Abolition in America

But the slave-trade was not extinguished by the "sentimental squadron." The slavers could make a profit if they lost four cargoes in every five; they could easily afford to use decoys. While the gunboat was giving chase to some old tub with fifty diseased and used-up slaves on board, a clipper with several hundreds in her holds would dash out from her hiding-place among the mangroves and scud across the open sea to Cuba and Brazil.

It was impossible to blockade a continent; but it was easy to inspect estates. The negroes were purchased as plantation hands; a contraband labourer was not a thing to be concealed. There were laws in Cuba and Brazil against negro importation, but these existed only for the benefit of the officials. The bribery practice was put an end to in Brazil about 1852; that great market was for ever closed. Slavers were ruined; African chiefs became destitute of rum and this branch of commerce began to look forlorn. Yet still Cuba cried, "More! Give me more!"; still the profits were so large that the squadron was defeated and the man-supply obtained. Half a million of money a year, and no small amount of men, did that one island cost Great Britain. Yet still it might be hoped that even Cuba would he filled full in time; that the public opinion of Europe would act upon Madrid; that in time it would imitate Brazil. But in 1861 there happened an event which made the Cubans turn their back on Spain, and look with longing eyes the other way; and a beautiful vision uprose before their minds. They dreamt of a New Empire to which Cuba would belong, and to which slavery in a state of medieval beauty would be restored. It was only a dream; it was quickly dispelled; they awoke to find Liberty standing at their doors; and there now she stands waiting for her time to come.

When Great Britain was teasing the colonies into resistance, it was often predicted that they would not unite. There was little community of feeling between the old Dutch families of New York, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, the yeomen of New England, who were descended from Roundheads, and the country gentlemen of Virginia, who were descended from Cavaliers. But when the king closed Boston Port, and the vessels mouldered in the docks, and the shops were closed, and the children of fishermen and sailors began to cry for bread, the colonies did unite with one heart and one hand to feed the hunger of the noble town; and then to besiege it for its own sake, and to drive the red coats back into their ships. Yet when the war was over, and the squirrel guns had again been hung upon the wall, and the fire of the conflict had died out, the old jealousy reappeared. A loose-jointed league was tried and came to nought. The nation existed; the nation was in debt; union could not be dispensed with. But each colony approached this Union as a free and sovereign state. If one colony had chosen to remain apart, the others would not have interfered; if one colony after entering the Union had chosen to withdraw, its right to do so would not have been denied. In European countries, republican or royal, the source of authority is the nation; all powers not formally transferred reside with the Assembly or the Crown. In America, however; it was precisely the reverse; all powers not delivered to the central government were retained by the contracting states.

At the time of the Revolution, negro slavery existed in the colonies without exception. But it did not enter the economy of Northern life. Slavery will only pay when labour can be employed in gangs beneath an overseer, and where work can be found for a large number of men without cessation throughout the year. In the culture of rice, sugar, cotton, and tobacco, these conditions exist; but in corn-growing lands labour is scanty and dispersed, except at certain seasons of the year. Slaves in the North were not employed as field hands, but only as domestic servants in the houses of the rich. They could therefore be easily dispensed with; and it was proposed by the Northern delegates, when the Constitution was being prepared, that the African slave-trade should at once be abolished, and that certain measures should be taken, with a view to the gradual emancipation of the negro. Upon this question Virginia appears to have been divided. But Georgia and the Carolinas at once declared that they would not have the slave-trade abolished: they wanted more slaves; and unless this species of property were guaranteed, they would not enter the Union at all. They demanded that slavery should be recognised and protected by the Constitution. The Northerners at once gave in; they only requested that the words "slave" and "slavery" might not appear. To this the Southerners agreed, and the contract was delicately worded; but it was none the less stringent all the same. It was made a clause of the Constitution that the slave- trade should not be suppressed before the year 18O8. It might then be made the subject of debate and legislation -- not before. It was made a clause of the Constitution that, if the slaves of any state rebelled, the national troops should be employed against them. It was made a clause of the Constitution that, if a slave escaped to a free state, the authorities of that state should be obliged to give him up. And lastly, slave- owners were allowed to have votes in proportion to the number of their slaves. Such was the price which the Northerners paid for nationality -- a price which their descendants found a hard and heavy one to pay. The fathers of the country ate sour grapes, and the children's teeth were set on edge.

