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Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Chapter XVI: The Civil War, 1860-1865.
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Immediately after Mrs. Stowe's return from Europe, it became only too
evident that the nation was rapidly and inevitably drifting into all
the horrors of civil war. To use her own words: "It was God's will
that this nation--the North as well as the South--should deeply and
terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great
oppressions of the South; that the ill-gotten wealth, which had arisen
from striking hands with oppression and robbery, should be paid back
in the taxes of war; that the blood of the poor slave, that had cried
so many years from the ground in vain, should be answered by the blood
of the sons from the best hearthstones through all the free States;
that the slave mothers, whose tears nobody regarded, should have with
them a great company of weepers, North and South,--Rachels weeping for
their children and refusing to be comforted; that the free States, who
refused to listen when they were told of lingering starvation, cold,
privation, and barbarous cruelty, as perpetrated on the slave, should
have lingering starvation, cold, hunger, and cruelty doing its work
among their own sons, at the hands of these slave-masters, with whose
sins our nation had connived."
Mrs. Stowe spoke from personal experience, having seen her own son go
forth in the ranks of those who first responded to the President's
call for volunteers. He was one of the first to place his name on the
muster-roll of Company A of the First Massachusetts Volunteers. While
his regiment was still at the camp in Cambridge, Mrs. Stowe was called
to Brooklyn on important business, from which place she writes to her
husband under the date June 11, 1861:--
"Yesterday noon Henry (Ward Beecher) came in, saying that the
Commonwealth, with the First (Massachusetts) Regiment on board, had
just sailed by. Immediately I was of course eager to get to Jersey
City to see Fred. Sister Eunice said she would go with me, and in a
few minutes she, Hatty, Sam Scoville, and I were in a carriage,
driving towards the Fulton Ferry. Upon reaching Jersey City we found
that the boys were dining in the depot, an immense building with many
tracks and platforms. It has a great cast-iron gallery just under the
roof, apparently placed there with prophetic instinct of these times.
There was a crowd of people pressing against the grated doors, which
were locked, but through which we could see the soldiers. It was with
great difficulty that we were at last permitted to go inside, and that
object seemed to be greatly aided by a bit of printed satin that some
man gave Mr. Scoville.
"When we were in, a vast area of gray caps and blue overcoats was
presented. The boys were eating, drinking, smoking, talking, singing,
and laughing. Company A was reported to be here, there, and
everywhere. At last S. spied Fred in the distance, and went leaping
across the tracks towards him. Immediately afterwards a blue-
overcoated figure bristling with knapsack and haversack, and looking
like an assortment of packages, came rushing towards us.
"Fred was overjoyed, you may be sure, and my first impulse was to wipe
his face with my handkerchief before I kissed him. He was in high
spirits, in spite of the weight of blue overcoat, knapsack, etc.,
etc., that he would formerly have declared intolerable for half an
hour. I gave him my handkerchief and Eunice gave him hers, with a
sheer motherly instinct that is so strong within her, and then we
filled his haversack with oranges.
"We stayed with Fred about two hours, during which time the gallery
was filled with people, cheering and waving their handkerchiefs. Every
now and then the band played inspiriting airs, in which the soldiers
joined with hearty voices. While some of the companies sang, others
were drilled, and all seemed to be having a general jollification. The
meal that had been provided was plentiful, and consisted of coffee,
lemonade, sandwiches, etc.
"On our way out we were introduced to the Rev. Mr. Cudworth, chaplain
of the regiment. He is a fine-looking man, with black eyes and hair,
set off by a white havelock. He wore a sword, and Fred, touching it,
asked, 'Is this for use or ornament, sir?'
"'Let me see you in danger,' answered the chaplain, 'and you'll find
"I said to him I supposed he had had many an one confided to his kind
offices, but I could not forbear adding one more to the number. He
answered, 'You may rest assured, Mrs. Stowe, I will do all in my
"We parted from Fred at the door. He said he felt lonesome enough
Saturday evening on the Common in Boston, where everybody was taking
leave of somebody, and he seemed to be the only one without a friend,
but that this interview made up for it all.
"I also saw young Henry. Like Fred he is mysteriously changed, and
wears an expression of gravity and care. So our boys come to manhood
in a day. Now I am watching anxiously for the evening paper to tell me
that the regiment has reached Washington in safety."
In November, 1862, Mrs. Stowe was invited to visit Washington, to be
present at a great thanksgiving dinner provided for the thousands of
fugitive slaves who had flocked to the city. She accepted the
invitation the more gladly because her son's regiment was encamped
near the city, and she should once more see him. He was now Lieutenant
Stowe, having honestly won his promotion by bravery on more than one
hard-fought field. She writes of this visit:
Imagine a quiet little parlor with a bright coal fire, and the
gaslight burning above a centre-table, about which Hatty, Fred, and I
are seated. Fred is as happy as happy can be to be with mother and
sister once more. All day yesterday we spent in getting him. First we
had to procure a permit to go to camp, then we went to the fort where
the colonel is, and then to another where the brigadier-general is
stationed. I was so afraid they would not let him come with us, and
was never happier than when at last he sprang into the carriage free
to go with us for forty-eight hours. "Oh!" he exclaimed in a sort of
rapture, "this pays for a year and a half of fighting and hard work!"
