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26 June, 2013
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Chapter XIV. The Spirit of St. Clare.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The general tone of the press and of the community
in the slave States, so far as it has been made known at the North, has been
loudly condemnatory of the representations of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Still, it would be unjust to the character of the South to refuse to acknowledge
that she has many sons with candour enough to perceive, and courage enough
to avow, the evils of her "peculiar institutions." The manly independence
exhibited by these men, in communities where popular sentiment rules despotically,
either by law or in spite of law, should be duly honoured. The sympathy of
such minds as these is a high encouragement to philanthropic effort.
The author inserts a few testimonials from Southern men, not without some
pride in being thus kindly judged by those who might have been naturally expected
to read her book with prejudice against it.
The Jefferson Inquirer, published at Jefferson
City, Missouri, October 23, 1852, contains the following communication:--
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
I have lately read this celebrated book, which, perhaps, has gone through
more editions, and been sold in greater numbers, than any work from the American
press, in the same length of time. It is a work of high literary finish, and
its several characters are drawn with great power and truthfulness, although,
like the characters in most novels and works of fiction, in some instances
too highly coloured. There is no attack on slave-holders as such, but, on
the contrary, many of them are represented as highly noble, generous, humane,
and benevolent. Nor is there any attack upon them as a class. It sets forth
many of the evils of slavery, as an institution established
by law, but without charging these evils on those who hold the slaves,
and seems fully to appreciate the difficulties in finding a remedy. Its effect
upon the slave-holder is to make him a kinder and better master; to which
none can object. This is said without any intention to indorse everything
contained in the book, or, indeed, in any novel or work of fiction. But, if
I mistake not, there are few, excepting those who are greatly prejudiced,
that will rise from a perusal of the book without being a truer and better
Christian, and a more humane and benevolent man. As a slave-holder, I
do not feel the least aggrieved. How Mrs. Stowe, the authoress,
has obtained her extremely accurate knowledge of the negroes, their character,
dialect, habits, &c., is beyond my comprehension, as she never resided--as
appears from the preface--in a slave State, or among slaves or negroes.
But they are certainly admirably delineated. The book is highly interesting
and amusing, and will afford a rich treat to its reader.
The opinion of the editor himself is given in these words:--
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
Well, like a good portion of "the world and the rest of mankind,"
we have read the book of Mrs. Stowe bearing the above title.
From numerous statements, newspaper paragraphs and rumours, we supposed
the book was all that fanaticism and heresy could invent, and were, therefore,
greatly prejudiced against it. But, on reading it, we cannot refrain from
saying that it is a work of more than ordinary moral worth, and is entitled
to consideration. We do not regard it as a "corruption of moral sentiment,"
and a gross "libel on a portion of our people." The authoress
seems disposed to treat the subject fairly, though, in some particulars, the
scenes are too highly coloured, and too strongly drawn from the imagination.
The book, however, may lead its readers at a distance to misapprehend some
of the general and better features of "Southern life as it is"
(which, by the way, we, as an individual, prefer to Northern life); yet it
is a perfect mirror of several classes of people we have in our mind's eye,
who are not free from "all the ills that flesh is heir to." It
has been feared that the book would result in injury to the slaveholding interests
of the country; but we apprehend no such thing, and hesitate not to recommend
it to the perusal of our friends and the public generally.
Mrs. Stowe has exhibited a knowledge of many peculiarities of Southern
society which is really wonderful when we consider that she is a Northern
lady by birth and residence.
We hope, then, before our friends form any harsh opinions of the merits
of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and make up any judgment against us for
pronouncing in its favour (barring some objections to it), that they will
give it a careful perusal; and, in so speaking, we may say that we yield to
no man in his devotion to Southern rights and interests.
The editor of the St. Louis (Missouri) Battery pronounces the following judgment:--
We took up this work, a few evenings since, with just such prejudices against
it as we presume many others have, and commenced reading it. We have been
so much in contact with ultra abolitionists--have had so much evidence
that their benevolence was much more hatred for the master than love for the
slave, accompanied with a profound ignorance of the circumstances surrounding
both, and a most consummate, supreme disgust for the whole negro race--that
we had about concluded that anything but rant and nonsense was out of the
question from a Northern writer on the subject of slavery.
Mrs. Stowe, in these delineations of life among the lowly, has convinced
us to the contrary.
She brings to the discussion of her subject a perfectly cool, calculating
judgment, a wide, all-comprehending intellectual vision, and a deep, warm,
sea-like woman's soul, over all of which is flung a perfect iris-like imagination,
which makes the light of her pictures stronger and more beautiful, as their
shades are darker and terror-striking.
We do not wonder that the copy before us is of the seventieth thousand.