But the Southerners had not finished yet. The colonies possessed, according to their charters, certain regions in the wilderness out west, and these they delivered to the nation. A special proviso was made, however, by South Carolina and by Georgia, that at no future time should slavery be forbidden in the territories which they gave up of their own free will and these territories in time became slave states. It is therefore evident that the South intended from the first to preserve, and also to extend slavery. It must be confessed that their policy was candid and consistent, and of a piece throughout. They refused to enter the Union unless their property was guaranteed; they threatened to withdraw from the Union whenever they thought that the guarantee was about to be evaded or withdrawn. The clauses contained in the Constitution were binding on the nation; but they might be revoked by means of a constitutional amendment, which could be passed by the consent of three-fourths of the states. Emigrants continually poured into the north; and these again streamed out towards the west. It was evident that in time new states would be formed, and that the original slave states would be left in a minority. These states were purely agricultural; they had no commerce; they had no manufactures. Indigo, rice, and tobacco were the products on which they lived; and the markets for these were in an ugly state. The East Indies had begun to compete with them in rice and indigo; the demand for tobacco did not increase. There was a general languor in the South; the young men did not know what to do. Slavery is a wasteful and costly institution, and requires large profits to keep it alive; it seemed on the point of dying in the South, when there came a voice across the Atlantic crying for cotton in loud and hungry tones; and the fortune of the South was made.

In the seventeenth century the town of Manchester was already known to fame. It was a seat of the woollen manufacture, which was first introduced from Flanders into England in the reign of Edward the Third. It bought yarn from the Irish, and sent it back to them as linen. It imported cotton from Cyprus and Smyrna, and worked it into fustians, vermilions, and dimities. In the middle of the eighteenth century the cotton industry had become important. In thousands of cottages surrounding Manchester might be heard the rattle of the loom and the humming of the one-thread wheel, which is now to he seen only in the opera of Marta. Invention, as usual, arose from necessity; the weavers could not get sufficient thread, and were entirely at the mercy of the spinners. Spinning machines were accordingly invented: the water frame, the spinning jenny, and the mule. And now the weavers had more thread than they could use, and the power loom was invented to preserve the equilibrium of supply and demand. Then steam was applied to machinery; the factory system was established; hundred-handed engines worked all the day: and yet more labourers were employed than had ever been employed before; the soft white wool was carded, spun, and woven in a trice; the cargoes from the East were speedily devoured; and now raw material was chiefly in demand. The American cotton was the best in the market; but the quantity received had hitherto been small. The picking out of the small black seeds was a long and tedious operation. A single person could not clean more than a pound a day. Here, then, was an opening for Yankee ingenuity; and Whitney invented his famous saw-gin, which tore out the seeds as quick as lightning with its iron teeth. Land and slaves abounded in the South; the demand from Manchester became more and more hungry --it has never yet been completely satisfied -- and, under King Cotton, the South entered upon a new era of wealth, vigour, and prosperity as a slave plantation. The small holdings were unable to compete with the large estates on which the slaves were marshalled and drilled like convicts to their work; society in the South soon became composed of the planters, the slaves, and the mean whites who were too proud to work like niggers, and who led a kind of gipsy life.

