All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin
Chapter II: Public Opinion Formed by Education.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Rev. Charles C. Jones, in his interesting work
on the "Religious Instruction of Negroes," has a passage which
so peculiarly describes that influence of public opinion which we have been
endeavouring to illustrate, that we shall copy it:--
Habits of feeling and prejudices in relation to any subject are wont to
take their rise out of our education or circumstances. Every man knows their
influence to be great in shaping opinions and conduct, and oft-times how unwittingly
they are formed; that while we may be unconscious of their existence, they
may grow with our growth and strengthen with our strength. Familiarity converts
deformity into comeliness. Hence we are not always the best judges of our
condition. Another may remark inconveniences, and, indeed, real evils, in
it, of which we may be said to have been all our lives scarcely conscious.
So, also, evils which, upon first acquaintance, revolted our whole nature,
and appeared intolerable, custom almost makes us forget even to see. Men passing
out of one state of society into another encounter a thousand things to which
they feel that they can never be reconciled; yet, shortly after, their sensibilities
become dulled, a change passes over them, they scarcely know how. They have
accommodated themselves to their new circumstances and relations--they
are Romans in Rome.
Let us now inquire what are the educational influences which bear upon
the mind educated in constant familiarity with the slave system.
Take any child of ingenuous mind and of generous heart, and educate him
under the influences of slavery, and what are the things which go to form
his character? An anecdote which a lady related to the writer may be in point
in this place. In giving an account of some of the things which induced her
to remove her family from under the influence of slavery, she related the
following incident:--Looking out of her nursery window one day, she saw
her daughter, about three years of age, seated in her little carriage, with
six or eight young negro children harnessed into it for horses. Two or three
of the older slaves were standing around their little mistress, and one of
them, putting a whip into her hand, said, "There Misse, whip 'em well;
make 'em go! They're all your niggers."
What a moral and religious lesson was this for that young
soul! The mother was a judicious woman, who never would herself have taught
such a thing; but the whole influence of slave society had burnt it into the
soul of every negro, and through them it was communicated to the child.
As soon as a child is old enough to read the newspapers, he sees in every
column such notices as the following from a late Richmond
Whig, and other papers:--
LARGE SALE OF NEGROES, HORSES, MULES, CATTLE, &c.
The subscriber, under a decree of the Circuit Superior Court for Fluvanna
County, will proceed to sell, by public auction, at the late residence of
William Galt, deceased, on TUESDAY, the 30th day
of November, and WEDNESDAY, the 1st day of December
next, beginning at eleven o'clock, the negroes, stock, &c., of all kinds,
belonging to the estate, consisting of 175 negroes, amongst whom are SOME
CARPENTERS AND BLACKSMITHS--10 horses, 33 mules, 100 head of
cattle, 100 sheep, 200 hogs, 1500 barrels corn, oats, fodder, &c., the
plantation and shop tools of all kinds.
The Negroes will be sold for cash; the other property on a credit of nine
months, the purchaser giving bond, with approved security.
JAMES GALT, Administrator of William
From the "Nashville Gazette," November 23, 1852:--
GREAT SALE OF NEGROES, MULES, CATTLE, &c.
On TUESDAY, the 21st day of December next, at
the Plantation of the late N. A. MC NAIRY, on the
Franklin Turnpike, on account of Mrs. C. B. McNairy, Executrix, we will offer
at Public Sale
FIFTY VALUABLE NEGROES.
These Negroes are good Plantation Negroes, and will be sold in families.
Those wishing to purchase will do well to see them before the day of sale.
Also TEN FINE WORK MULES, TWO JACKS AND ONE JENNET, MILCH
COWS, AND CALVES, Cattle, Stock Hogs, 1200 barrels Corn, Oats, Hay, Fodder,&
c. Two Wagons, one Cart, Farming Utensils, &c.
From the Newberry Sentinel:--
The subscriber will sell at Auction, on the 15th of this month, at the
Plantation on which he resides, distant eleven miles from the Town of Newberry,
and near the Laurens Railroad,
TWENTY-TWO YOUNG AND LIKELY NEGROES;
comprising able-bodied field hands, good cooks, house servants, and an
excellent blacksmith. About 1500 bushels of corn, a quantity of fodder, hogs,
mules, sheep, neat cattle, household and kitchen furniture, and other property.