And seventy thousand more will not supply the demand, or we mistake the appreciation
of the American people of the real merits of literary productions. Mrs. Stowe
has, in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," set up for herself a monument more
enduring than marble. It will stand amid the wastes of slavery as the Memnon
stands amid the sands of the African desert, telling both the white man and
the negro of the approach of morning. The book is not an abolitionist work,
in the offensive sense of the word. It is, as we have intimated, free from
everything like fanaticism, no matter what amount of enthusiasm vivifies every
page, and runs like electricity along every thread of the story. It presents
at one view the excellences and the evils of the system of slavery, and breathes
the true spirit of Christian benevolence for the slave, and charity for the
The next witness gives his testimony in a letter to the New York Evening Post:--
LIGHT IN THE SOUTH.
The subjoined communication comes to us post-marked New Orleans, June 19,
"I have just been reading 'Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Scenes in Lowly
Life,' by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. It found its way to me through the channel
of a young student, who purchased it at the North, to read on his homeward
passage to New Orleans. He was entirely unacquainted with its character; he
was attracted by its title, supposing it might amuse him while travelling.
Through his family it was shown to me, as something that I would probably
like. I looked at the author's name, and said, 'Oh, yes; anything from that
lady I will read;' otherwise I should have disregarded a work of fiction without
such a title.
"The remarks from persons present were, that it was a most amusing
work, and the scenes most admirably drawn to life. I accepted the offer of
a perusal of it, and brought it home with me. Although I have not read every
sentence, I have looked over the whole of it, and I now wish to bear my testimony
to its just delineation of the position that the slave occupies. Colourings
in the work there are, but no colourings of the actual and real position of
the slave worse than really exist. Whippings to death do occur; I know it
to be so. Painful separations of master and slave, under circumstances creditable
to the master's feelings of humanity, do also occur. I know that, too; many
families, after having brought up their children in entire dependence on slaves
to do everything for them, and after having been indulged in elegances and
luxuries, have exhausted all their means; and the black people only being
left, whom they must sell for further support. Running away, everybody knows,
is the worst crime a slave can commit, in the eyes of his master, except it
be a humane master; and from such few slaves care to run away.
"I am a slaveholder myself. I have long been dissatisfied with the
system particularly since I have made the Bible my criterion for judging of
it. I am convinced, from what I read there, slavery is not
in accordance with what God delights to honour in his creatures. I am altogether
opposed to the system; and I intend always to use whatever influence I may
have against it. I feel very bold in speaking against it, though living in
the midst of it, because I am backed by a powerful man, that can overturn
and overrule the strongest efforts that the determined friends of slavery
are now making for its continuance.
"I sincerely hope that more of Mrs. Stowes may be found, to show
up the reality of slavery. It needs master minds to show it as it is, that
it may rest upon its own merits.
"Like Mrs. Stowe, I feel that, since so many and good people, too,
at the North have quietly consented to leave the slave to his fate, by acquiescing
in and approving the late measures of government, those who do feel differently
should bestir themselves. Christian effort must do the work; and soon it would
be done if Christians would unite, not to destroy the Union States, but honestly
to speak out, and speak freely, against that they know is wrong. They are
not aware what countenance they give to slaveholders to hold on to their prey.
Troubled consciences can be easily quieted by the sympathies of pious people,
particularly when interest and inclination come in as aids.
"I am told there is to be a reply made to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' entitled
'Uncle Tom's Cabin as It is.' I am glad of it. Investigation is what is wanted.
"You will wonder why this communication is made to you by an unknown.
It is simply made to encourage your heart, and strengthen your determination
to persevere, and do all you can to put the emancipation of the slave in progress.
Who I am you will never know; nor do I wish you to know, nor anyone else.
I am a
The following facts make the fiction of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
appear tame in the comparison. They are from the New York
UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
MR. EDITOR,--I see in your paper that some
persons deny the statements of Mrs. Stowe. I have read her book, every word of
it. I was born in East Tennessee, near Knoxville, and, we thought,
in an enlightened part of the Union, much
favoured in our social, political, and religious privileges, &c. &c.
Well, I think about the year 1829, or, perhaps '28, a good old German Methodist
owned a black man named Robin, a Methodist preacher, and the manager of farm,
distillery, &c., salesman and financier. This good old German Methodist
had a son named Willey, a schoolmate of mine, and, as times were, a first-rate
fellow. The old man also owned a keen, bright-eyed mulatto girl; and Willey--the
naughty boy-- became enamoured of the poor girl. The result was soon
discovered; and our good German Methodist told his brother Robin to flog the
girl for her wickedness. Brother Robin said he could not and would not perform
such an act of cruelty as to flog the girl for what she could not help; and
for that act of disobedience old Robin was flogged by the good old German
brother until he could not stand. He was carried to bed; and some three weeks
thereafter, when my father left the State, he was still confined to his bed
from the effects of that flogging.
