A Question Settling Itself

Troy Daily Times, March 2, 1861

One of the most gratifying features of existing affairs, is the advance toward the development of comity and good feeling shown by rival parties to the great dispute which agitates the country. In the earlier periods of a heated controversy, when only the bald points of difference are prominently obtruded, men are apt to give way to excitement, and cool decision is rendered impossible by the heat of passion. They see only one side of an argument; they discover only one road to an honest opinion; they know no logic which justifies conclusions variant from those at which they arrive—and, therefore, all who differ from them are very naturally treated as enemies. As discussion advances, the various considerations which modify prejudice and disarm hate, one after another present themselves and are recognized,—parties begin to discover that those who oppose them may be as honest if not as well informed as themselves,—and ultimately, save in the case of the more bigoted and unreasonable, there is a general settlement upon the basis of a candid but not malignant disagreement.

There is no good reason why this should not be the case. Upon their broad and liberal bases, our institutions can present no conflicts which may not be determined by dispassionate discussion, and in a spirit of forbearance. The party which first resorts to malignant denunciation and bitter invective,—or which, still worse, abandons the arbitrament of logic for that of force,—in the very fact concedes the weakness of its positions, and invites failure. A good cause never is strengthened by a bad advocacy. And in the genius and spirit of republican polity, the traditions of our history, the character of our institutions, there is nothing which warrants an application here of the strong arm which is a necessity of the enforcement of ideas in less favored countries.

A dispassionate survey of the field of our present disputes brings with it a weakening of the prejudices which give them force. It is very natural for us, in the light of unbroken free institutions, to regard Slavery as a sin, and so viewing it, to denounce as inhumane and ill-deserving all who have part or lot in its perpetuation. But research and observation soften these asperities. We begin to see that, with an institution planted in their midst—not by their act, but without their consent; nurtured under and growing up with it; learning to look upon it as a necessity of political and social existence,—they are not altogether to blame for dreading anything calculated to disturb it. We find that all slaveholders are not villains; that all slaves are not abused and degraded as whipped spaniels,—that but there are honest and honorable men, holding property in their fellow-beings, whom they treat with undeviating kindness and consideration.—We cease to denounce all the fears and jealousies the upholders of slavery exhibit, when we consider the precarious nature of their position, and remember how assiduously partizans in the Free States cultivate their apprehensions. While therefore, we cannot concede the rightfulness of Slavery; while we cannot submit to the policy that would elevate it to political supremacy; we can at least deal with moderation with those who regard it as vital to their existence—and concede to their ineradicable prejudices whatever is not inconsistent with our honor.

On the other hand, the honest advocates of Slavery cannot fail to perceive its inherent weaknesses and inevitable descent to disintegration, in the more Northerly States where it exists. There is a tendency to the development and advancement of free labor interests wherever climate is in favor of them. The inroad has been rapidly made, in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland. It cannot be restrained. The climate of Virginia is no more favorable to Slavery than that of Pennsylvania, nor is it more desirable for Missouri than for Kansas. Commercially, it is impossible that for a great many years, slaves can be held North of thirty-five degrees—for Slavery is after all a commercial institution, and governed solely by considerations of profit and loss. There is a constant movement of black chattels from the border States Southward, and a certain and progressive addition to their free labor forces. Missouri is almost regenerated already. Take from Southern Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee the advantages of slave breeding for the exclusively cotton States, and emancipation would immediately find supporters, in men who are now the strongest advocates of Slavery.

We grant the conclusions that logically follow from these premises. If Slavery is unprofitable above the 35th degree, there is a belt below that point where it is almost the only system of labor that can be made remunerative. If a Virginia or Missouri grain-grower can hardly work a hundred negroes to such advantage as to make both ends meet in his yearly accounts, an Alabama cotton planter or a Louisiana sugar-grower will work the same gang, under all the risks and disadvantages of a destructive climate, and net a profit of from twenty-five to fifty thousand dollars. White men could raise cereals in Virginia and Tennessee under conditions that would amply repay them, and add immensely to the wealth of the States; put an Anglo-Saxon on a cotton or a sugar plantation, and he would die in a year. The great mischief is, then, that there is Africanization where such a system has no business to be. Negro labor is not profitable in the border States. None other but negro labor can be made to pay in the gulf States. Under the operation of natural laws, dispassionately applied, the question must therefore settle itself. The black ban which retards the growth of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri will be removed; they are to become Free States. The servile negro population they contain will for most part be shifted Southward, into the cotton States, and as a consequence they will become more intensely Slave.

What then? Suppose this operation of natural laws tends to a perpetuation of an institution we dislike—what have we to do with it? Clearly, nothing at all. We may deplore the fact, but it will not be for us to fight it. The whole question will, the moment present differences are healed, be relegated to the people of the States, for them to settle it as they think best, in the light of their own interests, information and consciences. With their judgments, we will have nothing to do. We have no more business to interfere with Slavery in Mississippi, than Mississippi has to intermeddle with the prison system of New York. The institution is local, and is to be governed by local laws. It did not require a resolution by Congress to settle the principle that there shall be no attempt by Free States to disturb Slavery where it exists—for that was incorporated into the Chicago platform, and is inwrought with the groundwork of the Republican party. The little knot of fanatics who maintain an opposite doctrine, are of no consequence, save as their importance is for base purposes magnified at the South.

The whole struggle, then, grows out of an attempt to give Slavery a control of national politics, because its supporters fear, if it has not this, it will be forcibly overthrown. The moment this is determined, and the point settled that it is a local and domestic institution, neither to be aggrandized or abolished by national legislation, but left to work out its own destiny under the operation of natural laws, that moment the existing controversies will cease, and, undisturbed by hatreds, jealousies, and conflicting passions, we shall go on as a concordant and prosperous people, to work out the great accomplishments which they have so seriously interfered with. To this result, let all good citizens lend their energies; and meanwhile, let the anger and personal malignity which so often grow out of conflicting opinions, be discouraged as unworthy our national character, unworthy our hopes, unworthy our institutions, unworthy the high and magnificent destinies we can even now, in the early morning gleams that break upon our dark night of political discord, see opening before us.