The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter X: What is to be Done?
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The thing to be done, of which I shall chiefly
speak, is, that the whole American Church, of all denominations, should unitedly
come up, not in form, but in fact, to the noble purpose avowed by the
Presbyterian Assembly of 1818, to
seek the entire abolition of slavery throughout America
and throughout Christendom.
To this noble course the united voice of Christians in all other countries
is urgently calling the American Church. Expressions of this feeling have
come from Christians of all denominations in England, in Scotland, in Ireland,
in France, in Switzerland, in Germany, in Persia, in the Sandwich Islands,
and in China. All seem to be animated by one spirit. They have loved and honoured
this American Church. They have rejoiced in the brightness of her rising.
Her prosperity and success have been to them as their own, and they have had
hopes that God meant to confer inestimable blessings through her upon all
nations. The American Church has been to them like the rising of a glorious
sun, shedding healing from his wings, dispersing mists and fogs, and bringing
songs of birds and voices of cheerful industry, and sounds of gladness, contentment,
and peace. But lo! in this beautiful orb is seen a disastrous spot of dim
eclipse, whose gradually widening shadow threatens a total darkness. Can we
wonder that the voice of remonstrance comes to us from those who have so much
at stake in our prosperity and success? We have sent out our missionaries
to all quarters of the globe; but how shall they tell their heathen converts
the things that are done in Christianised America? How shall our missionaries
in Mahometan countries hold up their heads, and proclaim the superiority of
our religion, when we tolerate barbarities which they have repudiated?
A missionary among the Karens, in Asia, writes back that his course is
much embarrassed by a suspicion that is afloat among the Karens that the Americans
intend to steal and sell them. He says:--
I dread the time when these Karens will be able to read our books, and
get a full knowledge of all that is going on in our country. Many of them
are very inquisitive now, and often ask me questions that I find it very difficult
No, there is no resource. The Church of the United States is shut up, in
the providence of God, to one work. She can never fulfil her mission till
this is done. So long as she neglects this, it will lie in the way of everything
else which she attempts to do.
She must undertake it for another reason--because she alone can perform
the work peaceably. If this fearful problem is left to take its course as
a mere political question, to be ground out between the upper and nether millstones
of political parties, then what will avert agitation, angry collisions, and
the desperate rending of the Union? No, there is no safety but in making it
a religious enterprise, and pursuing it in a Christian spirit, and by religious
If it now be asked what means shall the Church employ, we answer, this
evil must be abolished by the same means which the apostles first used for
the spread of Christianity, and the extermination of all the social evils
which then filled a world lying in wickedness. Hear the apostle enumerate
them: "By pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering,
by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the armour of righteousness on the
right hand and on the left."
We will briefly consider each of these means.
First, "by Pureness." Christians in the Northern free States
must endeavour to purify themselves and the country from various malignant
results of the system of slavery; and, in particular, they must endeavour
to abolish that which is the most sinful-- the unchristian prejudice
In Hindostan there is a class called the Pariahs, with which no other class
will associate, eat, or drink. Our missionaries tell the converted Hindoo
that this prejudice is unchristian; for God hath made of one blood all who
dwell on the face of the earth, and all mankind are brethren in Christ. With
what face shall they tell this to the Hindoo, if he is able to reply, "In
your own Christian country there is a class of Pariahs who are treated no
better than we treat ours. You do not yourselves believe the things you teach
Let us look at the treatment of the free negro at the North. In the States
of Indiana and Illinois, the most oppressive and unrighteous laws have been
passed with regard to him. No law of any slave State could be more cruel in
its spirit than that recently passed in Illinois by which every free negro
coming into the State is taken up and sold for a certain time,
and then, if he do not leave the State, is sold again.
With what face can we exhort our Southern brethren to emancipate their
slaves, if we do not set the whole moral power of the Church at the North
against such abuses as this? Is this course justified by saying that the negro
is vicious and idle? This is adding insult to injury.
What is it these Christian States do? To a great extent they exclude the
coloured population from their schools; they discourage them from attending
their churches by invidious distinctions; as a general fact, they exclude
them from their shops, where they might learn useful arts and trades; they
crowd them out of the better callings where they might earn an honourable
livelihood; and having thus discouraged every elevated aspiration, and reduced
them to almost inevitable ignorance, idleness, and vice, they fill up the
measure of iniquity by making cruel laws to expel them from their States,
thus heaping up wrath against the day of wrath.