Again: in the fall of 1836, I went South for my health, stopped at a village
in Mississippi, and obtained employment in the largest house in the
county, as a book-keeper, with a firm from Louisville, Kentucky. A man residing
near the village--a bachelor, thirty years of age--became embarrassed,
and executed a mortgage to my employer on a fine, likely boy, weighing about
two hundred pounds--quick-witted, active, obedient, and remarkably faithful,
trusty, and honest; so much so, that he was held up as an example. He had
a wife that he loved; his owner cast his eyes upon her, and she became his
paramour. His boy remonstrated with his master; told him that he tried faithfully
to perform his every duty, that he was a good and faithful "nigger"
to him; and it was hard, after he had toiled hard all day, and till ten o'clock
at night, for him to have his domestic relations broken up and interfered
with. The white man denied the charge, and the wife also denied it. One night,
about the first of September, the boy came home earlier than usual, say about
nine o'clock. It was a wet, dismal night; he made a fire in his cabin, went
to get his supper, and found ocular demonstration of the guilt of his master.
He became enraged, as I suppose any man would, seized a butcher-knife, and
cut his master's throat, stabbed his wife in twenty-seven places, came to
the village, and knocked at the office door. I told him to come in. He did
so, and asked for my employer. I called him. The boy then told him that he
had killed his master and his wife, and what for. My employer locked him up,
and he, a doctor and myself, went out to the house of the old bachelor, and
found him dead, and the boy's wife nearly so; she, however, lived. We (my
employer and myself) returned to the village, watched the boy until about
sunrise, left him locked up, and went to get our breakfasts, intending to
take the boy to jail (as it was my employer' interest, if possible, to save
the boy, having one thousand dollars at stake in him) but whilst we were eating,
some persons who had heard of the murder broke open the door, took the poor
fellow, put a log-chain round his neck, and started him for the woods at the
point of the bayonet, marching by where we were eating, with a great deal
of noise. My employer hearing it, ran out, and rescued the boy. The mob again
broke in and took the boy, and marched him, as before stated, out of town.
My employer then begged them not to disgrace their town in such a manner,
but to appoint a jury of twelve sober men to decide
what should be done. And twelve as sober men as could be found (I was not
sober) said he must be hanged. They then tied a rope round his neck, and set
him on an old horse. He made a speech to the mob, which I at the time thought,
if it had come from some senator, would have been received with rounds of
applause; and, withal, he was more calm than I am now in writing this. And
after he had told all about the deed and its causes, he then kicked the horse
out from under him, and was launched into eternity. My employer has often
remarked that he never saw anything more noble in his whole life than the
conduct of that boy.
Now, Mr. Editor, I have given you facts, and can give you names and dates.
You can do what you think is best for the cause of humanity. I hope I have
seen the evil of my former practices, and will endeavour to reform.
Very respectfully, JAMES L. HILL.
Illinois, Sept. 17th, 1852.
"The opinion of a Southerner," given below, appeared in the National
Era, published at Washington. This is an anti-slavery
journal, but by its generous tone and eminent ability it commands
the respect and patronage of many readers in the slave States:
The following communication comes enclosed in an envelope from Louisiana.-- Ed. Era.
THE OPINION OF A SOUTHERNER.
To the Editor of the National Era.
I have just been reading, in the New York Observer
of the 12th of August, an article from the Southern Free
Press, headed by an editorial one from the Observer, that has for its caption, "Progress in the
The editor of the New York Observer says
that the Southern Free Press has been an able and
earnest defender of Southern institutions, but that he now advocates the passage
of a law to prohibit the separation of families, and recommends instruction
to a portion of slaves that are most honest and faithful. The Observer
further adds: "It was such language as this that was becoming
common before Northern fanaticism ruined the prospects of emancipation."
It is not so! Northern fanaticism, as he calls it, has done everything that
has been done for bettering the condition of the slave. Every one who knows
anything of slavery for the last thirty years will recollect that about that
time since, the condition of the slave in Louisiana--for about Louisiana
only do I speak, because about Louisiana only do I know--was as depressed
and miserable as any of the accounts of the abolitionists that ever I have
seen have made it. I say abolitionists; I mean friends and advocates of freedom
in a fair and honourable way. If any doubt my assertion, let them seek for
information; let them get the black laws of Louisiana, and read them; let
them get facts from individuals of veracity, on whose statements they would
This wretched condition of slaves roused the friends of humanity, who,
like men and Christian men, came fearlessly forward and told truths, indignantly
expressing their abhorrence of their oppressors. Such measures of course brought
forth strife, which caused the cries of humanity to sound louder and louder
throughout the land. The friends of freedom gained the ascendancy in the hearts
of the people, and the slaveholders were brought to a stand. Some, through
fear of consequences, lessened their cruelties, while others were made to
think that, perhaps, were not unwilling to do so when it was urged upon them.
Cruelties were not only refrained from, but the slave's comforts were increased.
