My Childhood Recollections of the War: Life in the Confederate Stronghold of Staunton, Virginia
And I would fain believe with Mr. Trollope that "the small records of an unimportant individual life, the memories which happen to linger in the brain of the old like bits of drift-wood floating round and round in the eddies of a back-water, can more vividly than anything else bring before the young of the present generation Page 2 those ways of acting and thinking and talking in the everyday affairs of life which indicate the differences between themselves and their grandfathers. Writers of Reminiscences are interested—perhaps more interested than their readers—in recalling their earliest sensations, and through them determining at what age they had "found themselves"; i.
Long before this time the child has seen and learned more perhaps than he ever learned afterwards in the same length of time. He has acquired knowledge of a language sufficient for his needs. His miniature world has been, in many respects, a foreshadowing of the world he will know in his maturity. He has learned that he is a citizen of a country with laws,—some of which it will be prudent to obey,—such as the law against taking unpermitted liberties with the cat, or touching the flame of the candle; while other laws may be evaded by cleverness and discreet behavior.
He finds around him many things; pictures on walls, for instance, that may be admired but never touched, —other lovely things that may be handled and even kissed, but must be returned to mantels and tables, —and yet others, not near as delightful as these, "poor things but his own," to be caressed or beaten, or even broken at his pleasure.
He has learned to Page 3 indulge his natural taste for the drama. His nurse covers her head with a paper and becomes the dreadful, groaning villain behind it, while the baby girds himself for attack, tears the disguise from the villain, and shouts his victory. As he learns the names and peculiarities of animals, the scope of the drama widens. He is a spirited horse, snorting and charging along, or—if his picture-books have been favorable—a roaring lion from whom the nurse flees in terror.
Of the domestic play the there is infinite variety—nursing in sickness, the doctor, baby-tending, cooking,—and once, alas! I heard a baby girl of eighteen months enact a fearful quarrel between man and wife, ending firmly "I leave you! I never come back! Leigh Hunt, who in turn quoted it as a popular phrase in his late and my early day. But with the single exception of the spoken language all these childish plays have been successfully taught to our humble brothers; to our poor relation the monkey, the dog, elephant, seal, canary bird— even to fleas.
All these are capable of enacting a short drama. The elephant, longing for his bottle, never rings his bell too soon. The dog remembers his cue, watches for it, and never anticipates it. The seal, more wonderful than all, born as he has been without arms or legs, mounts a horse for a ride, and waits for his umbrella to be poised on his Page 4 stubby nose. Even the creature whose name is a synonym for vulgar stupidity has been taught to indicate with porcine finger the letters which spell that name. With these and other animals we hold in common our faculty of imitation, our memory, affection, antipathy, revenge, gratitude, passionate adoration of one special friend, and even the perception of music —the infant will weep and the poodle howl in response to the same strain in a minor key—and yet, notwithstanding this common lot, this common inheritance, there is born for us and not for them a moment when some strange unseen power breathes into us something akin to consciousness of a living soul.
Having no past as a standard for the reasonable and natural, nothing surprises children. They are simply witnesses of a panorama in the moving scenes of which they have no part. When I was three years old, I visited my grandfather in Charlotte County. The Staunton River wound around his plantation and I was often taken out rowing with my aunts.
One day the canoe tipped and my pretty Aunt Elizabeth fell overboard. Without the slightest emotion I saw her fall, and saw her recovered. For aught I knew to the contrary it was usual and altogether proper for young ladies to fall in rivers and be fished out by their long hair.
But another event, quite ordinary, overwhelmed me with the most passionate distress. Having, a short time before, advanced a tentative finger for an experimental taste of an apple roasting for me at my grandfather's Page 5 fire, I was prepared to be shocked at seeing a colony of ants rush madly about upon wood a servant laying over the coals.
My cries of distress arrested my grandfather as he passed through the room. He quickly ordered the sticks to be taken off, and calling me to a seat in front of him, said gravely, "We will try these creatures and see if they deserve punishment. Evidently they have invaded our country. The question is, did they come of their own accord, or were they while enjoying their rights of life and liberty, captured by us and brought hither against their will?
I was quite positive I had seen the sticks, swarming with ants, laid upon the fire. Nothing could shake him. To the best of his knowledge and belief, "them ants nuvver come 'thouten they was 'bleeged to," and so, as they were by this time wildly scampering over the floor, they were gently admonished by a persuasive broom to leave the premises. Uncle Peter was positive they would find their way home without difficulty, and I was comforted. I remember this little incident perfectly; I can see my dear grandfather, his white hair tied with a black ribbon en queue , advancing his stick like a staff of office.
I claim that then and there—three years old—I found myself, "fetched up my soul" from somewhere, almost "from the cradle," inasmuch as I had pitied the unfortunate, unselfishly espoused his cause, and won for him consideration and justice. Writers of fiction are supposed to present, as in Page 6 a mirror, the truth as it is found in nature. They are fond of hinting that at some moment in the early life of every individual something occurs which foreshadows his fate, something which if interpreted— like the dreams of the ancient Hebrews—would tell us without the aid of gypsy, medium, or clairvoyant the things we so ardently desire to know.
In Daniel Deronda, Gwendolyn, in her moment of triumph, touches a spring in a panel, which, sliding back, reveals a picture,—the upturned face of a drowning man. In Lewis Rand, Jacqueline, the bride of half an hour, hears the story of a duel—and the pistol-shot echoes ever after through her brain, filling it with insistent foreboding. We might recall illustrations of similar foreshadowing in real life. For instance, Jean Carlyle, six years old, beautiful and vivid as a tropical bird, stands before an audience to sing her little song; and waits in vain for her accompanist.
Finally she throws her apron over her head and runs away in confusion. She was prepared, she knew her part; but the support was lacking, the accompaniment failed her. It was not given to him who told the story to perceive the prophecy! Were I fanciful enough to fix upon one moment as prophetic of my life—as a key-note to the controlling principle of that life—I might recall the incident in my grandfather's room, when I ceased to be merely an inert absorber of light and warmth and comfort, and became aware of the pain in the world— pain which I passionately longed to alleviate.
She begged me of my mother for a visit, meant to be a brief one, and as she was greatly loved and respected by her people, I was permitted to return with her. There were no railroads in Virginia at that time. All journeys were made in private conveyances. The great coach-and-four had disappeared after the Revolution.
The carriage and pair, with the goatskin hair trunk strapped on behind, or—in case the journey were long—a light wagon for baggage, were now enough for the migratory Virginian. He lived at home except for the three summer months, when it was his invariable rule to visit Saratoga, or the White Sulphur, Warm, and Sweet Springs, of Virginia, making a journey to the latter, in something less than a week, now accomplished from New York in eight or nine hours. The carriage on high springs creaked and rocked like a ship at sea. Fortunately, it was well cushioned and padded within—and furnished at the four corners with broad double straps through which the arms of the passenger could be thrust to steady himself withal.
He needed them in the pitching and jolting over the rocks and ruts of dreadful roads. Inside each door were ample pockets for sundry comforts—biscuits, Page 8 sandwiches, apples, restorative medicines and cordials, books and papers. A flight of three or four carpeted steps was folded inside the door. Twenty-five miles were considered "a day's journey," quite enough for any pair of horses. At noon the latter were rested under the shade of trees near some spring or clear brook, the carriage cushions were laid out, and the luncheon!
Well, I cannot presume to be greater than the greatest of all our American artists,—he who could mould a hero in bronze and make him live again; and hold us, silent and awed, in the presence of the mysterious and unspeakable grief of a woman in marble! Has he not confessed that although he remembers an early perception of beauty in sky and sea, and field and wood—the memory that has followed him vividly through life is of odors from a baker's oven, and from apples stewing in a German neighbor's kitchen?
Hot gingerbread and spiced, sugared apples! I should say so, indeed! In just such a carriage as I have described, I set forth with my strange aunt and uncle—a little three-and-a-half-year-old! At night we slept in some country tavern, surrounded by whispering aspen trees. A sign in front, swung like a gibbet, promised "Refreshment for man and beast.
He had seen our coming from afar. He was eager for custom, but he had dignity to maintain. Lifting himself slowly from his bench or chair, he would leisurely come forward, and hesitatingly "reckon" Page 9 he could accommodate us. I was mortally afraid of him! Sinking into one of his deep feather beds, I trembled for my life and wept for my mother.
Finally one night, wearied out with the long journey, we turned into an avenue of cedars and neared our home. My aunt and uncle, on the cushions of the back seat, little dreamed of the dire resolve of the small rebel in front. Like the ants I had been brought, against my will, to a strange country. I silently determined I would not be a good little girl. I would be as naughty as I could, give all the trouble I could, and force them to send me home again.
But with the morning sun came perfect contentment, which soon blossomed into perfect happiness. From my bed I ran out in my bare feet to a lovely veranda shaded by roses. On one of the latticed bars a little wren bobbed his head in greeting, and poured out his silver thread of a song. Gabriella, the great tortoise-shell cat, with high uplifted tail, wooed and won me; and when Milly, black and smiling, captured me, it was to introduce me to an adorable doll and a little rocking-chair. From that hour until I married I was the happy queen of the household, the one whose highest good was wisely considered and for whose happiness all the rest lived.
The bond between my aunt and her small niece could never be sundered, and as she was greatly loved and trusted, and as many children blessed my own dear mother, I was practically adopted as the only child of my aunt and uncle, Dr. Samuel Pleasants Hargrave. And conservatories! These began deep in the earth and were built two stories high at the back of the house. They were entered by steps going down and only thus were they entered.
Windows opened into them from the parlor always "parlor,"—not drawing-room or from my lady's chamber.