We tried hard to get the five o'clock train out to Laurel, where J.'s
regiment is stationed, as we wanted to spend Sunday all together; but
could not catch it, and so had to content ourselves with what we could
have. I have managed to secure a room for Fred next ours, and feel as
though I had my boy at home once more. He is looking very well, has
grown in thickness, and is as loving and affectionate as a boy can be.
I have just been writing a pathetic appeal to the brigadier-general to
let him stay with us a week. I have also written to General Buckingham
in regard to changing him from the infantry, in which there seems to
be no prospect of anything but garrison duty, to the cavalry, which is
full of constant activity.
General B. called on us last evening. He seemed to think the prospect
before us was, at best, of a long war. He was the officer deputed to
carry the order to General McClellan relieving him of command of the
army. He carried it to him in his tent about twelve o'clock at night.
Burnside was there. McClellan said it was very unexpected, but
immediately turned over the command. I said I thought he ought to have
expected it after having so disregarded the President's order. General
B. smiled and said he supposed McClellan had done that so often before
that he had no idea any notice would be taken of it this time.
Now, as I am very tired, I must close, and remain as always, lovingly
During the darkest and most bitter period of the Civil War, Mrs. Stowe
penned the following letter to the Duchess of Argyll:--
ANDOVER, July 31, 1863.
MY DEAR FRIEND,--Your lovely, generous letter was a real comfort to
me, and reminded me that a year--and, alas! a whole year--had passed
since I wrote to your dear mother, of whom I think so often as one of
God's noblest creatures, and one whom it comforts me to think is still
in our world.
So many, good and noble, have passed away whose friendship was
such a pride, such a comfort to me! Your noble father, Lady Byron,
Mrs. Browning,--their spirits are as perfect as ever passed to the
world of light. I grieve about your dear mother's eyes. I have thought
about you all, many a sad, long, quiet hour, as I have lain on my bed
and looked at the pictures on my wall; one, in particular, of the
moment before the Crucifixion, which is the first thing I look at when
I wake in the morning. I think how suffering is, and must be, the
portion of noble spirits, and no lot so brilliant that must not first
or last dip into the shadow of that eclipse. Prince Albert, too, the
ideal knight, the Prince Arthur of our times, the good, wise,
steady head and heart we--that is, our world, we Anglo-Saxons--need so
much. And the Queen! yes, I have thought of and prayed for her, too.
But could a woman hope to have always such a heart, and yet
ever be weaned from earth "all this and heaven, too"?
Under my picture I have inscribed, "Forasmuch as Christ also hath
suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind."
This year has been one long sigh, one smothering sob, to me. And I
thank God that we have as yet one or two generous friends in England
who understand and feel for our cause.
The utter failure of Christian, anti-slavery England, in those
instincts of a right heart which always can see where the cause
of liberty lies, has been as bitter a grief to me as was the similar
prostration of all our American religious people in the day of the
Fugitive Slave Law. Exeter Hall is a humbug, a pious humbug, like the
rest. Lord Shaftesbury. Well, let him go; he is a Tory, and has, after
all, the instincts of his class. But I saw your duke's speech
to his tenants! That was grand! If he can see these things,
they are to be seen, and why cannot Exeter Hall see them? It is simply
the want of the honest heart.
Why do the horrible barbarities of Southern soldiers cause no
comment? Why is the sympathy of the British Parliament reserved for
the poor women of New Orleans, deprived of their elegant amusement of
throwing vitriol into soldiers' faces, and practicing indecencies
inconceivable in any other state of society? Why is all
expression of sympathy on the Southern side? There is a class
of women in New Orleans whom Butler protects from horrible
barbarities, that up to his day have been practiced on them by these
so-called New Orleans ladies, but British sympathy has ceased to
notice them. You see I am bitter. I am. You wonder at my
brother. He is a man, and feels a thousand times more than I can, and
deeper than all he ever has expressed, the spirit of these things. You
must not wonder, therefore. Remember it is the moment when every nerve
is vital; it is our agony; we tread the winepress alone, and they
whose cheap rhetoric has been for years pushing us into it now desert
en masse. I thank my God I always loved and trusted most those
who now do stand true,--your family, your duke, yourself, your
noble mother. I have lost Lady Byron. Her great heart, her eloquent
letters, would have been such a joy to me! And Mrs. Browning, oh such
a heroic woman! None of her poems can express what she was,--so
grand, so comprehending, so strong, with such inspired insight! She
stood by Italy through its crisis. Her heart was with all good through
the world. Your prophecy that we shall come out better, truer,
stronger, will, I am confident, be true, and it was worthy of yourself
and your good lineage.