While the intellect of the North was inventing machinery, opening new lands, and laying the foundations of a literature, the Southerners were devoted entirely to politics; and by means of their superior ability they ruled at Washington for many years, and almost monopolised the offices of state. When America commenced its national career there were two great sects of politicians; those who were in favour of the central power, and those who were in favour of state rights. In the course of time the national sentiment increased, and with it the authority of the President and Congress; but this centralising movement was resisted by a certain party of the North whose patriotism could not pass beyond the state house and the city hall. The Southerners were invariably provincial in their feelings; they did not consider themselves as belonging to a nation, but a league; they inherited the sentiments of aversion and distrust with which their fathers had entered the Union; threats and provisos were always on their lips. The executive, it was true, was in their hands, but the House of Representatives belonged to the North. In the Senate the states had equal powers, irrespective of size and population. In the Lower House the states were merely sections of the country; population was the standard of the voting power. The South had a smaller population than the North; the Southerners were therefore a natural minority, and only preserved their influence by allying themselves with the states' rights party in the North. The free states were divided: the slave states voted as one man.

In the North politics was a question of sentiment, and sentiments naturally differ. In the South politics was a matter of life and death; their bread depended on cotton; their cotton depended on slaves; their slaves depended on the balance of power. The history of the South within the Union is that of a people struggling for existence by means of political devices against the spirit of the nation and the spirit of the age. By annexation, purchase, and extension they kept pace with the North in its rush towards the West. Free states and slave states ran neck and neck towards the shores of the Pacific. The North obtained Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and California. The South obtained Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas. Whenever a territory became a state, the nation possessed the power of rejecting and therefore of modifying its constitution. The Northern politicians made an effort to prohibit slavery in all new states; the South as usual threatened to secede, and the Union which had been manufactured by a compromise was preserved by a compromise. It was agreed that a line should be drawn to the Pacific along the parallel 36? 3O'; that all the states which should afterwards be made below the line should be slave- holding; and all that were made above it should be free. But this compromise was not, like the compromise of the constitution, binding on the nation, and only to be set aside by a constitutional amendment. It was simply a parliamentary measure, and as such could be repealed at any future session. However, it satisfied the South; the North had many things to think of; and all remained quiet for a time. But only for a time.

The mysterious principle which constitutes the law of progress produces similar phenomena in various countries at the same time, and it was such an active period of the human mind which produced about forty years ago a Parisian Revolution, the great Reform Bill, and the American agitation against slavery. There was a man in a Boston garret. He possessed some paper, pens and ink, and little else besides; and even these he could only use in a fashion of his own. He had not what is called a style; nor had he that rude power which can cast a glow on jagged sentences and uncouth words. This poor garretteer, a printer in his working hours, relied chiefly on his type for light and shade, and had much recourse to capital letters, italics and notes of exclamation, to sharpen his wit, and to strengthen his tirades. But he had a cause, and his heart was in that cause. When W. L. Garrison commenced his Liberator the government of Georgia set a price upon his head, he was mobbed in his native city, and slavery was defended in Faneuil Hall itself, sacred to the memory of men who cared not to live unless they could be free. The truth was, that the Northerners disliked slavery, but nationality was dear to them and they believed that an attack upon the "domestic institution" of the South endangered the safety of the Union. But the abolitionists became a sect; they increased in numbers and in talent; they would admit of no compromise; they cared little for the country itself so long as it was stained. They denounced the constitution as a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell. No union with slave-holders! they cried. No union with midnight robbers and assassins! Hitherto the war between the two great sections of the country had been confined to politicians. The Southerners had sent their boys to Northern colleges and schools. Attended by a retinue of slaves they had passed the summer at Saratoga or Newport, and some times the winter at New York. But now their sons were insulted, their slaves decoyed from them by these new fanatics; and the South went North no more.