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On the floor were great tubs of orange and lemon trees and the gorgeous flowering pomegranate. Along the walls were shelves reached by short ladders, and on these shelves were ranged cacti, gardenias Cape Jessamine, or jasmine, as we knew this queen of flowers , abutilon, golden globes of lantana, and the much-prized snowy Camellia Japonica, sure to sent packed in cotton as gifts to adorn the dusky tresses of some Virginia beauty, or clasp the folds of her diaphanous kerchief. These camellias, long before they were immortalized by the younger Dumas, were reckoned the most poetic and elegant of all flowers —so pure and sensitive, resenting the profanation of the slightest touch.
No cavalier of that day Page 11 would present to his ladye faire the simple flowers we love to-day. These would come fast enough with the melting of the snows early in February. I have never forgotten the ecstasy of one of these early February mornings. Mittened and hooded I ran down the garden walk from which the snow had been swept and piled high on either side.
Delicious little rivers were running down and I launched a mighty fleet of leaves and sticks. Suddenly I beheld a miracle. The snow was lying thickly all around, but the sun had melted it from a south bank, and white violets—hundreds of them—had popped out. I spread my apron on the clean snow and filled it with the cool, crisp blossoms. Running in exultant I poured my treasure into my dear aunt's lap as she sat on a low chair which brought my head just on a level with her bosom.
Like St. Gaudens, I remember the gingerbread and apples! I can see myself in the early hot summer, sent forth to breathe the cool air of the morning. What a paradise of sweets met my senses! The squares, crescents, and circles edged with box, over which an enchanted glistening veil had been thrown during the night; the tall lilacs, snowballs, myrtles and syringas, guarding like sentinels the entrance to every avenue; the glowing beds of tulips, pinks, purple iris, "bleeding hearts," flowering almond with rosy spikes, lily-of-the-valley!
I scanned them all with curious eyes. Did I not know that the fairies, riding on butterflies, had visited each one and painted it during the night? Did I not know that these Page 12 same fairies had hung their cups on the grass, and danced so long that the cups grew fast to the blades of grass and became lilies-of-the-valley? I knew all this—although my dear aunt never approved of fairy tales and gave me no fairy-tale books.
Cousin Charles believed them; moreover, I had a charming picture of a fairy, riding on a butterfly. Of course they were true. But I always hurried along, with small delay, among the flower beds. I knew where the passion-vine had dropped golden globes of fruit during the night—and I knew well where the cool figs, rimy with the early dew, were bursting with scarlet sweetness. Tell me not of your acrid grape-fruit, or far-fetched orange, wherewithal to break the morning fast!
I know of something better. It seems to me that the life we led at Cedar Grove and Shrubbery Hill was busy beyond all parallel. Everything the family and the plantation needed was manufactured at home, except the fine fabrics, the perfumes, wines, etc. Everything, from the goose-quill pen to carpets, bedspreads, coarse cotton cloth, and linsey-woolsey for servants' clothing, was made at home.
Even corset-laces were braided of cotton threads, the corset itself of home manufacture. Miss Betsey, the housekeeper, was the busiest of women. Besides her everlasting pickling, preserving, Page 13 and cake-baking, she was engaged, with my aunt, in mysterious incantations over cordials, tonics, camomile, wild cherry, bitter bark, and "vinegar of the four thieves," to be used in sickness. The recipe for the latter—well known in Virginia households a century ago—was probably brought by Thomas Jefferson from France in He was a painstaking collector of everything of practical value.
To this day there exists in the French druggists' code a recipe known as the " Vinaigre des Quatre Voleurs "; and it is that given by condemned malefactors who, according to official records still existing in France, entered deserted houses in the city of Marseilles during a yellow fever epidemic in the seventeenth century and carried off immense quantities of plunder. They seemed to possess some method of preserving themselves the scourge. Being finally arrested and condemned to be burned to death, an offer was made to the method of inflicting their punishment if they would reveal their secret.
The condemned men then confessed that they always wore over their faces handkerchiefs that had been saturated in strong vinegar and impregnated with certain ingredients, the principal one being bruised garlic. The recipe, still preserved in the Randolph family of Virginia, is an odd one—with a homely flavor— hardly to be expected of a French formula. It requires simply "lavender, rosemary, sage, wormwood, rue and mint, of each a large handful; put them in a pot of earthenware, cover the pot closely, and put a board on the top; keep it in the hottest sun two Page 14 weeks, then strain and bottle it, putting in each a clove of garlic.
When it has settled in the bottle and becomes clear, pour it off gently; do this until you get it all free from sediment. The proper time to make it is when herbs are in full vigor, in June. If she is inclined to make the experiment, she will achieve a decoction which has the merit at least of romance, the secret of its combination having been purchased by sparing the lives of four distinguished Frenchmen, with the present practical value of providing a refreshing prophylactic for the sick room,—provided the lavender, rosemary, sage, wormwood, rue, and mint completely stifle the clove of garlic!
Pepper and spices were pounded in marble mortars. Sugar was purchased in the bulk—in large cones wrapped in thick blue paper. This was broken into great slices, and then subdivided into cubes by means of a knife and hammer. Sometimes a late winter storm would overtake the new-born lambs, and they would be found forsaken by the flock.
The little shivering creatures would be brought to a shelter, and fed with warm milk from the long bottles, in which even now Page 15 we get Farina Cologne. Soft linen was wrapped around the slender neck, and my dear aunt fed the nurslings with her own white hands. How the lambkins could wag their tiny tails! All the fine muslins of the family, my aunt's great collars, and the ruffles worn by my uncle, my Cousin Charles, and myself, were carefully laundered under my aunt's supervision.
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Dipped in pearly starch, they were "clapped dry" in our own hands, ironed with small irons, and beautifully crimped on a board with a penknife. Fine linen was a kind of hall-mark by which a gentleman was "known in the gates when he" sat "among the elders of the land. There was nothing I had not attempted before I rounded my first decade,—churning, printing the butter with wooden moulds, or shaping it into a bristling pineapple; spinning on tiptoe at the great wheel—we had no flax-wheels—and even once scrambling up to the high seat of the weaver and sending the shuttle into hopeless tangles.
Ladies don't nuvver do dem things. There was no railroad to bring us luxuries from the nearest town—Richmond—twenty-five miles distant, and we depended upon the little covered cart of Aunt Mary Miller. Aunt Mary and her husband, Uncle Jacob, were old family servants who had been given their freedom. They lived at the foot of a hill near our house, and down the path, slippery with fallen pine needles, I was often sent with Milly to summon Uncle Jacob, who was the coachman. He was very old, and gray, and always unwilling to "hitch up de new kerridge in dis bad weather.
Aunt Mary was allowed to collect eggs, poultry, and peacock's feathers from the neighbors, take them down to Richmond to her waiting customers, and return with sundry delightful things,—Peter Parley's books, a wax doll, oranges and candy for me, and wonderful stories of the splendors she had seen. She had other stories than these. One night "a hant" had walked around her cart and "skeered" her old horse "pretty nigh outen his senses"; as to herself, "Humph, I'se used to hants.
Don't you go an' say I tole you anythin'. Jes you run down to the back of the gyardin as fur as the weepin' willer an' you'll know. Of course I knew already what I should find beneath the willow. I had often stood at the foot of the two long white slabs and read: "Sacred to the Memory of Charles Crenshaw" and "Sacred to the Memory of Susannah Crenshaw. This had been their home. The brother had died early, and for love of him the sister had broken her heart.
My sweet great-aunt Susannah! Had she not left a lovely Chinese basket—which I was to inherit—full of curious and precious things; a carved ivory fan, necklace, pearls, and amethysts, and a treasure of musk-scented yellow lace? Miss Susannah used to war blue satin high-heeled slippers.
You jes listen! Some o' dese dark nights you'll hear sump'n goin' ' click, click. That's the death-head moth. Milly says it won't hurt anybody, without you meddle with it. I seed hant befo' her mammy was bawn! I tells you it's Miss Susannah comin' on her high heels to see if you meddlin' with her things. I knowed Miss Susannah! She ain't nuvver goin' to let you war her things. Whenever I retired into the inner chambers of my imagination—as was my wont when grown-up people talked politics, or religion, or slavery—I found my pretty fairies all fled, and in their places hollow-eyed goblins and ghosts.
If my gentle Aunt Susannah was permitted to come back to her home, how about all the others who had lived there? My aunt coming for her final good-night kiss would uncover a hot face, to be instantly recovered upon her departure. All disappeared mysteriously except the chain of lovely beads.
These I wore. One night I slept in them and the next morning they were gone. Ah, you must call up some one of those long-time sleepers. According to latter-day lights, they may "come when you do call. I never did know. I remember an ever coming and going procession of Taylors, Pendletons, Flemings, Fontaines, Pleasants, etc. These made small impression upon me. Men might come and men might go, but my lessons went on forever; writing, geography, and much reading.
I had Mrs. Sherwood's books. Hannah More was the great influence with my aunt and her friends. Augustine Birrell could never have written his sarcastic review of her in my day. It would not have tolerated. Pierre, my aunt read aloud to me. On every centre table, along with the astral lamp, lay a sumptuous volume in cream and gold.
This was the elegant annual "Friendship's Offering," containing the much-admired poems of one Alfred Tennyson, collaborating with his brother Charles. Miss Martineau was much discussed and was distinctly unpopular. Stories were told of her peculiarities, her ignorance of the etiquette of polite society at the North. When she was in Washington Page 20 in , she was invited by Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith to an informal dinner at five o clock. Smith had requested three friends to meet her, and had arranged for "a small, genteel dinner.
Smith wrote to Mrs. Kirkpatrick: "I hastened upstairs and found them combing their hair! They had taken off their bonnets and large capes. We have been walking all the morning; our lodgings were too distant to return, so we have done as those who have no carriages do in England when they go to pass a social day. It was a rich treat to hear her talk when the candles were lit and the curtains drawn. Her words flow in a continuous stream, her voice is pleasing, her manners quiet and ladylike.
Some guest had brought her maid, and from her I heard a wonderful fairy-godmother story,—of one Cinderella, whose light footstep would not break a glass slipper. Uncle Remus had not yet dawned upon a waiting world of children, but Cowper had written charmingly about hares and how to domesticate them. I had a flourishing colony of "little Rabs.