A retrograde treatment now was not practicable; fears of rebellion kept them
to it. The slaves had found friends, and they were watchful. It was, however,
soon discovered, that too many privileges, too much leniency, and giving knowledge,
would destroy the power to keep down the slave, and tend to weaken, if not
destroy the system. Accordingly, stringent laws had to be passed, and a penalty
attached to them. No one must teach, or cause to be taught, a slave, without
incurring the penalty. The law is now in force. These necessary laws, as they
are called, are all put down to the account of the friends of freedom; to
their interference. I do suppose that they do justly belong to their interference;
for who that studies the history of the world's transactions does not know
that in all contests with power the weak, until successful, will be dealt
with more rigorously? Lose not sight, however, of their former condition.
Law after law has since been passed to draw the cord tighter
around the poor slave, and all attributed to the abolitionists. Well, anyhow,
progress is being made. Here comes out the Southern Press, and make
some honourable concessions. He says: "The assaults upon
slavery, made for the last twenty years by the North, have increased the evils
of it. The treatment of slaves has undoubtedly become a delicate and difficult
question. The South has a great and moral conflict to wage; and it is for
her to put on the most invulnerable moral panoply."
He then thinks the availability of slave property would not be injured by
passing a law to prohibit the separation of slave families; for he says, "Although
cases sometimes occur which we observe are seized by these Northern fanatics
as characteristic of the system," &c. Nonsense! there are no "cases
sometimes" occurring; no such thing! They are every day's occurrences,
though there are families that form the exception, and many, I would hope,
that would not do it. While I am writing, I can call before me three men that
were brought here by negro traders from Virginia, each having left six or
seven children, with their wives, from whom they have never heard. One other
died here a short time since, who left the same number in Carolina, from whom
he had never heard.
I spent the summer of 1845 in Nashville. During the month of September
six hundred slaves passed through that place, in four different gangs, for
New Orleans; final destination, probably, Texas. A goodly proportion were
women; young women, of course; many mothers must have left not only their
children, but their babies. One gang only had a few children. I made some
excursions to the different watering-places around Nashville; and while at
Robinson or Tyree Springs, twenty miles from Nashville, on the borders of
Kentucky and Tennessee, my hostess said to me one day, "Yonder comes
a gang of slaves chained." I went to the road-side, and viewed them.
For the better answering my purpose of observation, I stopped the white man
in front, who was at his ease in a one-horse waggon, and asked him if those
slaves were for sale. I counted them and observed their position. They were
divided by three one-horse waggons, each containing a man-merchant, so arranged
as to command the whole gang. Some were unchained; sixty were chained in two
companies, thirty in each, the right hand of one to the left hand of the other
opposite one, making fifteen each side of a large ox-chain, to which every
hand was fastened, and necessarily compelled to hold up--men and women
promiscuously, and about in equal proportions--all young people. No children
here, except a few in a waggon behind, which were the only children in the
four gangs. I said to a respectable mulatto woman in the house, "Is
it true that the negro traders take mothers from their babies?" "Missis,
it is true; for here, last week, such a girl (naming her), who lives about
a mile off, was taken after dinner--knew nothing of it in the morning--sold,
put into the gang, and her baby was given away to a neighbour. She was a stout
young woman and brought a good price."
The annexation of Texas induced the spirited traffic that summer. Coming
down home in a small boat, water low, a negro trader on board had forty-five
men and women crammed into a little spot, some handcuffed. One respectable-looking
man had left a wife and seven children in Nashville. Near Memphis the boat
stopped at a plantation by previous arrangement, to take in thirty more. An
hour's delay was the stipulated time with the captain of the boat. Thirty
young men and women came down the bank of the Mississippi, looking Wretcheduess
personified, just from the field; in appearance dirty, disconsolate and oppressed
some with an old shawl under their arm; a few had blankets;
some had nothing at all--looked as though they cared for nothing. I calculated,
while looking at them coming down the bank, that I could hold in a bundle
all that the whole of them had. The short notice that was given them, when
about to leave, was in consequence of the fears entertained that they would
slip one side. They all looked distressed, leaving all that was dear to them
behind, to be put under the hammer, for the property of the highest bidder.
No children here! The whole seventy-five were crammed into a little space
on the boat, men and women all together.
I am happy to see that morality is rearing its head with advocates for
slavery, and that a "most invulnerable moral panoply" is thought
to be necessary. I hope it may not prove to be like Mr. Clay's compromises.
The Southern Press says: As, for caricatures of slavery
in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and the 'White Slave,' all founded in imaginary circumstances,&
c., we consider them highly incendiary. He who undertakes to stir up
strife between two individual neighbours, by detraction, is justly regarded,
by all men and all moral codes, as a criminal." Then he quotes the Ninth
Commandment, and adds: "But to bear false witness against whole States,
and millions of people, &c., would seem to be a crime as much deeper in
turpitude as the mischief is greater and the provocation less." In the
first place, I will put the Southern Press upon proof
that Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe has told one falsehood. If she has told truth,
she has, indeed, a powerful engine of "assault on slavery," such
as these Northern fanatics have made for the "last twenty years."