Slavery will be sent out by this agony. We are only in the throes and
ravings of the exorcism. The roots of the cancer have gone everywhere,
but they must die--will. Already the Confiscation Bill is its natural
destruction. Lincoln has been too slow. He should have done it sooner,
and with an impulse, but come it must, come it will. Your mother will
live to see slavery abolished, unless England forms an alliance
to hold it up. England is the great reliance of the slave-power to-
day, and next to England the faltering weakness of the North, which
palters and dare not fire the great broadside for fear of hitting
friends. These things must be done, and sudden, sharp remedies
are mercy. Just now we are in a dark hour; but whether God be
with us or not, I know He is with the slave, and with his redemption
will come the solution of our question. I have long known what
and who we had to deal with in this, for when I wrote "Uncle Tom's
Cabin" I had letters addressed to me showing a state of society
perfectly inconceivable. That they violate graves, make
drinking-cups of skulls, that ladies wear cameos cut from
bones, and treasure scalps, is no surprise to me. If I had written
what I knew of the obscenity, brutality, and cruelty of that society
down there, society would have cast out the books; and it is for their
interest, the interest of the whole race in the South, that we should
succeed. I wish them no ill, feel no bitterness; they have had
a Dahomian education which makes them savage. We don't expect any more
of them, but if slavery is destroyed, one generation of
education and liberty will efface these stains. They will come to
themselves, these States, and be glad it is over.
I am using up my paper to little purpose. Please give my best love to
your dear mother. I am going to write to her. If I only could have
written the things I have often thought! I am going to put on her
bracelet, with the other dates, that of the abolition of slavery in
the District of Columbia. Remember me to the duke and to your dear
children. My husband desires his best regards, my daughters also.
I am lovingly ever yours,
H. B. STOWE.
Later in the year we hear again from her son in the army, and this
time the news comes in a chaplain's letter from the terrible field of
Gettysburg. He writes:--
GETTYSBURG, PA., Saturday, July 11, 9.30 P. M.
MRS. H. B. STOWE:
Dear Madam,--Among the thousands of wounded and dying men on
this war-scarred field, I have just met with your son, Captain Stowe.
If you have not already heard from him, it may cheer your heart to
know that he is in the hands of good, kind friends. He was struck by a
fragment of a shell, which entered his right ear. He is quiet and
cheerful, longs to see some member of his family, and is, above all,
anxious that they should hear from him as soon as possible. I assured
him I would write at once, and though I am wearied by a week's labor
here among scenes of terrible suffering, I know that, to a mother's
anxious heart, even a hasty scrawl about her boy will be more than
May God bless and sustain you in this troubled time!
Yours with sincere sympathy,
J. M. CROWELL.
The wound in the head was not fatal, and after weary months of intense
suffering it imperfectly healed; but the cruel iron had too nearly
touched the brain of the young officer, and never again was he what he
had been. Soon after the war his mother bought a plantation in
Florida, largely in the hope that the out-of-door life connected with
its management might be beneficial to her afflicted son. He remained
on it for several years, and then, being possessed with the idea that
a long sea voyage would do him more good than anything else, sailed
from New York to San Francisco around the Horn. That he reached the
latter city in safety is known; but that is all. No word from him or
concerning him has ever reached the loving hearts that have waited so
anxiously for it, and of his ultimate fate nothing is known.
Meantime, the year 1863 was proving eventful in many other ways to
Mrs. Stowe. In the first place, the long and pleasant Andover
connection of Professor Stowe was about to be severed, and the family
were to remove to Hartford, Conn. They were to occupy a house that
Mrs. Stowe was building on the bank of Park River. It was erected in a
grove of oaks that had in her girlhood been one of Mrs. Stowe's
favorite resorts. Here, with her friend Georgiana May, she had passed
many happy hours, and had often declared that if she were ever able to
build a house, it should stand in that very place. Here, then, it was
built in 1863, and as the location was at that time beyond the city
limits, it formed, with its extensive, beautiful groves, a
particularly charming place of residence. Beautiful as it was,
however, it was occupied by the family for only a few years. The needs
of the growing city caused factories to spring up in the neighborhood,
and to escape their encroachments the Stowes in 1873 bought and moved
into the house on Forest Street that has ever since been their
Northern home. Thus the only house Mrs. Stowe ever planned and built
for herself has been appropriated to the use of factory hands, and is
now a tenement occupied by several families.
Another important event of 1863 was the publishing of that charming
story of Italy, "Agnes of Sorrento," which had been begun nearly four
years before. This story suggested itself to Mrs. Stowe while she was
abroad during the winter of 1859-60. The origin of the story is as
follows: One evening, at a hotel in Florence, it was proposed that the
various members of the party should write short stories and read them
for the amusement of the company. Mrs. Stowe took part in this
literary contest, and the result was the first rough sketch of "Agnes
of Sorrento." From this beginning was afterwards elaborated "Agnes of
Sorrento," with a dedication to Annie Howard, who was one of the
Not the least important event of the year to Mrs. Stowe, and the world
at large through her instrumentality, was the publication in the
"Atlantic Monthly" of her reply to the address of the women of
England. The "reply" is substantially as follows:--
To "The affectionate and Christian Address of many thousands of Women
of Great Britain and Ireland to their Sisters, the Women of the United
States of America," (signed by)
ANNA MARIA BEDFORD (Duchess of Bedford).
