
Southern population to the standard of secession
almost as a single man, while the North, substantially
fighting in the cause of freedom, but fettered by

P. E. H


the Constitution, has hitherto shrunk from a bold
appeal to those sentiments which freedom inspires.
To give a practical illustration of the disadvantage
under which the North labours from this half-hearted
course : while the South does not hesitate to avail
itself of the services of negroes, as slaves, whether
on the plantation or in the camp, the North has
hitherto declined to take advantage of the same
services, as the services vi freemen.

On such terms, freedom is no match for slavery.
Experience has proved it. What then ? Is freedom
to succumb ? Is the North to lay down its arms ?
Is it to accept a peace dictated by a triumphant Slave
Power, and are the fairest portions of the New World
to be made a field for the propagation of the greatest
curse which mankind has yet known ? I say for my
part, emphatically, No! Before Freedom is pro-
nounced defeated, let her at least have a fair chance :
let her use both her hands ; let her put forth all
her powers ; let her oppose to the demon of slavery
the whole force and virtue of her own fair essence.
And this is the truth which bitter disaster has at
length brought home to the North. Hitherto slavery,
broken loose from the Constitution, has been encoun-
tered by freedom clogged with the trammels of the
Constitution. These trammels have now been flung
aside ; and freedom and slavery now for the first time
find themselves face to face in the deadly combat.*

* It will be said that I am here doing more than justice to Mr. Lincoln's
policy, since the proclamation offers freedom to the slaves of " rebels "
only. It is true that the proclamation is open to this remark ; neverthe-
less, a candid critic will acknowledge, that it is making severe demands
on the self-denial of a government to require it, when having at its


But this is to encourage a servile war ! This is
to sanction indiscriminate massacre ! This is to
inaugurate a series of Cawnpores ! So says the
Times. For my part, I have no faith in such pre-
dictions. I distrust the source from which they
proceed. I cannot forget that the same authority,
which now tells us that the negroes are ready to
rise in ruthless fury on their masters, but the other
day assured us that they were perfectly satisfied
with their present condition, that they were well
cared for, and were as loyal as they were com-
fortable. I cannot forget that the same censor, who
now denounces the Northern Government for pro-
claiming emancipation, only a year ago denounced
the same Government, with scarcely less emphasis,
for not proclaiming emancipation. I cannot forget
that the same seer, who now indulges his imagination
in pictures of the horrors which liberty is to produce,

disposal so powerful a war measure as the offer of security for their prin-
cipal property to the loyal, to refuse to take advantage of this expedient.
And, secondly, it is only fair to remember that the proclamation does not
stand alone, but is rather the complement to the offer of compensation
made by Congress to the loyal slaveholders some months before. No
inference can be more unjust than that drawn by the Times from the
terms of the proclamation, that, because the operation of that measure is
confined to the slaves of rebels, therefore, the Northern Government
contemplates holding in perpetual bondage all the rest of the negroes.
Mr. Lincoln knows well that, if the Slave Power the political system
based on slaver)- be once broken, the chief inducement for maintaining
slavery will be at an end ; not only this, but the prospect of new fields
for Slave labour being by the same stroke cut off, the economic reasons
for maintaining the institution will also disappear. In the event of the
success, complete or partial, of the proclamation policy, it is, therefore,
as certain as any future contingency can be, that in the former case, the
whole body of slaveholders, in the latter, those who remained in the
Union, would close with the offer of compensation, and thus, by the com-
bined operation of the two measures, emancipation within the limits of
the Union would be complete.

H 2


has from the commencement of this crisis to the
present hour uttered prophecy after prophecy, only
to see prophecy after prophecy falsified by the event.
I cannot forget that the denunciations which we
now hear, proceed from the same generous critic who
levelled black insult at Free America in the darkest
hour of her fortunes. I say, therefore, that I distrust
the source from which these vaticinations proceed.
For my part, I neither believe that the negroes are
the contented and loyal beings which they are de-
scribed in the columns of one day's Times, nor yet
the ruthless savages which they are depicted in those
of the next. I believe it would be much nearer the
truth to say, that they resemble the harmless cattle
of our fields,* with an intelligence somewhat more

* I have been pained to find that this expression has been understood
as countenancing the slaveholder's dogma of inferiority of race. I gladly
seize the opportunity of a new edition to disclaim any such intention.
What I meant by the illustration was to give an idea of the stolid and
helpless condition of mind to which, as a matter of fact (as I believe),
the plantation negro has been reduced under Southern rule, without
expressing any opinion as to what he is capable of becoming under
different treatment. I have great pleasure in quoting the following from
the pen of one who is himself a living refutation of the calumny which
I was supposed to have endorsed :

