The Everlasting Negro
Providence Daily Post, February 2, 1861
The negro question has been warmly discussed (one side of it, at least,) in this country for upwards of thirty years. What has come of it? Is the negro any better off? Has he attained to a higher civilization? Are fewer of the race in bondage? Are those in bondage better fed and clothed, or enjoying more privileges? Has social life throughout the country been improved? Are men better husbands, fathers, brothers, neighbors, citizens, christians? Are the churches in better condition? Is the moral standard of the people any higher? Has anybody or anything been made better by this negro question?
Two questions—both of them long since lost sight of by the abolitionists—were originally presented in this negro discussion. First: Is the negro capable of self-government? Can he take care of himself, in a civilized community, without harm to anybody? If he cannot, then he must be taken care of. And to take care of him, involves the necessity of controlling him. If he cannot take care of himself, he is not wise enough to submit voluntarily to the direction of others; and indeed, the white man would not consent to direct his labor, make laws for him, protect him, and be his guardian in all respects, as though he were a minor child, without receiving the profits of his labor, or without the right to enforce, on his part, implicit obedience. We do not consent to feed the hungry—the unfortunate men and women amongst us—upon any other terms. The man who loses all his property, and cannot labor, is taken to the poor house, and submits to the will of the town. He cannot leave his domicile without permission. Even if a man can labor, and is willing to labor, and is not suffering; yet if he has no visible means of support, the town takes it for granted that he is a dangerous member of [the] community, and sends him to the poor house or jail. And this, no matter what may be the color of his skin.
Is the negro in need of this guardianship? Is it an unnatural or unreasonable constraint, when applied to him, in a refined community, if it be true that he is not capable of taking care of himself, as the social and civil standards of the community require him to be taken care of? Is it not as well that he should fill his place here, as any where else? If he lives in an uncivilized country, he can take care of himself. He can meet the requirements of fashion. An apron is all the clothing he wants in Africa, and even this can be dispensed with. Is his condition made worse when he reaches a civilized country, and adopts new modes and habits of life? And if he would not adopt these new habits voluntarily; if his tendency is back to barbarism; if he cannot take care of himself; is it wrong to take care of him? Would it be better to send him back to barbarism? It is certainly true that the negroes of the South are not capable of governing themselves politically. They cannot make laws, or execute them—only in the style that prevails in uncivilized countries. What shall we do? Confer suffrage upon them, and allow the States to go back to barbarism; or make laws for them, and require of them only obedience? The latter course is pursued, even in one of the New England States. And if we may govern them, in this respect, because of their inability to govern themselves; why may we not govern them in other respects, if the same inability is apparent there also?
These questions have never been successfully answered by the abolitionists. They have ceased to agitate them. Indeed, they assert that it is not worth while to discuss or decide them. They insist that slavery is sinful, no matter whether it is a necessity or not. They deny that a man is entitled to all the liberty he can enjoy with safety to the community in which he lives; but assert that one man is entitled to all the liberty which any other man enjoys, without reference to capacity, disposition, or any other circumstance.
Another question which the abolitionists have lost sight of, is this:—To what extent is it our right and duty to interfere with slavery in the South[?] They have answered this question in very brief terms. They do not recognize human law as at all binding, when it stands in the way of their missionary enterprise. "Our country is the world; our countrymen are all mankind." This is the motto. And if the laws of any community says, "Let us alone;" they answer, somewhat as did the Jews of old, "We have a law, and by that law slavery ought to die. We are appointed its executioners. We have a right to meddle with wrong and oppression anywhere. We are prophets and apostles of the Higher Law."
The truth is, we have no more right to meddle with slavery in Georgia, than we have to meddle with monarchy in Europe; with the laws of descent in Prussia; with the school laws of Sardinia; with the restriction upon the press in France; or with the suffrage laws in England. How long could the peace of the world be preserved, or the peace of any part, if every nation were taking the same liberties with its neighbor's affairs, that the North, for thirty years, has been taking with the affairs of the South?
And what, we come back to ask, has been gained by all this intermeddling? Nothing. Who has been benefited? Nobody. Churches have been divided—communities have been embittered—hearts have been estranged—men have been taught to hate and curse each other—pulpits have been desecrated—infidelity has been encouraged—regard for law has been obliterated—the country has been kept in a ferment for thirty years,—and at last, the noblest, proudest, freest, and in many respects the most powerful nation on the face of the globe, has been torn asunder, and robbed of its greatness. For what? For nothing, but to gratify a few negro philanthropists. An abstraction—and unprofitable at that—is made the basis of a quarrel that interferes with every man's business and bread; that wrests the nation's glory; that robs us of all we possessed as a people. The everlasting negro is the rock upon which the Ship of State must split.
Will the people stand this much longer? Will they consent to a dissolution of the Union, and a civil war, merely to please the crazy fanatics who have managed this anti-slavery agitation? Will they make the negro their god, and give up their national greatness, their prosperity, their name, their firesides—everything for which, as a people, they have been proud—for the sake of worshipping according to the creed of Wendell Phillips? We warn the fanatics that they will not do it. The bands are being broken. Look out for a moral revolution at the North, and thank God, when it comes, that it is not such a revolution as came to France, as the consequence of allowing unprincipled priests to manage political affairs.