OLIVIA CECILIA COWLEY (Countess Cowley).
CONSTANCE GROSVENOR (Countess Grosvenor).
HARRIET SUTHERLAND (Duchess of Sutherland).
ELIZABETH ARGYLL (Duchess of Argyll).
ELIZABETH FORTESCUE (Countess Fortescue).
EMILY SHAFTESBURY (Countess of Shaftesbury).
MARY RUTHVEN (Baroness Ruthven).
M. A. MILMAN (wife of Dean of St. Paul).
R. BUXTON (daughter of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton).
CAROLINE AMELIA OWEN (wife of Professor Owen).
MRS. CHARLES WINDHAM.
C. A. HATHERTON (Baroness Hatherton).
ELIZABETH DUCIE (Countess Dowager of Ducie).
CECILIA PARKE (wife of Baron Parke).
MARY ANN CHALLIS (wife of the Lord Mayor of London).
E. GORDON (Duchess Dowager of Gordon).
ANNA M. L. MELVILLE (daughter of Earl of Leven and Melville).
GEORGIANA EBRINGTON (Lady Ebrington).
A. HILL (Viscountess Hill).
MRS. GOBAT (wife of Bishop Gobat of Jerusalem).
E. PALMERSTON (Viscountess Palmerston).
SISTERS,--More than eight years ago you sent to us in America a
document with the above heading. It is as follows:--
"A common origin, a common faith, and, we sincerely believe, a common
cause, urge us, at the present moment, to address you on the subject
of that system of negro slavery which still prevails so extensively,
and, even under kindly disposed masters, with such frightful results,
in many of the vast regions of the Western world.
"We will not dwell on the ordinary topics,--on the progress of
civilization, on the advance of freedom everywhere, on the rights and
requirements of the nineteenth century; but we appeal to you very
seriously to reflect, and to ask counsel of God, how far such a state
of things is in accordance with his Holy Word, the inalienable rights
of immortal souls, and the pure and merciful spirit of the Christian
religion. We do not shut our eyes to the difficulties, nay, the
dangers, that might beset the immediate abolition of that long-
established system. We see and admit the necessity of preparation for
so great an event; but, in speaking of indispensable preliminaries, we
cannot be silent on those laws of your country which, in direct
contravention of God's own law, 'instituted in the time of man's
innocency, deny in effect to the slave the sanctity of marriage, with
all its joys, rights, and obligations; which separate, at the will of
the master, the wife from the husband, and the children from the
parents. Nor can we be silent on that awful system which, either by
statute or by custom, interdicts to any race of men, or any portion of
the human family, education in the truths of the gospel and the
ordinances of Christianity. A remedy applied to these two evils alone
would commence the amelioration of their sad condition. We appeal to
you then, as sisters, as wives, and as mothers, to raise your voices
to your fellow-citizens, and your prayers to God, for the removal of
this affliction and disgrace from the Christian world.
"We do not say these things in a spirit of self-complacency, as though
our nation were free from the guilt it perceives in others.
"We acknowledge with grief and shame our heavy share in this great
sin. We acknowledge that our fore-fathers introduced, nay compelled
the adoption, of slavery in those mighty colonies. We humbly confess
it before Almighty God; and it is because we so deeply feel and
unfeignedly avow our own complicity, that we now venture to implore
your aid to wipe away our common crime and our common dishonor."
This address, splendidly illuminated on vellum, was sent to our shores
at the head of twenty-six folio volumes, containing considerably more
than half a million of signatures of British women. It was forwarded
to me with a letter from a British nobleman, now occupying one of the
highest official positions in England, with a request on behalf of
these ladies that it should be in any possible way presented to the
attention of my countrywomen.
This memorial, as it now stands in its solid oaken case, with its
heavy folios, each bearing on its back the imprint of the American
eagle, forms a most unique library, a singular monument of an
international expression of a moral idea. No right-thinking person can
find aught to be objected against the substance or form of this
memorial. It is temperate, just, and kindly; and on the high ground of
Christian equality, where it places itself, may be regarded as a
perfectly proper expression of sentiment, as between blood relations
and equals in two different nations. The signatures to this appeal are
not the least remarkable part of it; for, beginning at the very steps
of the throne, they go down to the names of women in the very humblest
conditions in life, and represent all that Great Britain possesses,
not only of highest and wisest, but of plain, homely common sense and
good feeling. Names of wives of cabinet ministers appear on the same
page with the names of wives of humble laborers,--names of duchesses
and countesses, of wives of generals, ambassadors, savants, and men of
letters, mingled with names traced in trembling characters by hands
evidently unused to hold the pen, and stiffened by lowly toil. Nay, so
deep and expansive was the feeling, that British subjects in foreign
lands had their representation. Among the signatures are those of
foreign residents, from Paris to Jerusalem. Autographs so diverse, and
collected from sources so various, have seldom been found in
juxtaposition. They remain at this day a silent witness of a most
singular tide of feeling which at that time swept over the British
community and made for itself an expression, even at the risk
of offending the sensibilities of an equal and powerful nation.