Abolition societies were everywhere formed, and envoys were sent into the slave states to distribute abolition tracts and to publish abolition journals, and to excite, if they could, a St. Domingo insurrection. The Northerners were shocked at these proceedings and protested angrily against them. But soon there was a revulsion of feeling in their minds, The wild beast temper arose in the South, and went forth lynching all it met. Northerners were flogged and even killed. Negroes were burnt alive. And so the meetings of abolitionists were no longer interrupted at the North; mayors and select-men no longer refused them the use of public halls. The sentiment of abolition was however not yet widely spread. There were few Northerners who preferred to give up the Union rather than live under a piebald constitution, or who considered it just to break a solemn compact in obedience to an abstract law. But there now arose a strong and resolute party who declared that slavery might stay where it was, but that it must go no farther. The South must be content with what it had. Not another yard of slave soil should be added to the Union. On the other hand, the South could not accept such terms. Slavery extension was necessary for their lives. More land they must have or they could not exist. There was waste land in abundance in the South; but it was dead. Their style of agriculture was precisely that which is pursued in Central Africa. They took a tract from the wilderness and planted it again and again with cotton and tobacco till it gave up the ghost, and would yield no more. They then moved on and took in another piece. Obliged to spend all their cash in buying prime slaves at two hundred pounds a piece, they could not afford to use manure or to rotate their crops; they could not afford to employ so costly a species of labour on anything less lucrative than sugar, cotton, and tobacco. Besides, if slavery were not to be extended they would be surrounded and hemmed in by free states; the old contract would be annulled. Already the South were in a minority. The free states and slave states might be equal in number; but they were not equal in population and prosperity. The Northerner who travelled down South was astonished to find that the cities of the maps were villages, and the villages clusters of log huts. Fields covered with weeds, and moss-grown ruins showed where farms once flourishing had been. He rode through vast forests and cypress swamps, where hundreds of mean whites lived like Red Indians, hunting and fishing for their daily bread, eating clay to keep themselves alive, prowling round plantations to obtain stolen food from the slaves. He saw plantations in which the labour was conducted with the terrible discipline of the prison and the hulks; and where as he galloped past the line of hoeing slaves, so close that he splashed them with mud, they hoed on, they toiled on, not daring to raise their eyes from the ground. From early dawn to dusky eve it was so with these poor wretches: no sound broke the silence of those fearful fields but the voice of the overseer and the cracking of the whip. And out far away in the lone western lands, by the side of dark rivers, among trees from which drooped down the dull grey Spanish moss, the planters went forth to hunt; there were well-known coverts where they were sure to find; and as the traveller rode through the dismal swamp he might perhaps have the fortune to see the game; a black animal on two legs running madly for its life, and behind it the sounding of a horn, and the voices of hounds in full cry -- a chase more infernal than that of the Wild Huntsman who sweeps through the forest with his spectral crew.

But the end of all this was at hand. Kansas, a tract of rich prairie land, was about to become a territory, and would soon become a state. It was situated above the 36? 3O' line, and therefore belonged to the North. But the Southerners coveted this Naboth's vineyard; their power at Washington was great just then; they determined to strike out the line which had been in the first place demanded by themselves. With much show of justice and reason they alleged that it was not fair to establish the domestic institutions of a country without consulting the inhabitants themselves. They proposed that, for the future, the question of slavery or free soil should be decided by a majority of votes among the settlers on the spot. This proposal became law, and then commenced a race for the soil. In Boston a political society was formed for the exportation to Kansas of Northern men. In the slave state. Missouri, blue lodges were formed for a similar purpose, and hundreds of squatters, dressed in flannel shirts, and huge boots up to their knees, and skin caps on their heads, bristling with revolvers and bowie knives, stepped across the Border. For the first time the people of the North and South met face to face. A guerrilla warfare soon broke out; the New Englanders were robbed and driven back; they were murdered, and their scalps paraded by Border ruffians upon poles. The whole country fell into a distracted state. The Southerners pursued their slaves into Boston itself, and dragged them back, according to the law. A mad abolitionist invaded Virginia with a handful of men, shot a few peaceful citizens, and was hanged. A time of terror fell upon the South; there was neither liberty of print nor liberty of speech; the majority reigned; and the man who spoke against it was lynched upon the spot. A Southerner assaulted and battered a Northerner on the floor of the Senate.