The number against whom she offends, in the editor's opinion, seems to increase
the turpitude of her crime. This is good reasoning! I hope the editor will
be brought to feel that wholesale wickedness is worse than single-handed,
and is infinitely harder to reach, particularly if of long standing. It gathers
boldness and strength when it is sanctioned by the authority of time, and
aided by numbers that are interested in supporting it. Such is slavery; and
Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe deserves the gratitude of "States and millions
of people" for her talented work, in showing it up in its true light.
She has advocated truth, justice, and humanity, and they will back her efforts.
Her work will be read by "States and millions of people;" and
when the Southern Press attempts to malign her, by
bringing forward her own avowal, "that the subject of slavery had been
so painful to her, that she had abstained from conversing on it for several
years," and that, in his opinion, "it accounts for the intensity
of the venom of her book," his really envenomed
shafts will fall harmless at her feet; for readers will judge for themselves,
and be very apt to conclude that more venom comes from the Southern Press
than from her. She advocates what is right, and has a
straight road, which "few get lost on;" he advocates what is wrong,
and has, consequently, to tack, concede, deny, slander, and all sorts of things.
With all due deference to whatever of just principles the Southern
Press may have advanced in favour of the slave, I am a poor
judge of human nature, if I mistake in saying that Mrs. Stowe has done much
to draw from him those concessions; and the putting forth of this "most
invulnerable moral panoply," that has just
come into his head as a bulwark of safety for slavery, owes its impetus to
her and other like efforts. I hope the Southern Press
will not imitate the spoiled child, who refused to eat his pie for spite.
The "White Slave" I have not seen. I guess its character; for
I made a passage to New York, some fourteen or fifteen years
since, in a packet-ship, with a young woman whose face was enveloped in a
profusion of light-brown curls, and who sat at the table with the passengers
all the way as a white woman. When at the quarantine, Staten Island, the captain
received a letter, sent by express mail, from a person in New Orleans, claiming
her as his slave, and threatening the captain with the penalty of the existing
law if she was not immediately returned. The streaming eyes of the poor unfortunate
girl told the truth, when the captain reluctantly broke it to her. She unhesitatingly
confessed that she had run away, and that a friend had paid her passage. Proper
measures were taken, and she was conveyed to a packet-ship that was at Sandy
Hook, bound for New Orleans.
"Uncle Tom's Cabin," I think, is a just delineation of slavery.
The incidents are coloured, but the position that the slave is made to hold
is just. I did not read every page of it, my object being to ascertain what
position the slave occupied. I could state a case of whipping to death that
would equal Uncle Tom's; still, such cases are not very frequent.
The stirring up of strife between neighbours, that the Southern Press
complains of, deserves notice. Who are neighbours? The
most explicit answer to this question will be found in the reply Christ made
to the lawyer, when he asked it of him. Another question will arise, Whether,
in Christ's judgment, Mrs. Stowe would be considered a neighbour or an incendiary?
As the Almighty Ruler of the universe and the Maker of man has said that He
has made all the nations of the earth of one blood, and man in His own image,
the black man, irrespective of his colour, would seem to be a neighbour who
has fallen among his enemies, that have deprived him of the fruits of his
labour, his liberty, his right to his wife and children, his right to obtain
the knowledge to read, or to anything that earth holds dear, except such portions
of food and raiment as will fit him for his despoiler's purposes. Let not
the apologists for slavery bring up the isolated cases of leniency, giving
instruction, and affectionate attachment, that are found among some masters,
as specimens of slavery! It is unfair! They form exceptions, and much do I
respect them; but they are not the rules of slavery. The strife that is being
stirred up is not to take away anything that belongs to another--neither
their silver nor gold, their fine linen or purple, their houses or land, their
horses or cattle, or anything that is their property; but to rescue a neighbour
from their unmanly cupidity.
No introduction is necessary to explain the following correspondence, and
no commendation will be required to secure for it a respectful attention from
Washington City, D. C., Dec. 6, 1852.
DEAR SIR,--I understand that you are a
North Carolinian, and have always resided in the South; you must, consequently,
be acquainted with the workings of the institution of slavery. You have doubtless
also read that world-renowned book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," by Mrs.
Stowe. The apologists for slavery deny that this book is a truthful picture
of slavery. They say that its representations are exaggerated, its scenes
and incidents unfounded, and, in a word, that the whole book is a caricature.
They also deny that families are separated--that children
are sold from parents, wives from their husbands, &c. Under
these circumstances, I am induced to ask your opinion of Mrs. Stowe's book,
and whether or not, in your opinion, her statements are entitled to credit.
I have the honour to be, yours truly, A. M. GANGEWER.
D. R. Goodloe, Esq.
Washington, Dec. 8, 1852.
DEAR SIR,--Your letter of the 6th inst.,
asking my opinion of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," has been received; and
there being no reason why I should withhold unless it be the fear of public
opinion (your object being, as I understand, the publication of my reply),
I proceed to give it in some detail.
