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met on the plantations. On enquiry he would learn that the slave in old age was sure of food and shelter and free from work, and that as he approached old age his task was systematically diminished. As to excessive toil at any time of life, he would perhaps conclude that it was no easy thing to drive a gang of Africans really hard. He would be assured, quite incorrectly, that the slave's food and comfort generally were greater than those of factory workers in the North, and, perhaps only too truly, that his privations were less than those of the English agricultural labourer at that time. A wide and careful survey of the subject was made by Frederick Law Olmsted, a New York farmer, who wrote what but for their gloomy subject would be among the best books of travel. He presents to us the picture of a prevailingly sullen, sapless, brutish life, but certainly not of acute misery or habitual oppression. A Southerner old enough to remember slavery would probably not question the accuracy of his details, but would insist, very likely with truth, that there was more human happiness there than an investigator on such a quest would readily discover. Even on large plantations in the extreme South, where the owner only lived part of the year, and most things had to be left to an almost always unsatisfactory overseer, the verdict of the observer was apt to be “not so bad as I expected.”
On the other hand, many of us know Longfellow's grim poem of the Hunted Negro. It is a true picture of the life led in the Dismal Swamps of Virginia by numbers of skulking fugitives, till the industry of negro-hunting, conducted with hounds of considerable value, ultimately made their lairs untenable. The scenes in the auction room where, perhaps on the death or failure of their owner, husbands and wives, parents and children, were constantly being severed, and negresses were habitually puffed as brood mares; the gentleman who had lately sold his half-brother, to be sent far south, because he was impudent; the devilish cruelty with which almost the only recorded slave insurrection was stamped out; the chase
and capture and return in fetters of slaves who had escaped north, or, it might be, of free negroes in their place; the advertisements for such runaways, which Dickens collected, and which described each by his scars or mutilations; the systematic slave breeding, for the supply of the cotton States, which had become a staple industry of the once glorious Virginia; the demand arising for the restoration of the African slave trade-all these were realities. The Southern people, in the phrase of President Wilson, " knew that their lives were honourable, their relations with their slaves humane, their responsibility for the existence of slavery amongst them remote "; they burned with indignation when the whole South was held responsible for the occasional abuses of slavery. But the harsh philanthropist, who denounced them indiscriminately, merely dwelt on those aspects of slavery which came to his knowledge or which he actually saw on the border line. And the occasional abuses, how. ever occasional, were made by the deliberate choice of Southern statesmanship an essential part of the institution. Honourable and humane men in the South scorned exceedingly the slave hunter and the slave dealer. A candid slave owner, discussing “Uncle Tom's Cabin," found one detail flagrantly unfair; the ruined master would have had to sell his slaves to the brute, Legree, but for the world he would not have shaken hands with him. “Your children," exclaimed Lincoln, “may play with the little black children, but they must not play with his "—the slave dealer's, or the slave driver's, or the slave hunter's. By that fact alone, as he bitingly but unanswerably insisted, the whole decent society of the South condemned the foundation on which it rested.
It is needless to discuss just how dark or how fair American slavery in its working should be painted. The moderate conclusions which are quite sufficient for our purpose are uncontested. First, this much must certainly be conceded to those who would defend the slave system, that in the case of the average slave it was very doubtful whether his happiness (apart from that of future
generations) could be increased by suddenly turning him into a free man working for a wage; justice would certainly have demanded that the change should be accompanied by other provisions for his benefit.
But, secondly, on the refractory negro, more vicious, or sometimes, one may suspect, more manly than his fellows, the system was likely to act barbarously. Thirdly, every slave family was exposed to the risk, on such occasions as the death or great impoverishment of its owner, of being ruthlessly torn asunder, and the fact that negroes often rebounded or seemed to rebound from sorrows of this sort with surprising levity does not much lessen the horror of it. Fourthly, it is inherent in slavery that its burden should be most felt precisely by the best minds and strongest characters among the slaves. And, though the capacity of the negroes for advancement could not then and cannot yet be truly measured, yet it existed, and the policy of the South shut the door upon it. Lastly, the system abounded in brutalising influences upon a large number of white people who were accessory to it, and notoriously it degraded the poor or “mean whites," for whom it left no industrial opening, and among whom it caused work to be despised.
