Justice Applied to Slavery

Providence Evening Press, October 25, 1860

We have once in the most formal manner, and many times by implication, expressed our antipathy to slavery. But we do not desire to belong to that loud-mouthed class who make their hatred of slavery, or their pretence of it, the staple of their professions and proceedings, the great subject of their political, social, and moral relations. Indeed, as we observe the vast amount of unreasoning fanaticism exhibited in regard to the institution, and the immense quantity of hypocrisy generated concerning it, we are rather persuaded to keep our own opposition to slavery decidedly in the back-ground until we see some signs that it threatens to invade our own neighborhood.

We hear so much, and so continually, of the injustice of slavery,—by which we mean here, not its abstract unrighteousness as a principle, but rather its policy and practice as a system,—that it would seem to us, in the absence of striking proofs to the contrary, that no good thing could possibly come out of it, that it is a very Nazareth of evil. Inasmuch as this system is, at the present moment, incorporated into the Constitution[s] of nearly half the States of our great Confederacy, and was, until a very recent period, part and parcel of the civil and political organization of several of what are now called Free States, and inasmuch as thousands of patriotic citizens of this great Republic, including able statesmen, keen logicians, humble and earnest Christians, and in short, the noblest kinds of men, are involved in all the responsibilitie[s], political, social and moral, which grew out of this system, and however mistakenly, still conscientiously vindicate their relations to it; inasmuch as these things are true, it is not a matter of small moment that the public mind should be fully and correctly informed as to the true and actual out-workings of the system. It cannot be denied that the blemishes and blots, the excrescences and enormities of Slavery are far more eagerly and diligently displayed and discussed by the Northern press, than are the features which relieve it of some of its worst attributes.

There are those who will even sneer at the idea that there is any such side to slavery as this better one, while a much larger class of persons, perhaps honestly, but still ignorantly, believe that the moralities of the system are not only exceptional, but so exceedingly rare as to be quite inconsiderable in the task of solving the true character and results of the institution. It is bad enough at best; let us not exaggerate its deformities.

At the risk of being charged with assuming the unthankful character of apologists for slavery, we insist here that the system should be honestly and intelligently judged; that it should be credited with all that belongs to it of humanity, generosity, justice and other noble virtues. He who asserts that none of these belong to slavery in any degree, knows not of what he affirms; or wilfully falsifies the records of daily life. And let us add that ignorance on this point, considering the magnitude of the question involved, is hardly less criminal than deliberate falsehood. It is this reckless assertion of the unmitigated, unrelieved horror and guilt, and selfishness and cruelty of the system, and of its supporters no less, that has so naturally and deeply irritated and maddened the Southern feeling against the North. It is just this indiscriminate denunciation of the whole system, theoretical and practical, that has opened a breach of misunderstanding between us and the people of the South, which has at length broadened and deepened into a yawning gulf of enmity.

Now, slavery is not so invariably hideous as it is made to appear by those who look at it from one side only. It sometimes developes great virtues. It achieves great victories over the wrong principle that inheres in it. It clothes itself, not for low ends, but with generous impulses, so as to be more tolerable in our sight. It is occasionally benevolent, selfdenying and noble in its workings.

At this moment, however, we mean simply to offer a proof of its justice. It is one that some of our papers have brought to public notice. It will not be found in all of them, since there are many to which such proof of the possible justice of slavery would be unwelcome, as tending to refute their theory that it is unqualifiedly bad. The case we allude to is this: An old man in Virginia,—the State whose soil is still red with the blood of anti-slavery violence,—whipped his slave to death, with the inhumanity, not of slavery exclusively, but of moral depravity. This old man has been tried for his crime, and by an incorrupt, although a Virginia judge, has been found guilty and condemned to eighteen years imprisonment,—which, as he is now seventy years of age, will inevitably carry him into his grave. We do not propose to dwell upon the case. It carries its significance upon its face. It establishes, by one instance, in circumstances that greatly enhance its moral force, the capability of slavery to be just to its subjects and even to its unhappy victims. We will only add that the most faithful and intelligent observers of the times know that this is not an isolated example, but one of a multitude of proofs that slavery has its punishments for the brutal master, as well as its privations for the slave.