Terms made public on day of sale.
Dec. 1. M. C. GARY.
*"Laurensville Herald" copy till day of sale.
From the South Carolinian, October 21, 1852:--
ESTATE SALE OF VALUABLE PROPERTY.
The undersigned, as Administrator of the Estate of Col. T. Randell, deceased,
will sell, on MONDAY, the 20th December next, all
the personal property belonging to said estate, consisting of 56 NEGROES,
STOCK, CORN, FODDER, &c. &c. The sale will take place
at the residence of the deceased, on Sandy River, 10 miles west of Chesterville.
Terms of sale: The negroes on a credit of 12 months, with interest from
day of sale, and two good sureties. The other property will be sold for cash.
Sept. 2. SAMUEL J. RANDELL.
See also New Orleans Bee, October 28. After advertising
the landed estate of Madeline Lanoux, deceased, comes the following enumeration
Twelve slaves, men and women; a small, quite new schooner; a ferrying flat
boat; some cows, calves, heifers, and sheep; a lot of household furniture;
the contents of a store, consisting of hard-ware, crockery-ware, groceries,
dry goods, &c.
Now, suppose all parents to be as pious and benevolent as Mr. Jones--a
thing not at all to be hoped for, as things are--and suppose them to
try their very best to impress on the child a conviction that all souls are
of equal value in the sight of God; that the negro soul is as truly beloved
of Christ, and ransomed with his blood, as the master's; and is there any
such thing as making him believe or realise it? Will he believe that that
which he sees every week advertised with hogs, and horses, and fodder, and
cotton-seed, and refuse furniture--bedsteads, tables, and chairs--is
indeed so divine a thing? We will suppose that the little child knows some
pious slave; that he sees him at the communion-table, partaking, in a far-off,
solitary manner, of the sacramental bread and wine. He sees his pious father
and mother recognise the slave as a Christian brother; they tell him that
he is an "heir of God, a joint heir with Jesus Christ;" and the
next week he sees him advertised in the paper, in company with a lot of hogs,
stock, and fodder. Can the child possibly believe in what his Christian parents
have told him when he sees this? We have spoken now of only the common advertisements
of the paper; but suppose the child to live in some districts of the country,
and advertisements of a still more degrading character meet his eye. In the
State of Alabama, a newspaper devoted to politics, literature, and EDUCATION,
has a standing weekly advertisement, of which this is a copy:--
The undersigned having an excellent pack of HOUNDS,
for trailing and catching runaway slaves, informs the public that his prices
in future will be as follows for such services:--
|For each day employed in hunting or trailing
|For catching each slave
|For going over ten miles and catching slaves
If sent for, the above prices will be exacted in cash. The subscriber resides
one mile and a half south of Dadeville, Ala.
Dadaville, Sept. 1, 1852.
The reader will see by the printer's sign at the bottom that it is a season
advertisement, and, therefore, would meet the eye of the child week after
week. The paper from which we have cut this contains among its extracts passages
from Dickens's "Household Words," from Professor Felton's article
in the "Christian Examiner" on the relation of the sexes, and
a most beautiful and chivalrous appeal from the eloquent senator Soule on
the legal rights of women. Let us now ask, since this paper is devoted to
education, what sort of an educational influence such advertisements have?
And, of course, such an establishment is not kept up without patronage. Where
there are negro-hunters advertising in a paper, there are also negro-hunts,
and there are dogs being trained to hunt; and all this process goes on before
the eyes of children; and what sort of an education is it?
The writer has received an account of the way in which dogs are trained
for this business. The information has been communicated to the gentleman
who writes it by a negro man, who, having been always accustomed to see it
done, described it with as little sense of there being anything out of the
way in it as if the dogs had been trained to catch raccoons. It came to the
writer in a recent letter from the South:--
The way to train 'em (says the man) is to take these yer pups--any
kind o' pups will do--fox-hounds, bull-dogs, most any; but take the pups,
and keep 'em shut up, and don't let 'em never see a nigger till they get big
enough to be larned. When the pups gits old enough to be set on to things,
then make 'em run after a nigger; and when they cotches him, give 'em meat.
