The Southern Grievance
New-York Daily Tribune, November 28, 1860
Whoever wades through the columns of Southern diatribes against the North which we daily publish, and the still denser columns thereof furnished by some of our cotemporaries, must perceive that the master grievance therein heaped upon us is our deficient alacrity in catching and returning runaway slaves. Of course, the especial target of malediction is Northern legislation against kidnapping; but that is merely a casual exhibition, under the spur of the Fugitive Slave act and of the Nebraska bill, of the invincible Northern repugnance to playing the part of bloodhound on the track of a frightened and flying woman, who, having had three or four of her children torn from her and sold to Mississippi or Texas, is flying to save the last of her brood from a fate more abhorred than death. We repeat that the gravamen of the offense is Northern repugnance to slave-catching, the particular manifestation given to that repugnance being accidental and inconsequent. The vital, honest, naked truth is, that the mass of the people of the Free States never did heartily cooperate in negro-catching, and never will. Had they been inclined to do so, the original Fugitive law of 1793 would have answered every purpose; since they were not and are not, the act of 1850, savage as it is, amounts practically to very little. Of the fugitive slaves who manage to cross Mason and Dixon’s line, nine-tenths get safely to Canada if they really try, as they always did and always will. All the State anti-kidnapping laws have not added a dozen to the number who have thus made good their flights; and if they were all repealed to-morrow, the South would not be profited one stiver. If a fugitive chooses to hang about our cities from month to month, his master, if he earnestly tries, can often hear of him and recover him; but if he makes a straight pull for Canada, he is almost certain to get away; because nearly or quite all of us are anxious that he should. Now and then some poor tool of a Rynders or De Angelis will embark heartily in the work of slave-catching for the sake of the money to be made by it; but there is no man reared in a Free State and gaining his livelihood by any form of honest industry, who does not feel an intense loathing of the whole business of slave-catching, and say of it, with Hazael, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?” The very dry goods jobber who declaims against Personal Liberty acts would loathe himself if he were to join in hunting a fugitive, and would feel a sense of relief and gladness if that fugitive were to get safely off to Canada.
Southern politicians do not comprehend this—at least, they persist in talking as though they did not. They recognize no difference between hunting a fugacious negro and hunting a strayed or stolen horse, and fancy that all repugnance to slave-catching is impelled by hatred or envy of the South, or some moral obliquity, when in fact it springs directly from reverence to that Divine law, alike of Nature and of Revelation, which says, “Remember those in bonds as bound with them;” (St. Paul.) “Break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free;” (Isaiah.) “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant who has escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell with thee; even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best; thou shalt not oppress him;” (Deut. xxiii. 15, 16.)
Hence we say to those intent on daubing the cracks in the Union with the untempered mortar of a new Compromise, You must not ignore Human Nature. You must pay some respect to the law of gravitation, moral as well as physical. All the Personal Liberty acts may be repealed forthwith—that is a small matter—and you may make ever so solemn a new bargain for the capture and restoration of fugitive slaves; but the up-shot will be that not one in ten will be caught, and after a few years, not one in a hundred. Hence will result reproaches and criminations, charges of broken compacts and bad faith; and the South will be more excited and alienated because of the bargain of Northern politicians to do what in the nature of things is impossible.
If any new compact were now to be made, we should prefer one that stipulated the payment annually of a gross sum by the Free States to the Slave in lieu of all obligations to return fugitive negroes. Let it be agreed that there shall be no more slave-hunting on free soil, and we will gladly consent to a payment by the Free States for the exemption of four times the cash value of the slaves annually recovered. But all stipulations for greater alacrity and efficiency in slave-hunting on the part of the Free States will prove an illusion and a sham, and so tend to greater exasperation and alienation, rather than to union and harmony. Hence we are opposed [to] any such undertakings.