If we say that every Christian at the South who does not use his utmost
influence against the iniquitous slave-laws is guilty, as a republican citizen,
of sustaining those laws, it is no less true that every Christian at the North
who does not do what in him lies to procure the repeal of such laws in the
free States, is, so far, guilty for their existence. Of late years we have
had abundant quotations from the Old Testament to justify all manner of oppression.
A Hindoo, who knew nothing of this generous and beautiful book, except from
such pamphlets as Mr. Smylie's, might possibly think it was a treatise on
piracy, and a general justification of robbery. But let us quote from it the
directions which God gives for the treatment of the stranger: "If a
stranger sojourn with you in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger
that dwelleth among you shall be as one born among you; thou shalt love him
as thyself." How much more does this apply when the stranger has been
brought into our land by the injustice and cruelty of our fathers!
We are happy to say, however, that the number of States in which such oppressive
legislation exists is small. It is also matter of encouragement and hope that
the unphilosophical and unchristian prejudice of caste is materially giving
way, in many parts of our country, before a kinder and more Christian spirit.
Many of our schools and colleges are willing to receive the coloured applicant
on equal terms with the white. Some of the Northern free States accord to
the coloured freeman full political equality and privileges. Some of the coloured
people, under this encouragement, have, in many parts of our
country, become rich and intelligent. A very fair proportion of educated men
is rising among them. There are among them respectable editors, eloquent orators,
and laborious and well-instructed clergymen. It gives us pleasure to say that,
among intelligent and Christian people, these men are treated with the consideration
they deserve; and, if they meet with insult and ill-treatment, it is commonly
from the less-educated class, who, being less enlightened, are always longer
under the influence of prejudice. At a recent ordination at one of the largest
and most respectable churches in New York, the moderator of the Presbytery
was a black man, who began life as a slave; and it was undoubtedly a source
of gratification to all his Christian brethren to see him presiding in this
capacity. He put the questions to the candidates in the German language, the
church being in part composed of Germans. Our Christian friends in Europe
may, at least, infer from this that, if we have had our faults in times past,
we have, some of us, seen and are endeavouring to correct them.
To bring this head at once to a practical conclusion, the writer will say
to every individual Christian, who wishes to do something for the abolition
of slavery, Begin by doing what lies in your power for the coloured people
in your vicinity. Are there children excluded from schools by unchristian
prejudice? Seek to combat that prejudice by fair arguments, presented in a
right spirit. If you cannot succeed, then endeavour to provide for the education
of these children in some other manner. As far as in you lies, endeavour to
secure for them, in every walk of life, the ordinary privileges of American
citizens. If they are excluded from the omnibus and railroad-car in the place
where you reside, endeavour to persuade those who have the control of these
matters to pursue a more just and reasonable course. Those Christians who
are heads of mechanical establishments can do much for the cause by receiving
coloured apprentices. Many masters excuse themselves for excluding the coloured
apprentice by saying that, if they receive him, all their other hands will
desert them. To this it is replied, that if they do the thing in a Christian
temper and for a Christian purpose, the probability is that, if their hands
desert at first, they will return to them at last--all of them, at least,
whom they would care to retain.
A respectable dressmaker in one of our towns has, as a matter of principle,
taken coloured girls for apprentices; thus furnishing them with a respectable
means of livelihood. Christian mechanics, in all the walks of life, are earnestly
requested to consider this subject, and see if, by offering
their hand to raise this poor people to respectability, and knowledge, and
competence, they may not be performing a service which the Lord will accept
as done unto himself.
Another thing which is earnestly commended to Christians is the raising
and comforting of those poor Churches of coloured people, who have been discouraged,
dismembered, and disheartened by the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law.
In the city of Boston is a Church which, even now, is struggling with debt
and embarrassment, caused by being obliged to buy its own deacons, to shield
them from the terrors of that law.
Lastly, Christians at the North, we need not say, should abstain from
all trading in slaves, whether direct or indirect, whether
by partnership with Southern houses or by receiving immortal beings as security
for debt. It is not necessary to expand this point. It speaks for itself.
By all these means the Christian Church at the North must secure for itself
purity from all complicity with the sin of slavery, and from the unchristian
customs and prejudices which have resulted from it.
The second means to be used for the abolition of slavery is "Knowledge."
Every Christian ought thoroughly, carefully, and prayerfully to examine
this system of slavery. He should regard it as one upon which he is bound
to have right views and right opinions, and to exert a right influence in
forming and concentrating a powerful public sentiment, of all others the most
efficacious remedy. Many people are deterred from examining the statistics
on this subject, because they do not like the men who have collected them.