Tell the nigger to run as hard as he can, and git up in a tree, so as to larn
the dogs to tree 'em; then take the shoe of a nigger, and larn 'em to find
the nigger it belongs to; then a rag of his clothes; and so on. Allers be
carful to tree the nigger, and teach the dog to wait and bark under the tree
till you come up and give him his meat.
See also the following advertisement from the Ouachita
Register, a newspaper dated "Monroe, La., Tuesday evening, June
The undersigned would respectfully inform the citizens of Ouachita and
adjacent parishes, that he has located about 2½ miles east of John
White's, on the road leading from Monroe to Bastrop, and that he has a fine
pack of Dogs for catching negroes. Persons wishing negroes caught will do
well to gave him a call. He can always be found at his stand when not engaged
in hunting, and even then information of his whereabouts can always be had
of some one on the premises.
Terms.--Five dollars per day and found, when
there is no track pointed out. When the track is shown, twenty-five dollars
will be charged for catching the negro.
M. C. GOFF. Monroe, Feb. 17, 1852. 15-3m.
Now, do not all the scenes likely to be enacted under this head form a
fine education for the children of a Christian nation? and can we wonder if
children so formed see no cruelty in slavery? Can children realise that creatures
who are thus hunted are the children of one heavenly Father with themselves?
But suppose the boy grows up to be a man, and attends the courts of justice,
and hears intelligent, learned men declaring from the bench that "the
mere beating of a slave, unaccompanied by any circumstances of cruelty, or
an attempt to kill, is no breach of the peace of the State." Suppose
he hears it decided in the same place that no insult or outrage upon any slave
is considered worthy of legal redress, unless it impairs his property value.
Suppose he hears, as he would in Virginia, that it is the policy of the law
to protect the master even in inflicting cruel, malicious, and excessive punishment
upon the slave. Suppose a slave is murdered and he hears the lawyers arguing
that it cannot be considered a murder, because the slave, in law, is not considered
a human being; and then suppose the case is appealed to a superior court,
and he hears the judge expending his forces on a long and eloquent dissertation
to prove that the slave is a human being; at least,
that he is as much so as a lunatic, an idiot, or an unborn child, and that,
therefore, he can be murdered. (See Judge Clarke's speech, on p. 175.) Suppose
he sees that all the administration of law with regard to the slave proceeds
on the idea that he is absolutely nothing more than a bale of merchandise.
Suppose he hears such language as this, which occurs in the reasonings of
the Brazealle case, and which is a fair sample of the manner in which such
subjects are ordinarily discussed. "The slave has no more political
capacity, no more right to purchase, hold, or transfer property,
than the mule in his plough; he is in himself but a mere chattel--the
subject of absolute ownership." Suppose he sees on the statute-book
such sentences as these, from the civil code of Louisiana:--
Art. 2500. The latent defects of slaves and animals are divided into two
classes--vices of body, and vices of character.
Art. 2501. The vices of body are distinguished into absolute and relative.
Art. 2502. The absolute vices of slaves are leprosy, madness, and epilepsy.
Art. 2503. The absolute vices of horses and mules, are short wind, glanders,
The influence of this language is made all the stronger on the young mind
from the fact that it is not the language of contempt, or of passion, but
of calm, matter-of-fact, legal statement.
What effect must be produced on the mind of the young man when he comes
to see that, however atrocious and however well-proved be the murder of a
slave, the murderer uniformly escapes; and that, though the cases where the
slave has fallen a victim to passions of the white are so multiplied, yet
the fact of an execution for such a crime is yet almost unknown in the country?
Does not all this tend to produce exactly that estimate of the value of negro
life and happiness which Frederic Douglass says was expressed by a common
proverb among the white boys where he was brought up: "It's worth sixpence
to kill a nigger, and sixpence more to bury him?"
We see the public sentiment which has been formed by this kind of education
exhibited by the following paragraph from the Cambridge
Democrat, Md., Oct. 27, 1852. That paper quotes the following from the
Woodville Republican, of Mississippi. It seems a Mr. Joshua
Johns had killed a slave, and had been sentenced therefore to the penitentiary
for two years. The Republican thus laments his hard
STATE v. JOSHUA JOHNS.