Into this sacred refuge, ascended by a flight of tiny steps, even Gabriella was forbidden to enter. I could just manage to stand under the low ceiling. There I entertained a strange company. I had no toys of any description, and only one doll, which was much too fine for every day. I caught a number of them on the sandy margin of a little brook which ran at the bottom of the garden, and Milly helped me to dress them in bits of muslin and lace. Their ungraceful figures forbade their masquerading as ladies—a frog has "no more waist than the continent of Africa,"— but with caps and long skirts they made admirable infants, creeping in the most orthodox fashion.
Of course their prominent eyes and wide mouths left something to be desired; but these were very dear children, over whose mysterious disappearance their Page 22 adoptive mother grieved exceedingly. Could it be that snakes—but no! The suggestion is too awful! My aunt had a warm affection for a kinswoman who lived seven or eight miles from us. This lady's gentleness and sweetness made her a welcome visitor, and I never tired of hearing her talk, albeit her manner was tinged with sadness.
She grieved over the disappearance, years before, of a dear young brother. He had simply dropped out of sight—her "poor Brother Ben! One night late in summer a cold storm of rain and wind howled without and beat against the windowpanes. A fire was kindled on the hearth, and around it the family gathered for a cosey evening. Suddenly some one saw a face pressed against the window, and hastened to open the door to the benighted visitor. There, dripping upon the threshold, stood a wretched-looking man.
It was Brother Ben! He carried a bundle of blankets on his back which he proceeded to unwind, revealing at last two tiny Indian girls! The frightened little creatures clung to him closely, and only after being brought to the fire and fed on warm milk were sufficiently reassured to permit him to explain himself. With one on each knee, "Brother Ben" told his story. He had run away to escape the restraints of home and had found his way to the wild Western country beyond the Ohio.
Friendly Indians had sheltered and succored him, and he had finally married a young daughter of their chief. When his children were Page 23 born, he "came to himself. For days and nights he was in the wilderness, fording rivers, climbing mountains, hiding under the bushes at night. Finally he overtook a party of homeward-bound huntsmen, and in their company succeeded in reaching his sister's door. I never knew what became of him, but the children were adopted by their aunt as her own. They were queer little round creatures, knowing no word of English, but affectionate and docile.
I was much with them, delighting to teach them. I cared no more for Gabriella nor my rabbits and frogs. I thought no more of fairies and midnight apparitions. Here was food enough for imagination, different from anything I had ever dreamed of,—romance brought to my very door. Without doubt the Indian mother, far away towards the setting sun, wept for her babies, but nobody, excepting myself, seemed to think of her. Could I write to her? Could I, some day, find a huntsman going westward and send her a message?
She might even come to them! Some dark night I might see her dusky face pressed against the window-pane, peering in! As time wore on, the children grew to be great girls, and their Indian peculiarities of feature and coloring became so pronounced that they were constantly wounded by being mistaken for mulattoes. Page 24 There was no school in Virginia where they could be happy.
No lady would willingly allow her little girls to associate with them. Evidently there was no future for them in Virginia. Finally their aunt found through our Quaker friends an excellent school, I think in Ohio, and thither the little wanderers were sent, were kindly treated, were educated, and grew up to be good women who married well. My aunt made many long journeys—across the state to the White Sulphur Springs of which I remember nothing but crowds and discomfort—to Amherst, where my father lived, to Charlotte to visit my grandfather, and to Albemarle to visit friends among the mountains.
She joined house-parties for a few weeks every summer; and one of these I, then a very little child, can perfectly recollect. The country house, like all Virginia houses, was built of elastic material capable of sheltering any number of guests, many of whom remained all summer. Indeed, this was expected when a visit was promised. Sometimes Page 25 a happy guest would ignore time altogether and stay along from season to season. I cannot remember a parallel case to that of Isaac Watts, who, invited by Sir Thomas Abney to spend a night at Stoke Newington, accepted with great cheerfulness and staid twenty years, but I do remember that an invitation for one night brought to a member of our family a pleasant couple who remained four years.
Virginia was excelled, it seems, by the mother country. At this my first house-party there were many young people—among them the famous beauty, Anne Carmichael, and the then famous poet and novelist, Jane Lomax. These, with a number of bright young men, made a gay party. Every moonlight night it was the custom to bring the horses to the door-steps, and all would mount and go off for a visit to some neighbor. I was told, however, that the object of these nocturnal rides was to enable Miss Lomax to write poetry on the moon, and I was sorely perplexed as to the possibility, without the longest kind of a pen, of accomplishing such a feat.
I spent hours reasoning out the problem, and had finally almost brought myself to the point of consulting the young lady herself,—although I distinctly thought there was something mysterious and uncanny about her,—when something occurred which strained relations between her and myself. An uninteresting bachelor from town had appeared on the scene, to the chagrin of the young people, whose circle was complete without him.
He belonged to the class representing in that day the present-day "little brothers of the rich," often Page 26 the most agreeable relations the rich can boast, but in this case decidedly the reverse. It was thought that the present intruder was "looking for a wife,"—he had been known to descend upon other house-parties without an invitation, —and it was deliberately determined to give him the most frigid of cold shoulders. Our amiable hostess, however, emphatically put a stop to this.
I learned the state of things and resented it. I resolved to devote myself to him, and to espouse his cause against his enemies. One day when the young ladies were together in my aunt's room there was great merriment over the situation in regard to "old True," and many jests to his disadvantage related and laughed over.
To my great delight Miss Lomax presently announced: "Now, girls, this is all nonsense! Trueheart is a favorite of mine. I shall certainly accept him if he asks me. I saw daylight for my injured friend, and immediately set forth to find him. He was sitting alone under the trees, on the lawn, and welcomed the little girl tripping over the grass to keep him company. On his knee I eagerly gave him my delightful news, and saw his face illumined by it.
I was perfectly happy—and so, he assured me, was he! That evening my aunt observed an unwonted excitement in my face and manner—and after feeling my pulse and hot cheeks decided I was better off in bed, and sent me to my room, which happened Page 27 to be in a distant part of the house. To reach it I had to go through a long, narrow, dark hall. I always traversed this hall at night with bated breath. Tiny doors were let into the wall near the floor, opening into small apertures then known by the obsolescent name of "cuddies.
So far from the family, nobody would hear me if I screamed. Suppose something were to jump out at me from those cuddies! In the middle of this fearsome place I heard quick steps behind. Before I could run or scream, strong fingers gripped my shoulders and shook me, and a fierce whisper hissed in my ear—" You little devil! He left early next morning and so did we—my aunt perceiving that the excitement of the gay house- party was not good for me. I learned there were other things besides hot roast apples to be avoided. Fingers might be burned by meddling with people's love affairs.
We were not the only guests who left the hospitable, gay, noisy, sleep-forbidding house. Our host had an eccentric sister whom we all addressed as "Cousin Betsey Michie," and who had left her own home expressly to spend a few weeks here with my aunt, to whom she was much attached. When "Cousin Betsey" discovered our intended departure, she ordered her maid "Liddy" to pack her trunk,—a little nail-studded box covered with goatskin, Page 28 —and insisted upon claiming us as her guests for the rest of the season. I wondered what I should do, were she ever to kiss me,—which she never did,—and had made up my mind to keep away from her as far as possible.
I owed her nothing, I reasoned, as she was not really my cousin. She used strong language, and was intolerant of all the singing, dancing, and midnight rides of the young people. Her room was immediately beneath mine. But the night before, lying awake after my startling interview with the poetess, I had heard the galloping horses of the party returning from a midnight visit to "Edgeworth," and the harsh voice of Cousin Betsey calling to her sister: "Maria, Maria!
Don't you dare get out of bed to give those scamps supper—a passel of ramfisticated villians, cavorting all over the country like wild Indians. As we heard much about Johnsonian English from Cousin Betsey, it was reasonable to suppose, my aunt thought, that the startling word was classic. One evening while we were her guests she suddenly asked if I could write. I was about to give her an indignant affirmative, when my aunt interrupted, "Not very well.
Maria Gordon has been copying for me, but such fantastic flourishes! It will be Greek copied into Sanskrit if she does it. Well, what can the child do? Come here, miss. Are your hands clean? Wash them again, honey; you must help Liddy make the Fuller's pies for my dinner-party to-morrow. But I found the "Fuller's pies" were quite within my powers. Il est au nid de la pie, " says Rabelais. As to my hands—I feel persuaded that Cousin Betsey's guests would have been reassured could they have known to a certainty the old lady had not prepared them with her own!
A glass bowl was placed before me forthwith,—a bowl of boiling water, some almonds and raisins. These were the "pies" birds in a nest , and very attractive they were, piled in the quaint old bowl with its fine diamond cutting. As to the "Fuller" thus immortalized, I looked him up, furtively, in the great Johnson's Dictionary which lay in solitary grandeur upon a table in the old lady's bedroom.
Finding him unsatisfactory, I concluded Dr. Johnson was not, after all, the great man Cousin Betsey would have me believe. She quoted him on all occasions as authority upon all Page 30 subjects. Boswell's Life of him, "Rasselas," "The Journey to the Hebrides," and "The Rambler" held places of honor upon the shelves of her small bookcase. They will teach you to speak and write English ,—you need no other language, —and everything else you need know except sewing and cooking.
She was, at the moment, engaged in writing a novel, "Some Fact and Some Fiction," which was to appear serially in the Southern Literary Messenger. I listened "with all my ears" to her talk concerning it with my aunt. It was to be a satire upon the affectations of the day —especially upon certain innovations in dress and custom brought by her cousin "Judy," the accomplished wife of our late Minister to France, Mr.
Rives, and transplanted upon the soil of Albemarle County; also the introduction of Italian words to music in place of good old English. The heroine was exquisitely simple, her muslin gown clasped with modest pearl brooch and a rose-geranium leaf. This was deemed a clever satire on the unintelligible Italian words of recent songs, and ran through several verses, describing the Frog's courtship of Mistress Mouse, who seems to have been a fair lady with domestic habits who lived in a mill and was occupied with her spinning.