A book of fiction, to be worth reading, must necessarily be filled with
rare and striking incidents, and the leading characters must be remarkable,
some for great virtues--others, perhaps, for great vices or follies.
A narrative of the ordinary events in the lives of common-place people would
be insufferably dull and insipid, and a book made up of such materials would
be, to the elegant and graphic pictures of life and manners which we have
in the writings of Sir Walter Scott and Dickens, what a surveyor's plot of
a ten-acre field is to a painted landscape, in which the eye is charmed by
a thousand varieties of hill and dale, of green shrubbery and transparent
water, of light and shade, at a glance. In order to determine whether a novel
is a fair picture of society, it is not necessary to ask if its chief personages
are to be met with every day; but whether they are characteristic of the times
and country--whether they embody the prevalent sentiments, virtues, vices,
follies, and peculiarities--and whether the events, tragic or otherwise,
are such as may and do occasionally occur.
Judging "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by these principles, I have no
hesitation in saying that it is a faithful portraiture of Southern life and
institutions. There is nothing in the book inconsistent with the laws and
usages of the slave-holding States; the virtues, vices, and peculiar hues
of character and manners are all Southern, and must be recognised at once
by everyone who reads the book. I may never have seen such depravity in one
man as that exhibited in the character of Legree, though I have ten thousand
times witnessed the various shades of in different individuals. On the other
hand, I have never seen so many perfections concentrated in one human being
as Mrs. Stowe has conferred upon the daughter of a slave-holder. Evangeline
is an image of beauty and goodness which can never be effaced from the mind,
whatever may be its prejudices; yet her whole character is fragrant of the
South: her generous sympathy, her beauty and delicacy, her sensibility, are
all Southern. They are "to the manner born," and embodying as
they do the Southern ideal of beauty and loveliness, cannot be ostracised
from Southern hearts, even by the power of the Vigilance Committees.
The character of St. Clare cannot fail to inspire love and admiration.
He is the beau idéal of a Southern gentleman--honourable,
generous, and humane--of accomplished manners, liberal education, and
easy fortune. In his treatment of his slaves, he errs on the side of lenity,
rather than rigour; and is always their kind protector, from a natural impulse
of goodness, without much reflection upon what may befall them when death
or misfortune shall deprive them of his friendship.
Mr. Shelby, the original owner of Uncle Tom, and who sells him to a trader
from the pressure of a sort of pecuniary necessity, is by no means a bad character
his wife and son are whatever honour and humanity could wish; and, in a word,
the only white persons who make any considerable figure in the book to a disadvantage
are the villain Legree, who is a Vermonter by birth, and the oily-tongued
slave-trader Haley, who has the accent of a Northerner. It is, therefore,
evident that Mrs. Stowe's object in writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
has not been to disparage Southern character. A careful analysis of the book
would authorise the opposite inference--that she had studied to shield
the Southern people from opprobrium, and even to convey an elevated idea of
Southern society, at the moment of exposing the evils of the system of slavery.
She directs her batteries against the institution, not against individuals;
and generously makes a renegade Vermonter stand for her most hideous picture
of a brutal tyrant.
Invidious as the duty may be, I cannot withhold my testimony to the fact
that families of slaves are often separated. I know not how any man can have
the hardihood to deny it. The thing is notorious, and is often the subject
of painful remark in the Southern States. I have often heard the practice
of separating husband and wife, parent and child, defended, apologised for,
palliated in a thousand ways, but have never heard it denied. How could it
be denied, in fact, when probably the very circumstance which elicited the
conversation was a case of cruel separation then transpiring? No, sir! the
denial of this fact by mercenary scribblers may deceive persons at a distance,
but it can impose upon no one at the South.
In all the slaveholding States the relation of matrimony between slaves,
or between a slave and free person, is merely voluntary. There is no law sanctioning
it, or recognising it in any shape, directly or indirectly. In a word, it
is illicit, and binds no one--neither the slaves themselves nor their
masters. In separating husband and wife, or parent and child, the trader or
owner violates no law of the State--neither statute nor common law. He
buys or sells at auction or privately, that which the majesty of the law has
declared to be property. The victims may writhe in agony, and the tender-hearted
spectator may look on with gloomy sorrow and indignation, but it is to no
purpose. The promptings of mercy and justice in the heart are only in rebellion
against the law of the land.
The law itself not unfrequently performs the most cruel separations of
families, almost without the intervention of individual agency. This happens
in the case of persons who die insolvent, or who become so during life-time.
The estate, real and personal, must be disposed of at auction to the highest
bidder; and the executor, administrator, sheriff, trustee, or other person
whose duty it is to dispose of the property, although he may possess the most
humane intentions in the world, cannot prevent the final severance of the
most endearing ties of kindred. The illustration given by Mrs. Stowe, in the
sale of Uncle Tom by Mr. Shelby, is a very common case. Pecuniary embarrassment
is a most fruitful source of misfortune to the slave as well as the master;
and instances of family ties broken from this cause are of daily occurrence.