They say they do not like abolitionists, and therefore they will not attend
to those facts and figures which they have accumulated. This, certainly, is
not wise or reasonable. In all other subjects which deeply affect our interests,
we think it best to take information where we can get it, whether we like
the persons who give it to us or not.
Every Christian ought seriously to examine the extent to which our national
government is pledged and used for the support of slavery. He should thoroughly
look into the statistics of slavery in the District of Columbia, and, above
all, into the statistics of that awful system of legalised piracy and oppression
by which hundreds and thousands are yearly born from home and friends, and
all that heart holds dear, and carried to be sold like beasts
in the markets of the South. The smoke from this bottomless abyss of injustice
puts out the light of our Sabbath suns in the eyes of all nations. Its awful
groans and wailings drown the voice of our psalms and religious melodies.
All nations know these things of us, and shall we not know them of ourselves?
Shall we not have courage, shall we not have patience, to investigate thoroughly
our own bad case, and gain a perfect knowledge of the length and breadth of
the evil we seek to remedy?
The third means for the abolition of slavery is by "Long-suffering."
Of this quality there has been some lack in the attempts that have hitherto
been made. The friends of the cause have not had patience with each other,
and have not been able to treat each other's opinions with forbearance. There
have been many painful things in the past history of this subject; but is
it not time when all the friends of the slave should adopt the motto,
"forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth
unto those which are before?" Let not the believers of immediate abolition
call those who believe in gradual emancipation time-servers and traitors;
and let not the upholders of gradual emancipation call the advocates of immediate
abolition fanatics and incendiaries. Surely some more brotherly way of convincing
good men can be found, than by standing afar off on some Ebal and Gerizim,
and cursing each other. The truth spoken in love will always go further than
the truth spoken in wrath; and, after all, the great object is to persuade
our Southern brethren to admit the idea of any emancipation
at all. When we have succeeded in persuading them that anything
is necessary to be done, then will be the time for bringing
up the question whether the object shall be accomplished by an immediate or
a gradual process. Meanwhile, let our motto be, "Whereto we have already
attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same things; and if
any man be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto him." "Let
us receive even him that is weak in the faith, but not to doubtful disputations."
Let us not reject the good there is in any, because of some remaining defects.
We come now to the consideration of a power without which all others must
fail--"the Holy Ghost."
The solemn creed of every Christian Church, whether Roman, Greek. Episcopal,
or Protestant, says, "I believe in the Holy Ghost." But how often do
Christians, in all these denominations, live
and act, and even conduct their religious affairs as if they
had "never so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost."
If we trust to our own reasonings, our own misguided passions, and our own
blind self-will, to effect the reform of abuses, we shall utterly fail. There
is a power, silent, convincing, irresistible, which moves over the dark and
troubled heart of man, as of old it moved over the dark and troubled waters
of Chaos, bringing light out of darkness, and order out of confusion.
Is it not evident to everyone who takes enlarged views of human society
that a gentle but irresistible influence is pervading the human race, prompting
groanings, and longings, and dim aspirations for some coming era of good?
Worldly men read the signs of the times, and call this power the
Spirit of the Age--but should not the Church acknowledge it as the
Spirit of God?
Let it not be forgotten, however, that the gift of his most powerful regenerating
influence, at the opening of the Christian dispensation, was conditioned on
prayer. The mighty movement that began on the day of Pentecost was preceded
by united, fervent, persevering prayer. A similar spirit of prayer must precede
the coming of the divine Spirit, to effect a revolution so great as that at
which we aim. The most powerful instrumentality which God has delegated to
man, and around which cluster all his glorious promises, is prayer. All past
prejudices and animosities on this subject must be laid aside, and the whole
Church unite as one man in earnest, fervent prayer. Have we forgotten the
promise of the Holy Ghost? Have we forgotten that He was to abide with us
for ever? Have we forgotten that it is He who is to convince the world of
sin, of righteousness, and of judgment? O divine and Holy Comforter! thou
promise of the Father! thou only powerful to enlighten, convince, and renew!
return, we beseech thee, and visit this vine and this vineyard of thy planting!
With thee nothing is impossible; and what we, in our weakness, can scarcely
conceive, thou canst accomplish!
Another means for the abolition of slavery is "Love unfeigned."
In all moral conflicts, that party who can preserve, through every degree
of opposition and persecution, a divine, unprovokable spirit of love, must
finally conquer. Such are the immutable laws of the moral world. Anger, wrath,
selfishness, and jealousy have all a certain degree of vitality. They often
produce more show, more noise, and temporary result than love. Still, all
these passions have in themselves the seeds of weakness. Love, and love only,
is immortal; and when all the grosser passions of the soul
have spent themselves by their own force, love looks forth like the unchanging
star, with a light that never dies.