I was full of anticipation on the great day of the dinner-party. The house was spick and span. I filled a bowl with damask roses from the garden, sparing the microphylla, clusters that hung so prettily over the front porch. The dinner was to be at two o'clock. A few minutes before two a sable horseman galloped up to the door, dismounted, and, scraping his foot backward as he bared a head covered with gray wool, presented a note which my aunt read aloud:— "CASTLE HILL, Wednesday noon.
Samuel Johnson! That sounds like that idiot, Tom Moore. I helped to pick the berries and gather the eggs from the nests in the privet hedge. Also for several days I had a steady diet of "Fuller's pies. Still, Cousin Betsey must have been, in her way, a great woman, for it was of her that Thomas Jefferson exclaimed, "God send she were a man, that I might make her Professor in my University. The Morus multicaulis , upon the leaves of which the silkworm feeds, can be propagated from slips or cuttings.
These cutting commanded a fabulous price. To plant them was to lay a sure foundation for a great fortune. My uncle visited Richmond at a time when the mania had reached fever-heat. Men hurried through the streets, with bundles of twigs under their arms, as if they were flying from an enemy. All over the city auction sales were held, and fortunes were lost or gained—as they are to-day in Wall Street—with the fluctuations of the market.
Long galleries, roofed with glass, were hastily erected all over the country, the last year's eggs of the Bombyx mori obtained at great price, and the freshly gathered leaves of the Morus multicaulis laid in readiness for their hatching. My uncle ridiculed this madness, although as a physician it interested him. It is a fine tonic. They will need no bark and camomile while the fever lasts. With my narrow skirts drawn closely around me, I tiptoed gingerly along the aisles dividing the long tables, and saw the hideous, grayish yellow, three-inch worms—each one armed with a rhinoceros-like horn on his head—devouring leaves for dear life.
They had need for haste. Their time was short. Think of the millions of brave men and fair ladies who were waiting for the strong, shining threads it was their humble destiny to spin! I saw the ease with which their spider-web thread was caught in hot water, and wound in balls as easily as I wound the wools for my aunt's knitting. Nothing came of it all! In time all the Morus multicaulis was dug up, and good, sensible corn planted in its stead.
Does not Morus come from the Greek word for "fool"? Henry Clay was his idol. When the great man passed through Virginia, all Hanover went to Richmond to do him the honor, ourselves among the number. He was a son of Hanover, the "Mill boy of the Slashes. No living man except Webster equalled him in all that the world holds essential to greatness—none was as dear to the mass of people. And yet neither could be elected to the post of Chief Magistrate of those adoring people! Clay, at the time he visited Richmond, was confident he would win this honor.
My uncle resolved I should see "the next President. My uncle found a vacant doorstep on the line of march, and there we awaited the great man's coming. You may never again see the greatest man in the world. The crowd thronged us, and my uncle caught me to a vantage-ground on his shoulder. A tumbling sea of hats was all I could see! Presently a space appeared in the procession, and a tall man on the arm of another looked up with a rare smile to the small maiden, lifted his hat, and bowed to her!
My uncle never allowed me to forget that one supreme moment in my child-life. To this day I cannot look at the fine bronze statuette of Henry Clay in my husband's library without a sensation born of the pride of that hour. I am afraid the small maiden dearly loved glory! Page 36 Nobody would ever have guessed the ambitious little heart beating, the next winter, under the cherry merino; nor the conscious lips deep in her poke-bonnet that followed the prayers at church and implored mercy for a miserable sinner!
For she had, during that glorious summer, another shining hour to remember. Those penitent lips had been kissed by a great man all the way from England—a man who had kissed the hand of a queen! She had a dim apprehension of virtue through the laying on of hands in church. What, then, might not come in the way of royal attribute from the laying on of lips! Great thoughts like these so swelled my bosom that I was fain to reveal them to my little Quaker cousin at Shrubbery Hill. She received them gravely. The Princess Isabella, born, like myself, in , was even then known as the future queen of Spain.
It was an age of young queens. Among the strangers from abroad who found their way to Virginia, none was more honored in Hanover than the Quaker author and philanthropist, Joseph John Gurney. He was the brother of Elizabeth Fry, who gave her life to the amelioration of the prison horrors of England. My uncle entertained Dr. The house was filled with guests to its utmost capacity. A picture of the long dining-tables rises before me— the gold-and-white best service, the flowers—and Page 37 the sweetest flower of all, my young aunt. She was tall and graceful and very beautiful,—with large gray eyes, dark curls framing her face, delicate features, a lovely smile!
She wore a narrow gown of pearl silk, the "surplice" waist belted high, and sleeves distended at the top by means of feather cushions tied in the armholes. I remember my uncle ordered the dinner to be served quietly and in a leisurely manner. Gurney drew forth his scrapbook and pencils, and began, as he talked, to retouch sketches he had made during his journey. The parlor was simply furnished. The Virginian of that day seemed to attach small importance to the style of his furniture.
His chief pride was in his table, his fine wines, his horses and equipage, and the perfect comfort he could give his guests. There was no bric-a-brac, there were no pictures or brackets on the wall. I have seen the plate in which they were served. She was not responsible for the taste of this inherited home, which she had not tenanted Page 38 very long.
The walls of the parlor were papered with a wonderful representation of a Venetian scene —printed at intervals of perhaps four or more feet. Down this stair came the most adorable creature in the world,—roses on her brocade gown, roses on her broad hat,—and at the foot of the stair a cavalier, also adorable, extended his hand to conduct her to the gondola in waiting. In the distance were more castles, more sea, more gondolas. In this room the distinguished stranger met the company convened in his honor.
If he gasped or shuddered at the ornate walls, he gave no sign. The little girl on the ottoman in the chimney corner, permitted to sit up late because of the rare occasion, listened with wide eyes to conversation she could not understand. Weighty matters were discussed,—for all the world was alive to the question which had to be met later,—the possibility of freeing the slaves under the present constitutional laws.
This was a small gathering of the wise men of our neighborhood—come to consult a wise man from the country that had met and solved a similar problem. Perhaps all of these men had, like my uncle, given freedom to inherited slaves. Presently I found myself, as I half dreamed in the corner, caught up by strong arms to the bosom of the great man himself.
Bending over the sleepy head, he whispered a strange story—how that, far away across the seas, there was once a little girl Page 39 "just like you" who loved her play, and loved to sit up and hear grown people talk—how a lady came to her one day and said, "My child you must study and learn to deny yourself much pleasure, for soon you will be the queen of England" —how the little girl neither laughed nor cried, but said, "I will be good"—how time had gone on, and she had kept her promise and was now grown up to be a lovely lady; and sure enough, just a little while ago had been crowned queen—and how everybody was glad, because they knew, as she had been a good child, she would be a good queen.
That was a long time ago. Many things have happened and been forgotten since then; the Venetian lady and her cavalier have sailed away in unknown seas; the good Englishman has long since gone to his rest; the queen has won, God grant, an immortal crown, having lived to be old, never forgetting all along her life her promise; and the little girl has lived to be old, too!
She has dreamed many dreams, but none more beautiful than the one she probably dreamed that night,—all roses and castles and gondolas, and a gracious young queen lovelier than all the rest. Thus passed the first eight years of my life. Compared with those that followed, they were years of absolute serenity and happiness. They were not gay. This was the time when people who "feared God and desired to save their souls" felt bound to forsake the Established Church, many of whose clergy had become objects of disgust rather than of reverence.
Dissenters and Quakers lived all around Page 40 us; my uncle and aunt were Presbyterians, and I heard little but sober talk in my early years. Sometimes we attended the silent meetings of the Quakers, and sometimes old St. Martin's, to which many of our Episcopal friends belonged. Extreme asceticism, however, was as far from the temper of my aunt and uncle as was the extreme of dissipation. They were strict in the observance of the Sabbath and of all religious duties.
Temperance in speech and living, moderation, serenity,—these ruled the life at Cedar Grove. In there was a charming princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; intelligent, amiable, and only seventeen years of age. She had stepped forth from the conventional ranks of the young noblewomen of her day, and written a spirited letter to Frederick the Great, in which she entreated him to stop the ravages of war then desolating the German States. She had painted in vivid colors the miseries resulting from the brutality of the Prussian soldiery.
It appears that this letter reached the eyes of the Prince of Wales. He fell in love with the letter before he ever knew the writer. Charlottesville, then, was a name of happy omen for the pretty little town, and in three more years a county was created, it would seem, expressly that it might be called "Mecklenburg," and yet again a slice taken from another county to form the county of Charlotte. We might almost call the roll of the House of Lords from a list of Virginia counties.
Twenty-four years after the Princess Charlotte had become a queen, Mrs. Abigail Adams, as our minister's wife, was presented at the Court of St. Alas for time,—and perhaps for prejudice, —she found, in place of the charming princess, an "embarrassed woman, not well-shaped nor handsome, although bravely attired in purple and silver.
There had been a recent unpleasantness between John Bull and Brother Jonathan; King George, however, brave Briton as he was, broke the ice, and startled Mrs. Adams by giving her a hearty kiss! She could not venture, however, to remind the queen that we had named counties in her honor. She might, in her present state of mind, have deemed it an impertinence on our part. I am so impatient under descriptions of scenery, that I do not like to inflict them upon others.
But I wish I could stand with my reader upon the elliptic plain formed by cutting down the apex of Monticello. He would, I am sure, appreciate the Page 43 fascination of mountain, valley, and river which drew the first settlers, and later the Randolphs, Gilmers, William Wirt, and Thomas Jefferson, to the region around Charlottesville. On the east the almost level scene is bounded by the horizon, and on the west the land seems to billow onward, wave after wave, until it rises in the noble crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A mist of green at our feet is pierced here and there by the simple belfries of the village churches, and a little farther on, glimpses appear of the classic Pantheon and long colonnades of the University of Virginia. Imagination may fill in this picture, but reality will far exceed imagination, especially if the happy moment is caught at sunset when the mountains change color, from rose through delicate shadings to amethyst, and finally paint themselves deep blue against the evening sky.