"The impression which this statement (the passage in the text) is
calculated to make, is quite inconsistent with our own knowledge of the
average intelligence of the American slaves. Of course all negroes are
not equal to Robert Small, who captured and made off with a rebel
steamer under Fort Sumpter ; nor are they all equal to Jeff. Davis's
coachman ; nor are they all as well informed as is the writer of this article ;
but they are certainly far above ' the harmless cattle in our fields.' The
negro has a head as well as a heart, and the former is not much worse,
nor the latter much better than the same of other men. Our hearts are
often praised at the expense of our heads. Our submission is often
attributed to our gentleness, when it should be referred to our wisdom.
White men do not fight without something like a reasonable probability
of whipping somebody, at least a chance of escape from being badly


developed and an instinct of self-interest somewhat
surer; and, unless driven to desperation by such
measures of atrocity as we find described in the
telegram of to-day, in which seventeen negroes are
said to have been hanged for no other offence than
being in possession of Mr. Lincoln's proclamation
I say, unless driven to desperation by measures of
atrocity such as this the probability is they will
act much as cattle would act, to which a door of

whipped themselves, and some such prudence as this accounts for the
fact that no insurrection has yet broken out among the slaves, and that
none is likely to break out -among them. They have shown their good
sense by maintaining a masterly inactivity. They know that naked hands
are no match for broad swords, and that grubbing hoes would be sure to
go down before cannon balls. The South was never better prepared for
insurrection than now and the slaves know it. They have no need to
prove their ability to fight, by rushing into the whirlwind of uncertain and
irregular war. They are now taking their places in the ranks of regular
troops, and distinguishing themselves for all the qualities valuable in the
soldier. They can afford to bide their time. When slavery is abolished,
the motive for insurrection will have passed away. The black man will
be far less likely to bathe his hands in the blood of his master, than to
bathe his master's feet with tears of gratitude for freedom. The maligners
of the negro have affected surprise that negroes have committed so few
acts of violence since the commencement of the war. They often ask,
Why don't the negroes rise ? and because they have not risen, they are
denounced as cowardly and indifferent about liberty, and contented with
their lot as slaves. Could any imputation be more unjust in view of all
the circumstances ? At the very beginning, and throughout the first year
of the war, M'Clellan, Buell, Butler, Halleck, and the Government at
Washington, were careful to assure them that in any such attempt they
would be met and suppressed, not only by the rebel, but by the loyal army.
To use the language of the now defunct Commanding General-in-Chief,
'they would be put down, and put down with an iron hand.' Both
Governments, both armies, however hostile to each other at other points,
were cordially united in the policy of keeping the slaves securely in their
chains. In the presence of this notorious fact, how hollow and hypo-
critical is the pretence of surprise that the negroes, unarmed, without
money, means of concert, and two tremendous armies of well-armed
men ready to overwhelm them, have not hazarded an insurrection ! "
Douglas's Monthly, Rochester, New York State.


escape was suddenly opened from barbarous treat-
ment by cruel masters. When the opportunity offers,
they will probably fly to the Federal lines. This
is what their instinct will naturally teach them ; it
is what they did when the war commenced ; but
then the war was conducted according to the prin-
ciples of the Constitution ; and the fugitives from
slavery, with a punctiliousness of constitutional
honour which, perhaps, has no parallel in history,
were sent back to serve the masters, against whom
those who dismissed them were fighting. But this
can happen no more. The attempt to carry on war
on constitutional principles has been definitively aban-
doned. The proclamation has superseded the Con-
stitution. The Federal lines will henceforth become
for the negro a sure harbour of refuge ; and, judging
from what has already occurred, and from what we
know of human nature, the result will probably be
a grand "stampede" of all the negroes within reach
of that retreat. That is the practical result which
I expect from the proclamation ; and it is obvious
with what consequences it will be fraught. Let the
North but maintain its ground for a sufficient time
on Southern soil, and the industrial system of the
Confederacy will crumble beneath its feet. The
blood-cemented edifice will be undermined, and will
totter to its fall. That, I say, is what the proclama-
tion appears to me calculated to effect : what will
actually happen is what no human eye can foresee.
That isolated instances of outrage and murder will
occur is indeed but too probable. The devil does
not leave the body without rending it. Nay, if the


infernal policy, of which to-day a specimen is re-
corded, is pursued, it is indeed fearful to think of
the consequences which may be in store for that
wretched country consequences by which even the
predictions of the Times may, for once, be fulfilled.
But if this be the course which events are to take
if Southern slave-masters, in their guilty fear, are
to commence a wholesale carnage of innocent men,
then, I say, their blood be upon their own head ;
and as they have sown the wind, let them reap the