In undertaking this work, we must love both the slaveholder and the slave.
We must never forget that both are our brethren. We must expect to be misrepresented,
to be slandered, and to be hated. How can we attack so powerful an interest
without it? We must be satisfied simply with the pleasure of being true friends,
while we are treated as bitter enemies.
This holy controversy must be one of principle, and not of sectional bitterness.
We must not suffer it to degenerate, in our hands, into a violent prejudice
against the South; and, to this end, we must keep continually before our minds
the more amiable features and attractive qualities of those with whose principles
we are obliged to conflict. If they say all manner of evil against us, we
must reflect that we expose them to great temptation to do so when we assail
institutions to which they are bound by a thousand ties of interest and early
association, and to whose evils habit has made them in a great degree insensible.
The apostle gives us this direction in cases where we are called upon to deal
with offending brethren, "Consider thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
We may apply this to our own case, and consider that if we had been exposed
to the temptations which surround our friends at the South, and received the
same education, we might have felt, and thought, and acted as they do. But,
while we cherish all these considerations, we must also remember that it is
no love to the South to countenance and defend a pernicious system; a system
which is as injurious to the master as to the slave; a system which turns
fruitful fields to deserts; a system ruinous to education, to morals, and
to religion and social progress; a system of which many of the most intelligent
and valuable men at the South are weary, and from which they desire to escape,
and by emigration are yearly escaping. Neither must we concede the rights
of the slave; for he is also our brother, and there is a reason why we should
speak for him which does not exist in the case of his master. He is poor,
uneducated, and ignorant, and cannot speak for himself. We must, therefore,
with greater jealousy, guard his rights. Whatever else we compromise, we must
not compromise the rights of the helpless, nor the eternal principles of rectitude
We must never concede that it is an honourable thing to deprive working-men
of their wages, though, like many other abuses, it is customary, reputable,
and popular, and though amiable men, under the influence of old prejudices,
still continue to do it. Never, not even for a moment, should we admit the
thought that an heir of God and a joint heir of Jesus Christ
may lawfully be sold upon the auction-block, though it be a common custom.
We must repudiate, with determined severity, the blasphemous doctrine of property
in human beings.
Some have supposed it an absurd refinement to talk about separating principles
and persons, or to admit that he who upholds a bad system can be a good man.
All experience proves the contrary. Systems most unjust and despotic have
been defended by men personally just and humane. It is a melancholy consideration,
but no less true, that there is almost no absurdity and no injustice that
has not, at some period of the world's history, had the advantage of some
good man's virtues in its support.
It is a part of our trial in this imperfect life--were evil systems
only supported by the evil, our moral discipline would be much less severe
than it is, and our course in attacking error far plainer.
On the whole, we cannot but think that there was much Christian wisdom
in the remark, which we have before quoted, of a poor old slave-woman, whose
whole life had been darkened by this system, that we must
"hate the sin, but love the sinner."
The last means for the abolition of slavery is the armour of righteousness
on the right hand and on the left.
By this we mean an earnest application of all straightforward, honourable,
and just measures, for the removal of the system of slavery. Every man, in
his place, should remonstrate against it. All its sophistical arguments should
be answered, its biblical defences unmasked, by correct reasoning and interpretation.
Every mother should teach the evil of it to her children. Every clergyman
should fully and continually warm his Church against any complicity with such
a sin. It is said that this would be introducing politics into the pulpit.
It is answered that, since people will have to give an account of their political
actions in the day of judgment, it seems proper that the minister should instruct
them somewhat as to their political responsibilities. In that day Christ will
ask no man whether he was of this or that party; but he certainly will ask
him whether he gave his vote in the fear of God, and for the advancement of
the kingdom of righteousness.
It is often objected that slavery is a distant sin, with which we have
nothing to do. If any clergyman wishes to test this fact, let him once plainly
and faithfully preach upon it. He will probably, then, find that the roots
of the poison-tree have run under the very hearthstone of New England families,
and that in his very congregation are those in complicity with
It is no child's play to attack an institution which has absorbed into
itself so much of the political power and wealth of this nation; and they
who try it will soon find that they wrestle "not with flesh and blood."
No armour will do for this warfare but the "armour of righteousness."
To our brethren in the South, God has pointed out a more arduous conflict.
The very heart shrinks to think what the faithful Christian must endure who
assails this institution on its own ground; but it must
be done. How was it at the North? There was a universal effort to put
down the discussion of it here by mob law. Printing-presses were broken, houses
torn down, property destroyed. Brave men, however, stood firm; martyr blood
was shed for the right of free opinion in speech; and so the right of discussion
was established. Nobody tries that sort of argument now--its day is past.