The North at last was thoroughly aroused. The people itself began to stir; a calm, patient, law-abiding race, slow to be moved, but when once moved, swerving never till the thing was done. A presidential election was at hand, and a Northerner was placed upon the throne. The South understood that this was not a casual reverse, which might be redeemed when the four years had passed away. It was to them a sign that the days of their power had for ever passed. The temper of the North was not to be mistaken. It had at last rebelled; it would suffer tyranny no more. Mr. Lincoln's terms were conciliatory in the extreme. Had the South been moderate in its demands, he would have been classed with those statesmen who added compromise to compromise, and so postponed the evil but inevitable day. He was not an abolitionist. He offered to give them any guarantee they pleased -- a constitutional amendment if they desired it -- that slavery as it stood should not be interfered with. He offered to bring in a more stringent law, by which their fugitive slaves should be restored. But on the matter of extension he was firm. The Southerners demanded that a line should again be drawn to the Pacific; that all south of that line should be made slave soil, and that slavery should be more clearly recognised by the central government, and more firmly guaranteed. These terms were not more extravagant than those which their fathers had obtained. But times had changed: the sentiment of nationality was now more fully formed; "Uncle Tom?s Cabin" had been written; the American people were heartily ashamed of slavery; they refused to give it another lease. The ultimatum was declined; the South seceded, and the North flew to arms, not to emancipate the negro, but to preserve the existence of the nation. They would not indeed submit to slavery extension; they preferred disunion to such a disgrace. But they had no intention when they went to war of destroying slavery in the states where it existed; they even took pains to prove to the South that the war was not an anti-slavery crusade. The negroes were treated by the Northern generals not as men, but as contraband of war; even Butler in New Orleans did not emancipate the slaves; a general who issued a proclamation of that nature was reprimanded by the government, although he only followed the example of British generals in the Revolutionary war. But as the contest became more severe and more prolonged, and all hopes of reconciliation were at an end, slavery became identified with the South in the Northern mind, and was itself regarded as a foe. The astute and cautious statesman at the head of affairs perceived that the time had come; the constitution was suspended during the war; and so, in all legality and with due form, he set free in one day four million slaves.

It is impossible to view without compassion the misfortunes of men who merely followed in the footsteps of their fathers, and were in no sense more guilty than Washington and Jefferson, who remained slaveholders to their dying day. It was easy for Great Britain to pay twenty millions; it was easy for the Northern states to emancipate their slaves, who were few in number, and not necessary to their life. But it was impossible for the South to abandon slavery. The money of a planter was sunk in flesh and blood. Yet the Southern politicians must be blamed for their crazy ambition, and their blind ignorance of the world. Instead of preparing as the Cuban planters are preparing now for those changes which had been rendered inevitable by the progress of mankind, they supposed that it was in their power to defy the spirit of the age, and to establish an empire on the pattern of ancient Rome. They firmly believed that, because they could not exist without selling cotton, Great Britain could not exist without buying it from them; which is like a shopkeeper supposing he could ruin his customers by putting up his shutters.

It may console those who yet lament the lost cause if we picture for their benefit what the Southern empire would have been. There would have been an aristocracy of planters, herds of slaves, a servile press, a servile pulpit, and a rabble of mean whites formed into an army. Abolition societies would have been established in the North, to instigate slaves to rebel or run away; a cordon of posts with a system of passports would have been established in the South. Border raids would have been made by fanatics on the one side, and by desperadoes on the other. Sooner or later there must have been a war. Filibustering expeditions on Mexico and Cuba would have brought about a war with Spain, and perhaps with France. It was the avowed intention of the planters, when once their empire was established, to import labour from Africa; to re-open the trade as in the good old times. But this, Great Britain would certainly have not allowed; and thus, again, there would have been war. Even if the planters would have displayed a little common sense, which is exceedingly improbable, and so escaped extirpation from without, their system of culture would have eaten up their lands. But happily such hypotheses need no longer be discussed; a future of another kind is in reserve for the Southern states. America can now pursue with untarnished reputation her glorious career, and time will soften the memories of a conflict, the original guilt of which must be ascribed to the founders of the nation, or rather to the conditions by which those great men were mastered and controlled.

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