« PreviousContinue »
the lash; families were not always torn apart, though there were enough such instances to point a moral.
Almost all Americans now agree with Clay's dictum that slavery was "a curse to the master and a wrong to the slave," but the wrongs of the latter had many alleviations, and in the main the great body of negroes in slavery enjoyed the happiness of an ignorant and unprogressive race to which to-day is much more than the morrow. It was a race which in its native land, though in contact with the highest civilizations through thousands of years, had not risen beyond the savagery which enslaved, destroyed, and sacrificed its kind; perhaps the most ancient of mankind, and which has come down to us unchanged through the ages in company with the gigantic and wonderful fauna of its mysterious continent.
Few of the southern blacks of the period of 1860 were far removed from their ancestral state by an interval of more than a hundred and fifty years, a short time in which to change the nature of any race of men; and the traditions also of the old life were kept alive by the steady influx of new African blood, seventy thousand being considered a "very moderate and even low" estimate of these importations into the United States so late as the decade 1850 to 1860.1 To the credit side of slavery must be placed this transplantation into conditions where the characteristic imitativeness of the race 1 Collins, Domestic Slave Trade, 20
had an opportunity. It was the African's one real stepping-stone to better things.
Slowly there grew up among all classes of the North the feeling which had always existed among the few, that slavery was an immense wrong. The twenty years from 1835 to 1855, which may be taken as the special period of this growth, saw also, as natural outcome of an attack, the development of a fierce defence, through which the mind of the southern states became almost completely unified in a belief that slavery was a positive good. This feeling, even of God - fearing, upright, and conscientious people in the South, of whom there was as large a proportion as in the North, is expressed in the reminiscences of a southern lady: "We never raised the question for one moment as to whether slavery was right. We had inherited the institution from devout Christian parents. Slaves were held by pious relatives and friends and clergymen to whom we were accustomed to look up. The system of slave holding was incorporated in our laws, and was regulated and protected by them. We read our Bible and accepted its teachings as the true guide in faith and morals. We understood literally our Lord's instructions to His chosen people and applied them to our circumstances and surroundings." The Old and New Testaments were regarded as impregnable buttresses of their faith and practice, and diligently and triumphantly
1 Clayton, White and Black under the Old Régime, 51.
CAUSES OF THE CIVIL WAR
quoted as full authority for the social regimen of the South.1 This reliance on Biblical authority permeated the South and is epitomized by Alexander H. Stephens in a speech on the Mexican War. “Until Christianity be overthrown, and some other system of ethics be substituted, the relation of master and slave can never be regarded as an offence against the Divine laws." 2
While the slaves enjoyed, on the face of it, none of the essentials of manhood named in the Declaration of Independence, they probably thought very little on the subject, and then vaguely; while the certainty of freedom from want, from care for the future, from many of the demands of the law which touch society in general, went far to make up for the loss of liberty and brought them at least content. That the mass of negroes in the South were not dissatisfied with their condition would appear almost self-evident from the fact that during the four years of civil war none sought to change their condition by insurrection. This was due partly to their affection for their masters, partly to their childlike simplicity of mind and their ignorance and fear of the unknown; all of which last was a portion of the psychical make-up which had in the first instance doomed them to slavery, which continued to hold them in its all-powerful grasp, and is still far from having let go its hold.
1 See Hart, Slavery and Abolition (Am. Nation, XVI.), chap. x. 2 Cong. Globe, 29 Cong., 2 Sess., App., 354.