Then, should that sky chance to be veiled with light, fleecy clouds all flame and gold —but I forbear! This was the spot chosen by my aunt as the very best for my education and my social life. The town was small in the forties, indeed, is not yet a city. It is described at that time as having four churches, two book-stores, several dry-goods stores, and a female seminary.
The family of Governor Gilmer lived on one of the little hills, Mr. Valentine Southall on another, and we were fortunate enough to secure a third, with a glorious view of the mountains and with grounds terraced to the foot of the hill. Large gardens, grounds, and ornamental trees surrounded all the houses. The best were Page 44 of plain brick of uniform unpretentious architecture, comfortable, and ample. A small brick building at the foot of our lawn was my uncle's office, and behind it, on my tenth birthday, he made me plant a tree.
The "Female Seminary" had been really the magnet that drew my dear aunt. It was a famous school, presided over by an excellent and much-loved Presbyterian clergyman. There it was supposed I should learn everything my aunt could not teach me. Behold me, then, on a crisp October morning wending my way to the great brick hive for girls. I was going with my aunt to be examined for admission. Her thoughts were, doubtless, anxious enough about the creditable showing I should make.
Mine were anxious, too. I was conscious of a linen bretelle apron under my pelisse, and my mind was far from clear about the propriety of so juvenile a garment. Suppose no other girl wore bretelle aprons! However, when we marched up the broad bricked walk and ascended the steps of the great building, whose many windows seemed to stare at us like lidless eyes, bretelle aprons sank into insignificance. The room into which we were ushered seemed to be filled with hundreds of girls, and the Reverend Doctor's desk on a platform towered over them.
He was most affable and kind. The examination lasted only a few minutes, a list of books was given me, and a desk immediately in front of the principal assigned me. Books were borrowed from some Page 45 other girl, the lessons for the next day pointed out, and my school life began. Remember, I had not yet planted my tenth birthday tree. I worked hard on these subjects with the result that, as I could not understand them, I learned by rote a few words in answer to the questions. A bright, amiable little scrap of a girl, who always knew her lessons, volunteered to assist me.
If any collector of old books should happen to find a volume of Watts on the Mind, much thumbed and blotted here and there with tears, and should see within the early pages pencilled bracket enclosing the briefest possible answer to the questions, that book, those tears, were mine; and the brackets are the loving marks made by Margaret Wolfe, whose memory I ever cherish.
Watts in conspicuous pencilled brackets , "is the art of investigating and communicating Truth. Watts, Abercrombie, et al. As soon as she arrived at this conclusion, she decided to experiment with no more large female Page 46 seminaries, but to educate me, as best she could, at home. At the same time I know that my dear aunt suffered from the overthrow of all her plans for my education.
She had, for my sake, made great sacrifices in leaving her inherited home. These sacrifices were all for naught. She must have felt keen disappointment, and regret at the loss, toil, expense, —and, above all, my worse than wasted time. Yet, after all, my time at school may not have been utterly thrown away! The experience may have borne fruit that I know not of. Moreover, I had learned something! I learned that Logic is the art of investigating and communicating Truth! Happy to escape from the schoolroom, I worked as never maiden worked before, loving my summer desk in the apple tree in the garden, loving my winter desk beside the blazing wood in my uncle's office, passionately loving my music, and interested in the other studies assigned me.
With no competitive examinations to stimulate me, I yet made good progress. Before I reached my thirteenth year, I had learned to read French easily. I had wept over the tender story of Picciola and the sorrows of Paul and Virginia. I had sailed with Ulysses and trod the flowery fields with Calypso. My aunt had beguiled me into a course of history by allowing me as reward those romances of Walter Scott which are founded on historical events. My love of music and desire to excel in it made me patient under the eccentric itinerant music teacher, the one pioneer apostle of classic music in all Virginia, who was known, more than once, to arrive at midnight and call me up for my lesson; and who, while other maidens were playing the "Battle of Prague" and "Bonaparte crossing the Rhine," or singing the campaign songs of the hero of the log cabin, taught me to Beethoven and Liszt, and to discern the answering voices in that genius, then young, whose magic Page 48 music fell not then, nor ever after, upon unheeding ears.
Confederate Memorial Day
I had read with my aunt selections all the way from "The Faerie Queene" through the times of later queens,—Elizabeth and Anne,—and had made a beginning with the queen for whom I had a sentiment, and who has given her name to so fair an age of fancy and of elegant writing. Alas, for the mental training I might have had through the study mathematics! Were it not that the lack of this training must be apparent to all who are kind enough to listen to my story, I might quote Joseph Jefferson, as Mr. William Winter reports him: "Why, look at me! I seem to have managed pretty well, but I couldn't for the life of me add up a column of figures.
There was a strong desire to be rid of slavery, a deep seated page: 39 conviction of the impolity of that institution, but, except among the Quakers and a very few others, there seems to have been no thought anywhere that the holding of negroes in bondage was a violation of that fundamental doctrine of human rights upon which the Republic had been established.
Indeed the desire to be rid of slavery seems at that time, and for a long time afterwards, to have been stronger at the South, where the institution was general, than at the North where it existed only in a scant and inconsequent way. As early as , the South Carolina colony had sought to limit the extension of the system by passing an act forbidding the further importation of slaves, but the British Government had vetoed the measure.
Twelve years later Virginia sought to protect her people against the black danger of slavery by imposing a prohibitory tariff duty upon imported slaves. Again the home government in London forbade the act to have any force or effect. When Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian, wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of the strongest counts in his splendid indictment of the British King was the charge that in these and other cases he had forbidden the people of the colonies to put any legal check upon the growth of this stupendous evil.
But when the Declaration was adopted by Congress and signed as the young Republic's explanation of its revolutionary action, rendered in obedience to "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind," the great Virginian's arraignment of the King for page: 40 having thus fostered slavery in colonies that desired to be rid of it, did not appear in that supreme document of state.
We have Jefferson's own testimony that it had been stricken out in deference to the will of those New England merchants and capitalists whose ships and money found astonishingly profitable employment in the slave trade between the coast of Africa and the southern part of our country. Thus while the holding of slaves in the more northerly colonies had proved to be unprofitable and had to a great extent ceased at the time of the Revolution, the traffic in slaves from Africa to the southern parts of this country was so profitable an industry that even the Declaration of Independence must be emasculated of one of its most virile features in deference to the greed of gain.
And this dominance of interest over principle continued for long years afterward. When the great convention that framed the Constitution was in session, it was at first proposed to put an end to the slave trade from Africa in the year An amendment was offered, extending the license of that infamous traffic to the year , and this eight years' extension was adopted by a vote which included in the affirmative every New England state represented in the convention, Virginia voting steadfastly against it.
Those votes for the extension of the slave trade were given undoubtedly in behalf of the mercantile interest of the maritime states of the northeast, and they reflected no moral conviction whatsoever. For there was at that time no moral conviction of the page: 41 wrongfulness of slavery anywhere in the country. The thought that the negro was a man, endowed by his Creator with an unalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," had not yet been born in America. And even after thirty odd years, and a dozen years after the constitutional prohibition of the African slave trade had gone into effect, that unlawful traffic in human beings was still so gainful an occupation to merchants and shipmasters, that Mr.
Justice Joseph Story, himself a New Englander and a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, was bitterly denounced by the New England press and public as a judge who deserved to be "hurled from the bench," because he had instructed grand juries that it was their sworn duty to indict the men who were still engaged in the nefarious business of transporting slaves, under conditions of unspeakable cruelty, from Africa to these shores. The offense of that great jurist lay in the fact that he regarded the demands of the constitution and the law as more binding upon his character and conscience than the demands of the New England slave traders whose very profitable business his insistence upon the rigid enforcement of the law threatened to embarrass and destroy.
As there are now no advocates of slavery in our free land; as all of us, North and South alike, are agreed that the institution was a curse the maledictions of which endure to the present day in vexatious "race problems;" it is possible and proper now to record all facts respecting it with impartiality and without controversial intent.
It is of supreme page: 42 importance to any clear understanding of this matter to bear in mind the fact that our modern conceptions of human rights did not exist in the earlier times; that the recognition of the negro as "a man and a brother" is the birth of comparatively recent thought; that the traffic in black human beings, captured in Africa and brought hither for sale as laborers, excited no impulse of antagonism, offended no moral sentiment, and seemed to nobody in the earlier times a violation of those fundamental doctrines of human right upon which this Republic is based.
All that has been a glorious after-thought, and it is solely with an expository purpose and not at all as a tu quoque that these facts of history are here set forth. Surely the time is fully ripe in which men of the 'North and men of the South may sit together in an impartial study of the causes of a quarrel that brought them into armed conflict more than a generation ago and may calmly consider without offense the sins of their forefathers on either side, making due allowance for the lack of modern light and leading as a guide to those forefathers.
We must do this in this spirit, if we would be fair. Still more imperatively must we do it if history is ever to be written. The period of controversy is past. The time of reckoning has come. The time has come when the advocate holding a brief for the one or the other party to the controversy should give place to the historian intent only upon the task of discovering and recording fact. The circumstance that there was grievous wrong on both sides does not rob either of the credit due for the right that it supported.
After the revolution the great statesmen of our land manifested a determined eagerness to free the country from slavery. John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were not more energetic in this cause than were Jefferson and other Southerners. When Virginia ceded to the Federal Government all her claims to the territory northwest of the Ohio river, it was Thomas Jefferson, the Virginian slaveholder, who insisted upon writing into the deed of cession a provision that slavery should never be permitted in any part of that fair land which now constitutes the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
George Wythe, under whose tuition Henry Clay studied law, was by all odds the greatest jurist that Virginia ever produced, with the single exception of John Marshall. George Wythe was one of those whom Mr. Carl Schurz has in our own times characterized as "the Revolutionary abolitionists. George Wythe absolutely impoverished himself--born to vast wealth as he was--in setting free the negroes whom he had inherited as slaves and in providing them with the means of establishing themselves in bread-winning ways.