In Kentucky, also, they tried to stop the discussion by similar means. Mob
violence destroyed a printing-press, and threatened the lives of individuals.
But there were brave men there, who feared not violence or threats of death;
and emancipation is now open for discussion in Kentucky. The fact is, the
South must discuss the matter of slavery. She cannot shut it
out, unless she lays an embargo on the
literature of the whole civilised world. If it be, indeed, divine and God-appointed,
why does she so tremble to have it touched? If it be of God, all the free
inquiry in the world cannot overthrow it. Discussion must and will come. It
only requires courageous men to lead the way.
Brethren in the South, there are many of you who are truly convinced that
slavery is a sin, a tremendous wrong; but if you confess your sentiments,
and endeavour to propagate your opinions, you think that persecution, affliction,
and even death await you. How can we ask you, then, to come forward? We
do not ask it. Ourselves weak, irresolute, and worldly, shall we ask
you to do what perhaps we ourselves should not dare? But we will beseech
Him to speak to you, who dared and endured more than this
for your sake, and who can strengthen you to dare and endure for His. He can
raise you above all temporary and worldly considerations. He can inspire you
with that love to himself which will make you willing to leave father and
mother, and wife and child, yea, to give up life itself, for his sake. And
if ever he brings you to that place where you and this world take a final
farewell of each other, where you make up your mind solemnly to give all up
for his cause, where neither life nor death, nor things present,
nor things to come, can move you from this purpose--then will you know
a joy which is above all other joy, a peace constant and unchanging as the
eternal God from whom it springs.
Dear brethren, is this system to go on for ever in your land? Can you think
these slave-laws anything but an abomination to a just God? Can you think
this internal slave-trade to be anything but an abomination in his sight?
Look, we beseech you, into those awful slave-prisons which are in your
cities. Do the groans and prayers which go up from those dreary mansions promise
well for the prosperity of our country?
Look, we beseech you, at the mournful march of the slave-coffles; follow
the bloody course of the slave-ships on your coast. What, suppose you, does
the Lamb of God think of all these things? He whose heart was so tender that
he wept, at the grave of Lazarus, over a sorrow that he was so soon to turn
into joy--what does he think of this constant, heart-breaking, yearly-repeated
anguish? What does he think of Christian wives forced from their husbands,
and husbands from their wives? What does he think of Christian daughters,
whom his Church first educates, indoctrinates, and baptises, and then leaves
to be sold as merchandise?
Think you such prayers as poor Paul Edmondson's, such death-bed scenes
as Emily Russell's, are witnessed without emotion by that generous Saviour,
who regards what is done to his meanest servant as done to himself?
Did it never seem to you, O Christian! when you have read the sufferings
of Jesus, that you would gladly have suffered with him? Does it never seem
almost ungenerous to accept eternal life as the price of such anguish on his
part, while you bear no cross for him? Have you ever wished you could have
watched with him in that bitter conflict at Gethsemane, when even his chosen
slept? Have you ever wished that you could have stood by him when all forsook
him and fled--that you could have owned when Peter denied--that
you could have honoured him when buffeted and spit upon? Would you think it
too much honour? Could you, like Mary, have followed him to the cross, and
stood a patient sharer of that despised, unpitied agony? That you
cannot do. That hour is over. Christ now is exalted, crowned,
glorified; all men speak well of him, rich Churches rise to him, and costly
sacrifice goes up to him. What chance have you, among the multitude, to prove
your love--to show that you would stand by him discrowned, dishonoured,
tempted, betrayed, and suffering? Can you show it in any way but
by espousing the cause of his suffering poor? Is there a people among you
despised and rejected of men, heavy with oppression, acquainted with grief,
with all the power of wealth and fashion, of political and worldly influence,
arrayed against their cause? Christian, you can acknowledge Christ in them!
If you turn away indifferent from this cause--"if thou forbear
to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that be ready to be slain;
if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not, doth not he that pondereth the heart
consider it? and he that keepeth the soul, doth he not know it? Shall he not
render to every man according to his works?"
In the last judgment will he not say to you, "I have been in the
slave-prison--in the slave-coffle; I have been sold in your markets;
I have toiled for naught in your fields; I have been smitten on the mouth
in your courts of justice; I have been denied a hearing in my own Church,
and ye cared not for it. Ye went, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise."
And if ye shall answer, "When, Lord?"
He shall say unto you, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of
these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."