This cause resulted in the conviction of Johns, and his sentence to the>Penitentiary
for two years. Although every member of the jury, together with the bar, and
the public generally, signed a petition to the governor for young Johns' pardon,
yet there was no fault to find with the verdict of the jury. The extreme youth
of Johns, and the circumstances in which the killing occurred, enlisted universal
sympathy in his favour. There is no doubt that the negro had provoked him
to the deed by the use of insolent language; but how often must it be told
that words are no justification for blows? There are many persons--and
we regret to say it--who think they have the same right to shoot a negro,
if he insults them, or even runs from them, that they have to shoot down a
dog but there are laws for the protection of the slave as well
as the master, and the sooner the error above alluded to is removed, the better
will it be for both parties.
The unfortunate youth who has now entailed upon himself the penalty of
the law, we doubt not, had no idea that there existed such penalty; and even
if he was aware of the fact, the repeated insults and taunts of the negro
go far to mitigate the crime. Johns was defended by I. D. Gildart, Esq., who
probably did all that could have been effected in his defence.
The Democrat adds:
We learn from Mr. Curry, deputy sheriff, of Wilkinson County, that Johns
has been pardoned by the governor. We are gratified to hear it.
This error above alluded to, of thinking it is as innocent to shoot down
a negro as a dog, is one, we fairly admit, for which young Johns ought not
to be very severely blamed. He has been educated in a system of things of
which this opinion is the inevitable result; and he, individually, is far
less guilty for it than are those men who support the system of laws, and
keep up the educational influences, which lead young Southern men directly
to this conclusion. Johns may be, for aught we know, as generous-hearted and
as just naturally as any young man living; but the horrible system under which
he has been educated has rendered him incapable of distinguishing what either
generosity or justice is, as applied to the negro.
The public sentiment of the slave-states is the sentiment of men who have
been thus educated, and in all that concerns the negro it is utterly blunted
and paralysed. What would seem to them injustice and horrible wrong in the
case of white persons, is the coolest matter of course in relation to slaves.
As this educational influence descends from generation to generation, the
moral sense becomes more and more blunted, and the power of discriminating
right from wrong, in what relates to the subject race, more and more enfeebled.
Thus, if we read the writings of distinguished men who were slave-holders
about the time of our American revolution, what clear views do we find expressed
of the injustice of slavery, what strong language of reprobation do we find
applied to it! Nothing more forcible could possibly be said in relation to
its evils than by quoting the language of such men as Washington, Jefferson,
and Patrick Henry. In those days there were no men of that high class of mind
who thought of such a thing as defending slavery on principle; now there are
an abundance of the most distinguished men, North and South, statesmen, civilians,
men of letters, even clergymen, who, in various degrees, palliate it, apologise
for or openly defend it. And what is the cause of this, except
that educational influences have corrupted public sentiment, and deprived
them of the power of just judgment? The public opinion
even of free America, with regard to slavery, is behind that of all other
When the holders of slaves assert that they are, as a general thing, humanely
treated, what do they mean? Not that they would consider such treatment humane
if given to themselves and their children--no, indeed!--but it is
humane for slaves.
They do, in effect, place the negro below the range of humanity, and on
a level with brutes, and then graduate all their ideas of humanity accordingly.
They would not needlessly kick or abuse a dog or a negro. They may pet
a dog, and they often do a negro. Men have been found who fancied having their
horses elegantly lodged in marble stables, and to eat out of sculptured managers,
but they thought them horses still; and, with all the indulgences with which
good-natured masters sometimes surround the slave, he is to them but a negro
still, and not a man.
In what has been said in this chapter, and in what appears incidentally
in all the facts cited throughout this volume, there is abundant proof that,
notwithstanding there be frequent and most noble instances of generosity towards
the negro, and although the sentiment of honourable men and the voice of Christian
charity does everywhere protest against what it feels
to be inhumanity, yet the popular sentiment engendered by the system must
necessarily fall deplorably short of giving anything like
sufficient protection to the rights of the slave. It will appear in the succeeding
chapters, as it must already have appeared to reflecting minds, that the whole
course of educational influence upon the mind of the slave-master is such
as to deaden his mind to those appeals which come from the negro as a fellow-man
and a brother.