For, as he expressed it, "I have no right to set these people free to starve. He gave them their liberty and with it a piece of land for each, on which with ordinary industry and page: 44 thrift they could surely make a living for themselves and their families. Then he set to work, a man stripped of all his ancestral possessions and impoverished by his own act of justice, to earn a living as a Virginian lawyer.
So far from having offended his fellow Virginians by his act of emancipation, he had won their esteem and their reverence. He became their chancellor and the most honored judge upon their bench. Thousands of other Virginians of lesser note than George Wythe did substantially the same thing, though less conspicuously. Under the law after a time they could not set their slaves free without sending them beyond the borders of the state.
Many of them found this condition a paralyzing one. They must pay off the hereditary debts of their estates and they must buy in the West little but sufficient farms for their inherited negro slaves to live upon if they would set those slaves free. These things many of them did at cost of personal impoverishment, while many others, like-minded, found conditions beyond their control.
If the whole story of that Virginian effort to be rid of slavery by individual and grandly self-sacrificing effort could be told here or elsewhere, the angels of justice and mercy would rejoice to read the page on which the wonder tale was written. But the heroes who did these deeds of self-sacrifice for principle were mainly obscure men of whose names there remains no record. Only here and there a great name like that of George Wythe appears. Among these is the name of John Randolph of Roanoke,--most insistently cantankerous of page: 45 Southerners--who left a will freeing all his slaves on grounds of human right.
And though that will was defeated of its purpose by a legal technicality, it is immeasurably valuable as a fact in history which reflects the sentiment of that time among those who had inherited and who held slaves and even among those who, like Randolph, are commonly regarded as the special champions of slavery. And this desire of Southern men to be rid of slavery did not cease until the very end. Very many Southerners whose consciences dominated their lives, deliberately and painstakingly educated their negroes for freedom in the hope and assurance that sooner or later, by one means or by another, freedom would come to them.
There were planters not a few who used their authority as the masters of slaves to compel their negroes to cultivate little fields of their own and to put aside the proceeds thereof, as a fund with which to meet the surely coming freedom face to face, with no fear of starvation as a circumstance of embarrassment. Henry Clay studied law under Virginia's great chancellor, George Wythe.
From his distinguished Virginian teacher he learned the lesson that slavery --forced upon an unwilling people in the Southern part of this country by kingly and corporate greed, and still further forced upon those regions by the greed of merchants and shipmasters, even after the traffic that fed it had been prohibited by the Constitution and by the law--was an evil and a curse, a wrong to the black man and a demoralizing influence to the white.
He saw clearly that it was the task of page: 46 all good men to exterminate that evil root and branch, by such means as might be found available, without the destruction of society as a necessary incident or consequence. In the young state of Kentucky Henry Clay began his political career as an advocate of rational and gradual emancipation, and to his dying day--involved as he was in all the strenuous controversies to which the slavery issue gave rise in national politics--he never lost his interest in this behalf or abated his efforts to secure its accomplishment.
A plea for the extermination of slavery was the first plea he ever presented to the people whom he asked to support him for public office. A plea for the extirpation of slavery was well-nigh the last that he ever urged upon the people of his state after all that was possible of honor had been conferred upon him by their approving will. So enduring was this sentiment at the South that John Letcher, the Democratic war governor of Virginia, the man who set Lee to organize the state's forces for the Confederate war, the man who created the Army of Northern Virginia and made possible all its splendid achievements, was in fact elected governor because of his abolitionist sentiments.
Letcher was strongly imbued with that conviction which had dominated the best minds of Virginia from colonial days, that slavery was a curse to be got rid of and not at all an institution to be defended upon its merits. He had publicly urged the necessity of getting rid of it. He had explained to his fellow Virginians, in public utterances, its demoralizing influence upon the young white men of that page: 47 commonwealth.
Finally, so eager was he to rid his native state of the incubus that he deliberately proposed the one thing most offensive to the Virginian mind, namely, the division of the "Old Dominion" into two states in order that the western half of it at least might be free from slavery. When he stood as a candidate for governor in the last election before the war, all these facts were used against him to the utmost by the advocates of slavery and they undoubtedly deprived him of many thousands of votes east of the Alleghenies.
The first returns indicated the election of his adversary, William L. Goggin, by an overwhelming majority. But when the figures came in from the western part of the state, where slavery scarcely at all survived, John Letcher was elected. Thus the anti-slavery sentiment gave to the foremost state of the Southern Confederacy its singularly earnest and efficient war governor.
But side by side with this anti-slavery sentiment in the South, there grew up a pro-slavery sentiment which was buttressed by every impulse of gain that it is possible for the human mind to conceive. Near the end of the eighteenth century, Eli Whitney made slavery enormously profitable by his invention of the cotton-gin. Before that time slavery had been of more than doubtful profit to the people of the states that permitted it. It was not at all an economical labor system. It required the master to give to the laborer, in lieu of wages, such food, habitation, clothing, nursing in illness and care in infancy and old age, as no laboring population in the world has ever before or since received in return for page: 48 its labor.
It involved pension as well as payment. It imposed upon the employer obligations such as no employer in all the world, before or since, has been willing to assume. But Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton-gin made the payment of such wages possible and profitable. It made it possible for a plantation owner to grow rich while feeding, housing, clothing and caring for his negroes as no other employer has fed, housed, clothed and cared for his working people since the foundations of the world were laid. Eli Whitney's invention made illimitable cotton a substitute for costly and narrowly limited linen and in a great degree for good.
It made it possible for every man in all the world to put a shirt on his back, a pair of sheets on his bed, a case on his pillow, and to clothe his wife in calico and his children in cottonade where before all these luxuries were denied to him and his by inexorable laws of economics.
But incidentally that invention made slavery enormously profitable, where before it had been doubtfully profitable. Eliza Lucas of South Carolina, afterwards Eliza Pinckney, had sought to find profitable employment for her slaves by cultivating indigo. Other enterprising experimenters had explored other avenues of earning, but not one of them had found a way of making profitable the ownership of slaves until Eli Whitney devised a machine by the use of which any ignorant negro could remove the seed from three thousand pounds of cotton in a single day, where before one negro man or woman could remove the seed from only one pound or at the most a few page: 49 pounds.
From that hour forward, negro slavery became profitable in the South, and from that hour forth it stood as a "vested interest" with its influence as such in politics. Let us not misunderstand. The cultivation of cotton by free labor has exceeded in its productiveness by more than two to one, that cultivation under the slave system.
As has already been set forth in these pages, the greatest cotton crop ever grown before the war with which we here have to deal amounted only to 4,, bales, while under free labor the annual production rose to an average of more than 11,, bales in the closing years of the century which saw the extinction of slavery.
Yet there is no doubt or possibility of doubt that Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton-gin near the end of the eighteenth century made negro slavery profitable as it had never been before in this country. It enabled the planter to grow rich upon the proceeds of the labor of negro slaves whose industry had before produced scarcely more than enough to support themselves. It created a new era. It inaugurated a new epoch. It instigated a new sentiment in favor of slavery, where before the sentiment had been tending the other way.
In considering human affairs historically it is very necessary to bear in mind that men ordinarily have no opinions. If by "opinions" we mean well considered judgments, founded upon an orderly reasoning from accepted premises, then opinions are the very rarest of human possessions. If we are told that a particular person was born and bred in Spain, we know page: 50 without further inquiry what his religious convictions are.
If we learn that he is a Turk we perfectly know his so-called opinions upon the subject of matrimony. We take for granted the views of the Puritans' sons and daughters concerning religion. We know, without asking, what the "opinions" of any American are with respect to the Declaration of Independence. We know that, with the exception of a very few men, all the people of the South were firmly convinced that the cause of the South in the Confederate war was a just one; that the National Government had no conceivable right to coerce recalcitrant states; that secession was an absolute right of the states, and all the rest of it.
On the other hand we know that the Northern boy who had declaimed Webster's reply to Hayne was fully imbued with the conviction that "Liberty and Union" were "now and forever, one and inseparable. In other words, with here and there an exception, men's opinions are determined by geography, tradition, circumstance, self-interest and the like. Thus when New England's chief interest was maritime and commercial, Daniel Webster was the most radical of free-traders.
He held up to ridicule and contumely Henry Clay's protective "American system" and showed conclusively that nothing in the world could be more utterly un-American. But a few years later, when New England's interests were centered in manufactures, Daniel Webster's opinions became those of an extreme protectionist. In the same way he opposed a national bank so long as New England disliked that institution and favored it the page: 51 moment New England desired its continuance. In like manner John C. Calhoun began by clamoring for the tariff protection of Southern industries and developed into the chief apostle of nullification as a means of escaping protective tariffs.
Similarly Clay began by making so absolutely conclusive an argument against a national bank that Andrew Jackson afterwards quoted it as the best possible plea he could offer in support of his warfare upon that institution after Clay had become its chief apostle. Men ordinarily have no opinions except so far as self-interest, geography, and circumstance determine them and in considering matters of history it is of the utmost importance to recognize that truth.
In the last analysis, therefore, Southern opinion was determined in behalf of slavery by the cotton-gin. And yet the greater number of Southern men were not slaveholders and so had no personal interest in the institution. Their opinions were merely a reflection of the sentiment that surrounded them. That sentiment was born of self-interest on the part of a small but dominant class and it drew to itself the sentiment of that much more numerous class-- the white man who owned no negroes.
Of the white men in the Confederate army, who made so unmatched a fight for Southern independence, not one in five had ever owned a slave or expected to own one. And there was another influence at work all this while to create a sentiment at the South in favor of slavery as an institution right in itself, where before it had been almost uniformly regarded as an entail page: 52 of evil. The circumstances of the national life forced this question into politics and made of it an incalculably exasperating issue.
