Northern Error as to the Character and Necessary Permanence of Negro Slavery the Cause of All the Sectional Difficulties
Newport Advertiser, December 5, 1860
The dangers, which now menace the existence of the Union are the result of ignorance of the true nature of the slavery question.—If the North could only be made thoroughly to understand that the negro labor, which the climate makes it impossible for the white race to perform, is demanded by the interests of the whole civilized world, and that the continuance of the relations of master and servant, substantially as they now exist at the South, is essential to the maintenance of the African race and required by every humanitarian consideration, as regards the slaves themselves, we should have a radical cure for sectional difficulties.
As to the connection between negro slavery and the industry of the world, we have heretofore said sufficient. It will be remembered that even the French ideologists, whom we last week cited, uncompromising abolitionists as they are, admitted that emancipation could not be attempted in our cotton States, without being attended with universal ruin both to Europe and America—that general bankruptcy and political revolutions every where would be the consequence.
Unfortunately, the true nature of domestic slavery in general, as only varying, in the mode of compensating labor, from the relations necessarily existing every where, in civilized life, between the employers and employed, is misapprehended. Moreover, the inapplicability to a slave population, between whom and the families of the masters no amalgamation can take place, of those principles of emancipation, which prevailed where pecuniary embarrassment or the accidents of war determined the position of the parties, are not appreciated. It is, we conceive, from disregarding the cardinal fact that, owing to that perpetual separation, which race creates, the same rules that applied to the countries of Western Europe in the middle ages, and which are now leading to the abolition of serfdom in Russia, cannot extend to negro slavery, that our Southern fellow-citizens are exposed to those assaults on their institutions, which are driving them to seek in an independent government that safety, which the doctrine of an "irrepressible conflict" would deny them. The abolitionists wholly overlook the circumstance that no act of legislation can make a citizen of an African negro. We do not refer to any controverted question as to elective franchise, but we speak of that civil and political, as well as social equality, in which it essentially consists, the idea of which is perfectly ludicrous in a State, which prohibits intermarriage between people of different colors. We need not go beyond the experience, which the affranchisement in the Northern States exhibits, to show that the only result of emancipation is the extermination of the inferior race. Nor are the States of the West, which are the most clamorous against Slavery, even willing to await the natural course of the extinction of the free negroes, but while annoying, in every way, the Southern planter, for holding Slaves, they refuse to admit within their territory the liberated blacks. Until the public mind of the North comes to recognize the domestic authority of the superior over the inferior race as a permanent, and not as a mere transitory institution, there can be no end of the sectional difficulty. If Northern Senators, disregarding all ethnological as well as economical facts, proclaim as barbarous the people of fifteen States of the Union on account of institutions essential to the prosperity of all, there can exist none of those relations, which should characterise the citizens of one Republic. If ministers of the gospel overlook not only the authority of history in general, but of the holy scriptures, and teach their hearers, (from whose very ancestors in many cases the progenitors of the negroes were purchased,) that Slaveholders cannot be Christians, there can be no such sentiments, as ought to prevail between people of a common origin, religion and language.
The fact is that it is rather the stigma attached to the word, which indicates, at the South, the connection between master and servant, than any intrinsic difference between the employers of labour and labourers elsewhere, that constitutes the great anti-slavery weapon. Of the force of terms, indeed, France and England seem fully aware, and while we are bound by a treaty with the latter power to keep up a squadron, at a great expense, to suppress the African slave trade, they, by calling their victims apprentices or substituting Asiatic Coolies for negroes, legalise, for the benefit of their Colonies, a slave trade infinitely more obnoxious to humanity than that which, with us, is subject to the penalties of piracy. From the first moment of the division of labor, from the time that every man did not cook his own dinner and make his own clothes, the relation of master to servant, in a sense more or less absolute, has existed. The earliest annals also show that, instead of a compensation in money or wages, the master gave, in return for services, protection with food and raiment. Not only were slaves made from captives, it being deemed a mitigation of the extreme rights of war to substitute servitude for death, but the Roman law, as well as the usages of the middle ages recognised, as a valid title, the perpetual right to a person and his offspring based on his voluntary enslavement. Where there was no diversity of race, no insuperable difficulty prevented either a total affranchisement, of which history presents several distinguished instances, where the ignoble birth was lost in the subsequent fame of the emancipated slave, or the substitution of a compensation for labor, with the privilege of seeking employment elsewhere. Because, however, the demand for labor, in a community like ours, always exceeds the supply and our institutions offer to the meanest immigrant the prospect of social elevation, it is not to be inferred that that condition of things is universal, or that those who are nominally free to make their own contracts are always better off than those who are permanently provided for. Speaking of the Celtic population of Ireland, as it was so late as 1847, and where what is called domestic slavery did not exist, a late eminent English writer says; "No more deplorable condition could be imagined than that of the Irish-speaking peasantry who, by their ignorance of the English tongue, were cut off from civilization. They were worse lodged, clothed and fed, than the peasantry of any other civilized country, or even than the savage or heathen races in Central Africa.—Their cabins were inferior to the habitations of any other human beings. Families slept in the same narrow chamber—at once a cause of disease, and an offense against good manners. The damp, the filth, the vitiated and corrupted vapours arising from the want of drainage and ventilation, in periods of epidemics, caused a terrible mortality. In such pestilential abodes, the most robust constitutions were weakened; natures more delicate succumbed; generations were decimated, and the survivors languished through life enerved. The roofless walls of those miserable hovels are now seen all through Ireland, I trust, (says Dr. Heron) they will never again be roofed for human beings." Contrast the condition of the negro slaves on a well ordered plantation with that of the above described tenants of English abolitionists and who by the theory of the law might make their own bargains for wages. In the case of the latter there was, moreover, no insuperable difficulty, from diversity of race, for that intellectual development, which the presence of a superior race renders impossible to the negro.—In the eye of humanity, the question is not what, in a different state of circumstances, in the case of a homogeneous people might be desired for the slave of the South, but what their actual condition requires. On that point—even among the most intelligent of their own race many of whom have so frequently resisted the intrigues of Northern abolitionists, there is a concurrence of opinion, that no change of their relations with the whites, either now or at any future day, is to be desired—that their condition is not only the best for the interests of the world at large, but for their own happiness. This conviction is an infinitely more potent fugitive slave law than any that can be passed by Congress, and if the well intentioned fanatics of the North could only realise its truth, the Union might yet be preserved. Nothing, indeed, is wanting but that we should look to "the beam in our own eye," instead of regarding "the mote in our brother's eye." At all events, if we do intermeddle, we must, like Sampson, be prepared to have the building tumble down on our own heads.