There is thus no escape from Lincoln's judgment: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” It does not follow that the way to right the wrong was simple, or that instant and unmitigated emancipation was the best way. But it does follow that, failing this, it was for the statesmen of the South to devise a policy by which the most flagrant evils should be stopped, and, however cautiously and experimentally, the raising of the status of the slave should be proceeded with. It does not follow that the people who, on one pretext or another, shut their eyes to the evil of the system, while they tried to keep their personal dealing humane, can be sweepingly condemned by any man.
But it does follow that a deliberate and sustained policy which, neglecting all reform, strove at all costs to perpetuate the system and extend it to wider regions, was as criminal a policy as
ever lay at the door of any statesmen. And this, in fact, became the policy of the South.
“ The South" meant, for political purposes, the owners of land and slaves in the greater part of the States in which slavery was lawful. The poor whites never acquired the political importance of the working classes in the North, and count for little in the story. Some of the more northerly slave States partook in a greater degree of the conditions and ideas of the North and were doubtfully to be reckoned with the South. Moreover, there is a tract of mountainous country, lying between the Atlantic sea-board and the basin of the Mis. sissippi and extending southwards to the borders of Georgia and Alabama, of which the very vigorous and independent inhabitants were and are in many ways a people apart, often cherishing to this day family feuds which are prosecuted in the true spirit of the Icelandic Sagas.
The South, excluding these districts, was predominantly Democratic in politics, and its leaders owed some allegiance to the tradition of Radicals like Jefferson. But it was none the less proud of its aristocracy and of the permeating influence of aristocratic manners and traditions. A very large number of Southerners felt themselves to be ladies and gentlemen, and felt further that there were few or none like them among the “Yankee ” traders of the North. 'A claim of that sort is likely to be aggressively made by those who have least title to make it, and, as strife between North and South grew hotter, the gentility of the latter infected with additional vulgarity the political controversy of private life and even of Congress. But, as observant Northerners were quite aware, these pretensions had a foundation of fact. An Englishman, then or now, in chance meetings with Americans of either section, would at once be aware of something indefinable in their bearing to which he was a stranger; but in the case of the Southerner the strangeness would often have a positive charm, such as may be found also among people of the Old World under south
ern latitudes and relatively primitive conditions. Newlygotten and ill-carried wealth was in those days (Mr. Olmsted, of New York State, assures us) as offensive in the more recently developed and more prosperous parts of the South as in New York City itself; and throughout the South sound instruction and intellectual activity were markedly lacking-indeed, there is no serious Southern literature by which we can check these impressions of his. Comparing the masses of moderately well-to-do and educated people with whom he associated in the North and in the South, he finds them both free from the peculiar vulgarity which, we may be pained to know, he had discovered among us in England; he finds honesty and dishonesty in serious matters of conduct as prevalent in one section as in the other; he finds the Northerner better taught and more alert in mind; but he ascribes to him an objectionable quality of “smartness,' a determination to show you that he is a stirring and pushing fellow, from which the Southerner is wholly free; and he finds that the Southerner has derived from home influences and from boarding schools in which the influence of many similar homes is concentrated, not indeed any great refinement, but a manner which is more true, more quiet, more modestly self-assured, more dignified.” This advantage, we are to understand, is diffused over a comparatively larger class than in England. Beyond this he discerns in a few parts of the South and notably in South Carolina a somewhat inaccessible, select society, of which the nucleus is formed by a few (incredibly few) old Colonial families which have not gone under, and which altogether is so small that some old gentlewomen can enumerate all the members of it. Few as they are, these form “unquestionably a wealthy and remarkably generous, refined, and accomplished first class, clinging with some pertinacity, although with too evident an effort, to the traditional manners and customs of an established gentry."
No doubt the sense of high breeding, which was common in the South, went beyond mere manners; it played