The Nation having acquired the vast Louisiana territory, invitingly fruitful as it was, the question arose "What shall we do with it? Even the Indians of Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama, when removed, practically by compulsion, to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi years later were freely permitted to take their negro slaves with them, nobody gainsaying their right. In like manner Southern men emigrating to Missouri took their slaves with them without so much as a question of their right to do so.
And when Missouri, in , became sufficiently populous to justify an application for statehood, a majority of the settlers in that region desired that African slavery should be permitted there. In the meantime, the Northern states, now completely emancipated from slavery within their own borders, had more and more learned to detest the system. There had grown up in the North an intense moral sentiment in antagonism to the further extension of slavery.
There had grown up also an intense economic opposition to the system. It was felt that the very existence of slavery in any region tended to degrade free labor and to make of the laborer an page: 53 inferior person not entitled to respect, a person not quite a slave but still not quite a freeman. It was, nevertheless, not deemed reputable to advocate the abolition of slavery.
The term "Abolitionist" was then, and for a generation afterwards continued to be, the most opprobrious epithet that one man could apply to another.
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Nevertheless when Missouri sought admission to the Union as a slave state, the opposition was intense, determined, angry. Then came Henry Clay with a compromise. Earnestly desiring the extinction of the slave system, it was that statesman's fate to do more than any other man of his era in behalf of the perpetuation and extension of the institution which he regarded as a curse and an incubus. There was one other thing for which he cared far more than he did for the extinction of slavery. In common with Webster and most others of the statesmen of that time he was more deeply concerned for the preservation and perpetuation of the Union than for any other matter that appealed to his mind.
His attitude was identical with that of Mr. Lincoln while the war was on, when he declared his sole purpose to be the restoration of the Union and proclaimed his conviction that the question of slavery and all other questions were in his mind subordinate to that. Clay saw grave danger to the Union in this Missouri controversy. In order to avert that danger, and regardless of everything else, he brought forward his compromise and succeeded in securing its enactment into law. In practical effect this compromise excluded slavery from all future states to be created out of the vast region embraced in the Louisiana Purchase, except the territory of Arkansas.
Louisiana was already a state. Missouri was permitted by the compromise itself to become a state. The Indian Territory was forever set apart for a special purpose and, it was then held, could never become a state. There was no other acre of the Louisiana Purchase lying south of the line fixed by the compromise as the extreme northern limit to which the institution might extend. Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado and the rest were still Mexican possessions which the great Republic had not then the remotest thought of acquiring. On the other hand there were all the vast, fruitful regions now known as Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, the Dakotas and the states lying to the west of them into which by this agreement slavery might never go, from which it was supposedly as effectually excluded as it had been from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin by that clause which Thomas Jefferson--in his eagerness to make an end of the system--had written into the deed of cession by which the Northwest Territory became a national possession.
Clay fondly believed that this Missouri Compromise of his devising had finally laid to rest the entire page: 55 controversy with regard to slavery. Thirty odd years later he was still laboring to induce his own state, Kentucky, to adopt a system of gradual emancipation, but in the meanwhile history had written itself in another way and in direct antagonism to his views.
There had grown up at the North an intolerance of slavery which freely expressed itself in denunciation of those who supported or countenanced the institution. There had grown up at the South a sentiment in advocacy of slavery such as did not exist in that region in the earlier years of the Republic.
Men whose fathers and grandfathers had diligently sought means by which to free their native land of a curse, had little by little come to regard that curse as a blessing. Men whose forefathers had regarded slavery as an inherited misfortune, came to regard the institution as right in itself and to defend it as the best, most generous, and most humane labor system in the world. In support of this contention they could point to the factory system of old England, and New England and argue with some truth that nowhere in the world was labor so generously rewarded as at the South.
Moreover, the antagonism to the system which had developed at the North had its very natural reflex effect. The offensive terms in which slave owners were habitually spoken of in Northern prints were well calculated to impel Southern men to the angry and intemperate defense of their system. Still more effective in breeding a "thick and thin" pro-slavery sentiment at the South were the aggressive measures page: 56 taken at the North for the annoyance of those who held slaves. The laws for the rendition of fugitive slaves--not at that time so strict as they were afterwards made-- were habitually set at naught.
There existed a fairly well organized system called "the underground railroad" by which slaves were induced to run away and by means of which their flight was facilitated. All this was dictated by a profound conviction on the part of those who engaged in it that slavery was an institution so utterly wrong that any means by which its hold could be impaired were right in morals, no matter what the law might say.
All this was done in defiance of law, in violation of the statutes and in flagrant disregard of that compact of reciprocity upon which the Union was founded. We are not concerned in the twentieth century to discuss the question of the right or wrong of men's conduct in the first half of the nineteenth. But if we would understand the irritations that bred the war between the North and the South, we must recognize not only all the facts but equally all the refinements by which they were judged in their time.
For a time at least the Missouri Compromise took the sting out of the slavery issue as a cause of controversy between the North and the South. By that compromise the South had given up all claim further to extend its institutions into any part of the vast and immeasurably rich territory included in the Louisiana Purchase, with the single exception of Arkansas. All the region that now constitutes Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, the two Dakotas--and all the page: 57 vast territories west of those states,--were foreordained by that agreement to be erected into free states.
South of the dead line established by the agreement there remained the territory of Arkansas and nothing else. Arkansas was admitted to the Union as a slave state in and in the next year the balance of power in the Senate and the electoral college was restored by the admission of Michigan as a free state. There remained within the limits of our national domain no other acre of territory except in Florida, into which under the terms of the Missouri Compromise the southern emigrant could take his slave property with him, while to the northern emigrant there was opened a possession rivaling the greatest empires of earth in area and in prospective productiveness.
But for twenty-five years the compromise served in a great degree to allay the asperities of the slavery controversy. The anti-slavery sentiment at the North was for the time satisfied with the assurance that with the exceptions of Louisiana, Missouri and Arkansas, all the great domain embraced in the Louisiana Purchase was by that compromise forever devoted to the system of free labor; that perhaps a dozen prospective free states of inestimable wealth and incalculable population were destined in the near future to be added to the Union, while with the exceptions of Florida and Arkansas, no further slave states could be created.
The South in its turn was satisfied with the recognition which the compromise gave to slave property as entitled to equal protection in national law at least with other property. If matters had remained as they were, there is little room for doubt that the settlement reached in the Missouri Compromise would have endured for another generation at the least. It is true that, once raised, the issue between free labor and slavery was, as Mr.
Seward afterwards said, "an irrepressible conflict. But we are dealing now with facts and not with probabilities; with events and not with conjectures; and the facts and events strongly suggest that if no new condition had intervened to disturb the settlement made by the Missouri Compromise, that adjustment of the vexed and vexing slavery question would have endured for at least a generation longer than in fact it did. The new circumstance that intervened was the annexation of Texas. Texas was a vast territory, undefined as to its limits at that time, but covering an area eight or ten times greater than that of the largest state then in the Union.
It included the present state of Texas, New Mexico, and a large area besides. It had been a part of Mexico, peopled chiefly by emigrants from the United States under whose page: 59 inspiration it had revolted and achieved its independence as a republic. Its desire for annexation to the Union was quite natural and inevitable and but for slavery that desire would have been reciprocated throughout the United States. It was easily foreseen, however, that the annexation of this vast territory, lying as it did south of the line that set the limit to slavery, would open to that institution an opportunity of expansion scarcely less than that opened to free labor by the Missouri Compromise.
The policy of annexation was bitterly opposed on this ground and additionally because of the practical certainty that annexation would involve a war with Mexico. Years before that time, Henry Clay had severely criticized the administration for having failed to insist upon our right to Texas as a part of the Louisiana Purchase, but now, in his anxiety to keep the slavery question out of politics because of the danger it involved to the Union, he was strongly opposed to the annexation policy.
When, in , it was deemed certain that Clay and Van Buren would be the rival candidates for president, those statesmen, being personal friends, met at Clay's residence at Ashland, and together planned to keep the Texan question out of the coming campaign. Their agreement was that each should publish a letter--at about the same time--opposing the annexation of Texas and the ratification of the treaty, which was then pending, to accomplish that Purpose.
The letters were published, but their effect was precisely the reverse of that which was intended. Polk, an uncompromising advocate of annexation. Thus the painstaking effort that had been made by Clay and Van Buren to eliminate this annexation question from the presidential campaign had for its actual effect the making of that question the paramount issue of the contest. Thus the slavery question became again dominant in national politics with a greater disturbing force than ever. For the agitation in politics of a question concerning which men's consciences or self-interests are strongly enlisted--and this question involved both --must always and everywhere intensify feeling, arouse passion and consolidate partisan activity.
The result in this case was to intensify the sentiment of hostility to slavery at the North and to break down the sentiment in behalf of emancipation which had previously been strong though decreasing at the South. The agitation of those years continued to the end, and in its course it slowly but surely changed the conditions of the problem. At the North it made anti-slavery endeavor respectable, where before it had been looked upon with frowning as an activity which threatened that Union which was the chief object of American adoration.
At the South, by putting men on the defensive and filling them with a feeling that they were menaced in their homes, it slowly but surely broke down the old conviction that slavery was page: 61 an evil to be cured and ultimate emancipation a national good to be sought by every safe means that human ingenuity could devise. At the North it gave birth to a party willing to sacrifice the Union itself, in behalf of the cause of anti-slavery.
At the South it gave birth to a new party ready to defend and perpetuate slavery at all hazards and at the cost of a dissolution of the Union if that should become necessary. In addition to this, as the years went on this new agitation of the slavery question revived with added intensity the old jealousy which the states had felt toward the national power. Of that we shall speak later. Let us first outline the course of events. Texas was annexed. The Mexican war followed, ending in the additional annexation of an imperial domain including all that we now know as California, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and the neighboring states and territories.