It often happens that great abuses exist in violation of law, and in spite
of the efforts of the authorities to suppress them; such is the case with
drunkenness gambling, and other vices. But here is a law common to all the
slaveholding States, which upholds and gives countenance to the wrongdoer,
while its blackest terrors are reserved for those who would interpose to protect
the innocent Statesmen of elevated and honourable characters,
from a vague notion of state necessity, have defended this law in the abstract,
while they would, without hesitation, condemn every instance of its application
In one respect I am glad to see it publicly denied that the families of
slaves are separated; for while it argues a disreputable want of candour,
it at the same time evinces a commendable sense of shame, and induces the
hope that the public opinion at the South will not much longer tolerate this
most odious, though not essential part, of the system of slavery.
In this connection I will call to your recollection a remark of the editor
of the Southern Press, in one of the last numbers
of that paper, which acknowledges the existence of the abuse in question,
and recommends its correction. He says:--
"The South has a great moral conflict to wage; and it is for her
to put on the most invulnerable moral panoply. Hence it is her duty, as well
as interest, to mitigate or remove whatever of evil that results incidentally
from the institution. The separation of husband and wife, parent and child,
is one of these evils, which we know is generally avoided and repudiated there--although
cases sometimes occur which we observe are seized by these Northern fanatics
as characteristic illustrations of the system. Now, we can see no great evil
or inconvenience, but much good, in the prohibition by law of such occurrences.
Let the husband and wife be sold together, and the parents and minor children.
Such a law would affect but slightly the general value or availability of
slave property, and would prevent in some cases the violence done to the feelings
of such connections by sales either compulsory or voluntary. We are satisfied
that it would be beneficial to the master and slave to promote marriage, and
the observance of all its duties and relations."
Much as I have differed from the editor of the Southern
Press in his general views of public policy, I am disposed to forgive
him past errors in consideration of his public acknowledgment of this "incidental
evil," and his frank recommendation of its removal. A Southern newspaper
less devoted than the Southern Press to the maintenance
of slavery would be seriously compromised by such a suggestion, and its advice
would be far less likely to be heeded; I think, therefore, that Mr. Fisher
deserves the thanks of every good man, North and South, for thus boldly pointing
out the necessity of reform.
The picture which Mrs. Stowe has drawn of slavery as an institution is
anything but favourable. She has illustrated the frightful cruelty and oppression
that must result from a law which gives to one class of society almost absolute
and irresponsible power over another. Yet the very machinery she has employed
for this purpose shows that all who are parties to the system are not necessarily
culpable. It is a high virtue in St. Clare to purchase Uncle Tom. He is actuated
by no selfish or improper motive. Moved by a desire to gratify his daughter,
and prompted by his own humane feelings, he purchases a slave, in order to
rescue him from a hard fate on the plantations. If he had not been a slave-
holder before, it was now his duty to become one; this, I think, is the moral
to be drawn from the story of St. Clare, and the South have a right to claim
the authority of Mrs. Stowe in defence of slave-holding to this extent.
It may be said that it was the duty of St. Clare to emancipate Uncle Tom,
but the wealth of the Rothschilds would not enable a man to act out his benevolent
instincts at such a price; and if such was his duty, it is not equally the
duty of every monied man in the free States to attend the New Orleans slave-mart
with the same benevolent purpose in view? It seems to me that
to purchase a slave with the purpose of saving him for a hard and cruel fate,
and without any view to emancipation, is itself a good action. If the slave
should subsequently become able to redeem himself, it would doubtless be the
duty of the owner to emancipate him, and it would be but even-handed justice
to set down every dollar of the slave's earnings, above the expense of his
maintenance, to his credit, until the price paid for him should be fully restored.
This is all that justice could exact of the slave-holder.
Those who have railed against "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as an incendiary
publication, have singularly (supposing that they have read the book) overlooked
the moral of the hero's life. Uncle Tom is the most faithful of servants.
He literally "obeyed in all things" his "masters according
to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of
heart, fearing God." If his conduct exhibits the slightest departure
from a literal fulfillment of this injunction of Scripture, it is in a case
which must command the approbation of the most rigid casuist, for the injunction
of obedience extends, of course, only to lawful commands. It is only when
the monster Legree commands him to inflict undeserved chastisement upon his
fellow-servants that Uncle Tom refuses obedience. He would not listen to a
proposition of escaping into Ohio with the young woman Eliza, on the night
after they were sold by Mr. Shelby to the trader Haley. He thought it would
be bad faith to his late master, whom he had nursed in his arms, and might
be the means of bringing him into difficulty. He offered no resistance to
Haley, and obeyed even Legree in every legitimate command; but when he was
required to be the instrument of his master's cruelty, he chose rather to
die, with the courage and resolution of a Christian martyr, than to save his
life by a guilty compliance. Such was Uncle Tom--not a bad example for
the imitation of man or master.