No reply to that address, in any such tangible and monumental form,
has ever been possible. It was impossible to canvass our vast
territories with the zealous and indefatigable industry with which
England was canvassed for signatures. In America, those possessed of
the spirit which led to this efficient action had no leisure for it.
All their time and energies were already absorbed in direct efforts to
remove the great evil, concerning which the minds of their English
sisters had been newly aroused, and their only answer was the silent
continuance of these efforts.
>From the slaveholding States, however, as was to be expected, came a
flood of indignant recrimination and rebuke. No one act, perhaps, ever
produced more frantic irritation, or called out more unsparing abuse.
It came with the whole united weight of the British aristocracy and
commonalty on the most diseased and sensitive part of our national
life; and it stimulated that fierce excitement which was working
before, and has worked since, till it has broken out into open war.
The time has come, however, when such an astonishing page has been
turned, in the anti-slavery history of America, that the women of our
country, feeling that the great anti-slavery work to which their
English sisters exhorted them is almost done, may properly and
naturally feel moved to reply to their appeal, and lay before them the
history of what has occurred since the receipt of their affectionate
and Christian address.
Your address reached us just as a great moral conflict was coming to
its intensest point. The agitation kept up by the anti-slavery portion
of America, by England, and by the general sentiment of humanity in
Europe, had made the situation of the slaveholding aristocracy
intolerable. As one of them at the time expressed it, they felt
themselves under the ban of the civilized world. Two courses only were
open to them: to abandon slave institutions, the sources of their
wealth and political power, or to assert them with such an
overwhelming national force as to compel the respect and assent of
mankind. They chose the latter.
To this end they determined to seize on and control all the resources
of the Federal Government, and to spread their institutions through
new States and Territories until the balance of power should fall into
their hands and they should be able to force slavery into all the free
A leading Southern senator boasted that he would yet call the roll of
his slaves on Bunker Hill; and for a while the political successes of
the slave-power were such as to suggest to New England that this was
no impossible event.
They repealed the Missouri Compromise, which had hitherto stood like
the Chinese wall, between our Northwestern Territories and the
irruptions of slaveholding barbarians.
Then came the struggle between freedom and slavery in the new
territory; the battle for Kansas and Nebraska, fought with fire and
sword and blood, where a race of men, of whom John Brown was the
immortal type, acted over again the courage, the perseverance, and the
military-religious ardor of the old Covenanters of Scotland, and like
them redeemed the ark of Liberty at the price of their own blood, and
blood dearer than their own.
The time of the Presidential canvass which elected Mr. Lincoln was the
crisis of this great battle. The conflict had become narrowed down to
the one point of the extension of slave territory. If the slaveholders
could get States enough, they could control and rule; if they were
outnumbered by free States, their institutions, by the very law of
their nature, would die of suffocation. Therefore Fugitive Slave Law,
District of Columbia, Inter-State Slave-trade, and what not, were all
thrown out of sight for a grand rally on this vital point. A President
was elected pledged to opposition to this one thing alone,--a man
known to be in favor of the Fugitive Slave Law and other so-called
compromises of the Constitution, but honest and faithful in his
determination on this one subject. That this was indeed the vital
point was shown by the result. The moment Lincoln's election was
ascertained, the slaveholders resolved to destroy the Union they could
no longer control.
They met and organized a Confederacy which they openly declared to be
the first republic founded on the right and determination of the white
man to enslave the black man, and, spreading their banners, declared
themselves to the Christian world of the nineteenth century as a
nation organized with the full purpose and intent of perpetuating
But in the course of the struggle that followed, it became important
for the new confederation to secure the assistance of foreign powers,
and infinite pains were then taken to blind and bewilder the mind of
England as to the real issues of the conflict in America.
It has been often and earnestly asserted that slavery had nothing to
do with this conflict; that it was a mere struggle for power; that the
only object was to restore the Union as it was, with all its abuses.
It is to be admitted that expressions have proceeded from the national
administration which naturally gave rise to misapprehension, and
therefore we beg to speak to you on this subject more fully.
And first the declaration of the Confederate States themselves is
proof enough, that, whatever may be declared on the other side, the
maintenance of slavery is regarded by them as the vital object of
We ask your attention under this head to the declaration of their
Vice-President, Stephens, in that remarkable speech delivered on the
21st of March, 1861, at Savannah, Georgia, wherein he declares the
object and purposes of the new Confederacy. It is one of the most
extraordinary papers which our century has produced. I quote from the
verbatim report in the "Savannah Republican" of the address as
it was delivered in the Athenĉum of that city, on which occasion, says
the newspaper from which I copy, "Mr. Stephens took his seat amid a
burst of enthusiasm and applause such as the Athenĉum has never had
displayed within its walls within the recollection 'of the oldest
Last, not least, the new Constitution has put at rest forever
all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution,--
African slavery as it exists among us, the proper status of
the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause
of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his
forecast, had anticipated this as the "rock upon which the old Union
would split." He was right. What was a conjecture with him is now a
realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon
which that rock stood and stands may be doubted.
