This Is an Enlightened Age
Dubuque Daily Times, January 12, 1861
If the position now universally taken at the South on the subject of slavery be the true one, then does that part of the Confederacy owe a debt of gratitude for the anti-slavery agitation which they have been slow to acknowledge. Instead of up[b]raiding and reproaching the North for its war upon the institution, they should confess the greatness of their indebtedness, and in view of the benefits they have derived from the agitation of the subject, willingly pardon us any temporary inconvenience they have experienced from it.
A few years since the institution of slavery was quite generally, we may say universally regarded even by those implicated in it, as an evil in all respects. It was especially the habit of all Southern Christians to apologize for its existence, throwing the blame upon others, professing to ardently desire its extinction at the earliest practicable moment. Its removal was averred to be surrounded, indeed, with great practical difficulties, out of which it was hoped the Providence of God would at no very distant day deliver them. In the meantime they must bear with patience their burden, and endeavor by the moral and social elevation of the enslaved to prepare them for the enjoyments of the rights of manhood. We are bound to believe that this was an honest statement of their views. No one who knows anything of the sentiments of the great men who founded the Republic, is ignorant that this was substantially their view of the institution. The opinions of Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, among other Southern statesmen are on record. I[t] cannot be mistaken.
Especially was the African Slave trade execrated, till quite recently, by all good men, South as well as North, as abhorrent to all sentiments of religion or humanity.
How entirely the tone of the South has of late changed on this whole subject, need not be shown. We no longer hear from any class there the language of apology or deprecation, but the pulpit unites with the rostrum and the religious with the secular press, in affirming the righteousness of the system of bondage, as it stands upon our Southern soil. We hear not now from any quarter of a gradual and final emancipation, nor even of any attempts at modifying the system to remove from it those barbarous, inhuman features which renders its existence in a nominally Christian land the wonder of all Christiandom outside of itself. On the contrary, it is preached from the ablest and most influential pulpits at the South, that her peculiar mission at the present time is to perpetuate and extend to the full measure of her ability, the system of negro slavery as it now exists. And though there are still some found to oppose feebly the re-opening of that traffic, which the nations of Christiandom have united in pronouncing piracy, yet this too, with more logical consistency, indeed, has found its advocates in the pulpit, as well as in other quarters. Beyond reasonable doubt, it will soon be the only orthodox sentiment among all parties, should a Southern Confederacy become a fact.
Then it is naturally asked—whence this vast change in Southern sentiment on the moral character of this system? Nor is the answer withheld. It is distinctly replied that the agitation of this subject at the North has forced upon its supporters a new and more thorough investigation of the subject, as the result of which they discover that all their former views of it, as a system socially and morally, as well as politically evil, hostile to the spirit of the gospel, and which the gospel in its progress must eventually abolish, have undergone a radical change. Their eyes are now opened to its real character, they clearly see that it is a divinely appointed, divinely supported institution, beneficent in all its aspects, happy alike in its influence on master and servant, and by no means to be restricted or abolished.
Now if this revised judgment be correct, it is very evident that the South has gained immensely from the discussion of this subject. A vast property interest, hundreds of millions in value, has been rescued from the precarious footing it necessarily occupied, while the earlier view of the institution obtained, and placed upon a foundation as lasting as the great eternal principles of rectitude. This alone were an incalculable gain, especially in view of the rapid increase of the number and aggregate value of slave property.
But, again, by this correction of opinion a much higher than any pecuniary gain whatever is achieved. What was before supposed to be a gigantic wrong, is now clearly seen to be a just and beneficent Right. And when the magnitude of the system and the mighty scope of its influence, for good or for evil, as the case may be, is taken into account, it becomes impossible to overestimate the importance and worth of the new discovery.
And yet again, by means of this revolution of opinion, the South is at once relieved of any necessity or obligations to devise ways for the removal of slavery, and put to the much easier and more grateful task of strengthening its defenses, and enlarging its areas. So long as it was an evil all men were in duty bound to earnestly and persistently seek the best method for the earliest practical abolition of the institution. Now, it is quite otherwise and a great burden must have been removed from all tender consciences.
It is true there are some facts which militate against the probability that this avowed change of sentiment has come of a more thorough investigation of the whole subject, and better understanding of the teachings of the Bible. It does not appear that any new principles for the interpretation of that book have been recently discovered, giving it a different aspect toward human bondage.—None of its denunciations of wrong, injustice and oppression are known to have been cancelled. Nor have any new canons of others come into general acceptance, which give countenance to the new doctrine. On the contrary, while this change has been going on among those implicitly in the offense, the whole christian world beside has been steadily advancing toward the deeprooted sentiment and conviction that this same system is a gigantic crime against God and humanity, and a stain and disgrace to our civilization and our christianity. On the other hand the immense increase in the value of this kind of property, and its great prospective value suggest a possible reason for the change which most men find it far easier to comprehend than the one assigned.
However, since our Southern friends insist that this wide-spread and radical change has actually arisen out of the more thorough investigation which the North has compelled them to institute, we repeat that they owe to the anti-slavery agitation of the North a debt which is poorly paid in tar and feathers and the other tokens of their regard which our friends of the sunny land are just now so liberally bestowing upon all their Northern guests, indiscriminately. Nor does it greatly alter the case, that the North did not anticipate the result reached, since she is quite ready to subscribe to any new views which can be shown to be in accordance with justice and truth.