But, once again, there is a lion in the path.
What is to be done with these four millions of
negro slaves ? I answer this question by another
what is to be done with the eight millions of
negro slaves, which, if the policy of the South be
successful, these four millions will in twenty years
become ? I know not what plan the North may
adopt. I do not pretend to be able to produce a
scheme in which an acute pro-slavery critic may
not find a flaw ; but I hold that, whatever be the
difficulties of the case, these difficulties will not be
diminished by postponing the remedy. Besides, this
is not the first time that the attempt has been made
to frighten England from the path of duty with the
bugbear of emancipated negroes. The most frightful
picture of negro freedom which the prolific imagi-
nations of Southern sympathizers have yet conjured
up, might easily be matched from the storehouse of
predictions uttered by those who, at the last great
emancipation struggle, played the diviner's part.
Notwithstanding these gloomy auguries, however,


emancipation in the West Indies has been a brilliant
success. From the morning of emancipation down to
the present moment,* although the black population
always far outnumbered the white, not one attempt at
insurrection has been made, not one barbarous outrage
has been committed ; and the descendants of those
negroes who, we are told, would only work under the
lash, are now the industrious denizens of a thriving
community. In the midst of the clouds which now
lower around us, I take comfort from that fact. I am
unable to reason out the consequences ; I cannot
penetrate the gloom ; but I am convinced that the
slave system in America is the greatest curse which
has yet darkened the earth, and I believe that the
blow which effectually breaks it up must be a

Finally, I shall be asked, where is this carnage to
end ? To what purpose is this tremendous sacrifice
of human life ? Is the conquest of the South possible ?
and is its permanent subjection to the North either
possible or desirable ? I, for my part, have never
thought so, and I do not think so now. The resto-
ration of the Union in its former proportions appears
to me, I confess, absolutely chimerical ; and, if I
mistake not, indications may even now be discerned
that this conviction begins to force itself on the minds
of the Northern leaders. But, granting that the South
cannot be permanently conquered, does it follow that
it is impossible to defeat its present design ? Does
it follow that it is impossible to stay the plague of
slavery to recover large districts in the Border

* [It will be remembered that this was delivered in 1862.]


States, already substantially free to throw back the
destroyer behind the barrier of the Mississippi ? The
impossibility of this has not yet been proved, and,
until it has been proved, I for one cannot raise my
voice for peace. Another year of war such as has
now been passed, or rather of war waged on possibly
a grander scale, and certainly with far fiercer passions,
is indeed an awful prospect ; but the future of a Slave
Power, extending its dominion over half a continent,
consigning a whole race of men to utter and hopeless
ruin, menacing civilization on all sides this is a
prospect which to my mind is more fearful still.

In the foregoing remarks I have endeavoured to
set forth what appear to me the grand principles in
conflict in the American Revolution ; and the scope
of my remarks has gone to show that the cause of
the North is substantially the cause of humanity and
civilization. I should, however, be thoroughly mis-
conceived, if it were supposed that I was not fully
sensible of much that is open to censure in the conduct
of the Northern people. There has been, no doubt,
much incompetency, much hesitancy in the path of
duty, no small amount of hectoring, many acts of petty
tyranny, and, on the part of one general, some effusions
of brutal insolence.* Nay, I will go further than

* For it is only fair to remember that " brutal insolence " is the worst
that can be charged even against Butler the one shameful exception to
the general military administration of the North. Sanguinary he is
not, only two executions having taken place during his occupation of
New Orleans, of which one was the execution of a Federal soldier
/or plundering Confederate property. " It is not," says Ex-Governor
Moorhead, " that the proclamation has been actually carried out, but
it is the disgrace which he has attempted to heap upon the whole
female population there."


this ; and I do not scruple to say that the principles
held by one large party in the Northern States, are,
in my judgment, as detestable as any which prevail
in the councils of the South. I mean the Northern
democratic party the party which has long been the
lacquey of the South, and is now anxious to resume
its menial duties the party which, by the inhuman
spirit it displays towards the coloured race, as in
Illinois and Wisconsin, brings dishonour on the
Northern cause the party which the Times is now
straining every nerve to support. I say that, so
far as this Northern party is concerned, I can find
no distinction between it and its Southern patrons,
unless it be the distinction between the bold unscru-
pulous tyrant, and the sycophant, no less unscru-
pulous, who, for the protection of his countenance
and the bribe of his pay, is content to do that
tyrant's bidding. Into these incidents the eddies
from the main current of the movement I have
been unable to enter. I have been obliged to confine
myself to the few salient facts which mark the
general direction of the tide. And, with those facts in
view, I ask you, can you feel any doubt as to what
that direction is ? Have I not said enough to show
that, amid much that is dark and discouraging in the
present aspect of American society, a process of
regeneration is at work, that a dawn of promise has
been disclosed, that a grand and healthy reaction has
set in. For the last forty years the course of the
United States as a nation has been a retrograde course.
That is what we all recognize. And to what are we
to attribute this decline ? To democracy ? I am no


admirer of American democracy ; but in all the worst
features of the past political life of America I can
trace the working of a principle, the reverse of demo-
cracy. Democracy has supplied the machinery of
government, but that machinery has been worked
by a Slave Power, and for the purposes of slavery.
Democracy in America has never yet had a fair
chance. No, I trace the national decline to some-
thing with which, where it exists, anything but
decline is impossible to complicity with a great sin.
There may be other causes, but I believe that this is
the grand and fundamental cause. Slavery, acting on
an extraordinary material prosperity, has sent a rot
through the whole body politic. But the crisis of the
disease has arrived. Symptoms of returning health
begin to show themselves. The principle of evil has,
indeed, still a strong hold of its 'victim, but it is

Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 8 of 27)