The prevailing ideas entertained by him, and most of the leading
statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were,
that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of
nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and
In the mean while, during the past year, the Republican
administration, with all the unwonted care of organizing an army and
navy, and conducting military operations on an immense scale, have
proceeded to demonstrate the feasibility of overthrowing slavery by
purely constitutional measures. To this end they have instituted a
series of movements which have made this year more fruitful in anti-
slavery triumphs than any other since the emancipation of the British
West Indies. The District of Columbia, as belonging strictly to the
national government and to no separate State, has furnished a fruitful
subject of remonstrance from British Christians with America. We have
abolished slavery there, and thus wiped out the only blot of
territorial responsibility on our escutcheon.
By another act, equally grand in principle, and far more important in
its results, slavery is forever excluded from the Territories of the
By another act, America has consummated the long-delayed treaty with
Great Britain for the suppression of the slave-trade. In ports whence
slave vessels formerly sailed with the connivance of the port
officers, the administration has placed men who stand up to their
duty, and for the first time in our history the slave-trader is
convicted and hung as a pirate. This abominable secret traffic has
been wholly demolished by the energy of the Federal Government.
Lastly, and more significant still, the United States government has
in its highest official capacity taken distinct anti-slavery ground,
and presented to the country a plan of peaceable emancipation with
suitable compensation. This noble-spirited and generous offer has been
urged on the slaveholding States by the chief executive with
earnestness and sincerity. But this is but half the story of the anti-
slavery triumphs of this year. We have shown you what has been done
for freedom by the simple use of the ordinary constitutional forces of
the Union. We are now to show you what has been done to the same end
by the constitutional war-power of the nation.
By this power it has been this year decreed that every slave of a
rebel who reaches the lines of our army becomes a free man; that all
slaves found deserted by their masters become free men; that every
slave employed in any service for the United States thereby obtains
his liberty; and that every slave employed against the United States
in any capacity obtains his liberty; and lest the army should contain
officers disposed to remand slaves to their masters, the power of
judging and delivering up slaves is denied to army officers, and all
such acts are made penal.
By this act the Fugitive Slave Law is for all present purposes
practically repealed. With this understanding and provision, wherever
our armies march they carry liberty with them. For be it remembered
that our army is almost entirely a volunteer one, and that the most
zealous and ardent volunteers are those who have been for years
fighting, with tongue and pen, the abolition battle. So marked is the
character of our soldiers in this respect, that they are now
familiarly designated in the official military dispatches of the
Confederate States as "the Abolitionists." Conceive the results when
an army so empowered by national law marches through a slave
territory. One regiment alone has to our certain knowledge liberated
two thousand slaves during the past year, and this regiment is but one
out of hundreds.
Lastly, the great decisive measure of the war has appeared,--the
President's Proclamation of Emancipation.
This also has been much misunderstood and misrepresented in England.
It has been said to mean virtually this: Be loyal and you shall keep
your slaves; rebel and they shall be free. But let us remember what we
have just seen of the purpose and meaning of the Union to which the
rebellious States are invited back. It is to a Union which has
abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, and interdicted slavery
in the Territories; which vigorously represses the slave-trade, and
hangs the convicted slaver as a pirate; which necessitates
emancipation by denying expansion to slavery, and facilitates it by
the offer of compensation. Any slaveholding States which should return
to such a Union might fairly be supposed to return with the purpose of
peaceable emancipation. The President's Proclamation simply means
this: Come in and emancipate peaceably with compensation; stay out and
I emancipate, nor will I protect you from the consequences.
Will our sisters in England feel no heartbeat at that event? Is it not
one of the predicted voices of the latter day, saying under the whole
heavens, "It is done; the kingdoms of this world are become the
kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ"?
And now, sisters of England, in this solemn, expectant hour, let us
speak to you of one thing which fills our hearts with pain and
solicitude. It is an unaccountable fact, and one which we entreat you
seriously to ponder, that the party which has brought the cause of
freedom thus far on its way, during the past eventful year, has found
little or no support in England. Sadder than this, the party which
makes slavery the chief corner-stone of its edifice finds in England
its strongest defenders.
The voices that have spoken for us who contend for liberty have been
few and scattering. God forbid that we should forget those few noble
voices, so sadly exceptional in the general outcry against us! They
are, alas! too few to be easily forgotten. False statements have
blinded the minds of your community, and turned the most generous
sentiments of the British heart against us. The North are fighting for
supremacy and the South for independence, has been the voice.
Independence? for what? to do what? To prove the doctrine that all men
are not equal; to establish the doctrine that the white may
enslave the negro!
In the beginning of our struggle, the voices that reached us across
the water said: "If we were only sure you were fighting for the
abolition of slavery, we should not dare to say whither our sympathies
for your cause might not carry us." Such, as we heard, were the words
of the honored and religious nobleman who draughted this very letter
which you signed and sent us, and to which we are now replying.