The question at once arose, What shall we do with these new lands? A large part of them lay south of the slavery dead line. Should that part be open to slavery? Texas, itself a slave state, was authorized by the terms of the contract of annexation to form itself into four states with eight senators and at least twelve electoral votes which a rapid immigration might increase to twenty or forty within a brief while.
Arizona and New Mexico, claimed by Texas as a part of its domain, seemed practically certain to become independent states. California,-- even now extending from the latitude of Boston to the latitude of Savannah and reaching inland half as far as from the Atlantic to the Mississippi--had page: 62 at least one-half its area and the better half, lying south of the Missouri Compromise line. Moreover the terms of the compromise did not forbid the extension of slavery even into the whole of the California country, a region that might easily be carved into ten or a dozen states, for the restrictions of the compromise applied only to territory acquired by the Louisiana Purchase.
Here surely was cause enough for controversy. And a new reason had arisen for intense obstinacy in controversy. Let us consider this a little carefully. The anti slavery agitation at the North was growing more and more aggressively hostile. In common with the pro-slavery sentiment at the South it had begun to appeal to the old and dying sentiment of states' rights for the justification of its attitude, thus reviving a controversy between the national sovereignty and the independence of the states, which had been largely allayed by the progress of time.
Northern states refused to make themselves parties to slavery even at command of the Federal Government. They refused to lend their courts and jails and sheriffs to the work of returning to slavery negroes who had run away from bondage at the South. They enacted laws in assertion of their State sovereignty which in effect nullified the laws of the Nation and effectually obstructed their execution. We are writing now of the period from to , and not of a particular year.
Here was that revival of the old states' rights controversy with the Federal authority, of which mention has been made before. It was met on the other side by an equally determined assertion of states' rights. There was nowhere any question that every state in the Union--except as forbidden by the cession of the Northwest Territory or by the Missouri Compromise--had full authority to sanction or forbid the institution of slavery within its own borders at its own free will. But there was a party at the North which contended that slavery was a wrong so enormous that it ought to be exterminated by the high hand of Federal force; that the disruption of the Union as an incident to such extermination of the system would be a small price to pay for an end so beneficent.
The abolitionists denounced the Constitution itself as "a covenant with hell," because it permitted the several states to decide for themselves whether or not they would permit African slavery within their borders, and because it authorized laws compelling the rendition of fugitive slaves. On the other hand there was growing up at the South a party that preferred the disruption of the Union to a longer continuance of existing conditions, a party weary of struggling for what it held to be the rights of the states under the Constitution and disposed instead to resort to the ultimate right of withdrawal from the Union which the South claimed then, as New England had claimed it during the war of , as a reserved privilege of the states.
The slavery question had not only entered again into national politics, but had become well-nigh the only question of politics, state and national. Congress was flooded with daily petitions for the page: 64 abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and for the prohibition of the sale of slaves from one state to another. Southern and some Northern members opposed the reception of these petitions and endeavored to secure rules to lay them on the table without debate and without reference to any committee. This policy was stoutly opposed on the ground that it was in derogation of that "right to petition" which in all free lands is held to be inherent in the citizen.
Debate ran high on this and like questions, and became intensely acrimonious. When the peace settlement with Mexico was pending, a bill to authorize the rectification of boundaries by the purchase of a large territory from Mexico was presented in Congress. Wilmot of Pennsylvania, in , moved as an amendment a proviso--known in history as "The Wilmot Proviso"--stipulating that slavery should never be permitted in any of the territory to be thus acquired. This additionally intensified the controversy, and while the Wilmot Proviso, though adopted by the House of Representatives, was rejected by the Senate and never became law, its suggestion and the House's adoption of it were accepted by the South as an additional evidence of the uncompromising hostility of the anti-slavery party, and of a determination at the North to use the Federal power for the limitation, the restriction and the ultimate extermination of slavery.
In the meantime a sentiment against abolitionism had grown up at the North which was implacably intolerant of opinion. Owen Lovejoy was put to page: 65 death by an Illinois mob for his offense in publishing an aggressively abolitionist newspaper. Other men suffered persecution upon similar account. Newspaper offices were wrecked and their proprietors sorely dealt with by mobs in states which by their organic law forbade slavery and the people of which had no interest in the institution. They regarded all abolitionist movements as agitations seriously threatening the Union and recklessly risking the public peace.
They were ready to resort to mob violence by way of repressing activities which they regarded as destructive of public order and seriously menacing to the Union, which had come to be an object of adoration to the great majority of Americans. Thus the controversy involved violence and lawlessness at the North even more than at the South. Again the anti-slavery propagandists at the North were men of shrewd intelligence as well as men of profound convictions as to the absolute righteousness of their cause.
They believed without doubt or question that anything which might help to destroy slavery was right.
Full text of "A VIRGINIA YANKEE IN THE CIVIL WAR THE DEARIES OF DAVID HUNTER STROTHER"
To that end they were ready to violate law, to commit acts which the law--improperly as they thought--denounced as criminal, and even to destroy the American Republic if by that means they could extirpate the system of human bondage. They were devotees of a cause that admitted of no compromise or qualification.
They were crusaders at war who regarded all means as righteous that might lead to what they believed to be a righteous end. This is not the place in which to question the correctness of their belief or to criticize their conduct. Our concern page: 66 is merely to record the facts and trace the consequences of them. The mails offered an easy and convenient means by which these propagandists could address themselves to other minds than their own, or those in known sympathy with them.
Accordingly they freely used the mails as a means of impressing their anti-slavery convictions upon black men or white at the South. To them the literature which they sought thus to circulate in the South was nothing more than an appeal to reason and the sense of right. But to the Southerner, whose family was at the mercy of a multitude of slaves, it seemed a very different thing and one immeasurably more menacing. To him it seemed an incitement to servile insurrection in a region where such an insurrection could not fail to result in unspeakable horrors and calamities.
It is a fact imperfectly understood outside of the South that the average negro there was not at all such as the planter usually carried about with him in the capacity of body servant to himself or maid to his wife or daughter; not at all the "intelligent contraband" so dear to the newsgatherers of the war time; not at all a Booker T. Washington or a Frederick Douglass, or a Blanche K. Bruce or a Montgomery, but a hopelessly ignorant, passion-impregnated, half- savage, held to good behavior only by fear of the white man's superior power.
On the coast of South Carolina and in other regions the negro was in many cases even a whole savage--recently imported, clad in breech clout and ebonized nakedness and unable to speak or understand any language except the Congo gibberish to which he had been born. Of course literature made no direct appeal to creatures of such sort. But there were many educated or at least literate negroes at the South--some of them slaves and some of them "free men of color" as the law phrase at that time ran.
If incited thereto, these intelligent blacks might very easily have organized the physical force of the multitude of more ignorant negroes for an insurrection which would have involved the wholesale slaughter of white women and children and a servile war more horrible in its incidents and consequences than any that the world has known since time itself began. It was altogether natural that the anti-slavery agitators who had made up their minds to destroy slavery at all hazards and at all costs and who held all other considerations to be but as dust in the balance in comparison with that one supreme desire of their souls, should seek by means of the mails to propagate their ideas in the South and among the slaves themselves.
But it was equally natural that the white men of the South, whose wives and children as well as themselves and their property were menaced by such a possibility, should seek to avert it by any means within their grasp. Their impulse was dictated by the primal human instinct of self-preservation--an instinct that listens to no argument and stops at no act which may be necessary to avert the impending danger. These people saw their hearthstones menaced by this use of the mails. They saw in the mails a certain socialistic use of the people's power for a common purpose.
They paid taxes for the maintenance of page: 68 those mails, and they could not see why a mail system which represented and was supported by all the people of all the states should be used for the destruction and desecration of the homes of a part of those people --for the instigation of a servile revolt which could not fail to result in horrors so unspeakable that we may not even suggest them, except vaguely, in this place. Since that time it has become a commonplace of law to forbid the use of the mails to those who would use them for any purpose inimical to the public welfare; but at that time this thought had gained no place in postal administration, and the desire of the Southerners to purge the mails of incendiary literature which threatened to create a servile insurrection with all its necessarily horrible accompaniments, was put aside as an effort to "tamper with the mail.
In our time, where the post office refuses even to rent a box to any man who cannot demonstrate to the postmaster his need of it for legitimate business purposes, and when the delivery of men's mail is deliberately and quite unquestioningly stopped by the postal authorities upon the mere suspicion that their business may be in some way detrimental to the public page: 69 welfare, we find it difficult to understand why the Southern objection to the distribution of dangerously incendiary matter through the mails--matter which threatened those American citizens with massacre for themselves and something immeasurably worse than massacre for their womankind--should not have received respectful attention.
In the light of our modern postal practice it is difficult to understand the anger and resentment with which the demand of the Southerners was received for the exclusion from the mails of matter the circulation of which threatened themselves, their homes and their families with calamities too horrible to be contemplated with complacency. But it must be remembered that on the other hand the extirpation of slavery was confidently believed to be an end so righteous as to justify any means that might be employed for its accomplishment; that the holding of men in bondage, whether willingly or unwillingly, whether by virtue of an inheritance that carried other and controlling obligations with it, or by the speculative purchase of men's labor, was a crime deserving of any calamity that might fall upon those who participated in it in the process of its extinction.
In other words there was intolerance on both sides; misunderstanding on both; an utter failure on each side to grasp the considerations that controlled the acts of men on the other side; a fanatical dogmatism on the one side and upon the other that was open to no argument, no consideration of fact or circumstance, no reasoning of any kind. Thus came about the "irrepressible conflict. How it resulted in the most stupendous war of modern times must be related in other chapters. The Mexican war and the subsequent negotiations added a vast territory to the national domain.
Much of it lay south of the Missouri Compromise line, and into that part of it at least the advocates of slavery confidently expected to extend their labor system. The introduction of the Wilmot Proviso and its passage by the House did not indeed result in the exclusion of slavery from those territories, for the reason that the proviso, failing in the Senate, did not become law.