I am, sir, very respectfully, Your ob't serv't, DANIEL R. GOODLOE.
A. M. Gangewer, Esq., Washington, D. C.
The writer has received permission to publish the following extract from
a letter received by a lady at the North from the editor of a Southern paper.
The mind and character of the author will speak for themselves, in the reading
Charleston, Sunday, 25th July, 1852.
* * * The books, I infer, are Mrs. Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
The book was furnished me by-- --, about a fortnight ago, and you
may be assured I read it with an attentive interest. "Now, what is your
opinion of it?" you will ask; and, knowing my preconceived opinions
upon the question of slavery, and the embodiment of my principles, which I
have so long supported, in regard to that peculiar
institution, you may be prepared to meet an indirect answer. This my own consciousness
of truth would not allow in the present instance. The book is a truthful picture
of life, with the dark outlines beautifully portrayed. The life (the characteristics,
incidents, and the dialogues) is life itself reduced to paper. In her Appendix
she rather evades the question whether it was taken from actual scenes, but
says there are many counterparts. In this she is correct beyond
doubt. Had she changed the picture of Legree, on Red River, for-- --,
on--Island, South Carolina, she could not have drawn a more admirable
portrait. I am led to question whether she had not some knowledge of this
beast, as he is known to be, and made the transposition for effect.
My position in connexion with the extreme party, both in Georgia and South
Carolina, would constitute a restraint to the full expression of my feelings
upon several of the governing principles of the institution. I have studied
slavery in all its different phases--have been thrown in contact with
the negro in different parts of the world, and made it my aim to study his
nature, so far as my limited abilities would give me light--and, whatever
my opinions have been, they were based upon what I supposed to be honest convictions.
During the last three years you well know what my opportunities have been
to examine all the sectional bearings of an institution which now holds the
great and most momentous question of our federal well-being. These opportunities
I have not let pass, but have given myself, body and soul, to a knowledge
of its vast intricacies--to its constitutional compact and its individual
hardships. Its wrongs are in the constituted rights of the master, and the
blank letter of those laws which pretend to govern the
bondman's rights. What legislative act, based upon the construction of self-protection
for the very men who contemplate the laws--even though their intention
was amelioration--could be enforced, when the legislated object is held
as the bond property of the legislator? The very fact
of constituting a law for the amelioration of property becomes an absurdity
so far as carrying it out is concerned. A law which is intended to govern,
and gives the governed no means of seeking its protection, is like the clustering
together of so many useless words for vain show. But why talk of law? That
which is considered the popular rights of a people, and every tenacious prejudice
set forth to protect its property interest, creates its own power against
every weaker vessel. Laws which interfere with this become unpopular, repugnant
to a forcible will, and a dead letter in effect. So long as the voice of the
governed cannot be heard, and his wrongs are felt beyond the jurisdiction
or domain of the law, as nine-tenths are, where is the hope of redress? The
master is the powerful vessel; the negro feels his dependence, and, fearing
the consequences of an appeal for his rights, submits to the cruelty of his
master in preference to the dread of something more cruel. It is in those
dissected cases of cruelty we find the wrongs of slavery, and in those governing
laws which give power to bad Northern men to become the most cruel task-masters.
Do not judge from my observations that I am seeking consolation for the Abolitionists.
Such is not my intention; but truth to a cause which calls loudly for reformation
constrains me to say that humanity calls for some law to govern the force
and absolute will of the master, and to reform no part is more requisite than
that which regards the slave's food and raiment. A person must live years
at the South before he can become fully acquainted with the many workings
of slavery. A Northern man, not prominently interested in the political and
social weal of the South, may live for years, in it, and pass from town to
town in his every-day pursuits, and yet see but the polished side of slavery.
With me it has been different. Its effect upon the negro himself, and its
effect upon the social and commercial well-being of Southern society has been
laid broadly open to me, and I have seen more of its workings within the past
year than was disclosed to me all the time before. It is with these feelings
that I am constrained to do credit to Mrs. Stowe's book,
which I consider must have been written by one who derived the materials,
from a thorough acquaintance with the subject. The character of the slave-dealer,
the bankrupt owner in Kentucky, and the New Orleans merchant, are simple every-day
occurrences in these parts. Editors may speak of the dramatic effect as they
please; the tale is not told them, and the occurrences of common reality would
form a picture more glaring. I could write a work, with date and incontrovertible
facts, of abuses which stand recorded in the knowledge of the community in
which they were transacted, that would need no dramatic effect, and would
stand out ten-fold more horrible than anything Mrs. Stowe has described.
I have read two columns in the Southern Press of
Mrs. Eastman's "Aunt Phillis's Cabin, or Southern Life as It is,"
with the remarks of the editor. I have no comments to make upon it, that being
done by itself. The editor might have saved himself being writ down an ass
by the public if he had withheld his nonsense. If the two columns are a specimen
of Mrs. Eastman's book, I pity her attempt and her name as an author.