When these words reached us we said: "We can wait; our friends in
England will soon see whither this conflict is tending." A year and a
half have passed; step after step has been taken for liberty; chain
after chain has fallen, till the march of our armies is choked and
clogged by the glad flocking of emancipated slaves; the day of final
emancipation is set; the border States begin to move in voluntary
consent; universal freedom for all dawns like the sun in the distant
horizon, and still no voice from England. No voice? Yes, we have heard
on the high seas the voice of a war-steamer, built for a man-stealing
Confederacy, with English gold, in an English dockyard, going out of
an English harbor, manned by English sailors, with the full knowledge
of English government officers, in defiance of the Queen's
proclamation of neutrality! So far has English sympathy overflowed. We
have heard of other steamers, iron-clad, designed to furnish to a
slavery-defending Confederacy their only lack,--a navy for the high
seas. We have heard that the British Evangelical Alliance refuses to
express sympathy with the liberating party, when requested to do so by
the French Evangelical Alliance. We find in English religious
newspapers all those sad degrees in the downward-sliding scale of
defending and apologizing for slaveholders and slave-holding, with
which we have so many years contended in our own country. We find the
President's Proclamation of Emancipation spoken of in those papers
only as an incitement to servile insurrection. Nay, more,--we find in
your papers, from thoughtful men, the admission of the rapid decline
of anti-slavery sentiments in England.
This very day the writer of this has been present at a solemn
religious festival in the national capital, given at the home of a
portion of those fugitive slaves who have fled to our lines for
protection,--who, under the shadow of our flag, find sympathy and
succor. The national day of thanksgiving was there kept by over a
thousand redeemed slaves, and for whom Christian charity had spread an
ample repast. Our sisters, we wish you could have witnessed the
scene. We wish you could have heard the prayer of a blind old negro,
called among his fellows John the Baptist, when in touching broken
English he poured forth his thanksgivings. We wish you could have
heard the sound of that strange rhythmical chant which is now
forbidden to be sung on Southern plantations,--the psalm of this
modern exodus,--which combines the barbaric fire of the Marseillaise
with the religious fervor of the old Hebrew prophet:--
"Oh, go down, Moses,
Way down into Egypt's land!
Tell King Pharaoh
To let my people go!
Stand away dere,
Stand away dere,
And let my people go!"
As we were leaving, an aged woman came and lifted up her hands in
blessing. "Bressed be de Lord dat brought me to see dis first happy
day of my life! Bressed be de Lord!" In all England is there no Amen?
We have been shocked and saddened by the question asked in an
association of Congregational ministers in England, the very blood
relations of the liberty-loving Puritans,--"Why does not the North let
the South go?"
What! give up the point of emancipation for these four million slaves?
Turn our backs on them, and leave them to their fate? What! leave our
white brothers to run a career of oppression and robbery, that, as
sure as there is a God that ruleth in the armies of heaven, will bring
down a day of wrath and doom? Remember that wishing success to this
slavery-establishing effort is only wishing to the sons and daughters
of the South all the curses that God has written against oppression.
Mark our words! If we succeed, the children of these very men
who are now fighting us will rise up to call us blessed. Just as
surely as there is a God who governs in the world, so surely all the
laws of national prosperity follow in the train of equity; and if we
succeed, we shall have delivered the children's children of our
misguided brethren from the wages of sin, which is always and
And now, sisters of England, think it not strange if we bring back the
words of your letter, not in bitterness, but in deepest sadness, and
lay them down at your door. We say to you, Sisters, you have spoken
well; we have heard you; we have heeded; we have striven in the cause,
even unto death. We have sealed our devotion by desolate hearth and
darkened homestead,--by the blood of sons, husbands, and brothers. In
many of our dwellings the very light of our lives has gone out; and
yet we accept the life-long darkness as our own part in this great and
awful expiation, by which the bonds of wickedness shall be loosed, and
abiding peace established, on the foundation of righteousness.
Sisters, what have you done, and what do you mean to do?
We appeal to you as sisters, as wives, and as mothers, to raise your
voices to your fellow-citizens, and your prayers to God for the
removal of this affliction and disgrace from the Christian world.
In behalf of many thousands of American women.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE.
WASHINGTON, November 27, 1862.
The publication of this reply elicited the following interesting
letter from John Bright:--
ROCHDALE, March 9, 1863.
DEAR MRS. STOWE,--I received your kind note with real pleasure, and
felt it very good of you to send me a copy of the "Atlantic Monthly"
with your noble letter to the women of England. I read every word of
it with an intense interest, and I am quite sure that its effect upon
opinion here has been marked and beneficial. It has covered some with
shame, and it has compelled many to think, and it has stimulated not a
few to act. Before this reaches you, you will have seen what large and
earnest meetings have been held in all our towns in favor of abolition
and the North. No town has a building large enough to contain those
who come to listen, to applaud, and to vote in favor of freedom and
the Union. The effect of this is evident on our newspapers and on the
tone of Parliament, where now nobody says a word in favor of
recognition, or mediation, or any such thing.
The need and duty of England is admitted to be a strict neutrality,
but the feeling of the millions of her people is one of friendliness
to the United States and its government. It would cause universal
rejoicing, among all but a limited circle of aristocracy and
commercially rich and corrupt, to hear that the Northern forces had
taken Vicksburg on the great river, and Charleston on the Atlantic,
and that the neck of the conspiracy was utterly broken.
I hope your people may have strength and virtue to win the great cause
intrusted to them, but it is fearful to contemplate the amount of the
depravity in the North engendered by the long power of slavery. New
England is far ahead of the States as a whole,--too instructed and too
moral; but still I will hope that she will bear the nation through
this appalling danger.
I well remember the evening at Rome and our conversation. You lamented
the election of Buchanan. You judged him with a more unfriendly but a
more correct eye than mine. He turned out more incapable and less
honest than I hoped for. And I think I was right in saying that your
party was not then sufficiently consolidated to enable it to maintain
its policy in the execution, even had Frémont been elected. As it is
now, six years later, the North but falteringly supports the policy of
the government, though impelled by the force of events which then you
did not dream of. President Lincoln has lived half his troubled reign.
In the coming half I hope he may see land; surely slavery will be so
broken up that nothing can restore and renew it; and, slavery once
fairly gone, I know not how all your States can long be kept asunder.
Believe me very sincerely yours,
It also called forth from Archbishop Whately the following letter:--
PALACE, DUBLIN, January, 1863.
DEAR MADAM,--In acknowledging your letter and pamphlet, I take the
opportunity of laying before you what I collect to be the prevailing
sentiments here on American affairs. Of course there is a great
variety of opinion, as may be expected in a country like ours. Some
few sympathize with the Northerns, and some few with the Southerns,
but far the greater portion sympathize with neither completely, but
lament that each party should be making so much greater an expenditure
of life and property than can be compensated for by any advantage they
can dream of obtaining.
Those who are the least favorable to the Northerns are not so from any
approbation of slavery, but from not understanding that the war is
waged in the cause of abolition. "It was waged," they say, "ostensibly
for the restoration of the Union," and in attestation of this, they
refer to the proclamation which announced the confiscation of slaves
that were the property of secessionists, while those who adhered to
the Federal cause should be exempt from such confiscation, which, they
say, did not savor much of zeal for abolition. And. if the other
object--the restoration of the Union--could be accomplished, which
they all regard as hopeless, they do not understand how it will tend
to the abolition of slavery. On the contrary, "if," say they, "the
separation had been allowed to take place peaceably, the Northerns
might, as we do, have proclaimed freedom to every slave who set
foot on their territory; which would have been a great check to
slavery, and especially to any cruel treatment of slaves." Many who
have a great dislike to slavery yet hold that the Southerns had at
least as much right to secede as the Americans had originally to
revolt from Great Britain. And there are many who think that,
considering the dreadful distress we have suffered from the cotton
famine, we have shown great forbearance in withstanding the temptation
of recognizing the Southern States and to break the blockade.
Then, again, there are some who are provoked at the incessant railing
at England, and threats of an invasion of Canada, which are poured
forth in some of the American papers.
There are many, also, who consider that the present state of things
cannot continue much longer if the Confederates continue to hold their
own, as they have done hitherto; and that a people who shall have
maintained their independence for two or three years will be
recognized by the principal European powers. Such appears to have been
the procedure of the European powers in all similar cases, such as the
revolt of the Anglo-American and Spanish-American colonies, of the
Haytians and the Belgians. In these and other like cases, the rule
practically adopted seems to have been to recognize the revolters, not
at once, but after a reasonable time had been allowed to see whether
they could maintain their independence; and this without being
understood to have pronounced any decision either way as to the
justice of the cause.
Moreover, there are many who say that the negroes and people of color
are far from being kindly or justly treated in the Northern States. An
emancipated slave, at any rate, has not received good training for
earning his bread by the wages of labor; and if, in addition to this
and his being treated as an outcast, he is excluded, as it is said,
from many employments, by the refusal of white laborers to work along
with him, he will have gained little by taking refuge in the Northern
I have now laid before you the views which I conceive to be most
prevalent among us, and for which I am not myself responsible.
For the safe and effectual emancipation of slaves, I myself consider
there is no plan so good as the gradual one which was long ago
suggested by Bishop Hinds. What he recommended was an ad valorem
tax upon slaves,--the value to be fixed by the owner, with an
option to government to purchase at that price. Thus the slaves would
be a burden to the master, and those the most so who should be the
most valuable, as being the most intelligent and steady, and therefore
the best qualified for freedom; and it would be his interest to train
his slaves to be free laborers, and to emancipate them, one by one, as
speedily as he could with safety. I fear, however, that the time is
gone by for trying this experiment in America.
With best wishes for the new year, believe me
Among the many letters written from this side of the Atlantic
regarding the reply, was one from Nathaniel Hawthorne, in which he
I read with great pleasure your article in the last "Atlantic." If
anything could make John Bull blush, I should think it might be that;
but he is a hardened and villainous hypocrite. I always felt that he
cared nothing for or against slavery, except as it gave him a vantage-
ground on which to parade his own virtue and sneer at our iniquity.
With best regards from Mrs. Hawthorne and myself to yourself and
family, sincerely yours,